Waters

In the intertidal zone.

After time and weather have eroded a vision to sand, its attendant body may be found standing with wet feet in the remains, facing the invisible tide. There is substance here, too, but no name. We pour our loaded attempts to define it into the sea and she absorbs them, one after another metaphor, including this one now, until it becomes possible to say that the one with their feet at the edge of a lapping wave is actually long gone, adrift––waving, or not, and we hold cupped hands above our eyes, saying back and forth, Look, look out there, squinting.

The Magic of it All

Hanging on.

The cliff’s edge flays the skyline and Gaia spills toward the shore where the lilted heads of the waiting drop like buds. Nothing happens but the holding in a place like this, for what. One of the cliff bodies calls and the sea roars back dear life, crashing in.

***

The title of this post comes from Clare Rojas’s ongoing show now in LA.  Her painting, I’ll always Have this Little Movie in My Head inspired these lines.

Dust in the Wind

Ecodrama with hero.

It’s a long road from dust to dust, and our restless hero, so often distracted by the next extraction, so quickly forgets. Besides, it’s not extraction, he would say, but acceptance of what is freely given––to those with the knowhow to harvest. And what fun, what wonder, what delight!  And he’s not forgetting, not really, when there was nothing to remember in the first place, nothing he saw or knew beyond his shadow, how dramatically it would drape across the hills as the sun moved west, as if to affirm the fated nature of his progress, manifesting a destiny of unquestioned portent. 

How often destruction looks like nothing more than the repetition of what is easy and familiar, especially with a hero onstage. How often the bodies long buried, though silent in their active vigil, are missed, such that if anyone were to ask about the presence of a place, an answer, if there were one, might be simply, nothing.

Not until it is dust again, or desert, will the dramatic music cue his memory back to what he always knew, himself at the center of so many adventures––and then to take his place in the most dramatic lighting, on the craggiest-looking rock it is still possible to sit on comfortably, elbows on knees and head in hands, to emit the hero’s cry, ragged with disbelief at such sudden and terrible misfortune.

Sounding Love

Loud and fabulous.

You invited the children to make nametags with your childhood art teacher. You gathered seven thousand and assembled them to read, love thy neighbor.

You responded to requests that had been conditioned out of us when we were younger than these children. Such as, let me wear more sequins, doilies––dolls, too! Such as, why can’t my Tuesday skin be a pelt of dyed furs? Such as, I want to put that gramophone on my head! And tomorrow, may I wear only living birds.

Let the wild things out, you implored, let’s have a rumpus! Then, you dressed your dancers with the care and intention of the samurai preparing for battle.

When you called us together, I thought I loved my neighbor well enough, but my gestures were anemic. I only knew this when you dressed me in a costume of inflatable lawn ornaments, and my neighbor in a rainbow of Fraggle Rock fur, and invited us to dance. 

You amplified the drums and brought others in, and we threw our arms wider in our spinning, to compensate for the weight and momentum of our fabulous suits.

Love louder, you sing, louder now––all in!

***

Inspired by the purpose-driven work of Chicago-based artist Nick Cave, who is best known for his soundsuits.

The Practice

A dying art.

To whom it may concern.

A cover letter.

I know you haven’t listed this skill under “mandatory,” but I want you to know that I am excellent at dying.

Sure, we all will be one day, say the jaded. Agreed, but not everyone practices.  

It’s much more in vogue to practice the opposite–– building, amassing: wealth, armor, safety nets. You get the sense, looking at some photo collections––or rather, at how intricately they are framed––that life is a sort of museum you build against death. I get the museum idea, but I prefer a collaborative approach, where Death and I are partners.

Okay, not exactly partners. Death is the director, curator, and chair of all departments. I make copies. Still, in my last formal review, Death applauded my knack for being “pretty good” and “sometimes accurate” as well as having “a clever knack for misinterpretation.” 

Beaming, I say, “I’ve been practicing!” At the sight of my lips moving, Death promptly exits the room, leaving me to my own devices again––which, as I’ve said, involve practicing. 

You read stories? Once upon a time, as the saying goes, I picked up a pen. “Mightier than the sword!” I announced, imagining myself the noble knight. The costume was terrific. Then I read the job description.

“Dragon slayer?!” Oh, no.

This was one of my first misinterpretations. Sure, I found the dragon, but then I took him home with me, foul breath and all. I understand the logic of basements now––or, as the armory-builders love to call them, “wine cellars”–– but, as you might imagine, I don’t have one. When I started this quest, I didn’t even have a home. Still don’t, but I did what I could with these stones. 

At first there was only a tarp above us to keep out the rain, but gradually we made an A-shaped roof. I meant to find branches, but these were scarce, so I had to use PVC pipe and old tent poles, and let me tell you, I do not relish any journey to the hardware store. My main issue with these places is the abundance of people who seem to know precisely what they are doing. Even with my guard up to a level of maximum defense, I must be giving off a look to invite one after another liege to ask me what I am looking for. When I manage some answer, they will invariably tell me what I really need. 

Of course, I don’t mention the dragon. I just say something like “shed” or “addition” so as not to alarm anybody. I have pretty much accepted that I won’t be getting the security deposit back after this project is done. Point being, every time someone explains to me what I really ought to be doing, I die a little. 

But here’s where the practice comes in! I’m right back to business, back to the dragon lair, where I die a little more every time he breathes, because I have no idea what sort of oral hygiene protocol goes with the proper care and feeding of dragons. The cat, who has made off no shortage of lizard tails, doesn’t know what to make of him, and the feeling seems mutual. They keep what distance can be kept in our small space. It isn’t much.

The cat comes and goes whenever she feels like it, so here I am with this fabled beast, and he’s eaten all my pens. I am writing this in invisible ink. The only thing to do when I get to the end of one of these pages is––what do you think?

Turn, turn, turn. And each time I do, it’s blank. Tell me: how is a knight to meet this challenge except by dying again? Then when I finish the back of the page, it’s rip and toss, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about the feeding of dragons is that they are very picky and won’t settle for anything but your last accomplishment, however meager it may seem. He lifts his head, gobbles it up, and goes back to sleep, for a little while. 

I’d love to give you references but given the dragon’s flair for consuming whatever I amass, these may be better procured on a word-of-mouth basis.

In the event that an interview is forthcoming, please disclose your policy regarding emotional support animals. Any limitations when it comes to size? You don’t get this good at dying without a lot of support.  

Abracadabra

That was something.

How rarely anyone says, Now watch it disappear outside the performance of magic, and yet. This flame, once so bright, now gone. Where did you last see it? We can wave a hand, but can we name it? Right here, sure, but it wasn’t exactly touching the fuel. Neither was it not touching.

Maybe this is why we speak of the states we are or aren’t in, as if this being were one of these, firm and four cornered for collecting projections, as if they were shells on sand.

Clunk. In goes another. But what is the sound of disappearance?

In Our Absences

Fractal fragments.

True, you can drift on a euphoria of loss.

Hello, memory.

Say goodbye by sampling tracks of former selves and gather the once-sacred objects, stale talismans now, to us.

Realities may come and go like weather systems. How much harder to lose a fantasy.

Here is a presence so full of absences. What now?

Hesitate, mourn.

The pieces are withdrawing now, withdrawn.

But they leave these ghost traces everywhere, for breathing in.

When you exhale, there they will be again, blended with bits of you.

Stay, friend. Pull up a chair, a stool, an instrument. We can sing about the endless disappearing.

Stones

Questions of architecture.

Millions of tons of stone to house the faithful.

For some, this was enough of a reason to join.

Over three centuries of construction, here’s enough stone to make a mountain range.

Each could contain an entire town, plus pilgrims.

There was much to be purchased at church, from precious stones to hens.

You don’t complete construction unless the money flows, and most didn’t.

The purchase of pardons was lucrative, but only if the townspeople had purchased the right to grant indulgences. 

Where to find materials? You can start with the bodies of ancient towns.

The builders are cloaked in an aura of mystery, each part magician, part alchemist.

The poet, considering, asks, what is an architect?

One who makes plans.

Which raises the question, which ones go missing and when does this matter?

Which has more secrets––alchemy, or chemistry? 

Neither approaches the culinary arts. Consider the kitchen secrets of these builders.

How one stone differs from another, which mortar to make where. And when, and why.

Perhaps the builders had a secret code, perhaps they followed the intuitive logic of honeycombs.

See a Holy Land in any direction, each an adventure. Choose.

The poet considers, how can the sculptor of an angel’s smile use the same hand to shape cannonballs?

Some questions remain even after the plans are long gone.

***

Inspired while reading Zbigniew Herbert’s essay, “A Stone from the Cathedral” from Barbarian in the Garden(trans. Michael March). The above uses ideas and phrases from Herbert’s essay with no claim of translating original intent.

Last Landscape

A choreography of separation and rebirth.

In exile, a body becomes the means for making truth, denied.

The artist’s body a surrogate, the absent and the dead shine through.

In this container of memory, the present is only fleeting:

bird, river, house. Drip, wind, birdsong.

Gather now, impossible communion.

Human form becomes arid field, then a river

running. Witness, can you remember 

the homes of your lives

and your deaths?

The body is the song,

the message, 

the map,

the only home

and the last stranger on earth.

***

Inspired by Last Landscape, choreographed by Josef Nadj, with music by Vladimir Tarasov. 

Scaling the Hours

Experiments in measurement.

An experiment in time, the idea for breaking it at the hours. You can, if you are willing, do what most children won’t. You can carve them as one would with an animal at the harvest, follow the joints––or lumber, into pieces to be assembled again, one segment at a time, the collected tasks the bearings for the dizzy hand, some terms that a body less willing to invite the dizzy spins can hold. Only by these cuts can we arrive at the conclusion, so often remarked by the aging, about how short it is. A child knows that a while a moment may be short, a glide, a song––Again, again!     

    ––it may also be made of so much forever that it becomes impossible to tell a body’s beginning from its end.