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.

Becoming Shelter

Remaining human in wartime.

At first, it was the usual set of former pets in wartime––cats and dogs. She stayed with them as the shelling continued. The ground was shaking, she says, of her arrival. The dogs were tearing holes in the fence with their teeth.

Later, it became clear that there was no one else to watch the turtles, the peacocks––and who would feed the lion? They left a land mine near his cage. She tried bribes. They detonated. The lion lived. They locked her in a room, killed her dog.  She buried Jina under a tree. When they locked her in a room, they told her she would die if she tried to leave. She left the room. It was time to feed the animals. It is always time, she says. Always.

It haunts her, to imagine the noises the horses made, neighing in the burning stables she could not reach. The shelling continues, and she continues here. It doesn’t matter who you protect, she says. You rescue what you can to remain human when war would make you forget.

***

On the work of Asya Serpinska, a seventy-seven-year-old Ukranian woman sheltering over 700 animals in Hostomel, roughly twenty miles northwest of Kyiv.

More than an Elegy

New life in the ruins.

You can try not to believe the dizzy river or trembling mountain as a matter of pride, or maybe fealty to the fact of this ruin. This street where I work takes its name from a water body I’ve never seen. I’m afraid to ask. The mountains above the freeway, behind the strip mall by the Arco, seem often to sit in silent judgement, accepting the cell phone towers at their crowns like parents too tired to argue.  Here, in this concrete landscape of grey-beige buildings with garish trim and iron rails, where the center that once had shade trees now calls to mind a prison yard, I am so often in mourning that even the occasional peal of real laughter sounds like the fall of the last pane of glass in a war-ravaged former home, and all I can see are the abandoned tricycles tipped over in the soot of the wreck.

But yesterday morning, in the dingy shade of a narrow steel awning, above the concrete walk, against the industrial stucco, on top of a steel grey electrical box, there was a nest of baby birds my love had rescued when he saw it beginning to slip. I was afraid to touch them, he said, but–– we had learned, as children in the wake our parents’ wars, that even our hands could mean death to whatever still managed to hatch. The freeway roared behind us, and the leaf blowers in the parking lot, and we stood there, beholding. Soon we were a small circle of celebrants, calling Oh! and Oh, look! One shared how she had watched the slow build over time, afraid to believe her ears when she heard them finally, the day before.

The babies called back to us, lifting their fuzzy heads, opening new beaks wide, something that sounded like See us! See! See! –– as if to echo our nearly muted hopes, amplified to drown all other noise; as if to answer those questions we feared to ask, about the possibility of life, even now. Hi birds! I called back, open palm over heart.  Hi! Hi! Look at you, I repeated, again and again, gaping, a fool helpless in witness.

Wing

In the aftermath of fracture.

When the stone sky locks the angels out, who watches for the saints beneath a daily march, crunching underfoot? Grains of sand, listen: which of your every has ears? Without compass or clock, I can answer only, no, I do not know the way or have the time; please resist the impulse to make me a metaphor. Put down your pen and help me look. It was all in a pocket under this wing, along with a spare key to the late morning blue. We were supposed to practice today, scales of light and choreography of chroma, and I had soft branches to buttress the round of the new nest. The babies–– It’s cold enough to see it in the air when I call and here it is again, this cry, I am.

Explain This

Investigating a given scene.

Why fingerprints?

Contemporary conditioning shouts, Identity! and they are pressed like badges, considered essential means of outlining, separating one body from the next. As in, mine and mine alone.

And what for?

The first purpose was holding, and the next was touch. These are the grooves that allow a body to feel in stereo. Following certain lines of perception, one can easily lose the sense of having an end.

Then what?

If these lines begat questions, perhaps they also prompted language, to answer with a beginning, once upon a time. We needed a past to explain ourselves, and some shelter from this wild so readily felt when we stretched our hands over any given scene. One story begat the next, but certain questions were never settled, such as: was the wild coming from or into these fingertips? Either answer begs a question–––

?

–––wait, I’ve strayed again. I only meant to wonder over the discovery that koala prints, being easily mistaken for those of humans, will contaminate a crime scene, which raises certain questions I can’t go into now and for which I lack the language to decipher, about what stories these creatures have had to invent to explain this everywhere, here.

***

Inspired by an overheard discussion about koala fingerprints, with details elaborated in an article I found when I got home. 

Advice from the Ground Beetles

Confidence of cave-dwelling carabid.

You can hurry, but it won’t get you anywhere. You were way too late for this prologue’s conclusion, and still want to rush. We are the stagehands you missed, ushering the deaths you wouldn’t stand.

It’s not the worst, really, to let others make a punchline of your life, like Where have you been, under a rock all this time? As a matter of fact, you can tell them––or not, cleaning your sensors with smooth precision.

I don’t want to frighten you, but let’s face it; it doesn’t take much. We live in the settings of your nightmares. No one knows you better than the one who recognizes what you refuse––I won’t say, to look at. You really ought to consider your bias toward sight, along with a few other favorite metaphors. Look at the river of life, you say, let’s jump in! From the places you call nowhere and not yet, we laugh and call back, you first! ––which is always your preference anyway.

Any beetle can tell you about all the cries in the dark, but that doesn’t mean you will listen. So much grief in these places, but we’ve been here all along. We get a lot of tourists on quests, looking for a dragon to slay. Sure, we tell them, go farther, and then get back to our invisible work, laughing.

Do you have a friend who studies eyesight, who can talk at length about degrees of vision? The word vision suggests blindness all by itself. A person’s aspirations will tell you a lot about their fears. 

Please don’t expect a welcome every time you come back. As a matter of fact, you should try to go missing. Let them call you extinct, finished. We’ve been doing this for twenty million years, but the newcomers can’t help themselves. There’s a new announcement every few decades about how they’ve discovered us––again.

Every seed spends many nights in the earth, and what does this tell you about the dangers you presume of obscurity? Kid, you’re kind of a drag the way you go around trying to illuminate everything. That’s enough now, out with your light.

From this darkness, there will be no forgiveness for someone who refuses to meet it on its own terms. 

***

Over this morning’s coffee, I learned that today is the birthday of the Croation entymologist Josef Müller (1880-1964) who is best known for his extensive study of blind cave-dwelling ground beetles. I can only imagine that one would be compelled to shift perspective away from certain popular biases after spending so much time with any often-disregarded species, especially those that are regularly rediscovered after presumed extinction. The idea inspired me to play again with certain phrases and turns from Robert Bly’s “Advice from the Geese,” an exercise from The Daily Poet that I enjoyed very much when I first used it to make “Advice from the Silver Mollies” for Bly’s birthday.

The Wait

Coming soon: some idea.

This is what they say you should do if you want some sight to come in.

Insight?

That’s it. So, I’m waiting but all I see is this ant river following the sidewalk lines.

Well, do you hear anything?

Just the leaf blower in the distance and those kids counting hide and seek.

What about the wind, you don’t hear that?

In the trees, sure. But––

There’s a swarm of bees down the hill.

I know, driving up that way I didn’t want to open the window.

These squirrels are something.

Sorry, guys. I don’t have anything.

They’re kind of insistent, aren’t they?

Awww, look! Baby sloths! 

Where? 

Someone posted them. I’m in this Animal Lover’s group. Those faces, look! They don’t even look real!

I thought you were waiting in stillness.

I know, I know. Just had to check something real quick.

It’s getting dark.

I wonder what it would be like if it got real dark.

You mean without all these lamps?

Yeah, let’s go inside. Look at all these moths right here. Don’t let any in. 

Look. Even now, with all the lights off, all these glowing things inside.

Like an indoor constellation, practically. Check out this cat.

You’re in bed less than a minute and there she is, on your chest, doing that pizza dough thing.

I know, she won’t let me move. I was gonna keep looking, you know–

Something with Feathers

Smiles from the threshold.

After the body, winking branches point to cloud faces and birdsong heralds their parade. Here is a frame for the living, and in it, more seeds than there are numbers.

Far from immaterial, this breathes syllables of flesh and leaf, spore and wing; limbs and their memory, and without these containers it would be everything all at once like water to a fish, synonymous with life’s self, but we are creatures bent on naming. 

We make nests of words to offer as a frame for warming the babies, so that when the known perimeter breaks­­––by degrees and then completely, they might recognize in our heat, the beginning of something, and stay.

Liquid Cats

What happens on a page.

When it comes to inking a cat, there’s no telling what will happen. 

The long brushstroke of a tail; paint bleeds a fluid form, feathered fur.

Sometimes, the shape of a body can only be defined by where it isn’t.

***

Inspired by this article about Endre Penovác’s watercolor cats.

Between Whales

Song over distance.

In the event

that one of us

should slip from

the range of

contact, I want

to tell you that I 

did not know if 

my voice was 

made of sound,

or if that was just

an idea, possibly

unsound, until

you answered.

I still don’t have

a word for the 

color of that 

last note, but

now I think this

is more likely

about the limits

of any language

seeded 

in isolation

than it is about

a problem with 

my eyes.