I'm two days returned from spending the month of May in Crested Butte, Colorado, as a Mountain Words Writer in Residence. It was equal parts everything I expected and also totally unexpected. There are so many great characters in that town that I can't even begin to name them all but I'm already aching to go back and see them again. It was a life-changing experience in every way, and I'm finding re-entry to the world to be excruciating. I needed another two weeks. Another month. Hell, I told my new best friends—fellow Mountain Words writers Chelsey Johnson and Lee Anderson—that it seemed to me that getting the garbage out to the curb two weeks in a row should bestow on me some degree of ownership of the house I was staying in, shouldn't it?
I didn't get nearly enough done, even as I was more productive than I've ever been. I am not the most disciplined of writers. In some ways I'm not entirely cut out for it. There is a quote I like from Mark Jenkins, who used to have a column in Outside magazine many years ago called The Hard Way. From a book of collected essays bearing the same title. He writes, "I cannot get enough of the world. To smell it, walk through it, sink the teeth of my mind into it. I am not a writer who began writing at the age of eight in a little room at a little desk and dreamed of being a novelist. At eight I was flying on a bicycle through the pungent sagebrush in the red hills beyond the edge of town." That's me. I love to write about stuff. But I'd rather do stuff. Finding the proper overlap of the two is the struggle. I did some online Zoom stuff while I was there. I wandered over to the high school and talked to a couple classes. I hung out with my writer friends. I walked and walked and walked. Hiked some. Even ran some. Did a ton of yoga. But far and away I spent the bulk of my time alone with my manuscript and my demons.
"Now and then, especially at night, solitude loses its soft power and loneliness takes over. I am grateful when solitude returns.” — Donald Hall
I never slept in the bed because I found the room it occupied uncomfortable. Instead I slept out on the couch in this room that was almost like an enclosed porch because of all the windows. From my nest I could wake in the night and see the stars, so bright and close-seeming, given CB's 9000' of elevation. And the Moon, oh, the Moon, drifting left to right across the sky, and bright like a searchlight. Several nights I got up, wrapped myself in my blanket, and sat out in a chair on the patio to just look. One night I fell asleep in the chair and spent most of the night there. My feet were ice blocks when I woke and I was shivering uncontrollably. I loved it.
I left Crested Butte just as spring was beginning to arrive; temperatures surging into the sixties, the aspens beginning to leaf out, and the mountain meadows just starting to erupt with wildflowers. After two days driving I arrived home to find summer in Missoula. Today I spent most of the afternoon tipped back in my chair worshiping the ceiling fan, suffering the discomforts of a mild case of heat exhaustion. I returned home to a yard unacquainted with a lawnmower since probably last September and it was a wilderness. I threw myself into getting it squared away as an exercise to mitigate the despair of being back in the world of noise and fast food restaurants and jackasses who won't let you merge onto the interstate. Yesterday I spent several hours on the front, and today a couple on the back when I began to realize that the 90° sun was having his way with me. I retreated, and not without a stern whack to my pride. I sat in the dim light of my room thinking of how far a cry I was from the pretentious writer demanding to read last in an effort to "bring the house down." Such nausea. Such ego. Welcome home.
Only a week ago I was passing a warm-in-the-sun, chilly-in-the-shade afternoon sitting on a bench on Elk Avenue, CB's main thoroughfare, working on a poem when I met a guy who calls himself "Cosmological James." James tells me he was given his name by some old friends because he’s eaten more psychedelics than anyone else still alive. I didn't demand elaboration. Still, it was a fine encounter, and he even had me read the poem I was wrestling with when he dropped down beside me and demanded, "What are YOU doing?" It was only later that he revealed that he stopped because he thought I was someone else. "You mean there's another guy this pretty in town?!" I said, and he said, "No, that's how I knew it wasn't Bob!"
This was just a day or two before the Full Moon. I've been the "Featured Poet" at Tiny Seed Journal, a wonderful online publication who has been kind enough to share my work with the world every New and Full Moon throughout the spring. This poem is my second-to-last offering as part of this opportunity. I only have one more to go and I'm sad about that. They have been good to me and I hope we work together again in the future.
I don't like to talk much about what poems are "about" or where particular poems come from, but I would like to mention why this one is special to me. It was the very first poem I wrote when I started writing poetry 10 minutes/day back on November 1, 2019, which after a year led to 14 full notebooks. My accountability buddy for this whole process has been my friend Mara Panich, who has turned her own efforts into a book—Blood is Not the Water—that is now officially out in the world. On the days we work together we would meet in the Missoula coffee shop Butterfly Herbs for maybe 30 minutes, 10+ of which would be to write poetry. Through that place's weird assembly of regulars and passers-through I came to feel connected to an actual artistic community in ways I never had before. COVID derailed that so we moved it to the table in the bookstore; same thing, meet there maybe 30 minutes before we open and get some work done. It paid off for both of us, obviously. "Patrons" has been tweaked quite a bit over a year-and-a-half and was actually being tweaked some more when I had my fateful encounter with Cosmological James. James is exactly the kind of guy this poem was written for. My friend Selya, who works at the library and has provided me some wonderful opportunities teaching workshops through that magnificent institution, had some things to offer when I shared the poem with her and asked if she had any suggestions. It was missing something, I felt. We were bouncing it back and forth when James sat down beside me. I like to think all the Little Saints—or Small Gods, as Jim Harrison would say—have been whispering in my ear all along too, whether it is this poem or others. I like to think everything I write is this swirling amalgamation of souls and spirits and good friends and everything and everyone I love filtered through me and back out into the world. I refuse to think it is anything but that. As poems go I don't know how good "Patrons" is but I really like it, and that is good enough for me.
The collection of poems in those notebooks is what got me into Mountain Words, but not just that. None of us achieve anything on our own, we are all that curious amalgamation of helpers and roadblocks that we navigate our lives through. I got to Crested Butte because of people hearing of the opportunity and sharing it with me; friends and colleagues who wrote letters of recommendation; and all those characters I encounter every day of my life that enrich my world and my thoughts and make getting out of bed (or off the couch) worth it. I don't have that many close friends. I lean pretty hard on the ones I have and I love them accordingly.
A week or two into my stay I encountered a woman walking her dog, a big chunky yellow lab. When we exchanged greetings the dog immediately approached, all smiling and squirming and tail wagging, for pets and a good full-body lean against me. It was a joyful exchange. Then, most mornings, as I sat on the couch drinking coffee and watching birds, they would pass in the alley behind the house. It got to be part of my morning ritual, and I was a little sad if my day began without seeing them.
The morning I was packing up to leave I saw them down the street. I hurried inside and out back. When they approached, I asked if I could ask "a strange question." I explained to the woman how I'd been there a month but was about to leave, and how I'd taken pleasure in their small, enormous role in my life there. Might I know their names, and maybe take a picture? Of course, she said. Her name was Kristin. And the dog was Bodhi, short for Bodhisattva. At its most simplified, in Buddhism a Bodhisattva is essentially someone who is, or is on the path of becoming, an Enlightened Being.
Bodhi. I almost wept. Could his name be more perfect?