Reverence

Inspired by wild images.

Creation: a milky cloud under a full moon in July, thousands of groupers.

A mountain gorilla in the rain, eyed closed as if to know it in his breath, 

droplets beading over lined face. Polar bear sisters cool in summer waters,

wonders of affection, chimpanzee leaning up to kiss a woman’s cheek,

another curled in her lap, while under a bed a spider the size of a hand

watches her newly hatched brood. Ravens in courtship sing to one another,

passing soft warbles and gifts between them: moss, twigs, stones from

beak to beak over the frozen ground. There’s a warbler in the sunflowers:

listen, she weaves a cradle for her eggs.

Inspired by an article at My Modern Met about the 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards

Taste

Considering longings for unknown homelands.

The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd – The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.” – Fernando Pessoa

If memory is the original fiction, then let me remember the women 

whose warm hands, stained with vegetables, 

tended to Sunday stock, who were unknown 

except to those who ate what they offered, 

and who made what they offered in a haven 

unknown to cameras and reviewers and stars 

of achievement. Let me remember the thrill 

of running along a Normandy coast, 

after mussels when blond wheat covered 

the fields before they gave way to corn, concrete, 

plastic; when necessary meant bread at a midday meal. 

Inspired by this morning’s sighting of Madeline Kamman’s When French Women Cook, a book I discovered about a decade ago in a used bookstore. It’s descriptions of a French countryside that no longer exists created a strange sense of longing, one that I have come to associate with a word I happened to discover around the time I discovered this book. The word, hireath, is a Welsch word with no exact translation in English, was presented to me originally as “longing or homesickness for a place you have not directly known.”  It resounded, in an instant, as one of the dominating feelings of my time on the planet.

News from the Isle of Cats

Todays news: updates from Cat Island, Aoshima.

Since posting about my fantasy of taking a voyage to cat island, I’ve been gifted with an abundance of virtual news about the island of Aoshima, Japan, which only enhances my appreciation for its magic. Last night, I realized that I had been neglecting updates (these cats have their own Facebook group and Instagram account, for anyone interested), and made a note to resume when I woke. When I refer to “checking news” in the morning, I’m generally referring to updates pertaining to cats, craigslist, news from publications such as The Siberian Times, recipe blogs, and poetry. As for other news, that happens later in the day when I’m sufficiently primed for its assault.  

I was grateful to remember this after hitting snooze for the second time this groggy morning, so that I could wake with a clear and immediate objective to accompany my first sips of coffee. Let’s see what’s new on the island, I said to Buzz, assuming the imagined vocal inflections of a top-tier investor over numbers reports while delivering her obligatory morning helping of Gravy Lover’s Seafood Selections.

Apparently, some of the cats have been getting drunk on matatabi brought by tourists (I’m thinking this is in the family of catnip, but perhaps of the higher-grade variety that only celebrities know). They may fight under the influence, but then they fall asleep. 

Nana-chan’s preferred spot is on the laps of visiting tourists. They call her “sleeping princess,” and her fan base continues to grow.

This is the sort of story I imagined when I first learned of the place: cats wandering around: much loping, lounging, purring and meowing when the Captain and Cat Mom bring food, and engaging in inaudible cat-banter about the antics of these two-legged servants among them, in all manner of motley dress and vocal expression. However, I have since learned that Aoshima, like any inhabited isle, is not without dramatic inflection.

Consider, for example, the tale of Choco-chan, one of the last litters of the island, now that all known feline residents been spayed or neutered (In my original post, I shared that a prior attempt had left a critical mass of cats untreated, and no doubt these continued to mate, argue, and bear litters in a manner that suggested an endless proliferation of cats on the island—but alas, the numbers may witness a decline in coming decade). Choco-chan, a white-chocolate kitten born in 2015, was quickly certified as “The #1 Cutest” of all the Aoshima cats. Reporters and television crews from the mainland came to take his photograph. “Fabulous!” they exclaimed, as Choco-chan posed with a pink feather boa looped festively around his neck and torso. He was spoiled with extra sausage, sashimi, and other delectables while the other cats (many still un-neutered, mind you) grew resentful.

You know the story: to everything there is a season, and the pride cometh before the fall. After kitten season, news crews vanished. Choco-chan, no longer having to be plied for photo shoots with extra servings of cat-delicacies like sausage and sashimi, was escorted back to the common feeding area. “He is middle-aged man cat now” and has survived being widely oppressed by the other cats, who seem to have given him quite a hard time upon his return. Choco-chan no longer attempts to eat in the feeding area, and is presumably fed in a furtive manner by the same adoring cat mom who originally singled him out for preferential treatment. 

October is a hot month, and the cats have mostly been lounging in the shade. “No one is fighting anymore,” one tourist observes. “Everyone has eaten. It is a peaceful world.”

People put great bowls of cool water out for the stars. “The cats are drinking water deliciously,” someone posts, and it is true. They drink, orange heads over stainless steel bowls, absorbed in the ritual, and it is delicious. 

Etymology of Gravity

Considering the force that holds a body here.

If time is spinning earth on axis in rotation around the sun, it should send us flying away, except that we are held by force of attraction, to the planet that insists by its incessant motion on our aging, recording all the while: lives, deaths, mutations, development of fins where once there were limbs, trading original fur for original sin and taking it like penance in the furs of those that warmed us, fed us, watched us. We knew them. But a body bent on survival will induce forgetting when it needs to––for a time, anyway.

Then we watched the sun. Rising, setting, it seemed about to retreat from our waiting, and we sang to pull it back. It shaped our voices, our habits, our sleep, birthdays, solstice, winter.

We lived in one dome, and some said that there were other domes beneath us, in layers, through which certain ancestors had passed, struggling up and up; and now it seems obvious, the tension that holds us: on the one hand up and out, and on the other, here––as in, Here is your hand, and because it holds mine, I do not fly away. These are the first words, I like to think, that we might have said to one another when we first lost our furs, grasping for a language better than any of our words.

The first shelter we found when we knew we were naked was nothing but translucent blue, infinitely distant, and it was endlessly spinning, and everywhere you looked, there you were, at the center of the turning skies, shattered. How does a body ask to be held when the words for the safety it suddenly needs are not yet invented? Cruel irony, to place a set of eyes in the center of a universe just to remind them of the possibility of being tossed by the sheer velocity of a relentlessly spinning planet––into nothing.

Why language, when words feel so feeble, most of the time? Here is why: a body on the verge of certain annihilation cannot help but cry out, and there is no use for words except as some version or another of the open hand, pleading in mute and sudden exposure: Hold.

Gift of the Skies

Considering the vast wisdom of ancient dreamers against the small spectacle of contemporary foils.

October skies prompt certain recollections. Consider the ghosts of sky watchers, for example,  how they once stood among the old ruins, unruined among the old stars.

Those beautiful dreamers, for whom knowing was learning the way back to the original vision, before words.  It must have been something to be among them within the stories they must have told, and the tellers of them: rooted and sturdy as trees to sleep in, and who ever does that now? In contrast, I’m recalling the parable of the dreamer, a much more contemporary tale, apropos to the moment, overheard when I was out somewhere, wide-eyed with possibility. I had listened with rapt attention, waiting for a brilliant conclusion. It wasn’t that sort of story, but I couldn’t know this at the time. 

The parable I am remembering was not about one of these dreamers, but a self professed “dreamer” in the popular sense. The sort that loves to confess, “I am a dreamer,” as if doing so might lend a certain je ne sais quois to a cultivated artifice, aside from being an excellent excuse from the terrible burden of being tethered to anything of heaven or earth beyond his own needs. How unlike the real dreamers he was, whose original visions would never let them forget that they were nothing if not obligations to be more than mere selves, those notorious tricksters, those endless constellations of illusions and untamed wants who thrived on mischief-making, knowing nothing else.

The wise ones before him would chant with the rising sun, and for it, an act of worship borne of humility. Our latecomer arrives, knowing nothing but himself since he’s been so steadfast about resisting ties to anything else, right down to being unable to believe that anything could be nearly as real. Coming down to absorb the energy of the moment, he asks one of the reverent about their purpose. Upon learning that the object of worship is the sun, he cannot help but arrive at a singular and fateful conclusion: not that he is the sun exactly, not as a matter of fact (he isn’t much interested in facts, which too much resemble the proverbial ropes and chains from which is he is ever-wanting to free himself), but that he could be.

“I am here!” he declares, “And behold, a great light!” and raises his hands to absorb the energy of his adoring crowd. Proud of himself for remaining unsullied, he imagines the warmth he is feeling to be the pure radiance of his own miraculous self. 

Oh, the cheering! He thinks, how magnificent! When he deigns to remove himself from this heightened state, he must tell them!  He must tell the people. He is not selfish, after all! Truly, he had sometimes wondered. But if he were, how do you explain this impulse to let the common assembly, infinitely less complex than the smallest finger of his two outstretched hands, partake in this radiant heat?

The old ones shake their heads, chuckling at a misreading so far-fetched that they could never have dreamed it up. They’d love to see what else this one comes up with, but they can’t stay for the rest of the show. Dreaming, as they know it, is the hard, daily work of a lifetime, and they share a common agreement to get back to it.

“Should we say something?” One says, as they are walking away.

They pause, look back. But in the looking it becomes clear that saying anything to someone in such a state is about the same as saying nothing, and possibly much worse, given the likelihood of misunderstandings like the one that led our infant dreamer to claim the altar as his own.

They go, a procession of ancients in unison, under an ancient sky, pulled by an ancient purpose, older and more vast than any one among them.

Descent

Into the ocean world.

Mondays tend to offer numerous reminders of the need for an underwater excursion. With this in mind, today’s found poem is an assembly of phrases found in Jacques Cousteau’s introduction to The Ocean World, a stunning volume that featured prominently in my childhood imagination. 

The act of life,

an eye permanently open––

immense, teeming; plankton like haze,

barely visible, monotonous. Now what?

The diving years reveal a thin layer

of sea, fragile––at our mercy, somehow,

this organized crystal of three-dimensional 

nothingness: ocean intelligence buried

under waste. Consider the precariousness

of this third infinity, in the grabbing hands 

of someone unable to think beyond what he

might take: salvation, discovery, the next ride.

Even the next image, and yet, listen at

the edges: what third infinity continues

in constant chorus, inaudible to those

above, still held by laws of degradation

before the threshold of this ancient beyond?

Secondary Questions on the Nature of First Aid

One has reason to wonder about the validity of the preeminence of aid associated with certain hierarchical naming conventions.

There are books you can acquire, on fundamentals of for survival. The idea being, that if you know enough, you can respond effectively in any crisis. The idea being, that this is the point, like a raised sword into battle, a popular image among anyone primed to think of themselves as the hero about to happen.

In a typical lifesaving manual, you can find sections on dressing for survival; on hyperthermia and muscle cramping; heatstroke, hypothermia, frostbite. 

Then comes the chapter on tending wounds: what to do before and after. How to stop the bleeding, assess the damage, clean the wound, decide on treatment, close it up. 

––Burns, too: first steps, the signs in order of degree: first, second, third, a hierarchy of singed flesh. And notes on life-threatening complications, as if to reassure the reader that such matters––the complications, that is–– were secondary.

Next come the mammal bites, rabies, snakes; foreign objects in the skin; bark scorpions, fleas, chiggers, gunshot wounds; stinging nettles, poisonous plants. 

Rib injuries, lacerations at the neck, collapsed lungs, flail chest, broken feet; what to do when someone collapses. For these things there are specific treatments because what led to the breaking of bones and vessels for bleeding are matters of an entirely different order, as with the fire of the gun, the long exposure to cold, the vulnerability of certain skins to certain forms of abrasions and lacerations, the moments preceding collapse.

The matter of saving a life goes beyond the moment of crisis, but here is the proverbial tough pill, too wide even for many a gallant knight’s earnest and proclamatory throat. To the dismay of many a less-attractive object of need than the damsel-in-distress or child at the edge of a hot cauldron, the crisis is always more glamorous than the slow attention it takes to watch someone and understand precisely which cries are consistently muted, and to recognize that the capacity for burning cannot be measured any better by degrees than its aftermath can be easily sorted into a neat ranking of first, second, third.

There’s a silence to watching honestly, and it’s repellent to the seekers of valor. There is nothing glamorous about slow attention, no reason to raise a white horse on its hind legs in show of strength. There is only patience, and watching, the slow action of growth below ground, and everywhere above it, the attention it takes to count the lines in a knuckle, the veins in a hand, the rhythm and meter of rising and falling ribs before they are broken.

I would die for this, the would-be hero wants to always proclaim, of the death he imagines as clean as the light gleaming from a sword before it’s tested. The living is such a mess. How uncomfortable it is, to recognize the courage of surviving the contamination and doing so consistently, in the name of nothing more glamorous than the next waiting moment. 

Here is the birth of the courage that few are willing to look at directly. It hurts like looking at the sun: to see what it takes to survive––not the crisis, but the slow and patient tending to what may yet grow––and then again, maybe not. The waiting can kill you, and here’s the rub: when it does, it will sound like absolutely nothing.

Here’s what I think of the valor of the knights I was raised to revere. I think showing up in a crisis is an easy victory, fruit plucked heavy from a tree limb by a sword not so different in intention from that which would give pause to the waiting lady. It’s as easy as being celebrated with hearty open hands of congratulations, against the solid-seeming back, the only one visible when the back on which it leans is buried underground, tending to the merciless details required of everything with a fraction of a chance to live, and unable to give up for the length of time it would take to stand and shake off something that someone with the privilege of pretensions to ideals like Truth and Belief would never imagine had any weight at all.  

Signs and Symbols

A found poem introduction to the definitive introduction to literary theory.

The following is assembled from phrases found in the opening six pages of The Norton’s Anthology of Theory and Criticism, a text that some readers might find a touch dense, or perhaps conducive of a sprained wrist. I took the liberty of assembling this found poem from the text, to keep on hand for moments when something lighter is in order.

What does theory demonstrate? That there is no position free of it, 

not even common sense. The same is true of an author’s inner being, 

institutions, historical periods, and conflict.

What is interpretation? Consider dense and enigmatic 

explication, exegesis––versus intimate, casual appreciation.

In order to establish our bearings, 

along the way

we discuss.

True, there are problems 

with seemingly sensible methods

––ambiguities, paradoxes, the problem of no easy 

answers––and theorists, and well-known heuristic devices. 

The notion of mirroring necessarily contains 

distorting devices: signifiers, signified; 

the crisis of reference; the dizzying view. 

Significantly, it re-presents and refracts 

certain affinities.

Overheard

Overhearing a conversation on a Friday morning in October while more than a little tired.

How are you?

Oh, you know.

Yeah.

You know. To be real, today I am a little bit tired.

I know it.

Truth be told, today I noticed that I am almost always extremely tired. Like, more than I have ever been, is that possible? Don’t answer, of course it isn’t. I mean, you remember what it was like, way back. When––  I know I was more tired then, I must have been. And yet. I can’t help it, I just —

Endorphins, maybe?

What?

They say that it’s something about the endorphins that make new mothers forget the pain. 

Of childbirth, you mean? But I’m not talking about––

No. I mean, sure, that was the reference when I read it who knows how long ago but think about it. You could apply this to other things. 

Don’t tell me a puppy because I don’t even want to––

No, but being a teen, maybe. I mean really, it was awful but that’s not the first thing you think.

True.

And some of those all-nighters when we were nineteen, twenty? Some because we had to but then we would go do another one just because, when the whole world was constantly falling apart, not to mention all the bombs, remember? They were like every other day in the news then, it was just what we lived with. But looking back, what do you remember?

I remember dancing and singing the lyrics at the top of my voice, even when I didn’t know them.

That’s it!

Especially when I didn’t know them.

Exactly!

Haven’t done that in a while.

Well, there you go, then.

Maybe that’s why––

You’re so tired?

No, I know why I’m so tired. I could give you a list, but you’ve got your own. But I mean––

Why it feels like this?

Yes, like more than ever before.

Because ––?

Because I don’t have the scream-dancing at the same time. I’m just––

Trying to survive?

Yes, like this. Coffee, I feel like I live for this––I know it’s more than these sips, obviously, but when I can’t remember what that is exactly––not by name, anyway, that’s when I really don’t want to talk and I definitely don’t want to have to put down the cup. I just want to be in this space where I’m still at the edge of a dream, and no one is poking at it, letting the air out. 

How’s that working out?

Well. There are many rough edges.

How many?

Too many to count right now. I’ve still got half a cup. Can you just––.

Would you like one of these?

What is this?

A bunny. I found them at–––

No, see, that’s what I mean. Why are people collecting these bunnies and handing them out?

They are soft.

I don’t even––

Feel!

News from the Health Well

Once again, my favorite online message board offers a cornucopia of transformative options.

While I regularly turn to Craigslist on mornings when I’m looking for some element of local flavor and character drama with my news, I realized this morning that my tendency to gravitate immediately to “lost and found” and “missed connections” has me potentially missing some fruitful connections in a section intriguingly named “health/well.” Since one of my recent horoscopes came with strong advice to broaden my horizons, today’s news comes from the health well.

When it comes to health, you may feel less than optimal because you are not aware that some services are available. But as life coach Miguel points out, “Knowledge is key!”

With this in mind, you may want to consider these options: Plumbing plus MORE! Tarot card readings! Plus, a narcissistic recovery coach on call, prepared to cater to some very specific needs––personalized, of course, and on-demand. It’s all about you!

Feeling out of alignment with your highest self? Try Reiki. Wanting to test your alignment in general? This aerial circus personal training group may be just what you need. Now there’s a fitness session you can’t get at your run-of-the-mill gym down the street!

You may not know this, but there is someone less than thirty minutes away willing to come juice for you. Right in your own home! Unfortunately, the link wasn’t working, so I am unable to verify if such an offer is a euphemism for some not-yet-imagined service, which might be the key.

Stressed? Try a free hypnotherapy session! You can control unwanted behaviors. You can even rent this salon space and start making money. Now!

If you are thinking of being a life coach, you may want to get some headshots in order. Apparently, the ideal way to market yourself (so far, I’ve seen only male coaches in the health well) is with a neatly trimmed beard, smoky eyes, and with your collared shirt open three buttons at the top to reveal a deep V of confidence. However, if you are a woman considering the service of a coach, I suggest patience. There is currently a market surplus in this industry, and no shortage of men willing to give out this sort of thing for free to any woman not currently in the middle of a sentence. In fact, such offers are so abundant you can probably keep talking and still receive a bounty of unsolicited (and 100% free!) advice.

Want something more physical? Jon, a personal trainer, introduces himself as a “32-year-old human male.” One has to appreciate the transparency of his advertising, which includes species specification. It seems to matter to Jon not to mislead his clients by leading them to believe that he is an enthusiastic Labrador who has unlocked the fountain of youth via exercise, as some characters will do. For emphasis, he includes a photograph of himself standing on what appears to be a stage in workout attire. Jon is very tan.

But perhaps, as I am, you are having some trouble prioritizing areas of need. Fear not! There’s a one-stop-service provider that advertises energy, mood, focus, weight loss, AND mental health, all in one place! Now that is good news.

***

I suppose we all have our quirky obsessions, and this one of mine has become glaringly obvious to me since starting these posts. More craigslist-inspired posts can be found below:

News of the World

Seeking Anon

Lost and Found

I’ll Meet You at the Lost and Found

Counting Losses