Thursday, May 23, 2024

This, and That

But my question, the linchpin question, is, "will I come through for myself?" Am I actually on my own side? Can I rely on myself to defend myself and protect myself? Because there is a Gollum portion of me that believes that it can hide, and survive in the wretched dark on cold fish, and by throttling the occasional goblin imp. I have betrayed myself, at critical moments of my life. I can see my way to doing it one last time, and I very much do not want to end my story this way.

You see, this is why the Food Thing has been so important to me: it has been the most basic and chronic betrayal of myself. When in stress and doubt I would hide, and let myself down. Let the Dale of the Sun fend for himself, let him be fat and ridiculous! I was going to hide in the dark, and eat, eat until my mouth was raw, eat until my belly was swollen, eat whatever ever I wanted and never stop, not for him, not for anyone.

But we are not two different people. We are one person, in the light or in the dark. That's why the food thing is important. And though the solution may look like simply thwarting and oppressing Gollum, it must not actually be any such thing. It has to be bringing him gently into the light, reminding him of flowers and grass and sunlight, reminding him of when he too had a family, and listened to wonderful tales out of the South. 

We are not equals. I must be the master. Because I can see him clearly, but he can't see me clearly. Because I can say, "this is enough: this is due proportion." When I let him misbehave I am letting him down, as well as myself. He can't look after himself, not really, though he doesn't understand that. 

---

"There is one God, and his name is Allah," one of them said; and the old man answered, "maybe there is only one Kindred, but there are many people." The roses came back and gave me their scent, yesterday. White roses. If there's not room for them, what is there room for?

But anyway my time for disputation has come and gone. One God or many, my life is His, or theirs. Little noises come piping from our mouths, for a little while, and a wind bends the roses. It's not my part now to quarrel with anyone. And anyway, I only ever quarreled in my head: I taunted my phantasmal enemies, while I grovelled in front of anyone real. It's time to admit that courage has never been my strong suit. Nor do I think I would have done much good, if I had had it. The first struggle is to see things clearly; swinging wildly at shapes in the dark was not going to help anyone.

The Dalai Lama said it was best to stay within your own tradition, "if you could": I used to take that to mean I should be a Christian, if I could, but of course the tradition I was raised in was not Christianity, it was Nothing, the religion of furtively snatched treats, and my god was the Self I was going to be someday but somehow never quite got around to being. Heya! Enough of that. Square One is a fine place to be, if you don't fool yourself into thinking you're somewhere else. Times of collapse are times of beginning.

I used to think that I would figure the world out, and establish a solution, and then impose it -- by force of my brilliance, I guess; that part was always a little hazy -- and the stupidity and hubris of that idea, the revolutionary's idea, has been late in appearing to me. The thing to do was to talk to people, and to come to a common understanding of what was wrong and what needed to be done. That would actually be a political life. Issuing manifestos and marching in shows of ritual (or real) violence is actually about as apolitical as you can get. Politics is talk. It's talking with people you don't understand, and people you don't agree with. It's listening. It's making yourself vulnerable to your neighbors. It's something I can't do. Heya! Enough of that.

So what now, you little rootless last-gasper? Do you go to that little Orthodox church, where the people are so benighted as still to think that a church should be beautiful and services should be reverent? Do you go to that Episcopalian church, where awkward people are actually trying to be nice (in a clumsy and ineffective fashion) to the unfortunate? Do you go to that Zen temple up the street where they take silly Japanese names and dress in weird overalls and take it from the top, all bald heads and rationality? Do you walk under such stars as still can be seen through the city glare, and chant heya? Hah! You don't know. You're hopeless. Go home.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Aubade

 Have I mentioned that a wind blowing up my nose
inflated me to gigantesquerie, and flew me, uprose,
(rows encolumnated, hedgerows overthrown), and gave
to every cipher just the meaning it could hold?

Have I said already (I have already said) that one
dog's cold nose could turn the world to ice, and
a cat's tongue warm it all, in the space between 
the first line and the third? Well, it's left undone, then,

and the sun lays rude and violent hands on me,
shakes me awake and tells me all the things still left to do.
All right. The first on my to-do list was to love you,
and that's done, that's never done, to do.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Names for Things

 If I ask myself why I do certain, in some sense altruistic, things, the answer that seems most apt is "because I don't want to live in a world where..." I don't want to live in a world where no "rational" person voted, or made efforts to conserve energy, just because their contribution made no significant difference; I don't want to live in a world where we turn our backs on the weak, the suffering and the needy, because they are not productive; I don't want to live in a world where we always counted the cost before engaging in acts of helping others. This acknowledges the fact that every decision we make is not just a response to a known and certain world, but is part of co-creating that world for what it is. 

 -- Iain McGilchrist, The Matter With Things, p 1144

As I slowly reread both Ursula K Le Guin's Always Coming Home, and Iain McGilchrists' The Matter With Things, I find myself continually seeing McGilchrist's book as an immensely long footnote: giving in expository form what Le Guin has distilled into vision and story. Just in case you thought it couldn't be made into exposition, that it couldn't be rationally laid out end to end in a single argument: here it is. For those so crippled by the shoes of the modern world as not to be able to walk so far on their own.

I know that in fact McGilchrist read and admired Le Guin, so the fancy maybe isn't so farfetched.

The joy, the pure joy, of having names for things at last. All these gifts. And so little to give back, and that so uncertain, in these troubled times! But no matter. We go on, as we always have, co-creating the world: it's not as if we could stop.

Lots of love, dear ones.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Autistic Kid

"One, two, three, ONE; one, two three, TWO; one, two three THREE..."

We were supposed to chant aloud as we did our calisthenics, in gym class. If an exercise had four sub-moves to it, we counted like that: rather than saying "four" on the last move we inserted the number of full exercises completed. 

I found this bewildering: in fact, I couldn't do it, and when I tried to do it, I couldn't move my body. So typically when performing these sorts of calisthenics, I slowed, moved spasmodically, and ground to halt. Following the two sequences felt deeply wrong. In what world does "three" follow "three"? What is the relationship between the murmured "three" and the bellowed "three"? The further the count went the more confusing it got: my brain worked desperately to establish a mathematical relationship between the sequences: there really wasn't one. but I couldn't help looking for it. 

From the outside, of course: here was that weird kid slacking off again, not even trying to look like he was doing the exercises. Not paying attention, not willing to to try. I can hardly blame my gym teachers for being exasperated with me. Explaining my internal experience was beyond my capacity, even if they had had time to listen, which they didn't. 

It was the more galling, because I prided myself on my mathematics. Numbers were my friend. I could solve quadratic equations in my head. I was in math classes with these kids: some of them found adding 1/2 and 1/3 insuperable. Yet here they were, chanting enthusiastically, tracking two numeric sequences AND moving their bodies. It was a total mystery. How did they do it? And how was I to fake it?

I faked it by trying to ignore the numbers, moving my mouth randomly, and trying to do what the others were doing. It didn't fool anybody. They may have had trouble with fractions, but my classmates had no trouble distinguishing my awkward counterfeits from their own fluid, well-grounded movements. I was the weird kid, and I always would be. 

I pretended not to care about gym class. I aspired to the position of "absent-minded professor," at school: it was not the same thing as a full-fledged person, but it was a role; it qualified you for a spot on Gilligan's Island. I got by. I was bullied a little, but not too much. I had a way with words and a deep fund of malice -- I might land you with a nickname you'd have trouble getting rid of -- and there were easier targets. 

---

Long ago, long ago: why bother with it? I've gotten by, sidling through the world, finding dusty corners to live in, like a wary spider in an untidy house. The weird kid had a will, and a brain. He did all right. Burned out spectacularly twice; threw away two promising careers, but he had a nice family; he ended his working days comfortably doing part time data entry and part time massage: and he had time enough to spend on meditation, prayer, history, literature, and philosophy to actually understand some things. To write some essays and poetry. More than most people ever get. Far more than that kid under the florescent lights of the gymnasium, bewildered by the rhythmic bellowing of the neurotypicals, dared to hope for.

Still the mind goes back, and gnaws on things; misspoken words return, the scent of chalk dust and gym ropes. The painfully obviously developmentally disabled kid I should have befriended, and did not. God's going to ask about him, at our debriefing, and I'm not looking forward to that conversation. His name was Martin -- as if he didn't enough troubles already -- and he was even more duck-footed and awkward than I was, even more easily confused. I didn't participate in tormenting him, and that's as much as I can say for myself. You don't have to run faster than the bear.

---

The physical awkwardness went away completely: I think of myself now as fluid and deft in my movements. Maybe it's just because I'm no longer required to do unfamiliar things at unfamiliar tempos, while receiving a firehose-stream of nonsensical verbiage. Maybe it's some delayed developmental thing. Maybe it was dance class and contact improv in college; maybe it was as late as massage school; maybe it was reading and writing poetry. Anyway I live comfortably in my body now, which has been one of the great, unexpected blessings of adulthood.

---

In the morning the light gleams on a rectangle of copper foil, as I let my spine extend, and the Copper Buddha appears in a circle of radiance. Sometimes it's the sun blazing through a circle of wet twigs. Sometimes it's neither, but only a feeble, elderly reaching of the mind for things half remembered and half made up. If you push for resolution on these things, all they'll do is collapse and shrivel. You take what you get, gratefully; and when there's nothing offered, you take that gratefully too.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Vulture

When this poem germinated I was thinking only of vultures, of their long patient deliberations in the sky: the math teacher walked into it and surprised me. He was an ancient man who taught me calculus -- an amazement that still amazes.

A math teacher stooped in his pulpit walk:
as he turns he lifts one dull black tine
(a primary feather, like a sprig of chalk)
and slowly underscores the horizon line.

He is deliberate, hooded, ugly, sincere.
There is a beat (stroke of pen, sweep of oar)
in his blood-naked head only he can hear:
this is what it means for an old man to soar.
 

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

In Praise of a Huntress Moon

And the sky en vidrios corúscat, multisplending;
O sake us for God, and mend us for bendas, bensittay!
Say clearly what you mean, before you end your say.

Look where the vultures ride the thermals, where you can
or can't see
the waves of air they ride on, hypérvolant and vigilant:
if we love to watch them, it's because we love to watch

the things we can't quite see. Mr God is like that: you find
the lint from his pockets, but his hands are always elsewhere.
I would not spend a lot of time 
turning inside out the cloth, or checking all the seams.

Bang! this damn tambourine, and sing a song of praise,
song of ending, song of nightfall, the iridéssing of default,
when the sky is violet lavender and fades, surprised
by such a clair à voyant, clair à voyaging moon.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Lever

Time is our home and death is our friend

-- Iain McGilchrist,

Knock when you come to the west door; be sure
to touch the river pebble in your pocket 
for luck; forget your excuses. 
Just answer the questions best you can.
No one is trying to trick you here.

Today the long road, east and west, was tilted
to be level with the sun. I guess you were busy
with your pry-bar, Archimede! 
That at least was an easy one to solve.
Lay it down on me: pull as hard as you like.

That metal crossbeam catches the morning sun: 
even second-hand, these tines of light 
pull gently every strand of me apart:
the brisket of me would fall from the ribs 
at a nudge. I have been a long time in the pot.
They say a friend might happen by for a meal,
and welcome. I have kept house untidily:
but friends will forgive the debris of a lived-in life.