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Archive for the ‘Changing the Narrative’ Category

2012-08-25_11-37-47_970

letters and fragments from the dead

 

Writing is a moral act.

 

Ethics and the psyche are part of every letter that falls from the pen or emerges from a depressed key.

 

This is how we remember it: the shadow falling over the side of the mountain, the side we couldn’t see, and then the sun fell from view and the moon rose. It was almost the last quarter, the day before—we had looked it up—after the full moon, a Super Moon, the previous Saturday.

 

We had gone into a bookstore on our street and seen the newly published novel of a woman we knew years ago. There was a cat in the bookstore but we didn’t see her.

 

It was the first cool day, with heavy, dark clouds but it didn’t rain. We stood on the corner for an hour and a half talking.

 

The dead speak in words, too. They speak through us and with us. There is this life and, alongside, this death. They are wound together. The air is full of breath and unbreath. One time, there was a whole procession of the dead in front of me—they appeared as they would appear in a photograph, dressed up, wearing hats, dark clothing, and carrying bags and purses. Their eyes shone and they had come to talk to me, about becoming unwound from them, letting go, the ritual of unbinding. They said all they wanted was for me to live a free and happy life. They wanted me to let go of grieving for them and for me to know that my place was exactly where I was, not with them. Living for so many years with the dead, I could see them clearly and heard their words distinctly, as they were spoken. Then I wrote them down, here.

 

This day, Friday, was a release. I write for the dead who are long gone, and for myself. There are wings of insects inside me, gray in the light that comes in from the mouth, when it opens to speak, and the light in the middle of the forehead when it expands. Light comes in and the wings are translucent. I write for those who can’t speak and for myself, when I can’t speak. Writing out of the silence, of the silence, taking measurements for the words that will be written from one wall to the other, factoring in shadows thrown by figures that have emerged from the boundaries. Writing as a measurement of silence. Writing moves the water outside the window. Writing collects the dust and specimens from the floor and windowsill and chandeliers.

 

Writing is an act of solace, a movement from isolation to relationship, a knowledge of the world as of the body and nonbody—the corporeal and ghost. We are figures in the emerging dust—sun-day—measuring the tallest building against huts on the beach. Here are my words, and they come from my womb and my bones and my blood, and what I have held and what I hold and what I release. These are measurements as if for a dress or a suit. We know these clothes. We fabricate our stories in the threads and wear them out to important occasions. We have tea. We eat meals with strangers, half-smiling over our forks at half-formed structures behind their heads.

 

This Friday, this particular day, just was. In the being of the day, I could breathe, for once. Real breath that sustained me. Breath that filled the lungs and allowed me to sleep for the first time in weeks. This is the companionship of those who are always around. I found pieces of paper towel all over the house, on a nail, on a screw, behind the toothbrush holder, after she cleaned. They looked like white moth wings. I picked them up and threw them out, noticing their delicate texture and their beauty. There is wholeness that is found when more and more pieces come to us.

 

When was the first time we saw the invisible world? We saw its lights twinkle in deep blue, violet, light blue, Saturn red, Spring grass green. No real forms were present until our eyes adjusted to the eternal twilight. Maybe we were at the top of the earth, true North. We were at the place our souls brought us. Our souls, these creatures of the deep, dark terrarium we called consciousness. That which we were not aware of making hand shadows on the walls. Dictionaries of silhouette and semaphor. And upon arriving at our true North, their true shapes emerged.

 

“We are not shapeshifters in the way you are used to defining shapeshifters. The music is different here.”

 

 

 

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The sleeping dances with images of the Devil. The Tarot cards reveal what has not yet been fully understood. August light is hot and dense, usually—but this summer has been mild, with nights getting cool and we’ve been able to open windows. Insomnia is like this—a deep, dark devil that uncurls itself like smoke. Not invisible, it is seen by the naked eye and startles us as we drift off. This is part of the Dreamland.

 

Here is the part that floats—the burned part of the skin that becomes numb. This is from being hurt one too many times so that all the petals close tightly around the bud. There is still light. There is always light. We’ve learned this. Through weather and trees and autumn and summer and depression and grief. The light is always there.

 

We feel it in our thumbs, as we stretch out our hands after a long afternoon of writing. We visit the wild grasses in times of war. We know war in our bones, the way we know peace. The air is gray with anxiety and the clouds are heavy. The rain comes and lightning and thunder. For several hours in the morning, the sky is bright and baby blue, the color of an innocence that no longer exists in the human realm. But then we come back to the place where the soul starts, an overgrown path, thick with weeds and large, flat, round stones. We make our way through the tall and taller foliage, the leaves are glorious and lush and a shade of green from the time when the earth was just born. This is where the path starts. We hear the low moan of unknown animals.

 

This is the way the earth changes. The earth and the soul. The way the trees bow away from each other to let in viscous rays of sunlight. Honey-thick, they pour down through this newly discovered ancient forest as we get lost on the unmarked trails.

 

The war has ended in one place and begins in another. We are hopeful people. We begin again and again, in a state of peace. We continue to breathe as others cease. Their breaths become part of a blanket that is held between earth and sky, disintegrating into stars and blackness, the eternal dark spaces that hold death.

 

We open up into a noncorporeal form without form, just light. The light becomes brighter and brighter. We stay here, floating and emitting, for a while. Then we return to do our work on the earth.

 

There are three worlds, at least. There are many worlds. We live with our feet on the ground of the earth and our lungs breathing in the air of the heavens. The air of the atmosphere. We build things. We tear them down. We are our own history and everyone else’s. We share heritage and identity and we are our own heritage and identity. We come to a place where it is cold and no one is there. We light a fire on our own in the vast, horizonless tundra. It is 60 below. We have on a parka and the only part of our form that is visible is our eyes, full of warmth and humanity and sight. The fire is bright and warm. We connect with our own soul again.

 

We find a pattern in the snow, in the sand, in the dirt. We trace it with our fingers, with a stick, with a branch. We become fossils. We crumble into the earth. These are our graves. These are our graves, filling with dirt as the people above ground sing and pray. They will bring food they cooked to the house for a week. The family will look through a veil of grief that will then fall apart to let in some light. For a while, the curtains and shades will always be drawn. Then one day, someone will tie them back and pull the string to raise the olive green cloth into accordion pleats at the top of each window.

 

We find a way to hold death against the window as a silhouette, a paper doll taking the shape of the inanimate. The animate taking the form of the inanimate. Sleep taking the form of a kind of death, beating against the windows as rain, as tree branches, as wind. The dead communicating with the living. We drift off to sleep to the sound of cars on the streets outside, idling at the traffic light then engines starting up again, driving away in the direction that all sound moves, toward silence and the dimension that exists beyond human thought. The place where death and life are indistinguishable and we have a cup of coffee on the sandstone balcony overlooking all the cities that have ever been.

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The Living

 

 

When thinking about one’s personal memories, it’s hard to know which to keep inside, to one’s self, and which to write about so that they are out in the world, in a public manuscript, which could be read by others. I am specifically now recalling hanging out as a pre-adolescent in the apartment complex on the edge of the suburban township-Philadelphia city divide. I don’t remember the faces of my friends, the memories are dusky and unfinished, but with deep emotion and formative atmosphere, the kind of whole experience that subsumes itself into one’s being, one’s skin, and is developmentally integral.

 

 

I remember putting pennies on the train tracks and watching the trains barrel over the tracks, then picking the flattened copper disc off the hot tracks. The vibration of those hurtling trains, the stone steps overhung with fragrant honeysuckle, which we used to pick and from which we sucked out the sweet nectar. This was pre-sexual but desire and the awareness of boys rippled through my body. I was on the edge of adolescence, scrawny, fast, with preternatural energy and excitement about everything. One evening, the sky was just growing dark, and one of the older boys, Dan, sat with me on the steps of one of the apartment buildings in the complex. As we sat looking at the makeshift baseball diamond, he asked me if I knew what the bases were then proceeded to tell me what each of them represented in sexual terms. I don’t remember what I was thinking but I know now that he wanted to kiss me and I was blithely unaware. I got up and went inside to my apartment and don’t remember anything else about him. I remember I was reading The Outsiders just like we all were and I imagined our suburban apartment complex as the setting for The Outsiders and all of us as the characters. I remember our apartment being broken into and the police coming and covering everything with white dust, which looked so surreal, and the feeling of fear, but in a muted way. I didn’t really understand what had happened, and was just looking at the police go through the house, in their uniforms with heavy leather belts and guns hanging from holsters, and everything covered in haunting white powder.

 

 

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Are all of these potent and private memories to be kept to myself or is there some value and meaning in writing about them? The girl I was, the skinny, energetic girl who was full of movement and spark, she is important. Because a year later, everything would change for me. I would no longer be carefree and skinny. I would have breasts and hips that made my own body a hindrance to me, and foreign, somewhere I felt I didn’t belong, and I would go through a trauma that would stay with me for the rest of my life. The fact that these two monumental changes happened at the same time glued them together somehow, in a way I have been trying to pull apart for years. The trauma held in my body, as if burned into eternal form by volcanic ash.

 
The Dead

 

 

And now in New York. Walking in the South Slope in Brooklyn.

 

We are all apparitions. We carry the dead inside us. We take care of them. Following the road through the cemetery, we saw headstones and Celtic crosses, big mausoleum stone–the city of the dead overlooking the crazy New York skyline, as if all the souls wandering around are living. The city of the dead overlooking the city of the living. The winding footpaths and lush green of early summer grass–or late Spring, as we’ve been lucky this year to have some Spring–through these resting places. The names burn with the lives of those buried here. The hills of the cemetery. The blue sky and perfect white clouds after a week of thunder and rain. Pouring rain, pounding against the windows last night, furious and banishing all the old spirits who would take up residence here. Today, the helpful spirits were in attendance and walked with us. Such solace and soft footsteps they have, such grace and gentleness. The dead speak in whispers and contain everything, are everything, the roses in their blooming prime, the scent of them hallucinatory, another world created through the glass of the diner where we sat for hours because the waitress had forgotten our order.

 

The glass of the window looking out onto 5th Avenue like a mirror or telling glass—fortune-telling, spun from angels’ wings—through this glass, I had a déjà vu—and knew this was one of the moments of my life that was fated. But, in the absence of such direct experiences, the divine is always present. And in the ravel of experience, we glimpse beyond the glass another world that exists alongside this one, where the dead love us and watch over us and hold our dreams for us when we no longer can. Our strength returns and we remember who we are, the wind, the ground, the sunlight, the fury of the rain, and we return to ourselves. Our true selves, filled with light and power and connected to the divine. Able to recognize those divine souls that travel with us, that sew the cloth of our lives with us, those who see our souls and love us in all our anchors and jetties.

 

LadyLiberty

 

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Stacey Harwood shares some Hump Day Highlights at The Best American Poetry blog and links to these amazing essays!

http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2014/02/hump-day-highlights.html

5

 

 

Then, the last week of May, I got an email: “Benedict Wisniewski wants to be friends on Facebook.”  Not the Benedict Wisniewski, I thought, the boy who presented me with a red plastic ring with a white knight on it in first grade and said, “Now we’re just minutes away from marriage”?  Not the Benedict Wisniewski who gave me Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” album as we stood with our moms on the steps of St. John of God Church after our last graduation practice on a blue-green early summer evening, and said, “I got it at the best record store in all Chicago — Yardbird Records.  They have the best selection of bootlegs in the area.  And,” he whispered conspiratorially, “they also have head supplies!”

I didn’t know what “bootlegs” or “head supplies” were then, in 1974, but Benedict, a misfit like myself, the butt of classmates’ taunts (he for being fat, me for being skinny, both of us for being “different”), really knew music.   We both loved rock and roll with the passion of outcasts whose loneliness had been redeemed by it.  I needed to find that store.  But I’d forgotten where Ben had said it was, if he had said.  But three years later I finally found it, as my dad drove Georgie and I back from driver’s ed, and from then on I hung out there every weekend.  Then during the week.  Then I dated one of the owners: Arnie, eleven years older than me.  My mother constantly threatened a restraining order, but she needn’t have worried.   We never really dated until I was about to turn eighteen.  Our first “official” date, in fact, was May 6, 1978, a few months before I turned eighteen.  When he picked me up on the corner of 51st and Ashland (I told my mother I was going over by Georgie’s house) the digital clock in his Datsun B210 read 12:34 — our first date had commenced on 12:34, 5/6, ’78.  It would prove auspicious, too, as Arnie introduced me to the tiny but dedicated Chicago punk rock scene, centered on the north side.  He was my ticket out of the south side.  He died in 1979, at 29.  It was because of him that I learned that it was the north side, and then New York City, upon which I should set my sights if I wanted to pursue artistic goals (writer? painter? actress?).  But it was Ben who had pointed me in that direction in the first place.  And now, all these years later, I could thank him.  I wondered what this had to do with my mental state, if anything.  Deep down I knew it was probably everything.

By email we described what our lives had become:  Ben was chief operations officer at a big stock trading firm located in Chicago’s Board of Trade building, with a corner office and a staff.  In other words, he’d made it.  I was embarrassed telling him about my life — I was making less than half of half what he was making.  He’d also opted to stay at home and take care of his mother, and I felt guilty — now — about leaving my parents to go live in New York.  Wanting to connect with this living, breathing link to a past I was so desperately trying to bring back (or at least understand), I asked him if he wanted to talk on the phone.  We started talking regularly on Thursday nights, and our first conversation was about our revenge-through-success fantasies.

“My bête-noir in those days,” he said, “was that guy Johnny Grundy — remember him?  With the rotten teeth and greaser hair?  Greaser hair . . . in the Seventies!  He made fun of me every single day, tried to trip me in the hall, ripped papers out of my folders, put my books in other kid’s desks, put gum on my chair . . . he thought he was cool ’cause he was in a gang, you know?   And so, dig this: it’s years later, I’d just gotten out of college, I’d lost a ton of weight, I was working for the city so I had a damn good paycheck, and I had a date with some girl.  I was all dressed up — designer sport coat and tie, dress pants, the works — and I had my Mustang then, this little candy-apple red Mustang coupe.  Totally hot car.  Guys used to pull over at red lights and ask me about it.  And so I took it to this car wash at 60th and Western, and I pulled in and got out — this was back in the days when they drove it through the cash wash for you — and I’m standing behind the glass, watching the guys work on it, and I’m looking at this one guy and thinkin’, ‘Man, he looks familiar …’ and dammit if it wasn’t that fucking low-life Johnny Grundy!  And when they were done I went over to the car, and he kept looking at me, and I kept looking at him, and I knew he knew who I was, and he was looking at the car I was driving, and looking at how I was dressed — and he was in this raggedy old t-shirt and jeans — and I didn’t say a damn thing to him.  I just drove out of there with a big smile on my face thinking, ‘This is what happens in the real world, you son of a bitch.’  ‘Cause I was the fat boy that nobody wanted around.”

“And I was the skinny girl that nobody wanted around.”

“And now I’m sitting in my office with a view of the lake, behind a $2,000 hand-carved executive desk, with my butt firmly planted in a $500 leather chair, thinking those kids that made fun of me — where are they now?   Wiping down cars, making shit money.  And look at you: traveling around the world, reading your work in foreign countries, getting published, doing what you love … that’s what ya call payback, baby!  Don’t it feel good?”

It didn’t.  Because I wasn’t successful — I’d just forfeited a Fulbright.  I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and I was going to have to start my 3-week adjunct summer teaching gig in a week.  I was a mess.  Plus I still hadn’t gotten my revenge-through-success on the clique of girls who’d tormented me.  And now I was in the grip of something that was taking my last chance at even moderate success as a writer away.  I was still a loser.

During one of our conversations, Ben told me about a Facebook page created by two former St. John of God Grammar School alums.  But he said to beware — everyone was discussing the demolition of the church, which had just begun.  I’d been following the final days and closure of the church for years; my mother had sent me newspaper clippings describing the parish’s struggle to keep going despite its dwindling — and then barely existing — congregation, its famous crying Virgin Mary statue, and its final Mass in 1992.   I’d wished I’d been there for that final Mass, to see the priest and altar boys leave the altar for the last time, to have one last look at those four pious kneeling angels, the painting in the dome that had inspired such peace in my soul, and the shafts of colored light pouring in through the stained glass windows at the beginning of three months of summer.  I’d even had a crazy dream of writing a coming-of-age novel so powerful it would revive interest in our historic neighborhood (the first American grass-roots community organization, the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, had been founded there, by activist Saul Alinsky in 1939) and the archdiocese would re-open the church because of overwhelming demand from the influx of new parishioners.  I’d make the local and national news, Oprah would choose my novel for her book club, there’d be an interview with me in front of my old house.  Artists and urban pioneers would flood into the neighborhood because of the cheap rents, yuppies would follow, and newspaper articles would be describe the “new diversity,” never-before-seen on the “white flight” south side of Chicago.  I actually did write the novel — Greetings From Jag-off Land —  but the handful of agents I’d sent it to turned it down, so I shelved it and went back to writing poetry.  About joining the SJG Facebook page, I was uncertain: I didn’t know if I wanted to embellish my despair over the demolition of my life with despair over the demolition of the church.  The idea of that beautiful church with its graceful, lace-like twin spires, its high and airy vault — my childhood sanctuary — being torn apart was just too much to bear.  But curiosity got the best of me, and I joined the “St. John of God Parish and Grammar School” page.

The names of almost-forgotten, now vividly-recalled kids from various grades scrolled before me: Kubicki, Wroblewski, Dombrowski, McGuire, Glow, Walczak, Shedor, Faro.  I could see them, and many others, making their idiosyncratic ways up and down the aisles during Communion at 8 a.m. Mass: the girl who developed early and knew it, and rolled her skirt and left the first three buttons of her blouse open, the one the boys called “Bouncy”; the boy whose mother had died and whose shoes had soles that were half off, and so he dragged his feet, making a shushing sound; the tough gang girl who liked to fight, and shot dirty looks from under her blunt-cut black bangs at other girls in the pews.  The names I didn’t recognize were girls who’d gotten married, I figured, so I clicked on the links to their pages and it became clear who’d they been back then.  Two of my teachers were also there, including Mr. Urbanek, my seventh grade English teacher, my favorite, who’d first encouraged me to be a writer.   The names brought on an internalized feeling of the shape and space of the school: light brick, modern, L-shaped, two floors, long windows, two sets of red double doors along the front, and a white cement Lady of Fatima statue, with three kneeling children and a couple of sheep, on the grass behind an iron stake fence.  Inside, the shiny marble floors of Kindergartens A and B (upon which I’d napped next to Ben on a rag rug) inlaid with the alphabet, numbers, friendly animals, a clock that looked like a sun.  In all the classrooms were high, wide windows that had to be opened with a long pole, and low bookcases containing red Thorndike-Barnhardt Scholastic Dictionaries.  In front of Sister Principal’s office (where I went with Billy Peak in Kindergarten because we fought over who had colored their Thanksgiving turkey drawing more prettier) sat a big, plush German Shepherd, placed there by my classmate Melanie Rybczinski, whose mother was the principal’s secretary.  I could smell the mimeographed paper we used for cursive writing practice in the lower grades, and feel the curvy orange Palmer Penmanship Pen we used later (and also my continual irritation at not being able to make those wheat stacks look the way they were supposed to).

But also there, as I feared, were photos of the church in the process of being taken down.  At first, I couldn’t look at them, but, again, curiosity got the best of me, and there was the mural of Jesus with the children, now with nothing but clear blue sky behind it and raw plaster all around it.   The vestibule was in ruins, and rubble littered the winding staircase that led to the choir loft.  A linked youtube video, called “Goodbye, St. John of God Church,” made by the daughter of a woman who’d graduated the year before me (and whose brother had been in my class), lovingly lingered on the details of whatever remained amidst the rubble and the mold-damaged, peeling walls.  The murals of peaceful, pious, kneeling angels flanking the altar were chipped and fading behind dust and mold, though they still continued to display, to the best of their ability, and for whatever eternity remained to them, the censer, St. Veronica’s veil, the chalice and Host, and the Crown of Thorns.  (Now, I could finally see their faces and tender expressions up close — it made their imminent destruction even more tragic.)  The pews had been removed and an inflatable basketball hoop and backboard put in, and garish blue and yellow protective plastic padding covered the Stations of the Cross paintings.   A cheap digital scoreboard had been added to the wall below the choir loft — the church had been repurposed as a gym for the community center that was our old grammar school — and a sign affixed to the outside of the church read “William J. Yaeger Memorial Gym.”  The lofty white marble and gold main altar had basketball-shaped puncture holes at the bottom, and the alcove where the statue of St. John of God once stood, holding a pomegranate surmounted by a cross in his hand and looking down tenderly, bemusedly, was empty.  Remaining atop the main altar were the two white marble figures, seated, looking down protectively; they now looked down on rubble-strewn floors, and an inexplicable car tire.  The dome painting that I’d loved so much, of St. John of God ministering to the sick man, assisted by an angel holding a vessel of healing liquid and the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus seated on clouds, remained poignantly intact.  Outside, the two slender bell towers, stripped of their exterior bricks, looked like stockyards’ smokestacks.  At the end of the video was a quote: “‘What the heart has once known, it will never forget’ — Author Unknown.”

There were discussions about the church that echoed my own feelings:

— Has anyone gone back to “our” church to see how it looks? I don’t think that I can, I’m afraid my heart would break in a millon peices

— I was looking at the pictures on the site…is that a scoreboard where the choir used to be?? Wasn’t the church blessed at one point?  How can there be basketball games going on in a sacred place?!!!

— All our indestructible memories, amid the ruins . . .

— OH MY GOD!!!!!!! It’s a gym????????????????????? That is horrible!! I can’t believe someone allowed all of this to happen.

— I went past there about two months ago, showed the kids where I grew up and the size of the school compared to where they go. The church is still standing but it just looked deserted. When did they tear down the “old” school? Remember doing the plays there or using it for a lunch room?

— God bless our home.

But there was actually hope.  Reading more recent postings, I learned that St. John of God wasn’t exactly being wantonly demolished.  The beautiful Renaissance Revival facade and some of its exterior were being transported, brick-by-brick, to Old Mill Creek, Illinois, a town on the Wisconsin border, to become part of a new church, St. Raphael the Archangel.  The interior of the new church would come from another closed Chicago church.  This was something that had never been done before, apparently; the Archdiocese of Chicago had an epiphany: a recycling apotheosis.  In a photo of the new church going up, I could see the beginning of the familiar collonade that would shelter the massive front doors.  In a video, the foundation-laying ceremony included putting St. Raphael’s corner store on top of St. John of God’s.  I recognized that cornerstone — the date, in Roman numerals, had been chiseled incorrectly originally, and some smart-ass had written the proper way in underneath, in chalk.  The chalked date had been erased, and now it would apparently remain awkwardly calculated forever — I liked that.  My former fellow schoolmates were just as encouraged:

— Whew!  My childhood memories are just . . . . moving.

— Heard about this move. Sounds like a great idea and a way to continue the beauty of this church in a beautiful church.

— If by moving it it will continue to be of use, I say bravo, Archdiocese of Chicago.

— My sister already contacted the pastor at the new church and the old St John members are invited to attend the “opening ceremonies”. Thought it would be a great way for the old St John family to symbolically hand over the building to the new congregation. Any thoughts out there??

— That sounds like a great idea to attend the opening ceremonies. I would love that. Anyone else?

— Absolutely! I went past the new location recently and took these photos of the limestone bricks of “our” church waiting to be pieced together . . . Although these are waiting to be reconstructed, somehow just being among them, made me feel at home! 🙂

The shape and color of those piles of bricks brought back the palpable and familiar presence of the church.  I could feel myself, so vividly it surprised me, walking up the wide steps, standing at the entrance to the church, under the collonade, with a glance cast to the side, to the trees that surrounded the church, just about to grasp the door handle and enter the vestibule on a mild spring morning.  In the background of the photo the unmown Midwest prairie grasses and tall trees of its new home on the Wisconsin border recalled Sherman Park.  It occurred to me that the church had been moved to the kind of bucolic location that Sherman Park was designed to suggest — it had been moved to a beautiful, peaceful place, away from the violence that had been done to it.  It would never be the same without its original interior (which had been ripped wantonly away — why couldn’t those beautiful murals be saved?), but it had been moved so that it could serve a new purpose for a new community.  Had I wanted it to remain where it had been, serving no purpose except to be a useless symbol of a long-ago time?  There was something to be learned from what was happening to St. John of God: at 50, what was my purpose?  Was I just clinging to a long-ago time that could never serve a real purpose?  And hadn’t I been de-constructed recently, hadn’t my insides been ripped away?

I knew there was something to be learned from that, and that all this was in my life for a reason, but could I emotionally deal with it?  If I started posting on that page, and people responded, what other wounds would be reopened?

 

Sharon Mesmer’s most recent poetry collections are The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose 2008) and Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008). Fiction collections are In Ordinary Time and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose 2005 and 2000) and Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette, in French translation 2005). Other poetry collections include Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna 2006), Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press 1998) and Crossing Second Avenue (ABJ Press, Tokyo 1997). Four poems appear in the newly released Postmodern American Poetry—A Norton Anthology (second edition) Her work has also appeared in Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, New American Writing, The Brooklyn Rail, Women’s Studies Quarterly, West Wind Review, Abraham Lincoln, esque, Poets for Living Waters, and The Scream. An excerpt of her story, “Revenge,” appears in I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women (Les Figues). She teaches at NYU, the New School, and online for the Chicago School of Poetics.

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I was told for many years, by many people, that I wouldn’t survive. There was no doubt I wouldn’t make it. I wasn’t safe where I was, ever. When identity is based on this kind of fear, how do we move through this to a place of power? I have spent my life trying to answer this question, as well as many other questions associated with the discovery that there are horrific events in our world. What do we do with that knowledge? How do we continue to live, to survive? How do we deal with the guilt of being survivors in a world where so many of us don’t make it? These questions create a gravitational center from which radiate the many aspects of truth that make up the circumference of meaning. The meaning is not found in answering the unanswerable, but in asking the questions over and over again.

 

The nature of fear is to consume. It’s like a flame. A flame can be destructive or life-giving.

 

I have come to learn that my fear has saved me as many times as it’s brought me to my knees.

 

I have brought this fear, a fear I know intimately, like the palm of my hand, with its many deep lines—the palm readers say I will have a long, interesting life—with me everywhere I go. It is with me when I sleep. It protects me and knows me like a lover. Of course it does, because it sleeps next to me every night. This fear sits next to me when I eat, follows me into the restaurant when I am meeting friends, orders coffee at the end of the meal. For a long time, my fear stood outside my writing—I could not even bear to bring them together in a conscious way. But, little by little, my fear started to inform my writing, make it face itself, make me face my own darkness in words, made me have a conversation with it through my writing.

 

This allowed for a third ghost to enter the picture—a witness. I became my own witness to my thoughts, sensations, beliefs, and stories about Fear.

We don’t just want to write something good. We want it mean something. One of the scariest things is to think none of what we do matters. Writing is about connecting—to ourselves, others, the place where body and mind meet, our own stillness and silence that is part of the world’s stillness and silence, from which strength and courage and truth and love come in unlimited supply. To touch that, even for a moment, with our writing, with words, actions, intentions, is meaningful. Every second we experience our lives is meaningful. We deepen our own awareness into acknowledgment of that meaning—it is a task, every day, to do that.

 

Meaning is the antithesis of fear.

 

*

I’m worrying a lot right now about being honest in what I write. So much is coming up for me and it all feels so raw. I want to write about it but it feels too scary. I can barely talk about it.

 

I can barely talk to people who’ve known me my whole life, who know me and know this fear, know my fear.

 

And I realized that that’s exactly the place to start, so I start at the not being able to talk about it, what that feels like, that place between feeling and expression.

 

That is part of the fear—and the freedom.

 

I want so much to be free. To feel free and safe. I want this for everyone in the world.

 

It shouldn’t be so hard to feel safe and that has created a grief that has been inside me for as long as I can remember.

 

We want to be known. And we want others to be known. We are fierce, fearless creatures who inhabit a haunted, beautiful, scary world.

 

When we know our own personal fear, it’s a weird intimacy, because we know it, we sit there with it, watch TV or read, or do the countless tasks we do throughout our day and night, we sleep, wake up at 3 in the morning, and there it is, the fear, sitting on our chests like an animal from another realm. So we know it, it’s like a friend coming to visit, but it’s a friend who talks to us about all of the things that haunt us and upset us and scare the crap out of us. And we sit and have coffee with our friend, who’s listing all of the catastrophes and tragedies of all time, because fear is timeless, isn’t bound by time, so it knows everything about every horrible thing that’s ever happened in the history of all humanity and all life and all death and all of the extinctions and all of the genocides and wars, and we’re sitting there on the couch, drinking our coffee and wondering whether or not to offer coffee to this friend, who says they’ve traveled for miles to see us, but we know they live next door or in our bathroom or in our bed. And they know every inch of us, everything that makes us exhausted with fear, just totally tired, but talking with them and hanging out with them makes us feel better in a way, because it’s a conversation between a witness and a child, or a witness and a scared adult, or a witness and fear itself. And this is the way we face fear.

 

*

 

This winter, the weather is haunted. We watch as snow piles up on our windowsills and presses against the screens. We watch the weather reports, 10 degrees, 20 feels like summer.

 

*

 

Just as I’m getting used to appearing and reappearing, I disappear again into fear. Fear takes hold of the mind and the body responds, the chest tightening, lump in the throat, thoughts darting around like hunted things, blind and terrified. Fear is not easy. It’s not rational and, while it can be attacked somewhat rationally, there is an element of it that is like the center of a flame, unreachable and primal. The need for safety is universal, as is the instinct for survival. When these are threatened, fear digs in and constricts a wider view—whether the danger is real or imagined. What is the way out of this?

 

When we are in the midst of it, feeling the constricted pattern of the fear, thinking, writing, muttering, talking through the fear we’re feeling, then sitting silent as stones, we somehow, through all this, move past the paralyzing stage of the mind playing out scenarios that seem as real as the room we’re in.

 

My Buddhist teacher says to ask, is this scenario in my mind real?

 

When we are afraid, the lines become murky and foggy between what we’re afraid will happen or is happening and what is really happening. It’s easy to convince oneself of the worst. We don’t know how to polish things up and end writing or end a trail of thought or conversation with some kind of flourish or optimism or something to turn to or lean on—courage is the ability to come back to and be present in the room. We are in the room or park or supermarket, we know and are aware that our bodies are here right now and we can be witnesses to the mind tightening in the grip of terror. Trying to be as present as possible and name things: I am feeling terrified and scared and unsafe. My chest hurts. My heart is beating fast and then it’s barely beating. My breath is shallow.

 

And that is all there is, until the next moment.

 

*

The way time moves. On certain days, it dictates. On others, it runs smoothly parallel to the mind, to the beating heart. And we don’t wait for things, we feel time as a gentle presence and boundary that moves things along like breath and baking, heating up leftovers, resting. This is resting, when time moves like this, when we are aware of it like this.

 

Resting in the discomfort, in the fear, we open up space. We see and feel ourselves standing in a field with weeds and visual access to the horizon. We can breathe.

 

*

 

The winter hopes. It is long. I am tempted to pull out the string in the back of it to make it speak or tell fortunes. Where is it that we leave our playthings when childhood is taken from us like specks of dust in the light as the light thins and then disappears altogether? We’re haunted, all of us, by this dimming light. Sometimes the haunting has words, unintelligible and in different languages, their sound lilting or suspicious or frank. The dotted lines marking the map to oblivion. The chest pounds. We are all afraid of what might happen, and we drown ourselves in the aftermath of probability—how many scenarios of the Apocalypse, of the impending destruction of our perfumed lives can we view, as if on a screen, before we listen to our hearts beating, right now, inside of us, and acknowledge life is this? Life is the beating heart, the fast or slow breath, the tired muscles in our legs as we walk at the end of the day, the energy we have for those we love, we keep going, going, in spite of fear, of harsh predictions.

 

This evening I allowed myself to feel empty and spacious, having no plans for the rest of the week save one dinner. This isn’t rare for me. I try to keep an open schedule so I have space and time for myself and writing. For myself to just be, in unscheduled time, and for my mind to be at rest, or to be reading, or thinking in a spacious way as to allow new thoughts to come in. And tonight, I was reading a bit and watching Endeavour, and taking breaks to just walk around my house and drink water and pet the cats, and I felt empty and peaceful. And then a tinge of restlessness. Rustled the water a little. The clear lake becomes the tiniest bit murky as the silt is stirred up, the undersurface of the water. And I decided to call my great uncle and check on him in this cold and made a time to see him this week. I understood even more clearly than I had that giving myself this space and not just filling hours with work or TV or social engagements lets what is truly important rise to the surface so I can then take right action. It is a deliberate result.

 

*

 

There is a deeper peace, and a deeper silence. From out of this acceptance as things are arise right ideas.

 

*

 

Reading The Hunger Games as Katniss drops honeysuckle nectar on her tongue, this visceral memory comes back to me of my pre-adolescent body and what it felt like— energy coursing through me, through my muscles— everything bright and new, glistening, reflecting sunlight, bright, bright sunlight, and being excited about everything—  my best friend Sherri’s apartment, and her mom, who was a single mom, and the peacock-back wicker chairs… I remember the apartment complex we lived in and the honeysuckle that grew by the train tracks and the smell of the honeysuckle and eating it and hanging out with a group of boys and girls whose names I don’t remember and flattening pennies on the tracks. This feeling of being in my body, part of nature, and city, being outside in the air.

 

*

 

Maybe what I think of as claustrophobia in a place of fear is actually closer to freedom than I think. I think it is a cramped room. I think it is a place from which I can’t escape. But the very experience of fear makes me human. The struggle with all of this makes me human. The fact of the struggle, this medium or median translating dust and fog into constellations— that is purpose and meaning. And does this give rise to hope? Does it create fertile conditions for hope and presence to grow? Maybe it does. Maybe the sensations and thoughts and visceral experience of being afraid and staying there for one second, with the tight chest and barely beating heart and stopped breath, create freedom.

 

In the end, we don’t know. We are tired from not sleeping enough or waking up too early, in the dark, unable to get back to sleep. So we wander in the darkness of our houses, before the sun has come up, to boil water in old kettles. And now I am thinking— I really should replace my old beige kettle. I want a bright red kettle, not bright in shade, but a rich, deep red. We make coffee. This is the promise of a new day. We begin the movement forward, in time, of this day. Time moves and seems to splinter, burns together, when we focus on what we’re doing, and maybe we get satisfaction from that. And these moments are blessed and whole. We embody them.

 

I have stayed in my house for two days because it is so damn cold. I really need to get over it. I need to go out. Then, the next day, I go out. It takes half an hour to get ready, put on all my layers. I have lunch at my favorite diner. They are playing Men at Work, and people are talking, and there are coats, scarves, hats piled everywhere. I see a friend from the food co-op as I’m leaving. I go buy some coffee and salad greens. I come home and take off my wet boots, my sweater, my second shirt.

 

Over the weekend, I go out and walk along the park and take pictures. I take off my gloves to hold the camera and my fingers freeze. My thighs are numb. The park, the trees, the monuments around the entrance to the park at Grand Army Plaza are ghostly. I take pictures of the ghosts. The trees are thin-limbed, their dark branches bones against the silver-gold of the sky. The sun is magical, bright behind the veil of winter. When I come home and look at the pictures I’ve taken, they are of another world. They are beautiful, and make visible the line between worlds.

 

This is freedom. I am completely entranced in the magic of winter.

 

 

 

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This music crept by me upon the waters,

Allaying both their fury and my passion

With its sweet air: thence I have follow’d it,

Or it hath drawn me rather. But ’tis gone.

No, it begins again.

                                            — Shakespeare, “The Tempest”

 

 

This is Part 1 of a series.

 

1

 

 

 

“It’s not really called a ‘nervous breakdown’ anymore,” my downstairs neighbor, Jack, laughed — a little condescendingly — when I told him I was having one.  I’d just gotten home from my final day of struggling through teaching a three-week summer fiction workshop, and we were sitting in our Brooklyn back yard on one of the cooler evenings that June.  Twenty-five years earlier, when I first moved into the apartment, the back yard had been nothing more than a cracked cement patio with a dirt trim, a couple of ghetto palms and a vista of old lady panties on clotheslines as far as the eye could see.  Over time, Jack’s partner Chris had transformed the concrete-locked square into a shabby-chic sanctuary where we’d enjoyed, along with my husband David, lovely summer nights (and a few lovely dawns) drinking, grilling and talking under twinkling Christmas lights twining up the honey locust trees.  The old lady panties disappeared as the old ladies passed away and affluent young couples moved into Park Slope.  Sadly, I hadn’t taken much advantage of the backyard that summer — my last summer in that apartment, as it would turn out — because the “nervous breakdown” (or whatever the proper clinical term was) that had seized control of my psyche on March 23, 2011 made it impossible to be outside in bright light.  To be in any kind of light.  To be anywhere, everywhere.  It had made me a prisoner of my mind’s most primitive fears and anxieties.

I quickly reassured Jack that, oh yes, this most definitely was a nervous breakdown: every familiar thing about myself and my life had been broken down, broken apart, utterly deconstructed over the course of three months by the constant, unrelenting anxiety of what felt like a 24-7 panic attack.  It felt like my flesh had been flayed, my façade stripped, every nerve exposed and vibrating.  The way an angle of light crossed a building made my heart palpitate; the music I once loved to listen to made my hands shake; every morning an adrenaline rush would  pop me up in bed and, as the day wore on, make me want to commit suicide so it would stop.  I couldn’t even remember the way my mind had once worked.  The onset of all this?  It was ridiculously, unbelievably minor: my dentist telling me over the phone that my root canal-in-progress had gotten infected.  Once the words were out of her mouth, a mountainous wall of panic arose and blocked all other thoughts, feelings, experiences.

“Makes no sense, does it?” I asked Jack, shaking my head and looking up at the sky, which was just beginning to (thankfully) take on the longed-for indigo that would finally obscure the setting sun’s searing orange.  It was the moment I lived for, every day, when I could finally relax a little, knowing that the bright horror of daylight would soon be swept away by merciful, concealing Night.

“No, it makes perfect sense,” he said, which didn’t make me feel any better.  He himself had had a psychotic break a few years before, which was why I was confiding in him.  “No one really knows why the psyche finally decides ‘Okay,enough.’  There’s a series of stresses, and you get through those, but then there’s the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.  That’s what happened to me, and I’ve seen it in the literature, too.  That’s pretty much how the DSM describes it, actually: ‘acute reactions to stress that do not resolve after removal of the stressor’.”

“Yeah, but the stressor’s been removed — the root canal’s way finished — and I’m still feeling the same panic and horror and fear that I did three months ago.”

“I told you before: this isn’t about the root canal.  It’s about something else. I think it’s your sister’s death.  You know, two years is nothing.  You’re probably still processing it.  The DSM says that ‘mental breakdowns’ — which is really the correct term — have some aspects of ‘mixed anxiety-depressive disorder.’  Which is what I had.  There’s also some relation to PTSD.   But those are chronic; what I’m seeing with you looks like it will probably be short-term, because it’s so intense and sudden and so out of proportion with the trigger.  And I wouldn’t try to figure out what caused it.  You’ve been through a lot, starting with your sister, and then your accident in Moscow.  And then forfeiting a Fulbright?  Come on.  Just try to get through it, then maybe figure out what caused it when you’re in a better mind-space.”

But therein lies the problem: how to get through it? At some point early on I’d made a decision to eschew anti-depressants, despite Jack’s advising getting on SSRIs, as they’d saved his life.  My gynecologist had also suggested anti-depressants, in addition to hormone replacement therapy.  “Basically, when the estrogen goes away,” she’d said, “the adrenalin comes out to play.”  Actually, before she said that, she pretty much yelled at me: “You need to be on anti-depressants!”  But I was resolved not to go that route.  I didn’t want my mind-body chemistry altered even further by the medication merry-go-round I’d observed in several of my friends.  My conversations with one particular friend would often commence with her saying, “So I talked to my psycho-pharmacologist yesterday after I saw my therapist, and I told her that my therapist and also my internist had suggested that I should maybe up the dosage of … ” After that, an exhausting-to-listen-to description of drug combinations that had failed, and so were jettisoned for new combinations (which, at some point, would probably also fail and be jettisoned as well).  About two years back this same friend had triumphantly debuted her effusive poem, “Celexa” at a reading; a year later she was on the Web researching how the drug, now ineffective, could be combined with another, and visiting (and reporting back to me about) the psycho-pharmacologist’s recommendations.  Also figuring into this was the example of my clinically-depressed, born-again Christian brother-in-law: the most Tom could manage in a day was navigating the goat paths from his room, his childhood bedroom, to his mother’s room to watch Lawrence Welk reruns with her every evening.  He couldn’t leave his room before 5 p.m., and needed to build up to it by watching television in bed all day.  The last time I’d seen him, Christmas Eve 2004, after not seeing him for maybe two years, he looked like he hadn’t changed his jeans in all that time: the seat was coal-shiny from constant wear (even to bed, I imagined), and the sour milk smell emanating from him made me nauseous.  During his twenty-five years on medications he’d been gradually increasing their strengths, and now his high dosages of Seroquel + Geodon + Cymbalta, plus six Klonopin to get to sleep (and a couple extra to keep him calm whenever he had to manage new situations), had caused dyskinesia: involuntary movements of the limbs.  Opening the door when David and I arrived that Christmas Eve, he stood stock-still in front of us, unblinking, his right hand configured like he was holding a gun, his legs oscillating back and forth like a little kid pretending to be cold.

“Hi, Sharon, Hi, David,” he said without inflection. My feeling, in better days, was that his real problem was a combination of shame at being gay, compounded by a stifled imagination and curiosity: once, when I’d suggested he take a look at Thomas Moore’s Dark Nights of the Soul, he’d thanked me but demurred — he said it was against his religion to read something by a Catholic.  There was also, I thought, as he stood in the doorway, a performative, acting-out aspect to his situation, a commandeering of family attention by creating a persona of total incapacitation, perhaps as a kind of vindictiveness: “You all can take care of me now because you made me this way.”  He once told me he’d never really had proper role models as a child (“deprived of guidance” was how he’d described it), and believed that that was the source of his depression: his inability to effectively navigate his own life.  He was still hurt by a first grade classmate who’d ratted him out for being in the wrong line — the girls’ line — for the bathroom after lunch.

“Sometimes I wish I could find that woman and make her apologize,” he’d said.  “I wonder if she ever thought about how she affected my life.”

I’d wondered if he were hanging on to that ancient hurt to fuel the feeling of victimhood that in turn fueled his ability to create the persona of a special person needing special considerations, someone who was denied guidance and was now, as a result, too sick to be expected to function normally.  I’d been severely bullied and emotionally wounded by my grammar school classmates myself, but once I discovered rock and roll I adopted role models like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, former misfits and outsiders who’d created powerful, charismatic personae based on being special in a different way: brilliant and fabulous precisely because of their quirkiness. They’d used their marginalization (actual or imagined) to become observers.  And so because I was odd and had no friends I spent time normally devoted to socialization on reading, writing, listening to music, researching what I wanted to be in the adult world: proud of being extraordinarily different, and thus extraordinary.  By the time I got to college I was dressing punk and taking lots of shit for it in Back of the Yards, my working-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, named for its proximity to the infamous Union Stockyards.  It hurt, but I just kept imagining myself at my 30-year grammar school reunion (did grammar schools even have reunions?) giving a speech wherein I called out Lori Kulikowski, my main bully, reminding her that she’d once called me “Palsy,” “Nigger Lips,” “Titless.”  Then I’d whip out my shiny Pulitzer (in my mind it looked like an Emmy) and say, “Make up a name for this, loser!”  Of course, I was using my woundedness like Tom was, only in a different way: to fuel my ambition.  But as the anxiety tightened its grip on my psyche, I understood more clearly why Tom had withdrawn from the world.  I was doing the same thing.  I was even fantasizing about watching Lawrence Welk with him and my mother-in-law in her bedroom at the same time every day.

In all honesty, I was wondering who that “I” was.  This new “I” was not the same person who drove from Chicago to New York in 1988 with $500, a box full of books and a granny-square quilt to study with Allen Ginsberg in Brooklyn College’s MFA program, who once trekked for two weeks in the foothills of the Himalayas in ill-fitting, second-hand Keds purchased from a street vendor in Kathmandu.  And it certainly was not the same person who once kicked an undercover Chicago law enforcement officer in the groin.  It most definitely was not the person who had written the poems “Annoying Diabetic Bitch,” “I Never Knew An Orgy Could Be So Much Work,” and “A Unicorn Boner for Humanity.”  That person had been buried by whatever force had taken control on the afternoon of March 23, 2011, when my dentist told me over the phone, with a matter-of-fact sigh, that my root canal had gotten infected. The feeling of continuity between one day and the next had been destroyed, and concentration on anything but the anxiety and pure fear was impossible.

But what I couldn’t have guessed at the onset of the anxiety, and in the horrible bald-bright months that followed, was that time would bring unexpected, perfectly-fitted gifts, and deeply-held wishes fulfilled.  Looking back now, I think some part of me understood that, and fit itself to that hidden truth all along, eschewing medication in favor of having faith in … something … and being a witness to what was happening.  I’m not even sure I know now what pulled me forward.  I call it “being mindful,” but it was connected to something so deeply held within myself I lacked conscious access to it.  But I foresaw none of that that evening in June with Jack in the backyard.  It’s hard to see the path when you’re on it.  The big surprise?  That renewed contact with my grammar school bullies over the destruction of something we all held precious could provide the healing and the continuity with the past that I so desperately longed for.  The even bigger surprise?  That myths of descent could be as true and vital today as they were thousands of years ago as long as I stayed mindful of the markers along the journey’s unmapped twisted path.  The not-so-big surprise was that poetry was there, too, as it had been all along, even though I’d pretty much buried the things that drew me to it in the first place, in order to make a living.  Those things took center stage.

Sharon Mesmer’s most recent poetry collections are The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose 2008) and Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books 2008). Fiction collections are In Ordinary Time and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose 2005 and 2000) and Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette, in French translation 2005). Other poetry collections include Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna 2006), Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press 1998) and Crossing Second Avenue (ABJ Press, Tokyo 1997). Four poems appear in the newly released Postmodern American Poetry—A Norton Anthology (second edition) Her work has also appeared in Poetry, The Wall Street Journal, New American Writing, The Brooklyn Rail, Women’s Studies Quarterly, West Wind Review, Abraham Lincoln, esque, Poets for Living Waters, and The Scream. An excerpt of her story, “Revenge,” appears in I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women (Les Figues). She teaches at NYU, the New School, and online for the Chicago School of Poetics.


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I had the quiet and, out of the quiet, music rose.

 

I’m reading the Stories and Essays of Mina Loy. I look at a lot of photographs of Leonora Carrington’s paintings and sculptures. The way is illuminated by the women who came before, who saw strength and light in themselves and kept going. The path is foggy and we are very cold. Then there is only me, puttering through the icy fog, slowly, making sure of my footing on the slippery ground. This is what making art is. This is what making a life is. Is making love like this? The eroticism of a snowstorm. Last night, I was walking alone in subzero temperatures in my dreams. I was sleeping soundly, but dreaming, so a part of me was awake to the sounds and sensations of the dreamworld. The dreamworld is made of lightly connected dots that stabilize into images in the sleeping eye. I saw a wolf in the fog. It was a lot of fog, dense and bright at the same time, like northern lights swooping over the northern sound like wings. The channel erupted with smoke and canon fire. The Bay grew silent in the gathering storm.

 

I was thinking about feeling guilty and feeling the pain of the world and personal responsibility, where they connect, where one of them ends and the other begins, because they form a pattern and the way you conduct yourself within this pattern determines your fate. Determines whether you are successful or depressed. I think a lot about what it means to take care of myself first, not in a selfish way but in a sustaining and generative way. I think about being depleted. I feel depleted. I am exhausted. I am full of energy. The polar magnets of existence.

 

Days and dreams. You held me in certain harmony in the bell of your palm/hands/translucence. –this thought while paging through Loy’s stories, I felt you, your presence

 

Our nest, our subconscious rules the boat, water a divine force.—maybe, a divining rod.

 

The bell is at the center of things. The light is at the center of things. The soul is at the center of things.

 

We rest and have our being forever and ever more. The bulb. The fortress. The filigree on the autumn window. The bell and the Vajra. Nirvana. Letting go of all that ails us. A mantra, chant, trance, opening, descending, ascent, Orpheus, Icarus, the sun, the mountain, the jewel, the theremin. The difference between a and the. When one becomes important. Music. Music and light. Patterns in the thread of light, in the minuscule strings of being—the body, his body emotion as physical presence, as rock and bone, as words and movement. Emotion is physical, the motion of a hand, lips, language, nerves—  coordinating response and lettering of the anchor, and ancient trellises. The mind is physical. The mind and heart are also ethereal. We occupy space and time that exist beyond us, other worlds, multilevered neurolinguistic pathways through physical and non-physical space. We are aware of dimensions beyond ours, in our bodies and consciousness. We know everything that everyone has ever known and we know nothing.

 

We rest in the center of things. Lately, I have given up the edge—  in a certain way. The edge is still there but it makes itself known in gentler, and also fiercer dimensions. There is a place of rest in my life now that wasn’t there before. I had been consumed by stress, or what they used to call the vapors, or nerves. There is so much stress and pressure to continue to do things all the time, to barrel through even when your mind and body and heart are exhausted beyond themselves—  becoming entrances into other beings, ghosts of themselves, even though armored in defenses. Defenses are exhausting too. Insomnia plays a part in the whole of this non-rest and it pushes the human body to its limits without real emotional or spiritual or intellectual gain. I’d argue with that. There is some strange gain there, a perch from which we, embellished and adorned, watch the procession of madness in the streets. We are the madness and the streets. We are the throng and the crowd and the glittering eyelashes that look like birds. We mimic the sound of birds in our sleep.

 

In order to reach new ground or old ground, the ground of our being that is always there, like a stone, we must rest. See the light burning through the periphery of the eyelids as the eyes close. That is fire, and rest, and dimension and hope. That is the ethereal wing of the field. The eyes close on a momentary death, darkness we control but do not control. All of the fears of childhood and adulthood present in one lowering motion of eyelids. Morion. Schists. The equivalency of being. The natural shape of things—  areas, errors, broad views, landscapes of unknown lands, the periphery of which is autumn. Then winter. Our passages in boats. Our legs floating. Water or land. We move forward in the gut of things, into a future that feels like the past only sometimes and then it feels like itself, like a concascadent present, coiling in on itself like so many black beads, like the fortune of the subatomic, non-gravity-bound. We are fortunes like that—  desperate, confident coils, breathing, fog, water, disaster, lumen field.

 

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