Animal Vegetable

Faces seen and unseen.

Was it Kafka who said that we are most human when admittedly animals? I can’t remember. The elephant would.  We give each other pet names and share our own names, homes, and fashion motifs with pets.  We are much less willing to engage with our vegetable sides. 

The snap pea is probably great company, and no doubt leeks have dimension. When it comes to tubers, I can only imagine. Perhaps we have a hard time opening conversations with the ones whose faces are not––well, faces; whose beings are arranged in ways we can less readily recognize from mirrors and photo albums.

Maybe it intimidates us to interact on a conversational level with living forms that will not run, fly, or swim from us, who can’t make us heroes for luring them to our realms. Maybe we don’t know how to open conversations that don’t begin with a chase. These vegetables, they just show up––or don’t, allowing or resisting growth, harvest, cultivation. We can’t always find the narrative line of their movements, and it perplexes us. 

Or maybe we don’t like to entertain the possibility of admitting when we are only seeds or going out of season; ripe for harvest or willing to be met by moles. The cat offers an easy meme and endless punchlines, and most of her jokes are on me. If this is any model, it’s likely the vegetables are doing something similar. From a plastic bag on the counter, the armed potatoes wave. 

Fly Notes

From a wall in a room with cosmologists.

It was an enviable position, according to some. To be what I was, a fly on the walls in which they met. I was hoping to get out, but made the best of my lot, listening. If I did escape, I was hoping to at least be able to share an uncommon view of the cosmos, but my findings were inconclusive. 

Surely you must have heard something.

Well. They know it’s big.

There’s a start. 

When it comes to origins, they can speculate as to when, but have no idea what, except hot. In recent decades, they have at least become aware that they are only seeing what’s observable to them. One thing that’s really got some of them worked up is about how the further away a galaxy is, the faster it is moving. Away. From what they can see. 

Hmm, and they don’t find this discouraging?

Nope. They are very persistent. It’s adorable, really. And they have all these little naming games and such and can’t help characterizing all the forces with various personalities. Like, they have this one saying they love to repeat. Let me see if I can get it. It goes: Space meeting Matter says, “Move like this!” and Matter, meeting Space, says, “No, curve!”

So now what are they onto?

Mostly a sense that they are missing something. That it’s right there, on the horizon.

In the part that’s moving away fast, or the slower part?

I don’t know. That’s when they finally opened a window. 

***

Inspired by this article. And by the work of  Georgi Gospodinov, which often features sentient flies.

Correction

By the resident oracle.

Some days it looks like a litany of minor losses––keys, money, what passed for discipline; traffic and burnt popcorn, and the pain at the temples only calls to mind other pains, and the only words that come when you call are all wrong, and too late, dressed for some other occasion, unknown. 

And then comes the cat, unbidden, winding her eloquent tail across your face and back again like a wiper blade in the rain, to remind you, with the calm focus that can only be acquired by one who has just risen from the day’s tenth nap, that you are once again missing the joke.

Dear Creatures

For our moments of silence.

We remember. Despite some apparent determination to forget. How you were the first circles surrounding our centers. Oracles, you carried messages, promises. You offered invitations. When we wondered about living, and how––and we were always wondering, you offered by example, some possibilities. Like this, you said, and this. There were so many ways. You embodied each fully, without hesitation. Only when we dared to return your gaze could we know ourselves. We were silent before the mystery of you, and you carried our secrets.

You had your holes and your nests, but we hardly knew where to rest our heads. You leant your bodies to our metaphors, our art. Some say you gave your blood, saying paint. You knew we needed symbols to live. 

We painted and dreamed with your bodies, but one day, one of us got carried away by the power of the symbol in his hand and forgot what he was. He went around in darkness, chanting “I am soul! Soul!” and “Let there be light!” I don’t need to tell you what he thought he was. He thought he had arrived by his words. But we had only ever known you in our silences.

***

Inspired by John Berger’s Why Look at Animals? (1977) in About Looking. And other creatures.

In Defiance of Taste

For the wild uglies.

What crawls and flies far from clean in its joy is often the subject of revulsion, but some forms of rage are raw enough to keep a crawling body painted with mud, and ripe enough with love to offer flight. One held nothing back of substance and much of detail and familiar story lines, to keep each mouthful tasting fully of itself. Eat, she said, there is enough for everyone, but cautioned that some would find at first bite, something raw enough to break the heart. It broke mine, she said, but then came a challenging joy. This angered some, but creatures of the earth are often hated for not making themselves more pleasing, more beautiful, for living just as they are.

Inheritance

In the land of time and space.

There are those who are so much time, who live primarily by movements through and in and around space. Then there are those who are full of space, whose movements are through and in and around time. Each group has a special way of ordering and knowing the fluctuations of the other. Each is friend, antagonist, and carrier to the other. In their constantly shifting dynamic, these groups are inseparable. 

Watch the tree. She marks time in her rings and by the turn and fall of her leaves. The fruits of her body are eaten and carried, stored, and adopted by those who move into and around and through her. They know themselves by these movements and she knows herself by holding them. Notice the wind, whose very being is movement, singing his force through her branches, stretching her sway to his song.

We, the children of Time and Space, are the natural carriers of both traits, and the flux between them plays out within and between us. Now we are winds, now trees; here like a bird, here like the whale, here like the ocean floor, the bed of the lake, where the embryonic futures of our spaces settle until hatching from the cells that hold them still before the swimming.

Fellow Creatures

With Elizabeth Bishop.

When you were the giant toad, your eyes hurt to see so much and still be hungry, and it was strange to feel your colors shudder while carrying those heavy sacs of poison, mostly unused.

As a crab you seemed at home in your tough, tight shell. You preferred approaching objects sideways.

As a snail, you were intimate with the great effort of the tiniest movement. You knew the shining ribbon of your wake, and yet complained I am too big. I can feel it.

Some say you were most at home when you were fully estranged, singing a hymn to the seal you befriended because of a shared belief.

In what? someone asked you, and you were quick to respond, in total immersion.

***

Inspired by Helen Vendler’s scholarship on the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop.

The Catch

Language and looking.

Even the so-called visible is hard to see, like one of those creatures abundant only in captivity, for whom a return to the wild means likely death. All my best attempts at sense-making amount to a series of interruptions and asides. Some say it was different once, but I wouldn’t know.

Having no access to that other once, I run along this seawall by flickering glance and jagged line, between the dream and whatever this is. Now a blurred portrait, then a caped figure from behind, silhouette dissolving in a field, and what can follow any of these but another exception?

There is no paradise until you lose it––or the key, so now I play locksmith with these filaments of letters borrowed from lines of blue swallows against sky and skaters’ blades on frozen ponds. I am looking for a clue to help me mourn this thing before me, writhing in a net. I do not know its name.

Late and Soon

Lost expressions.

I wanted to show our restoration after the storm, how to wear the sun before a burning bush. Until now, time was near. The time is now, you whispered, and I said soon. We don’t see it when it goes, not time and not the storm. Now, soft things move nearby, and a strange bird makes declarations, something with emphasis, and although time is no longer soon, we remain strangers to the idioms of anyone who manages, in the soft light between the gale and the rest of our lives, to fly beyond its reach.

The Seeing Eye

Reflecting pools of vision.

There is the seeing eye of the creature accustomed to being ruled by reflex. When it suddenly stops to look, the gaze seems to hold all in its trembling peace. It becomes like the lake, the eye of the landscape, by which the cosmos beholds itself.

***

Yet another passage inspired by (and with borrowed images from) Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space(“Intimate Immensity), a work so rich and layered, I learned to take only tiny sips at a time, as I do this morning.