Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

Unfathomable Web of Verbs

January 6, 2013

What Moves


emergent subject

My former student, J, to whom I taught Latin years ago when he was a totally bewildered but well-meaning (as they say) 8th grader who would spend most of the class cooing at the pigeons on the window ledge, writes to me:  I love your writing.  I would buy your book!

these be the messengers

these be the messengers

J, do you mean my invisible, incipient book? The one I feel in my belly like a prayer searching 

 for muscular wings?  For a few weeks in the fall of that year, I was very sick with mono, which is only supposed to afflict you from sharing Dr. Pepper sodas or callous, drooling make-out sessions when you’re 14, but I guess Mono didn’t get the memo.  One day my headache was so intense that another nail-bitten student asked me if he could go to the bathroom and then came back after fifteen minutes with a half-steeped Lipton black tea in a Styrofoam cup.  Here, he said, handing it to me.  I got this for you.  He had taken note of my habits, if nothing else.  I could see where he had drawn on his hands with his pen.   And, he added.  I didn’t do my homework.

 Sometimes one accepts love in any medium.


leaves i love

leaves i love

Plus, it was Mono that stopped me in my tracks enough to show me the potency of yoga, what yoga was really up to, the face it only reveals once you’ve drawn the mental hospital curtains and signed up for the spiritual blood transfusion, come what may.

So all these years later, to have an attuned, adult-ish J praise my work is just the right medicine for a different kind of disheartenment.

Moved by his profusion, as any writer would be, I say: I think I have a book in me, but I don’t have a subject!

He returns:  If you cannot find the subject, look for the verb.

This is exactly what we instruct young Latin students to do when learning to read the language.  It’s not how literate Romans thought or operated.  But the verb is kind of the boss of the sentence, and it can be useful to take orders from a boss when confused.  Once you find the verb, most of the mystery of the subject is removed, for the verb’s inflection fixes its pronoun correlate: if the inflection is a he-she or –it (shit, for short), the subject cannot stray, nor escape the tyranny of the verb’s decision making.  It bows and complies.  If you didn’t understand any of this paragraph, count yourself in good company.  Now you know or remember what it is like to be an 8th grade boy.

So there is a correlate in writing: when you find your action, the movement, you also know what or who is moving.

The maxim is kind of Taoist-sounding, when it isn’t just irritating.

what moves

what moves

And when you are an 8th grader, you take the issue of grammatical agreement personally.  As if the Romans set out to make things complicated for you.  And did a damn good job.  I’ve heard many a middle-schooler whine this whine verbatim: Why did they make Latin so hard?  The legacy of the Romans was hair-tearing grammar.  The aqueducts were really a second-tier invention besides their puzzler syntax.  And for this contribution, no one can forget them, wish as they might.

And the subsequent frustration can cause weird, reactionary behaviors (I’ve seen them firsthand)—again, mostly in males: photographing your own eyeballs, seeing how swiftly you can stab a pencil point in the spaces between the fingers of an outspread hand, before you miss and stab yourself.  OopsmayIgotothenurseIjustpuncturedmyfinger?  No.  She’ll just stuff a cracker in the wound.  Conjugate this verb first.

not eight grade boys not learning latin

not eight grade boys not learning latin

But as a rule for writing, as for living: do you know, really know, what moves you?  And if you only sense it, down deep in the pre-syntactic zone of embodiment, can you dare to eff the ineffable?

Because once the prayer comes out of your mouth, its wings take it where it pleases.  You cannot author a bird’s whim.

Bummer Marriage

I rush into the train station as best I can in my air-cast.  It’s a hobbled rush, really. O.K., so not a rush at all—more like a heroic limp.  The time remaining until the train arrives, displayed on the digital screen, is increasing rather than decreasing as I stand there, helplessly late for work.  The trains are cryptic and uncompassionate on Saturdays.

A bum sits beside me on the platform.

He looks like he’s in rough shape.  He’s got a few crumpled and sweaty dollars in his hand.  He unrolls and re-rolls them, watching the physics of it intently, like he is hoping they will turn into a greater amount than they currently are.  The bills are vaguely waxy.   He also looks like he might have just climbed down the beanstalk.  He regards me.  I have dressed for the wrong season—yesterday it was winter, today it feels like early spring.  My dirty backpack and long down coat are on the bench in a heap beside him.   He appears jealous of their heap-ness.

please let it come

please let it come

Will you marry me?  He asks, like a dart protruding from a cloud.

Me: Sure.

Bum: Really?

Me: Sure.

Bum: Hey, wow.

[Considered pause.]

Bum:  So, what should we do now?

Me:  I don’t know, it was your idea.  Come up with something.

Bum: Hmmm.  Could I have your phone number?

Me: Remember this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.

Bum: I have no memory.  [Points to long scar above his eyebrow.]  Car accident.

Me: Ouch.  A long time ago?

Bum: Yeah, when I was a kid…[Regarding me freshly.]  What is your job?

Me: I’m a teacher. I’m on my way there now.

Bum: Oh?  Why don’t you dress up nicer for work?

[F! I’m in my good clothes!]

Me:  Because I’m dressed up on the inside.

Bum:  Damn.

We nod appreciatively at one another.  My subway comes rushing in, like it knows it is late and feels vaguely performative about its compensatory hurtling entrance (This makes me think of when my students are late to class and arrive excessively out of breath, as if they climbed Mt. Washington to get to me rather than walked down a hall).  I gather my things to board.  The Bum looks disappointed, but we have that kind of arrangement—each of us able to go our own way, with respect for the other.  On a scale of 1-10, this marriage already gets a 9: mutual regard, easy conversation, agreement about when to say more and when not to, and effective, even instantaneous decision-making.  Voila.

When the doors close, he is still looking at me, his dollars hanging loosely in his hand.  As the train departs, a spiderthread of affection trails backward, the web of life growing ever-weirder in the fullness of its design.



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


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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?