Posts Tagged ‘time’

Purna, Perturbations & Panache

October 29, 2012

Part One: Vesselhood

R and I are talking about capacity.  About doors that close on the path, and how to wedge them open.

Temporary Vessels photo’d from automobile

As if taking a vow to the rolling ocean in front of us, R declares:  I don’t want to stop short of living fully!  It is the last day on which autumn will allow for bare-headedness and thin shirts.  We are covered in a film of sand from the wind.  We ask erosion to forgive us our trespasses and sit up against the relatively young dunes while the plovers plove.

The fussing Atlantic Ocean rolls and rolls, as words and beings roll and roll in the great rotation.   I think the mind is underutilized, he says, and love.  But sand, on the other hand, is not underutilized.

Mind and love: President Obama in the debate debacle has just tried to play the card of the latter at the expense of the former.  And that is the first and last thing I will say about politics.

R is rolling now, too: I don’t want to have just done this partway!

Yes; however, most traffic accidents happen partway somewhere, don’t they?  And in Xeno’s paradox, we are only ever (maddeningly) halfway.  But R means it, and the seagulls flap like they, too, know a wing must pump at full-stroke or be utterly stymied in the sky.

Some lines of an e.e. cummings poem that R coached me to speak at Lil Nolan’s wedding are getting churned up by the mind-wind:

(here is the root of the root of the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life

deeper than soul can hope or mind can hide) 

—I carry your heart with me—

(reprinted without permission).


On a day as bright as this, what doesn’t carry your heart?  The light is your pimp in white pin-stripes: you’ll sleep with anything it touches. The jagged shoreline of Goosewing beach looks as if a mountain range lay down on its side, as a dying horse might.  R indeed wants his vessel to be the biggest it can be.  Shouldn’t we all?

I carry R’s heart with me; he has always been a deep teacher, guide to those in the darkness by the sheer wattage of his understanding.  When his cardiac muscles flutter precipitously, skipping beats until he bears down and calls an ambulance, and he feels the edge is near and nearing, I hold mine steady, so that his can dock again.  Yes, it is magical thinking and it is quite enjoyable.

He has a chorus behind his humble but sincere proclamations, of all things that realize their capacity: grass as grass, sand as sand, sky as sky.  You cannot say that the sky is only partially sky.  It lives its bigness, or it has no identity at all.  Fully!  Fully! 

It’s possible that the Infinite, a Big Kid now, listens to our professions of what we really, really want as a student listens for the recess bell, so that when people speak true truth, a cosmic ding ricochets in its Inner Ear; its Pavlovian response, as taught in Anthropocentrism 101, must be to reflexively grant all heartfelt wishes.

But what is really listening to me? Only “Me”– whatever that is or isn’t. And since I don’t understand “me” in the first place, there is great likelihood that Me is something way larger, way more infinite and complex, than I ever fathomed, or than convention holds.

Which brings us back to the stretching of the vessel, until, as the yogic texts proclaim, it is as big as the universe, whatever that really is.  This strains the very definition of definition, and tautology drowns in itself.

And we?

We open wider.

Beckoning the infinite


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?


March 19, 2010

On Compression

“At this point we should remember that the idea of the world as composed of weightless atoms is striking because we know the weight of things so well.” —Italo Calvino, “Lightness.”

life is a skyway

Compression has its advantages.  It’s what you do to stop excess blood loss from a wound.  It’s how computer files fit onto a portable drive—whatever that is. “A force which tends to shorten or squeeze something,” it is compression that allows experience to be recognized as such—shrinking it inside a broader frame of perception: gross, compact, ours.  In this way, it confers value.

Yep: value.

We’ve been in Istanbul two and a half months.  The sky-sea pulse is white-washed.  Even the wind is bored.  The calls prayer keep calling, like telemarketers: Top 5 reasons why Allah is awesome.

To have too much time is the mistaken wish of mortals who love gods.  Gods who love mortals know better: have sex and leave.

However, one example to the contrary stands out from mythology (“with myths” says Calvino, “one should not be in a hurry.”); Tithonus was Dawn’s plaything, and she gifted him with immortality—even better than breakfast in bed!  A lover forever?  Shebang!

But, no: as he aged and aged and aged, he took to begging in Greek babblese for compression.  Eventually Eos stuck him in a room with a door.  But this didn’t quite do it, and so under duress of attenuation, his form was changed into a cicada, flimsy and serenading death in whispy insect whimpers.

So Stars Back-Talk

And so Eavan Boland hears the constellations begging in the wet night:

This is what language did to us. Here
is the wound, the silence, the wretchedness
of tides and hillsides and stars where

we languish in a grammar of sighs,
in the high-minded search for euphony,
in the midnight rhetoric of poesie.

We cannot sweat here. Our skin is icy.
We cannot breed here. Our wombs are empty.
Help us to escape youth and beauty.

Write us out of the poem. Make us human
in cadences of change and mortal pain
and words we can grow old and die in.

[reprinted, as usual, without permission]

To have too much time in one place is the very problem with immortality; we would be unaccustomed to it, the way a toddler cannot walk effectively in her father’s borrowed shoes.  Though they attract her by their impossible bigness, she swims in them, her feet dragging.

If granted beyond what is measurably ours, we also risk swimming without coordinates.    As I said to a friend: ennui is good with everything, like a glass of water.  We are still foreigners in the shoes of this city, which are big and mismatched and smell like Dawn prettying herself in the haze of pollution.

It seems, then, that we really need Time, despite the protests we make against its thievery, to exert its idiomatic pressure on the shape of things.  This pressure is also the very sweetness of our terminality.  First in time, and then hustled outside of time, we’ll become worm candy.

What Worms These Are, I Think I Know

A and I read together for weeks about the tube worms writhing at the bottom of the ocean floor and their micro-organic brethren, the Extremophiles, hardiest of life forms on whom we have developed equally hardy crushes.  These superheroes live not only where the ocean belches fire, but on the icy yarmulke of the earth: the Arctic. There, aware that success comes in numbers, they bond in order to melt just enough of the glacier in which they find themselves that they can use the water to live— as the blessing went at Wat Suan Mokkh, “so the process of life can go on.”  Now eat your fuckin’ nitrogen porridge in gratitude.

Part of the danger in having a crush on extremophiles is that they dare us to redefine life—so you can’t emerge unchanged from this romance.  Current science is tickled by this.  But Life also dares us to redefine life:  will this be enough for you, this cabin fever, this disinclination, this gift wrapped in trucker toilet paper?  Can you bear the unbearability of one day turning into the next in a city where you don’t belong, and must create your own circus out of shopping trips?

the path of least resistance

Istanbul has its problems: the houses sagging in the middle like the underarm fat of a very old woman, earthquakes chomping at the bit, the cavities of an old empire whose bloody history would belie the olive leaf as anything other than condiment.  Flaubert came here to think about his maha-worm, the syphallitic phallus for which he saw fit to blame the east rather than his own whore-mongering.  Have a pide stuffed with potatoes and witness the walnuts twist in their shells as the shopkeepers plunge scoopers into the large storefront bins—fragrance of fratricide and funiculars and Figaro’s.  You can have whatever you want: the price of kissing is your life.

Refrain from öp

Therefore not kissing, J and I walk in Topkapi gardens, a place startlingly green and free of litter.  The trees are dizzy tall, their branches too high above to discern whether or not spring has begun to ring her bells.  When we look up, as if the bird cries were addressed to us, we see nest after nest after nest; huge, stork-like winged mates.  This garden also hosts a worn-down statue of an old poet with sitar in hand, and parrots, which repeat everything he isn’t singing.

teach me everything you know--

And a tea garden: sine qua non.  From here, the wind pawing at your face, drinking out of stacked pots, you can see the bestial cargo ships on their Sisyphus Regime: Just Keep Going.  Asia sparkles from across the strait, where the sprawl of buildings blend together and, from this distance, yield an Impressionist’s rendering of urbanization.  The same caveat applies here as to a museum’s painting: look, but don’t touch.  Better from a distance– to sit with a flowering park at your back, sad pansies shoved too early in the hard dirt, and know the unstoppable city as landscape rather than having to wrestle with it as location.  May the wind always love your back…Behind us is a column that archaeologists cannot date:  eternity has stuck it there as a place-holder for nothing and a reminder of same.

stacked delight

A Mummy is Also Compressed

When they return from Egypt, the girls are flush with stories of the 65 mummified crocodiles in the temple, the fish with beaks and sorry eyes and cliques, the flashing colors of the coral community and the sepia tombs.

As connoisseur of grievances, F has already exiled Shakespeare and Dickens to the Siberia of Shiterature, and Pamuk is on their heels:  I hate him! She pronounces excitedly, upon reading the first sentence of “Religion.”  God shrugs, in her white sashes.  Already having rechristened the hypothalamus as “that small hippopotamus in the brain” and adjudicated the value of a poem based on the seismology of its emotive strength, F is fast conjuring her own idiom for a worthy world.  There’s not a lot in it, but what’s there must sing.

A chimes in: “Did anyone ask the crocodiles if they wanted to be mummies?  No, I don’t think so.”  But, my friend: eternity salvages what she can, will be content with a fossil, if she must, or even a desiccated reptile.  At the archaeology museum, the shrunken skeleton of a mummified king is arranged in a glass case.  It is thousands of years old, but the skull still looks perky, lifted at an oblique angle to stare vacantly down at the ghost of its own abdomen.  The tarsals loiter at the base of the display, beneath the sacral spine, which, true to its reputation, has not decayed.  It’s hard not to hold your breath as you look, the tableau of this figure suspended in an attempt at timelessness.  If I sneeze, it seems I could scatter these bones, which have endured long enough to witness the advent of the iPod.

Too Much Love is Still Too Much

Joseph Campbell, mega-mythologist, is amazed by the image of love popular amongst the local ancient bards:  “The Persian poets have asked ‘By what power is Satan sustained?’  And the answer that they have found is this: ‘By his memory of the sound of God’s voice when he said, ‘be gone’” (149).  Ouch.  But then again, being cast out allows for a certain necessary compression of emotion, a fertile reactivity for which there must be little room in heaven’s monotonous atemporality.  L insists (or has she borrowed this claim?) heaven would be a great bore, far worse than French food.  Satan had much to sulk about, but he got busy instead creating a fledgling colony for all love’s rejects.

It was Blake who diagnosed the predicament thus:  “Eternity is in love with the productions of time.”  So Eternity’s endless arm, like Eos’ round Tithonus, has Time in a stranglehold.  We can sense the crook of her elbow against the limited buoying of our Adam’s Apple: the crushing pressure of what we can’t quite reciprocate.

I suspect that Eternity is not just in love with the productions of time but positively heart-sick over them.  She looks at Time as the teen looks at the poster of the newest pop idol.  And time-bound as we are, sensing the force of her wanting on the other side of all clocks, both broken and functional, we grow heart-sick in return.  For it is heart sickening to have been chosen for this role of beloved, of embodied being, without having been asked.

Here in Istanbul, we haven’t the compression factor any longer, what would allow us to perceive experience as an offering, albeit in bleached tones.  Instead, the place, its history easy to trip on, is just there, as the lens of an eye—something to peer through, craving the jagged horizon line and its pedagogy of endings.

Eternity, then, must pet our heads: soon enough, my little love, soon enough.