Monday, February 25, 2008


The multifidi and the rotatores are small muscles that move the spinal vertebrae in relation to each other. The dura mater is the tough connective tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

I squat, like the old Vietnamese
men at the bus stops, froglike,
elbows within my knees, my belly
swagging between my thighs.

The faintest click, felt not heard,
in the lumbar vertebrae.
The braided multifidi let go.
The rotatores loose

their grip; the sacrum tilts
infinitesimally. The breath
rises through my spine
like solvent in a crusted lock.

The dura mater sighs; the shoulders
drop, my eyes close
as the pressure behind them eases.
I press my hands together.

Namaste. The air blows through
my bones. I think of you,
my darling, my beautiful
windshaken flower.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


People with knotted muscles are often -- almost always -- told to stretch and exercise by well-meaning people, including doctors and physical therapists, who don't entirely understand how muscles work. They are also told to relax, using various techniques. This is usually bad advice.

Or rather, it's mistimed advice. Stretching, exercise, and relaxation are wonderful for preventing knots. It's just that they are useless, or worse than useless, for undoing them.

I'm not talking about stiffness, here. We all know how wonderful it is to stretch out when you're stiff. I'm talking about trigger points. Trigger points don't feel wonderful when they're stretched. They hurt and they feel wrong.

It's commonly thought that we hold our muscles tightened, and so it's just common sense to think that if we let go, then they'll relax. It doesn't actually work that way. Once a muscle fiber is contracted, it actually takes an expenditure of energy to release it.

Consider rigor mortis. For several hours the muscles of a dead body clamp down into a tight contraction. They are not doing this because the dead person is worried about making his mortgage payment. And they will not be helped to relax by stretching -- they can't be stretched, they can only be torn. (Whether exercise would help, I don't think we'll ever be able to say.)

No. What happens is that the dead muscle, having been triggered into contraction, is no longer supplied with the energy required to release it. so it just stays contracted, until the whole system deteriorates and it becomes inert matter.

Now when your muscles are knotted, essentially what's happened is that a few strands have gone into rigor. They're not being supplied with sufficient oxygen to relax, so they're stuck in the "on" position. They will send very clear pain signals if you try to contract them further. They know they're in trouble. Forcibly stretching them will probably tear them. Relaxing your mind will indeed reduce the pain, and releasing the tension on the surrounding fibers may help somewhat, but what really has to happen is for oxygen to get to the locked muscle fibers. Presumably the mind of a dead person is as relaxed as a mind ever gets, but that doesn't release his or her rigor. Only the complete death of the tissue does that. Not the solution we're looking for.

Fortunately, moving oxygen into the locked fibers is usually quite easy. First you find the knot -- it will be hard, like a pea or a bit of gravel in the middle of a band of tight muscle. Pressing on it will hurt. A lot. But it will also feel oddly good. Now you squeeze the thing, between your fingers, if that works, but usually by trapping it against a bone. And you just roll over it, as if it were a tiny sponge and you wanted to get all the fluid out of it. Do that seven or eight times, working in the same direction each time. It should hurt good. Seven, on a scale of one to ten, is what the books say; as much pain as you can relax into, but not more.

Then leave it alone for a couple hours. Don't stretch it, don't exercise it. Let it sit. Then repeat. Keep working it, every couple hours, until it doesn't hurt any more.

That's the simple scenario -- a single trigger point, recently acquired. Unfortunately, by the time people do something about it they usually have numerous interrelated trigger points. And often what hurts is not the trigger point itself, but a nearby joint. It takes some knowledge and some investigation to track trigger points down.

If you ask doctors about joint pain, they will almost invariably say it's arthritis, and that there's nothing you can do about it but take pain-killers. If they say this without manipulating the joint, or any of the muscles that move the joint, you'll know that they're simply -- like most physicians -- pig-ignorant about trigger points and myofascial pain. Sure, it could be arthritis. could be lots of things. The doctor's job is to find out, not to guess.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I got on the hotel elevator, and pushed '4'. At '2' a fashionably dressed woman got on, gave me a pleasant brisk smile, and looked away. Obviously not a Portlander; a little too smart. Here on business, perhaps. Now what would that business be?

I met her eyes again. An incredulous look was dawning on her face. Mirrored on mine, I suppose. "Annie?" I ventured.

"Ann," I corrected. That, I knew, was what she went by now.

"Dale!" she said. We hugged. Took a good look at each other. I had last seen her, when? In 1974? She had been a rather dowdy and subfusc teenager then, intense and inturned, her innate luminosity blossoming only at odd moments of self-forgetfulness -- no teenager, alas, has many such moments. Now it had risen to the surface; she was voluble, confident, and stylish. We chattered away as we went on up to the room.

Not such a coincidence to meet, here; I was on my way up to the room she was sharing with Wilbur. But I would have been prepared to see her there. Here the surprise was so deep. Thirty-four years puts some slack in a tie; we reeled it in, talking of who knows what.

We opened the door. New hugs, new startlement: it was Billy. Wilbur, I mean. But it was Billy. The years seemed to have touched him not at all. Ann and I were a generation older, but he was a young man still, eager as ever, beads around his neck, the least disillusioned of the three of us. Ann and I, I think, hope mostly to be able to defer the future until after we, anyway, are safely out of it; but he still looks forward to it. And his enthusiasm swept us along.

High school buddies. We drove about until we found the new trendy neighborhood of Portland, which I, typically, didn't know about, but which they, typically, did, even though I was the native and they were out-of-staters: Mississipi Avenue. I'd never even been there. But we found a lovely cafe and had brunch and talked and talked. They had both fallen in love with Portland.

"Why," said Ann, "is everyone so happy and nice here?"

Well, largely because Ann and Wilbur were so happy and expansive. Wilbur, of course, has always been ready to talk to anyone; and Ann was so happy to be out of her somewhat depressing daily round at home. They stopped to ask people where to eat, and chatted up the waitress when we got there; their verve was irresistable, and I'm not surprised that Portland, a good-natured and friendly, but not very outgoing town, responded to them by flowering, like a shy woman at a party carried away and made bold by meeting a man who can talk.

I had a massage scheduled. As I drove them back to the hotel we made plans for the next evening. "Maybe I can even talk Martha into going out," I said. "Here," said Wilbur gaily, "bribe her with this." He slipped off his glittery rhinestone bracelet and handed it forward from the backseat. "Tell her she has to come."

I drove home from my massage, after dark, along the dark streets of the industrial district along the Columbia; very dark, but punctuated by brilliant streetlights. The bracelet on the dashboard sparkled, blazed, corruscated, every time I drove under one.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Heid did Yak Yester Nicht

Variations on William Dunbar, I

My head hurt so much all last night
No hope, today, that I will write
This migraine has become my life
Cutting my forehead like a knife
I can barely look at the morning light.

Just now, after NPR,
I thought I had a thought to scrawl
But it was too damn hard to find
In my prickling unslept mind
The words escaped me at a crawl.

In the morning when I rise
Asleep in bed my courage lies
Whatever the music, fun, or play
Noise or dance or disarray
It will not open up its eyes.

The original, from James Kinsley's edition. Dunbar was a Scots poet of the 15th and 16th Century, best known for his wonderful "Lament for the Makers," but he wrote a remarkable variety of poems. I've been playing with some of them, translating or modernizing or whatever you call it.

My heid did yak yester nicht
This day to mak that I na micht,
So sair the magryme dois me menyie
Perseing my brow as ony ganyie,
That scant I luik may on the licht.

And now, schir, laitlie eftir mes
To dyt thocht I begowthe to dres
The sentence lay full evill till find;
Unsleipit in my heid behind,
Dullit in dulnes and distres.

Full oft at morrow I upryse,
Quhen that my curage sleipeing lyis;
For mirth, for menstrallie and play,
For din nor danceing nor deray
It will nocht walkin me no wise.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Limbectomy II

I pause in the hallway. Two parallelograms of light splash over the floor. I step to the window and there is the moon, nearly full, and the few stars that can hold their own with her trembling and burning.

Light out of the griefstricken sky: moonlight, sunlight, cloudlight.

When I was a boy I would walk out onto the sunwarmed concrete in my bare feet, and the morning would be still and quiet.

I hope I have made the right choices. Mr Fei, Mr Squander, indeed; I have thrown away and wasted so much. Not much time left, now.

No, but actually there's more time. Finally some inkling of reality has entered into my life, and the contagion of my mother's despair and self-absorption is wearing away. It's just light, plain light, ordinary day. Things that must be done. The grand ideas and the despair at being nobody all belong to that world where nothing ordinary has value, that world of flickering Ahrimanic desperation.

My mother has a lift chair, we got for her. It's planted directly before the television, turned ninety degrees from the sofas. When we visit, we have to choose between sitting on the sofas, where she can't see us unless she cranes her head around (which she rarely does), or perching uncomfortably on the bricks of the fireplace. She's kept this configuration for years. Sun Ho sits in a pull-up chair at her feet, tending her.

She's quite sharp now. Sharp enough to have resumed the impersonation of someone who experiences the outside world. But really there's nothing but the television.

That's my legacy, one of them, at least. It's the legacy I declined when I left the cubicles. Or anyway that I hoped to decline. I haven't escaped it for certain yet.

Thank you for the help and encouragement. I have needed all of it. I'm so grateful. I hope someday I can make some return.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

coo bit

in response to the ReadWritePoem prompt, to write an ode to the body.

cubit cubit
duped duped stupid
string an arc for Cupid
build an ark for Stupid
coo bit coo bit
wring the heart of Stupid

Cupid Cupid
stooped to shoot at Stupid
marked his mill and rude hit
milled his mark and rued it
coo bit coo bit
stop it stop it Cupid

cue bid cue bid
sing the part of Stupid
toss him in the stew pit
wring the heart of Cupid
coo bit coo bit
stop it stop it Stupid

If you excise the limbic portion of the brain of a monkey, I read, he will walk on top of his indignant fellows as if they were not there; he will casually take food out of their hands. He treats them as scenery, not as fellow-creatures.

Well, I thought, no need to do a limbectomy on the researchers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Mixed drumming last night.

A new person. Short hair and a wary, immobile face; dark, dark circles under the eyes. The face of a young woman who has not slept well for days, or weeks.

I thought I'd say something when the talking stick came to me, something about how I used to feel that my love was useless, that I couldn't reach other people, and how I used to perceive all this beauty which I didn't know how to share, but that I took the forty day miracle Buddhist cure and now I felt heart connections all the time. Fortunately, the talking stick has a way of sniffing out the bogus. Yes, something sort of like that did happen. Yes, more often than not now the joy of all that love welling up overwhelms the loneliness. But it's not that simple, and we all know it.

I held the stick in my hand and followed a couple breaths. Then I looked up at those bruised-looking eyes and said, "Thank you for being here." I looked only at her, and then I looked down and passed the stick on to the voluble Ted, who always has a lot to say. I could feel the surprise and the questioning. I didn't look at her again. I didn't want it to be mistaken for flirtation. I didn't look at her again until near the end of the evening, when we were trading conga-drum riffs back and forth, and we grinned at each other.

At my last glimpse of her, as I went out the door, she was talking eagerly, animatedly, to Ted. I would have thought it physically impossible, but the darkness under her eyes had completely vanished.

I love the drumming, the entrainment, attuning to each other. Sometimes I stop drumming and just rest my fingertips lightly on the drumhead; I can feel it pulse as it resonates with the other drums.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Six Things you Didn't Know about me

I'm cheating and responding to a tag from Whirling Dervish at the same time as I answer Totally Optional's request for a mystery.

I am the one who, sitting tailor-fashion,
Carefully coiled your guts and packed them in.
I am the one who braided your veins and arteries,
The one who crocheted the fine net of your nerves.
I am the one who sang you to sleep that night
When your first boyfriend proved unfaithful;
The one who called down storms to delight your eyes
When the world was too small for your breathing heart;
I am the one who lay on the bare floor
Huddled at your feet, last night, and wept.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Carry On

My laptop has ceased breathing, so until I figure out repair or replacement, posts are going to come scarce, if at all. I hadn't realized how dependent upon it I'd become for writing. Try to carry on the internets without me.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The crow gothe to the water

I pray you, have me now in mynde;
I tell you of the mater:
He blew his horne agaynst the wynde;
The crow gothe to the water.

-- 15th Century lyric