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.

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The pieces are withdrawing now, withdrawn.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.

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. 

First Flights

Tracing the texture of a dream.

Here is a book of time, someone told us, to translate a voice in the heart of the sky. It reminded us forward to the hour of the story inside the essence of the dream through which we flew to the beginning of the word on a current of makers.

Sighing creation, we ran, particles of ourselves in waves at the shore, piling sand into a world we could live in, and we admired the work of our hands until the tide took it back. 

We borrowed the insights of distant lightning to hold back the night, and with wet hands we peeled the dawn to eat it raw, dew dripping from our laughing chins.

From Ashes

We all fall. Together, we rise.

I’m not much for stories about myself, because they are just not as interesting to me as other observations. I come from people who prefer song and talk of the unseen world. We’re not into airing, as the saying goes, the dirty laundry

But here’s one. I left school on a stretcher this Tuesday. I’ve been a teacher for almost two decades, but this was my first time as an ER patient. The fainting thing is somewhat familiar, but it has only happened one other time on campus, and that was ten years ago, in a different time, and Nurse Nancy reluctantly let me walk away against her well-meaning protests, after I drank some juice and spent thirty minutes flat on the cot in her office. I am used to the black spots in my field of vision but still bristle at the embarrassment of being so publicly vulnerable. It happens from time to time since I was a child, sometimes after some upset, and sometimes not. This week’s event would have been in the category of “not.”

Except that spending time in prone reflection while being too dizzy to do anything else allows time to wish for better answers to some of the questions asked earlier. 

Like, when did this start?

Um, as far back as I can remember––but not often.

When did it start getting worse?

Oh, December, maybe? Could be 2016, hard to say. There was a lot going on.

I made appointments, eventually. I think maybe there’s a thing going on. . .with my heart? I wrote in the online field, feeling determined at the time––but later, foolish. Each time, as the date approached, I cancelled. Because Omicron, because there were no subs, because maybe it was just age. Because who did I know that wasn’t hurting? 

The young people I meet daily are refugees of war, survivors of generational poverty, internment camps, and institutional abuse––and they are brilliant, glorious, showing up daily with radiant displays of quiet courage. I learned yesterday morning that one these students, a recent arrival from Ukraine, has just made the cheer team. I want to tell you about the glow of her face when she shared this, but lack the words. I got the news after she finished writing about the time when she saved a tiny kitten from a tree. 

We are all this kitten sometimes, I think now. Near paralyzed with terror and in need of rescue.

I cannot think of anyone I see regularly who isn’t working daily against a state of near collapse. Okay, I can think of a few, but we are constitutionally so different that they are hardly valid comparison points. They would not have fainted when they learned about certain horrors of human history, past or present, and they are infinitely cooler than I will ever be. They would not be seen shaking, sweating, or crying in public. Then again, what do I know? I always think I’m alone until I fall apart after trying not to for an extended period of time. Each time I have publicly collapsed under some private grief, so many generous others have shared similar stories that the abundance of company often left me stunned with wide-eyed gratitude.

My people are practically made for liquefying, which might explain the low sodium levels and chronically low blood pressure. We cry with our whole bodies, nonstop. The Irish ancestors called it keening. The women would carry the laments in their bodies and pass them to the next generation. When they keened, they were like birds, like chimpanzees, like horses reared on hind legs, shrieking. They were forbidden to own horses of a certain value as they were forbidden to read, and the keening was known to incite such passions in the hearers that it was outlawed. To be clear, we laugh this way, too, and love. And celebrate the babies.

After my release, my siblings and I had a few laughs trading stories about who among us had passed out when and where and how dramatically, and who had emphatically halted the calling of an ambulance for lack of health insurance at critical moments. My daughter made me a bracelet to wear as a reminder: Mom, you gotta tell people sometimes. When this is happening. So, I am practicing. 

It’s so much, isn’t it? — being human now. I can barely keep up, except by knowing I am not alone in this overwhelm. The moments just before I am lying on the floor feel barely distinguishable from this year’s daily version of dizzying overwhelm and heart-crushing grief. 

Why bother sharing this, except for Mom, you gotta––? Except to note that sometimes all that is needed, to regain consciousness, is a moment of rest and oxygen? Except to underscore that sometimes I wish that instead of a moment of silence we might have a moment of wild shrieking, arm-waving, wing-flapping lament, drenching our clothes until we are all on the floor in solidarity with our dead, before we rise again, into something we’re not able to become until we stop what is happening right now. Except to honor the loving reassurance of those who came to my aid, who helped me when I could not see, and to remind myself and anyone who may need to hear this now, how during any given life, moments like this make all the difference.

Thank you for being this difference. It is truly a matter of life over death, love over hate and despair, and sight over the moment when everything goes dark all at once. 

Love and light, onward.

Nostalgia

Dreamscape in a fog.

Women in sweaters and long skirts walk through an uncultivated pasture in the fog, above a lake.  They retreat from the lens, toward something else. No one speaks.

Now comes a car on a nearby road. It takes a moment to stop. A woman gets out. The light reminds her of autumn. The man from the driver’s seat corrects her speech. I cried the first time I saw it, she says. He will not come.

I will wait for you, she says. She roams away like this often, in stubborn wonder. He follows, eventually. By the time he catches up, she will no longer be the woman from the car. By the time he catches her, she will be a woman who has been walking alone on a dirt path for some time.

***

Inspired by the work of Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky, and specifically his film, Nostalgia.

Time Out of Mind

A quilted retrospective.

After the sand of the hour had spilled from the mantle, I kept watch beside myself in low tide mirrors, the sea at my ankles returning us to the corners of childhood libraries. With bare feet resting in tulip beds, I borrowed confidence from open pages and read to them. Their still-unopened faces swayed in blind brilliance and we held there, unknowing.  

Seasons passed and we were separated until I was alone at the edge of a wasteland. I had a threaded needle and no pattern in sight. I spent a long time dreaming. Once in the warehouse, time’s gears were in pieces on the floor. I held a face in my hands, and it whispered reminders. I would need to fold the fields behind me first, then set to stitching. 

I wore fire against the rain and cut a new dress from the remnants of the last harvest. Gorged on ripe losses, my scalp sang anemones. Hold, I whispered to the new blooms, that they might stay until the hour returned. 

***

Inspired by images in this article about the work of Ukranian artist Oleg Oprisco, known for creating surreal settings from everyday elements.

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.”

Histories

Elegy for the erased.

Sure, it all seems impossible today, but remember. Once in our wandering we moved in search of a strange beast, something misplaced while we played in and out of schoolyards, a chimera of childhood heroes and the nightmares they would slay––next time, and again. And again.

Remember, forget. Here is the mystery, unsolved, and there, the legend, the remains buried beneath the statues of famous men. Once an ancient voyage, and the albatross, too. Imagine. What’s this one now, here? A gossamer dream, true fictions among make-believe facts. Look, we are looking.

Here, the old mine shaft. Who put that mirror there?

Family Albums

You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person.

One possibility, when it comes to telling what is commonly called one’s “own” story, is to take one’s own memory out entirely, and is to limit yourself to the favorite anecdotes of family members. A person can create childhood memories based entirely on the number of times a given story has been told. 

Parents can be especially amusing sources of these tales. The time you had your mother, eight months pregnant with your sister, just up three flights to the third-floor apartment with the laundry, go back to the basement to retrieve your imaginary friend. Another time you were in hysterics because your father sat on that same friend. 

How you cried when the street sweeping truck came by, the horrible beep-beep truck, you called it. And there was that redheaded boy, do you remember? He would push you down, take your shovel, walk away, and you would sit there, not wailing, just quietly sad.

“Bubbling” by Kimli on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

And the gravy! How you loved it with croutons from a box. Your concerns over the new baby, over your mother getting up and down the stairs. Your favorite hiding place behind the couch. How you could speak nonstop or not at all.

Huh, I think, remembering by power of suggestion what it would never have occurred to me to know on my own. You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person. The fact that there were even specific moments to remember is what really gets me. I recall only a constant susurration of light and color, sound and touch. It lends credence to the idea that a person may have parallel simultaneous lives: the one they remembered, and the one I felt I was living. They have images, even pictures, and there I am, and it must have been me in that bowl haircut with those eyes looking back, holding the garden hose, but all I remember is the colors of light filtering through shallow water, and the way I would fly in my dreams. Palms and fingers in bright paint, and the hollow space among bushes in the back yard. How I would go in and wait there. The sense that I had of finding a secret, tiny room in an endless forever, and it was quiet all around, and safe except for the possibility of snakes and other monsters I had not seen except on TV and in books.

Funny, the pictures they show. This is what is, this is what was. They shaped me then, as they do still, these stills. But the image I had was constant, and I wasn’t in it because there was me watching, squinting sometimes, as I took in was the shifting light and colors on the surface of an ever-moving stream, wondering about the world just beneath it.