Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

Put Your Butt Here

July 26, 2013
Put my what where?

Put my what where?

My seventh-grade students dream bigger than any directive.

When a street sign like the one we saw on the way to the High Line tells them Place your butts here, they will comply like good citizens, and then defy like even better citizens. They are budding semanticists who know that words both open and close doors.

Each word has a special charge.  Thus surely my students will also put their “buts”  here—and their “ifs” and their “ands”, amending signage to reflect a vaster cause:  Please place your dirty cigarette BUTTS here, but don’t stop moving your ANATOMICAL AND MOTIVATIONAL BUTT towards the greater good. 

When their personhood and minds are respected and “bolstered”–thank you for adding that to our vocabulary list, Obama!–my students think with their hearts: with this kind of cognition from a contingent of twelve-year-olds, the results move (the urban equivalents of) mountains.

Writing Up High:  What's your inner phenology?

Writing Up High: What’s your inner phenology?

These young people follow the signs that maintain convention only in so far as this doesn’t handicap the growth of a vital community.  Otherwise, we teach them how to edit radically, and use words to set everybody free.

My students now look at their city and see the secret gardens reestablishing themselves incognito in the most misshapen, arthritic sidewalk cracks, in rich and poor neighborhoods alike.  Like the human spirit when nourished, these “invasive” plants won’t be held back.

This same crew is learning Urban Ecology.  I make the pleasant mistake of writing Nettles Prick on the board as part of a parsing lesson.  They have to squeeze their anatomical butts and slow down their breathing to keep from erupting into hormonally-mandated giggles without end.  Prick: thank goodness some body parts are inherently funny.

The Buddha said all life is suffering, and certainly studying grammar, were it a shaming prison for their otherwise rolling thoughts (as it is often taught), can be that.  But these little Buddhas know how to keep the joy in the rules and the rules in service to saying what they need to say.

Serious Laughter Pollination

Serious Laughter Pollination

A short prayer to the Curriculum Fairy: May all young people use their whole body and whole mind to follow their whole heart.   May all young people sit down on their anatomical butts RIGHT HERE and refuse to budge, should anyone try to fence them from their wildest dreams out of  fear about the vestigial societal anatomy they may dismantle in the process.

May those who would rather pick their butts than support our young authentically have an ingrown hair that wakes them up to what pain is.

May all young people without exception be happy, healthy, safe and at ease.

(And to all you young people who are applying to college shortly and are ready to write your essays, visit our Essay Intensive programs to guide, inspire and challenge you HERE!)

Natural Grammar

Natural Grammar

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

Just End It Write Now

February 25, 2012

Writing After

Holy Surmounting

Writing after a long time of not doing so is like biking with a flat tire, uphill in a Chinook, loaded with too many groceries in the basket.   That much dread in the legs.  Some pyrotechnic, autogenic inspiration, or at least a mule-deer genie of the place, ought to help one surmount the landfill, crammed with non-expressive detritus of thoughts, between the last time you wrote, and this moment of articulation.

Instead, just a few curses now and then, which the wind handily tosses back in your face.  And then it starts to rain, as if Nature strives to impress Noah, one-upping his last watery debacle.  It rains so hard the foothills disappear.  You wonder about that elusive magic of the sentence, and why it has no refuge for you now.

I have been reading excessively beautiful material on grief, and it inspires me to return to the object of my own grief, a writing project I started and abandoned, because I couldn’t make it breathe.  I think of an herbalist I know, trying a third time to resuscitate a newborn, whose limpness is clear, because its mother is watching warily from the corner, the way she would watch a rabbit nearing the scarcity of her vegetable garden.

The project, now dormant, was a book I was to write on the life of my beloved friend Liz, who appeared in this blog as mortal and ghost alike and who died at 103 years-old, two Septembers past.   The time after someone dies is tracked like the time just after they are born: in months.

I send this missive up as a postmortem salutation, aiming for a respectful love as full as a full moon, which can’t get bigger, more itself, than it is at that moment– like the moon Liz died beneath, and like the being she was while she lived.

These missives are engineered by Imagination’s slight-of-hand: Undertakers loving the loads that they have undertaken. A rumination on the preposterousness of endings.

Your Terminal

Endings Perplex

Even though it can be hard to discern a person’s last true breath, the End that follows is usually impossible to miss—because, unlike all of the life that came before it, the End is unwavering itself.  Its status doesn’t change.  Facebook would cringe at the thought.

“THE END” is usually impossible to miss

When she was young, my little sister penned “THE END” on everything she created with MORBID FINALITY.  Even if her story was only two sentences in length, “THE END” took up the rest of the page—much like our END will supersede our existence in its infinite duration, compared with our brief presence.

Not only did she make clear where the end was, she sometimes pressed so hard with the pen that she ripped the paper—a penetrating finale.    The end could be like that, too, like a club smashed over whatever came before, the narrative adventure that led up to it.   As my sister wrote, her thick blonde hair spilled over the page like a magician’s curtain.  Her little girl fingers clutched the BIC pen (mightier-than-the-sword indeed) and spelled these two words more meticulously than any of the others, with the same kind of pen her Daddy used when he did things that looked Important.

Looking Important

And then she would hold out the story for someone to read.  “The End” hardly ever felt comfortable where it was, like a tundra overtaking the little word gardens above it.  No panning out with cinematographic flare, no red-ribbon’d sunsets, no rump of a horse riding off into the pastoral numb arms of nature, two riders atop:  just the short thread of a life—or lives—of mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, which, as soon as possible, wound up cut.  At this juncture in her orthography, my sister still wrote many of her letters backwards. The direction of  a “b” or “d” was negotiable.  But “The End” never suffered from any adulteration: “The Enb” just wouldn’t carry the same authority.  I’ll try some Hemingway-esque shorties, in her style:

All “The Ends” are False– Except Maybe This One

The undertaker, enamored, carried her out of the room.  The End.

Some are more False than Others

The undertaker, enamored, carried her out of the room.  She walked right back in. The End.

Or, mitigating the blow

The undertaker, enamored, carried Liz out of the room.  But she didn’t go along completely.

When he came into her bedroom where she had died, he looked at her like he recognized her—little old lady, truth is beauty, beauty truth sort of thing—as if she resonated with the heroine of a verse he’d read as a child, something death could be, but never actually was.  She looked fresh as a daisy, as the saying goes, like she had actually rejuvenated, rather than stiffened and dried, in the hours since she went from creature to corpse.  Only the corners of her mouth looked suspiciously caked.

What is a dead person, really?  Traces of being alive and the suffering that is its hallmark remain on the body.  You want to see the bed-sore on her bottom?  It’s hard to move into stillness.  I want to know if the undertaker wills himself to forget that what is in front of him is a (former) person, or if he is content with matter as matter.

Flowering Conclusions

She’s got her last date with you: The End. That’s who waltzes her into the Grand Ballroom. We tucked the roses into the bed-sheet as he wrapped it around her.   She’d like the idea of two men taking her out; one tall, one short, it’s like the rhymes we had to memorize, the ditties.

When the pair comes to claim our dead—and I’ve only seen it happen twice– there is a tall one and a short one, evoking balance for those who say goodbye to the body.  See?  Some humans are big, some are small; some live on, some die and are done.

Liz didn’t think there was a God “upstairs”, but I had the feeling God’s Proxy was in the apartment on the floor above hers, tinkering, attaching her spirit to the Cosmic Pulley and hauling her up through the ether.  Even her spirit had heft, waited around the apartment like a drone of bees.  I heard the undertaker rattling out through the front doors, and suddenly the apartment was no place to be, like the monkey house at the zoo without any monkeys in it.  What is this strange smell? What once happened here?

What if the undertaker fell in love with her, like the rest of us had?  Maybe he would sing to her from the street, late September wind rustling about in the garbage, as he loaded her, wrapped up like a burrito, into the back of his dark car.  At that time, not one leaf had fallen, though Fall was just around the bend, hiding in the doorways, ready to surprise you with a temperature drop any morning now, any morning now.  Liz had been the first leaf on the Great Tree to go.  What is this pain so deep in my chest I feel some organ is trying to tie itself into a forget-me-knot?

The undertaker put her into the sleek trunk, meant for human equipage.  He crowed—just like the real crows, alighting on the benches, pinions flapping as poems do in the sky of grief, triumphing over the toppled ice cream cups in the dusty Champ De Mars.   Look at this bounty, fallen, mine.

Yes, she agreed, pragmatic more than romantic.  Very well. Get on with it.

He got on with it.

That-a-way

Rubies from Rubble

September 2, 2011

Scenarios and Sweet Nothing(s)

Yoga begins with listening...Did you hear that?

 After living in New York on and off for almost thirty-two years, I see my first baby pigeon learning to walk this week.  Its mom was all: “The best garbage is over this way…”

Since the expedition to (the) Holy Land, events of my life waxed shy, wall-flower-ish, introverted—even a little dark.  Then the spirit rumbled again, a tiny earthquake gave the Muse an upper, and here we are, back at square one, tea in hand, trembling at the goodness of renewal.  I already have a bad track record at my local public library, so I don’t use that word lightly.

Time happened in chunks in those months; like a nose dislodging from an archaic statue, the cartilage loosening, the part falling from the whole and getting lost in the general rubble of old stuff.

Tryst with Quiet

Words weren’t there as a net to hold the sacred pieces in reasonable position.  I found this quote: “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God” (by prolific author Sidney Sheldon, whose work I am not endorsing).  I shared it with my students, teenage males trying to find words for the core emotions, as they struggled through drafting their personal essays.  “Damn,” I heard all around.  “Damn! I feel like God today!”  God-like, they pilfered hot chocolate and handfuls of stirrers from the off-limits coffee room.

I don’t think the baby pigeon had, as of yet, experienced instant cacao.

 Damn, I feel like God today.

With a goddess’-eye view, I peer back into the rubble.

Compilation Cherry

Caps

The basics are still the basics.  The smell of oolong is brewing past perfection in my “civil dialogue” mug; it “wafts” (a verb to which farts long ago laid primary claim) across the screen.  Civil dialogue: when people are nice to each other while they disagree. Not as easy as it sounds.  A breeze roughs up the bay outside; my mother is counting white-caps.  One! She calls.  From the loft, I can see the sandbars in receding stripes.  Tomorrow, the full moon.

Today, the ornery and hell-bent seagull, who flies so low over the waterline while we swim that it seems he’s mistaking (or just taking) our skull for a perch, or a Perch: footrest or fine dining.

Graybreak

Sub Par

A homeless man weaves through the subway car.  He holds out a small plastic sac.  Hey, I don’t beg, he begins, with accidental situational irony.  I don’t ask for anything, he says, bag agape, letting the shopping bag, like a puppet or an imaginary friend, ask for him.  I’d just like some food if you have any extra food.  Anything you have. 

He weaves around passenger’s knees.  A woman holds out a peach: Here. It’s a fine yellow-orange color, huge, like a birth announcement for August. Likely just purchased at a premium from the farmer’s market.

He looks at it, Nah, he says, I already have a peach.

He didn’t take rhetoric.  He didn’t take ripe fruit.  Beggars can be choosers.

Yes

R gets married under a tent with a field of wildflowers turned towards her.  In their metal pails, fat sunflowers crane their necks this way and that, the Indian flute, piercing and knitting at the same time, a wind in the hair.  Once you say something you cannot unsay it, our teacher reminds us, as he joins R and E inside their yes.  He urges caution with words.  The flowers shake their heads as the rain, too, fills the ceremony; God so excited at the prospect of a wedding she has begun to weep.

Assent

On the long tables a dakini, sitting in careful meditation and consideration of the earth, is bound up in a globe of ice.  When the ice melts, she will touch the fresh air with her perfect bronze fingers.  The ice is already heading towards its next incarnation, as A’s little girl turns to me: Why do you not have a boyfriend, she says, as my once-boyfriend stands beside us.  The directness of little people is unsurpassed.  It’s like when you need a time-out, I explain.  What will a five year old understand of the movements of love?  She nods sympathetically.  O.K., she says in a tone that borders on patronizing.  And shuffles off for another cup of lemonade.

Fire and Ice

With

J says, eventually and fully, what would it be like to be totally and completely present with one another?

Pond-Sum

M and J and I pull off our clothes on the dock, overheated from sweeping and feasting and witnessing, and jump into the shape-shifting pond.  There is just enough pond scum marinating in the still water and marring its perfection that you know this pond is—sorta—a thing of nature.  It seems to respond to our bodies as we paddle around, waiting for the sea monster (every body of water, however infantile, has one).  This Sea Monster is prepubescent, preferring the training wheel scenario of a pond, wherein to rear its head and roar all the dragonflies away.  The insects that alight are a purple-blue, and skim over the surface of the water in oddly connected pairs, dangling from one another in lopsided but totally unperturbed flight.  Maybe this is the way we are too, in the speck of our planet in the black vastness.

Which speck gave us this?

Board out of Mind

My almost-not-in-middle-school-anymore students look at me with their heads all cocked at identical angles.  Why are you the only teacher that doesn’t use the Smart-board?

The Smart Board, a new technology for when you do something Smart—plan your lesson on your computer—and then project it onto a screen, which shows everyone just how Smart you are.

I let the name of the device answer the question for them.

Orderly

I’m trying to make a point to my students about how the arrangement of Latin words in the line is as important as the morphology of the words themselves.  I pluck my analogy from out of my element: It’s like in Chemistry…if you switch the H2O to OH2, it’s not the same.  Even as I say it, I know I’m wrong.

Yes, it is, says my student, X, who is lethally smart (and his initially is really “X.”  Don’t you wish)—It’s exactly the same. 

O.K., or it is exactly the same…but this… isn’t.  I give him a big, generous, you’re-more-right-than-the-teacher smile.  Smartboard?  Who needs a Smartboard when you have a DumbCircle on top of your neck?

My point falls dead in the water but my kids all nod together appreciatively, as if a synchronized swimming team in a drought, a Greek chorus with laryngitis.  Because X is actually quite humble, he looks down at his hands, thinking, perhaps, about all the OH2 trapped therein.

And what about the double-bonds?  I ask Smarty-X, because the language of Chemistry makes me think of complex romantic entanglements.  I have always taken to that one phrase and just wish I knew how to use it accurately.  So maybe X can help me.

He shakes his head and redirects our focus.  I think the next word in the sentence is in the accusative case, isn’t it? 

You can nudge a horse towards water, but you can’t make him incurably thirsty.

A smarter board

Swerves

In the pre-hurricane buzz, everyone is a little disjointed, as if objects will up and start flying ahead of the weather’s schedule.  Ions are flaunting their jazz in the heavy air.

Running along 5th avenue, aromatic and bulky stacks of catering containers are set out in my path.  I swerve.  Another runner, approaching from the opposite side, swerves.  We come to an impasse, chest to chest.  He and I break out in laughter at exactly the same moment.  Our t-shirts are exactly the same color; our pants are the same color and length and we have the same sneakers on our feet.  Our befuddlement is twinned.  If this were a movie, we would very quickly fall in love, have two babies, and get a three-legged dog (it would be a low-budget Indie film, where real things happen).  But because it is merely Brooklyn, we move to the left and right of one another, still laughing in rhythm, and go off in opposite directions.

When there has not been enough laughter, sometimes it makes sure to ram into you.

Charon Sings, Irene Goodnight

Hurricane Irene does come through Brooklyn with her whiskbroom and whisks some things around.  A few tree branches are on the ground on 5th avenue as evidence that she touched us—unlike elsewhere, where she played the Great Destroyer.  All week long I had scoffed at her approach and at the manic shopping taking place all around me, an urban (but not urbane) response to impending disaster, the un-calm before the un-storm.

But on Saturday, I woke up in a panic that belonged as much to the collective as to my own drive to survive: When Mother Earth wants to tromp us, there is nothing we can do.  We can buy all the bottled water we like and still—

So, what did I do? I ran to the store—to multiple stores—and bought an excess of  perishables.  I accidentally paid five dollars for a purple cabbage, because I didn’t mind my price tags.  Abhinivesa: death fear and vise-grip on one’s individual life, here demonstrated by clinging unreasonably to cruciferous idols.

Survival 101: Green Clingy Thingy

That cabbage is still in my fridge days later, staring out at me when I open the door.  Its weight—almost four pounds—could fasten you to the earth in a strong wind.  Had Irene taken our house, my life, I could have used it in place of a coin, carrying it under my tongue as I crossed Styx (whatever may or may not be after death, I’m fairly convinced all former Latin teachers have a post-mortem honeymoon in Hades).

And Charon, the mythological ferryman, carting the dead across the water with his precious stick, would be thrilled.  A description of C, courtesy of Vergil, via John Dryden, via Wiki-P: “A sordid god: down from his hairy chin/ A length of beard descends, uncombed, unclean;/ His eyes, like hollow furnaces on fire/ A girdle, foul with grease, binds his obscene attire.”  Just my kinda’ fellah.

I would point at my puffed cheeks, indicating fare for my passage.

C: Dang, awesome!  People usually give me old quarters!

Me: Mwwoffpph.

C: Five-dollar, organic cabbage, al-right!

Me:  HMMMPPPhhhfff.

C: I’m going to sell this on e-bay after I drop you off!  You know, when you’re the ferryman for the dead—first, you hardly ever get fresh veggies down here.

Me: Did you just say “veggies?”

C: Sure.

Me: Veggies?  That’s what my mother says.

C: As I was saying [slow, methodical paddling]—usually people just stick the first coin they find under the tongue of the deceased.  An after-thought, you know?  But this—this is premium.  This is purple!  Sister, I’m going to row, row, row your boat!

Baby, what I would have made you!

When Charon gets over his cabbage glee and reverts to his stately role, he’ll ask me whence I have come, whom I have left behind.  I will talk excitedly with my mouth full of cabbage: Nature asked for me back– who would have thought– after I treated her so badly for so many years, plastic-bagging her like there was no tomorrow, literally

And Charon, who is wise in his ways, will cut me off: Sweetheart, there-there: when you are eating, eat; when you are dying, die; and when the ferryman is ferrying you, please, shut up.

Cabbage, held in the mouth long enough, becomes sulphur-sweet, like the water upstate, before the rivers rose, before the trees pulled themselves from the earth that gave them form.  I stand on one leg, balancing in the boat, one last vrksasana in this incarnation.  Spirit wafts.

Charon ferries on.  Water, like water does, takes the shape of the story that contains it.

Do you know that story?

Mountain of Roses

April 15, 2011

Written with utmost gratitude to my family in Israel: You have such strong hearts. 

“Each life converges to some centre,

Expressed or still.”

–Emily Dickinson, LXI

expressed in stillness

Real Life Stranger than Figs

My rat-a-tat-tatty purple yoga mat, shredding its rubbery dandruff under my hands, stays behind in Israel, land of figs and honey, when I leave.  The mat is in every way unspecial but, like other ritual objects, it seems to have taken on a character and vivacity.  By proximity, it knows something about me that I don’t.

Coming and Going, coming and going, it clucks at me, while I squish my clothes into my travel backpack, forgetting which pocket holds my clean underwear and which my dirty.    The mat has more of my skin cells than I do.

All good yoga mats should be in Israel when they meet their end, I console it, in the distracted condition to which packing reduces me. You’re totally used up! 

 Lame, my mat says, in the tone your mother uses to get your attention. But like the trusty mat it has been, it leans against the wall with utter patience.  It doesn’t mind being clung to.  It doesn’t mind being let go.  That’s why it’s rubber.

 Israel has just rolled into its succulent time.  Benai Berak, the neighborhood where my Aunt and Uncle live with their ever-burgeoning family, is a tiny holy enclave outside Tel Aviv.  It is impoverished and disheveled; yet roses and citrus trees bloom recklessly on the perimeter of the limestone apartment buildings.   Certain kinds of beauty are unstoppable.

"Flowers in the Desert"

Dont try to stop this

I had only one fig while I was there—it was not quite their season.  The fig was a disappointment; it was dehydrated (like me), sulphured (not like me), sugary and squished in a plastic container with its figgy brethren.  It looked shellacked.  The fig tasted like righteous, processed seed.  The grocery store proprietor, a Sephardic with a potbelly like a classroom globe, grinned a proprietary grin:  foreigners had a knack for wanting the expensive shit, didn’t they.

I grinned back, being just that kind of Figgy foreigner.

Figs on the outskirts

In the figinning...

Israeli honey I glimpsed once: at the Duty Free shop by the Delta departure gate.  It promised to be pure.  But purity by the spoonful paled beside the prospect of not being able to fit my carry-on luggage into the overhead bin.  So I skipped the sweetness and joined the line of passengers impatiently waiting to board.  But I had honey on the mind, a long, gooey strand of thought that stretched thousands of miles.

Delta Dogs

Know Where You Are

Orientation


 International travel is hopelessly funny.  It dredges up and makes defunct your best concept of normalcy.

 God, so busy abiding in His infinite and unfathomable perfection, has no time to fuss about airline safety.  He needs his minions to be thorough and vigilant.  As we prepare for take-off, a Chassid, his peyos flapping, flips open his cell phone, fires off text messages—regulations be damned.  When the attendant, a bleach-blond in a tart, fire-truck red Delta dress passes by, he covers his operation sloppily with a pillow.  My sister eyes him down the aisle, as if his intentions are truly seditious.  He’s gonna bring down this plane, her stare saysHer J had told her that to interfere with the traffic signals, everyone on the entire flight would have to receive a call at the same time.  But nonetheless.  The Chassid blows his nose on the red Delta blanket and then tucks it back into its original plastic packaging.  His phone is still blinking as we gain on the moon.  He pulls out a garbage bag full of sandwiches from beneath his seat, sniffs at each of them, and then chooses one over which to pray.  And the lord separated the wheat from the chaff and the Muenster from the Cheddar. 

Another religious Jew in his idiosyncratic garb piles his prayer books on his tray table until they are high enough that he can rest his head on them and sleep.  He asks my parents to switch seats so that he will not be sitting next to a woman—especially a number like my beautiful Mom. Heaven forbid their elbows touch and electrify the easily-tripped circuits of desire.  Elbow to elbow, the great chain of being goes on.  “Lest the pack should get lost in the dark.”

Many of the passengers throw their trash directly into the aisles.  When I go to the toilet in the back of the plane—the cleanest of the six—I see water suddenly begin to spurt, then rush, out of an upper cabinet in the rear deck.  A flight attendant, hands set brusquely on her hips, watches it with me, as if she were observing an orangutan alphabetize spices.  “No one is responsible except Murphy” her grimace seems to say as she picks up the intra-flight phone, and nonchalantly reports, “Yeah, the ice is going.  I’m just going to wait ‘til it’s done.”  “Do you want me to get my blankets for you?” I ask.  Or the booger blankets, I want to add. “No,” she says, entirely unconcerned.  The water spills out into the aisle and runs backward, with gravity, towards the bathrooms and the tail of the plane.  I step out of its way and watch an elderly man toss an empty plastic cup carelessly to the floor.  He doesn’t even look to see if anyone is looking—ignorance ignorant of itself.   I wonder how many things can go amiss in flight before it is unsustainable, and the plane plummets back where it came from like a kite in car wash.

Turn the Rosy Cheek

When I ask my Uncle if he ever has doubts about the choice to live this ultra-orthodox existence with its particular constraints, he refers me to a meaningful quotation from Torah.  A fence of roses, the Torah calls the many rules and laws by which the faithful abide.  Yes, we live inside a fence, but it’s not a bad fence!  I imagine how many roses it would take to weave an enclosure for even a single being’s life; thousands, millions, maybe even billions.  That fence would smell like the First Garden in June and require intensive treatments with manure.

Roses in the gardens

Hedging your bets

No Dead Time, my uncle says, twinkles in his eyes and exaltation in his voice, of how they pass their days in this community.  As far as I can tell, he’s had on the same blue-black cardigan for the last three decades.  The same slightly scuffed black sneakers, which lack the kind of support that would make them actually useful for exercise.  In this kind of religious life, you always know what to do—what to do with yourself– when you wake up in the morning.  If you want, every moment of your day is prescribed for you.  There is a prayer that frames even the tiniest gesture.  Think fast before you bite that pear.

At moments when I feel at a total loss for guidance, direction, this kind of structure seems almost sensible, at least consoling.  It is the fence, here, that enables and yields a beautiful life—that is, if one decides that what is within the fence is, in fact, beautiful.  Commentary on this Torah passage reads, “Ideals can prove more effective barriers than metal walls.” So if I see the Roses, conjoined into a boundary, and call them perfect, all the barbed wiring in the world couldn’t do a better job of keeping me exactly where I am.

Shadow on Roses

My fence has a lot of gaps

Exactly Where I Am

My cousin, B, fourteen years old, his yarmulke tilted from Purim pleasures, brings my dad the salt-shaker as soon as we arrive from the airport.  Melach! He says, handing it to my dad as we are shuttled to the table, where we will spend most of the ten days that follow.  They remember everything about us from last time, four years ago: our strange tastes and predilections, our excess use of salt, my twisted relationship to tea, my mother’s jogging routines.  There is a rumor that I only eat vegetables.  B hovers over my dad, watching him salt everything on his plate, amused.  When my dad puts down the shaker, he hands it right back to him, gestures at the food, as if one should be able to see the salt like a film of snow.  Then B beckons for his drunken brother-in-law to pass the wine, turns the bottle of Ultra-Kosher Cabernet upside-down, draining it into a plastic cup so flimsy it is almost saran wrap.  Two drops fall out: “L’Chaim” he says,  “You must drink it all at once, and get drunk.”  He looks in his dictionary, whose pages have been well-thumbed.  The word he is looking for is “necessary.”

Where the action happens

Clean Pate and Clean Plate

In the mornings, my cousins, fairly self-sufficient from a young age, crack eggs into a plastic cup and fry them in the black, worn skillet.  Eggs and sesame challah and the immediacy of God: a breakfast for Moses’ champions.  Everyone in that house functions on a different time zone.  My Aunt, who bore ten babies and miscarried one, has been an insomniac for over twenty-five years—first because I was always nursing someone, and then because I’m just crazy, she explains with a smile. And then I had to learn how to walk again after each baby. She loves the house and being at home.  Moreso, she loves the concept and practice of a simple home that is as infinitely elastic as the human gene pool.  Each baby was a new rose. Everything she describes she transforms into a miracle.

Generating the generations

Baby and baby of baby

We all have to pick, build and tear down our own fences.  The absence of fence is not necessarily freedom.  Some fences are invisible, agreed to by the subtle mind and therefore unchallenged.  Some fences are half-falling down and poorly maintained—staked sloppily enough that one trips over them from time to time, and so knows they are there.  How powerless any one being truly is, my Uncle says, with a hand-gesture that indicates in this predicament only the creator has our water-wings.  But this is where we differ; I think a person—any person– is the most powerful thing there is.

A Weepy Wall

The buckets in the holy square

Washing is no secret


At the Kotel ha-Ma-aravi, the Wailing Wall in the old city of Jerusalem, prayers are scrawled on pieces of scrap paper and stuffed into the cracks in the stone.  Passing notes to God: Pssssssst!  It was a wet and cold day when we visited, which made crying superfluous.  I had to wrap my scarf around my head and wear two jackets, but still the damp weather got into my bones like a ghost new at haunting and overexcited to do so.

Prayers at the frontline

Read my mind

Jews from all over the world converge upon this remnant, where Shekinah has lodged itself, like a piece of popcorn in a molar, since the destruction of the 2nd temple.  The wall is unremarkable—actually an outer wall of the temple proper.  Poor King Solomon, who tried to build G-d a suitable house, not realizing that G-d is more of a couch-surfer, later got distracted by his squadron of foreign wives.  Desire concretized into its own inner idol, which no Nebuchadnezzar could conflagrate.   (It may be the good luck endemic in this architecture that made me spell “Nebuchadnezzar” correctly on the first try. O.K.—the second try).

How many times a day or week did the groundskeepers clear out those crumpled requests?  Some of the papers were wedged deeply into the gaps in the masonry; something thin and sharp, like a dentist’s tool, would be needed to retrieve them.  Perhaps whoever maintained the wall also read the prayers personally, purveyors of secrets—that or threw them in the trash. It was a job I wanted, unionized or not.   Somewhere, there must be a garbage bin allocated specifically for expired pleas.  Or, worse: a recycling truck. This purse is made entirely from re-used scraps of prayer; proceeds from this purse go to help those whose prayers were not answered because they were never read. 

Prayers answered

My tribe sees the sun

You cannot turn your back on the wall as you depart the square—or you can, but that’s like letting your toddler oversee the stir-frying.  You keep the wall in your line of sight as you slowly back up.  Something like this is also the protocol for departing a temple in Asia without breaking gaze with the Buddha, and for encountering a wild animal.  Of all the ways to die, being eaten alive might be the most primordial.  The wall, however, does not harm you, should you turn away; but it notes your half-heartedness and, as is done for a student caught cheating on an exam, lops off some points on your celestial report card.  Best to keep your intent fixed—to maintain your prayer in your line of sight until it blends with the bricks and mortar and is indistinguishable from the structure itself.  Nothing special.

One does not need to visit such a real wall with great frequency; the wall(s) of the mind, of things longed for but not obtained, usually suffices.   I have wedged so many notes in the cracks of this mental edifice—notes from me to myself.  Some of them sit there still.  Some of them fall out when I breathe deeply.  Some of them have gone through (!) to the little Guru, a diminished God with a stenographer’s pad sitting inside my pituitary gland beneath a parasol, to protect her from the occasional monsoon of hormones.

Once or twice in a lifetime, if you’re lucky, God decides to check betweens two rocks and, good-humored, perhaps because the Magnolias are in bloom, and the wild spray of pink abounds, answers exactly.

Candles in the Holy Sepulchre

But do you speak the language of fire?

Masada

We watch an extraordinary moon rise over the Dead Sea, from the Balcony of a hostel, where a fellow traveler tells me about excursions on his family bicycle as a teen.  He would take his bike and go as far as he could go in any direction, wait, and then, long after school hours, return home.  He drinks an Israeli beer and looks at the commanding Moon as it crosses and then takes over the horizon.   In his mind, I think, he’s riding his bicycle towards outer space, and there is no reason to ever turn around.  Behind us, Mt. Masada—a hiccup of a mountain— looms, topped off with the remains of a BC-style Jewish fortress community. Everyone at the hostel is staying there with the intention of summiting it, either on foot or by tram.

Morning unbroken over dead sea

Taster

My mother, father, sister and I hike the mountain in at the edge of morning, after all four of us lie in our narrow, mildewed bunk beds in the hostel dormitory, sleeplessly blinking into the night air, the mosquitoes playing eenie-meenie-miney-moe.  You know something is going to dawn.  There is a certain ambition involved in hiking a holy site—the expectation that it will be hard, that you will work to summit, that you will understand that the reward, for the faithful, was to be that much closer to the hemline of God’s fancy-shmancy white shmata.  As we hike, to our left, the moon creeps down behind the plateau while the Sun comes out over Jordan and the Dead Sea begins to blue.  The Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world.  God’s hole-in-one: where concentration of salt in the water separating Israel and Jordan keeps the great ball of fire from sinking.

Laying down the law

Even though we begin before five a.m., there are two busloads of Teenagers ahead of us on the trail: Birthright Israel trips in which a participant not only must ride a chartered vehicle all over the nation, but undergo physical challenges with The Tribe.  One asthmatic teenager, checking to see if her iPhone gets reception on the ascent, sits down on one of the steps cut into the mountain.  Je-sus!  She says dramatically to her friend.  I’m not going to make it, this is sooooooooo hard.  Her friend is chewing gum vigorously.  She sits down too, chews even harder, like she’s storing mastication power for some later use.  They smooth their hair, then one another’s, religiously.  A bus ride is rough on the coif.

At the top of Masada, where a well-preserved fort community still has enough of its foundation in tact that the imagination can play architect with the raw matter, the Sun blasts over the buttes and cliffs and the breeze picks up.  One can imagine the Jews hording water and wheat and whatever else was needed for survival.  The tour guides begin to orient their students to the facts; one guide, who tells his bunch from the outset they are going to do and learn everything faster than all the other groups declares as a lone black bird cuts through the open air; “the Romans are just like F-in McDonalds…they do the same thing everywhere.”

Everywhere.  The trails marking the Roman siege efforts are still imprinted in the rolling desert.  You can practically feel the Latin profanity, uttered by soldiers decades ago, wafting up from the rubble, where they waited under the swash-buckling Orion for enough morning light to see the way to empire.

Buttes off Masada

Eyecandy for the Romans

Bending

It’s still the quiet part of the morning; only my Uncle is up, studying.  I slide the glass door to the front room closed, unroll my mat, and practice.  The floor is linoleum and often scattered with crumbs.  I’m doing idol-worship for sure as I bow down to the enigmatic shapes of the breath, but my Uncle, asking with a vocal wink if I’ve learned to levitate yet, lets me go for it, even in his house where sacrilege is no small potato.  The clock on the wall is a half-unrolled, gilded Torah Scroll and ticks as if trying to prove a point: time, time, time.  Long breath holds, in which I can feel my heartbeat making a racket against my ribs.   My cousin, M, sticks her head in the door when she returns from her night job in the girls’ dormitory—Yoga, or exercise?  She asks.  I shake my head.  Something. Nothing. 

Coming and Going, coming and going, my mat whispers.

She ducks out again, slides the door shut.  Conversation and prayer begin audibly in the kitchen.

I love you, I say.  I don’t know who I am talking to; my mat, is doing the “I’m rubber, you’re glue” thing, familiar from the elementary school yard.

I love you, I say again.  I’m talking to the room.  I’m talking to my family.  I’m talking to all the people that cannot hear me, to the wall, to the presence behind the Wall, to the eggshells, to the waning moon, to the air, to what’s here and what’s hereafter.

Sand, Salt, Sea, Sky

But can you find the line?

Flowerful

March 1, 2011

Calla Calling

jasmine shuggie and l's violets practice nondually

The guy who works at the fancy flower shop on the Friday afternoon shift is so bored he bites his fingernails and tries to spit them from the desk into the pots on display.  I spot him doing this through the glass door of the shop; he seems to be three for three.

I want to bring a Calla Lily home for M, who is visiting.  Between fingernails, the flower shop guy tells me how to manage the single blossom: the Calla Lily needs to be placed in only two inches of water.  So the stem, incapable of absorption, won’t rot.  Outside, February is brightening, and the little buds suggest what’s next.

exactitude

The Calla lily is a fire red that fades to orange, then white, and then green, where it becomes stem.

AO dies lying on the couch with her feet up. This has surprised everybody in the poetry community.  Even the couch, I suspect, was surprised to have someone pass on it like that.

Death: some deranged punctuation?  And a fingernail looks just like a comma.

Rosy Corpse

One death, however removed, invites back all the other deaths.

In my dream, L’s corpse is lying in savasana on our parlor floor.  Every day, I get down on my knees and embrace her.  Her body has begun to crumble.  Her feet are reabsorbed into her tibia, leaving two clean stumps.  Despite these changes, which I note carefully, I don’t stop the daily practice of embrace.

Decay and bloom play rock, paper, scissors

I get up from hugging her.  Her body twitches.  In a moment of convoluted dream-logic, I have to pause: Can a corpse do this?  No: a corpse cannot do. Her body twitches and flops again, as if to defy category.  I think about the phenomenon of Chickens after their heads get cut off.  A certain amount of time postmortem and the body can still…well, do the chicken.

I retreat to the den.  Dad is sitting at his desk.  L rises and follows me in.  She is benign but she wants something.  I gesticulate at Dad—Hello? Help!

L extends her arms to me, for me.

What do you want? I ask.

I want to be loved, she says, as clear as anything.  I think of her on Radio New Zealand, at 102 years old, the last year of her life, archly regaling the host: Well, if all those people that come to read to me stopped coming, I wouldn’t DIE.

Pshaw, I want to say.  But who could say that?  And because all I want is to love her again, we are as good a match as peanut butter and jelly.

Since I am slowly being cornered, I reach out and hold her. It is the least we can do for the dead, when they entangle themselves in the deep strands of our imagination. She dashes out of the house.

I wake up before dawn.  The photo of L lying in state in her nightgown is propped against the wall on her monogrammed clipboard.  I recall that night, five long months ago, when the full moon hollered over Times Square and L hollered right back, dressed up and ready for a date with the Great Nothing.

True to form, when the undertaker entered her apartment the next day and saw her corpse lying there, surrounded by the fat, unembarrassed red and white roses, he exclaimed: For lack of a better word, she looks so…alive!

Only L could get a compliment from an undertaker.

the last word is no word at all

Lily Loot

My mother likes to have flowers around the house in the winter. It’s like forcing the hand of spring.  I go into the Apple Deli to buy her a bunch of tiger lilies—the flowers that throw the biggest pollen tantrum as they die.  She finds their smell tantalizing.

As I am paying, declining to have them wrapped in even more decorative paper, a woman storms into the store, heading straight for the open refrigeration cases, and looks accusingly at the Stoneyfield products, her hands on her hips.

Your yogurt selection is TERRIBLE! She fumes at the top of her lungs.

The tiger lilies blush a sickly orange.  The cashier, a stout Korean, makes change for me with one eyebrow raised.

You have to get SOME NORMAL YOGURT! She says.  This is pathetic. Where is all the REAL yogurt?

She storms out again.

Lilies, as flowers that grace many funerals, are used to being around unseemly and unpredictable shows of emotion.

Then the cashier laughs.  Her laugh sounds like coins jangling.  That lady comes in everyday and shouts at the yogurt, she says. There are so many stores, why doesn’t she just go to another store?

Her pudgy grandson is standing beside her.  As she looks out over the display of mushy avocados, unseasonal fruits, neat cases of packaged vegetables, he keeps taking ginger candies, unwrapping them, and placing them inside his mouth.  I have yet to see him chew, or even slightly move his jaw.

Did you ever ask her what yogurt she is looking for? I suggest.

The proprietor shakes her head.  No, she says.  No, no.

The lilies bow their perfumed heads in tandem.  Yes, yes, yes. It’s the only word they know

I think of Joseph Campbell in tweed Jacket, the tattered copy of Ulysses a fixture under his arm, traveling in India.  His mystical impulse lit up like a beeper.  When he encountered the holy Swami, his question came up of its own accord, as if acid reflux from an indigestible world: How do we bear a world in which there is so much suffering?

And the Swami: People like you and I, we must say yes to all of it.

if yes were a direction

Spades

Sometimes, I cannot figure out what stops us from calling a spade a spade.  As if I should pretend you don’t suffer, and you should pretend I don’t suffer.  As if we should pretend we don’t look into the same dark, when night falls, or the same brightness, when day returns.

twisted sister has eyes in the back of her head

At the shoreline in Prospect Park, the big swans, icons of winter, are badgering whoever dares to visit the lake.  They have learned to want bread and it makes them aggressive.  The ducks congregate where the freeze is incomplete, a slice of liquid as aberrant on the stiff turf as a rosebush in February.  Together, the birds honk irritably for the crappy sandwich bread, puffy and synthetic as shoulder pads from the eighties.  The long reeds and cattails stand straight up when the wind is still.

even reality has roots

For weeks, the trees have looked to be inverted icicles, and the park is coated in white.  It is as if a great sheet has been thrown over the merry corpse of the earth.  You can see far, when the expressive parts of plants are dormant. The eye, says John O’Donohue, is the mother of distance.

You need a spade to plant a flower.  You need a spade to dig one up.

To obtain understanding, the Buddha exposed himself recklessly to the elements.  This made him, for us, a translator of the elemental.  He’d be sitting here right now, if it were still his era, transfixed by the parade of life in front of him.  And with his butt firmly committed to the ground beneath him, he’d surely feel the trembling of the bulbs and blades, as they discern the time to move towards the light.

time to