Posts Tagged ‘loss’

Look Everywhere for It

September 16, 2014

Look for Death Everywhere

They've just begun looking. Photo Credit: Ruthie Fraser.

They’ve just begun looking. Photo Credit: Ruthie Fraser.

“Where death waits for us is uncertain; let us look for him everywhere,” or so said essayist Michele du Montaigne—who had a fairly jovial, frank perspective on The Great Matter.

In fact, it did seem the dying baby turtle was there, waiting for me.

In fact, the turtle was waiting for anyone. But it was only waiting because it couldn’t move very much…

I don’t know much about turtles. Only that in my childhood, by the beach in the summers, we used to come across a lame turtle, missing front claws on one leg, who occupied himself by crossing the road. He was the embodiment of the tired chicken joke, and we named him Tommy.

We brought him home to Brooklyn at the end of one summer, thinking we’d rescued him from certainty of being squashed. We put him in a tank in our backyard and fed him wet dog food, as instructed by the local pet store. Being smarter than that fate, he escaped, and dug his way into the neighbor’s garden, where he lived pleasantly for a few years, just ahead of the self-subsistence, urban ecology movement.

I do know some other things: if you’re really small and really cute, then you can’t have been on this earth too long. And if you have one eye oozing what can only be blood—poetically fuscia blood—you haven’t got much of a chance. There aren’t turtle band-aids, nor turtle prosthetic eyes—not in the park.

 Turtle Blues

Here’s how it unfolded:

I’m in Prospect Park on a path that hugs the lake, which shimmers under a green gloss and under the blue throes of sky. The foliage canopies over the path; the spring is as fat as it can be; the flowers have pulled back so the leaves can explode. They call this “the setting.”

 

Blue sky for turtle blues: "the setting"

Blue sky for turtle blues: “the setting”

There is legitimate thicket between the paved path and the shoreline. People are fishing—and fish are latching, too easily duped. The shore is buffered by woodchips, where the caught fish are laid out. They don’t even flail. It’s their oh shit moment.   They take it lying down, so to speak. They call this “the obstacle” or “the membrane” or “the margins.”

A couple is walking toward me. The woman has a tiny baby tied to her front. The man has that dazed, admiring look of the one who is not carrying the baby, and so can marvel at it. You know they’re not sleeping much—the baby could almost fit back into the uterus, so small is it. The colors of her skirt and ruffled nursing shirt echo the trees. His clothes look like they could have been pulled out of the dirty laundry pile. Suddenly, he stoops, takes something up in his hand from the path; the couple’s attention is pulled from the baby, and from inadvertently checking on its aliveness, to this little thing. It takes a lot to divert from the baby. The baby sleeps cooperatively. Maybe it knows it has met its fragile match, and defers.

When I get close enough, I can see it’s a turtle he’s got in his hand. Almost the size of a half-dollar, its legs the size of a teenage fly. I’m on the phone with R, my teacher, who’s telling me about the uncompromising morality of his best friend C, who just died. He now wears a thick plastic purple memorial bracelet that asks, “What would C say?” That question makes him pause, recollect his own off-beat heart and frantic kidneys. It encourages him to be direct and let (a love? Or is it always love?) go. This is called “not filling in the blank.”

 Diagnosing fatality

“It’s injured,” the man says, looking at the turtle clinically, dispassionately. His voice sounds new to diagnosis, the way we hear parents speaking around their newborns, assertions that sound like questions and vice-versa (“He’s hungry?”). The man is trying out being definitive about the status of a creature that can’t supply its own words for what’s going on. But in this case the turtle seems to agree.

R’s friend C got so sick that she went off like a mist from the lake. That’s what a poet could say. In reality, her death was a window slamming shut. And as my 17 year-old student said about the death of his mom from an aneurism: the glass broke into a million pieces, waited in tact for a moment that gave you dumb hope, and then fell.

Blood is coming out of the turtle’s left eye in a perfect bead, the exact size of its other eye. The drop isn’t even going to drip—how much blood could its body possibly contain, anyway? A thimbleful of circulation? The turtle doesn’t move its legs at all, but stays perfectly still, as if cooperating with death, or knowing not to waste an iota of effort on pointless movement.

But I feel, when the man hands the creature to me, without really asking if I want it—the way a mechanic hands a wrench to his assistant—that I have the whole universe pinched there, between forefinger and thumb. The task, whatever it is, feels as huge as the turtle is tiny. Like the whole park is backing me up, being the bigger Hand in which we both are held. Putting me in charge. What the hell am I supposed to do?

I don’t know how this turtle got itself in this condition from the shoreline to the path. In a blind daze? Lear in the storm? Or perhaps the couple found it still in pathetic motion, mid-stride to the other side. The turtle’s crossing echoes the will-to-change of our Tommy, though this little one is far less well-equipped for survival on either side of any road.

Are you going towards the Audobon center,” the man asks. It isn’t a question, and doesn’t deserve a question mark: it is an instruction.   The man has a brown bag in his hand, a bit of grease gathering on the bottom. He wants to eat his bagel and hang out with the baby, I think. He wants to celebrate life and normalcy, not be pulled into this most mini of tragedies. He gestures at the baby, not even on purpose. As if to say: We have other responsibilities. Jr. will inevitably have to breastfeed. As if to say: We’re in the business of life. Can’t you see that, childless pedestrian?

“Can you take it.” Again, an instruction.

“I don’t know where the Center is,” I say, apologetically.

And both of them immediately point—this they know. They become a Greek chorus of two, choreographing the procession of the tragedy: “That way. The direction you are walking. Unmissable. By the boat house.”

I nod agreeably.

The turtle turns the other cheek

They go off down the path, the other way from death. Turns out the Audobon is only a stone’s throw away from where we found the turtle. But now the turtle is my problem and death’s problem.

And of course the Audobon is gated, locked up for the weekend. R is very patient, still on the phone, ministering to the turtle with me, while I make half-sentences, half talking to him, half talking to the turtle. He’s used to the interruptions.

Some things that might be true about death: Death tires you and lightens you in a very particular way. Death is like sea turtle sitting on your lungs but trying to teach you how to swim in new waters. Death is like the sky over the lake. Death isn’t like anything.

The turtle is saying, let’s get on with it.

The turtle is saying: I’ve just been through this. I just got born. My body will remember the way out.

No, the turtle isn’t saying anything. I feel panicked. It’s supposed to help me out here. Like I have a chance I can’t understand to do something I don’t know how to do. At the same time I feel peaceful, like there are no decision to be made, and we are getting on the mortal slide together, and throwing our hands up, and descending to a groundless place.

I live here, but I don’t know where a vet is nearby. R says I could take the creature home and get my J to tend, but J won’t be home til nearly midnight. I don’t think the turtle has that long. I ask myself if it has resources here, in its natural milieu. The shore of the lake by the Audobon center is steep and clearly man-made. A drop-off that resembles the ledge of a swimming pool more than a proper liminal descent.

The turtle is punctured; nature does to all of us eventually. I fret that I’m stressing it out, carrying it around indecisively like this in its injured state. It was finding its own way through death, and then we swooped in with our personal, somewhat heroic notions of salvation.

The path around the lake is newly renovated, and meant to increase human enjoyment and animal presence on the cleaned-up access to shoreline. Still, it takes me some stumbling around to find a proper patch of mud an animal might recognize. Might die or nurse itself back to health in.

I began to look here

I began to look here

It wouldn’t seem mud would be hard to find here. But that’s how it is. I imagine the couple with the baby, now happily perched on the grass proper, a mile away, the turtle no more on their mind as they watch their baby do the idiosyncratic cute things babies do—open and close its mouth, wince at the light, root for the nipple. While they chew their buttery bagels, glad to be sitting and eating and parenting, somehow. By instinct.

“Have a good death or a good life”, I say to the turtle. “Whichever comes first.” And R does his mantra, mumbling, the kind of mumble that is proper to reverence, where you honor someone’s clear path out by contrast, by speaking with blurry edges.

And I put the turtle down and turn and go. What happens next is truly not my business. And R reminds me, gently, as the living must do, “Wash your hands sometime soon.”

“Of course,” R adds later, “there are some things you can’t wash your hands of—ever.”

All the while I had pinched it between two fingers, not cupped it in my palm. Its energetic imprint remains there. I’m resisting the urge to go back and keep vigil—I don’t think animals need our vigil. They have their own ways of dying that anthropomorphizing can only disrupt, not honor.

Still I wonder how its eye had come to be gone—as if someone had committed a violent crime of passion—an eye for an eye. Just this.

The lake and the big sea

All around the path, the animals come and go, bustling with not being dead. An egret, slender as a number two pencil. A red wing blackbird. More of those fish, banked—they’ll get thrown back and start again. A plastic bag or two in the algae.   You can feel the quiet tolerance of nature for the dumb and unnatural things we do.

But everything looks a little tilted. A man practicing headstands in the grass. A couple, doe-eyed at one another, their hard-ons and soft-ons barely hidden by their pants. Children on their popsicles, a mature form of latching, the popsicles already blending into the t-shirt fabric. I imagine I can feel the strain of my uncle dying states away. All death connected to all other death in a secret pact made on our behalf before we have a say in the matter.

There are birdcalls, and leaf-blooms, and funny human screeches from the fountains in the converted ice-skating rink. Small ones running between the jets. Boys on skateboards, looking for an audience for their tricks. A bum fumbling with his pants button unsuccessfully on the newly paved promenade.

And what could the baby turtle hear? And did it care to be saved? Was it already confused enough by having just been born—was it returning, with accepting familiarity, to the place it had newly come from? I prodded it a little when I put it down, as if to awaken its own internal drive to go towards the water, and either drown or live on. It didn’t seem to take any particular cue.

Most endings are constructs, or tentative, like this one. We crawl down the bank. We submerge in the greater thing. We are tossed beyond our semantic system. We turtle towards the Universal Objective.

And then we enter the sea—the big sea, where all semantics dissolve, where all sense of name and form is subsumed by nameless and formless—as Montaigne says: “Young and old die upon the same terms; no one departs out of life otherwise than if he had just before entered it.” Surely, in turtle-time, we’ve all just entered it.

We’re still baffled, looking everywhere to know what this place really is, where we are, and how we might crawl on. And the answer is everywhere, everywhere.

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.

 

Loss loopholes & ligaments

November 16, 2009

Again I fail.  To write on one topic: impossible?  Like Herodotus writing a haiku.  In Swahili.  Anyway, the rain just started again.  My hopscotch game is erased.  And so here I must play a serious, indoor game.

IMG_0132

heart chakra appetizers on the homefront

Metaphysics Strike Again!  Loss Preamble

What is loss?

When our objects betray us.

What is deliverance from loss?

When our objects betray us.

Really, even Loss can’t seem to make up its own mind about this.  It is so active a noun that it is practically a verb.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, after her home in the fertile valley of Virginia was burned to the ground, took stock with a cigarette in a coffee shop.  A dose of dramatic irony, that a tiny kindling of nicotine and paper kept her company.  She had meant to hospice AIDS babies there.  To allow good deaths for those who would hardly live.

The master organist in Notre Dame improvises the Apocalypse.  He’s invisible behind his instruments.  My nose is cold, as a dog’s who has been sniffing snow—not, I think, how it would feel ipso facto.  Is it true that when we have nothing left, we face the atonal dissonance of fire– its enormous, organic appetite?  The Merkabah mystics rode a chariot direct into that orange melee.   They didn’t wait for loss to happen.  They beat it to the punch.

Now, now loss is in motion.

You want to argue that EKR and the Merkabah mystics are not with me in Paris: how do you know?  They are both sitting on my shelf.

Dichotomy-Lobotomy

A jumps up and down when she understands the grammatical distinction between subjects and objects.  I think I have just taught her something dangerous.  Let me take that back!– but there it is: the knower broken from the known like scotch tape from a dispenser.  She is thrilled to understand something about language.  I feel like the dichotomy monster.  I have just chucked the first law of yoga in the garbage disposal.  I might as well teach her adverbs so that she can qualify my mistake.

And then F gets jazzed up on the topic of emotional changeability: Romeo’s Rosaline is demoted to the Dumpster with the other innocuous idols.  She insists: there are two kinds of love: the kind that helps you, the kind that hurts you.  She speaks as a subject and as a potential object, a noun afraid of its own declension.

Romeo bemoans the stars: a whiner even by Shakespearean standards.  The stars deliver: invariable brightness, so tough on the eyes that space intervenes as an optic preservative.  A Juliet or two cropped up in the midst, as distraction from alluring finality. But he senses it, because he’s not really the dope he acts to be.  All the metaphors in the world won’t keep him from getting seared by the sun– so benignly handled in words, so impossible to sequester in the real.

Loss: the irreversibility of a/this play.  An EXIT sign that blinks blood- red: like god with conjunctivitis, a seeing-itch.  Then there is Interminable Loss–which is really the problem with loss in the first place.

Qualifying

Van Gogh, who came into art after his sentimentality towards the people (that collective lump of regular folk) disqualified him from his office as preacher, felt fiercely the loss endemic to being in the world.  So what he once addressed in language, the wealth and poverty of being, now wore the expressive costume of paint: a thick blue wherein gold filaments.  As if sky were the divine come-back to the world’s misery.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: we never lose something without gaining something.  And since, ultimately, she was speaking of death, this is hardly reverse psychology or wishful thinking.  It is more like reverse live-ology.

And Good Ol’ Friar Lawrence, alchemist, in his via media sagacity: “The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;/ What is her burying grave, that is her womb.”(2.3.10).

The end-rhyme, the mnemonic trigger.

Really, birth?

At Real Birth, E holds up the stuffed “animal” of the female pelvis.   She aims the crown of her head through its outlet, nudging against the fuzzy cervix– you can throw it in the wash-machine!– the oxytocin-monster.  Here we go. Her affirmation: you (mom) can’t fail at labor.  O the unfathomable contractile uterus!  Yay, vaginas!

No, I’m not pregnant—hi mom!– but I did once take these classes.  It was not my uterus that was at stake, but means of preparation for the delivery of my awesome goddaughter.  This is what happens while writing– memory’s forceps are always pulling something out of the cranial closet. Oh-Mah-Ni-Weirdos-Oh-M.

And yes: eventually the baby gets out of the constricting canal.  Mothers cannot fail—F-word of F words!– to deliver the creature by some means, even if under the knife and with radical assistance.  But if it’s true that labor can’t fail, it is equally true that sometimes life itself can.  That is: fail us.  That is: screw its maha-cervix shut, obviate oxytocin, and turn its face to the corner.  And we blub: But but but I thought pain was for other people…

Un-other

With loads of (such) others, J and I are waiting on line on the day of the dead to visit the empty rooms of the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam.  The line forms next to a helpful sign which alerts visitors to pickpockets in the area.  Hereupon, a cartoon illustration reminiscent of the infamous Miss Piggy: O Kermie, I looooooooooove you! When, in her tried and true, Muay thai-very-sly pick-pocketing move, she would flatten him (green as can be) puppet-lusty.  Pick the deflated currency of passive resistance from his non-pocket.  The profession of Love is, and always has been, a great decoy.

A’s House: paean to emptiness, maintained by her dad, Otto (now dead), who returned from the camps to find that his family had been decimated.  Anne’s legendary diary had been rescued by the “helpers”—in it, a daughter he had not known.  He comes to the conclusion: No parent really knows his child.  He remarries and moves away from the particular open sky and canals that reach into the continent like aberrant hands.  He leaves a museum where once was a pubescent hiding even within language in the larger, communal hiding spot.  How to define the inner?

IMG_0597

between a rock and a hard place

Ready or not.

And who is ready for something like that?

The empty room, purporting to be a place to live– like earth is—testifies.  To what?  To what!  To this:

. . .

The wallpaper is yellowed as if tissue stalled in the final phase of reparation, a bruise in the last, incomplete stage of healing.  In CP Gilman’s story of similar ilk, the hysterical (yay, uterus!) protagonist, interred in her room by a concerned husband, eventually fuses with the wallpaper.  She writes herself into a second trap: metonymic madness.  This makes foreground and background indistinguishable (for her), makes self and container contiguous, and thus proves mentally intolerable, like most phenomenology of imprisonment.  The short story ends.  So does Anne’s diary.

But on the back jacket, Anne’s smiling.  She wanted to be that thing most writers now won’t confess to: a famous author.  One of the helpers, Miep, relays in her old age how one day she accidentally walked in on Anne at work in her diary, and became, for this innocent transgression of creative space, the object of a wrath so fierce Kali (or the Rev. Al Sharpton of yesterday?) could take a day off.  And I’m writing about you, she hissed.  You’re going down in the great book.

I feel my Jewishness like an eyelash against the cornea, which even tears can’t set free.

Bob Thurman, Buddhist scholar, explains a bit about compassion.  With his one fake eye fixated on the dharma and his other trolling the audience, he admits that most people gripe; why would I want to feel the pain of the other?  My life is intolerable as it is.  My bones hurt.  The IRS has me on speed-dial.  His answer?  Because it is the only thing to do.  It’s more fun.  And if the Dalai Lama can be jolly when his people are being genocided—well, why add more misery to a miserable world?

The answer, then, is perhaps not to grin like a fool in the Anne Frank memorial or have a touchy-feely moment with the person behind you in line, but to continue to believe in happiness.

It is like a math problem wherein the variables are unfixed and don’t give a shit.  Every time you solve for X, X gets a sex change.  Every time you solve for Y, Y goes to lunch with the nihilists.  Every time you knock at the window of the restaurant, the nihilists are on strike against all Variables, ever.  So you retreat with your No. 2 pencils, seek out Juliet’s Nurse and her wormwood cure to help you root out and solve the parasite Loss.  Your pencils are sharp, as pencils should be.  As exacting as compassion itself.

I come to the conclusion that kindness becomes a reflex, like throwing up (thanks, OWL, for the question).

Or sometimes we smash our way out

On the Thalys train en route back from Amsterdam.  Across the aisle, our congenial conductor is making four French- Africans, busy playing a heated game of Spades, “swear” and “promise” that they will buy the full-fare tickets they ought to have when they arrive at Gare du Nord in Paris.

We promise.  (said the Knave to the Ace).   Their fingers are so crossed they’ve herniated several cervical discs.

Are you kidding me?

The “exit” row (yes) comes with a window-smashing hammer, secured behind glass, to be used in case of emergency.  I’m just a lowly commuter, but my desire to actually have the opportunity to smash the window to bits with this specially-designated hammer—instructions are posted– becomes so great that I worry that I am wishing an accident upon us.  To be the hero who wields the instrument of salvation; I look at the hammer intently.  The power of thought– or so I hear– is tremendous.  I can’t say I’m directing it towards purely boddhisattvic ends.  If you’ve vowed, as a bodhisattva does, to return until all sentient beings are free of suffering, then you’ve got yourself a long “to do” list; so why not expedite things by letting a few instances of this sentience crawl out the window?

There are instructions here for systematic destruction.  I cannot decide whether it is solace or the opposite of solace.

Van Ghost

Van Gogh, in the mid-point of his decade-long occupation as an artist, decided that it was time to move from the potato-browns of the poor to the natural abundance of color, which he saw in the work of his French counterparts.  And where better to find that than in the study of flowers?  So he turned his face to flowers and the instructions of the countryside sunlight and his palette changed.  You could say blossomed, but that would be clichéd.

When he shot himself in the chest, it was not, apparently, because of a failure of art but a failure of feeling.  Too intense, for him, to live in this colorful world.

At first it was just a bit of the ear.  Like gossip of the troubles to come.

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funerary florasana

Van Gogh, at the gates of heaven

VG: Concierge, My ear hurts.

Gate-keeper: That’s not possible.  You’re dead!

VG:  What do you know?  When you have a light-body you never have to take an Asprin!

G-K:  OK, don’t take my word for it.  There is bound to be a pharmacist in there you can talk to.

VG:  I’m an artist.  We seal our pain into canvas and call it landscape.

G-K: That’s nice.  Buddy, in or out, there’s a line!

VG:  I shot myself in the chest.

G-K: What, are you a proactive hypochondriac?

VG:  Sometimes feeling is terrible.

G-K: You’re in heaven, but whiners have to sit in the back.

VG:  Do you have oil paints here?

G-K:  You can check the SuperiorMart.

VG:  Books?

G-K:  A Book.

VG:  Hell’s got better selection?

G-K: I wouldn’t know.

VG:  I loved the world so much through books.

G-K:  Buddy…

VG:  Did you ever see a field that was more convincingly sorrow than sorrow?

G-K:  Are you speaking English?

VG:  I thought it was Latin or nothing up here.

G-K:  Check.

blue drsti or VG in michigan

Take off your coat and stay a while

The embryologist and gross anatomist Jaap van der Wal, MD, PhD, abides by the poetic law that life is a coat.  He practices what I’ll call po-science, a laudable hanumanasana that leaves one foot in the bard-realm and the other in Bunsen burner.  All stages of life, in fact, are “coats” to be shed, one by one.  Until, following his conceit to its outermost neighborhoods, life is a bit like being excessively overdressed on the first day of spring weather.  Your fourteen mistaken layers of gear must be removed; you thrill and shed your way towards basic nakedness.  And then you find you’ve been born, and someone’s doing a hack-job on your umbilical cord, and your nose and navel switch occupations.   And then you find, dying, that all your sense organs are out of work, the blood economy has suffered deflation, and the layers of skin, which indicated you from not-you, become just so many coats.

And this is conjecture, not having died.

And to talk about it, I have only the language of others, which becomes the language of myself.

And from her attic, she could see the coarse blue-whites of sky.

It didn’t matter about the sunshine: Van Gogh still shot himself in the chest.  So desperate to taste the subtle colors! I imagine the red he released was not one he could have mixed.

Tea Pins Your Lids

A phD candidate at Colombia begins his lecture on tea with an old poem.

The fifth cup cleanses the bones…The seventh I do not dare attempt.

Tea flosses the cavity– the loss cavity.  No dentist can set you right on that one.

Boddhidarma, tea aficionado, pinned his eyelids open to continue meditating, so determined to find out the truth for himself.  I want to know what kind of pins he used and where he got them.  Perhaps this is the literalist’s lasagna: to be offered lore but notice only the font.

Boddhidarma had already taught the martial forms to the monks at Shao Lin, who were so preoccupied with meditating that their health and strength had evaporated.

I wonder how many layers of tissue the pin penetrated before there was no danger of sleep. I wonder how wrong I have this story, and if it matters.

I wonder if the tea was sharp and bitter, like the first stages of profound loss.

A moment with M

It is not color that is the most emotional for me, Matisse confessed grumpily, but the line.  The (most) basic thing.  The suggestion. Not what is full.  Not the simple, primary overwhelm of yellow or red or blue.  That for which he is known (think of his dancer) is that which his limbic system abjures.  Come hither, lil pencil.  No time to lose in this world of forms.

But a Line Can’t Hold Us

As I walk in the park, aseasonal rosebuds leaning into the path, I have the stupid if insistent sense that desire is a connective tissue binding us to the world.  That we are superficial, in the anatomical sense, to the core of all this, and the matrix in which we subsist can be likened to a fruit smoothie—sweet and busy.  Gravity is our implausible tendon.  I say all these things knowing they don’t really add up (why I chose poetry over mathematics?) and then I turn to the morbidity of the Renaissance anatomists.

The Renaissance anatomists were up against religious taboos; they went after their bodies, necessary to art, in the graveyards.  The worms were miffed but what can we do.  Someone has to starve so someone can be fed.  Art is no different.

I’ve impoverished you to the degree of true-blue, sayeth the digger to the worms he evicts.  I want to render arteries accurately.  The worms pout over their deprivation of raw material.  The body, being just a body, expresses nothing.  Art, being art, could then express “something.”

And the museums here still hold many twisted bodies.  The Orangerie, in its pre-modernist basement gathering, contains a serious quantity of adipose in repose.  In the Tuileries, just prior to the imposing Louvre, a marbled muse, Comedie, stands with her mask half-lifted.  No doubt she’s waiting for someone to get the joke.  In response, a contemporary installation of what looks to be tin-foil alien heads, emoticons writ large, encircle the fountain, as if they are about to engage in an ice-breaking exercise.

My biology wrinkles: where would I fit in, in this spectrum of statues? More Muse or More Alien?  Likely in the camp of Theseus, to my left, wrestling the Minotaur, his club raised.  Like him, I’m still busy making my way through the world by tackling what terrifies me.  The moment before the fatality is still not the fatality—but we know which way the blow will land.

It is not true that mythology is absent from the present.  It is just ironed into what is felt to be old, and so rendered ignorable.  I pass a woman who is using a tree for support while she does hazardous battement.  When I veer back towards the Seine, and the buildings are dipped in gold from the afterglow of the tour boats, I see an old lady kick a pigeon, who is eating its way through the bottom of the public garbage bag.  The pigeon, true to its calling, doesn’t budge.  The bag hangs down like a used condom from a metal ring.   The light in the water is absolutely in motion, like loss, like fire.

Coda: On Parents & Sisters

The quality of missing these three is so palpable it’s like a dog I have to walk multiple times a day.  This Not-dog and I go outside, pick a tree du jour, release what needs releasing, return home, only to have it build up again.  The Atlantic Ocean is the object of all of my bitterness.  To be far from those you love provokes a violence of longing which has the potential to power an airplane– except it doesn’t, and metaphors ultimately make poor trans-Atlantic vehicles.  Hi Mom, Dad and Hanny.  Camp is great.  Can you pl send me some warm socks?  Mine are filled with tears.

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love ligament