Archive for the ‘Birth’ Category

Little Losses

May 17, 2014

Sayonara, Baby Beardie: A short tale of a short life

First, the tip of his tail broke off the way a burnt pizza crust breaks.

“Wilbur’s dying,” John said.

John had incubated the clutch and taught the neonates to eat—first roaches, a colony delivered by mail, arriving in the cardboard box marked “delicate” on the same day the chirpy exterminator came to evict the native pests in our apartment. Then John coaxed the neonates into hand-fed vegetarianism, with ribboned kale and dandelion.

Egg-tooth and effort leap lizard into life.  Nap time.

Egg-tooth and effort leap lizard into life. Nap time.

 

The little guy Dying, capital D? That made no sense. People didn’t expire from broken arms. Lizards shouldn’t expire from broken tails.

Wilbur was the runt; runts are supposed to live a runty, underdog life, giving us something to root for. They help us see the runty parts of ourselves, tucked behind our competence.

I protested, “But he’s so cute! Take it back” As if the universe had ever once made exception for cuties.  A special primordial panic sets in when anything in your care is dying. Pity the fly. Pity the spider-plant.

There should be a rule: if you have just been born, you can’t die for a bit. Amnesty.

But there is no such rule, no such amnesty, and no such guarantee. Infant mortality is still a major employment opportunity for The Stork’s dark brother. Clearly, life does not work differently for lizards than for any other creature.

Pregnant Expectations

When Sunny was pregnant, and too skinny for the job, I could feel her from the other room.  Not an “animal person” or even “kind of an animal person” (get it?), I communed with her unabashedly.

You know how women’s menstrual cycles will synch up when in one another’s extended company? So I worried about her Calcium dust and nutrient ratios. Before she was “with lizard”, it had been hard to remember that she existed, tucked away in the boys’ room under the heat lamp. Occasionally it was good fun to watch her put up with Drako’s male dominance dance, head-bobbing atop her; it looked like the volatile prayer of the ultra-religious with a little James Brown.

Yet once Sunny was gravid, the whole house seemed pregnant. Eventually, she dug frantically in the dirt box that John had prepared in the middle of the night. At sufficient depth, she dropped her clutch, covered them, and forgot they existed. So we took over their survival.

The eggs nestled in a Tupperware filed with dirt in a humid, heated, unused fish tank, well covered up against the descending autumn chill. It was hard not to anthropomorphize the situation: how could she let go of these new lives-on-the-edge, and not care for the fact that they were growing into form mere feet from her tank? Imagine if our gestation happened at a short, cold, unacknowledged distance from the womb? There are freaky movies about such things.

 

This is how it works post birth.

This is how it works post birth.

Eventually, the lizards hatched, rested and leapt forth, with extraordinary little burst of life facilitated by the handy egg-tooth. It made me really want an egg-tooth.  John and the boys lay on the floor and stared at them, these little prickles of creation.  And I stared at the three beloved boys staring at life. This may be something like what yoga means by “the Witness.”

Runty Days

Wilbur was the runt, and so he always needed more naps than the other eight. Just getting up from one nap necessitated another nap to recover. The rest of the brood stepped on his head, while climbing up the stick towards the heat lamp. Wilbur just took it, as if he was part stick.

His body was little, much littler than his head. It looked like he could have big thoughts about lizard things, but never gain that much ground.

We favored him. When we gave away the brood, we were going to keep him. In Charlotte’s Web, the runt not only lives, but also becomes a famous speller. Could we not hope as much for Wilbur?

I got your back.  Don't mind that I just stepped on your head.

I got your back. Don’t mind that I just stepped on your head.

But once the tail broke, once the pummeling started, even easy spelling words weren’t in the cards—only one, the Big D, the Big I, the Big E. The huge spiders zip-lining in our bathroom could write it all out for him.

The universe was sucking the meat back from his body through an invisible straw. Every day, Wilbur’s skin hung on him more and more. He was the world’s youngest old-man lizard.

John does not give up on any creature, of any size, of any species, no matter how unfriendly the creature (or human) might be toward him.  In this we unite.  But aside from weeping over a few failing tadpoles as a young person and trying to poke them onto a rock with a pencil tip, I’d never really tried to resuscitate an animal.

He pried Wilbur’s mouth open with a tweezer and fed him through a syringe, squeezing in a last-ditch drink of dandelion-leaf and egg whites we’d made with the hand blender, the kind of meal a paleo-athlete brags about. Most of this concoction came right back out of Wilbur’s mouth. He hardly had the energy to open up. Luckily, he would never have to go to the dentist.

John has a strong constitution; he can eat anything (expired meat), break anything (a few ribs), handle anything and still thrive. But stooped over, caring for this fragile creature, his physical strength was all in service to tenderness.  This is the kind of strength I vow my life to. In John’s palm lay a husk of a thing, drained of will.

When animals give up, they don’t need to make excuses for it. Done, their bodies announce. And off they go.

We put Wilbur in the bathroom sink and filled the basin with water to rouse him enough to administer the syringe. Little Q was helper, but he was squeamish, not sure he really wanted to: “It’s not nice to force someone to eat,” Q said.   Perhaps he was empathizing, since for his own mysterious reasons, perhaps mysterious even to himself, he often doesn’t want to eat the food set in front of him. (Unless it’s a cupcake.  Bless the eternal palatability of cupcakes).

Wilbur’s mouth opened by dim reflex. We respond despite ourselves to the feeling of water.

Over and Out

Wilbur died just then in John’s palm, but John didn’t say anything. Wilbur had drowned in his liquid meal, the best he could have hoped for. A smoothie for the last supper. Certainly, this drink would at least give Wilbur an athletic boost over the Big Vault. Into the Lizard Unknown.

That night, John dreamed of his own father, also two years dead. His dad, opining, was sitting on our couch. The reality of the feeling itself let him know it was a dream. The horribleness of that fact came creeping on, like the feeling of one’s bladder at capacity while sitting in car traffic in a tunnel.  Have you ever dreamed this way, woken to what’s worse, the loss made fresh? I’ve had this feeling after deaths, and I don’t know the word for it; I bet the Japanese do. It is bound up with yearning, but more existential.

Before dawn, out practicing with the Naga Buddha who, no matter what, clasps his-her hands in boggling faith, I could feel John’s sadness balloon in the bedroom; the sadness was another kind of pregnant, resonant as I had been with gravid Sunny. His dad could have been grabbing me by the collar and pulling me to the source of all sorrow. Sometimes love has you that yanked.

Bowing to the source of sorrow, which is the source of love

Bowing to the source of sorrow, which is the source of love

And when John woke up, he confirmed that not only was his dad dead, but Wilbur was too, and now he would wait for the children to wake up. Then, he would speak briefly about the beautiful frailty of life, and bury Wilbur in the biggest planter that we had.  Ugh, death; ugh! Every little loss gouges my chest.  Or maybe I, like Wilbur, was born with this gauge already activated. Creation draws up its funny contracts: Please check this box: I allow you to release my personal information to the universe. No, you cannot have an extension on your taxes.

Safe-Keeping

Like attracts like: the planter where we put Wilbur held an overgrown corn plant, which didn’t look like it would make it either. Despite all the months it had seemed to be dying, a species of palm tree frightened of the Northern low light, it hadn’t done so yet. It pains me to have indecisively dying plants around that just can’t seem to thrive or expire. They don’t have to waste their lives: I’m wasting it for them.

John brought the plant home for my birthday last year; it had been given away by a couple about to have a baby. They needed to reduce the number of other life forms and space-hoggers in their apartment, and so also sold us our dinning room table, made from old telephone poles. Sit here and bless the yummies that sustain us. K and Q and John and I sit at the table and link fingers and thank every little thing on our plates, “and especially the mac n’ cheese for being awesome.” Yes, especially that. Objects, creatures, all in transit. Invented cheese, in transit.

A little stone marks little Wilbur’s spot in his little plot of dirt. Surely the casing of a body would deteriorate quickly, and where there had been a Wilbur, richer soil would be, giving the corn plant a chance, or at least company. And so the cycle of life goes on. Pretty much right away, Q and K set about aiming at the headstone with a water-gun, as very temporary grief becomes play for resilient children.

In the night, I silently place the little runt at the center of my heart into John’s sleeping, half-open hands. For safe-keeping and safe-tending; for this unmeasured journey onto which we embark.

When Wilbur weakened, arms and legs splayed, looking like a cave drawing of a lizard, his desiccated tail had seemed so odd, wrong-sized, misplaced.   But when one crust breaks, so to speak, another dough is just rising. Feel, feel for the rising.

As light does

As light does

Note: This began as an essay I wrote for my 7th grade students as a grammar parsing exercise.  Which goes to show that attention to grammar, and deep love of 7th graders, can lead one to seeing life a bit more clearly.  Also below I am testing out moving away from MM’s longtime stance of representing humans by initials only.   It is hard to capture love in words without strattling the utmost corny of expressions.

 

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Love’s Paraphernalia

October 28, 2013
Image

the phoenix we have. perfection in an imperfect frame.

Needing It

There are frogs living in the desert that only need to drink once every five years.  K, 8 years-old, tells me this excitedly over brussel sprouts and chicken sausage, which he pulls apart and eats with his fingers.

Every five years?  Nature is weird, but that’s pushing it.

He nods, and explains.  The frogs just take a really good soak.  And if a dehydrated human comes across one– lucky lucky!  You can just pick it up and squeeze it and drink to your delight out of its butt.

I have to fact-check that one.

But K is uproariously confident.  He is as full of nature facts as the frog is filled up with water.  He jumps from the fantastical existing creatures into mythological ones, with just as much scientific umph.  He tells me that the Phoenix’s egg combusts into fire, and then the phoenix is born anyway.

Like the rest of us?

Born, anyway.

Oops, Hee Hee

Q, 6, brings home a pet stick.

The stick is about the size of his forearm, thick, rained on a bit too recently and still holding water.

J says, You won’t believe what this stick can do. He gestures deferentially to the stick’s adept trainer, his younger son.   

Watch this, Q says, eyebrows raised, and tosses the stick across the room.  STAY!

The stick stays, with utter obedience.

Q claps with joy: Now that’s a great pet!

Wow, we say.  You just trained it to do that? 

Yes, Q says, anyone can.

Later, when we play our board game, he must slowly sounds out the word EXPRESSION.  Reading—one of the many things we non-sticks train ourselves to do.

E X P E N S I V E?

Nope, I say.  And cover the letters one by one, so he can tackle it in parts.

E X ER C IS E?

Nope, though expression can be an expensive exercise, for sure.

Eventually, when he is ready, he gets it right.  He has to stop in the middle to feed the pet stick.

Because the card we picked said so, I have to draw for him the expression “Don’t cry over spilled milk” while the sand timer runs out.  Funny, because this expression is exactly about using time wisely, not getting caught up in a past.

He watches me draw a carton, a cup, an overflow from the cup, a face crying.  He guesses wildly:  Milk!  Sad face!  Fall!

Something like that.

Anyway, K says later, why would you cry about milk?  You could always get down on the floor and lick it up.

Yes.  It really does taste the same.  The boys are unshy about rescuing fallen dinners in this way.

When we eat, we hook pinkies to thank every bit of food that made its way to our table.  Q leads us, extending sincere gratitude to the carrots, tomatoes, lettuce—and  what’s in the pesto? Mac’ n’ cheese.  S—me—for cooking.

When we let go, Q makes a halt sign with his hand, one green pea wedged at the depression between each finger.  Hand of peas!  He says gleefully.  Hand of PEACE! 

Like the feeling when your pet stick settles down for the night, when the dishes are clean on all sides, when there is no milk to cry over.

If you wish to weep, though, as the ordinary often provokes, there is instead the degree to which love has taken root in the storehouse of your life.   That is always fodder for tears.  Love is always a burning phoenix, with a bright egg in its center, ready to break open.

Breaking Open in Collaboration

Infloresence

May 1, 2012


Infloresence

Alighting

The flowering on the trees, even in Brooklyn, is so intricate that Nature seems out to flummox by design.  When no one is looking, even the pigeons are impressed.  With people out on the streets distracted by the complexity of blossoms, they are scoring more half-bagels than ever, the vermin’s equivalent of filet mignon.  Fucking Toffuti again, one pigeon says dismissively to the other in ineluctable pigeon-ese.  One tiny foot pins down the second-rate bounty, scraping the tofutti off into the sewer grid, where it joins the stew of prescription med run-off and children’s socks.  Both birds turn beady pigeon eyes upward, where the flower show is staged on the tree boughs, their necks ruffling with the dumb pleasure of it all.

It’s like this: beauty is impossible to hold in check, and it spreads over the hard edges and cement flavor of urban life like varicose veins.  Mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris), a medicinal weed that thrives, like the lotus, in waste beds, grows hugging the side of my local Key Food.  It pushes up from the crack where its brick walls meet the uneven sidewalk like it is bench-pressing the universe.  My green medicine teacher talked about the alchemizing power of certain plants, how they can thrive in even the most polluted soil beds and yet contain no trace of those toxins in their cells; and the plants retain this power, untraceable as it might be, to draw the toxins from ours.  So the weeds arrive on the city scene, defying even concrete, from seemingly impossible conditions—as a balm for the haste of our lives.  Mugwort, like its viscous weed consort dandelion, is at peace with being generally ignored; it does its work anyway.  Healing is everywhere, y’all, the plants insist.  But y’all are wearing sunglasses at night.  So I’ll just sit here until you catch on.  The pigeons stroll by, too—more interested in the human foods, processed, and fabricate, than in what is wild.  They could much improve the tofutti’d bagel by shredding artemisia on top: a little bitter, a little better.

Guardian of the Weeds on Daffodil Hill

Spring is a series of mathematical explosions of beauty, stealth moves in the nights, speaking reassuringly to us.   Even though this winter was too warm, and the spring bears the kind of convoluted promise of a really good nap on one’s deathbed, it is hard not to blossom with the blossoms.  It is hard to hold back.

Blood-flower

Lithic Cyclic

Mugwort is not just a patient whore in front of Key Food; she is also the bringer of women’s blood.  She moves what is stagnant in both the imagination and the womb; she’s as common as a sentence.

Some women really do not like their monthly shedding of blood—dread it, in fact, and all its messy excesses, strange smells and nebulous moods.  If they could skip it, they would, and there are drugs engineered to make this wish come true—the equivalent of taking the inhale, but skipping the exhale.  The desirability of all bodily functions exists on a relative scale.  For me, menstrual blood is the Mona Lisa of physiological processes– her smile is buried in the looker’s eyes, her mysterious and oddly drab aesthetic somehow managing to attract all the attention in an enormous museum.

Wait a minute, someone might object: what about fartsShow me the virtue in those!  As I learned from a wise naturopath in Istanbul, some people relish in the return of flatulence after a long spell on anti-depressants, which often interfere with the “normal” expressive transit of the digestive tract.  So that awful-smelling thing that somehow made its way out of your rear-end becomes due cause for celebration, and you to want to shout with glee: “Everybody, I farted!” As it is, few proudly declaim flatulence-pride in that way.  Nobody in “right mind” would do so in a full subway car or in a small elevator.  O contraire, as my J says: his little boys are wild about their own farts, the pull-my-finger pleasure of ownership.

That same kind of unchecked exuberance– boys exalting in their farts as if here, at last, was the awaited Messiah– erasing the fuzzy lines of propriety, was what came over me last night, when my menstruation started for the first time in a year.  The brown flecks on toilet paper, specific enough in color and texture to have safely exceeded the palette of my wishful thinking—I caught my breath, as I heard the party going on outside the bathroom door, fumbling conversation a tapestry in which our little lives were woven—Everybody, I’m bleeding!  Is this the kind of TMI that makes people not want to read blogs?  Well then, it’s the same TMI that a body naturally puts forth, while we, in our learned confusion, tidy it up, odorize it, and hold it in check—that is, until death personally removes the bounds and lets the body have its oozy way.  We often don’t like to think of people we know having actual bodily “functions”—but, surely, that is part of the beauty, surely the beauty actually runs on that.

Bloodflower in the world's panties

Holy holy holy.  I stay in the bathroom a long time in wonderment.  The Sistine Chapel has nothing on this crumpled piece of toilet paper.  I can hear E playing the flute in the back room, then the electric keyboard, then tambourine.  A had told me at the last party here about squatting in the November cold, barefoot, in the tiny park near her house, holding the arms of her partner, while she miscarried into the grass.  Our menstrual blood usually goes into the toilet bowl or the garbage.  But it is as holy as any lost thing.

And, really, the bleeding of even one woman should be cause for a whole party of people to celebrate—for each release of blood, by any woman, signals the alignment of the body, and therefore of every body, with the cycles of life that are both co-extensive with the individual and far vaster.  And when you’ve doubted, as I have, whether the arms of the cosmos were in fact broad enough to wrap around you, to rock you as if you were its only child–

Shame-Flower

My beloved teacher, R, tells his class to write a poem in praise of something unlikely.   He writes his own to dear shame, and then a birth-story poem to his mother, who blithely told (and told and told) her children that they were mistakes; only once she began to slide into the den of Alzheimer’s did she forget, occasionally, to remind them of this.

Can you praise the error of your own birth? It’s a litmus test for irony.  The poem turns warm the cold walls of those maternal words by enveloping them, too—them, too—in the praise of being alive.  Is this backwards, or perfect?  R has spent much of his beautiful life swimming in shame, as if shame were another layer of fascia organizing his limbs, ejecting him, time to time, from his own body.  How teens get kicked out of public parks at dark by authorities who don’t want trouble in the manicured non-wildness, which nonetheless still carries the seed-memory of its own wild state; the teens go off sulkily, leaving behind all the canopy of trees, disabused of the notion that parks are for recreation and pleasure in all its miscreant forms.  Praise, praise what troubles us.

R has been a beacon of light for so many human creatures in the oh-too familiar, brambly, and bloated tic-infested woods of our suffering.  It’s a neighborhood we’ve all lived in, even if briefly, often frozen and hoping for eviction notice.  His way is an ecosystem of brightness, how the light glints off of even what can kill us.  R is the kind of person that you’d ask to whisper a poem to you on your deathbed, or shout it, so that all the spirits, who gather round as the mind begins to un-tether and the body shuts down on its last call, might be given a strong beat for their liberation Cha-Cha.   He is proof that one can have parents so totally inadequate at giving love, and still become a flaming source of love in the world.  Like me, though, R has always known the liminal-state best, the spiritual semi-colon—the place between worlds.  But it will eat you for lunch if you’re not careful.

Fire Flower in the Dark

My own shame has been over my tenuous relationship with my menstrual cycle, which for so long made me feel like a squatter in the Cosmos, unable to align with her rhythms, the elevator always getting stuck between floors.  Mother May I?  Not sure.   Two steps forward, three steps back.  My body-weight has fluctuated, as if it were controlled by a private moon, causing it to wax and wane, wax and wane. Tiny but powerful, they say.  My dad tells me that, born two months premature, I laid on the baby-warmer, all two-pounds eleven-ounces of me, and strained against the fisticuffs that held me in place so that I could safely receive my neo-nate medicine: heat.  Busting out of the constraints, indeed: these metatarsals were made for walking.  My dad, I suppose, and not the table itself, held me in place with a smile-flower.

Corpse Flower

You can find some really strange flowers, if you look.  Not just the feeling of what explodes into bloom in the belly, chest, mind, or trees, but the wild, un-understood wild places.

The flower Amorphophallus Titanum seeds only a few times in its tall, heavy, long life.  Its posse is tiny: Raffelasia Arnoldi, a fellow plant in the Sumatran jungle playground.  It looks like carrion and smells like it too—something you might say in the schoolyard, meaning, only kind of, to be mean.

Sorry, you’ll have to Google it for images.

J and I are gifted with this specimen while searching online to find the name of some little purple-brown flowers that he had once painted.  His piece was an untitled oil of the muscular back of a part-man-part-beast, crouching on the ground, his bare skull proximate to these odd blossoms in an otherwise dark milieu.  Chocolate flower.  This plant no longer seeds itself—propagated instead by cloning, by human hand.  It is named for its smell: “chocolate,” God’s little synaesthesic joke.

Among the images of extinct flowers, we come across some real atrocities, making the toothed plant in Little Shop of Horrors look like a rosebud on a china plate by comparison.  When open for and to pollinating, the Titan Arum flower emits the smell of rotting flesh, attracting the pollinators for whom that is a sexy smell. See?  Nothing is disgusting to everyone.

Actually, this is a great solace in the world.  Certain creatures flock at a pace towards fresh carrion– flesh at its most flesh-like.  We, too, are creatures of decay, from birth onwards.  Right now, if we believe our statistics, the world is on over-stock of its fleshy products.  It can’t feed us all, the way we’re choosing to live, so it’s best if we hurry along and be food for/ feed something else.

Note the absence of photos.  But rot is everywhere, if you look for it.

The so-called carrion flowers bloom for only a few days, every many years.  There are folks, botanists, for whom this is the event of a lifetime, as it is for the flower.  That’s a lot of waiting, J says.  Amorphophallus Titanarum.  Don’t hold your breath, one might caution a hopeful audience; it could be seven more years.  Far-gone yogi(ni)s might be up for such a challenge; but they’ve been the flower, and their breathing rate is based as much on creation cycles as carbon dioxide build-up.  Their bodies undergo the reverse: open all the time, they wait to shed the already-odiferous flesh—we carry around, vivified, our dead body– for the moment of great liberation.  Long breath retentions are just warm-ups for accommodating, and being accommodated by, the infinite.

Admittedly, the botanical name of this flower, amorphophallus titanarum (fun to say, mirabile dictu!), sounds like a condom brand for taxonomists.  My etymological gloss renders it: Shapeless penis of the Titans?  O, and, by the way, you smell like death?  It can’t get much sexier, and it would definitely score you a big bang in Hades.  My love is like a red, red, carrion flower– these flowers meant to attract the pollinators who would, in lieu, be excited about carnage of any sort.  The little critters wander away from their hefty organic parasite, bloated, sated, dutifully helping life to go on.

You got me, death flower

Foreplay

I have been attracted to death in my own way for as long as I can remember.  Like John Keats wrote in his “Ode to a Nightingale”: “Darkling, I listen and for many a time/ I have been half in love with easeful death.”  His eyes tracking the flight of the nightingale, real or imagined, through the landscapes that buoyed his mind.  He’s such a whiner, my high school student says, when we read through his Odes and the love letters he wrote compulsively to his girl Franny, who lived a mere fence away—hardly a breath’s distance, really.  Why is it all about you, JK?  But breath was what he, saddled by tuberculosis, couldn’t quite muster.  He had to rely on the birds for both wind and song.   Later folks would argue about whether the nightingale was a real bird that he really saw.  As if the futile beauty of the endeavor, the slow drinking of the river Lethe as if it were an I.V. dripping along the movement of the poem’s lines, would be nullified by some anal fact-checker.  There was no nightingale, buddy.  Why don’t you just own up that it was a pigeon?

mind infloresence

Romantics had the tendency to co-extend the mind with environment—to elevate nature to a pristine thing, convenient poetic material for holy idealization.  But what about when the mind bumped into the one-hundred-and-twenty pound flower, four feet wide, gaping there, rootless, and smelling like the very thing that poetry was supposed to wash off?  This mortal vise?  The nightingale, if it was real, also had to shit while it flew—to stay light, as they say, “as light as a feather.” Not even a single spiral of extra bird feces to weight it down.

Down, down to where the blossoms are.   Praise, praise where the blossoms are.

Where the Wild Things Are

Moorings

October 27, 2011

Emily gets the prelude

 We never know how high we are

Till we are called to rise;

And then, if we are true to plan

Our stature touch the skies—

 –#1776, reprinted without permission, but with much gladness–

view from the crown chakra


Laborific

The baby slides out and I catch her.

I’m kneeling on the floor with a creature in my hands.

Her birth is slick, but her skin is clear of vernix, labor-grease, or wastes.  She looks like she has been sleeping in a fairy-tale, awakening to this one.

That is: I decide the baby is a her.

[For a sweet, short and informed read on the importance of vernix— not extraneous yuckie stuff to be washed off!]

In the dream, I am not ready, but I do my job anyway: protect birth and the birth mama, who is just as surprised as I am, at only four months gestation, to see the perfection of this newborn.

The hospital room tries hard to be bland and sterile.  But the infant doesn’t allow it:  She has so much life in her it leaks into her surroundings.

unlikely birth buds

Reality Has Windows

When I look out the window now, from my empty apartment, autumn is shaking in the trees, stately things that have grown up as innate wealth in the yards of the affordable housing complexes.  Their branches, behaving as if terrified, or as if attempting to terrify, move every which-way, like the gaze when one is first learning yoga.  These movements are pre-death choreography; the winds come through with purpose and everything that lives becomes simultaneously riled up—where will I bury my nuts?—and internal, looking for the bunker at the depths.

Unlike us, the seasons abide with their changes, not resisting themselves.   Are humans distinct in resisting who we innately are?  Hmmm.  I’m still waiting for the day a tree blogs about me.

buddhas abiding with drying

This time of year, when we put garbage in the cans on the avenue, the wind plucks it right back out.  Putting waste in a can is a temporary way to hide the tremendous amount of refuse we leave in our wake as we carry forth.  We may temporarily fool ourselves but the earth is not fooled.

Not fooled at all.  Strong rains brought in the fall, and they have yielded to a chilly shroud.  The last weekend of “summer”, after chanting to a multiplicity of Gods upstate amidst the poo-poo-pauperism-cuz-we-‘ve-got-Lululemon aesthetic of Omega, I returned with my spirit posse on the winding Taconic through an all-night storm.  We rolled onto 4th Avenue, even the GPS tired, at 4AM.  From the car, we saw a disheveled man on the street corner smashing a vacuum cleaner apart with all his might.  He stooped over beside the public trashcan and had his way with the appliance.  The traffic light, despite the fact that no one pedestrians were about at this hour of the almost-morning, blinked its monition overhead: DON’T WALKDon’t worry, the vacuum cleaner assured it.  He’s raging against materiality right now.   Its nozzle flew off.

SMASH.

The closest tree, thin and staked into place in its patch of dirt so it would grow up right, like a good urban tree, not bothering the buildings, burst out laughing.  Its glee was louder than the hundreds of voices at the Kirtan calling to Ganesha to move the obstacles already, move those obstacles already, baby.

ganesh in a sultry mood

By Shook or By Crook

Other things shook this week.  An Ortho Jew in his determined glory walks towards me in the subway station—that weird birth canal between Wall and Williams Street, below Tiffany’s and the anti-establishment protests occupying something.  The Jew has the Big-Mitzvah look on his face: this blessing is going to positively tackle you.

Are you Jewish? He asks me.  (To quote my friend John: Yes, Jew-ish.)

I’ll give you two guesses, I say.

He whirls around, his psyche already tasting the virtue accruing in its spiritual piggy-bank.  His pranic tentacles register a high Jew-meter.  He dutifully holds out the accoutrements of miracles: the lulav and etrogTake this, he says.  Lulav is a beautiful word—the bound palm leaves, myrtle, willow.  The etrog, which sounds like a genetically engineered toad, is actually a citron, an Israeli species of lemon.

I hold out my hand—these are my people, the fruit and the branch.

lucky mimesis

Shake it, he says.  For some reason, I remember my first year of ballet class, as a three-year old.  I spent most of the class plucking free the massive wedgies my underwear created under my leotard and watching myself perform this delicate action in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.

I’m doing the shaking wrong, which I can tell by the way his eyes try to take refuge in his septum, appalled by my violation of the ritual, but I don’t care.  YAAAAAY, I shout.  I shake my branch not just in four directions, but in every direction I can think of.

Repeat after me, he says, and begins the Prayer, stopping at prayer-novice intervals so I don’t mangle the Hebrew.  I’m so excited to be holding a lemon in the subway.  I feel like the Citrus superhero.   I want to cut it open and squeeze it and make the space smell like something fresh, invigorating, edgy.

Big Mitvah!  He crows, walking away hurriedly and with the natural elation that comes from accruing spiritual brownie points.

For you, that is, I call back.  But what do I know.  The lemon is not forthcoming.

Later that night, I catch the baby.

mitzvah dilating

Not Knowing That

I didn’t know birth could be like that, I exclaim.  The hospital room impassively witnesses the ordinary and impossible.  It’s all beige to me, it declares.

This baby, premature and yet fully developed, sits in my hands as if we are a sculpture of Rodin’s, cut from one stone and still connected in that elusive place where form yields to formlessness.  Our rough edges and poor chances at survival are smoothed by the generosity of the dream until these two disparate manifestations of life—the creature and I– are returned to a single continuous muscle, breathing.

The night before, I died.

Marie-Louise Von Franz, the heiress of Jung’s work on dreams, teaches: Pay attention to your dreams, for therein “a self-regulating tendency in the soul comes into play which counterbalances the one-sidedness of consciousness or completes it so that a kind of wholeness and a life’s optimum is achieved” (Dreams).  What about those somnievents wherein you’re taking old cream cheese–Philly, whiter than fake teeth– out of the refrigerator?  Whatever.   Cosmic consciousness is like a good vacuum cleaner: it can take in everything, no matter the size of the particle.

So it was.  A brief, nocturnal trip back to Thailand– which cost me no air-miles or jet-lag whatsoever.  I entered a white-walled room in the big, empty house where my old friend, Dha, sat, grinning and chewing on unfurled and twice-brewed sinesia dipped in salt.  Life is the Leaf, he said, noddingHe caught my eyes as the ground rumbled, a terribly hungry stomach.  Get outside, something is wrong.  The jasmine rice, soaking in huge plastic vats, wobbled.  It had the nonchalant equanimity of a thing that has survived many such quakes.

but nothing looks wrong

In the unreasonable logic of dreams, I copied the example of my befuddled boss—also inexplicably there–who was trying to protect herself by climbing into a kiddie-swing, the kind that looks like a stiff, plastic diaper and feels about as comfortable.  As we waited suspended in the black diapers, a tidal wave of earth swung up over its own rim.  My end came at me like my premature birth: I was prepared and yet unprepared in every way.

This dark wave of earth blacked out everything except its own presence, which bore down over my body.  I fell backwards into my death thinking—that’s all this is?  A plunge?  Really?  But I only just was born!

with catcher's mitts unto the sky falling

Birth and death are like that– BFF.

I woke up disturbed, feeling clods of dirt in my hair that weren’t there.  But the strange miracles runneth over, the fish eyes of Unconscious blinking in the shallow pool of daylight.  The creak of the toilet seat, the drip of the showerhead, the bubbling of the water as it boiled. The lemon wedge, the triphala pill broken open and covered in warm liquid.  As if God turned on the lights too quickly in the theater of being and everyone ran for the candy stand for a sugar refill.  I had to growl through my morning practice—prostrating myself before the dust mites in my carpet—because there are dawns when one must bow before something, anything, everything.  And you?  For what miracle will you fall to your knees shaking, if not the one you are made of?

things that keep me here

Birthiness

January 19, 2011

Birthiness

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” –MLK Jr.

inescapability

I’m more often than not in a stupefied silence on the Monday dedicated to MLK Jr.: a man who knew how to use his words, to pack them with an indomitable spirit.

That “single garment” he speaks of is our true—albeit metaphysical—receiving blanket when we come into this befuddled world.  His accuracy squeezes out of me a tiny, Monday prayer: may we have the ability to recognize what surrounds and connects us.

Speaking of.  At the crowded Food Co-op, where no one is, in fact, cooperating, I spend most of the afternoon making up a missed shift.  This involves wearing an unsexy green smock and unloading other people’s shopping baskets.   It means I get to touch a lot of vegetables.

like these european counterparts

A kid with wind-burned cheeks and messy hair holds up her would-be dinosaur and roars at the check-out worker, who pays no attention.  She digs the creature’s mouth into her dad’s butt, through his coat. RRRRRRRRRRRRRR, she exclaims, emoting for the glutivore.

Yikes, I say, you brought your dinosaur!  That thing is scary and it looks hungry!

Excuse me, says the little one.  It is not a dinosaur.  Someone left it at my door this morning.

Well, what is it then? I ask, always ready for a new fact from a young person.

Not a dinosaur, she insists.  So don’t call it a dinosaur!

Ah: to call a thing what it is is a delicate art.  She lets out a great roar, while the co-op members mostly keep their own inclination to roar quieter than persimmons.

Being Fruitful

Keats said:  I feel more and more, every day as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds.

Do you too sense the thousand realms nested inside this one or inside which this one is nested?  Winter shakes its fists, holding its mood-rings up to the dim light, and the realms knock into one another like Matryoshka dolls.

In the center of the dolls, in the center of the realms, is the tiniest, carved from a single piece of wood, which cannot be opened further: an amaranthine infant, eternally fresh.

It Ends with a P

My goddaughter, M, sneaks into the guestroom just before dawn.  I have a candle lit, as I have already done a little practice in the throaty dark, and awaited the interruption of her bare feet and four-year old pajama’d squint.

M stands in the doorway with one hand on the knob.  She’s all business:

Can we do what we do when I get in bed with my Mommy and my Daddy in the morning? She’s at the age and height where her eyes are level with most doorknobs, and so everything is an opening.

Of course, I say.  What’s that? I pull her into the room.

Pretend that I’m being born. M is precise, as if tracking a blueprint for play in her mental toy box. I’m in Mommy’s tummy and then I come out.

from the cover of BIRTHING FROM WITHIN. a ladder i long to climb.

We climb onto the futon agreeably to embark on the adventure of birth.

Why do you have a candle? She asks.

To prepare for your birth, I tell her.  And because it is so nice and cozy.

O, she gives an appreciative nod.

She doesn’t know that I’m a parturition junkie, always, somewhere, in a fetal state of mind.  Is it the bursting forth? So, do you want to get under the covers in a little ball and we can pretend you’re in Mommy’s belly?

Yes, she say, as royally as Marie Antoinette accepting Louis’ giddy, misguided proposal.

Do you want me to show you what we did when you were in Mommy’s belly?

What did you do? She says from under the covers.  To feign a time when you only half-existed is—apparently—instantly exhilarating.  She’s already drunk from spelunking in the womb.

We talked to you, I say, just like this. I put my mouth close to the curve of her back and call: Come on out, little baby, it’s the end of August, we’re ready to meet you, come see us out here in the world!

She giggles. I feel her belly shake through the connective tissue of the sheets and blankets.  O.K. M agrees, much more quickly than she did before labor, her voice muffled by the bedding. I’ll come out now!

Your Mommy pushed and pushed you out, I tell her.  Mommies work very, very hard to help babies come out.  And babies work really hard too.  Everyone is excited.

She nods as her head slips through the invisible cervix, as if this was all very obvious.

dilating post facto

We talk about her first hours in our company in the hospital room, while Ernesto the Hurricane spat rain all over the city and pawed at the trees. I run an APGAR test on her, which she passes with flying colors: but her grip is the grip of one who is already familiar with the world, and its sometimes-partings, and the slightest flavors of uncertainty.

M leaves no self-stone unturned, inquiring about what we did on her first night in the hospital (um, slept?), when had grandpa arrived, how babies know how to eat.  We make it all the way through her first months of life in about ten minutes, as dawn is showing some muscle between the slats of the lowered blinds.  Lots of diaper changes happen lickety-split, with no fuss and no mobiles offering their rotating solace.

When you were a baby, sometimes it was difficult for you to poo. I tell her. So we helped you by rubbing your belly just like this. I make gentle circles on her tummy with three fingers.  Her gaze rolls to the right, where memories of babyhood live behind her ear like a barrette, the deep temporal zone.

Her little eyes light up with digestive glee.  You squirmed a lot, I say.  But when you could finally poo, you felt better.

Can I ask you something? She wants to know, with all the openness of a tabula rasa.

I prepare myself for a whopper while she contemplates her budding question—Where do babies come from?  Why do people die?  Why is there a hair on your chin, are you turning into a man?

Instead, she asks: Why do you say ‘poo’ instead of ‘poop’?

O, I reply, caught off guard, sure we were about to veer into the realm of the kinks in the mortal coil.  Well, they are really the same thing.  Sometimes I forget the ‘p.’  It’s like a nickname.

A fecal one?

Well, can you just say ‘poop’? She requests, solemn eyes like synchronized full moons.

Of course, I say.  But if I forget, I need you to correct me.

O.K., she says.  POOP.

Since life must go on, we go on.

allies in continuance

Going On

Before this year, I’ve had an allergic hatred to this season, where you can feel extinction in your bones like a stone in congee: inarguable and hard.

windowscapes

If that picture isn’t proof then…

But now, I’m making it my business to practice absolute loving-kindness towards winter.  When I can do this successfully, a kind of meteorological metta, I notice that winter is not so bad at all.   And since weather, like other humans, is a complex thing ultimately out of your own control, to extend goodwill towards an unbearable season bears fruit.  Strange fruit.

Look: there is ample light behind the clouds.  Sure, it has to push through a bunch of gray to be counted in the census.  But.

I return from the Park, where I am gradually teaching myself to jog by asking, “What would Gandhi do if the End of Suffering were just one lamp-post further?”

Keep going.

Sweat beads roll beneath my layers.  The Buddha-fairies in the shrubs chuckle: Dude, End of what?  The Four Noble Truths pull on their cross-trainers with arch supports and their maroon, nylon track-suits.  They jog beside me with perfect form and their shoe-laces, unlike mine, never, ever come untied.  The park yawns.

Dusk.  Park Slope families are dragging sleds back to their houses for the dinner hour.  The sound of plastic over salted sidewalks. The kids, by and large, are trudging dramatically.

Approaching me on the street is a man in full snow gear, his head covered in double hoods.  On one side of his chest, a tiny baby is prone, protected from the weather by a tan onesie made of animal hide and pelt.  The man is stepping so softly along the sidewalk, as if each fat snow boot is asking the ground for permission before its tread touches down.  Not to wake the baby. The baby rests the way only a held creature can.

To be held like that.

a lap as big as a mind