Independent of

A tiny fawn has made a bed for itself next to the stone foundation adjacent to my porch. A week old now, and, tonight, it didn’t spring up when I came outside to water the flower boxes on the railing with my collection of begonias, verbena, dianthus, violet galaxy-streaked petunias, coleus, and mint.

We have gotten acquainted with each other’s habits. I see the doe return every now and then with another deer, probably an older sibling, when I glance out. We are quiet together, independent, and dependent on that skill of quietness.

I go back to my reading.

By one’s self the evil is done, by one’s self one suffers; by one’s self evil is left undone, by one’s self one is purified. The pure and the impure stand and fall by themselves, no one can purify another.

Wisdom of the Buddha: The Unabridged Dhammapada, translated by F. Max Muller

Independence is a big responsibility. It’s almost Independence Day, our national cultural touchstone. In a peaceful evening, while thunderstorms roll north of us, I wonder who and what it’s for, this raging independence. But, if we can be quiet together sometimes, our roots can grow together, hugging underneath the surface. I’d like to pledge allegiance to the quiet question of happiness rather than self-purification in my art.

Nothing can grow and improve without nourishment. I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, in which we keep returning to the question of happiness and interdependence. Here’s a brief recorded teaching of his—a reminder.

So much is at stake. Back to my reading…

One of my poetry teachers has a new book of poems out, and I’ve been quietly reading, slowly, on the porch. Husbandry by Matthew Dickman enters a reflective poetic on parenting alone. Because all of the poems are written in couplets, every motion feels mirrored, ghazal-like, and reflexive.

The independence of single-parenting feels like endless mirages here, perhaps because of experiences of anxiety, emotional violence, and the sheer physical and mental demand of it.

…I kept thinking

what would happen
if I forgot him

in the car, in the sun…

Everything depends on minding our loves and ourselves. Further along in this poem, titled “The Animal Kingdom,” Dickman reflects on animal fathers:

…who eat their young,
eat their hearts out

of their chests,
not because they are hungry,

or jealous, no,
not because of some ancient,

locked-in thread
of DNA that has yet to evolve,

but because they do not
know how to eat themselves,

which is what they really
want, to devour

the thing they hate
the most, the star-filled

wagon of the Self, that
bag of meat and bones

they did not ask to be.
I did not ask to be…

Dickman’s poetry is an ever-honest commentary on self-mastery as a life-long, ever-exhausting chore. As the Dhammapada points out “one’s own self is difficult to subdue.” But the reward of that effort yields all the good we ever see in this world.

And my only job now,
in all the world,

is to not destroy my kids,
and in turn,

teach them not
to destroy others,

even though, of course,
I will and they will,

locked-in as we are
and free as any other animal.

I think that’s where nourishment and happiness enter into the picture. A lot of Matthew Dickman’s Instagram posts from these long pandemic days have been snapshots of his kids cooking dinners and desserts, going for walks, making art.

Both dependent and independent in our lives, we can celebrate interdependence, as Thich Nhat Hanh encourages. I wonder how much of my life’s opportunity to evolve is going to waste because I’m not quiet enough.

A fawn sleeps under my window— a good reminder. Shhh.

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