The truly pious will never get to heaven for they don’t know how to sing or dance. Kerouac roams freely like a rogue elephant unable to get a good buzz on but not for want of trying. He thought it would be Edenic, a garden somewhere between Babylon hanging and the lobby of the Royal Hawaiian but it bears a closer resemblance to Grant Park or rural North Dakota where the Coke machines along the roadside are often empty and you are rarely hit by golf balls the size of hailstones.
Recently appeared in Aurora, Down in the Dirt Vol. 167 (2020)
I have given up on winter, which is to say that I have fled its iron grip, but the memories I have linger painfully in the rods the surgeon carefully screwed onto my spine.
It wasn’t the cold, though it was far from pleasant, but the snow that demanded but also defied being shoveled.
I grudgingly face the job, moving the snow from walk and driveway to lawn and street, and on occasion I’d heed Buddha’s advice and treat the exercise as a meditation.
But even then I’d recall the tale of the monk told to clear the garden of leaves before a great master’s visit, who completed the job and proudly showed the abbot, who agreed, but said there was more thing needed, and dumped all of the collected leaves back on the garden, then said it perfect, and I knew the wind and weather would soon play the abbot’s role.
“There is an art,” the old monk said, his samu-e belted tightly, “to spreading peanut butter. Consider this carefully for it is a matter of gravest importance. Spreading peanut butter requires care just as meditation does. You wouldn’t think so, but try it in your robes and see how unruly your sleeve can be. It is like raking the sand in a dry garden. It seems easy enough to do, but you know how hard it is to ensure that your presence is unseen and unfelt when the job is done.”
We have mastered the art of making promises, we can do so without reflection. We are not certain why God seems so reticent to join us, we were created in His image, we are constantly told, yet even when we ask, no promises seem to be forthcoming from heaven. Some say God is far too busy to make even simple promises, for God would have to deliver on them, without fail, something we have never quite managed. Others say promises were what had us evicted from the Garden and we still have not learned our lesson, or so promise the priests and ministers who assure us our place in heaven can always be secured for eternity by a sufficiently large donation.
The first time I heard Mozart, I swore I was in a biblical garden and I was content to sit and listen for eternity. The serpent came along, as they do in such gardens, as I recall, with the face of Beethoven, though now I am convinced it was just Mahler trying to pass. I still stop and eat from the fruit of Mozart on occasion, but once the food was there for the taking, but now it has to be purchased, and even here you pay and never know until you bite into it just how fresh and juicy it might be. And lately, so much has been overpowering that I cannot digest it, and my growing deafness makes each purchase agonizing, even though I know if I went without, I wouldn’t starve, save for my soul.
She wants to know if I want to her gloves while planting so I don’t get dirt deep in my skin and under my nails. There is no way I can explain to her there is a certain joy in placing my fingers into the just wet soil, in moving it with my hands, squeezing small clods of earth, watching bits of soil fall away. It is certainly dirty work but I know that this is as close as I can get to the earth from which I came without engaging in that final, eternal intimacy.