Big and Little: a Reunion

You announced, Play a game, and you returned me––back to what I’d learned how to renounce. 

BIG
I held you in my arms and breathed against the silence. Then, when you were speaking, you announced, Play a game, and you returned me––back to what I’d learned how to renounce. 

When you were speaking you announced, Tell me a riddle! and I held you high above me toward the stars. Here is how to croon what I am learning to announce, of wonder: here is Venus, now Orion; there a satellite, now Mars.

And everything we shared came out in singsong, and every note within it came out true. Teach me spaghetti by the moonlight, drink a spring song. Everything contained a season; it was you, in this loving cup, now brimming, lands the chorus of a soul; long bent on new receiving, long past dying in its hole. Would you wait and listen for the riddle I would tell, beyond the point of speaking past this silence of this well?

Where I have fallen will you find me, if I give you certain clues; will you listen if I play now, every verse of these late blues?

I’m finding now a riddle, and I’d sing it if I could; but I’m out of rhymes, so share here: once, man living, cut for wood.

What’s tall when young, short when old, and can die in a single breath?

This is the end of the time when we rhyme.  But wait!  Consider these words. Another puzzle goes like this. I kept it for you: Consider a fork in the road. 

A stranger in a strange land arrives at an intersection: East or West? One will take you to your destination, the other to hopeless despair. At the fork, two men. Each knows the way, but one always lies. What to do?


LITTLE
Remember how we used to play the guessing game?

Animal, vegetable, mineral: over time, like this: whenever the seahorse, during the age of the narwhal, from time to time, the tortoise––sooner or later, a ferret.

From time to time, a gem squash as long as an English cucumber. In the meantime, this heirloom tomato, and all of a sudden- Rutabaga!

At this instant, taste the snap-peas, until zucchini, okra, chives, until adamantine and agate, since granite, garnet, jacobsite.

Before, until now. Ever after, return. Again!

BIG
Back to the crossroads question, and the two men. Remember this: ask either, “What direction would the other say?”  Whatever you hear, do the opposite, and you will be on the right path.

Whatever you hear, take my hand, in this silence, where I’ve fallen, show me:  Laugh!


LITTLE
[laughing]

Again!

“Baby elephant” by Georg Sander on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license. 

Remembering, Borges, Flights

The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard.

Morning.
Morning!

The dreams are gone again. Memory is full of holes.
Mind the gap!

Do you know whose memory is the least contaminated?
A baby’s?

Maybe, but not what I was thinking. 
?

A patient with amnesia.
?

They can’t contaminate by remembering. It just comes.
And goes.

Right, a free flow. 
Did you hear about the artist with face blindness?

To lose one face is enough. Imagine losing them all.
She made interesting self-portraits. She did them in the dark, feeling her face, adding paint to canvas; feeling again. Art as an act of looking, free of the presumption of sight.

Do goldfish really have only eight seconds of it?
Memory?

Yes, or is this just a myth told to children who would otherwise be very sad about the creature in the bowl, in the plastic bag from the fair, doomed to this constant back and forth?
Borges called it a pile of broken mirrors. 

The fishbowl?
Memory.

He died on this day, in 1986.
That was the year I forgot how to fly in my dreams.

How?
The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard. My arms, because that’s all I had, no wings or feathers.

Yeah, but how did you forget?
Whoever knows, but that year my dreams or something started taking me too hard and fast, I could not remember until it was too late. 

Borges said there are no images at the end, only words.
Remember 1986?

There were bombs everywhere in the news. I didn’t see them up close, but I worried.
They were waiting under parked cars, in office buildings, churches, synagogues, planes.

It was my first Communion year. I remember waiting to be suffused in light. 
The Challenger exploded. I remember the plumes of flame and smoke on the screen. My second-grade teacher had wheeled the television into the classroom so we could see it live, the techno-miracle of space travel.

Chernobyl, too.
After that, radioactive deposits were found in every country in the northern hemisphere.

There was a human chain that year, five million links long from New York to Long Beach. 
As a reminder, right?

Yes, of hunger. Homelessness. Easily forgotten by the housed and fed.
They were flooding the streets.

This was Reagan’s America. It was popular to cite an epidemic of laziness, compounded by drugs, as the reason. 
Just say No, but the hands did something else.

Said yes?
No, they answered another question. A better one. The question of the body before you. 

Answer like an open hand.
Right. Like, “Here.”

Do you remember Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings?
He observed that there are dragons in every part of the world.

Yeah, he said we don’t know what they mean, only that they are always there.
What memories do they hold; what future projections? 

I love his face, Borges. How it would light up when he smiled.
He must have been something in person.

Like a baby. Or a person who has forgotten everything and sees only––
Light?

The play of light and shadow.
An uninterrupted flow.

I love watching babies before their vision develops.
Their faces, do you mean?

Yeah, how they light up and start laughing at something in the ceiling.
And you watch them, and you wonder what are they seeing?

And why can’t I?
We probably used to.

But I can’t remember.


“Dragon” by Aqva on flickr under an Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license.



*The idea of a patient with amnesia as having the least contaminated memory comes from Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, as described beautifully in Maria Popova’s Brainpickings article: “Ongoingness: Sarah Manguso on Time, Memory, Beginnings and Endings, and the True Measure of Aliveness.” 


* A story about artist known as Carlotta appears in the BBC News, and the documentary about her journey, “Lost in Face” appeared in a BBC News article by Vibeke Venema, “Prosopagnosia: The Artist in Search of Her Face,” published August 16, 2020. BBC World Service.

Before the Storm

Drunk on abundance, they weren’t ready to accept any limits. They had no practice. It was not as though there was a choice to be made, though later it would be framed as though there had been.

“Eclairs lointains” by jmbaud74 on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic License

Consider one beginning, how above the blue carpet of a grandmother’s living room, there had been a painting of a small boat in a storm, against a dark sky. 

Below this, on a stand, an oversized bible, the pages slightly gilded at the edges; what it meant to wonder, in this place, on a summer afternoon, back against the blue carpet, how it was that anything at all had started, how from this wonder a body might get up and walk to the book on display, turning to the beginning, and puzzling over the words, in awe of the poet’s certainty.

Only words and nothing else until a command came, and then it was Light,  and after that, the seas and the forests and the beasts and a man and after him, it is said, from a bone taken from the center of his breathing, a woman; consider learning, how she met him in the garden; consider wondering how they knew how to play, and imagining the horror of living ever after, dying to know it again, after they beheld in the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge the limits of what they could know. Drunk on abundance, they weren’t ready to accept any limits. They had no practice. It was not as though there was a choice to be made, though later it would be framed as though there had been. In the beginning, knowing nothing but abundance, how can anyone look away when the very source is given, to taste? 

They say she bit first. Of course, she would have been the one among the branches, gathering fruit. Later she would be painted as a sinner, but how could she be anything but a child in these original days? Here, someone whispers: serpent, man, or God––in the beginning, does it matter, or is this a moment when it is possible to imagine a single hope, constant as a pulse? How it whispers, like the rustle of leaves at the edge of a branch at late afternoon, “Stay.”

Epiphany: Live in Concert

A Moonwalk revelation, ending in an embrace, the wide white smile of The Godfather of Soul shining back.

There is a night, long after my bedtime in 1983, when the three kings take the stage. Soul is leading. For a moment, he is front and center, green jumpsuit and perfect hair, wanting company. The numbers dead from the Ethiopian drought have reached four million, and protestors are gathering at Greenham Common Air Force Base as Reagan’s army deploys missiles. It’s almost time to invade Grenada. It’s civil war in Zimbabwe, earthquake in New York, the birth of Mario Bros and Microsoft Word, some say the birth of the internet, and a new land speed record in the Black Rock Desert. I don’t understand what is happening.

The King of Soul calls on the rising King of Pop, younger and still darker than we knew him later, who leans in to be embraced by Mr. Dynamite, kissing his ear, his first words into the mic, I love you; I love you, then spin, shimmy, what is this? A Moonwalk revelation, ending in an embrace, the wide white smile of The Godfather of Soul shining back. It’s the Embassy Bombing in Beirut, the highest U.S. unemployment rate since 1941, the assassination of Aquino in the Philippines. Here comes Run DMC, Depeche Mode, Iron Maiden; the age of the international superstar.  Let’s dance, karma chameleon, I want to party like it’s 1999. It’s time to fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen; buckle up, it’s the law. 

“epiphany” by spinster cardigan on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Next comes the King of Funk; Prince, where are you? Pointer finger extends a royal summons to the back of the room, stage left. The Artist arrives straddling the waist of the white-bearded muscle man who bears him on his back, whose image calls to mind Hell’s Angels; up goes His Royal Badness in a futuristic jumpsuit, gold lame details, heels. This king on the guitar, a prolonged erotic moment. Oh no, it’s not a jumpsuit, now the top half is coming off, now it’s the shirtless High Priest of Pop making love to the Mic stand, to the audience, thrusting himself into the space between the music and their rising cheers, then falling like a spent lover into the crowd. They are filling the prisons, building new warehouses for storage of the fathers and brothers and sons. There are bullet holes in the ceilings. The new warehouses are stacked five stories high; they can’t build them fast enough. The vans arrive in a constant stream; the machine needs bodies. The bodies are the fathers and the brothers, the uncles and the sons. Where are they now? They are Away.

This is the year I enter school – line up! Bells, the bells, the stone buildings, the weight of this ominous word, terrorist, its point to point to some being not quite human, grounds for extermination, but now, we were told was the age when the wars were done; now, the adults said, was a time of hard-earned peace. Of progress, the dawn of a new age! News of another car bomb punctuated news of mass extinctions, and even with the bombs erupting everywhere, even with the mass extinctions, and the adults looked ill with symptoms of battle fatigue that no one was allowed to discuss. 

It is the year of the West Bank fainting epidemic, and epidemics of fainting elsewhere, especially at concerts; it was the heyday of new religion, and our stadiums became our new meccas; and Sally Ride is the first woman in Space, Ride, Sally, Ride! and Guion Bluford is the first black man in space, Say it Loud! Vanessa Williams the first black Miss America, and the King holiday is signed into law. The Zapatistas are rising; Thriller is released. 

I am too young to be at the concert; too young to even know the names of the kings who take the stage. I find the footage later, among the artifacts of the hyperspace that was being assembled around us. I pour through the artifacts, looking for clues in the aftermath; it’s the same question in any aftermath, isn’t it? What happened? And what was there before? And, was there any sign, before it hit, what was happening?

I can’t help it, the way I keep returning to the moment when the second of the kings takes the stage, the way he says I love you like he’s someone just arriving, and I love you like he’s someone already getting ready to leave. I can’t help but think that if I had seen him then, I would have been moved with recognition. Even then, before I knew anything about anything except the speed of the way it feels to spin with your arms out wild, knowing you’re about to fall flat when the spinning gets too much; that’s what we did then, holding hands until we released them, falling flat and breathless on our backs, laughing in terror at the still-spinning sky.

Blurred Visions

Self; not self. You learn to stop wondering about which is which like you learn to accept how it is customary to call the thing you have: one life. How strange, the way that this phrase is stressed, as if it’s a limit.

There’s a moment, and it goes so quickly that it’s easy to miss, when you think you know who you are. The reason, looking back, was that you were not thinking about it at all. You simply were there, doing what you did in the manner that you did things. For example, drinking from a garden hose in your underwear, or writing a five-act musical for Rocky, the elementary school janitor, on the occasion of his retirement. Or showing up on the blacktop before the bell rang for the start of a third-grade day, after any break longer than two weeks, wearing an accent you had acquired on some imaginary voyage to a distant land. Here a brogue, now a drawl, now something approximating the outback. 

“blur” by lee on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivs 2.0 Generic License

Around the age of blood, this changes, and it is no longer considered sufficient to simply make things up as you go; one must have acquired something distant, something not already possessed. You’re not sure what it is, but you understand that the time has come to go out looking and stop pretending that you know what you need. The point, it seems, is to listen. Others know exactly what you need, especially men, who have no shortage of ideas as to what you ought to do. It will be decades before you learn to categorize such professions of wise-seeming advice into the file of “Men explain things to me” (Thank you Rebecca Solnit, Sheila Heti). 

But it’s not just that. It’s in the way you look, like you’re practically begging the world to explain something to you. 

Sometimes you stop, staring, and think, “Here is something.” You think this because you are wondering and because whatever you are looking at is indeed something. It’s enough anyway, to remind you back in the direction of something that you almost thought you knew. But it isn’t that, not exactly. 

The nuns had a saying for missing things. “St Anthony, St. Anthony, come around,” they chanted, over the lost items. It gave the frantic seekers something to do while they looked.

Self; not self. You learn to stop wondering about which is which like you learn to accept how it is customary to call the thing you have: one life. How strange, the way that this phrase is stressed, as if it’s a limit.

One lives.