Soliciting Questions

Wise fools convene at the threshold.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Your local fools!

Not interested. We’re doing serious work here. 

On?

Existential matters. You wouldn’t get it. Bye, now.

But some problems have a way of lurking at the threshold. What better subject?

With enough construction within the discipline, anything can be explained. You really must depart now.

You mean from standard principles?

No, I mean from my porch. But yes, that too.

And yet, even the most careful practitioner rarely gets above theory.

Sure, but finding a given to begin with is harder than it seems.

Can you hold this?

Being, when it isn’t sticky, tends to be too slippery.

You could try putting your hand in a jar of honey. 

I know, then try to feel where hand ends and honey begins. Old hat.

Well, to the extent that being can be known, it won’t be with knowledge.

Maybe not, but you can use what you know to construct beings in sequence.

What do you know?

I really don’t have time––

Here’s a mirror! Wanna start with the eyes? Then you can get to all things seen and unseen, and the whole arrangement until you get to the point where you are asking why we’re here and not there, while––

Really, I don’t––

Awww, look at this cat! Hi, kitty! Oh, aren’t you gorgeous! Okay, yes, yes.

That’s my cat, Oliver.

Are you sure?

That’s enough.

Oliver is licking his teeth and turning away now. How do you read that, exactly?

I’ll ask him later. But now I really have to––

You know, you may be waiting a very long time for an answer.

Speaking of time, I can’t––

Maybe we ask questions like daubing at paint, to give us something to do––

––I have plenty to––

––with the eternities we can’t seem to keep from conjuring, even as our skins crack in recognition.

Of what?

Of the endless amusement we provide at our own expense!

You’re not leaving, are you?

Maybe later, but I’m really into petting this cat right now.

Well, do you want a chair?

Nope, just wanted to leave you this paintbrush. Later!

Sooner?

That’s it!

Waving

Seen at a distance, near the shore.

Not yet. Sea from sky

wrinkles grey. They

neared the wave,

paused, the sky

cleared bars of 

white flaming red.

Burning incandescence

became transparent,

rippling until the dark.

Now the light, one

bird, a pause. Chirp,

by the bedroom window,

this blind, blank melody.

***

Virginia Woolf died on this day in 1941. Her writing is celebrated for the layers evoked in her stream-of-consciousness narratives. Her work left a lasting impression on me, and I am eternally indebted to her for illuminating possibilities within language. The above is a found poem gleaned from the opening section of Woolf’s novel The Waves.

Listen, Jonah

From inside this whale.

Let me take it back, what I once said about the flesh, before I felt the teeth of this machine. Now I say, give it back, my breath, a firstborn placenta, let me bury it. Don’t touch, I say now, but the cameras are everywhere, groping.

Now an overhead voice like an airport announcement, what do you think you are doing? Anything unattended in the age of terror will be removed by airport security. What do you think you are? What does it mean, in at this point, to answer back? 

I’m keeping the body, take my voice. Watch the tent as it tears, this is the belly of the whale.

Kick, Jonah. Do you think this is time around us, and was it here before now?  Let tired vows disappear by this remaking while another womb confronts us, an old beginning.

Dark Matters

And other enigmas of being.

You can try to name it with an austere smile or sprinkle it over the garden; count the universe in years, a galaxy in stars, a recognized species in projected numbers to a beginning or end; you can wave self-proclaimed insights with the strength of an eye pressed hot against an iron will, claiming the inconstant sun like a trophy in a body’s feeble attempt to make itself into a direction. But then comes this spinning and the compass will not hold, and all the fragile parts of a theory of everything collapse into the gap between the last exhalation and the next breath.

Beholding

Possibility and limit.

At every encounter, a mutual question, what is this something? and revelations between presences, of possibility. Here fire, here ice, here the light, heat, cool, drip––to be named, maybe, but still not known, and it matters to return often to this place, to remember the limits of language, to avoid equating naming with holding what won’t be captured or even grasped. At best, I can behold, be beholden to––at best, I can be held in my unknowing.

Recorded Visions

Dreaming forward and back.

If memory is the first fiction, then so is the history of a group. As a group evolves, so will its collective chronicle of becoming, but the process is as fraught as any reconstruction. If history is a cathedral and facts are the stones, then it’s worth considering that all somebody can do before a complete building with a single stone is throw it or sit on it. If all that happens in any reframing effort is the collection of a pile of new stones, you may end up with a whole lot of broken glass and all of us outside. But if people are challenged to build with them, to create new architecture, new gathering places, new halls of worship and dreaming, transcendence and offering, then what? Unless someone is feeding the dreamers from the same table as the builders, planners, architects, masons, and those tasked with moving each stone, a cohesive vision won’t emerge. Imagination is no luxury, but a life skill, and as critical in times of flux as any other preparation: for famine, attack, natural disaster, invasion. No group who makes outcasts of its dreamers can endure.

***

I first explored Tamin Ansary’s insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral,” in an earlier post, “Cathedral.”

Underground Music Scene

Subterranean symphonies.

To listen through soil is to be reminded of the inadequacy of words for sound, the curious choral cacophony of those out-of-sight creatures so easily out of mind, the soundtracks of springtail, of mellifluent moles mirroring the melodies of mice amid mesh of mycelium; these reverberating roots a revelation, calling a body back to unknowing. This is what the birds are turning their heads to listen for, plainchant of these porous depths, resounding.

***

Inspired by Ute Eberle’s recent Knowable Magazine article about the emerging field of soil bioacoustics, which some prefer to call biotremology or ecoacoustics.

Seeding Awe

What ephemeral forms may expose.

Along the shores of a great lake, often without witness, a northern wind shapes and erases forms in ice and sand. There is a moment when they hold. To bear witness is to be reminded of the pairing of reverence and suddenness, of beauty unexpected because it is so rarely seen, and this because it just as quickly goes, swallowed by the same hand that lifted the veil. Is this a force of time and weather, or their temporary pause? ––as if to call into question all descriptors, all limits, to fit the beholder with a set of melting wings.

***

Inspired by the photography of Joshua Nowicki.

Probabilities

And other directional challenges.

If Dali’s thin silver spoon with its offering of arrested time can bend around a dark mass and still hold; if Magritte’s mountain can levitate and Chagall’s village can highlight the illusory nature of common words for direction: above, below, top, bottom––then there really are no end of possibilities for how a given story may move, fictions of today, tomorrow, and yesterday only rooted in the old habits, which are sometimes shorthand for myopia, and we could hardly help ourselves when it was still possible to paint time in a straight line and call it real. 

***

Inspired by “Weightless Forms, Gravitational Forces,” Ch. 23 of Leonard Shlain’s Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light.

Story Threads

A mycelium-inspired montage.

Be the hero, we say to one another, of your own life.  The logic encourages these rampant proliferating fantasies, each body the focal point of motion. It’s something else to assume a body like a riverbed. One logic trains heroes for noble departures from known worlds across manufactured thresholds, through theme park underworlds and back again, and in the retelling a people can learn to take as given idea of the world as something to travel through––in order to finish on top. It would be another choreography entirely if the crossing in question was over forbidden mountain ranges of the calcified remains that stagnate between the origin of music and the sound of a single voice, bereft of chorus, learning to hear again, a call across hemispheres of knowing, waiting to respond until fully immersed in the dirt, each limb stretching from self into selves into another body entirely, vast and webbed across acres of time, humming Here.