Between Here and Now

Turning a page.

There were resemblances, but none of us could say what they were, not even when we consulted the book of questions. It didn’t help that the answer key was on fire in a wastebasket.

Oh well, we said. There would be no imitations because there were no tricks to hold. The form was liquid and something in it breathed. Turning each page raised a question: what remains of the one before it?

There was no way to open the book without breaking, and there were none among us that were of a single piece, which was probably why we had so many songs for endings. We went to the desert to wait between the sky and sand with everything and nothing between us.

A Way of Being Free

A lesson in letting go.

Anyone who has ever studied the question with any seriousness, apart from their own self-interest, can tell you: it is attachment that will kill you, and once you let go of those who prey on knowing this, they will stop killing you until it is time to die.

Meanwhile, there is work to do. 

With practice, a body bent on living may eventually learn to avoid what makes them ill. The learning is hard and long, but when it comes it will be real and more lasting than any false promise could ever be, and suddenly you will know that you are finally repulsed by what you have been meaning not to care for.                     

That’s when you know the work of your atonement is done, she said, and you can be done with waiting in the name of humility, and you need not keep waiting for the next humiliation when the lesson takes.

Which is to say, I loved and lost, over and again. Who doesn’t, when a woman, bent on giving it all away? Still, there comes a time when it is clear as the first light of the sun: it is possible, in the end, to be giving and remain untaken, unfettered from the claims of those who would take all you have for their gain, especially when it is your whole life.

It is possible that the path to this understanding is the oldest story ever understood. Nevertheless, we keep needing to learn.

Here at last, live on stage! Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for in vain, the opening night of A Way of Being Free! And now, let me die by your satisfied mouths. I remove the breast while the director sleeps, and move on.

Curtain.

***

Inspired by certain projects I once believed in, and the learning that followed. And by Ben Okri.

Findings on The Road

Reunions of the lost and found.

There go the keys again, and next will be the rings. The cattle dog has run off with the chihuahua mix, and Chance is gone from the community park. Black with brown spots, wearing a tan hoodie.

Someone lost a leaf blower. Perhaps this will catch on. And always, so many cats. Perhaps they meet up somewhere. 

Meanwhile, someone found a box of tools on the side of Murphy Canyon Road, near the Arco and the Taco Bell. They want to give them back. They are hoping for a chance. Please call, they say.

Reading these ads never fails to satisfy a hunch that we are always losing parts of ourselves and finding odd bits of one another. The ads are specific, but the losses are diffuse, these invisible hopes our constant companions: return to me.

Who can help but want to audition now and then for the role of the one who returns, bearing gifts? To the weary disbelievers long after they’ve stopped looking, to announce, here! Take this! To share how they’ve been traveling the whole time, on a journey too bizarre to explain, with monsters no one’s ever seen, fanged whirlpools, and captivity on uncharted islands. To finally announce that what looked like death was only the winding course of another of the living, lost, and it can take so much longer than anyone would believe, to get back home.

How to Be Moved

Notes for a community chorus.

Like this, she said, hands open, singing. Gonna let it move me, she sang, and we followed, fingers splayed and pressing into the space of the circle we made with our attention. Now stir, she said, and we did, and it stirred us up.

Let it come, she sang. We laughed, cried. Feel this, she sang, and by then we couldn’t help ourselves because our centers had shifted to the space between us, and it was this that we pressed with our open hands. It was into this that we poured our voices, surrendered our attentions––

And we held it like that, stirring and singing together, here. Something shifted, and we went with it. 

Life, she sang, let this life.

Cups

Notes on these hands.

Eventually, talk turned to having and spending; to getting and maintaining, as it often did, and you could feel the way we became coiled springs ready to fire and everyone was excited and no one could sleep, it was so much.

Another time, there was nothing and no talk anymore of what could be got. Even our resistance to loss had gone out of us, and it made us porous. There was no more talk of keeping, except when it came to someone at the hearth and the babies fed.

A vessel, once emptied, can only carry what comes into it. A hand, outstretched toward another holds the world in its emptiness. The fist is what you get when the cold is too much for too long and the hand forgets itself. 

In warmth, it remembers its radius, star-like. Then cupped with another, it cradles what is delicate and brings it to the lips, an offering in earnest––or to another, saying here.

Altar

At the crossroads.

On the day of the dead, among this cloud of witnesses, someone here whispers, help me find it again, that joy I once had in looking. Instead of an answer, this space, and the hum of a motor nearby. 

We love the old trees of our myths for the spaces they hold inside themselves, but also for the way they know to keep it around them, this cushion of shade made soft by the absence of another tree.

In the eruption of any given birth, a core could easily splinter, and yet here we are, faces dappled by the light and noise of becoming, learning to make room for what would breathe.

Interested Party

Notes on the hero artist.

We who knew him called him friend, and we did this with relief, in celebration. Look, we were saying, there are still some who make their own rules. It is still possible to live a dream.

No, he would say, it is not possible. Only necessary. As he saw it, this was the point.

Why would he spend so long, some wondered, in certain conversations? We could not pull him away, and all he had to say for himself was, it was all so interesting.

***

Adapted from comments made by Betsy Sussler in celebration of the life of Michael Goldberg, appearing in BOMB’s Summer 2008 feature, In Memoriam: Michael Goldberg.

Reunion

By the weeping wall.

Near the wall of weeping stones there are reminders. So much happens beyond the light. One day, someone decides that the wall deserves more of our attention, and we gather nearby. In the process, we leave parts of our lives in wrong places. 

–––A full basket of laundry, for example, in the middle of the hallway in the courthouse; a bucket of dishes in the fountain of the business park. Someone thinks, why not? and we get to washing them and now all we need is food. Someone calls their cousins to bring the grill. It is suggested that here is not the place for that, and the suggestion is collectively ignored. Unbuttoning his shirt, a guard offers tables. They’re inside, he tells us. Groups bring them out. 

We cover them with cloth, candles, decorative plates, bottles of liquid, prayer cards, poems. Now that we have altars, the musicians begin. Once we have music, others arrive. Now we are a large circle by the weeping wall.  A naked child runs laughing to the nearby ducks, outstretched hands and fingers splayed. An official story has ruptured before its conclusion and it falls in the center of our circle, bleeding song.

Bird in Space

With Constantin Brancusi.

Those who tried to know you called you an escape artist, but your sculptures embodied pure presence. What presence, though? Something just beyond.

Here is prayer. Here is torment. Here is the gate of the kiss. Here the sleeping child, beginning of the world. Here the torso of a young man, boundary maker. Here is the eye. Enter.

You worked the substance of your bronze, polishing an intention. Let there be light. All my life, you said, I have sought only the essence of flight. You positioned your bird to catch the sun. 

Some thought it was a tongue of flame, the point where fire becomes spirit. You said only that your task was to unite all forms.

When asked what moves you, you said, love. In this, you saw a light stronger than sun. Being loved matters little, you said. The purpose of a life is to give and give it continually, with all the strength of being.

Until? Until you are beyond this state of being. Until you are something else.

Like a bird? Someone asked. And another, like light? You replied only, like any One that contains all forms.

***

Inspired by the life and work of Constantin Brancusi. I spent time this morning with this article by Sidney Geist in Notes in the History of Art: Brancusi’s Bird in Space: A Psychological Reading (Spring 1984). 

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.