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Notes for the Missing

Inspired by messages to elusive someones that came and went.

This post is part of an ongoing series I can’t seem to resist, inspired by posts on online message boards.

***

You were at Home Depot, wanting to talk. You were turning around at the marina, and I was passing toward the end of the dock.

You were helping at a thrift store near the train station. You were seen later, camping near a picnic table at the Park ‘N Ride, and then you were gone. Where are you staying now?

You were at the bakery, the swap meet, at Major Market on Broadway.

You were my friend, my lunch partner, my gym buddy. You made me smile. I have missed you.

We miss so much, don’t we? Going about these daily tasks, getting dog food, gas, and BAM! A sighting, and it’s you again, isn’t it? Peeling back the veil of the world I think I know, when you arrive, and just as quickly, go. 

***

Others in this series:

Alpha Omega

On the architecture of hope.

You get this finite span of years; we have the bodies to prove it, and yet. There’s this persistent dream of forevers just beyond our knowing, held aloft as constant possibilities, and it is into these dreams that we forever pour devotions, as if there were no way to avoid a strong sense of something adjacent to these bodies, some transferable essence moving through us, across time and geography, language and species, a vastness that is in and not of us. How wildly clumsy we are in our attempts to name it, our dance the balletic gestures over cliffs of possibilities we can’t unsee, these reaching poses straining to catch what will not be grasped, washing over us most vividly as we leap towards our beginning and our ends, from rupture to renewal, and it’s hard not to wonder, which came first, creation or memory, or were these always entwined, in the dawns born of this substance ever stretching toward the ripe possibility in the amniotic bubble of the first word?

Carry Dirt

No justice comes from ignorance.

Inspired by Christine DePizan’s The Book of the City of Ladies (1405), as translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards.

***

How is it that so many of them––learned, too––seem to speak from the same mouth, painting us with every vice they wish to wash from themselves, and why? This was my question.

Then came three women and the first among them said, Daughter, build a city. Make it of lasting beauty, and you will draw forth waters from the heavens.

I considered the births of other divinely inspired cities: Troy, Thebes. I recalled their ruin and said so. But the women insisted: This one would not be taken or conquered. Lay a strong foundation, they insisted. Set it deep. Get up, daughter. Go where earth abounds. We will help you carry it.

I asked, why do they revile us? She told me only, carry dirt. Then she added, no justice can come from their ignorance.

They explained that some derive pleasure from slander of what mystifies them. Others are moved by awareness of their own defects, and others by jealousy of anything they cannot own. Leave them, they told me, and avoid attachment to their tools.

Look closely, they insisted. They explained: these opinions only pretend to be based in reason. By claiming to own reason, they deny its essence with the same breath by which they mean to deny you access to their ill-begotten power.

The path to what is true may be narrow, but it leads to such abundance that no one who follows it to its natural end could ever consider keeping it to themselves, since such innate greed of purpose would naturally bar them from their destination.

No one can take away what nature has given, but many will deny what she is, attempting to hoard her abundance for themselves, by creating the dragon’s lairs that are their own demise.

I had more questions, but they became impatient with my need to know. Don’t be as they are, they insisted. Get up. Carry dirt. Go.

***

The above meditation was inspired by this morning’s reading of DePizan’s excellent theological critique of misogyny. I borrow some phrases from the original (translation), but rely more heavily on impressions, blurring the lines slightly to create a more encompassing critique (to include not only overt misogynists but anyone attempting to hoard access to truth and power by demeaning any other living group, including the non-human species of the earth), and to heighten the call to recognition of the vital flaw at the heart of this life-killing move while attempting to magnify the resonance of its answer, a call to return to a holistic, generous sense of logic, justice, and development rooted in a sense of abundance (rooted in an understanding of life) rather than scarcity (which has its roots in fear of the unknown/ death).

Sense and Sensibilities

Considering the shaking words.

Given certain habits, the act of writing seems so intuitive that we may forget the necessary combinations that work to move the pen, those complicated motions of transmission by volition. Any number of circumstances might impair the original purpose. Consider shaking the words as a method of execution. Keep in mind, some are better interpreters than others. The wily and cunning require caution, but those among them know there is no deception here. Some will put a certain constraint on words, but this is a difficult part to play. It is easier to write like a fool than a madman. The habit of division into camps of sane and in––is mischievous. A closer look at almost any certainty will reveal strong connecting links between the given state in question and its imagined opposite.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from G. Mackenzie Bacon’s On the Writing of the Insane (1870).

Vigil

Protection begins with attention.

Remember the bridled white eye, with his tiny spectacles, who seemed always to be offering an arch look to punctuate a well-placed question. As in, what are you doing?

Or Bachman’s warbler, who once knew the damp floors of the dense forest? Remember the Kauai akialoa, with his flourish of long bill, hooked like the edge of the reaper’s scythe, and the honeycreeper that once set her eggs in cup-shape nests. Remember the little Mariana fruit bat, the flying fox slowly poisoned by DDT in cycad seeds.

Careful! A mother calls after a child, ever reckless with living and ignorant of possibilities for being snuffed out. Watch! Watch out!

The Scioto madtom once fed on the bottoms of graveled streams in central Ohio. The upland combshell mussel could only produce with enough space in the clean waters of an undisturbed riverbed, with fish enough for hosting the young. The blade horned chameleon of Tanzania’s old growth forest darkens its skin under stress. It wraps its tail around a tree branch and hangs on. 

Hold tight! she calls.

The Pacific bluefin tuna are often caught before they can breed. 

Hurry, hurry!

The North American bumblebee made its home in the eastern grasslands now plowed for corn and its attendant poisons.

Watch out!

How easy it is to lose what isn’t watched. Among the African elephants, the matriarchs will slow their pace so a calf can keep stride. A cheetah will move her litter every few days to keep predators off the scent. An alligator will hold her babies in her mouth to protect them from being eaten by another.

She is watching out a window, through a screen. She is watching the sky, the temperature, the poisons, the electrical outlets, the latest reports. What do you know? She will ask, sometimes. Waking to check that her young are still breathing, waking to number the threats, count the fires, track the melting ice and the coming war, to calculate the timing of her next move, and wonder, how? Her song is silent like the watch she keeps over the lives of the living, so easily and recklessly lost.

***

This post was inspired by a sobering look at the report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Proposes Delisting 23 Species from Endangered Species Act Due to Extinction. This on the morning after an American holiday in which it is fashionable to offer thanks for what is solidly in hand. The juxtaposition of the report and this moment have me imagining how the notion of gratitude might be expanded to include grief over what was once had, but then lost, and vigilance over what remains, teetering precariously and often invisibly between here and gone.

Sea of Light

What moves it? What draws it close?

It is always the same subtle force, the liquid of the universe. It saturates the living. This is our fluid body. We are held in it, so do not see. Here’s a proposal: create what will catch the current of light. To do this is a matter of knowing how and when to induct. Desire-demand, web of light, pray.

What moves it? What draws it close? The child’s soul, beholding a just-killed pheasant, for one. Droplets of it move like meteor showers low among us, large pearls of the world, suspended in the fluid of this collective womb.

See the vital waves emanating from a hand, electric signature of the elemental grace that holds us, invisible fire, our living light. Come, and all is transformed. One needs the dark to detect it. Let this be a new route into truth.

***

Inspired by (and borrowing phrases from) Dr. Hippolyte Baraduc’s 1913 book, The Human Soul: Its Movements, Its Lights, and the Iconography of the Fluidic Invisible, which I came across this morning. Baraduc was a French physician and parapsychologist whose research led him to create images (iconographs) intending to track the appearance of soul energy.

A Word Beyond

Learning by signs.

Inspired by this morning’s reading, from Augustine’s The Trinity, as translated by Stephen McKenna.

All things are learned by signs, and every sign is also a thing. Each thing must be understood just as it is, but a sign may only be known by appreciating how it signifies something else.

Smoke needs no special will to signify fire, neither do the tracks of an animal to point to its presence. Same goes for naked expression of emotion on the face. Words, on the other hand. Also consider sounds of trumpet, flute, harp, and drum, each with its own layered invocations to nuanced representation.

A vibration in the ear passes quickly; hence, a need for letters. Here is where pride limits those who would build a tower to claim the heavens as their own. In retribution, voices and signs in the rubble of Babel are dissonant. We can neither hear nor read each other, fully.

Allegory, enigma, parable, irony. Recognition of these tropes may reveal what is hidden––and yet, never more than through a glass, darkly. Some thoughts are speeches of the heart. It is what leaves the mouth, not what enters it, that may defile or edify.

Speech is one thing, sight another. To reflect is to make these one. How will you understand those words that belong to no language?

To Be Heard

It’s no longer necessary to burn the books that the tyrant would silence.

On this day in 1644, John Milton published Aeropagitica, a pamphlet decrying censorship. The following is assembled from ideas and phrases in this text, with an eye toward connecting to the current moment, where a chief concern seems to be censorship through noise, manifesting in ways that that are perhaps beyond what many writers of previous centuries might have imagined.

Let this be a certain testimony. When complaints are freely heard and deeply considered, then is civil liberty attained. 

Deliver us from tyranny, from superstition, and from flattery of idols, including ourselves––and from condemnation of the others we are unprepared still to recognize as ourselves, and from fashionable thinking and unthinking, from those superficial modes of sorting that deny what lives in those depths that frighten so many.

To silence grievance is to smother liberty. No covenant of fidelity can be kept with blind praise. Those upright in judgement know that right judgement is fluid and shared by others, including the unexpected strangers to a given land. Those who honor truth will hear them. Those who honor wisdom will welcome recognition of how it is to be practiced, a daily exercise and never a trophy to fix against a wall like the preserved carcass of a felled animal. 

Books are not dead things. Each contains a potency as active as the soul that delivered it. They may raise armies, yet consider this: to kill a man is to kill a reasonable creature. To kill a book is to kill reason itself. Revolutions of ages do not often recover the loss of truth, rejected. Beware the persecution of living labors.

It is less often the bad books that are silenced. Consider what a scholar celebrates today, those writings that were censored in their time. Also consider the silence of scholars and contemplatives. One might assume, by extension, that the starkest wisdom of our moment is also suppressed. 

The tyrants of our moment don’t need to burn books when they have noise enough to extinguish their voices. They don’t need to take what offends them from public view when they have abundant means already to keep people from reading. They need only propagate the mantras of the moment: speed, efficiency, and the idea that the only truth that matters comes in bullet points, easy to digest. If you paralyze the listening capacities of potential hearers, whomever would you need to silence?

Knots

A meditation on the ties that bind us.

In these moments of becoming, over time,

we passed our histories across tables and

channels and we followed crude maps.

Where to? Some knowing, we hoped

but would not say. We named instead 

our somewheres, each seeming distinct.

Maybe what pained us then was knowing

that none of us could arrive ––anywhere 

or ever––except with these others, strangers,

and each seeming bound to separate yesterdays

amid the crossing and re-crossing 

of inherited meanings intended with such

density of intention that we could hardly 

move anywhere before one or another

of our limbs were caught again in our own

nets and we were forever stopping to 

unknot. That was most of our trouble, 

then.

Grumbling over losses and expenditures

and the cost of the voyage, we could contrive 

no value except from what was

freely given. Eventually, we gave ourselves

up to the net, and it wrapped us in its ties

and we dropped our sails, and surrendered

to move by nothing but the current 

and whatever was binding us. What

was it? We hoped it knew us. We

waited and were silent, bound.

Sounds and Silence

To the rhythm of empty spaces, singing.

Assembled from phrases and images found in Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Crisis in Poetry,”as translated by Rosemary Lloyd.

***

One afternoon after another, in distressing bad weather, I follow the lights of a storm. Even the press needs twenty years to discover the news, and here it is: a crisis at hand, some trembling of the real. When a hero dies, the essence of their power roams after some new form. As the cycle goes, now it gleams and now it fades, waiting. 

Here is a code. Watch it, a force like gravity,

best understood by those bent on flight.

Give me pause with deliberate dissonance, 

a euphony fragmented with consent; 

the languishing gesture of a dream. Here is 

the belated eruption of a possibility

––for song, 

poetry’s compensation for the failure of language. 

Strange mystery, sing. Take the average words. Group them,

beneath the long gaze, then arrange in cushions of silence.

Now what? What is this, breathing? Music rejoins verse to form;

explosion of mystery, the pure work implies the disappearance 

of the poet through clash of words against their inequalities.

Come, illumination of reciprocal lights, a trial of fire on precious

stones. To every cry, its echo, and it’s the rhythm of the 

white spaces that sing when the poem is silenced, and the

dazzling abundance imposes itself. 

Marvel, then at the 

disappearance, 

the memory 

of named objects 

washed 

new.