The Form is Not

Urgently seeking answers.

Are you there? I need to know what happened.

Sure. It started with a long walk and a begging bowl. Then it was time to sit.

I have some questions.

Who doesn’t? For answers, consider impermanence, inevitable extinction.

Yes, got it! To everything there is a season. A time to––

But don’t hold onto the idea, or any other. No more T-shirts or bumper stickers, okay?

Right. I’ll try to focus on action. How do I give?

Without counting.

What about appearances?

What about them?

Never mind. Let’s get to the real teaching. I’m ready.

What you learn isn’t supposed to be a trophy, but a raft.

Okay. Let’s talk fortune.

Give it away. What did I just tell you?

Right, right. Okay, what about this stream? How do I enter?

What stream?

Um, like the path––you know, the levels?

Forget about those.

You say that a lot. What should I remember?

Only teach.

But I don’t know anything!

There you go.

But seriously. I can’t even control my mind yet.

Hah! Which one? The past, the present, or the future? None of them are made for holding.

[sigh] 

Can you just give me some answer?

Fine. But I’m about to lose service here. The reception in these mountains is terrible.  Ready?

Yes!

It’s–––

Hello? Hello?

***

This morning, I learned that on this day in the year 868, a copy of the Diamond Sutra was printed in China, making it the oldest known printed book. Prior to this, the teachings had long been conveyed orally. Naturally, I got to imagining an attempt to convey urgent teachings orally via cellphone. I have spotty service at home and pretty good service in most other places, so many of my conversations have at least a few moments where one or the other party is saying, “Are you there?” or “Wait a minute, I’m walking outside. I might lose you.” I consulted Burton Watson’s translation here.

The Span of a Body

Developments in architecture.

There is a floating bridge. It is made of cardboard, carried by balloons. After a few days, it will fall back from the sky, landing somewhere other than the place from which it left. It will be taken apart, piece by piece.

In an alternative scene, here is a floating bridge made of cardboard and balanced with each of its anchor points in a canoe. It will float downstream to be collected somewhere else for the ritual of its deconstruction.

There are scaffolds floating over the crowds, over the city streets, reflections of themselves over still waters before they move again; serious arches flying like children’s kites, and what could be the point of any of this, except to raise certain questions about some commonly accepted points among us? In their brilliant uselessness, they gently remind us of our own architecture, leaning ever toward the next beginning.

***

Inspired by an article I found this morning about the work of French artist Olivier Grossetête, who gathers fifteen to thirty workshop participants at a time into the communal effort of constructing a floating bridge out of cardboard.

Nostalgia

Dreamscape in a fog.

Women in sweaters and long skirts walk through an uncultivated pasture in the fog, above a lake.  They retreat from the lens, toward something else. No one speaks.

Now comes a car on a nearby road. It takes a moment to stop. A woman gets out. The light reminds her of autumn. The man from the driver’s seat corrects her speech. I cried the first time I saw it, she says. He will not come.

I will wait for you, she says. She roams away like this often, in stubborn wonder. He follows, eventually. By the time he catches up, she will no longer be the woman from the car. By the time he catches her, she will be a woman who has been walking alone on a dirt path for some time.

***

Inspired by the work of Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, and specifically his film, Nostalgia.

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–

Recovering Nature

What’s in a name?

Sure, you can try to recover it, as you say, carefully filming this walk into woods, but consider the violence of a name. Nature, as in outside, as in opposite of this separate, sanitized, self-satisfied sanity. I am not fit, perhaps, to hold it on my tongue, so unrefined is my palate. Sure, this is one way to defend your dominion. No one can touch you. No one can touch the finery of such an idea whose hands are still furred with dirt.

Almost Endless

For a Monday morning.

We all fall from our infinities. These landings have a way of knocking the wind from the lungs. After the crash, there’s a stillness before it begins again. Inhale, exhale.

Loquat, cypress, tire swing. Field mouse, damselfly, dark-eyed junco. Brush rabbit, baby, coyote. All of this before you even find your feet again.

What will you do without your delusions of endlessness? The unbound forever vanished, here is a beginning instead.

Look at Us

Albums in space.

We started with the basics––abstractions, really: circle, star maps, a few terms. Then the images of planets, as if to open conversation. Have you seen this, too?

Look at our moon, we are so proud. See our double helix, watch our cells divide! Behold our anatomical diagrams. Here is conception, fetal development, birth. Nursing mother, father with child; now a family. Consider continental drift, oceans, desert, shore, dunes; consider forest, leaf, mushroom, sequoia, snowflake. Insect, vertebrate, seashell. Dolphin, school of fish, tree toad, eagle, crocodile.

Yes, some notable omissions: war, poverty, disease. Idea being, best foot forward. Also omitted: visual art. Whatever would we choose, and how would we explain ourselves to our critics? It’s like that with art.

Animals at a waterhole, hunters in the bush. Craftsmen, dancers, pipe smokers. Mountain climbers, Olympic sprinters, schoolrooms, children at a globe. Harvests: cotton, grapes, fish nets, supermarkets. Shared meals, construction. Architecture, cityscapes, factory interiors. Trains, planes, radio telescopes.

Here is a page from a book. One of our astronauts: how like the floating fetus with its cord!  Now a shuttle launch, now a string quartet. We convert these images to sound, place them on a record.

Hello, can you hear us? Are you there? Do you understand?

Have you seen anything like this before? 

How about since?

What now?

***

Inspiration: Jon Lomberg’s “Pictures of Earth,” in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, by Carl Sagan, Ed.Drake, Ann Druyan, Timothy Ferris, Jon Lomberg, and Linda Salzman Sagan.

Waking

When the ice thins.

After the long search, hungry; after securing the space and leaving the guards, after the long drop into winter shade with your muted heart, wake.  Now emerge. Watch as you enter this peril to begin again, your life.

***

Inspired by this article about findings from recent studies on hibernation habits among bears and other mammals, with particular focus on adaptations to global warming.

Soliciting Questions

Wise fools convene at the threshold.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Your local fools!

Not interested. We’re doing serious work here. 

On?

Existential matters. You wouldn’t get it. Bye, now.

But some problems have a way of lurking at the threshold. What better subject?

With enough construction within the discipline, anything can be explained. You really must depart now.

You mean from standard principles?

No, I mean from my porch. But yes, that too.

And yet, even the most careful practitioner rarely gets above theory.

Sure, but finding a given to begin with is harder than it seems.

Can you hold this?

Being, when it isn’t sticky, tends to be too slippery.

You could try putting your hand in a jar of honey. 

I know, then try to feel where hand ends and honey begins. Old hat.

Well, to the extent that being can be known, it won’t be with knowledge.

Maybe not, but you can use what you know to construct beings in sequence.

What do you know?

I really don’t have time––

Here’s a mirror! Wanna start with the eyes? Then you can get to all things seen and unseen, and the whole arrangement until you get to the point where you are asking why we’re here and not there, while––

Really, I don’t––

Awww, look at this cat! Hi, kitty! Oh, aren’t you gorgeous! Okay, yes, yes.

That’s my cat, Oliver.

Are you sure?

That’s enough.

Oliver is licking his teeth and turning away now. How do you read that, exactly?

I’ll ask him later. But now I really have to––

You know, you may be waiting a very long time for an answer.

Speaking of time, I can’t––

Maybe we ask questions like daubing at paint, to give us something to do––

––I have plenty to––

––with the eternities we can’t seem to keep from conjuring, even as our skins crack in recognition.

Of what?

Of the endless amusement we provide at our own expense!

You’re not leaving, are you?

Maybe later, but I’m really into petting this cat right now.

Well, do you want a chair?

Nope, just wanted to leave you this paintbrush. Later!

Sooner?

That’s it!