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.

Why Breadcrumbs?

The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
​Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner, “Lost”

I am here to let it find me. To listen, with you. That is enough, or should be, but I am not always as strong as my intentions. So I carry breadcrumbs in my pocket, just in case. I look for more, just in case. I share, just in case. Because someone else is always looking, too.

Wake, make coffee. Open notebook. If the familiar bogeyman shows up,
growling that there’s “Nothing” to offer, call the monster out, and offer anyway. Try memory. Try looking. Try a walk. Try a photograph, a work of art. An old story. Try typing in today’s date. Notice what happened on this day. Notice how you can, if you want, see flickers of all of history in a given day. Blake’s eternity in an hour.

 “Ladder in the Woods” by Claudia Dea on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. 

Gather crumbs: historical events, feast days, holidays you didn’t know about. Who was born, who died. Who did both and then was listed here before you ever knew them. Follow the breadcrumbs they left for you. Trust that they are there. Make notes of what you find. Not forever, just for a few minutes: 5, 15, 30. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

If an historical figure is involved, you may converse with them. Arrive not
at an end, but some beginning. Or a natural pause. Share the conversation
not like a lecture but like dancing in an open field. No explanation needed.

Go about the rest of the day, noticing how you are changed in a small
but meaningful way, from that small dance in that open space, how doing
so, reminds you of something vital, something about this wild, single life
that the machine would train you to forget. Be grateful for the change.
Repeat. 

This is all. A simple act of faith, connection, communion. Essential in
the unknowingness of it because the point is to be reminded back
to the mystery.

We are here to build the spaces that let us live inside it. We are 
here to welcome others to come in. To say, Here. Look. This
is where we are. In the presence of a powerful stranger. 

This is me, bowing to you, in this strange space. 
I see you. I honor you. Let’s begin. 

On Ratcatcher’s Day

It was the plague. Everyone was scared. Grief-stricken, too, but there was no time for mourning, what with the bodies piling up. They got angry instead, mean and stingy.

According to the Robert Browning poem narrating the legend of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” the 22nd of July was the day that the children of Hamelin were led away by the Pied Piper, as revenge against the townspeople who refused to pay the sum promised for ridding the town of its rats. As a result, this day is known as Ratcatcher’s Day. Learning this, I had to follow what breadcrumbs I could find.

“And so long after what happened here 
   “On the Twenty-second of July, 
“Thirteen hundred and Seventy-six:” 
And the better in memory to fix 
The place of the Children’s last retreat . . .”
–    Robert Browning, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”

The clothes alone, let me tell you. They must have been made of stripes of six or seven different colors stitched together. 

For real? 

Someone must have really loved what he did with that pipe.

Well, those people should have paid him. 

It was the plague. Everyone was scared. Grief-stricken, too, but there was no time for mourning, what with the bodies piling up. They got angry instead, mean and stingy.

Show us the bodies! They said. But he had none. He had led the rats to the river. 

No one paid. So he played for the children next. They followed him and were not seen again.

To where?

Some say a cave.

I heard it was a mountain.

I heard Transylvania.

I heard the river.

Oh no! I heard what happened was that they decided to pay after all, this time triple the amount, in solid gold, and he brought them back.

Where was the last place they were seen?

“Pied Piper Silhouette” by Miki Jourdan on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license.

It’s called the street without drums. To this day, there’s no music or dancing allowed.

Yeah, but where does this story even come from. I mean, really?

There was a stained glass window in The Church of Hamelin. It’s gone now.

The window?

The whole church. Anyway, a record from the late 1300s reads, It is 100 years since our children left.

It could have been disease.

The Pied Piper as the symbol of death, the Danse Macabre.

Could have been a landslide, a sinkhole.

Might they have been recruited or sold to the German empire, to work the land in what is now Poland?

​It’s possible. There are legends of those who would lure people away. Children of the town could be, after all, a term that applied to anyone, regardless of age. 

What about dancing mania? 

A well-documented social phenomenon, a relief from the stresses of poverty.

Ah, St. Vitus’ dance.

Or ergot poisoning from spoiled crops.

St Anthony’s fire.

Could be typhus.

Or an ancient ritual, long forbidden, disguised as illness.

Suggestions abound. Answers are few. But what is clear is that there were risks far greater and more mysterious than the more familiar illnesses of the body. There were diseases of spirit, of mind, and while it was common among those who preferred pretend certainty over more fluid depths of understanding, to minimize or dismiss certain risks outright, it is worth considering the costs of these errors, the sudden silence that must have blanketed the town like a stifling and otherworldly heat, when it was discovered that the children were all gone.  

Story and Mystery (Part 2)

For me, the point was to reveal what I hoped might be, some dazzling “is” beneath the rush of being that I considered alternately terrifying, mundane, and dizzying.

Occasionally, a writer will be punished for writing fictions of the ingredients of real lives. I know no one who writes without doing this, and yet it remains an area under surveillance. One is at risk, it seems, of being found out. It is not clear for what: fictionalizing “the real” or realizing the fiction. Whatever the case, I may as well report myself ahead of time, as I have no knack for the genre called fantasy, even though constructing elaborate fantasies is something I do as easily and regularly as making meals. 

Which is real? Is bread a dinner food, or breakfast, or a snack? I can answer neither question to any degree of satisfaction. Once, to support a friend going without bread, I gave it up. It was short-lived and made me very sad. Why were we doing this? I could not remember. I suspect the same would happen if I tried to abstain from the imaginative realm where I spend most of my waking hours, which is no more separate from “real life” than bread can be, from any category of meal.

Story comes from shaping moments in language into a form. It’s the easiest thing in the world, said someone I did not fundamentally trust. He seemed often to be deliberately lying, in ways that puzzled me. I could more easily understand an unconscious lie or the ones of omission when the telling of a whole truth would just be so much, but the accumulation of so many deliberate ones for no apparent reason was confusing. But, he most likely had reasons of his own, I just didn’t know them. If he did, I thought he might know better than anyone how fraught storytelling was. But there I go, making assumptions about motives and even about the accessibility of truth. 

For me, the point was to reveal what I hoped might be, some dazzling “is” beneath the rush of being that I considered alternately terrifying, mundane, and dizzying. For him, “story” may have meant something else entirely, as it does to many. Simple entertainment is a valid impulse. I am also reminded of the way that, in certain circles, a child accused of “telling stories” will be punished, because the act is deemed synonymous with lying, and in this way a child “telling stories” is considered a danger, to themselves and to others, because they can obscure whole parts of their being, their doings, and their knowledge, beneath a cloak of invisibility.

Which would you be if you could be anything? – a common playground question, shimmering with the terror and delight of never-ending possibilities. 

––Invisible, or able to fly? What made it a great question was how almost everyone had wanted each of these and both, with urgency at different times. 

But which one? This was one question that I never had to waffle over. The answer was always and easily flight, the soaring, butterfly-stomached, kiting lens, the viscous air like water and me with outstretched arms, floating and turning in it. An escape whenever needed, as in dreams when the “bad guys” gave chase. 

This is the funny part, I think now. Not that I wanted to escape, or to soar, but that I believed that I might get there by working over a tale, into some truth ––not something shaped on a whim, but something revealed, by polishing the stone until the gem shines through ; by peeling back the layers to reveal the fruit––as if what was covered in flesh and alligator skin, in armor and bruises and tearstained, turned-away faces, in layers of sediment and dirt, was actually a hollow-boned, feathered body, mostly heart and wing, made for song, soaring flight, and for carrying the endless metaphors we were always tying them, passing back and forth like food to each other as we were waited in our nests, un-feathered and unwieldy bodies, bound to fall quickly as soon as we leaped, and unable to avoid the need to do so, knowing that we had at least one thing, however small, over the birds, and this was a capacity for turning even an act of falling into a story of flight.