Imagined Invitations

From the congregation of stones.

Against the disposable, away from the technofix, certain questions emerge. They are about relearning our being in the world. I heard these from a scientist poet, although she didn’t call herself this. Asked to describe her work, she said listening. She said delight. She called it the work of waiting.

For what, I wondered. She said, consider the reverence of the speechless stone. What would they ask of us, she wondered back, that would allow our admission into their holy communion, and how would we hear them? Perhaps by these skeletons, our marrow singing like well-tuned bowls. 

Nothing is single here, she said, and nothing goes one way. I want to wait with her, to learn the reverence of these silent-seeming stones, until their language hymns my bones.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases and images from Ursula K. Leguin’s Keynote address, “Deep in Admiration,” from Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, from the Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz, a gem curated by David Naimon in the beautiful ecosystem he’s created around his Between the Covers podcast.

More than an Elegy

New life in the ruins.

You can try not to believe the dizzy river or trembling mountain as a matter of pride, or maybe fealty to the fact of this ruin. This street where I work takes its name from a water body I’ve never seen. I’m afraid to ask. The mountains above the freeway, behind the strip mall by the Arco, seem often to sit in silent judgement, accepting the cell phone towers at their crowns like parents too tired to argue.  Here, in this concrete landscape of grey-beige buildings with garish trim and iron rails, where the center that once had shade trees now calls to mind a prison yard, I am so often in mourning that even the occasional peal of real laughter sounds like the fall of the last pane of glass in a war-ravaged former home, and all I can see are the abandoned tricycles tipped over in the soot of the wreck.

But yesterday morning, in the dingy shade of a narrow steel awning, above the concrete walk, against the industrial stucco, on top of a steel grey electrical box, there was a nest of baby birds my love had rescued when he saw it beginning to slip. I was afraid to touch them, he said, but–– we had learned, as children in the wake our parents’ wars, that even our hands could mean death to whatever still managed to hatch. The freeway roared behind us, and the leaf blowers in the parking lot, and we stood there, beholding. Soon we were a small circle of celebrants, calling Oh! and Oh, look! One shared how she had watched the slow build over time, afraid to believe her ears when she heard them finally, the day before.

The babies called back to us, lifting their fuzzy heads, opening new beaks wide, something that sounded like See us! See! See! –– as if to echo our nearly muted hopes, amplified to drown all other noise; as if to answer those questions we feared to ask, about the possibility of life, even now. Hi birds! I called back, open palm over heart.  Hi! Hi! Look at you, I repeated, again and again, gaping, a fool helpless in witness.

Explain This

Investigating a given scene.

Why fingerprints?

Contemporary conditioning shouts, Identity! and they are pressed like badges, considered essential means of outlining, separating one body from the next. As in, mine and mine alone.

And what for?

The first purpose was holding, and the next was touch. These are the grooves that allow a body to feel in stereo. Following certain lines of perception, one can easily lose the sense of having an end.

Then what?

If these lines begat questions, perhaps they also prompted language, to answer with a beginning, once upon a time. We needed a past to explain ourselves, and some shelter from this wild so readily felt when we stretched our hands over any given scene. One story begat the next, but certain questions were never settled, such as: was the wild coming from or into these fingertips? Either answer begs a question–––

?

–––wait, I’ve strayed again. I only meant to wonder over the discovery that koala prints, being easily mistaken for those of humans, will contaminate a crime scene, which raises certain questions I can’t go into now and for which I lack the language to decipher, about what stories these creatures have had to invent to explain this everywhere, here.

***

Inspired by an overheard discussion about koala fingerprints, with details elaborated in an article I found when I got home. 

Minding the Gaps

A shadow land winks.

Even as the tutued dancer balances on a tightrope of sidewalk cracks, minding the squirrel’s tail, a careworn mutt holds up his end of the line in unfashionable duty, watching out. Elsewhere, a grade-school gremlin sneaks a bite of manhole cover between meals. Later, a mouse in PJs reads Proust in the lost light of a terracotta pot, and from the oldest brick wall in town, the youngest new dragon peeks from a weep hole by the light of a small flame at the end of her tail. It becomes clear that a penguin of unknown origin has led a young hedgehog through the end of the garden hose, into the South entrance of the tot lot on Broadway, and there’s no putting them back now. In related news, another pig is flying, on wings transplanted from the rescued organs of books. 

***

Inspired by this article in My Modern Met: Street Artist Turns Entire City Into His Personal Canvas With Whimsical Chalk Drawings which features the work of David Zinn in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Speaking of Which

Question mark.

The word Mystery is just as fraught as Nature and harder for me to resist. I’ve never been able to point to Nature, but with Mystery, at least, I can gesture jazz hands in the direction of the space over or around a moment, object, person, collection––to highlight the apparent lack of concrete explanation for its impact. Still, this raises certain questions about various assumptions I’ve been making about the readily available explanations of some other phenomena.

Something with Feathers

Smiles from the threshold.

After the body, winking branches point to cloud faces and birdsong heralds their parade. Here is a frame for the living, and in it, more seeds than there are numbers.

Far from immaterial, this breathes syllables of flesh and leaf, spore and wing; limbs and their memory, and without these containers it would be everything all at once like water to a fish, synonymous with life’s self, but we are creatures bent on naming. 

We make nests of words to offer as a frame for warming the babies, so that when the known perimeter breaks­­––by degrees and then completely, they might recognize in our heat, the beginning of something, and stay.

Between Vagrants

Appeal to the strange bird.

It has been a long journey, and you are far from home. People are talking. They call you lost, straggler, waif; accidental. Wonder.

Not to be contained by any ordinary mob, by what sensitive tentacles did you come, reading, as some say, the whole vault of heaven? What do you see, and why are you here?

Sometimes I think I have wandered so far that I forget my native tongue.

Stranger, please.

Speak.

***

Inspired by Marion Renault’s article in today’s New York Times: “These Birds Aren’t Lost. They’re Adapting.”

Look at Us

Albums in space.

We started with the basics––abstractions, really: circle, star maps, a few terms. Then the images of planets, as if to open conversation. Have you seen this, too?

Look at our moon, we are so proud. See our double helix, watch our cells divide! Behold our anatomical diagrams. Here is conception, fetal development, birth. Nursing mother, father with child; now a family. Consider continental drift, oceans, desert, shore, dunes; consider forest, leaf, mushroom, sequoia, snowflake. Insect, vertebrate, seashell. Dolphin, school of fish, tree toad, eagle, crocodile.

Yes, some notable omissions: war, poverty, disease. Idea being, best foot forward. Also omitted: visual art. Whatever would we choose, and how would we explain ourselves to our critics? It’s like that with art.

Animals at a waterhole, hunters in the bush. Craftsmen, dancers, pipe smokers. Mountain climbers, Olympic sprinters, schoolrooms, children at a globe. Harvests: cotton, grapes, fish nets, supermarkets. Shared meals, construction. Architecture, cityscapes, factory interiors. Trains, planes, radio telescopes.

Here is a page from a book. One of our astronauts: how like the floating fetus with its cord!  Now a shuttle launch, now a string quartet. We convert these images to sound, place them on a record.

Hello, can you hear us? Are you there? Do you understand?

Have you seen anything like this before? 

How about since?

What now?

***

Inspiration: Jon Lomberg’s “Pictures of Earth,” in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, by Carl Sagan, Ed.Drake, Ann Druyan, Timothy Ferris, Jon Lomberg, and Linda Salzman Sagan.

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.

Under Scrutiny

When chimera feathers fall.

Guards at the gate confiscating dreams demand our reasons for wrapping them to chests. Why this one? And this? But messengers, like so many winged creatures, are stunted in captivity, and we watched the feathers fall. With those forevers beyond language, how much of our time? Now muted by motion and moved, the assembly of permanent particles dispersed again.