How to Be Moved

Notes for a community chorus.

Like this, she said, hands open, singing. Gonna let it move me, she sang, and we followed, fingers splayed and pressing into the space of the circle we made with our attention. Now stir, she said, and we did, and it stirred us up.

Let it come, she sang. We laughed, cried. Feel this, she sang, and by then we couldn’t help ourselves because our centers had shifted to the space between us, and it was this that we pressed with our open hands. It was into this that we poured our voices, surrendered our attentions––

And we held it like that, stirring and singing together, here. Something shifted, and we went with it. 

Life, she sang, let this life.

Cups

Notes on these hands.

Eventually, talk turned to having and spending; to getting and maintaining, as it often did, and you could feel the way we became coiled springs ready to fire and everyone was excited and no one could sleep, it was so much.

Another time, there was nothing and no talk anymore of what could be got. Even our resistance to loss had gone out of us, and it made us porous. There was no more talk of keeping, except when it came to someone at the hearth and the babies fed.

A vessel, once emptied, can only carry what comes into it. A hand, outstretched toward another holds the world in its emptiness. The fist is what you get when the cold is too much for too long and the hand forgets itself. 

In warmth, it remembers its radius, star-like. Then cupped with another, it cradles what is delicate and brings it to the lips, an offering in earnest––or to another, saying here.

Driving Directions

Through unknown territories.

She said, child, you may know a thing or two one day, but that won’t be anytime soon, so you will have to muddle through. For now, it’s going to be like driving in a rainstorm in the dark, when all you can see is the tiny patch of blur lit by the headlights, and no taillights to guide you, and the actual road will be poorly marked or not at all. 

She said, child, I want you to know this, so that you will not be taken by surprise and swerve offroad. But of course, we are always in a state of disbelief, because who can resist keeping company with the secret hope that driving a dream would be an adventure story? This is not necessarily untrue, but most of us get the genre wrong. 

When you’re raised on those feel-good films that validate the trope of the noble quest, with anthem music and sidekicks and breaks for humor, when the going gets rough, it can be disconcerting to realize that you’re actually in a David Lynch film with a blue filter and the sort of musical score designed to remind you––not that you need it––that something is a little off but you won’t be able to put your finger on it and there isn’t any chance of it letting up.

But this is what she told me, child; she said, Listen. When it gets like that, and you are driving in the dark and the weather and the unmarked roads say go back, only then can you know you are getting somewhere. It isn’t like any of the places you’ve seen before, I promise you, but keep going. 

There will be others coming, child, more frightened and uncertain than you are now, and when they find the glow of your taillights before them, they will suddenly remember to breathe. They will think, Okay, and hang on.

Photo by Anandu Vinod on Unsplash/ Score: “Alice in Wonderland” from Azure Instrumental via Soundstripe

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An audio version of this piece is now on YouTube.

What is the Use

Of literature, with Italo Calvino.

Here is a testament of value for the moment: why this and why now? Only that which can embody a bottomless array of embedded contradictions can work to shape these sensibilities. The writer insists: here is a teacher of proportions, and of the place of love, of death, of sadness, irony, humor. The value is the practice of attributing value.

Here is a map for the labyrinth of the hour––not fixed, but continually born, to name the nameless, illuminate the cave walls, construct a home solid and complex enough to hold the disorder of the world.

***

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s The Uses of Literature.

The Artist is Surprised

With Anne Truitt.

Although there was no objection to the idea of a self, hers tended to elude her. I’m curious, she said, and decided one must be here, somewhere. But where to start? Perhaps a record of everyday things. Let’s see what happens, and what happened yesterday? Last year? Does the one from today have any relation to the one from last winter? 

The works, when she regarded them, stood clear and solid, each holding a space of its own. The same could not be said of the artist. Each has her preoccupations: certain colors, shapes, proportions. One day an insight comes: there is an energy you can use to endure your life, and there is a force for changing it, and these are not distinct, but drawn from the same well.

I am not so much an artist, she decides, but out of my life these objects are surfaced. It is possible, after all, to become what we have not before been able to be. I am here, she told us, to be surprised.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from Anne Truitt’s Turn: The Journey of an Artist (1987). 

Time and Attention

When the veil thins.

A lit match in the dark and a family museum in flames. Removed of these objects to ground us, we start slipping from our assigned roles. Without the grain of a dated photograph, who will draw the borders between what happened half a century ago and what is in our midst, right now? At a certain age, it doesn’t matter; it’s all here again. 

As the veil thins, she sees. The past was always right here, but it was too much for us to hold and still go on with the living. She’s releasing the burden now, and vision returns. Time to call the names of the ones no longer here and be moved by the volume of their answers. 

In the end, we become our grandmothers, caring for our mothers, forgetting who is who as we walk in and out of one another’s dreams. Now, with the smoke in our eyes, we are singing.

***

Inspired by consideration of this announcement of Rea Tajiri’s film Wisdom Gone Wild, exploring themes of collective memory.

Hide and Seek

Morning notes, on looking.

Come out, out––wherever you are is called here and here you are again, strange stranger, at first light––which, in this room, at this hour, is always the lamp by this bed.

Most of us remember the heartbreak of knowing we had finally found the best hiding spot, the one sure to win us widespread acclaim and shouts of amazement, only to notice that the voices of the seekers we’d been counting on had grown faint and then gone, with night coming and then lights on in the windows and kitchen sounds, the whole world indoors, and us outside

––[but all alone, not yet us because we could not know until much later that others had endured such betrayal, also alone; each had carried the shame in silence until one afternoon, laughing over ice cream with friends we were fairly sure would not leave us, a confession came, and the solidarity of finding other left-behinds was so sweet, however fleeting, that we did it again, years later over drinks with other friends we were by now fairly sure we would lose over time, not by decisive acts of Leaving but gone anyway––to distance, illness, marriages and breakups, children and the grinding gears that wore us down to our creaking bones until we began to suspect that perhaps it was ourselves who had grown tired, who had gone inside at the third call for dinner, gone to eat, leaving another waiting to be found and no one coming].

We’ve been at this for how long now, and what do I have to show for myself? I think you must be chasing me, running into the last place I’ve looked after I’ve left it, only to leave when I eventually return, wearing the baffled look of someone trying to remember why they walked into a room. 

I’ve given up my reasons now, old friend. Same for certainty in all things but this resolve: to look and look again; to keep calling by the light of this lamp. Come out.

Nobody Here

First lessons in suspension.

We hardly knew it­––or ourselves––when we flooded the spaces we entered with memory so completely that to move was to be removed from our weight in invented immersion. What carried us was luminous and dense and had no word we knew. If someone were to ask us what it was, we would say Nothing, but no such questions came, because when we removed ourselves from our weight, we became no one.

Oranges

Scent of a horizon.

There can be no contradiction between paired images, only connection, and so little that is true will conform to the expectations of available language. There is a certain sadness that smells of oranges––or nectarines? and it holds a horizon inside itself, complete with sunrises and sunsets that only one at a time may witness. The challenge is how awe wants company to verify its origin, as something other than madness. Lacking any, a witness is burdened with a weight that denies its own release.

Altar

At the crossroads.

On the day of the dead, among this cloud of witnesses, someone here whispers, help me find it again, that joy I once had in looking. Instead of an answer, this space, and the hum of a motor nearby. 

We love the old trees of our myths for the spaces they hold inside themselves, but also for the way they know to keep it around them, this cushion of shade made soft by the absence of another tree.

In the eruption of any given birth, a core could easily splinter, and yet here we are, faces dappled by the light and noise of becoming, learning to make room for what would breathe.