Sound Painting

Holding beyond reach.

Near the end, you explained that something strange was happening. You had grown accustomed to a powerful presence. One day, without explanation, it left. What followed had more force but no face. You called it sound.

Later, people wondered if you were letting go or just beginning something new. But even when a body means to hold, so much of what happens slips through. 

Before you left, you painted reminders. You pulled us into its rough color. You said, listen.

***

Inspired by the sound paintings of Anne Truitt.

Expanded Expansion

The artist makes room.

Your aim was an art that would not behave as art. While dying, you made your untitled rope piece, layering industrial latex like paint over string and wire suspended from the ceiling. It resembled a decimated fishing net after a storm, or the work of an overworked spider gone mad. You welcomed unseen others into a shadowy space, inviting us to attend to what crawled, flickered, and flashed. You did not specify how long to look, or where. How is it possible, we wondered, to feel so in the way in a mostly empty room? 

Touch, you said, and meant it. Who could do that now, with all the insurance? Come in, you said. But try another door. You left it to us to find it. There are other openings, you said, and more hollow spaces than we were accustomed to noticing. 

What do you know? One skeptic asked and you said Nothing.

***

Inspired by the art of Eva Hesse, and by Mignon Nixon’s article “Eva Hesse Retrospective: A Note on Milieu,” (Spring 2003 in October).

Stranger Still

Through a glass darkly.

In love with an unknown intimate briefly glimpsed, the stranger moved so steadily towards the source of longing that he became transparent with time. Suspended in its liquid, the desert salts of his waking form dissolved in her waters until he knew himself at once known in the shadow of the apocalyptic cherub.

I am surveyed, he admitted, but it was good to be untethered from the demand to be any sort of self in any of the atomic cities, to join the games with no winners, to keep company instead with a chorus of loss, its abundant ache seeded in the silence of this elsewhere when the voices that will be heard choose themselves

***

Inspired by various morning readings, including Thomas Merton by way of Richard Rohr. Italicized phrases above come from Thomas Merton’s “Day of the Stranger,” first published in The Hudson Review, summer 1967.

Mother Wisdom

Reflections of the unseen.

To revise knowing itself, inverting worlds without end, you passed your liquid form easily between solid and mythic, seen and unseen, sacred and profane, in constant devotion.

First there was the Word, and you transformed what they took as given into what was not yet understood, with such deft agility that you were forbidden to teach. You continued invisibly to your invisible audience, understanding that your censors didn’t know how to look.

You saw no Eve, only Ave, and in her humility, no mortification, only the merit of a queen reigning over wisdom, co-creator with creation, who became a bird when needed for the purpose of the miracle.

You watched her fool the imagists, passing their censorious eyes by assuming the appearance of a vessel, passive and waiting for another will to be done, and you put a pen in her hand, beheld wisdom running from the fonts at her feet, made her dean of the house of intellect, reigning over the archangels, the non-humans, the insignificant wonders everywhere.

***

Inspired by the life and work of Juana Inés de la Cruz whose legacy defies categorization, except as representative of one of the most brilliant visionaries in recorded history. 

Underground Music Scene

Subterranean symphonies.

To listen through soil is to be reminded of the inadequacy of words for sound, the curious choral cacophony of those out-of-sight creatures so easily out of mind, the soundtracks of springtail, of mellifluent moles mirroring the melodies of mice amid mesh of mycelium; these reverberating roots a revelation, calling a body back to unknowing. This is what the birds are turning their heads to listen for, plainchant of these porous depths, resounding.

***

Inspired by Ute Eberle’s recent Knowable Magazine article about the emerging field of soil bioacoustics, which some prefer to call biotremology or ecoacoustics.

Enigmas of Entanglement

The ties that bind.

If loving begins in recognition, then practice reading one another is an essential beginning, and a sincere effort demands that some limits be placed on noise. One of the effects of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, is to turn down the static so the neural signals––of, say, the smell of another’s body, or a distress cry––can come in clearly, which calls to mind some old questions about trees falling in the forest, and the health of forests and one another. If a cry happens and no one hears, what are we? Any loving observer, beholding another’s vivid hues, exquisite detail of sparkling eyes, wonder of resting face, music of laughter––will tell you, mystery. Only mystery. 

***

Loosely inspired by Bob Holmes’ recent Knowable Magazine article, “Oxytocin’s effects aren’t just about love.”

Seeding Awe

What ephemeral forms may expose.

Along the shores of a great lake, often without witness, a northern wind shapes and erases forms in ice and sand. There is a moment when they hold. To bear witness is to be reminded of the pairing of reverence and suddenness, of beauty unexpected because it is so rarely seen, and this because it just as quickly goes, swallowed by the same hand that lifted the veil. Is this a force of time and weather, or their temporary pause? ––as if to call into question all descriptors, all limits, to fit the beholder with a set of melting wings.

***

Inspired by the photography of Joshua Nowicki.

Time to Seek

What calls in response.

Consider a cornucopic mind, 

tumbling out into its own 

collapse 

while gestational stars 

assemble before first light 

in light of other known principles 

for living

––challenge, adaptation, change, 

and how these forms grow by 

call and response, into what will 

persist when life is threatened, 

and then try to hold some 

stable notion of time. 

Whose watch 

is the reference?

Counting Saints

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!

Fireball

There are reasons to envy the unknowing of those observers, centuries ago.

There’s a great deal that I can’t explain about what is going on in the sky, but much of this is because I haven’t read enough, haven’t kept up with the march of the knowledge battalions into lands unknown, spurred on by a sort of manifest destiny, to conquer the mysteries that once grew wildly in the backyard––which, I assume, are still flourishing somewhere, but the armies are long past me now, and I have no doubt that should I approach the land and the heavens I once knew as utterly and completely mysterious, someone would be lurking like a sniper in the trees, to shoot me with an answer. 

On this day in 1783, the great fireball was observed in the heavens above the British Isles. It was faint and blue at first, holding still. Then it grew and moved. The whole landscape was illuminated. It must have lasted about thirty seconds. Someone thought they heard a crackling noise come with it, like small wood burning. A noise like thunder at a distance followed.

It was a meteor procession, we know now. But no one had these words then, so it was The Great Fireball. Weary romantic that I am, I can’t help but envy the unknowing of those observers, centuries ago. The sudden return to pre-pandemic pace has me feeling like the world-weary speaker in Wordsworth’s verse: Little we see in Nature that is ours . . . it moves us not (“The World Is Too Much With Us”). What was it like to study the sky with their naked eyes, to look with no means of expecting any explanation from any living soul, for the fantastic spectacle before them? I celebrate the advances of science to cure what might kill us, but I mourn the momentary pause of recognition at our common vulnerability to something still unknown––not the fear, but the silence around it.

Of course, our unknowing, as compared to that of anyone from any age, is almost just as infinite. But from where I am, trying to catch a breath from the relentless pace of a given week, it seems like a nearly impossible distance to walk to get to the beginning of some terrain still vast enough that, once entered, goes on and on forever and in every direction, into mystery. Even when I know it’s right here, in this space where I am still trying to catch my breath from keeping up.