Saving Breath

To sing, chirp, breathe.

What do you call a spring without birdsong? Carson wondered and the answer was dying. Without this symphony, sentience itself is suspect. Sing, shriek. Chirp. The people who knew before genocide called what moved here holy wind. All breath, all spirit, all soul. 

It is something, isn’t it, to live when a common descriptor of our common malaise involves the need to get away and breathe. Where is away, then? When everyone’s chest is aching, there is a silent agreement: don’t mention it. Is it true that a wolf can smell a body’s feelings, or is it only fear that scents?

If we were the gods of the people who once listened, we could turn ourselves into wolves and know. Take the flight of raptors, stretching our sights. Assume the bodies of dolphins and realize our depths. We could hear an octopus cry, taste its tears, dance with urchins, and let the lamprey finish our sentences. 

Then we might know breath again, the word meaning life. Meaning, duration of a moment; a short time; a movement of free air. Air, meaning the invisible everywhere, ether of arias, current of hymns.

The Alumni News

Reading the honorable dispatch.

See this tree-lined walk, snow framed beneath the red brick. Notice the tower, the arch. Hear this presidential address: honor society, an array of diversity, equity, inclusion. Notice the right words in appropriate places. 

Want evidence? See this picture! Don’t miss our greens, our greenhouse, and We Are Going Green. Dedication! Concert! Debut! 

We cut the ribbon. A trio of new sculptures in the courtyard. The renovated center. Award, fellowship, title, win! Our success rates. Recognition, honor, inaugural event! Homecoming.

Last, in memoriam. Here are the latest dead. See their photos, all smiling. Notice their honors, connections, advanced degrees. They are survived. We remember. Dates. Pay no attention to the missing. We look forward to an exciting year ahead!

I remember the tower bell, how it would sound on the hour, the expansive flood of its knell. Impossible, even if you kept talking through it, not to notice the suggestion, at least, of what was infinitely more vast and ancient than the oldest historic building––in the air we gushed, the land we rushed over, the silences between each proclamation.


Inspired by the pile of mail I’ve been meaning to go through, in which I found my alumni magazine. It’s a beautiful publication for a wonderful school, but I always feel a little funny about opening it, probably for reasons similar to the trepidation one feels around reunions. One’s life never quite fits into an update. One never quite feels quite “arrived” enough. Sensing that I must not be alone in this discomfort, I decided to read it here.


What found us in our play.

We were not sanitary children, somersaulting in soil, clods of mycelium matting our manes. Our hands, handling humus, were the opposite of pure. We marveled in the muck of it, colluding with colluvium. Saturated with smut, we loamed our elements, barnyard babes absolved by absorption in the dirt that knew us, holding tight.


How a body might hold.

To resist, when the cold blood runs, the pull of despair, and keep the body from flight even as retreat remains a perpetual dream. To hold here, ever weary of the ministrations of empire, of duty, of daily calamity, and rise to the work, as Aurelius put it, of a human being.

So much of this is learning, and so much of learning is holding the gaze on what is intolerable until some new sense can grow to accommodate what the old will not bear. Only to have to repeat the process with each new stretch of the living. James called it standing the universe.

I think of my grandmother in her garden, in the months and years after she buried a daughter, with eight others still living and a son, with their endless need amid innumerable dangers, somehow finding it in herself to care that the beetles not get to the leaves of her rose bushes, and how she would keep watch even in the morning when the sky was still blue-black, over them from the porch where she held her ground, even at the beginning of everything relentlessly over again. 


Blooming in ice.

Ice crystal showers and no exact matches between them, foot after foot, later to water, then vapor. I love the story of Wilson Alwyn Bentley, dubbed Snowflake Bentley, who caught them on camera, against black velvet before they melted. He did it so well that no one else bothered for most of the next century. Ice flowers, he called them.

I remember making igloos big enough for one child to crawl in, belly-flat, and crouching, once inside, in the center room, looking out like a mole, surrounded by the display of the most recent storm, kneeling. How I would wait, taking it in, cupping tiny piles to my mouth, sneaking bites of pure winter, the quickening of my chest as it melted through me. I would repeat this ritual over and again, trying to hold it, holding still in the igloo, knowing it wouldn’t last.

I wanted to fall to my knees, Bentley said, of his first witness to what he called those tiny miracles, through his lens. Instead, he kept at it. He wanted others to be able to see, too.

Bears at Home

A Goldilocks remix.

This is tiring. I could use a break.

Here’s a spot. 

Are there people?

I don’t see any.

Look at the colors.

It’s been a long trip.

C’mon, it’s just us!

Feel this.

Oh, oh! I love it here!

Let’s stay awhile.

Inspired by this article about polar bears settling in abandoned buildings on Russia’s Kolyuchin Island where photographer Dmitry Kokh was delighted to discover them playing house.

Odds and Ends

Considering our chances.

If a swerve of atoms begat cause ever after, why one moment and why the next?  Any beginning can happen when two lines of action coincide, but tracing their independent paths only gets you so far. Cause may control speed and direction, but not collision of particles.

Take this body, evolving from protozoa by random mutation. Faith is one thing, but to abandon one’s determinism so completely ignites terror in many. To offer up is one thing, but how big is chance, really? The very word implies an endless plurality, and then what are the chances, on and on?

Too much to hold, that much is certain, and it is possible to turn a deliberate blind eye to what may not be understood. With vast unknowing extending in every direction, there may be some sense after all, in choosing a lens of unrelenting possibility.


Seeking foundational truths.

is          not

fact      fiction

reality  /


Only in agreement

at the level of language,

Berkeley observed, can

we have any firm system

of sound and real knowledge.

Until some common understanding

of some common words is breached,

disputes will be in vain.  One response,

however temporary, is to lay these 

words aside, let them rest like sore

legs after a long race, like a hot pan

before you get to washing, like the

need to prove anything beyond the

texture of the silence as it breathes 

here, in the space before we speak