In Our Time

Among the living.

Sometimes, when it was hiding in our homeland, we would feel its aftermaths in succession, running our fingers along the seams of cracked earth. Means for making meaning, ever mutating, make new forms where the formers are buried. We move soil to make room for our dead. Seedlings, too––even then. 

We could not call it war until we survived it. In the meantime, it was living. It was diapers and babies, earaches and crackers and someone still had to milk the cows, walk the dogs, and soak the beans overnight. 

What did you do? They will ask us later. Possibly we will forget by then, how we folded laundry and clipped toenails. How sometimes, even then, someone would show up with a cake, and someone else would find plates. We would pass slices one at a time, among the living.

Human Shield

Mothers in wartime.

Speaking of the universes inside us now, of silenced griefs, do you wonder if this new fear has come to meet our weak refusals to acknowledge its magnitude? An inherited idea: us as defenders of the first official bodies of an emerging something––and yet, we couldn’t see it, not all the way. We missed the point, didn’t we, when we called it safe.

They gave it borders and called it done. Who could blame them? Had I known better, I might have done the same with my own form when I could, but even a broken body can learn, when it comes time for offerings, to be one. 

You can hear the official mandates all around: ours, ours, no trespassing, but try claiming something from a body whose primary substance is the fluid it sends and receives, through these acres of unknowns, and eventually we challenged them to go ahead, see if they could find a place to plant their flag. This took no words; just as well when these were the first to flee.

***

Inspiration: On March 6, 2022, Krista Tippett, whose excellent On Being Project I have long followed, tweeted: “There is a universe inside each of us now of unarticulated fear and unmarked grief.” As with many of her observations, this one resonated a particular truth of this moment.

And of course, the images we all know by heart now, and in our bones, of mothers in wartime.

Crossings

Keeping watch in the dark.

Hundreds gather beneath the remains of a bridge they meant to cross. They wait, watching the river, for the next chance to move. One, looking back, says the children are scaredthey are killing them over there. When a cloud of dust settles, some are still unmoving in the road, a dog beside them barking, and even David is shrouded in black now, to mark the deaths.

At the border, a woman waits for her cousin, traveling for days with children. The men are back home fighting, but where is home now? 

We are trying to get them out, she says, to save their lives, at least. Do you see me, cousin? She jumps and waves. A child runs to her, hooded in a pink parka. There is weeping all around and weary smiles of relief. It is calmer now, she says, and they move from the wire fence of the thin border between the known world and the next.

***

Details culled from New York Times coverage of events on the eleventh day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With love and prayers for all who flee war and persecution.

Hope in the Dark

Against other constants, and at random.

“Everything I ever thought to be a nightmare is nothing compared to what I am witnessing.”

Voice of Diana Berg, Mariupol Resident, in “No Water, No Electricity: Life Under Siege in Mariupol”

I wanted to tell you, when we spoke last week, about the child returned to the swing before the bombed-out building where he once lived, lifting his foot to the sky anyway, before he can know the word for resistance; and also about the the women gathered close in a kitchen, by the thin window before it broke, passing cake around on patterned plates with good silverware, saying to one another Here, here. Eat––

but the conversation followed another line, and then time was up, and now the shelling is constant and at random and I don’t think the child is swinging anymore, and I don’t know what happened to the women with the cake, if they got on a train the next day, or went underground, and I don’t want to end with this––

constant

––did you hear about the babies born in the basement of the Metro station? Yes, there were several and you could hear the mothers’ screams below against the shelling above, but it is said they are okay now, these babies not because they are at home––and where will that be–– the shelling constant

and at random

––when this is done, 

when is this done? It is constant

but they are at their mother’s breasts and there is still milk even as the mothers are weeping, especially as the mothers are weeping, there is weeping constantly now and at random, and there are also the tiny fingers wrapped tight around a mother’s pointer finger, as if to hold her pointing in place

this

finger like a compass needle dotted with this row of little nails. Strong grip, people say, for some excuse to laugh, and everyone agrees, because this is here now, the grip of the newborn whose first days begin and end here, whose home is mother.

***

Inspired by the documentary mentioned above, featured in the New York Times, March 5, 2022 (Created by Masha Froliak, Ainara Tiefenthäler, Dmitri Khavin, and Sarah Kerr), in which Diana Berg also observes, “The shelling is constant and at random.” Also by stories like this, of births in the metro station. The title of this piece nods to Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant work, especially her Hope in The Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.  

Notes Before Dawn

Against the void.

So much depends on finding some beginning, a way in––the next breath, the first word, the next right thing, the first step into it. The despair before the task is so looming, a body could easily be swallowed in its shadow. And will be, unless. There is the next breath, the next right thing, the next step, the first word. Say it.

Enigmas of Entanglement

The ties that bind.

If loving begins in recognition, then practice reading one another is an essential beginning, and a sincere effort demands that some limits be placed on noise. One of the effects of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is to turn down the static so the neural signals––of, say, the smell of another’s body, or a distress cry––can come in clearly, which calls to mind some old questions about trees falling in the forest, and the health of forests and one another. If a cry happens and no one hears, what are we? Any loving observer, beholding another’s vivid hues, exquisite detail of sparkling eyes, wonder of resting face, music of laughter––will tell you, mystery. Only mystery. 

***

Loosely inspired by Bob Holmes’ recent Knowable Magazine article, “Oxytocin’s effects aren’t just about love.”

Between Friends

Notes for a feast.

Collect the fallen fruits of old labors by the light of a full moon. Wade in the water to rinse, then pat dry. Meanwhile, dice the insults, the past indignities, the collected impossibilities and memories of grade school wounds, lost pets, and burned skins. Steam gently on low heat. Now return to the bowl of hopes set aside to rise in a dark place. Knead vigorously on a floured surface for the length of three songs, longer if desired. Set to rise again. Cover and repeat. We’ll score it eventually, with some symbol of our own invention. We’ll bake it golden, display it on a special tray, cut into it while it’s still crackling hot, pass out fat slices to all assembled and serve it with the good butter. Mouths water at the dream, but don’t worry, there is bread already made. It’s on the table right now. We won’t be hungry. It is good to be kneading this together, this now and coming communion. May the nourishment of the earth be yours.

***

Inspired by John O’Donohue, who taught me the Celtic term Anam Cara, loosely translated as “soul friend.” And by my soul’s friend. The italicized line above is from O’Donohue’s poem “Beannacht” (Gaelic for “Greetings”).

Taking Heart

Fortitude is often misunderstood.

Only with courage can a body refuse any code designed to justify denial of dinner on pretension of purity. To refuse to embark on a scavenger hunt where the name of the game is seeking out the sin, to separate the convicted from the saved. To face conviction before submitting to these fiends of fracture, devils of division, forking tongues over plates of counterfeit communion, segregating what was once from what lives now and may yet be.

So great is the shock, the attendant illusions: what can a body do without a human enemy beyond the mirror?

Here’s the beginning of a story: someone meets a stranger on the road. What follows is all that matters.

Take heart.

***

Inspired by the writings of Richard Rohr.