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. 

Curious Sends Memo to Dead Artist of Living Work

You pessimistic-fantastical visionary of hopes and fears! Jerome of the forest, you left no letters or diaries: what now?

TO:           Hieronymous Bosch

FROM:           Curious 

CC:           Anyone else who might be wondering

DATE:           Now

SUBJECT:         That Garden You Painted

        also:  The way your work is frequently invoked 

                        as an experiential reference point. 

                        As in, This year is feeling very Hieronymous Bosch.  

                        Your name as an adjective–– as with Kafka, or Dali.

                  How one might want to inquire as to your thoughts.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, oil on oak panels, 205.5 cm × 384.9 cm (81 in × 152 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid

You: pessimistic-fantastical visionary of hopes and fears,
Jerome of the forest, you left no letters or diaries: what now?

We look on, knowing nothing, about what you “probably meant.” And yet:
You likely lived six decades or more in the house your grandfather built.

You watched, at thirteen, the burning fire of four-thousand homes in your town. You didn’t always favor Flemish style; the transparent glaze concealed.

You wanted revelation, went impasto; rough, to point to your hand.
As if to reject the presumption that it was God painting the forms.

You even signed some; most were lost. The God of your garden was youthful.
How big the fruit! What a menagerie, waiting to explode back home.

It welcomes a memory, of taking great care with a painting of marker on white.
I filled the page with detail; this was first grade, we were asked to draw the garden
I could not wait to be seen, for I knew. What a marvel. I could not wait,
            to share in its delight!
Butterflies cocooned in my center of knowing; I would explode out, soon.

I filled the page with detail in first grade; we drew the garden.
Nobody asked me for a unicorn; I knew it was perfect like I knew drawing breath
Butterflies cocooned in the center, like promises, I would reveal myself soon. 
Teacher made the rounds and paused at my desk; I drew in breath, feeling her moved.

Nobody asked me for a unicorn. There were none in the garden, she told me.
Those are pagan, she said. This was confusion. I thought garden was everything good, and unicorns the best of all time.

She was moved to remind me that everything I ever wanted was exactly the reason for the fall. I was a mute, infant Eve, holding my half-eaten fruit. It soured quickly. I did not draw for her again.

Dear Jerome, your work here raises questions about ambiguity.
Others see total alignment with orthodoxies of your time. Still,
isn’t it ironic, at least somewhat, how much heaven in your hell?

Heavens from earth, the third day, enter this paradise lost. Come in, now!
Rabbits dance behind Eve, suggestive of mating; cautionary tale?
Or just good loving? And what about the dragon tree: eternal life?

Here giraffe, here elephant, here a lion eating prey. Pray, what’s that?!
The cat has the lizard! And who is that cloaked figure reading, right there?
Is that a duck, behind a fish? Without shame? Only curious now.

Hey teens, don’t eat cherries with great lords; they’ll throw the pits in your face. Truth! Women carry fruit on heads; acrobats ride camels and unicorns.
Ladies strut with peacock pluck. Dance, dance, dance! Who waits for their entrance, here?

See winged fish, strawberry! Come inside this shell, land on constant youth!
No child or aged person in sight; they fly in tandem on eagle lions. 

They fly trees of life. See bird of death perched on branches. The gallant knight
wears a dolphin tail, scratching the back of his head; as above, so below.

Then comes damnation, or does it? The dark and cold are over the top, 
Waters frozen, fire waits: a bestiary for feasting on bodies.

City’s burning, river’s blood; crucified on instruments, the choir sings. 
Rotting trunks for tree-man’s arms, his body a broken shell; his gut pierced.

Beasts have at it; wolves eat the last knight; the dragon has run out again.
But Jerome, does it get annoying; everyone speculating about what you

meant; does it get old, everyone asking about the rules of the game,
and all the fine print, forgetting that the point was to play?

Deep Sky Observing

“We don’t live in a general-purpose universe.”

So you own a star chart. 
There is much more.

What’s wrong?
Not seeing anything.
Try averted vision.

What books? What size? 
How far? How much? 
When? 
How far?
Are we there?

How many inches?
Just wait. I have rid myself 
of rarely used accessories 
in my garage.

For example?
I found out 
that I did not want 
to be a mathematician.

What is the best way?
Look at your maps. Find 
a dark country road. In
hunting season, be careful!

Traveling alone?
You may have to walk. 
Worth the effort, 
for dark skies.

Cloud cover?
Pay attention. 
Conditions repeat 
over time.

How do I––?
Look. Use eyes and 
mind: a technique 
for seeing. Take a break. 
Nap. Wash the mirror 
until the solution 
drains away.

How about something 
–for general purposes?
No.

Why not?
We don’t live 
in a general-purpose universe.

Brand new equipment!
Try it out.

Going all the way!
The new bracket does not fit.
The drive gear needs more lubricant.

Wasting precious dark sky time?
Patience. Try out that new mount 
before you leave. 
Be prepared.

Inspiration (and found words/ phrases) from the opening three chapters of:
Coe, Steven R. Deep Sky Observing: The Astronomical Tourist. Springer, 2000.

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.

Lost and Found

What if we walked around like we do in these ads, wearing our missing on our chests, like billboards for our losses?

Eastern box turtle in Prince George’s County, Md. by Chesapeake Bay Program on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Generic License

Once I lost my iPhone my wallet, my keys. This on multiple occasions, several each.
Once I found a box turtle! It was in the middle of the street, by the water tower.

Then I lost my wedding ring, my bike, my surfboard.
But listen! Hear this: single mom needs help, getting a car for cheap. Nothing fancy! Please let me know! Thank you.

Missing animal pet? Lost cats, Siamese and tabby, both fixed, please return, no questions asked, I beg you.
I’d lost you anyway, listening to vintage sad songs, seventy to be exact.

Lost parakeet near Sea World, but he could be anywhere. He is friendly, but shy. Lost briefcase, too.
What if we walked around like we do in these ads, wearing our missing on our chests, like billboards for our losses?

Lost childhood friends. I disappeared for a decade, lost all contacts. Do you remember the playground on Euclid with the green monkey bars, near the school? 
I kept your scent on me as long as I could make it last.

You would know when you met me, that I am also missing childhood friends and lost cats, at at least a dozen sets of keys, not to mention those years when who knows what we were thinking, live and learn, not to mention that season when someone left the cage door open overnight and self-respect got out, and I can’t remember why; not to mention, have you seen these memories? Not to mention, have you ever wondered if they really happened? 

Not to mention the way that–––
–––that thing that
–––I meant to tell you
–––was more real than anything I have ever witnessed
–––and there I go, losing the words again.

I lost that one paper I was supposed to deal with. I thought I put it in the special pile with the other Very Important Documents, but it’s not there, and all that is in the pile are a bunch of receipts for things I don’t even own anymore.
And where did the time go? 

Don’t even start.
Have you seen my mojo?

Girl, it’s right there, check it out. Now turn!
[Turn, turn, sashay, turn]

I see you! That’s it, right there. There you are!



* This is why I love craigslist, for the poetry of “Lost and Found” and “Missed Connections
.” Others in this series:

Live at the Apocalypse!

Let’s go! someone said, meaning to the apocalypse. I thought it was coming to us.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Let’s go! someone said, meaning to the apocalypse.
I thought it was coming to us.

Sure, but let’s meet it.
What do we bring?

Whatever you want. Everything! But you may have to check it at the door.
Will there be snacks?

No, just a single unrestricted feast.
Dress code?

The less, the better.
What else?

Bring every ending, every lilting note of your unuttered cry––
What about the pets?

Well, obviously the dog comes with.
And the cat?

You know cats. I suggested this morning and she just gave me a look.
Like, “Again with this apocalypse?”

I think she’s probably done a few already.
What about the sleeping arrangements?

Have you been listening? Who’s sleeping?
Will there be singing?

At first, only silence, and then, there will only be singing.

Earthling Applies for Creator Job: A Dramatic Thought Experiment

The hours may vary, as with pay. But the benefits are priceless, and you get to keep giving them away for life.

In the following scene, the boldface words are those spoken by the character “BOSSMAN.”

Hello, world! Here I am! I am nobody! 
Here’s my CV: Creator among fellow creature-creators. 

What? You want me to tell you my greatest weakness? I’m not falling for that one, but I can tell you this: sometimes a body intent on making something is susceptible to debilitating illnesses of spirit. Symptoms can range from low-level listlessness to acute despair.

Has this condition been diagnosed?
Sure, in ways that are generally and specifically wrong. Let’s examine why. In all likelihood, most of us have been afflicted. 

We don’t need to do that.
For many, the symptoms are those we battle daily in various ways, most of which would sound incredibly strange to someone bent on treating the affliction as an individual illness. What are these courses of treatment? They might include staring for a number of silent minutes at the sky, or over the steering wheel in traffic; looking at images of the Hubble Space telescope, or those really close up nature photos where the anthers of a strawberry flower appear as the surface of a hypothetical exoplanet. Some of us have a  fondness for searching up newly discovered species––like the giant Siphonophore Apolemia, discovered in 2020, a 150-foot organism, possibly ancient, which looks like a spiral of silly string floating in the deep––collecting the kinds of facts often called “trivial,” such as how a human heart will sync with the beat of music, and if the blood vessels of the average adult human body were unwound and strung together like a rope, it would wrap around the earth two and a half times, when it might seem to any nonhuman, so-called “objective” observer, that surely once would have been enough. 

Precisely. Anyway, ––
––Anyway, if you look long enough, you might come across this tidbit: how, everything you have two of, you only need one to live, and often (as with limbs, eyes, ears, lips, breasts, testicles) a body can get by without having any of certain common parts. 

That sounds like a wasteful model.
Apparently, we’re made with all these extra bits of ourselves built in. If one fails, the other is ready to support: circulating, filtering, oxygenating, detoxifying, holding, seeing, hearing––and if one never fails, just because. It is customary to ask, “can you lend me a hand?” We say, “Lend me your ear” and “who has a kidney that will match?” We walk into buildings and announce that we are here to give up our blood. We are always making more, and someone is always needing it. 

But what is your bottom line?
Is this a trick question? Have you been looking at my bank account? While you’re at it, let me know if you find that money they tried to charge me for not having enough money.

Well, I––
Anyway, I am clearly unequipped to offer discourse on bottom lines, but I can tell you this. Do you know what else we say? We say: “Can you keep an eye on my child?” My child, my life! In your eye, where I will hold yours when the time comes. We bow our thank yous at the ever-astonishing kindnesses of others. The unexpectedness of what we’ve been taught to disbelieve awes us back to ourselves with such power that it feels like remembering one of those vivid dreams that feels impossibly real.

Are you still talking? Please, just the numbers.   
Okay. Let me stop talking. Do you know any cheers? I do! It’s good for employee morale. Here goes: “One, two, three, four, I’m not measuring myself in code anymore!”

[Irritated cough, for emphasis. A common power move]
The machine would have us believe that we are incomplete cyborgs in beta-testing, whose value as life forms is to be determined by the scores of a consumer panel, as if consumer panels––or, for that matter, any component of the industrial engine––had ever shown any natural (hah!) capacity for recognizing the value of a life (be it of a creature, an area of land, an art form) except as capital for someone’s, as you say, “bottom line.”

Again, just the numbers, please. Do you even know what I mean when I say analytics?
Not really. But trust me, Mister, you can’t count that high. 

Are you still interviewing?
No, I just hired myself. 

[Bossman exits. Earthling sits in cushy chair, spins and bounces excessively. Earthling leans back and forth, back and forth. Takes off shoes, uncomfortable jacket, shirt. Stares through window making sounds that are not words. Eventually, earthling picks up pen, rifles through desk drawers looking for paper, gives up, walks to industrial-grade printer, fumbles with trays, and eventually retrieves a page. Resumes seat, picks up executive pen, writes] 

Dear Earthling,
    Congratulations, you are hired! We are delighted to offer you this job as creator! 
Start now.

Yours truly,
The planet

[Earthling sits back, smiles at page, leans back in chair, puts feet on desk, laughs, “Hah!” This lasts about a minute. Then earthling begins to look sick. There is no one to talk to.]

END SCENE

Let’s analyze this.What exactly is happening with this would-be creator? They have just hit the motherlode! The ultimate boon! 

But they don’t look too well. What is happening here to make this creature so ill?

Ah, it’s the symptoms again. The environmental hazards are getting to them.

The machine would have us believe that there is just barely enough of ourselves to go around: mainly because what is deemed a precious good, is what is rare, and what is abundant (in various forms, including whole populations of humans) is classified as disposable. Life, by nature, is abundant. Once labeled disposable, the algorithmic solution is: exterminate, bulldoze, destroy. The apparent uselessness of many species of earthling is something that the machine gets wrong every time. Still, earthling is breathing the air, and what is in the air gets in the body, in the lungs, and from here: into the blood, the brain, the spirit.

The antidote? Only the company of other life forms deemed useless, and a willingness to commit to protecting them.

What is useless? Plant life growing through concrete sidewalks, the colors of a sunset, the presence of the second of any of our essential parts; laughter, delight, the petting of cats, the slow sipping of hot coffee when a caffeine pill would do;  how dolphins play in waves and dogs bark wildly when they see most other living things. Art except when it’s being bought or sold. Diapered babies, blubbering and cooing, whose have to be carried from one place to the next; diapered adults, whose food must be taken to them, who are fluent in histories the machine would erase. Finger-painting, the colors of a butterfly. Why does a writer have to write a thousand pages to find the idea that the machine would reduce to two hundred and fifty words, why did Rothko create so many versions of “Untitled,” without even bothering to have his painting “look like” anything? 

[Earthling begins to revive. They may have blown the interview, but they really know how to knock it out of the park when it comes to landing the job.]

Because: we are not ideas. We are not projections or statistics. We are bodies, and we are abundantly so. The apparent uselessness (to the mechanical eye) of large portions of our individual and collective bodies, brains, preoccupations, delights, and creations––is indivisible from our nature as earth creatures. 

Any acknowledgement of this simple truth begs the question: how is anyone going to begin to protect any of what is so bluntly called “nature” or “the planet” unless we recognize how its fundamental substance aligns with our own?  

And what if: our fragility to slaughter is precisely in line with an abundance that the machine cannot comprehend? 

It is fiercely life-protecting to favor the wisdom of those who share like reckless fools, who understand what the machine can only deny, because it does not compute: how giving ourselves away is exactly what we were made to do.

The hours may be anything, and the pay is variable. The benefits are priceless, though: and you get to keep them for life, with an unlimited number of co-beneficiaries, for an unspecified and entirely unreasonable amount of time. 

[Earthling is no longer trying to write or speak. What they are doing is very irrational, but if any of their fellow creatures happen to enter the room right now, they will know what they are seeing. It is dance, and it has no value according to the machine’s algorithmic metrics. It is as priceless as the life beholding it, who cannot help but dance along.]