Clouds and Trees

"Nothing ever goes away enough or arrives enough,/ and I want to cry when I think of my heart,/ muscle pounding in muscle, greedy always for joy." – 'A Warning', Eric Anderson

Category: Time


Last night there was another storm and he could see patches of black ice on the road where the river must have flooded. The radio crackled quietly. He looked out the window and shifted down a gear. The water had been very high and further down the river there would be rapids.

He parked in the gravel lot. As he stepped out of the car he could smell the cold. The sunlight was grey but the sky bright blue and the river, dark green and brown. It was higher than he had ever seen it and thunderous, a static cupping his ears and a resounding deep bass far away, like a drum struck by god.

He stepped through the gate with the ROAD CLOSED sign. The gravel path had disappeared into the river; it looked as if the river had exploded. The trees along the bank had already been exposed completely, the dirt entirely stripped from their roots. The forest seemed naked, shivering. He had taken a walk here with his parents right after the big storm a few years earlier. He had been looking down at his feet, stepping carefully. He looked up; his dad was helping his mom over the rocks.


Two huge fisherman were walking towards him. They nodded as they passed. One was missing his arm above the elbow, the sleeve of his waders held closed against the water with a rubber-band.

He had come hoping to find a small island in the middle of the river. He remembered the rapids in that spot had risen to almost six feet. He had stared at those waves crashing in on themselves, his face wet, but never rushing forward until his parents had said they had to move on.

When he reached the spot where it used to be there was only water, flat and fast, water rushing straight through trees. He stared at it for a minute. He took a deep breath of cold air. Once, it had been warm and the water was lower; he had jumped across the rocks and stood on the island. As it started to rain lightly he had stripped and gone into the river.


Closer to the car, the water slowed into a wide curve and a dead tree jutted out from the bank. He remembered his Dad crouching on the edge and pointing.

“Right there is where I want you to scatter my ashes.”

“Okay, Dad,” He had tried to laugh, to clasp his shoulder naturally, “Not for awhile.” Just two men by the river. When he was younger they used to walk together here and he would find sticks to throw in. He ran along the edge racing them downstream as they dipped and bucked through the rapids until they blended with the water and he lost sight of them.


Around the Bend

Monday, I ride my bike South
Beside the Hudson; it smells salty
And of the sea unexpectedly.

I face this new tower for an hour.
Make it into a dream. Forget
About the hole in the ground.

Bicycling over the Brooklyn Bridge
It’s all wires, wires, and history,
And fear of every kind of falling.

The Mirror Used Hands

Dan Levin looks at himself asleep
In that crack under the door.

He wants to let himself through
But only murmurs and turns over.

Dan Levin is his own name
Gone forgotten on the train ride.

He keeps his eyes closed and thinks
He is a cloud that is empty.

Dan Levin gets up and opens the door.
The crack gets big as Dan Levin and

The trees outside
come in.

Guide to Natural Life

When you live in a rural area of England for enough time you eventually find the best places from which to watch sunsets. You wonder about them as you walk home to your apartment, peering through the new darkness. It is like there is something on your mind; the corners of your eyes are sensitive to places where you can sit and look to the West.

It is easy to see the horizon; England only hides very little things. Sit by a river or a lake where you can watch the sun be enveloped by water. Stand on the eastern edge of a field sloping to the West.

English birds don’t notice when the end of day has come. You hear songs which until just now you did not realize you thought of as holy prayers for the sun. You walk home in the dark and see wings shuffling in the tree-branches.

If some islands are the loci of certain seasons, (you can think of a few — Antarctica: Winter, Hawaii: Summer) then England is the Spring. It is made up of small animals and lovemaking done underground or behind grass and trees.

You know the patches of daffodils that bloom earliest and where the sun sits the longest. You wonder if it is as easy to see it set back in America where glacial valleys are so deep you forget a real horizon exists.

You floated from time. You have to come back in and it will lurch painfully. You saw an endpoint and just beyond it, a land burned flat, red and blue where the day ends. The sun is everywhere.



see a swan on the lake from my window. It is real, white, feathered,
brisk early morning, Norfolk. Then the past, I’m riding my bike
along the pond with always the same swan in it. The man sitting on
the bench, not moving for years, turns out to be made of wood. It is

early, but I decide to walk down to the lake. The swan is standing free
of the water. Strange to begin with. The swan I know from my pond never
came or went, never broke its seal with the surface. It was a fixture;

the pond itself. This one is so big, naked there, obscene in its
beauty, stretching out its neck with unnatural grace. Nothing could be
but this. I follow it around the lake. When it begins to fly I’m behind
bushes, so I hear it first, impossible sound, the whole body of a swan

not floating indefinitely but rising, leaving. If I had gone into that
pond just one time as a kid and tried touching it, I would have known
if my swan was made of wood. It never flew like this one, goose-like,
huge and heavy, a cloud with substance, body, and wings


see a swan on the lake from my window. It is real, white and feathered,
early morning, Norfolk. Then warm, the air, yellow; I’m not too far
from home and riding my bike by always the same pond,

the same swan always floating in it. The man sitting on the bench
nearby, who didn’t move for years, turns out to be made of wood.
It is early, but I decide to leave the building and walk down to the lake.

The swan stands out of the water. The bottom half of its body
reminds me of a vulture’s the way the thought of water
burning and choking me appears if I reflect on the opposite,

a deep breath, the smooth filling up of air. The swan, memory,
never stood up, never came or went, never broke its seal with the
surface. It was fixation; the pond itself. This one is much bigger,

naked, obscene in its beauty, stretching a neck with unnatural grace.
Nothing could be but this. I follow it around, running on the shore
when I lose it, white sun reflecting off the lake. When it begins to

fly I’m behind the trees but I hear it, impossible sound, the whole
body of a swan not floating indefinitely but rising, leaving. I want to
be thirteen and jump into that pond, watch the swan screech and squawk

and fly away, not float silently, hollow thing, wood and paint.
But it never flew, goose-like, huge and heavy, cloud with substance,
body, and wings barely big enough, carrying it away from me.

Trees …from A Portrait of a Bird

Everywhere he looked, something had changed. The angles of the trees fallen over the stream looked unfamiliar. He could barely recognize this part of the woods. When he had gotten home a few days earlier, his parents had already gone five days without power.

The stream was low, barely running over the rocks. The water would be freezing if he touched it. He flexed his toes in his boots and stood up, brushing the dirt off of his pants. He looked again at the oddness of the trees, paused, then did not walk down the stream as he had planned.

He stepped out of the woods onto the newly paved driveway. He avoided walking on the asphalt, instead stepping as much as he could in the gravel along its edges. When he reached the end of the driveway he looked to the left. The road curved away, down the hill and out of sight.

He put his hand on the tree next to the driveway which split into two trunks. One had been chopped through completely, leaving a smooth stump at about chest height. He looked up the length of tree that remained, up through to the white sky. It was like a used wishbone. He ran his palm along the stump where the bark lipped over. The scar was almost the same grey-brown as the bark. There had been a car crash, then eventually an electrical fire. He pulled himself up onto the slanted surface and crouched awkwardly. He thought he must look like a wood gargoyle.

He tried to remember standing in the insurance office, his mother high above him. She described the deer that had jumped out in front of the car, her defensive swerve. She was sweating, he was sweating. The insurance man nodded, looking down at something. “We get a lot of these this time of year. They get very aggressive during mating season.” She agreed. No big deal.

He slid off the tree and started walking back along the gravel. Of course it hadn’t been a deer. He didn’t remember the rest. She had probably explained it to him.

He smiled strangely as he cut back into the woods, feeling his tongue with his teeth. He thought about bones he had found out here. Sometimes turtle shells with the tiny spine still inside. Sometimes small bird bones, or just empty circles of feathers. Sometimes fur, once so much it covered a whole clearing. Coyotes, he had thought, but did not really know. One time he found a whole deer skull, broken in places. He had stood over the skull in silence, debating whether or not he wanted to touch it, whether he wanted to bring it home. His parents told him there were germs on bones. It was always best to leave them where you found them.

As the house and yard came into view he thought about the tree again. For years after they had taken it down he found stacks of logs all around the woods. He would arrange them in the fireplace. They ignited instantly. Now they would all be rotting or fused together with ice, and he would walk past them without noticing. Eventually, they would disappear on their own.

Standing Next to Shadows (excerpt)

Between the sun and myself on the metal railing stood two pigeons which had been made into absolute shadows. They appeared to be printed on the spherical surface of my vision, tiny birds pre-existent on my brain projected by the light of my eyes. They were momentary avatars of  my ‘self-centerness’ within my world. I seemed now satellite to them: from them grew the metal railing, the deck, myself sitting and watching them, the water of The Serpentine, all of the park bounded by the expanse of my knowledge of London, then what was visible of the sky progressively unveiled by the retreating storm.

As I walked I considered the notion that we experience most truly in memory, and this seemed to be accurate in some way. In certain moments, when we are ‘traveling’ say, there is a divorce between expectation, which exists ‘pre-present’, and actuality, which by its mere reality cannot stand up to imagination. In the duality between evaluation against preexistent mental world and existing physical world, actuality acquires a strange distance of its own, as if it is more unreal than how we imagined it in the first place. In remembering the event we are able to reattach the plastic of imagination though this time colored with our chosen emotion, so that it is either a fantasy or a nightmare, but either way more ‘real’ than the moment of its experience.

But as I reflected on sitting by the lake and reading, it seemed to me that this notion was incomplete. There was a feeling in that present moment, unadulterated by expectation or memory; it was the ‘inside’ of what was physically before me, what I knew I would attempt to describe to myself as I walked away from it. I knew also that even during describing there was a feeling, an inside to that moment as well. This is the endless paradox of experience, lived out through the struggle of the writer: we live in the present moment and all the ones superseding it and to describe, to stand up and turn around, is to change bodies, to move through time, to lose and renew the position you looked out from a moment before, living, perpetual recrystallization.