Though I think not
To think about it,
I do think about it
And shed tears
Thinking about it.
Thinking about it
Yes I Know
K is standing at the shoreline in his little wet suit. He looks like a half-seal child.
It gets deep quickly, I say from only three feet out, where the water is already over my head. And because he has not spent that much time at the beach, I add: Do you know what high and low tide is?
At the sage age of seven, his answer to any Do you know is invariably a thinly exasperated YES. It’s like buttering a doughnut.
The bay is windfluenced. K plunges his sleek form into the water, kicking it rather than just kicking, and elaborates: It’s when the moon tells the water what to do.
Best explanation I’ve heard. He swims in circles around a hypothetical centre, one eye trained on the pubescent yacht moored just beyond the fishing nets where egrets perch waiting for a mistake to be made.
So when the pirates pour out of its stern and begin to travel into shore, only K and his little brother Q, who is 5, are on guard. They have spent the weekend in the sand, building a sprawling castle out of decimated crab parts that litter the beach thanks to the feeding rituals of seagulls. In the castle’s meditation room (what castle would be complete without one?), not so far from the weaponry, there is a lady slipper shell “side” table that inverts, for those in the know, to reveal stash of anti-pirate spray. Phew. We are rescued, again and again, before we even know we are in danger.
Some of those who believe ardently in God believe something like this and use it, when in argument with agnostics, as proof.
up in arms
K looks above the house, where the moon has appeared in the late afternoon sky, and then back at the yacht: what pirate would dare now, with K’s sentinel backed up by that marble eyeball? He’s already informed us that sometimes the sun and the moon are out at the same time—they have joint custody of existence—what’s up with that?
In their pre-twilight staring contest, the moon wins. The sun may glare, but the moon is cool and confident; the sun has a hissy fit in bold colors, and the moon just waits for the sun to exhaust itself being dazzling. She can wait interminably—no awkward silence is too long to bear. And the water in our bodies, like the bodies of water that monopolize most of our planet, push and pull in accord. The sun rouses us, it’s true, but every living thing, Simon-Says-ing with the ocean, listens to the moon.
Esteemed yoga teacher Genny Kapuler said to me in an interview: Contingent upon our karma, fate, background, situations, we have to make different choices in order to keep our little ships afloat.
In the night, like the pirates, we too sneak out of our little ships, though we remember not, and into the black waters. Flying things track us with their eyes, swimming things cross our paths. Like the pirates, we have no lantern but our capacity for choosing beneficial or harmful action, and when we make it to the cavern, if we make it, it glitters with gold pilfered from consciousness’s Big Money. We cannot take it back with us, and when we arrive again at our boat, rocking in the indecisions of the tide, we must hang our heads and say, as much as we reached for it, it would not stay in our hands!
Pirates worth their salt don’t appreciate the absence of booty. And so returning with nothing, we write over and over and over, on the green chalkboard in chalk-breaking, block letters: I WILL NOT FORGET WHERE I CAME FROM I WILL NOT FORGET WHERE I CAME FROM. But most apologies, as it stands, are lies. The head honcho Pirate rolls the eye that is not covered by the black Patch; he is like an advertisement for adolescence, his peg leg looking particular peg-ish. His ratty t-shirt, peeking out through his open red brocade jacket reads, ACQUIRE OR DIE.
Wheel of the mind
Imagination, we know, is curative. Not just curative, but as mobile as sperm, wiggling around worldly obstacles, making whole what is hopelessly fractured. It fills an open space faster than an open fire hydrant floods a sidewalk, and populates it with the stuff of the mind. It allows for a seamlessness that perverts our accustomed separateness. Why, when we look at miles of sand, do we call it “beach”? This too is nothing but the mind. We don’t relate to the grain of sand as an individual—we relate to billions of them at once. Only then do they offer us somewhere to have a picnic, or macerate clear jellyfish (as I did as a kid), or bury our legs and nectarine pits and condom wrappers.
Delivering a healing that is not quite of this world, but relies on imagination for its medical impact, Q blasts us with his Staff of Nectar; its secret powers are so complex he can’t even put it into words, but one “Pkow!” from that thick-stemmed sunflower, as tall as Q himself, and you know you’re implicated in the magic that makes living things die and dying things, occasionally, live.
Then there is imagination-as-interior-decorator: their crab castle has a dining room where you can—yum!—eat your meals naked (protected by shields, of course) and a superior bathroom suite—but you must enter it by hurdle; if one chooses, one can catapult onto the toilet from the master bedroom (I admittedly got carried away with them here). Only the butt of a hermit crab could fit comfortably on the toilet seat, but that is fine, since we all ought to comport with the husks of our ancestors at the most reverent moments possible. And the toilet, with all its requisite and functional letting go, is just that.
I spent a good deal of the summer teaching adolescents about language’s pliability, coaxing them to be truth-speakers. They did not need too much coaxing; only the assurance that their work would be respected.
In the process, they pulled their stories out of their back pockets like a magician, hand-over-hand, draws knotted handkerchiefs out of his throat.
I realized that life was not going to be kind to you, not one little bit.
The shells skinned the top of our heads as we ran through the forest and jumped over a puddle—well, some call it the Atlantic, but I call it a puddle…
Cold showers during the winter, broken walls, dripping ceilings, and hard beds that feel like gym mats…
The stories that surfaced when they were trusted to speak what was real for them, and in fact were authorized to do so, made even the overused coffee machine at the end of the hall—where corporate America revitalizes only to instantly devitalize in the life-squelching culture of the place—stand at attention.
Last summer, with the run of a conference room, they managed to break a desk-chair by trying to do a push-up on it. Wouldn’t you? And when the director of the program called them into circle to chastise and problem solve, and named the cost of the admittedly feeble chair at 750 dollars, wiry K said under his breath, Well they got that chair at the wrong damn store. Same one at Walmart for 5 dollars—
These young men come from public schools and poorer neighborhoods where, for the most part, the destiny of each is not encouraged to be any bigger than what will fit easily into a Duane Reade plastic bag. They were selected for this fellowship because someone believed their dreams could be backed by Big Money, and to bring upstanding men of color into the upper echelons of the work force. To see what this will feel like, my boys make hot chocolate after hot chocolate at the coffee machine, loving its form and function like it is their sexy girlfriend; for a couple of them, Swiss Miss is the sole food group they will have that day. They don’t talk about that.
With these same boys, for two years, I had practiced some of the magic particular to humans: learning the rules of language cold, manipulating them, and then breaking them (my favorite part) for art and expression’s sake with warmth, gusto and purpose. Their playfulness is like a bedbug at a mattress sale: everything is food for it. During the school year, we worked late in the afternoon on Wednesdays, in a converted cubicle space in the financial district.
It was often like this: I’m conducting drills on the parts of speech. The boys look like they wouldn’t mind drilling out one of their eyes. We are experimenting with the useful conversion performed by poets and grammar students alike: transforming nouns into adjectives—without missing a beat.
Yeah, that. It’s the word I want for my epitaph: She lived creamtastically.
As summer moves towards fall, you start to miss the light before you realize it is diminishing.
At five-thirty A.M., the water and the sky are the same color dark. The dark slowly lifts as it grades towards the pupil of heaven’s bloodshot eye. A few stars are hanging out.
I always wanted to swim naked at dawn, and now I bolt down from the house along the path Dad re-whacks each year. J and his sons, K and Q, have already gone back to the city; my yearning for them makes my skin feel full. Yearning seems less an emotional state than a blood-type. As Basho haikus:
the bee emerges from deep
within the peony
[Reprinted without permission. The peony did not object].
Swimming in the dark seems like a gamble with everything, but to be naked like this is the best. The blackened water touches my entire body as if checking for all the parts, as a mother elated to see her child after a prolonged absence or as an ape grooming another for insects and flakes of bark. The Lord in her largess is an equal opportunity employer for me and for the gnat.
I think of JH, miscarrying in the middle states on her parched farmland, amid miles of prairie. She called it labor, an agony, at under three months gestation; whatever was birthed, the mass of tissues and incipient human form, she and her partner S gave a burial place among the thirsty vegetables in the yard. This is the kind of grief that must run through one like water. I could not catch her grief.
They say: Naked as the day you were (n’t) born…
Water reckons our losses. I don’t want to get out.
I swim as hard as I can; my crawl is uneven and somewhat desperate, like my art-making. There is an old, wrinkly man who lives on this beachfront who could be close to one hundred; he performs a methodical crawl near the shoreline every day, turning his head at exactly the same angle with each breath. Even the pitiless black flies respect him. I want that kind of rhythm in life—steady, perseverant, repelling insects with the clarity and consistency of my form.
The sky lightens, but only just enough that the rainclouds are evident. I wonder if the end of life is like this, a darkness that depends on light for its dominion.
Either way, I’d like to die while swimming.
K and Q tell me that most humans don’t have homing instincts, but they do. Plop them anywhere, and they’ll find their way home—or at very least know which way home is.
Some things, some people, seem to pull you towards them. Once, when we were small, my sister put on goggles and patiently trolled back and forth, until, most improbably, she found at the bottom of the bay, nestled between rocks and shells, a Claddagh ring that had fallen from my finger while I swam.
And J tells me, quietly and in my ear, that I’m his Home. Not just like he feels at home, but a categorical home. Each night before we sleep, I invite him into my dreams. When his body relaxes and begins to twitch, I think it is because he is running along the tracks of my mind with all his might, preparing to take a flying leap into the place where love begins, and where love will always rebegin.
B doesn’t know how lucky she is. She’s a dog, so she never will. My sister rises before it is light to drive her down to the beach for a walk. The bossy full moon, with her blue face showing twice this month, means that the low tide has left a broad expanse of sand exposed. The exposure feels personal.
We arrive just as the red hint is pushing up over the ocean’s flat proposal. Pinks and blues, messily mixed, echo the cloudscape along the equally flat, compact sand—as if Monet, blind, has fumbled along here with his brush, making what nature has already rendered beautiful that much more compelling.
The sun comes up a striated and popping red ball, the way planets are depicted in books about the solar system. It looks less like a sunrise proper than like a sunset on rewind– as if God, taking the pleasure of an artist in her work, reversed clock time with her cosmic remote. After all, some things happen only once in a blue moon.
B, who is still being trained with devotion, has to look my sister in the eye to get her alpha-permission to do anything. What B wants is obvious: to sniff at liberty, to run up to everything that moves, to cavort with the other, less well-behaved dogs that frequent Wells beach. B expects—and gets—treats for everything she does right; we, perhaps, harbor this same expectation, that a compulsive God is keeping a meticulous tally, and will pet our head when we do right, and keep us safe from the bigger dogs, as my student says, who want to rip us to shreds and walk on.
B seems unimpressed by the sunrise, and by the cycles of things. At the doggy daycare, while my sister was orchestrating behavior-based solutions for troubled family’s lives, B ate the entirety of another dog’s food supply, meant to last five days, and is feeling the raucous intestinal consequences. When my sister goes off to throw B’s huge poop in a bin (be glad that, unlike my adolescent students, I did not take a photo), B whines, as if she will never return to us. In that, B and I are similar; I don’t like parting, I ache at it, because it reminds me of Parting.
By the time we walk back along the shore to the car, every pebble casts its significant shadow. There are long tracks from the tide. The sun is yellow now, the way a child would plop it into a drawing. On the short drive home, we pass the marquee for the Pizza and Roast Beef Parlor with Soft Serve, as if a spoof of B’s distress. The sun shines on it, too.
Flaming wheel of sun
On the beach in Long Island, K had made a “flaming wheel of sun”—each orange, pearly shell placed at an exact angle to catch the light from the sunset. The catch was effective but necessarily temporary. Soon they would be shells without jobs.
For a long time after we leave the beach, I imagine the art stays. But sooner or later, it too, listens to the moon, and turns back to its origins.