Vanishing Points

How does a body emerge from a cave, except by studying the interplay of light over living forms?

These days, it’s easy and modern seeming for any semi-conscious person to feel alienated in a dark place, but fortunately it’s also possible to find relief. I’ve been reading odds and ends from those writing in the Dark Ages during a time when the greatest artistic and scientific achievements of Western civilization had been demolished in a misguided bout of religious fervor. Whole civilizations had regressed to illiteracy, and yet. Even from these dark ages came the stained glass of great cathedrals, promising that the light of another world was dominant, and once inside the nave, it was possible for the vulgar desolation to diminish, eyes drawn upward to the light filtering above, in tinted bands that called to mind images of a divine presence reaching in––not to mention the flourishing illuminations of non-Western civilizations of which the Western mind was largely still ignorant, whether by hubris or circumstance. I was reading about these times and the gradual and then sudden awakening that followed. Naturally, one arrives upon discussions of certain shifts in insight that marked the movement from one era to another, and among these are Leon Battista Alberti’s 1435 treatise, Della Pitura (On Painting) from the translation by John R. Spencer (revised, 1966).

The following is adapted in my usual manner of a hungry person looking for something to live on, and borrows phrases from the translated text. 


While the process of learning may fatigue, it is good to remember, art is not unworthy of consuming all our time. This because of its divine force, which makes absent men present and the dead seem to live. To paint a god beautiful is to strengthen the heart’s instinct to worship, and what is this painting, anyway? Consider it a matter of describing a space, organizing contents, and receiving light.

Consider also that a thin veil can be of use, to place between the eye and what is seen. May the lines be so fine they are invisible.

It is so difficult to imitate the movements of the soul. Doubters should try painting laughter on a face. Tell me that it doesn’t look like weeping. You can’t, can you? Thought so. Let’s begin. 

Straight Talk at the Oasis

As it was in the beginning, is now, and––

Show me a straight line in nature. And yet, this insistence on the fastest means from point A to point B. Not to mention, the idea of this continuum: Then, Now, Tomorrow. As if.

Well, there is the horizon, as seen from anywhere on water.


Come to think, it was the seafaring people, wasn’t it, who so ardently embraced the linear alphabets and syllogisms and systems for organizing space?

True. Inland, its all curves and oases, mountains and arabesques, and everywhere space fracturing into its heavens and black holes, not to mention time and alphabets, and when the temple veil tears the shelter from the old masters, so do notions of antiquity shift away from what is solidly past to include what also was dreamed and may yet be, and there we are in it, singularities before our own consciousness and the moment among us, these mortals chanting to our own heartbeats and also to the the origins of time, insisting at each beginning, World without end.


Corresponding data suggests.

Here’s the tearing sky again; hold it close. See if you can stand a minute inside the detonating histories of the next flyover. I read this morning that the spider relies on the wind to spin fibers of a web between trees and still they go one loop at a time and my faith, by comparison, is weak. If light can be particle and wave, then knowing must be mind and universe at least, and maybe also body, in its necessary histories, these visions of the past, dreamed and remembered fresh with each new vision of the days ahead. Now what.

Ends and Means

On the insistent impulse toward redemption.

Language, in its majestic tyranny, if it had its human origins around the time when Adam went around naming the creatures, might be blamed for the way that he then forgot to see them. And if the first visionary made fire, it’s hard not to wonder what moved her, in the moments when she crossed back from the word to the first spark.

A common scene: you’re on a bench somewhere and a parent is telling the child with the ice cream cone, Careful! Hold it up! when it is clearly only a matter of time. You watch the child, see the cone fall. Now everyone is paying attention. Oh well! is one response. Another is Too late now!

It is, as a matter of fact, too late for that once-perfect cone to be salvaged. And yet, show me a parent who is not at least gut-level moved to offer a reminder of the promise of salvation, by proving that even the fallen cone may be followed by another. Who, if there is enough money and ice cream to go around, does not want ––on some level–– to perform the promise in living form, to say, Here and See and It’s Okay? They might resist on principle or principled pathology, but still. Some inherited impulse to embody hope in renewal and redemption has a way of pushing. 

It is either too late or just beginning

or both



A meeting at the water’s edge.

We knelt at the water, holding our urns, one from the depths and another from the surface. We tipped them both behind us, five streams to water the land, and each returned to us in its smells, its touch, the offered visions, songs. We tasted, too. We each had one foot in the stream and listened. Shhh, came the next breath. There was no cover. Only the stars, and we held them, too. 

The New Science

On signs, symbols, and the origins of meaning.

Trace it with me: age of gods, age of heroes, age of men.

Our first language was born of knowing its poverty. 

We relied on signs and symbols. Then came metaphor, 

and then our measly letters, where we pretended 

to be saying precisely what we meant. 

Hieroglyphs suffice when observance 

is more important than discussion, 

as with religions and the like. 

Which came first, I wonder? Letters or language, 

chickens or their eggs? 

Attempting to separate one from the other is folly.

The first speakers, by necessity of nature, were poets. 

Here is the key to any meaningful science worth following: 

the source of all poetry is poverty of language, 

catalyzed by a need to express.

The point? To learn the language 

spoken by some eternal history, 

across time. Another: to name 

the beginnings of learning. 

To our unseen source, knowledge 

and creation are one 

and the same. We 

are mind and spirit; 

intellect and will, but 

it’s the function of wisdom 

to fulfill both.

Children of nascent mankind 

created things according to their ideas, 

which are not to be confused with God. 

But usually are. 

The role of fear 

should not be discounted here, 

in stoking robust ignorance, 

corporeal imagination. 

Frightened men, 

in their infinite vanity, 

no sooner imagine than they believe.

Natural curiosity, the daughter

of ignorance and mother

of knowledge, gives birth:

to wonder.

By Jove, the thundering sky.


Adapted from The New Science of Giambattista Vico, translated by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch.

Apologies for Presentation

Remembering Aphra Behn.

The following is adapted from Aphra Behn’s preface to The Lucky Chance, which strikes me as emblematic of the fraught balance she and others like her (mostly unknown, we must assume) had to strike, to hold her own as a writer of serious power while treading very carefully around the prejudices and biases of her detractors. I don’t know what moved me to revisit Behn this morning, but I am grateful for its nudge.


I reject old Horace’s idea of literature as some tool to instruct and delight. You want a morality lesson, read the holy books. This is something else. However, it seems like a long walk to go from my avoidance of moral instruction to the assumption of the innately corrupting influence of my work, a stance that seems so popular among my critics. I think that those attribute the capacity of my work to offer vile offense to “feminine sensibilities” do significantly underestimate what the average woman is exposed to on a regular basis, living and moving through a world of men. I daresay her daily movements should afford her plenty that is amply more objectionable than anything I can deliver. But somehow, the taint seems to come from the inherent corruption on my part. Any woman so bold as to demand an audience, must, after all, be possessed of something that some men may wish to permanently prevent others from having contact with, lest it be catching. Considering the self interest in their malice, I challenge any person of common sense not so willfully bent on ill nature that they will read some double entendre in anything, to resist the impulse to charge what frightens them with alternate blows of scandal and pity.

First Breaths

Learning to look from here.

Why study the stars except to enact the living wonder and proximity to countless possibilities for those infinite lives beyond the next inevitable end?

Why look at all, why make a telescope, except to measure the passage of time and a body’s position, except to measure by extension, the depth by which it might be penetrated by some unknown, swollen with original mystery?

In the beginning was the word, but the telescope came later.

This sequence depends on a certain view of time, doesn’t it, as a length of collected experience and not a renewable fountain of recycled water, and not as a looping circle, with every end the next beginning and every fresh possibility the natural conclusion to the most recent fall?


I read somewhere that Gallileo Gallilei unveiled his telescope on this day in a former century, which probably has something to do with why I landed here.

From Rubble

An invocation for healing.

After we’ve read and re-read the last bomb-shelter bedtime story, enough that we no longer need the books; after the skins of our backs have collectively dulled the barbs at our borders, after children no longer know the difference between fire and sky, what will we know for certain, except the common ghosts floating among us like pigeon feathers? When the rags of our bodies are strewn across the singed lands of our erased ancestors, and we’ve burned the last of our vengeances in the name of the justices we stood before rights, when the mute children no longer need to be hushed, will we remember to offer a beginning in our next word?

Sickbed at Sunset

A cautionary tale.

Are you ill?

Yes. Can’t you tell?

Of course. You sound like hell. And yet––

What do you mean?

You look and sound about the same as usual.

What do you mean?

I mean, what good is health if you are only going to complain about it when you have it?

Do you need something?

I have needed many things.

Anything! Name it!

Really? From there?

You are very cold.

Not always. I had a fever and it almost killed me. But you were too distracted by various ailments of your perfect health, to notice.

I would do anything, I swear, I am about to––

Now I have quite a bit to do.

Of what?

The living.

Oh. But give me something better, something grand!

Sorry to disappoint you. This is it, only daily stuff. Tasks, food, lists, cleaning, and then cleaning up what others can’t bear to look at.

But anyone can do that. I have a purpose! Well, I wish I could––

Even the mock-purpose driven discount runs out at some point. Why not for you?

Well, the sun rises every morning––

The sun, yes. But for the rest of us, there’s no guarantee. 

That’s terrifying.

It should be. Enough to move a body to living, anyway. Still, many evade this––successfully, at least for a time.

But you need to understand––

A person can decide, consciously or unconsciously, that they are the living sun, endlessly rising and setting, emboldened with the powers of illumination and darkness, for all the world to see or wait to recover from. It’s very gratifying, apparently.


And who can blame you? It works until it doesn’t anymore. 

One day––

One day you will wait for the light that is coming, and you will know it isn’t you. And then you will be ready to begin. And if, when that day comes, you are alone, you will know that you will be okay. Not because you feel that you are, but because the power that made you what you were never is or was of you. 


Then you stand up.


Then you walk.

What now?

Visiting hours are over. Now get to listening. Your shoes are under the bed.