Don't I want things simple? Fewer obligations, fewer promises, fewer ties?
Fewer people to let down, fewer relationships that never get the depth they're due,
Fewer mistakes, fewer disappointments, fewer times to concoct an explanation,
Fewer times to hem and haw, to wring my hands and my mind, fewer apologies, said and unsaid,
Fewer live wires of fury, fewer grievances,
Fewer questions that can never be answered, fewer mysterious forces in my way,
Fewer meetings, fewer times I work unpaid,
Fewer monthly bills, fewer Schedule Cs, fewer todo items buried inevitably?
Don't I want to escape from the web of obligations, of government forms, of pleading with cops and doctors for something better
than the runaround? A web of virtuous connections is one thing, but don't I want free of this web of inertia, of meaningless procedure?
Because what, after all, do I get from being a part of it all?
I get to be a husband, yes, with unspoken desires and endless compromise,
but also with a connection whose layers are veins of color and flavor, rich not only with easy joy but with something compounded and deep,
the tangible marrow of deep bones colliding, the meeting of our brilliance and of our flaws,
the true fractured crashing together of two black holes,
drawn out not from tedium but from the fractal complexity of all the encountering eddies,
billions of short stories and byways, each deserving a novel.
I get to be a father, already recognized as inadequate by my daughters, though their perceiving that gives me the funny proud knowledge
that they exceed me, they will and they do now! I get to indulge my loves with them, and through them,
I get to slowly exhale, with squeezed lips, feeding the spark of love for books, for ideas and opinion, seeing its flames lick and catch.
I get to be the cause of tears, and sometimes the place of comfort, the shelter for tears, the companion when friendships seem foreign,
when their perfectionism, like mine, makes mockeries of their efforts to create the art they imagine, when they're sunken and submerged
and the reasons why don't feel like the reasons why. I get to be that for them both,
so different from each other but both intensely vibrating with the world,
feeling in their strands of web the twang of every mosquito's footstep like it is coming from inside them,
the fluttering of a valve or the tightening around one of those organs we don't understand.
That's what it is to live: to feel sensations from the pancreas and the spleen, such a crucial part of me, so unknowable.
My workings are a mystery play, evocative of meaning but evasive of it.
The race to keep from being overtaken by my multiplying constraints seems like everything,
but below, the story of what's going on, the things that matter, keeps going and going. I am shepherd to a continent,
to the aspirations of organelles, of passing friends who think of me as unexpectedly deeply as I think of them,
of the learned sufferings of my children, a pattern of pain at big and small cruelties that they know through the distinct lenses they're assembling.
I'm shepherd to the quiet duty of a husband, father, brother, son, citizen, critic and objector,
these duties that share the name with others' but are not others', concrete and palpable to my fingertips,
so small and uncelebrated it seems they'll will vanish if I look away,
whose textures and weight no one can ultimately know but me.
Shepherd to vision and hearing, touch and taste, shepherd to the ability to talk someone into joy or sorrow if I want and if they'll let me,
Shepherd to a certain deliverance, shepherd to writing, to movement, shepherd to skin and scars and fingernails and fears,
Shepherd to an aching astonishment at people's callousness, a landscape of cruelty that isn't spectacular or cinematic,
but tasteless, textureless, dull bloodstained sandpaper on a power sander
left in a lightless room, by bored cops on less than even a whim,
to slowly eat through a painter's life's work,
Shepherd to punishment for punishment's sake, to stealing credit when they notice someone has no recourse,
to the loud manipulator using and cowing the quiet source of the work,
to the cyclical graphs of mutual access and exclusion,
to lectures about rules and principles given by men who risk nothing for them
the moment there is any intimation of power or tribe,
Shepherd to the smell of parasitic opportunity,
Shepherd to shambling collection of urges and contradictions and discontinuities,
grins and memories and rotting garbage and impossible joys, all of it.
The role of shepherd isn't made of anything. It's created, whole cloth. It can be picked up or put down in a moment.
So it's meaningless? No, the opposite. It can only be held with will, from will. With faith in its basic truth, from faith. In relationship.
It is held by us, in a trust fall, and our muscles can falter, but they must hold. The tiredness is not resignation closing in,
it's the sum of all the showing up, the saying this is my problem too, the doing the right thing, the hidden professionalism,
the getting out of bed, the telling a joke, the sharing a cigarette, the going down, the listening when I'm bursting to speak and then
seeing new dimensions open up,
the holding on and the letting go, the treating it with fresh eyes, the channeling some echo of spirit even though the magic seems gone.
Palms and wrists are scrambled for action: this is how they get to keep living, this sick and sorry web is their patrol,
its peeling skin their turf, yielding gems and pustules not in turn but in concert.
The point is that it's their territory and they're walking it. That deserves applause, not because they're so great at it,
but because that's what applause is for: a sending out love for all the hidden days of cobbling together some step forward,
or for treading water a little longer, saying: you muster knuckles and kneecaps, we muster them too.