Notes on the Regime

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Notes on the Regime

It is Saturday August 1st. This afternoon my house was briefly emptied of children, though certainly not the attendant responsbilities that trail after them like spilled pollen. They are forever present, seeding themselves to the world.

I sat on my zafu, and lifted my spine, like a dagger. There is never emptiness. There is never quiet. But there is patience. It is patience I hone, an amateur sculptor of Time.

There is no longer a day, in the United States, in which a crisis does not occur. The fall came so quickly most of us long ago lost the battle to keep up, both with the information hurled constantly toward us like so many missiles as well as with our own, private absorption of a reality that is utterly surreal.

As the damage widens, our vocabulary shrinks. How interesting this is, that the more unusual our shared world becomes, the more repetitive the words are we use to describe that world. We must find familiarity somewhere, and what is more familiar than a language already known?

Fascist. Pandemic. The Libs. MAGA. Deep State. Covid. Coronavirus. Hoax. Vaccine. Mask. Numbers (ever rising). Hope (ever dying). Trump. PPE. Tests. Fauci. Failure. Spike. Spread. ICU. Spread. China. Spread. Fox News. Trump tweet. Black Lives Matter. Racism. Anti-racism. Racist. Racist-in-Chief. Protest. Protest. Protest. Schools. First Responders. Election.
Dying.
Dead.
Died.
Death.

That list, so short and yet so thoroughly encompassing of life in the U.S., has become our shared dialogue. We laugh at trump on Twitter, for a moment feel less alone with the mess of our minds, but we have allowed him to narrow everything in our culture, including communication itself.

While sitting today my thoughts circled around these words like a vulture. Like all of us, I sense the limitation of not only my intellect to contextualize the events of this world, but also – and more terrifyingly – a paucity of emotional depth to meet, absorb, and accept the catastrophe that is now our daily life.

On the zafu I fought with this repetition that numbs, this anger at the Regime, this helpless grief for the mounting dead, these murders for which our own President is largely responsible.

 

 

 

 

 

After some time, a sensation slowly rose from the ancient base of my brain to fully bloomed consciousness.

Perhaps our language is limited right now because it is not language we need.

We need, at this moment more than ever, spaciousness. And a sense of space, in this country, right now, is a kind of grace. We must not keep it for ourselves, but offer it to others, freely and in whatever capacity we can.

There is a tightening claustrophobia in this country, brought on by fear, rage, and a sense that each day spins violently and increasingly away from normalcy, even basic decency, all the time. I do wonder what our world would feel like if we stepped back, not in retreat from our values, but from the futile need to hold on to comfort, to nostalgia, to control itself.

It begins in the mind. And moves to the body. And then the choice is ours: what is the next move? How do I, how do we, learn to help each other breathe in a breathless world?

Still Life: September

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Still Life: September

My father recites a poem in the Old German
addressed to Earth-bound breathing angels,
each mined syllable cut clear as veined rock,
a baritone prayer that bleeds the weighted heart
to empty cotton seed set loose above a river.

Full bloomed Oxblood roses twined ’round tables
lightly draped with folds of white muslin trimmed in gold,
scent of star-gazers, spiced lamb, oils, warm Ficelle.
Organza overlayed with ancient scalloped lace, dampened
by rain that falls in silver drops from warped wooden gables –

 

Exquisite Fire

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Exquisite Fire

Two summers ago I listened to a great Zen teacher.
Like all great teachers and speakers, she used simple
words, and she tuned them to an inner intensity,
an exquisite fire of almost musical meaning.

“Do not waste your life.”

Her voice had deepened from age, illness, and so many
dharma talks in so many places. The room fell still, and for the briefest moment
one could feel a singular inspiration of collective will.

John Lewis did not waste his life.

So much will be written about this man, his astonishing energy,
his unending commitment to all that is good and true and fair
in this heartwrenchingly unfair world.

I do not pretend to have anything to add.

Obeisance and a gratitude
free of ego, agenda, and grasping
is owed to this human being, who
gave so very much, who got up
every morning, to do
what must be done.

Because of John Lewis, countless
people of color, and all those who share the values of equality
and honesty and anger turned to action, will live lives not for
one moment wasted.

He is a gift.

Burn

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Burn

Why is it so fucking hard to write something simple, honest, and true?
Ah, that last bit – the truth part – it will catch you every time.
If you’re honest that is…
And now, somehow, I have lost the thread of simplicity.

Let’s see, I will try again.
Oh damn it, I vowed to not be autobiographical & confessional any longer,
and here I am, stuck on this topic
so boring, so inescapable:
my mind.

One last attempt.
I did not sleep.
Sickness, worry, pain.
Black-bruise to blue-bruise to
the light before the light
birds sing the sun up
I am not the only one who feels it
I am not the only one who feels
I am not the only one who
I am not the only one
I am not the only
I am not the
I am not
I am
I

Gone the Next

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Gone the Next
            ~~ for Terrance Hayes

The conversation is not open
and who says it should be –
on this day, a summer’s day,
I left the book open on a low yellow field,
I walked away from that blur
of ink, crack down the spine
folded to the earth
as if waiting to be buried.

There is a story in my life.
It swallows the whole of my heart,
and now is lost for the telling.
I used to love the repeat of it,
the words swinging me back
to Paris with no passport
and those long hungry hikes,
Kendrick making me high
and so fucking happy,
hearing the poet, his loss
was my loss and the unity
left time behind, didn’t it?

A school girl knows there is no love
without the taking of it, the esssence itself
containing its own destruction. For the blessed
a skeleton remains.
And what is a skeleton
but a scaffold of yesterday’s form
waiting for gentle hands
to shape what will come.

Two to Recall

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Two to Recall

I. Wind

Never have I known this city to be so dictated by wind, and for such a sustained period of time. I woke at 5:00 this morning for zazenmy ribs rose, seemed to float like hollow hawk bones, and my head, fogged with dim light and dreamscapes, tilted in ungrounded sympathy to the shifting boughs outside my window.

I had been dreaming of a cat skull, nailed above my calloused feet to cracked white plaster. She was someone I had known, an animal thick and large, perhaps the Russian Blue I chased for much of my childhood. Wind, bone, mind a long-tailed kite; tethered, though, to what?

Many hours later, something conjoins, and then is off again. I have surrounded my house with Ligeti, the pianist Jeremy Denk’s impossible interpretation of the Etudes. They are not beautiful, or light, or possessing an easy allure. But they are alluring, and intensely exquisite at times; I suspect these times grow and shift the more one understands the structure behind them. I suppose this to be true with most things worth knowing well, under and beyond the skin.

Briefly the connection comes. In sitting, this is what the brain both does and cannot stand doing: chases, floats, darts, becomes almost hideous in its incapacity to align to anything. Then, precisely as I am hearing now in this Ligeti etude, it returns. Not only does the mind find ground, but it comes back, like a yielding. For the briefest moment, Ligeti might sound like Beethoven, and the thread, the connection of something needed, glimmers through otherwise difficult and strange moments.

Zazen is just like this.
Especially zazen in a new summer wind.

 

 

 

II. Youth

I remember when I learned that silence has a sound..
Imagine I was stable
But fuck it, I can’t harp on what I ain’t though
Mental illness put food on my table…”
         ~~ Kota the Friend, “Hero”

You will remember this with me. Won’t you?
One afternoon at a house whose details are sacred to the religion of your story – the one you create until you no longer can – on this afternoon, the quiet of the house fell around you almost like an opaque mist. There was comfort to it, but your child’s heart was just the slightest unsettled. Yes? Trust me, I know.

Outside the enormous window in the sitting room you could see a mountain, so close it did not even look blue like those other mountains you saw  from your small perch in the car, engine vibrating your thin bones while you looked and looked and looked. This mountain had snow on it, even though on this day you were wearing shorts, muddy sandals dutifully abandoned at the arched front door.

As you got up to pull out the familiar set, a slight groan interrupted the wide silence that one second before had seemed permanent, a landscape of sight with no sound. That ancient huge silver coated dog, still bigger than you, even in her advanced years kept watch of your every step, a fact you found both funny and necessary to the pieces that made up the whole of your grandmother’s love.

You dragged the set to the middle of the sitting room, where you could lean against the dog’s warm belly and keep watch over the clouds beginning to shade the mountain’s peak. They had no shape for you, you never understood people who played those games, or any games, really, but you still liked to name them. Cumulus, the favorite, because they looked exactly as they are named.

From your beginning, you knew to decipher, to arrange the categories. When one piece is left out, totality is lost, you see the end to infinity; why can they not understand your rage, your wise, absorbed warning?

Everything has a logic to it if one looks closely or moves far enough away.

The white pieces were smudged by then, and one of the rooks was chipped, giving it a vulnerable appearance to people who unlocked and arranged the board. You, I don’t believe, had noticed. You had been studying Anderssen’s Opening, a sidelong glance of a move the futile use of which you simply could not understand.  That man, so famous, playing it multiple times, to what end?

You thought him stupid. But you took the book out anyway, your first on irregular openings, its spine already carelessly cracked. I now have it in my bedroom, on the top shelf behind glass, where so many of your broken and loved things now live.

The dog stretched, the clouds darkened, making the sky near the sitting room take on a different, more aged blue. It was the blue that came before the turn of the day, when a briefcase dropped upstairs, bishops, queens and ironing put away to make room for ice in the glass, scotch that sparkled like honey, letters from England.

Before all that, the old house and its mistress still belonged to you. She spoke in long low sentences that clipped off at the end, as if she had taken them to a tailor, as she did all of her clothing. Sometimes she took you with her, and the sight of this slender tall man with hair like wax softly measure, murmur the numbers, measure again, would stun you with a growing notion that such formal intimacy should not be seen.

You knew that in a very few moments there would be a slow creaking sound coming from a room far down the long oak wood hall, old-fashioned sconces still lit at night to make shadows dance in ether, and that she would emerge, leash in hand, ready to walk whether the dog was or not.

Ritual. Both of you knew there was not even a syllables worth of difference between that word and religion, though your grandmother pretended otherwise.

On that day, one of the last before it all fell away, she looked down, an unusual smile in her eyes. “Ah. Anderssen’s Opening. I believe my brother attended that match…. my brother was impressed with the novelty. I still believe him to be stupid. What good is novelty if one doesn’t win?”

And she put the leash on the piano bench nearby, sat with an easy grace on the floor, set the pieces back, and said, “Now my dear, you be white. We both know about the statistics of being first. And don’t forget your en passant.”

 

 

Paragraph

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Paragraph

When anxious, his body returns to its root, and twists like strong thin rope. I could feel that twist of him, the beginning of his beginning, for many moonless nights before the double lines spoke the truth of him. Those weeks that filled every empty space, pouring into me the mould that would become the reality of him, that too-much and never enough of mother, son, age and space. When the woman said “yes, he should come,” his tiny hips were still as a shaded dogwood while the brilliant white flower of his face turned away from the room, from the center of all. that. action.  And his eyes sought rest in the strange sight of speeding cars by glass and height made soundless. I think his mind is like this:  visions & memories & soothsayer of skill & the strange knowing, but always with some missing piece.

~~ For A.C.W.M.

 

Even Now

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Even Now

Even now –
long after
the hour
that marks
the peak
and death
of day

Even now –
the children
so stricken
by dreams
they’re gone
from you,
far into
their own
already lengthening
secret memories

Even now –
after sitting
the singing
bowl unstruck
the mind
is not
a river –
Only You
Not-You
like flowers
in gardens
never seen

Even now –
silence escapes –
finding her
she breaks.
Your hands
are cramped
are emptied
It is
you know
all about
the grip –

__

Solo is not Solitude

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Solo is not Solitude
~ for the middle one

I am sorry
to be

the one

to hold your shoulder
and offer practiced

artfully authentic

explanations & sympathies
of how it goes, how he went –

but no.

Your solitude
and your age

is neither

a choice
nor the chance

to slash

your way to wisdom
like the dumb determination

of raindrops

pooled first in a flower’s narrow stem,
to a knife-thin ageless rivulet, then a canyon

of water,

bone of Earth split wide after so…many…years.
I can hold your shoulder and tell you, sweetly:

your hope

is the waste of a wish, an inverted prayer
that in a garden, damp from evening air

a love

might alight upon your shoulder
and anoint your neck with scented oil.

For once

be silent, let the silence shake you;
She has finally lost her patience.

For once

in the quiet tired house
let your river-veined hands

be still.

Put down your pen, your dishcloth,
there really is an end to

your end.

Your daughter walking to the gate,
her face catches some unseen light

that blinds –

When it Drops

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When it Drops

I.
A week before the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, I was in Taos, staying at my favorite hotel, busy planning a summer of camps for the children, a trip to Italy, and a yoga retreat in the Catskills. Living, in other words, within the well appointed walls of progressive values, bohemian taste, and my own rather peculiar version of bipolar illness.

Late last year I read a moving, exhaustively researched piece of photojournalism in the New York Times about the growing shantytowns in Oakland, California. The vivid description and photographs of those living there, suffering and sick from almost endless causes, the total absence of hygiene, the lack of medical care and basic safety, both haunted and terrified me. The article appeared to me as an unanswerable distillation of the world’s rapidly multiplying disasters: mass inequality, hegemonic nationalism, and a mutilated, unpredictable climate. When I took the time to step out of my protected and lovely little world – a world contained enough I still did not understand how Donald Trump was President three years in – it was this tripartite of worries that most occupied me, and seemed to mark a shift away from the security with which I had been raised, and still took for granted.

Sometimes I wondered if I should have had children.

More and more often I wondered if I, too, might be homeless. A middle aged woman with imperfect health, a rather mountainous mind of unscalable cliffs and depthless valleys, three children and not much money. Yes, I realized. I’m not special. It could happen to me too.

And then the worry would fade, a peak of creativity or joy or sex would appear around the bend, and back I went, into my little room of everyday, priviledged concerns. Less than a month after reading that article, this country slowly woke up to the fact that China was experiencing some sort of rapidly moving illness. It was very far away, and like many U.S. citizens I tend to mistrust information from China. It is underreported. Over reported. Whatever the story, the issue, I’m aware that there is a filtering process the Chinese government lays over the lives of its citizens, like a camera with many complicated lenses.

II.
It came so suddently, didn’t it?

You were at work at the beginning of March. Yes, it was the beginning of March, unless you live in California, and then it was two weeks prior. Regardless. Work, home, gym, children, no children, school, dating, fucking, not-fucking, groceries, bills, writing, TV, Twitter, arguments, love: it all flatlined in an instant.

Stop-time. Toddlers held suspended above playgrounds bow-tied in yellow tape that looks like a murder investigation. Dementia ridden women, vaguely aware of a daily visitor, begin each day alone. End it the same way. Babysitting grandparents put the lie to countless “I’ll see you tomorrow my Love” to preschoolers with no sense of time. Cars stay in driveways. Planes fly empty or not at all. Traffic becomes a pointless changing of timed lights, green for no one, red for… one? Two?

The city seems to dim, and forgotten stars dance indifferentlly in the night sky.

You were at work. Or, forgive the grammar, at life. Whatever that means to you, to us, to your community and your heart. And then, life stopped. Not in that glorious still point sort of stopping most of the vaguely mystical or romantic dream of, but in a stunning, endlessly repeating car accident that infuses the marrow with memory and changes the structure of dreams.

Did you see the brilliant tweet? There are so many now: people are creative and incredibly sad, needing the illusion that the buried wires connect, connect, connect… The tweet said: “If you had told me in 2016 that the economy would be shit and the world would be ending in 2020 I would have been surprised NOT AT ALL.”

A madman is at the helm. Of this story, only Homer might approve. But who now has the time for the metaphoric, the grandiose? The stop-time brings the mind to heel as well: lethargy courts fatigue, and the madman’s words become mere fodder for an exhausted, beaten humor. No one will fight or dance or march in these streets.

In a matter of hours, the true extent of this country’s sickness and inequality was revealed. It has taken a sociopath and an illness that brought the world to its knees to do it, but here we are. I am at home. You are at home, with the office set up in a closet. We are the lucky ones. Protected and pale and soft, craving a concert in the park.

Tentatively, I go to an abandoned grocery store. It is fully staffed with friendly people, some of whom are older, some hugely overweight, which I know puts them at higher risk for illness. At one point I take a huge cart overflowing with treats and produce and fresh breads, impulsively plucked toys for my 6 year old, toward the automated check line. A lovely, too thin young woman flags me over, her mask on tight.

“Come to my station,” she said, as if relieved to have the company.
“I want you to stay safe,” I said, “so maybe it’s better if I use the auto?”

“I’m here to help you.” As she said these words, slightly muffled behind her handmade mask, I had to look away in shame. Tears came to my eyes. She was no more than twenty three. She had to be there. I chose to be.

Yesterday my daughter said to me about some forgettable object over which I was pining:

“Mama. You don’t need that. You want that.”

And so it is with our lives now:
How I want to go out. How I want to be less depressed. I want to travel and work and see friends.

And then the great, usually unseen engine of our society responds:
“What you want… is what we must do, day upon day, hour upon hour.”

III.
Yesterday I saw a video.
The video is of a large, white man, his stomach leering over a too-optimistic belt.
The large white man is rolling something dark and small on the ground, as if he were a baker working over some toughened dough.
The dough however is a child. A thin, black child with wonderfully wild hair and the frail body of a human half his age, which the gleeful newsman announces as 14.
The large white man is a police officer. He has, compared to the child, the physique of a retired wrestler burnt out on steroids.
His strength, the strength in his closed-fist hands, his body bent at the waist as he rolls, twists, punches the child, is the strength of a stupid rage.
This is not strength, of course.
But the child’s small, still hardening bones can not know this.

I did not watch the entire video. I saw the violation, I saw the trajectory:
the child’s life is a shooting star, visible to all of us for an instant no more. I do not need to watch the pornography of the white man’s rage, the extinguished innocence of the wild-haired boy.

This is what I thought:
“Oh. This cop didn’t care about ‘social distancing.’ Apparently we are returning to normal now.”

A virus. A fist.
A fucked up pharmaceutical laundry list.
You, too, will drop.
And that’s all, for now, I’ve got.