Two to Recall
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 zazen; my 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.
“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.”