Imagined Invitations

From the congregation of stones.

Against the disposable, away from the technofix, certain questions emerge. They are about relearning our being in the world. I heard these from a scientist poet, although she didn’t call herself this. Asked to describe her work, she said listening. She said delight. She called it the work of waiting.

For what, I wondered. She said, consider the reverence of the speechless stone. What would they ask of us, she wondered back, that would allow our admission into their holy communion, and how would we hear them? Perhaps by these skeletons, our marrow singing like well-tuned bowls. 

Nothing is single here, she said, and nothing goes one way. I want to wait with her, to learn the reverence of the silent stone, until their language hymns my bones.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases and images from Ursula K. Leguin’s Keynote address, “Deep in Admiration,” from Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, from the Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz, a gem curated by David Naimon in the beautiful ecosystem he’s created around his Between the Covers podcast.

Recent Findings

I once was lost, but now this.

From time to time, when feeling vaguely haunted by a general sense of loss, it can be useful to turn to the oracles of online message boards for reminders of the abundance that has recently been found. For instance, a small but costly kite has been discovered in an ice plant container, along with some keys at the ledge of the walkway near the dog park. Someone walking along Chollas Creek recently came upon a skateboard, and a foray into the Costco business center led one unsuspecting traveler to discover the proverbial box of money. 

It’s not just the bounty of these findings that’s worth noting, but the fact that person after person is going out of their way––after work, traffic, everyday aches and pains, in between nagging health concerns, personal grievances, and untold losses of their own–– to locate the rightful owner and return the treasure, resisting the age-old maxim of finders keepers.

I won’t comment on the sensitive nature of the personal items the dog keeps finding in the marsh, but there is reason to believe that they will be returned without any questions asked about how exactly they got in there. True, there is still no sign of the teeth that were left in a Skittles bag on a picnic table in Oak Park, but there is no shortage of found kittens ready to soothe the toothless without judgement. We are all on the lookout for the lost parts of ourselves, and what are we here for, anyway, if not to be ever returning them to one another?

***

I have an odd fondness for taking inspiration from Craigslist ads. Although I have never actually used them to locate any goods, services, or people, I take great delight in reading them. 

Moment of Silence

Weighing in.

One option, when it comes to dealing with confusion is: promise, announce, proclaim, blame. Another, offering less up front, commands infinitely more. Observing a full spectrum of unknowns, this one points silently with the gaze, to offer no defense. Defenseless, the humble observer can only sway, moving steadily into an unnamed dance. No one teaches its choreography because there is nothing to teach, and no one ever comes running to learn how to wait. 

Crooked Climber

In awe of an asymmetrical ascent.

Lovebird, what made you decide that it wasn’t enough to walk on two feet, and how did it occur to you to surmise that your face, repurposed, might become a third limb?

Lovebird, they say that you have a sense of humor, calling into question such a basic assumption of movement in a body. Where others saw only two sides, you found a third way. Where others settled for the old coin metaphor, the mirror, the simple reflection, you said, regarding dimensions, there are more,

and went on your way––up, up, evolving.

***

Inspired by an article I saw in this morning’s New York Times, about a groundbreaking discovery in lovebird locomotion, overcoming (with other parrots) “a forbidden phenotype.” And by my Grandma, who used to call us “lovebird” and “loverbird,” among other pet names.

I don’t know if the African Grey parrot in the photo does any beak walking, but I love her expression, so am imagining her as the speaker.

Sacrament of Memory

For the never forgetting.

At the baths, questions. The woman walks ahead. A man stops her to ask for a cigarette. I don’t smoke, he tells her. Okay, she agrees, and hands one over. Never forget, he says, regarding God’s words to St. Catherine. She wonders what. Only: you are who is not, and I am what is.

The bathers look on. One claps, considering the speaker must have heard it from the source. But what is faith if you can earn a degree in it? Its most common translation: madness. And who are the faithful, seeming so alone? Is this what it looks like, the communion of saints?

Why would anybody swim with a lighted candle? Whatever it is, he wants to know, so he stops her to remark upon the color of her hair in the light. What else is lost in translation? Only the translator as she leaves him.

There’s a landslide in the living room, the entrance a sacrament. By his side, a clock, a gourd, an empty bottle. Now comes the good oil, anointing by proxy. Now a confession from the madman: he never learned to smoke. It’s too hard, he says. Better to learn not to do things

Now the rain again. Now the bread and wine. A furtive look in the mirror. Who is this man? At communion, heads bow, I am not worthy. But say the word. The bottles fill with rain.

***

This is the second of two posts inspired by Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia. The first was over a week ago. The reason for the gap is that it tends to take me a long time to watch a film, life being what it is and only so many hours in a day. Since I really love this one, it took less than two weeks. Now I would like to see every film this director ever made.

Standing By

For Käthe Kollwitz.

She knew that for the grieving, someone willing to stop and wait, absorbing speechless calamity, is always worth more than platitudes of comfort lobbed in passing. In the age of abstraction, her naturalist style might have been called out of step, but a mother who loses as son to war is not an army. To see her women was to feel their weight. I have no right, she said, to withdraw from this. As she saw it, her duty was her steadfast gaze, maintaining focus where others would turn away. See, for example, her mountain of mothers. Their large working hands, the bodies thrown over small children, the way they hold one another in an unbroken circle while keeping watch for what may come next.

***

Inspired by the work of Käthe Kollwitz.

“Die Mütter” (The Mothers) / Käthe Kollwitz

Up and Out, Slowly

Opening notes.

After any weekend, Monday’s alarm tends to come with no small amount of reluctance. When it sounds, my first thought is about finding a corner to hide in with my blanket and pillow. My second is more sleep, with vague calculations in the fuzzy background about how long I can get away with this before the snoozed alarm sounds again. 

For this reason, this day tends to demand a lot of coaching on my part. I have asked Buzz (cat) for a little help, but she’s in the opposite corner now, facing the wall and likely engaged in astral projection. I’m not on her level yet, so the best I can do for now is make coffee, then a list.

I hope to create something with this day, and to let what may be created live in me. Also, to redeem some of my bad habits, such as wanting to hide under a blanket indefinitely. I hope to keep my eyes open well enough to find moments of joy and share it. I mean to help where I can, and I am going to need some help doing this. To comfort and be comforted. To listen and hear. Not for answers, but music. I don’t know how any of this is supposed to work. May I find music spacious enough to fold me into its rhythm. 

Against Horror

A time to grieve.

Bodies again, but no words. 

The point was our speechlessness.

Terror: when the body flees to survive.

Horror: parted lips, frozen and immobile, a spectacle of power. It almost always goes by another name, or none.

State: a verb for the creation of complicity.

The method: consistent spectacle.

What heals, then?

The opposite of spectacle is suffering. To suffer is to return from horror with a voice.

Blessed are they who––

Cry against the silence, throw shattered voices into it.

The opposite of order, this is language like broken windows.

The opposite of calm, this is babbling, wild-haired, full-bodied.

The opposite of isolation, grief demands recognition of our common breaks. Its substance is our connective tissue. It flows with the blood of a common wound.

Grief is a voice, and it sounds like the inverse of okay,

which sounds like the reverse of an answer.

Consider this moment.  Against the hum of this machine, let us launch 

a shattering cry. Now is the time. 

Break.

***

Inspired by Christina Rivera Garza’s Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country and by Adriana Cavarero’s Horrorism: Naming Contemporary Violence, translated by William McCuaig. 

At the Threshold

Studies in meticulous meditation.

So much depends on the scent in the air, the texture of ions, the nuance of birdsong. Add to this detailed considerations of ambient temperature, the auditory interference of nearby machines, and the possibility of mice. A lizard will do, perhaps. But perhaps not.

Where the dog will bound headfirst with nothing but blind enthusiasm for all that may be moving, anywhere and at any time, and the resident human might emerge easily, absent of mind before recalling some vague purpose, this one waits, a portrait of pure intention, poised.

The perennial questions of her forbears course through her consciousness, distilled in this moment, to a single one. In, or out?

She waits, leaning. Everything hangs in the balance. Suddenly, some inscrutable truth revealed, she pulls away. No, she decides. It is not time. Not yet.

Much remains to be seen. We wait here together.

***

Inspired by Buzz, the resident cat of many moods, who is begrudgingly teaching me the ancient ways––as long as I concede to a daily tithe of salmon feast for gravy lovers.

For the Living and the Dead

Against the machine.

When the horror of a moment renders a body speechless, the acts of pen to page, brush to canvas, fingers to keys––become negotiations with death. Yours, mine: what are they and how do they relate? To account for whole cities of dead, a vast underground rendered invisible through banality. What is it to write a voice, paint a vision––while standing on ground in full recognition of the brothers beneath it, and the invisible sisters with their children and parents in mass graves? Welcome to the necropolis, says one, where screens herald the battalion.

What are the stakes at this scale? Life. Lives. Forget numbers, abstractions. Try instead: One.  

One. 

One. 

One.

Each a brother, sister, mother, daughter, each with a scent of their own, a particular laugh and secret hopes––erased.

What is at stake? The human condition in the age of the war machine.

How to resist? The first act is naming.

***

Inspired by the work of Juan RufloChristina Rivera Garza, and Achille Mbembe.