How to Kill a Category

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How to Kill a Category

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower,
time unrest had a beating heart.
It is time it were time.

It is time.”
   ~~ Paul Celan, Corona

There are hints dropped along the way, as a particularly astute gardener might notice on a high summer afternoon: her plants have in a flashing moment reached the unnameable summit, and she senses a descent through the brilliant crest of leaf or petal, smell of autumn in the root.

When does it arrive, this crossing-over? How can one awaken to the fact of one’s own somnulance, and yet remain anesthetized? It is an act, or a process (and is a process a series of acts, stop-time, or does there exist a secret fluidity one cannot name or see or grasp….) of being patient, doctor, weeping relative, pain specialist, all at one time. And then the roles break apart from the pressure of their own deceptions and fear…. what remains? What remains?

I think of Paul Celan, especially these days, the days of loss so heavy it sinks beneath the net – there is no pulling this grief toward the light. The clown who dances on a prince’s grave, immigrants treated as vermin, flirtations with weapons so stupidly lethal we might be erased like chalk. Despair, despair, despair… language the only respite, which reveals itself, always, as Celan knew so intimately, as failed experiment.

His suicide, after so many years digging through memories unbearable – his mother, who taught him as a child to hold with reverence the language of her murderers, slaughtered at the camps, his father dead from disease – he raised to the light delicate insights, carved from the toughest brutality, that defined and gave shape to what amounted to a New World, the life of After: after the War, after the Camps, after the sight of what modern humans can do to one another. He stood, or crouched, and faced the blood-strewn storm, and gave us a language to surround, occasionally comprehend, an unimaginable context.

And then he turned from it; his suicide, to me, is a denial of language, a denial, finally, of one’s capacity for strength and endurance. He haunts me, as I see the cracks grow in my own psyche and form: my own suffering, the suffering of our brutalized grand Earth, of refugees of women of children, of my own children – when does strength become a facade holding up a long dead corpse, false scaffolding of Self?

And it has always been thus: language is an illusion, it is a mere category of invention, a graceful artifice at best, a lie of hope at worst. We need it. But do we? There are sculptures in India of Shiva wearing a necklace of skulls. Each skull represents a letter from Sanskrit, its connectedness represents finality, an impenetrable death. Perhaps the death is a metaphor, and when one accepts our addiction to language (the search to be other than Other) there exists a passing through to peace, internal strength, and acceptance. Or perhaps the death is literal, and when one realizes the false promise of our needed interconnectedness the soul fades, the body slouches to the highest bridge.

I am in the shadows of knowing-not~knowing. Divorce, the disability of my daughter, the stolen Presidency, all our rage and ignorance that seem to only grow with the years, despite our intellectual sophistication: it is too much, and yet we endure, sometimes even with a winking glimpse of Joy, Ananda, Bliss-state.

I do wonder what Mr. Celan would make of the white supremacist in the White House, what he would make of our astonishingly stupid forms of communication: twitter, Face Book, email, text. None of it human, none of it even language, really.

When I stumbled upon the full force of my ex-husband’s dislike of me, it was through the pathetic medium of text (the irony of the phrase – a text is rarely text), oddly not far from Celan’s home. It was a moment so filled with horror that life became, for a second or a minute or a day, electric with Pain. Perhaps it is this sort of electricity, the sort made of grief and struggle and rage, that spurs an artist on, despite the dullness of depression nipping at his heels. And when the current fades to black… what remains?

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And now we are 4

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And now we are 4

Please tell me, winter moon or god or sun-at-dawn,
how am I to possess this
one
beating heart
two
exhausted arms
three
tight breaths –  intake, release,
the pause between –
four
aging limbs

and bring to fruition
three
small beings
each
to
each
to
each
in the effulgent
and Deserved Joy
of Life Unfolding

while I
my(self)
am an etching incomplete
no center
no touch
portrait of a Solitude

a more generous god
reveals
only during those
last few
precious… slow… breaths.

Tell me,
how shall I be
their marbled wisdom
and warm-ember-hearth

when all I know
is wind?

Note

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Note

This evening my daughter
(her name
a light
for countless worlds)

asked at dusk:
“Why does the moon
follow us?”

“Illusion,”
– the word
a weightless dry-winged
butterfly
before it descends
to stamen, petal,
earth

“When things are far, far away
they look as though
they are coming with us.”

This,
our
marriage –

There are Many Types of Resurrection

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There are Many Types of Resurrection

Thanksgiving Evening.
Alone for the first time in 17 years on the strange holiday. What is Thanksgiving anyway, particularly now, under the false rule of a small idiot whose primary claim to power is simply that he wants it, and has achieved it largely through crude tactics of overt racism?

As a child I made turkeys out of finger tracings, and read stories about benign pilgrims being taught to raise corn by mindlessly beneficent Indians. Thanksgiving, I vaguely understood, was about the first people on this continent – well, the people who counted – figuring out how to feed themselves in their great New Land. It’s a bizarrely Protestant celebration, both suffocating in its formality and messy underneath, and it didn’t take long in my girlhood to see that my archly blue-blooded grandparents were celebrating something slightly more macabre than abundance.

Now I see the holiday, its history and its traditional execution, as more a victory dance than beautiful obeisance to the incalculable riches of this Earth; gone is any reverence for Harvest, which thanks to Monsanto doesn’t exist anymore anyway, and in its place lies that great American disease, obscene gluttony, which extends beyond the dinner table to Black Friday sales of shit no one needs to begin with.

Something tells me, though, that our man-baby in the White House is still cutting out those finger tracings, and counting down the days until his Lady of Education, Betsy DeVos, can issue a decree that writes the presence of original peoples straight out of existence. And then the day can complete its (de)volution to being little more than a command to eat and shop.

 

 

Such are the musings of an aging cynical progressive sitting by herself on this particular Thursday evening in late November. Underneath it all, though, is the haunting reality: I miss my children. I miss my (X)husband. I miss having a family. And I am exhausted from this solitude and the grief that threatens daily to metastasize to a full “episode” of Major Depression. I think, actually, I am there…. and those of us who live in this territory also know that one episode is usually more like a series, and that there are many seasons ahead.

I loathe the sentiment of the Holiday, and my loathing, I know, protects my bruised ache for love, for companionship, for some kind of guarantee that I, we, might get out of this thing with someone rooting for us, remembering us; “let me leave,” I think we all mutter to ourselves, “an imprint.”

Buddha said: “Leave no trace,” and instinctively we recognize a truth that begins and ends with these three words. And yet still we stamp our feet in the wet earth, hoping, needing, something to stay behind.

—    —-          ——          —-            —-              ——           ——-         —

I despise potatoes. I despise myself if I eat bread, pie, or cheese. And I don’t eat feathered creatures. But I love my children. I love my (X)husband. And despite my years of being intellectually and emotionally averse to the sentimental trappings of holidays, I feel right now like a half-dressed raw urchin standing in an empty wind-swept field. Nothing but mind for miles, and that sort of vista, at least for me, is enough to launch a free-fall beyond the strata of sentiment and grief, all the way down to mere madness.

I have developed an eccentric method for keeping the keening witch within appeased, at least for a few hours. It is a waste, of time, of energy, of life, and it will pass. For now, though, the technique allows me to live in my mind without losing it.

It’s like cards, only with real estate. Pick a state, any state. Well… I must admit to cheating my hand, and skewing hard toward places of great greenery and tremendous bodies of water. Connecticut is aces.

And then, as if my hand bore the heavy diamond of a newlywed, I slowly, with great intention, search the MLS for small farms, historic homes, bucolic villages. On a bad day I’ll even look at schools.

As the game progresses, it ceases to be just lonely fantasy: it transmutes to prayer, perhaps a chant, that I believe will drift magically to (X)husband’s closed heart. “Look. This home has wide planked darkened oak floors and a pure white kitchen with skylights overhead. Outside are trees and a treehouse already in place, a small barn down the road. The attic begs to be a school room for 3 children and there are a few acres of land to roam.

It’s so big. It’s so big and lovely and filled already with children and childhood memories (the lizard that got out, the owl in the attic, the shrieking joy of forbidden rollerskates on slick floors) and I can build a studio and teach and you can work from home, and really, really it’s so perfect and grand and old that you, my husband, will melt into it and I can truly disappear into practice, our children, our bedroom, my studies, that you will hardly know I am there. Seamless, I will be, like the plank floors that lead in perfect patterning to every room.

You will hardly know I’m there. If you can just look. At this House.”

And so through the children and the land and the home, this shroud of invisible thread, and the melodic chanting of this sacred image, my life is returned to me: family, lover, home. And the shroud transforms to tapestry, vivid with silken color.

It breathes.

After

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After

Little girls
know a certain sort
of alone-ness –
empty blue-white
summer sky

a single plane

flying high, high, high
overhead

The thin plume
trails behind
widens and opens

like a single wing
lightly feathered
against the domed sky –

It is
the moment
remembered lifetimes later
as the small upward-turned mouth

whispers
they do not know
my name –

Apres

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Apres

One thousand petals
fell to her feet
as she rose
from damp sheets
twisted
to a sailor’s rope

or a bough
thorned and heavy
with violet, rose, Arum-lily –
scent of fading lilac
woven to the whiskey-breath

of her lover,
whose eyes
drifted around her
serpent spine
like smoke from a fire pit.

A liquid dawn
drew shadows of
blackened lines along
her cheek, throat,
pale chilled limbs
S-curve down the middle –

He took his thumbnail,
traced:
hook
beneath the shoulder blade
arrow-point
of hip
full moon
on each knee.

Crown of dripping blossoms
laid upon her head
she knelt
to a hand at rest
’round her neck:
knight
to king
diadem
for a queen.

Upon Arrival

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Upon Arrival

At dawn
the black-based
grey-rose clouds climb
the shoulders of unseen light.

Departure
is either the result
the cause
or another name

for Division,
as when energy
reproduces itself
through decay.

Night is like this:
diving into itself, tight ombre
knot of shade to shadow
to soot spilled

over flat meadow.
I have heard those
who rest their hands
upon the dead and dying

say that death comes
most often
just before the dawn,
as if a body strained and
weary from the foreign effort
of its own leave-taking

cannot bear to witness
one more
astonishing resurrection.

A Winnowing

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A Winnowing

1.

It is autumn. An unexpected solitude. Children, gone to play on the hills outside my mother’s summer cabin. Friends disappeared, for the most part, along with the marriage. The husband is an X, still so strange to pronounce. He’s been gone for centuries I think. My hands will grow to gnarled claws. Aloneness a relief, but hollow.

When I was young and first introduced to Plato (Formal as a King’s Ball, my gloved hand in his lined ancient paw), I was enthralled to the ring of Gyges and its power. Common questions: ethical limits, temptations of greed, the never ending invitation to live fully, exclusively, in realms of Id and desire. But also: what does it mean to exist unobserved? Then the questions become existential, not ethical, or enters a territory in which the two mix like tangled river beds.

A beautiful married woman becomes an aging divorced mother, wears that ring like a noose.

It is a living poem, for one to observe those who cannot or do not care to return one’s gaze. But as any fairy tale or moral philosopher will tell you, there are no creations given freely; something must die along the way.

This evening I went to a bar. I was loaded down with headphones and Thucydides and Dexter Filkins. My hair is short, no longer white-platinum, my eyes weary from days and days of toddler tears, sleepless nights. I drank vodka scented with lavender.

A birthday party of beautiful Korean women got louder at a nearby table. They had long hair and red lips and seemed like true friends. Next to me sat a couple enclosed in a womb of New Love. The woman’s skin changed by the minute, growing flushed, darker, her lips full. The bartender was out of a film: perfect skin and gold hair with a voice to match. I thought vividly of bedding him without telling him my name.

The once observed is now the observing. The wind blows against my bones. There is no cover, the little deceptions that were the great comfort of marriage, of youth, of babies and beauty and all the fecundity of children, family, husband – gone. There is no comfort. This is an evolving fact, if such a thing exists: a life without comforts can lead to infinite possibilities. Or at least a satisfied eccentricity.

Noisy solitude, nameless yearning.

And then I picked up Dexter Filkins. He knows something of bones, and strength, and pure observation. Fallujah, 2004, black night lit not by stars but artillery, advancing yard by blood-smeared yard. Kabul, before the U.S. invasion. Men and boys murdered, slowly, with showy imprecision, in reluctantly filled stadiums, orphans gathering by the dozens.

Orphans. I thought of this. The plural, that devastating sOrphans. The heart twists, lurches to the unimaginable void of the word.

There are many types of solitude.

2.
I do not know which to prefer
 The beauty of inflections
 or the beauty of innuendoes,
 The blackbird whistling
 or just after.”
            – Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

I had just turned 18. My addiction to “thin” had just turned 8. To this day I adore the feel of my hip bones, and the sense of my spine emerging like some amphibious spiked creature when I bend at the waist. Deprivation, for some, is safety. The calm of fleshless limbs: so many of us know it, and only belittle the need without comprehending the benefit. Everyone wants for refuge.

Even if that refuge takes shape as its denial.

Speeding in a black sports car, leather jacket, cigarette permanently attached to bony fingers. The best friend circled her hand around my thigh.  “Too much.”

I did not look. At her, at my thin (not enough) exposed leg.
And I said, “I cannot have anything extra. I want my life to be utterly spare. Clean.”
She curled her mouth in that charming, wise way she had, even in elementary school, and even now, all these decades later. “I understand,” she said. “I understand that.”

The sweetness of this brief memory arrives almost daily, finch at a windowsill. The irreplaceable understanding between girls… She still knows my interior, but our lives are lived far apart, territories rarely joined. And I’m still the girl who wants to roam, loveless but somehow safe, all through the world. Untouched.

Understanding. Necessary futility. Filters, mirrors, want, needs real, needs imagined. My husband (X) knew something of me. Didn’t he? Once we danced on a graveyard in Pennsylvania.

There are many types of understanding.

3.

“And we are alive in amazing times
delicate hearts, diabolical minds

Revelations, hatred, love and war.
And more and more and more and more
and more of less than ever before…”
  — Mos Def, Life in Marvelous Times

My life is a shadow.
The shadow moves, sometimes, but is for now changeless.
The stagnation will end when the shadow grows weary of itself.
Through brute foreign masculine strength I must ensure that the shadow is not replaced
by another one.
There are children who surround me. They are my own, of my own making, of my own
force – their faces reflect parthenogenetic antecedents that are both royal and primordial.  X, in our case, never marked the spot.
They are part of the shadow, the poor small aliens. They are too beautiful in their grief, their anger and dis-connection. Look: they are blind. I weep to see their small fingers explore this new habitat.
Cruel cruel land: uninhabitable for a child’s evolution of dream and waking. “Catch Up” – catch up to our insanity, our anger, our incompetence, demands the warring lord and the deposed queen. Race through heartbreaks that should be slow, and I will catch you as you leap, though there are but two arms now, weak from the lifting.

Our Earth has a sickness, a fever. Only she will know its resolution.

This morning: I am in a park crowded with dogs and sleek running women.

Visitations. Sometimes they linger, and some unnecessary part of me is killed off. Surgical. Often it is so quick I don’t know the pain.

See the slaughters infinite: Duterte, the Rohingya, Boko Haram in North Nigeria, the new (old) right wing power in Germany. The ruin of Syria, elegant Damascus, with its scholars and long boulevards; see the ancient stones bombed to ruin, while the North chokes on toxic air. Once women wore miniskirts in Kabul, and they lit cigarettes after dropping their children at school.

Trump sitting happy rich and stupid on his throne, this ugly spoiled child with a new toy. He brought his crayons to work, made his House White again. His eyes are small as a sunning lizard from the years of counting, hate, and keeping secret score. Power is an Etch-a-Sketch, and he will erase the wisdom and grace of the Black man who lived there once, in a time long, long ago….

A madman sits atop a hotel, aims his gun(s), watches the bodies fall like puppets. He loves the lights on the Strip. American life is a video game, thrilling wildly to itself and numb, all at once.

Stillness. A rare visit now – snow leopard heavy on a branch – it vanishes before the mind can capture it. Imprint. This stillness brings a small gift. A man, just a man, sitting in a clearing. Whittling. Blackbirds overhead. A man. Silver glinting blade, tiny, efficient. Quick hard fingers. I cannot see what lies between hand and knife, patient on a table. I see only, for that flashing moment, this quiet man, silent in his creation. It is an act of discarding, and a bringing forth. Then he is gone.

There are many types of death.

 

 

Something Like Venice

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Something Like Venice

There are remains, even after the mind
is scrubbed raw as an old surgeon’s hands
even after the skilled scalpel fails to find
a remnant, there is something still that stands

behind memory before thought beneath
the past the future the never-always
present too. It is a shade, or a sheath
of wending color, coiled on silver trays

like Murano mosaics in that shop
you swore you’d return to, somehow never
seen again. World within a round raindrop –
the numinous union no name can sever.

Parallel

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Parallel
One of the great failings and discouragements of my intellectual life is that I can’t write politics. I admire and love astute political writers and commentators; without them we would have little guidance and insight into the broader reaches of our society, other societies, history, indeed the human condition in general. The best writers offer perspective and context, always, and they are usually the least read. But it is my habit, gift, failing and need to turn most events, whether personal or the furthest universe away, toward metaphor and the reflective patterns of what humans repeat again and again and stumblingly again.

Donald Trump’s egregious election and administration, if one can even call it that, has erased my higher, broader mind, taken it captive. In its place is an inarticulate rage, a helplessness and disbelief, that is a truly useless attribute when attempting to comprehend the selfish idiocy of this person, his political groupies, and the pathetically ignorant (or purely self-interested) people who elected him. A racist showman who began the blushingly backward “birther” distraction, a father who spoke about fucking his own daughter, and who was caught on tape admitting to assaulting women – we took him on, swallowed his nativist lies and race baiting fear mongering, drop by eager drop. My Buddha heart wilts and falls away: I cannot find compassion for people who support this person, and what he has done, will do, to his own country and, more importantly, our dying Earth. I hate him. Part of me hates every single person who voted for him. There is simply… no excuse.
I was thinking the other day, as I often do, of Barack, and how innocent and silly I became during his administration. I loved him – I still love him – despite his failings and overly intellectual pondering on humanitarian crises like Syria. His failings are rooted in a deeply refined intellect and sense of humanity and grace. This country responded to such a presence in a manner so violent, so racist, and in a way so utterly, there is no other word, idiotic, that I don’t recognize myself here. I am ashamed upon hearing the broader, wiser commentaries from black people, brown people, anyone not white and comfortable: “Wake the fuck up. And so it has always been. Trump just gave public permission for these people to more openly align and vent their horrible, ignorant rage and fear. It’s nothing new.”

I am a mother of three children. Most days I am a broken record: “I am single now. Broke. Single mother and fucking broke and as lonely as I’ve ever known.” But then I think: “If I were a black woman… with a black son..” how would I go on? Shame. That’s the primary emotion I feel. Shame, all my love and pride over Barack and his brilliant ambitions shattered by the blind seething larvae that lay beneath that whole damn time.

In the 80’s Barack was going to Harvard, head of the Harvard Law Review. He did community work, and then, as everyone knows, went to Chicago and met Michelle at the great law firm Sidley Austin. (In the oddest personal aside: my grandfather many decades earlier did the same, attending Harvard, Law Review etc, then worked at Sidley… I used to love the idea that a black man with a mixed race background could follow the exact trail of a white Southern boy working his way up in the early 1950’s.)

And, as we all know from such erudite publications as People Magazine and the New York Post, the 80’s Trump was snorting coke and making shit deals to ruin the landscape of Manhattan or New Jersey or Florida or wherever his pathological narcissism led him. The pasts of the two men reflect precisely what they both brought to public service (or public destruction). One, a humanist, an intellectual giant who understood the forces of history, the ugliness of nationalism and the belief that being forever a solitary ascendant world power was a dangerous belief indeed. The other: no belief at all save the most primitive kind, like an Id stripped to its basest form: money, power, more money, submissive women, ownership, and fuck the rest and whomever or whatever got in his greedy way.

Barack is as dignified as the current occupier of the White House is vulgar. Where the latter can barely put two tweets together, and never coherently, Barack is a brilliant student of strategy, history, politics, music, and literature. Who would ever imagine we would have had a great man for president who can also sing like Al Green and reads Alice Munro, a name Trump might hear and think, “Didn’t I fuck her once?”

And so in parallel I place the two together, and compare, like a child handed two toys for evaluation and preference. But unlike the child I can feel the veins of bitterness move into my heart: this administration does so much damage to everything it touches, and is in power at a moment of such profound importance to the planet, to the stability of other countries, that I feel myself grow exhausted from my own hatred. And this trait is, of course, the old and easy path that allows oneself to become mirror and puppet to the thing one least admires. This is the common way of history, of human emotion, of attachment and the desire to see life unfold in ways beyond the control of an individual’s egoic passions.

This evening, after a particularly painful day of loneliness and fear – sometimes I feel I can only wake for a moment to the huge pressures surrounding this new identity of “Single Mother of 3” – well, this evening I poured a lovely, small glass of sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley, and it promptly spilled all over my freezer and floor.

Anger, frustration, Small Mind: I became the muttering middle aged woman complaining about her lot in life, and I knew it, which made the moment all the harder and all the more comical.

Suddenly an image flashed through my weary mind. First I saw the smallness of my anger, the waste of it. But that was a micro-second. Next came a picture, a real picture, though still impossible to describe: indelible, real as flesh, a painting, but a truth, too.

There was a god. The god was holding something in his hand, something I could not quite see, but knew. He was holding the body of the Earth. And it was a true body, corporeal and shaped, as if the molten core had emerged but was no longer a supporting sphere. The god was watching with just one eye the slowly writhing, tiny creature, our World, our lives, our Planet. And he said, in the softest voice, “That was a good death. It was peaceful, short compared to some others I’ve seen.”

We are only a passing, quicker than a leopard at hunt. All the parallels, all the loves, the raging battlefields and the awesome peace of a high desert moon; even, dare I say it, the silken first touch of the child just as she emerges from her mother’s hard-heaving body: Passing. Passing. So fast we never know it. Not really. Maybe at the end, maybe at the last breath, when the god breathes us in, and we might share his sight before – oh! – the mind shuts the eyes the heart the heavy lungs.

There.
It’s gone.