What found us in our play.
We were not sanitary children, somersaulting in soil, clods of mycelium matting our manes. Our hands, handling humus, were the opposite of pure. We marveled in the muck of it, colluding with colluvium. Saturated with smut, we loamed our elements, barnyard babes absolved by absorption in the dirt that knew us, holding tight.
To resist, when the cold blood runs, the pull of despair, and keep the body from flight even as retreat remains a perpetual dream. To hold here, ever weary of the ministrations of empire, of duty, of daily calamity, and rise to the work, as Aurelius put it, of a human being.
So much of this is learning, and so much of learning is holding the gaze on what is intolerable until some new sense can grow to accommodate what the old will not bear. Only to have to repeat the process with each new stretch of the living. James called it standing the universe.
I think of my grandmother in her garden, in the months and years after she buried a daughter, with eight others still living and a son, with their endless need amid innumerable dangers, somehow finding it in herself to care that the beetles not get to the leaves of her rose bushes, and how she would keep watch even in the morning when the sky was still blue-black, over them from the porch where she held her ground, even at the beginning of everything relentlessly over again.
Ice crystal showers and no exact matches between them, foot after foot, later to water, then vapor. I love the story of Wilson Alwyn Bentley, dubbed Snowflake Bentley, who caught them on camera, against black velvet before they melted. He did it so well that no one else bothered for most of the next century. Ice flowers, he called them.
I remember making igloos big enough for one child to crawl in, belly-flat, and crouching, once inside, in the center room, looking out like a mole, surrounded by the display of the most recent storm, kneeling. How I would wait, taking it in, cupping tiny piles to my mouth, sneaking bites of pure winter, the quickening of my chest as it melted through me. I would repeat this ritual over and again, trying to hold it, holding still in the igloo, knowing it wouldn’t last.
I wanted to fall to my knees, Bentley said, of his first witness to what he called those tiny miracles, through his lens. Instead, he kept at it. He wanted others to be able to see, too.
If a swerve of atoms begat cause ever after, why one moment and why the next? Any beginning can happen when two lines of action coincide, but tracing their independent paths only gets you so far. Cause may control speed and direction, but not collision of particles.
Take this body, evolving from protozoa by random mutation. Faith is one thing, but to abandon one’s determinism so completely ignites terror in many. To offer up is one thing, but how big is chance, really? The very word implies an endless plurality, and then what are the chances, on and on?
Too much to hold, that much is certain, and it is possible to turn a deliberate blind eye to what may not be understood. With vast unknowing extending in every direction, there may be some sense after all, in choosing a lens of unrelenting possibility.
Which is more common, sense or the mysteries around it?
Not everyone is sold on the idea that plants have any, which makes it difficult to explain how trees harmonize, not to mention what mushrooms are doing without it. It’s generally accepted as a feature of humans, hence so many references to basic sensibilities, to sensible and senseless behaviors, and comparisons on varying levels of sensitivities. There’s plenty to be studied on an anatomical level––communications between organs, organisms, within and across regions, species, and time––most of which serves to reinforce a foundational understanding, however paradoxical, about the layers of mystery we’re dealing with.
These are challenging regions to chart: the matter of spirit, realities of imagination, bodies of mind, to say nothing of the minds of bodies. Which of these oversees sense, and which is to blame when it goes missing? And when we refer to that which is presumed common, is it one of these, or that which evades such reduction? There is reason to believe that these questions will linger as we continue to explore unmapped spatial, spiritual, and imaginative terrains. No sooner do we begin to chart a territory when another opens.
I suppose if there were fewer unknowns it might be easier to treat senselessness, to say as with a child’s skinned knee, show me where it is, to clean and bandage the wound, and say gently, there we go. All better! Which raises two questions: can a creature adapted to mystery survive when plucked from its depths? And, when this perception becomes the coin of the realm, what is lost?
A tribute to original wonders.
Mine were a pair, and they were light: a couple of living spheres. I gave them names, told my mother. They had genders; I don’t know if I assigned these, or they came with. K. was amber and a boy. P., magenta, was a girl. They had the same shape, the same transparency.
They seemed older; they came from the same place. I never knew its name. I guess I was the third wheel, but they were accommodating on their visits, and when they left me I went on with other things, same as I had in their presence, but with less conversation.
Later, I thought maybe it was a mistake to tell my mother, because once I heard her telling someone else, as mothers do. She said their names and called them imaginary.
I knew the word, a dividing line between what could and would not be. I was four, and they never returned. I accepted the fault as my own. Later, I read that a human is the only creature that doesn’t know what it is, and by then the words had weight. I also read that a friend will return you to yourself, and I think that before these first friends were gone, I knew what I was.
What would I call the time that began with their leaving?
I would not name it. I knew it was mine. This was my first lesson in distance.
Protecting space for the still, small voice.
I want to protect this tiny plot of quiet I’ve been keeping, hoping that some seeds might take. The only problem is, it’s Monday. So, things are about to get real loud, real fast. Out there, anyway, which is where I have to be going. Of course, this is just what we do. We leave the quiet here with the cat and whatever’s defrosting on the counter, and we come back in the evening and try to enjoy.
But I don’t think that’s going to work. I need to know that when I get back, it’s still here, this shaded plot with these seeds still underground. I need to know that it hasn’t been torn up by coyote packs and air traffic, by the alarms and bells and bustlings of the day, these noises and movements which have a way of seeping in, even at a distance––along with the nagging to-dos, and mostly I want to know that it will be okay when I leave it here. I am not going to be able to take any extra time tending it over coffee. There will be no mid-morning feedings, no midday walks, no rocking meditations over midafternoon chores done at an easy pace. I am going to be out there––
There, where there’s no telling what’s waiting for me to leave this quiet alone for two minutes so it can ravage all my tending.
That is just not going to work. I can’t just leave this quiet here alone all day. It could choke on something it picks up off the floor or eat junk food all day or get a mind to start probing electrical outlets with forks. That won’t do. I am going to swaddle it carefully, wrap it in soft fabric, tight and close against my chest, and I am going to take it with me. If anyone asks, ‘What’s that?’ I’ll just smile and wink and say Shhhhhhhh, as I place a reassuring open palm against the reassuring press of this tiny solid body sleeping into my heartbeat.
Commonplace reminders on being.
Golden yarrow, fledgling web, congregations of clover refusing to quit. These dishes again, and the pot left soaking overnight. Pan, too. Basket of laundry, ever renewing, and this list. This ache in my temples to remind me what I took for granted just last week, like the fluttering chest and sore neck. Sleeping cat in the chair, beside a small collection of beach rocks, at least one of which is concrete, gathered how many years ago? By still-dimpled hands, with calm assurance reaching up, saying Here. Hawk on streetlight, coyote in yard, dog panting on rug, legs splayed forward and back, trail of pawprints between the door and where she is now, looking up. This trio of men at the park in boxing gloves and sweatpants and the youngest must be at least sixty-eight. They run in circles, punch pads and one another’s gloves, punch trees and the trees hold still. One among them is the coach and when he’s not cussing a blue streak he’s shouting, C’mon, that don’t matter! Whaddya doin?! No, look! Up, up, up!
Considering the movement in these moments.
You’ve been a cane-wielding cartoon old man, white beard down to your knees; a bloody tyrant, horned and masked, coming to ravage every beloved. Then, in the next scene, a healer: white linen, salves, and herbs, sometimes in the costume of a nurse of the first influenza, the first world war. The bard posed you with a scythe, the dark reaper poised, and had his lovers profess refusal to be your fool.
Then you’re a river. We build our settlements near you, travel over washing, reviving, bathing, and blessing one another by your body. Then, when the great storms come, you rinse us away––and yet, when we come to, there we are, still within and among your waters, carrying their currents in our cells. Someone suggests you are an illusion, maybe they meant elusive, but the idea adds much to our sense of the scope and reach of what we touch and then create, our tools one part memory and another part dream, and the last must be need. But for what? Is this nourishment you bring, or is it more like shelter against what we are not ready for––yet?
If you are long like a ribbon or a road, why can’t we know this about you in a moment? There’s no duration in the present, but we’ll measure rest as well as motion, our now both a beginning and an end, and in your holy geography we continue to meet, dancing in the second line with the saints, and we the once and future ancients, spinning the rhythms of your forever reception.