What Lives

A still, small voice.

My grandmother used to say something about the darkness of hope. How it bears fruit in the light of wisdom. By watching her when she was living and listening after her death, I knew Grace. This was her name.

Revolt against death, she would say, by remembering the dead; the next breath a reminder that it was their breath before a final exhalation. Knowing this, breathe full and long. To forget is to die a little.

There were pages and pages behind these reminders. I read them as survival manuals for creatures of flesh. They said, be poor. Go down. Be despised, love anyway. Serve instead of demanding service. 

There were maps too, but no territories. They said only: Look––in hunger and thirst, through long nights and vast deserts. There you will find company with the soul of all souls. You will hear the heartbeat and what follows will be the first song of the world. 

You will know it, child. Go down.

Transference

What we carried when we were listening.

The cities of our arrival, abundant with unknowns, wonders––offered moment by moment possibilities for our annihilation and station after station for our becoming. There was so little we knew, and now we knew it. Knowing we lacked the words, we opened ourselves in these new cities. We became vessels carrying music and walked forward, holding.

Until when? Someone asked. Until the rhythm invites us. What rhythm? said another, and it was time.

Fogs

Muted sounds and atmospheric shrouds.

Today’s challenge: to walk with what is unknown and accept its presence on its own terms, even when it rejects walking, preferring instead to swim or roll in the mud or follow birds and the bells of ice cream trucks. To interject ambivalence with ambiguity, the center of a spinning top nearly toppled is the climax of its dance.

The white dunes of reverberating fog smudge the skyline, obscuring as much as it reveals of us back to ourselves, warning of certainty’s trespass, as if to say, try knowing time without the blunt tool of sequence to hammer it into submission. 

Nothing this soft will respond as desired to such obtuse force, accepting a given shape or placement. It will only become more and more diffuse, more and more what it is, the disquieting formlessness that makes atmosphere visible by resisting expectations of transparency.

Badlands

With Mary Hunter Austin.

In the country of lost borders, where hills squeezed from chaos and sculpted by wind rise over the blue haze of narrow valleys, it is not hard to forget that everything looks closer than it is.

In the land of lost rivers, where dust devils dance, there is so little to love, but try to resist the urge to return. Given enough distance, a body will dream the unimagined help, nearby, within reach of the mesquite roots, heralded by the vivid green of creosote.

It’s easy to wonder who lives here but stick around. You’ll soon learn how it can trick your sense of time, so that you always mean to go, but never do. This is what it’s like in the land of lost travelers, waiting with the legends of treasures long buried in these sands.

***

In honor of the birthday of American writer Mary Hunter Austin (1868-1934), today’s post is composed of images and phrases from the opening pages of her classic, The Land of Little Rain.

Holding Out

For the dreamer in a dark night.

Careful with the dark, now; adding to it rarely helps anyone to see––at least not until it is complete and total, but then we’re talking new levels of perception. Finding these, one might notice: though the stars still faintly flickering are distant, there is a way to take root among them––after enough practice in losing it all while still managing to hold the first posture in what might be the organizing element in every dance that has ever reminded a body back to what it was for, to throw it forward into what it does when it moves with the wide-eyed clarity of one who remembers being blind. I mean how it reaches and keeps reaching, toward the next living dream.

After Dark

The first night of the world.

Something new was happening in the land of light. Suddenly, the world began to grow dark. The birds knew, but people had to learn, this is where you pause what you are doing; this is how you put down mats; this is when you lie down.

Be still, said one who knew.

And do what? Someone asked.

Sleep. But they didn’t know the word, not yet. So, the one who knew said, just wait, and people waited. Eventually, they knew sleep.

Then came a new light, but softer, and the birds sang to meet it. The sleepers opened their eyes and finally, after all this time, they were waking to meet the first day.

***

Inspired by “Finding Night,” Virginia Hamilton’s retelling of the story of Quat, the solar god of the Banks Islands, north of the New Hebrides in Melanesia. From In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World.

Loud Silence

Sunset lake at midnight.

Like breathing, close; like something rustling in the leaves in the dark outside the window; the first notes of the world. I hear it, we say of this something, but reality is conditional, and faith, already fraught, has a way of returning any listener to the old refrain about the world and it’s too-muchness––so much, with us. A sensitive medium feels the artist’s hand, dissolving the last line into light, the gong that swelled the heart now a faint echo over the sunset lake at midnight.

Aftermath

In the dark between destruction and rebirth.

After the promise, before the fallen fruit, love was so loud that what followed might be called nature’s reproach. We suspected it was. But our memories of watercolor flights stayed anyway between water and sky, and us gliding in wide-winged pelican formations­­––long after their welcome, ignoring the new signs warning against the trespass of our breath.

After the storm, our eyes fall into these empty hands and roll across the wreckage around us until they are soaked in the sludge of charred remains. 

Only this silent plea between us now, strong and invisible; and time no longer ours, and in the dark hours before dawn, it may echo an inquiring trinity, Love, will you make the world here again? and then Hear, again and Love, here.

Magnificat

Song for the unseen.

Let’s remember to hold one another in this moment, reveling in the possibility that what really is, is still invisible. And may we never forget––our dead, our not yet living, and the true purpose of these wild hearts. To celebrate what seems utterly worthless in this world, including everyone bearing witness to the unseen, those other dreamers and the lonely and those crazy fools on the corner––and in the next room, and in the mirror, and all the tiny creatures underfoot and hanging on in the distance. The strongmen and the celebrated seem to hold the world in their fists, but they will lose and be lost amid those who have nothing. Let us remember this always, to remain empty, seeking home with others, hands open and ready to receive what comes––yesterday, today, and tomorrow––not to keep and hold

but to give it away

that we might remain

forever vacant

and ready to receive

the opening notes

of its next

arrival.

***

German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the Magnificat (from the Gospel of Luke 1:46-55, when Mary greets Elizabeth) “the most passionate, wildest . . . most revolutionary hymn ever sung.” He was executed by the Nazis. This morning, I learned that these verses were considered so subversive that they were banned from public recitation in several countries, including Guatemala, Argentina, and India. Naturally, I was moved to revisit the text. I am also reminded back to a comment by artist Mariko Mori, on Botticelli’s iconic painting of the meeting of these women (The Annunciation), that they appear to her “like two Buddhas bowing.” 

Stranger Still

Through a glass darkly.

In love with an unknown intimate briefly glimpsed, the stranger moved so steadily towards the source of longing that he became transparent with time. Suspended in its liquid, the desert salts of his waking form dissolved in her waters until he knew himself at once known in the shadow of the apocalyptic cherub.

I am surveyed, he admitted, but it was good to be untethered from the demand to be any sort of self in any of the atomic cities, to join the games with no winners, to keep company instead with a chorus of loss, its abundant ache seeded in the silence of this elsewhere when the voices that will be heard choose themselves

***

Inspired by various morning readings, including Thomas Merton by way of Richard Rohr. Italicized phrases above come from Thomas Merton’s “Day of the Stranger,” first published in The Hudson Review, summer 1967.