for Eli and Jeff, “Your love has given me wings.” from “Volare” sung by Bobby Rydell
At 52 with help from my sons
I place a 40 foot ladder and raise it to full extension braced against the stump
of a chinkapin tree.
With the ladder held and steadied by my sons I climb
to the roof of a rich man’s house
looking over miles of the Hood River Valley come into bloom.
She is beautiful in spring as a Mexican girl dressed for her wedding.
Through her middle is a flow of water continually drunk with gladness
From the head of the valley to where it empties in the Columbia
there is always this laughter!
Today I climb in fog and middle 50’s
clouds with their arms all around me.
Above a certain height the knowledge I can fall
is balanced by an equal certainty I can fly.
Having fallen before I know the cost of coming suddenly to earth:
three cracked vertebrae and sternum
right fore finger broken at the knuckle
nose in four places crushed and re-supported with steel
collarbone snapped so I had to sleep sitting up two months on the couch
peeing through a vacuum cleaner hose into an empty bucket
of bone white enamel.
From where I sit now I can choose the world I live in.
If I choose flight I will leave this world and land gracefully
If I fall from here the result will be the same.
I see pear blossoms weighted down with drops of rain in the ashes of the morning
before the heat of wheat deserts is drawn through lungs
of the river gorge.
I see the languid body of our Lord uncoiling from sheets of sky.
hear the river praising itself over rocks worn smooth with laughter.
The shallower the water, the louder is its praise.
I hear what the desert promises when she whispers in my hollow ear saying
There is no difference between falling and flying.
The wheat deserts say that everything in this world is a door.
To fall is one door. To fly is another.
When a pear blossom the color of the risen moon is cut by wind and carried up to me
on the roof of a rich man’s house
this is a third kind of door.
In the marrow of my breast bone that once was cracked but now
is made whole
there is a staircase spiraling into quiet.
There is an emptiness inside the bone I have learned to walk through.
Now I can say I am completely alone or I can say I walk hand in hand with my Lord.
There is no difference between falling and flying
as long as I will pay the price this world insists upon.
The first step away from selfishness is a falling that gives us wings.
When pride is exhausted, it gives way to greater clarity
so the head may fall of its own weight to rest over the beating heart.
What was lost is found
not in the closed but in the open, empty hand.
Then our faces shine like spoons full of water
and we are gathered into someone’s arms whose only name is silence.
From where I sit I see a silver blade of sky and the first blood of morning
but I don’t look for meaning in this light.
I sit here counting the single syllable of the quiet.
Over and over the same syllable of the only name I answer to
the name that is yours alone in whom I am harvested in Fall.
I am flying!
I am climbing down this ladder to my sons.