Minor Challenges

Interrogations at terminal velocity.

First, a threshold. Questions about the roots of things tend to call common sense from the jury box to the witness stand. Being may be what knowing apprehends, but answer: can you point to an essence outside knowing? Yes or no.

No further questions, Your Honor. 

Recess. Outside, cellophane angels drop into boxes. Here are the signs. We’ll attach them like armor, with the same duct tape used to silence those objecting to being objects of study. 

Bells again, wait. We were at a threshold, trying to begin––what, though? And were we calling it? I’ve lost––the engine’s speed has thrown me back again, and as for the thread I meant to follow, before the angels and the tape, where now?

Embodied Poetics

Years ago, amid a different terror, one concern was a sort of numbness. I remember what the poet said about attention to the senses. This is an act of resistance, he said. To survive the war and still do poetry, this is defiance of the death machine.

It can be done without a pen. You want to know what poetry in motion looks like? The poet asks.  A man walks to safety from an active bombardment zone. . . His two cows walk with him.

I am thinking of this as I am noticing how there comes a point of being saturated with images of shelled buildings, bodies in the street, and I observe the creep of a familiar numbness. I walk from the screen to put my nose in the fur of our cat, run fingertips across my daughter’s watercolor painting. Birds at sunset.  A mind can say live, but a body needs so many reminders, all of them in the senses: this is why, and this, and this.

When I return, it is to celebrate a mother who lost her father the day before the invasion, who drove with her husband under sirens and past tanks, making arrangements until it was time to leave with the children and the dogs. How they left the car to walk the last ten miles, how the walk was hard on the oldest dog, Pulya, who kept falling. How she carried Pulya, how he let himself be carried over her shoulder, with silent acceptance. How the husband stayed behind in a village with no water or food, using firewood to heat the home, tending for the old ones who can’t leave.

It is our love, this woman said, that gives me strength now.

***

Inspired by the wild love of those persisting in the face of horrific violence, and by poet Ilya Kaminsky’s recent observation about poetry in motion, italicized above. I first encountered the story of Alisa Teptiuk, who carried her dog to safety, in this article.

War Mothers

Open mouths, long lines.

History was the broken lines between mouths and the breasts they once held before they knew the word for danger. When was that? We couldn’t remember. It was a story vague as Genesis, but some of us carried it on the road. There was a line of thought we wanted to follow, because we knew it before we knew thoughts should get in lines and it was this: once it was good, and us with it, and then came everything after, and then a long dark and at the end of it were these mouths at our breasts.

Song

Across an ocean in wartime.

As tanks burn near his hometown, the young artist watches, preparing for the stage again. 

A sensation, he will sing Don Carlos soon, against the blinding light. 

The fatal hour has sounded

His grandmother is ill, his mother stays. We can hear the shelling, she told him, days before. 

A future full of tenderness. Our days spent beneath blue skies!

He texts her his prayer again, and it is Mama.

***

Inspired by an article I saw this morning in the New York Times, about Vladyslav Buialskyi performing at the Metropolitan Opera while he waits anxiously for updates about his family. The young artist is from Berdyansk, which was among the first towns besieged by the Russian invasion. Italicized lines above are from this English translation of Verdi’s Don Carlos

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.

Offerings

Between lives.

At the discovery of crows nesting nearby, some shoo them and some shrug, but one woman puts peanuts out. The crows love the peanuts and take to returning for more, sometimes cawing her awake on weekends. After some time, they begin to bring her gifts: here a marble, then a bottle cap, then an acorn. Crows are known to do this to show their appreciation. The woman keeps these gifts from the crows in a jar, shows them off to her friends, and now there is a baby bird in the nest. Look, she says. Now we’re a family.

***

Inspired by this article.

Holding

Our pieces.

The babies are at the window 

of the train, watching the smoke 

rise, and here’s another reminder 

that words are only shards of 

of our shattering selves, collected 

in each aftermath, in pockets, and

in the corners of silence, to be

glued into the mosaics we are 

always making with the bits, and

to give some shape to the next

cry when it comes, whenever

it comes, faces pressing this 

window of whatever that is at

the border of a full breath. 

On the Bridge

Portraits in courage.

Waiting, somebody asks, what will happen when the silence breaks? When the sirens come, so does this announcement: turn off the lights, gas, water. Take what you can. At the window of the train, a hundred Pietàs. Close up on camera, the most hunted among them is refusing his chance to escape. We are here, he says, both reminder and call. Here, Our weapon is truth. This is our land, our children, our country, he says, and we will defend. Civilians run to the wrecked tanks in twos and threes to pick up armor. The defenders are on the bridge. The attackers are coming soon. The living pass the dead, over the river. The bodies need collecting. The holes need repair. Certainty? A grandmother laughs. That’s only for the dead, she says. And then, as if remembering, she crosses herself, and says an inaudible prayer.

***

With love for all who are persecuted by greed, tyranny, and war, especially the people of Ukraine in this historic moment. A prayer for your safety, peace and continued courage. May every witness to your example take heart, and offer it to others in your name.

Life and Limb

Seeding the resistance.

With blasts on the horizon again, I want to know the woman who grew a forest around her to show the world its trees, offering a resistance. These ones are harder to kill, she said. She called them sacred and some jeered. 

We don’t know, she explained, what we destroy.

What’s in them, anyway? someone asked.

Time, she answered. Time.

***

Inspired by the work of Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger, as discussed in this article.