"They made me the keeper of the vineyards,
but mine own vineyard I have not kept."
The dust, the dust that fell on him! Albert Martin sat transfixed, in the lotus position, watching sunrise unfold between his ribs, and stretch its gold hands to both sides of the horizon. Life seemed to begin within him. He had completely lost his body, immersed in pure effulgence. Even when his toes became numb, requiring him to gently pry apart and rest his legs before folding them again, his mind was absorbed in the brilliant light.
“Albert? Albert! You have to see this!” his mother’s voice ricocheted up the stairs.
The TV’s incessant babble from the room below had at first hindered him from entering into meditation, then it slipped into the background. Like a sleeper having just dropped into the unconscious, he was upset about being roused from his otherworldly state. “I’m busy, Mom!” “HURRY, you have to see this!” “I’m meditating!” he yelled.
Albert liked to walk alone through the woods up the street from his mother’s apartment, especially in the cool summer dark. Tonight, the forest was lit by half a moon, with the help of occasional birches. He followed paths he knew well, barely making them out, while reciting
Yeats – mostly “The Song of Wandering Aengus” and “Who Goes with Fergus?”, with their themes of intrepid travel through the woods, wandering stars, supernatural lovers and magical practices.
He gazed from tree to tree, admiring their shape and age, leaves and height. And the lush plants in between, green fingers grasping at nothing - in this light they’d turned to shades of black. At one point he was sure he felt a presence, shivers combing his spine, and imagined it was the spirit of a Mic Mac Indian, lingering here in these northern Maine woods. He walked on into the trees, the trail long left behind. His eyes darted between two large ferns as a figure arose, shaped like a stingray, made of whitish light, flapping up through the air. Albert was grinning, with huge eyes, remembering the faeries in Yeats’s poetry.
Albert tended to observe the world through his window. He watched long strings of lights thrown over the hills, green foam of foliage softening the slopes, and smokestacks from the paper mill just across the Canadian border, pluming white or grey or black smoke into the sky at any hour. Once, as he was walking the one-and-a-half miles back from the town post office, he came across a woman walking toward him. A familiar tension grew inside him. Would he be scrutinized? Would words be necessary? What could he possibly say? Would he have to endure eye contact? As she passed, he turned his head to stare at a nearby silver spruce.
Walking up the dirt road parallel to his street, Albert felt intoxicated on the air and stars. He remembered Emily Dickinson’s lines “Inebriate of air am I/ And debauchee of dew.” Crickets sliced the air thin with their chirping, inspiring him to write a short poem, a sort of haiku –
Walking the gravel path
near this field of crickets –
I wish my steps made no sound.
Then passing a field of hay, swaying with the night breeze, he began imagining what it would be like at sunrise, remembering his meditation. Another poem began to form inside him, which he unfolded while walking:
Scene from a Walk, at Dawn, in a Country Town
Stalk by stalk,
the field of hay
releases its plot
that the gentle,
had brought. . .
bathed in dew,
to the sun
a subdued flame –
by its duty
to the ground,
& to the mouth
of the sweaty
He was happy about both poems, how they honored the ground, the hay, the crickets, as if the lines were bowing to nature. He walked home humming.
Nonconformity was an ideal of Albert’s – to his classmates it seemed as if every day brought a different haircut, self-styled, and a new temporary dye in his hair – silver, copper, purple, pink and more. Since he loved to stay up late listening to Joy Division and Cabaret Voltaire, he always got up late, missed the bus, and needed a ride to school from his mother. One morning his mom expressed her upset about his long Gumby earring, saying that people might call him gay. He yelled “Grow up!” at her from the back of the car. His two sisters smiled.
During one walk on the gravel path, passing his favorite field of hay, Albert saw something out of the corner of his eye. Scores of tall beings stood over the plants, undulating their arms in a gesture that looked like a blessing. They were transparent, as if made of light, and were greenish pink in color. He immediately looked straight at them, and they disappeared. Albert was not insane. He began to think he might have some kind of gift, maybe supersensory sight. He said an inner prayer for these beings and their plants, the midnight sky and trees, for everything and everyone he could think of, making sure to include those who had died and those who were yet to be. Lightning seemed to surge up his spine. He continued his walk, and once again glimpsed the gorgeous creatures in his peripheral vision. They had not moved, but instead stood guard over the hay, dovetailed with deep sapphire dusk, gently moving their hands in softly flowing waves. Eager to make their acquaintance, Albert quietly asked “Who might you be, and why are you here? What do you eat? Can the field live without you? I can see you’re not afraid of me.” He was standing sideways, as if still walking.
They seemed to speak in unison, like different features of one face. “You could call us the garden keepers if you like. We oversee this globe’s garden of plants and trees. We are almost everywhere, but are not meant to be seen, so this moment means you must be a friend. Thank you for your heartfelt prayer. That is what feeds us, altruistic prayer. Prayer that looks after all beings. But we are all dying – there is so little of this prayer in your world. And if we die, so will all the plants and trees. That is why there are less and less of them – your highways and cities are just a side effect. So to answer your question, the field cannot live without us. You nourished and strengthened us. Keep praying the way you do, or sing the Universal Prayer. It is in Sanskrit, but you can recite it in any language. It begins like this -
May the wicked become good.
May the good obtain peace.
May the peaceful be freed from bonds.
May the freed set others free.”
They all grew quiet. Albert bowed his head toward them. He walked home very slowly, not knowing if he could tell anyone what he knew.