Shivers

An outbreak of dance.

In the streets, as the bells tolled, the pilgrims took to dancing. They claimed they could not stop. When asked why, they said it was St. John. Some suspected the culprit was a spider.

Imagination, after all, has diverse needs. Among these is enaction of beliefs, known and unknown, inherited and adopted. Perhaps there was some collective recognition of the allure of what was forbidden. Maybe it was a rejection of the certainty professed by the self-proclaimed experts of the unseen. How could there be such neat categories for the unknown, and what was a body to make, really, of the smug certainty of those pious pillars of chastity claiming to know all?

Every ritual is a cosmology enacted and here comes a sudden ambivalence between order and disorder.  Birth, after all, was very messy, and yet commonly described in deceptively banal terms: who was born, who gave birth, in the time of whose birth. These easy phrases tend to obscure the body’s radical passage from imminence to transcendence, and the terror of the vast labyrinth of possibilities that open when this is considered.

No, no. This was deemed too much. It was easier, many believed, to call for an exorcism, to blame a series of botched baptisms given by priests improperly purified of the weaknesses of the flesh. And of course, the spider, who as a weaver of intricate patterns in the air, had long been cause for suspicion among the high-minded guardians of propriety.

***

On this day in 1374, observers in the Rhine basin observed processions of pilgrims wandering from town to town in a display of what some described as “hysterical” dancing. This 2016 article describes this notable outbreak of “Dance Mania.” I am interested as much in the phenomenon itself as I am in the factors that led such behavior to be displayed, diagnosed, and chronicled.

Breaking Silence

A tribute.

When silence is betrayal, when uncertainty mesmerizes, a calling to speak can be a vocation of agony––so rejoice as well, because we are here in firm dissent, a new spirit among us.

No document from human hands can make any of the persecuted less our brothers––sisters, hear their broken cries. They watched us poison water, bulldoze land, and the children run in packs in the street, seeking food for their mothers.

Family, village, land––destroyed. The initiative is ours now, to somehow cease this madness, to be prepared, with every creative protest possible. To challenge the young with alternatives, each by their own convictions.

There is a deeper malady here, and the answer so readily dismissed as weak is love––courageous, relentless against fear.

Let us hope. We still have a choice.

Begin. 

***

Exactly one year before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his speech “Beyond Vietnam––Time to Break the Silence” at Riverside Church in New York City. Today’s post is a tribute to this moment, assembled from words and phrases in this speech. Found poetry is one of my favorite ways to listen.

Relativity

What happened when the light changed.

The ants were marching one by two, hurrah, and from a chrysalis came particles of light. The old light waved from the shores we had left, and there was no going back. Clocks melted in these new sands at our tentative feet and soon after, the bodies on canvas began to separate from themselves and from any of the forms we thought we knew. It became possible to be neither in or out of being, but both at once, and above it as with dreams. The ants were going somewhere but here was another unknown among the unseen worlds, now in catch of our breaths.

To the Tiny Constant Voyagers

Here’s to you, intrepid seafarers.

To those ostracods playing in the moonlight, I had no idea you were so risqué in your movements, throwing off your cloaks of protective depths after sundown, dancing up to taste blooming krill, or that from your bean shaped carapaces you were extending sensate tendrils of yourselves like cat whiskers through gauzy shields, reading the waters as you undulated through and in and over, all traces of your nightly ecstasies vanishing by sunrise.

And you, copepods, have you been in these waters the whole time and I didn’t even see you? –––here or anywhere else, and you have been almost everywhere remotely wet, from underground caves to ground leaves, braving arctic interfaces and hydrothermal vents, you intrepid seafarers, propelling bravely by the whirls of your little oar feet where others fear to tread.

I hear that you are disappearing and reappearing nightly, deep scattering layers of you like a phantom seabed, and here I am, clothed and blanketed against the chill and still sighing with the quaking shift of the space that is no different from the space I was in yesterday, except that I am learning, thank you, about the futility of my constant attempts at holding it still.

***

This post is inspired by Hannah Seo’s recent Atlantic article about the diel vertical migration of creatures throughout the world’s seas.  

Words for Unknowing

Head in these clouds.

You menace, you specter, you shadow, you––

bear? No, airplane! That one’s an elephant.

You vapor, you veil, you gloom, you mist,

I see you, dragon! Your tail, like this!

Muddle, obscure, puzzle the lot. We name you anyway,

cataloging images like suspects’ mugshots: cirrostratus,

arcus, shelf, roll; towers of cumulonimbus plotting hail.

We can’t resist forecast’s temptation to fate; foretell

this foreboding, foreswear it true.

Shapeshifter of heaven, where are you? Count me

in, you said, and left when we reached nine. 

Our heads followed where we kept losing them. You

were the nightmare horizon, wandering lonely;

hold my unknowing and sing a feather canyon.

We’ll cross ages like you do these skies. 

Melancholy idyll, romantic torrent, ominous calm.

You annihilate language, and still, we can’t keep

from naming, even if nothing holds beyond the

first sound you inspire: Ah! Oh, what is this

but the beginnings of awe, and here in this

open field we fall silent, planting alleluias

and waiting for rain.