Instinct & Compulsion

Tonight produces another strange episode of sleeplessness. After only about an hour of sleep I wake up with my full right arm tingling and irritated from the pin and needle pricks running along the perimeter of my shoulder and forearm. So I lie listening to the overhead fan circling slowly in its redundant path and try not to think about the plans for tomorrow— or the poems I need to write— the unfinished ideas circling my head in mundane circles.

Despite my insomnia the new house sleeps easily tonight: the house, the neighborhood, the whole town of Cypress seems to rest in anticipation of the approaching morning, far off in the distance. We moved recently, barely five minutes away from the old neighborhood—but the house suits the needs of a growing family, offering a second floor for Brendan’s imagination and curiosity to open out adventures, plus providing numerous nature walks with bridges and canals and wildlife en mass . Even now from my writing room I can see the man-made waterway twisting in the streetlights, reflecting back the black night and occasional car’s headlights passing on the far street.

The various cypress trees planted strategically throughout the developing lots are still in a mode of change, shifting from their dark greens to a heavier rust red. The color spreads now off the tips of the outer branches, creeping further down the main trunk. Brendan loves to stand in the shade running his hands across the rough, cracked bark. Confirming its presence in his life. Confirming his understanding of the tree’s purpose. Today in fact, the three of us: his father, myself and the little one, wandered across the borders of the neighborhood, investigating all the possibilities for discovery in the mild temperatures.

I could feel the presence of a poem following us. It lingers now behind me as I type, poking its head over my shoulder every so often to see if I build towards a better understanding of its purpose. My insomnia is not helping of course. Yet, every little motion towards completing the verse moves me closer to the goal. Played with titles earlier in the evening. Played with phrases and word combinations trying to spark a direct path:

Saint Brendan and the Cypress

Saint Brendan Meditating Under a Cypress

Saint Brendan Meditating on a Cypress

The Cypress and Saint Brendan

Psalms of Saint Brendan Under an Autumn Cypress

Prayer of Saint Brendan under an Autumnal Cypress

—all of which come close to the concept in my head, but yet none of them reach the right destination.

All-in-all, this new idea builds a stronger pattern for a series of poems based off of a loose connection between Brendan (my son) with Brendan (the saint). One poem was already completed a few months ago— “Saint Brendan and the Moon”—it has been circulating out in the world seeking publication, bounced across the desks of two or three editors. The final “episode” of course will be titled “Saint Brendan and the Whale”— building the metaphors for the story of exploration and curiosity, all based on the notions of the Sixth Century Irish monk who ventured across the Atlantic before Columbus.

He fascinates me, this monk. His full hagiography compels me to build a series of poems based on his ventures into the unknown. He explains the creative process in a fashion, the development of an idea and the chasing down the presence of instinct and compulsion. It is by accident we named our son after him— Ricky found the name in a series of lists and we liked the nature of its connections to the Celtic tongue and tradition. The name seems to act as guide and protection over our little one, a mystical witness following him— yes, I know I am building an impractical, psychological association with a word just to feel a sense of security in this unpredictable world.

But that is what poetry does for me as well. Whenever I wake up in the middle of the night angry at myself —or resentful at the culture of the times— the notions of developing more poetry brings out a sense of purpose, a sense of assurance as I move blindly, instinctually into the world.


  1. I grew up with a fair number of Brendans - it was ever a name I enjoyed saying. There is reassurance in its syllables. An Irish song stretching back the centuries.
    I am curious about the Saint Brendan poems - is there mileage in uncoupling the 'Saint' part from the name? maybe encouraging connections with many other Brendans - layering ambiguous connections and meanings? Or maybe I am missing the point.
    Because Brendan the Voyager is certainly a rich source on his own. There have been so many folk bands/musicians who have written songs based on him for instance.
    The Cypress tress sound quite beautiful. Your new home very comfortable. Life is good.

    1. I like the concept of a line of Brendans motioning into back history. What I am creating is somewhat similar, but in the sense blurring the lines between past and present. Revealing the past through present terms.


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