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Playing at the Cemetery

Stories in light and shadow.

Tell us again the story of this long walk. Narrate the separation, trace the lines of these forever journeys on our faces out and our bodies away, and draw them on our hands and back together in a net wide enough to hold the slippery forms of recent memory, the laughter of ancestors, and the mischief of our dead. Bring the children close, closer; bind them to us––close enough to keep them in the weave and weave us tight, between the living and the dead and back again.

Tell it in light, with the accent that reveals your time in the shadow lands. Wrap our losses in embalming cloth and hold them still. Let us visit. Then unwrap them, invite them on stage. We want to see them again, how they show us ourselves: the sad, the child, the ashamed, the elegant, the diva. 

In a state of partial decay, the smile widens to something between a laugh and a scream, and we find a face we recognize. Mirror, mirror, return us to ourselves, to one another. Come back.

***

Inspired by the photographs of Lorry Salcedo Mitrani. The title of this post is from a 1992 photograph that led me to the artist’s body of work.

At the Shore

A conversation in the interim.

With the tides coming and going, finding the hidden treasure is often a matter of patience.

Which ocean?

This mind, or whatever you call it. There’s something I am trying to recover.

So now what?

Now I wait.

Hmm. It doesn’t look like you are doing anything.

Yeah. But remember those seeds we planted?

I love those trees! It’s amazing how they went from––

Yeah, but before all that, remember? After we planted, it looked like nothing. Root growth always does. But the tree won’t take if it doesn’t happen.

Wait. Is this about the ocean, or tree growth?

I’m mixing metaphors. It’s about learning to wait when you are trying to make a thing happen.

Got it. What’s happening now?

Notes From the Bat

On finding our way in the dark.

It isn’t you this call is for, but since you’re so intent on listening, I might as well tell you––

I feel this grain-sized ear you glued to my back. I see them on the backs of some of the others, too.

Yes, I see them, but you’ll probably miss the nuance here. We hunt tiny insects in a pitch-black cave, but you––obsessed with the light you’ve equated by mistaken metaphor to some salvation––miss this point, too. 

Look, it’s not that we don’t see you trying. It’s just––sigh. I mean, you look at the sky sometimes, too, right? When was the last time you glimpsed the Milky Way? Consider this: that light traveled billions of years across distances too big for you to imagine, only to be washed out in the last fraction of a second by the glow of a Wal-Mart parking lot. I’m trying to use terms you can understand. 

Suggestion: try reciprocating?

You used to be here with us. Listen, I am trying to tell you––

You can’t hear any of this, can you?  Still, you might. 

Listen, try turning the light off. Stop stopping your ears.

We’re here. Stay a little while. 

But–– Shhhh. I am trying to hear the others, too.

***

Inspired by Ed Yong’s recent Atlantic article, “How Animals Perceive the World.”

Survival

A dance lesson.

No, it’s not a luxury you said, of your art.

Dear poet, show me, please 

––some lesson in survival.

In lieu of an answer, you took position on the line. 

There’s safety within the perimeter, they say.

Do you know this? Perhaps, and still reject it.

Or perhaps not, because for you that inside

is no such thing. Your silence won’t protect

you, you whisper––then sing, to signify the

alchemy by which you transform its impulse

into language, the language into music, into

a body’s dance along the wire.

Los Caprichos

A lamp for dark times.

To say yes and give the hand to the first comer, here are two of a kind: the bogeyman on one hand, love and death on another.

Lads make ready. They are hot, out hunting for teeth and the house is on fire. 

¡Pobrecitas! Everyone will fall. How they pluck her, those specks of dust. But now they are sitting well; why hide?

The sleep of reason produces monsters, and it overcomes them. They have flown and still, they don’t go.

Pretty teacher, whispers one, wait ‘till you’ve been anointed. Be quick now, they are waking up.

It is time.

Can’t anyone unleash us?

***

Inspired by Goya’s Los Caprichos, a set of eighty prints etched by Francisco Goya between 1797-98, which, collected in book form, offered powerful critique of many of the social ills he observed. I was struck by the relevance of certain themes to this moment: the rise of superstition, decline of rationality, corruption among the ruling class, as well as common practices of prejudice and deceit. Today’s post features (translated) phrases from the captions of these prints. The above print is Capricho No. 43 of this series, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”

Shadow Pictures

Hidden faces, inkblot revelations.

We saw them everywhere: the dragonish clouds, the roaring vapors, the faces in the sky. We found them in tea leaves, in spilled milk, on the unsuspecting canvases of our grilled cheese. 

So much hides in an inkwell. We invited its contents out, dripping the unknown essences onto our waiting pages. We folded, pressed, and looked, and there they were, looking back. It comforted us somehow, to contain them, this bestiary of the invisible, the known unknowns.

***

Inspired by the blotograms of Justinus Kerner (1786-1862), made “decades before the Rorschach test laid claim to this form” as well as John Prosper Carmel’s “Bottentots and How to Make Them” (1907)––both of which are described in this article on inkblot books. And, of course, by the cloud-faces.

Sensation

By the check stand.

You can’t say they didn’t warn us, those eye-level oracles whispering above the chewing gum we didn’t need, the candy bars we secretly craved, the batteries we were always forgetting to buy. It’s not like they weren’t persistent. They offered a bounty of answers, endlessly. But, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water––

Secrets would be revealed. Why the it girl could never marry, what the bachelor of the year could never refuse. How to win against the crooks, not to mention important updates: recent developments in a high-profile rivalry, what happened to the kids you still remembered. What was fumbled, what went bust, who was at the end of their rope. 

It was a bombshell. It was graphic. It was a must see. It promised: Your questions finally answered! The secrets, the how to, the life hack you don’t want to try living without. The bags of apples moved ahead; the cereal was scanned. There was always something we were forgetting until it was too late. In this way they knew us, these oracles.

Look away at your own risk, they chided. We slid forward, replied with banal comments about how our days were going. Buttons were pressed, money exchanged. A receipt was handed over. We turned to exit, offered the usual thanks. But the things that we carried could not be the things we were here for, could they? They had called our bluff, these fantastical fortune-tellers. We exited through the sliding doors, into the asphalt flatland, squinting against the glare.

***

Inspired by a recent survey of magazines featured by the checkout station at the local supermarket.

Morning Clouds

Residue of a dream.

At the fringes of the clouds

there still lingered, hesitant, 

that person.

We kept silent, learned 

to dance a little, as if

opened suddenly.

A body of dance flowed

into our bodies. Our blood

burned.

We studied, and suddenly

couldn’t speak. The heart

hurt.

It started to rain, and we

watched the mountain

through the rain.

When winter came, we

jumped in time until

we couldn’t anymore.

Tears wet the face.

Was it good? We tried

to imagine.

The voice wouldn’t 

come, but the crying

did.

What do you mean, someone

said, by happiness?

The reply: ask yourself, and

these were the best words

for our farewell.

***

Today is the birthday of Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), a Japanese writer renowned for his pared-down lyricism, and the subtle shading of his prose. In 1968, Kawabata became the first Japanese author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Today’s post is assembled from phrases borrowed from Kawabata’s short story “Morning Clouds,” translated from Japanese by Lane Dunlop.

The Dreamers

On myth and memory.

Unless the sky falls to the earth, unless the forest up and moves, unless the seas should empty themselves of all depths, would you clip the lawless wings of imagination’s first flight, to sacrifice its range and its wild for the sake of having its reliable presence near the dinner table and along these streets?

We loved mystery before beauty and the unseen lurkers terrified us to ecstasies with their tickling whispers. 

It’s hard not to miss the irresponsible charm of the old gods, who in their airy innocence seemed only to care about getting what they wanted, whose flaming passions lit the sunset skies, who would rear a starling from scratch and teach her to speak, so that she might announce our secreted dreams back to us, exposing our still-feral hopes, the directionless expanse of their vicious hunger, creeping where we could not dare to look.

First Flights

Tracing the texture of a dream.

Here is a book of time, someone told us, to translate a voice in the heart of the sky. It reminded us forward to the hour of the story inside the essence of the dream through which we flew to the beginning of the word on a current of makers.

Sighing creation, we ran, particles of ourselves in waves at the shore, piling sand into a world we could live in, and we admired the work of our hands until the tide took it back. 

We borrowed the insights of distant lightning to hold back the night, and with wet hands we peeled the dawn to eat it raw, dew dripping from our laughing chins.