First Knowing

What powers may be.

There is knowing before proof, before language––a well of strength,

and a voice. All humans are creatures first, and does the oriole argue

for song? Is the song her testament? No, the song is what she is

singing, because she is.

For us, of course, sensation is not enough. But it is a useful power,

this measure between chaos and the beginning of self. How tragic

it would be, has been, may still be––when knowing is limited to 

what can be readily explained.

Beyond what simply is, what is it that matters? This is not about

what is done, but how. Not ends but means. If there are no ends

but this, imagine the meaning of a life, this fullness.

Here is a power born of chaos and from it, music moves, and through

its force, a body may learn its dance. What songs are missed when

this is muted, what unimagined means, and into what might we

pass, from this dark hour?

***

Inspired by Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” published in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. And birdsong.

Last Landscape

A choreography of separation and rebirth.

In exile, a body becomes the means for making truth, denied.

The artist’s body a surrogate, the absent and the dead shine through.

In this container of memory, the present is only fleeting:

bird, river, house. Drip, wind, birdsong.

Gather now, impossible communion.

Human form becomes arid field, then a river

running. Witness, can you remember 

the homes of your lives

and your deaths?

The body is the song,

the message, 

the map,

the only home

and the last stranger on earth.

***

Inspired by Last Landscape, choreographed by Josef Nadj, with music by Vladimir Tarasov. 

A Pilgrimage

Going to meet the dead.

May we remember to visit our dead,

that we won’t stop knowing them.

May we remember our place,

finding theirs.

Romantics, they say, have a reality problem

but I don’t know what it is. Maybe the dead 

will have some ideas.

Mortality is such a threat to continuity

––at least of culture, at least of certain

things we used to know,

they say.

***

Inspired by William Goodwin’s Essay on Sepulchres (1809).

Firefly Watch

Air, bread, poetry.

Let defense of ideology be drowned by birdsong. Let feeling, dream, heredity project forward and out, free of realism, a hallucinatory language of hiccup and fumbling spasm, following these enigmas of moving points of light until they erupt from your watch, another sun giving way to the next, the seismic pulse of these collective lights.

***

Inspired by (and with phrases from) the (translated) work of Aimé Césaire, Martinician poet, playwright, educator, and politician born on this day in June 1913. He died in 2008.

Scaling the Hours

Experiments in measurement.

An experiment in time, the idea for breaking it at the hours. You can, if you are willing, do what most children won’t. You can carve them as one would with an animal at the harvest, follow the joints––or lumber, into pieces to be assembled again, one segment at a time, the collected tasks the bearings for the dizzy hand, some terms that a body less willing to invite the dizzy spins can hold. Only by these cuts can we arrive at the conclusion, so often remarked by the aging, about how short it is. A child knows that a while a moment may be short, a glide, a song––Again, again!     

    ––it may also be made of so much forever that it becomes impossible to tell a body’s beginning from its end.

Shivers

An outbreak of dance.

In the streets, as the bells tolled, the pilgrims took to dancing. They claimed they could not stop. When asked why, they said it was St. John. Some suspected the culprit was a spider.

Imagination, after all, has diverse needs. Among these is enaction of beliefs, known and unknown, inherited and adopted. Perhaps there was some collective recognition of the allure of what was forbidden. Maybe it was a rejection of the certainty professed by the self-proclaimed experts of the unseen. How could there be such neat categories for the unknown, and what was a body to make, really, of the smug certainty of those pious pillars of chastity claiming to know all?

Every ritual is a cosmology enacted and here comes a sudden ambivalence between order and disorder.  Birth, after all, was very messy, and yet commonly described in deceptively banal terms: who was born, who gave birth, in the time of whose birth. These easy phrases tend to obscure the body’s radical passage from imminence to transcendence, and the terror of the vast labyrinth of possibilities that open when this is considered.

No, no. This was deemed too much. It was easier, many believed, to call for an exorcism, to blame a series of botched baptisms given by priests improperly purified of the weaknesses of the flesh. And of course, the spider, who as a weaver of intricate patterns in the air, had long been cause for suspicion among the high-minded guardians of propriety.

***

On this day in 1374, observers in the Rhine basin observed processions of pilgrims wandering from town to town in a display of what some described as “hysterical” dancing. This 2016 article describes this notable outbreak of “Dance Mania.” I am interested as much in the phenomenon itself as I am in the factors that led such behavior to be displayed, diagnosed, and chronicled.

Lascaux

The art of original sin.

After the age of the reindeer, people took to caves to paint the animals they’d learned to ambush in migration. Horse, deer, bull: each a flash of wild light to spark the chase. So here is where we find the first stories. Once upon a time there was a horse.

The arrow became the first hero. It won against the flesh. From the start, original sin and original notions of power were wedded. The horse, having no tools, ate only the garden. The paintings made the first history a sacred bond between hunter and hunted. To die, the creature had to consent to its killing.

Long after the age of the cave paintings, came a poet. He looked, wondering: to what do we owe the charm of this vivid bestiary? He admitted an answer: only insatiable, murderous, love. It weighted his heart ever after. No, he thought. This would not do. How could he accept this mythology as his birthright?

He went on, looking and writing. What was he making, some new myth? No, it was nothing so defined as the outline of those figures on the cave walls. He was only trying to return, again and again, to the flash of wild light before the chase began.

***

Inspired by Zbigniew Herbert’s essay on the Lascaux cave paintings, from Barbarian in the Garden. Italicized phrases above are his, as translated by Michael March.

Mother Wisdom

Reflections of the unseen.

To revise knowing itself, inverting worlds without end, you passed your liquid form easily between solid and mythic, seen and unseen, sacred and profane, in constant devotion.

First there was the Word, and you transformed what they took as given into what was not yet understood, with such deft agility that you were forbidden to teach. You continued invisibly to your invisible audience, understanding that your censors didn’t know how to look.

You saw no Eve, only Ave, and in her humility, no mortification, only the merit of a queen reigning over wisdom, co-creator with creation, who became a bird when needed for the purpose of the miracle.

You watched her fool the imagists, passing their censorious eyes by assuming the appearance of a vessel, passive and waiting for another will to be done, and you put a pen in her hand, beheld wisdom running from the fonts at her feet, made her dean of the house of intellect, reigning over the archangels, the non-humans, the insignificant wonders everywhere.

***

Inspired by the life and work of Juana Inés de la Cruz whose legacy defies categorization, except as representative of one of the most brilliant visionaries in recorded history. 

Dead Teachers

First lessons in deep time.

Look at you, powerful danger, witness to our end and our continuance. Cipher of memory, speak into the borders of this condition.

The first body––of nature, will vanish soon. But the second goes slowly. A creature of culture does not exit so quickly from its binding web. There are decisions to make about the coming journey, and in these we find fiber enough to weave the net. 

We ease them gently from us and continue to invite them back. We live with them, and they know us. Gone is too easy a word; if it were complete, wouldn’t the loss have less weight? 

This is something else, a presence without assurance, a radical rupture, reminding what the soil takes back. No, we have never been clean.

But if not gone, then where? Here is the beginning of hope, thirteen ways of looking at a moldering body. What else could it be, these first lessons in seeing the invisible?

***

I was considering the presence of deep time in the work of artist Alfredo Arreguin when I came across a Social Research article by Thomas W. Laqueur called “The Deep Time of The Dead,” which inspired this post.