Friday, April 29, 2005


Lord, come to me in the hiss of brakes, lead me
Away from green pastures to oily streets
And bring me dust and grease to smear my face.

Radiant, perfect, compassionate one, grind me
Between the rasps of your hands. Drag me on walks
Scented with urine and blood. Break me slowly,

Deliberately, till my eggshell skin is crushed,
And peel it off, in one long spiralled pull. Lord,
I ask this violence from your hands. Do not love me

Less than that. I embrace you, Lord, I dance with you,
On fields slick with blood. I delight in your face,
The warmth of your body, the perfume of your breath.

Tatter my body, tatter my mind; open holes
Where no holes have been; let the wind of your song
Blow through the opened rents, the opened eyes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

This Too

I know. There are already too many wonderful blogs. But you ought to make room for this too. A quiet voice of infinite nuance, and beautiful photographs, and no pretense, none at all.

Monday, April 25, 2005


Such beautiful feet, and silver rings on the second toes. All evening I was aware of them. Not obsessively; just pleased. They accorded so well with the bejeweled yidams on the thangkas. Once my mind glided into a dream of stroking them, holding the sole of one foot to my cheek, and then tracing the Sen lines, working the points of the kidney meridian, around the ankle-bone, wandering comfortably between Eros and whoever the the God of Massage may be. All soft, lightly held, like a bird come to rest on my palm. A little tickle of claws, and then gone again. Who is she? I've never learned what name goes with her.

Relative emptiness, said Michael, is not to be confused with absolute emptiness. Sure. If you say so.

And you were there, in red. Dark eyes, deep-sea eyes. Hints of pressures that would kill shallow-water creatures. Glints from sunlight that has travelled much farther than sunlight has ever travelled to me. You reached inside your blouse, once, unconsciously, tomboy-like, and my heart stopped. Such foolishness.

The taste of salt as I opened peanut-shells with my teeth. A cup of hot water from the urns. The restless hiss of one of the candles. The rightmost one was troubled. It flickered and fretted, while the others were still. She of the ringed toes was restless too, while we sat.

I was not a good omze. I started off the refuge prayer in too low a tone, and lost my voice a couple times. Then I must have mis-set the timer, because it never flashed, and when I looked down at my watch we had gone ten minutes overtime. I was too warm, sweating at the brow and the neck, feeling a little murky and awkward and embarassed. It's okay. Just watch it. Watch it rise and fall. This is the Buddha, dreaming that he is sweating with self-consciousness.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on,
And our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The 't' in Whistle

Martha once began taking a course in the teaching of reading. The instructor was introducing some phonetic notions, & was speaking of silent letters, such as, of course, the 'e' in "date." She asked people to name some more. The 'k' in "knight," good. The 'g' in "gnaw." Martha raised her hand and proposed the 't' in "whistle."

"No, the 't' in whistle is sounded," said the instructor. Baffled, Martha sat there, saying the word "whistle" to herself, trying to hear the 't'.

Finally she raised her hand again. "You can hear the 't' in whistle?" she asked. "Yes," replied the teacher firmly.

"Could you say whistle for me?" persisted Martha.

"Whissel!" said the instructor. -- And now comes the scary part. Every budding young reading teacher in the classroom agreed that they could hear that 't'.

That was the end of Martha's inclination to get a teaching certificate. So a couple dozen people who can hear the 't' in "whistle" (if a teacher tells them they can) are now teaching reading, and Martha is not.

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Too much happening at once. Teaching Chaucer and taking Thai massage and coming up to the whip-crack end of this damned project at work. My Mom's in the hospital again -- visited today, she was looking pretty good, though still on oxygen; the docs are saying they think her heart looks okay, they think it's only a bad flare-up of asthma. I got to watch the technician, a young man with a wonderful bedside manner, do the encardiogram -- he played the machine very like a video-game, enlarging things and stopping the action, and outlining bits of graphs, twiddling dials that suddenly enabled the sound (a sound exactly like the sounds arcade games make when you shoot at an alien spaceship). Unnerving to watch my mother's heart pumping on a television screen -- & knowing that the main valve there was once a cow's made it just a little more hallucinatory. & then there's this class on the Eight Collections of Consciousness, and a meeting of the ad hoc sangha database committee this weekend, which will roll right into being omze. (I'll have to remember to eat something that afternoon.)

So, having all this on my plate, I just need to prioritize and do first things first. Et voici, blogging.

I loved reading Chaucer aloud. Spent over half the class-time doing it, reading a few lines, explaining a few things, reading a few more lines, translating the hard bits every once in a while. The lovely lovely thing about that school is that the kids and the teacher are on the same side. Hit a teaching problem, I can just consult with them about it. Should we memorize bits, or spend that time reading and getting some purchase on the vocabulary, instead? I can just ask, we can bat the ideas around; no one's trying to put anything over on anyone, no one's being forced to do anything. If they didn't want to be in a Chaucer class, they'd be somewhere else. End of story. So different from the hell of teaching Chaucer at Bridgeport University (the experience that decisively ended any interest I had in a teaching career. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.)

Massage class tonight. I leave for it in twenty minutes. I've been learning the names of bones and muscles -- I love learning the names of things -- so tonight if anyone talks sternocleido-mastoideus I'll be right there with them. (They're those rope-like neck muscles that run from the breastbone to below the ears.)

(I wonder what it means that so many of my paragraphs end in parenthetical statements?)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Venus rises in a shattered east
Of cloudwrack, the sea shrieks on the rock,
Love has come to winter on the coast.

Cliffs of rain, the seawash, wind and sand,
Your flickering look of doubt, and turn away,
If I am broken now, what was I then?

Well -- younger. The panicked spinning Earth
Running from the sun and always falling
To it all the same; the frightened Moon,

Turning one face to her twin and to her death.
They say from Mars we are a brilliant double star,
Blue Earth and white Moon,

Circling each other, exhausted fighters,
Trembling arms and bleeding faces, lymph
And tears mixing, and the never-sounding bell.

Monday, April 18, 2005


So it has been said by Tochihuitzin,
so it has been said by Coyolchiuhqui:
We come here only to sleep,
we come here only to dream;
it is not true, it is not true
that we come to live on earth.

ANON. AZTEC, 16th century
(adapted by David Damrosch from the translation of John Bierhorst, Cantares Mexicanos 18:39)

(I found this quoted by Dave in his epic Cibola)

La vida es sueño. We don't often enough pay attention to what it means that we can dream. That we can manufacture out of our minds an entire experiential world. When we drop out of the dream world into another experiential world, which we call waking up, we say that oh, this time we are in the real world. This one is more stable than the dream worlds -- we seem to return to it over and over. Or does it only appear so? The dream worlds appear stable when we're in them, too. If we can manufacture a present, we can certainly manufacture a past -- anyone who has researched memory will tell you that we do so, all the time. We do not have much foundation for our confidence that waking life is more real than dream life. We remember our dreams as scattered, inconsistent, with abrupt unexplained shifts of scene; but really we remember waking life the same way. We just have confidence that if we looked, we could find the unity and consistency. We share waking reality with others -- but then while we're in out dreams we appear to share the dream reality with others, too.

I have no interest in arguing that dreams are real or that waking life is unreal. That seems to me to completely miss the point. The point is, that creatures who are capable of creating realities for themselves should have some healthy skepticism about any reality they find themselves in.

Friday, April 15, 2005


(A description of its use and contents, as requested by Peter)

My nightstand is a low wicker affair -- low because our bed sits only a few inches off the floor. I didn't look this morning, but typically on top there is

1) A few score gaming cards (Pokemon, Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh.) Alan's cards never stay put, and the nightstand is one of those vortices that draws loose objects from all over the house.

2) The book we are reading aloud at present. Right now we're rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Of an evening Tori and Ashley and Alan all come and camp out on the bed, and I read for an hour or so. I make no apologies for the Harry Potter: I think the books are brilliant, even if they are popular, and all five of us love to hear them read aloud.

3) Wrappers from cough drops.

4) Typically some improving book, such as Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche's Everyday Consciousness and Buddha Awakening.

5) From zero to four pairs of reading glasses.

6) The plate and fork from someone's late-night snack, and maybe a cup.

7) A spaghetti-spoon-ladle-watchamacallit that has been drafted into service as a backscratcher.

8) There are -- how to describe them? Pockets, on either end of the nightstand. Or maybe I should say baskets. All in all the thing rather resembles one of those saddles-with-a-basket-on-either-side that mules carry. Anyway, at one end is a box of kleenex, scrunched in. Martha and Alan consume mysteriously vast amounts of kleenex, though I never quite catch them at it. (Really I'm lying, here. What's scrunched into one end is an empty kleenex box. There's another on the floor beside it. Sometimes that one's empty, too, and there's yet another one beside it.) The other pocket is a secret backwater, an eddy where odd books fetch up. A pocket German-English dictionary. A Red Cross First Aid manual. A elementary primer of Go. A mystery bought under the misconception that its author was one we liked (similar name). An abridged Hakluyt's Voyages.

9) Underneath is one of the prime collections of animal hair on the continent. I don't know why people bother to comb llamas for wool, when they could just harvest from under our nightstand. The quantity of hair two cats and a dog can produce daily is extraordinary, and probably explains a great deal about the mysterious kleenex consumption (see 8, above.)

10) A lamp my grandmother gave us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Withouten Wordes Mo

He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres,
And sodeynly he was yslayn to-nyght,
Fordronke, as he sat on his bench upright.
Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth,
That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo,
And wente his wey withouten wordes mo.

(He was, by God, an old companion of yours
And suddenly he was slain tonight;
All drunk, as he sat upright on his bench,
There came a secret thief that men call Death,
Who in this country all the people slays,
And with his spear he struck his heart in two
And went his way with no words more.)

--The Pardoner's Tale

The Bible blogging project -- one of those lovely coalescences of cyberspace. I thought I'd make an interfaith leap and try to write something, but this week's lectionary brought me to a standstill.

Acts 2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This is where Christianity loses me. This smug tone. My son takes it on when he's hit a sweet spot in his computer game, and he's slaughtering foes left and right, because -- due to some wrinkle of the game -- he's invincible. He'll talk in the same obsessive sort of way, leaning on numbers as if they were qualities. Carefully ennumerating the number of wins, as though it signified. Celebrating forgone conclusions as victories. Acts is filled with this sort of triumph. They're on the eve of complete victory, after all; Jesus is going to wrap this up within a generation.

And then even in that extraordinary, beautiful psalm, the gloating. The fact that I am receiving all this in the sight of my enemies, so they can fruitlessly envy me, puts the cherry on the sundae:

Psalms 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The saturating metaphor of the shepherd and the fold --

1 Peter 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

And again --

John 10:1 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.

Here we come to it. The protection of the Lord is known by the fact that some are not under it. This verse is speaking directly to me, directly to someone who might try to blog the Bible without being a Christian. I have no business here. I am a thief and a bandit, working evil.

Always, in my long acquaintance with Christianity, I strike this point, where the door is slammed in my face. Trying to find enlightenment in some other way is not just mistaken, or doomed to failure -- it is malicious.

I don't mind that they think they're right. Of course they do. Everyone does. I don't even mind that they think everyone else is wrong. We may well be. But to say "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy" is to say a great deal more than that.

I stand at the barbed wire, watching the wind ruffle the grass.

I am a stranger, and they will run from me. I turn and walk back down the hill. I can only wish them well, from a distance.
A Farewell to Bloglines

I began using bloglines a week or two ago. I've just stopped.

No quarrel with the bloglines app. Works great. But suddenly reading blogs was a chore to be finished. "Still twelve blogs in bold? I better rush through them, be sure to get to them all. No time to comment; I've only got an hour..."

No. No. I'm going back to the slow wander through my blogroll, happening on wonders by accident, returning to reread old posts if there aren't any new ones. So I'll be showing up haphazardly again. Days late. The last to know.

Life is too short, as they say, to hurry through it.

Saturday, April 09, 2005


If you really knew how much I love you, you would be unnerved. Or you would laugh. Or you would be transfigured.

(Now I'm laughing at myself. Remember in the House of Fame, when Chaucer is being carried off into the sky by the Eagle? "Alas, is it Jove's intention to stellify me?" he asks. "Not to worry," says the Eagle.)

I watch you as you sleep. I once drew a picture of you as you slept. You were a bit chagrined. I still have it, though, nearly thirty years later. A very light, barely-there pencil sketch, but it caught the peace, and the extraordinary luminosity. The pilgrim soul in you.

I had no idea, back then, how this love would accrue. No idea what good fortune I had come into. Oh, I was in love, of course -- but, honestly, I was always in love, back then, often with half a dozen people at once. It was not really a high distinction in those days to have Dale entranced with you.

It was living through grief together that sealed it, I guess. Made it grow into something else. We talked about death, in our wedding vows. About the people who couldn't come to the wedding. In those days, in our circles, anyway, to get married was a peculiar thing to do, and it required some explaining. That was our explanation. That we don't have all that long to celebrate. That the time to gather our friends and make our promises was now.

I don't think you really believe it as you should, when I say how beautiful you are. You think I'm being kind. I'm not. One of the very first things I said to you (I had a lot of effrontery, when I was seventeen) was "You -- are radiant." Remember? We met by chance on the wooded path between the gym and the dorms -- you had just been swimming, or working out. I stopped dead. It was just so wonderful, seeing you. You laughed and walked on by.

It's still like that. No darkness can compass you.

Friday, April 08, 2005


Find the stomach meridian. Go to the hip-bone, and it's about a hand-width navel-ward. It jogs to the outside and travels on down. Walk the thumbs along it. Skip the knee. Cruise just under the shelf of the shinbone. It ends at the big toe -- give that toe a bit of a fillip.

Her name is Cobalt. Doubt she was christened that. I seem to gravitate towards people who have renamed themselves: I have known a lot of them, in my time.

An open smile and a direct gaze. She reminds me sharply of someone I knew at Evergreen, but I can't think who. We struck our rhythm early with each other, taking turns unobtrusively reassuring Rowan that she was doing a good job (which she was.) A calm, good-humored, observant woman, smiling easily but with a certain sense of gravity behind it. Not someone you could push around.

She has the hands, wonderful hands. Strong brown hands and feet.

She left a present for Rowan, some chocolate she had found, dumpster-diving behind a bakery. "She knows all the best dumpsters," Rowan told me parenthetically. Took me back, again, to the Evergreen days. I don't know a lot of people conversant with the art of dumpster-diving, anymore. A useful skill for someone trying to make a living at bodywork.

This is my tribe. These are the people I belong with. There's so much I don't share with them. A critical habit of mind. A love of Chaucer and William Blake. A habit of reading history. A knack for mathematics and programming. All that resonates with them, not at all. But they are people for whom tracing a meridian along the body makes sense, people whose vocabulary about the body and its "winds" is as precise and detailed as their theory about it is fuzzy and vague. People who are happier thinking and communicating with their hands than with words. And above all, people who want to touch whatever is suffering.

I go to the things I love
With no thought of duty or pity

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Thai Massage

I have my first Thai massage class tonight. Rowan, who introduced me to Thai massage, is teaching it. I'm shy, because I feel faintly ridiculous in this context -- a stout graybeard in a world of lithe young women. But Suzanne asked me to come up with one thing I really wanted to do that I wasn't doing, a while back, and I promptly answered "learn Thai Massage."

You're fully clothed, on a big mat on the floor. You don't lie there like a lump, as in Swedish massage. It's more like being taken through a stretching routine. Your limbs get pulled this way and that, you get lifted and twisted and doubled-up. You do get kneaded, but only when you're in the exact best position for it. It's marvellous. I'm a sucker for all kinds of massage, but this is the best. I don't know how Rowan does some of the moves she does. I suspect she sprouts extra hands and feet. One hand pulling my shoulder back, one hand moving my head to the side -- what body part is it, exactly, that is kneading my neck? Very mysterious. And pointy things appear to dig in and open places up, like a key opening a lock. Are they knees, elbows, chins? Maybe I'll find out tonight.

After a Swedish massage I'm usually slow and loopy and spacy -- to the extent that I wonder if I really ought to drive. But after a Thai massage, though I get the same endorphin rush, I'm clear and alert. I trit-trot down the stairs, a half inch taller than usual, and apparently half my usual weight, full of energy. I don't know how I would have gotten through the last few months without it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Four Things that are not Murder

As someone who has suffered the murder of a close friend, it makes me very angry when people bandy the word about. Here are some things that are not murder:

1. The killing of soldiers in battle.

2. The execution of a person by due process of law.

3. Requested Euthanasia.

4. The killing of human being whom the killer does not believe to be a person (whether he or she is one or not.)

All these things may be wrong. They may be terribly wrong. But they are not murder, okay? The question of whether a fetus or a comatose human being is a person can be argued from now till the end of the world. But no matter what the answer is -- and it's not clear to me that the answer is necessarily the same from one fetus to the next, or from one comatose human being to the next -- it does not bear on whether the act is murder. Murder is the intentional and unsanctioned killing of a human being who is considered to be a person by the killer.

If a hunter shoots something moving in the woods, which he takes to be a deer, and it turns out to be a person, he is not a murderer. And you don't have to argue that the person was in fact a deer in order to say the act wasn't murder. People are wrong sometimes. People believe different things to be true.

Likewise, if a soldier shoots at someone he genuinely believes to be an enemy soldier, and it turns out to be a six-year-old girl, he has not committed murder. If someone aborts a two-month-old fetus, believing that fetus not to be a person, she has not committed murder. If someone disconnects life support from a human being they consider irrecoverably brain-dead, that person has not committed murder.

Those of us who have lost dear ones to murder would appreciate it if you all would stop trying to score cheap rhetorical points by pretending that those four things are equivalent to the actions whose aftermath we have suffered. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


It comes
At the oddest times

In the flush of victory
In the tide-rush

Of congratulations
That miss their mark

In a cloud-dust
Obscuring the moon

It is a step missed in the dark
It is the memory of a quick kiss

Unregarded by the kisser
It is the loss

Of a chew toy. In the end
There is so little

To hold. My daughter's girlfriend
Taught Michael

How to pop grapes, a skill
With which she often

Entertained toddlers, and
Now used

to entertain a Lama
In a bright kitchen

What I have not touched
Or have touched in the wrong way

Lingers in this empty
Shivering place

If you find me in tears
What wonder, in this world

Where so many things
Where so many things go by

Where so many things go by

Saturday, April 02, 2005


Suppose he did gain immortality. Does he wander the bookstores of the world, fingering the Penguin editions of his plays, looking, bemused, at the Finnish and Uzbek translations? Does he listen for the telltale phrases he put into the language to fall from the lips of strangers, pretty petulant girls or indignant old men? Does he linger to watch people in dusty flats in gray industrial cities, reading about an emerald set in the shining sea?

And does he wander down the aisle to watch a lingering performance of Othello in some art theater, where the notions of honor and reputation, as he knew them, are so long dead that no one even makes fun of them any more? & then tell me, as he crouches there, unseen, to gaze at the face of a weeping playgoer -- can he feel anything but immensely, shatteringly lonely?

Let's hear no more of immortality, as if it were a blessing.

Friday, April 01, 2005


We walk through this great corpse, rotting magnificently, and we light little candles that glint off the teeming maggots' heads, and we say, This is daylight!

This is not daylight. Blow them all out, all those opinions. Wait till even the wicks are cold, and lie down with the maggots in the dark.

Be patient with the wriggling and the smell. Fold your hands over your breast, and wait. Till the flesh drops from the overarching ribs, and the blaze lights up the opening cavity, the afternoon sun coming through the bars. Wait, even then. Till the dripping stops. Till every wriggling thing is born, and has flown away. Till all the scraps that have sifted down onto you are dried and paper thin, and blow away.

Then you can get up, and step out between the clean white bones. That will be daylight.