Thursday, March 20, 2008

tendon slides over bone

self portrait on tuesday

(for azn)

In the Greek narratives that precede Judaism, renewal tempers dissolution. Roses bloom when Persephone rejoins Demeter ever Summer. The lilt of Orpheus's lyre calls back Eurydice. But the Old Testament refuses Lot's wife the luxury of nostalgia. Obliterated for a backward glance, she is permitted neither reprieve nor the solace of sorrow. Like Ovid's tales, her story involves metamorphosis, but here there is nothing transformative. In lines of verse that stretch over every story the way tendon slides over bone, Ovid shapes the perversly half-human into beautiful form. Extinction translates into alchemy, as bones blur into water and the shine of blonde hair dapples in quaking Aspen leaves.

The destruction of Lot's wife, for obvious reasons, involves no such sensuality. Homesickness for a distempered place destroys her, and then God annihilates her memory.

--Michael Katz, "Soulful Modernism" Southwest Review 93 (1) 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

the spell

Today we are driving west, far beyond the edge of this frenetic town and into the wide, rolling hills of tallgrass and mesquite, to hang the memory of a kiss that never happened out to flap like laundry strung for miles on the rising wind. Times like these I long to be more landscape than flesh. The shudder and swell of earth, rent and split in heaves of granite, documents such urgent, immemorial longings--whereas mine, the longings of the “intricate spirited tissues” is fragile and ephemeral in comparison. A whisper.

I am adjusting to a different time here at the lake, a time measured in the progress of a swallowtail butterfly grazing its way over henbane toward my awaiting lens. Walking along the water’s edge, I cup in one hand Sophie’s expanding collection: an iridescent snail shell, a smooth piece of glass, the leg of a large grasshopper, two red and white bobbers. The bobbers tug at my heart. My sweetest childhood memories are saturated with the sounds of water lapping beneath the dock, the smells of thick cedar and the boat engine sputtering. I like to think they are all there now, the ghosts of my past, playing a scratchy Glen Miller recording on the turntable and a game of gin, my grandfather with his binoculars patiently, silently waiting, watching for hours out on the deck. This would be my heaven, the whole family gathering after life out at the lake unto eternity.

A pair of pelicans stretches into flight beneath layers of seagulls, buzzards, and hawks gliding on thermals. Our shadows are cast long out into the lake, into the depths of the water threaded with light, and I realize that no lens could capture all of this beauty at once. Is it possible that the depth of beauty is just a factor of depth of field, or is it that truly deep and breathtaking beauty, resides in the momentary, in the unrecordable? Maybe unrecordable on film, or in words, but somehow I am sure that every traveler passing this same way we have come to the edge of this water, where the wind stirs and the stars are just beginning to appear, lingers unwittingly a moment on the frayed edge of that unfulfilled kiss, still whipping in a spring gust, almost freed from the spell of a mesquite thorn.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Toilets outside Jo's Coffee on S. Congress for SXWX

A few weeks ago, I was walking through the golf course before yoga. It was cold, and my breath hovered before my face a few minutes before dissipating into the leaves. It made me acutely aware of our shared transpiration, me, the trees, all of us breathing in and out each other's biological gases. There is little separation, after all.

Last week I took the No. 3 into school, and suddenly this shared transpiration was repulsive--the exquisite weft of humanity that I had written about earlier was suddenly transformed before my eyes into a Fellini-esque scene. Every single living soul seemed to be scratching some part of his or herself, or snorting and swallowing mucus. I had to look away, put on my headphones. The woman with Downs Syndrome was there, and when a drunk homeless man sat next to her, she put both hands over her face and gave him a look of horror. Twice the boy in the seat behind me fell asleep and the bus driver got up to wake him, "You're going to miss your stop, man!" The boy's eyes rolled about disorientedly, then he fell back against the window in a slump. He could not be older than my 15-yr old son. Clearly he didn't care where he got off. Was he homeless? Abused? I suddenly felt the urge to take him home and care for him.

Approaching campus, I stood by the driver and asked about the kid, where he needed to get off, because he had fallen back to sleep. "I don't know--he just looks like a school kid. It's a long route. Eventually he'll get back to where he started. We can't take care of people, we're not even supposed to."

I knew this was true. The scratching, sniffling, stinking lot of us are on our own, in the end I guess. I stepped off into the bright cold light and walked toward campus, the bus driving off with its cargo of the damned toward wherever. I thought of the boy many times during the day. I think of him today, a week later, somewhere out there in the city.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Seedlings in Stone: Working Like Annie Dillard

Seedlings in Stone: Working Like Annie Dillard

a liturgy of extravagant gesture

…alas, but that is what we are. Does the infinite space
we dissolve into, taste of us then?
--Rainer Maria Rilke, The Second Elegy

" you prepare yourself, all alone, to enter an extraordinary state on an ordinary morning? How to set yourself spinning? Where is an edge— a dangerous edge— and where is the trail to the edge and the strength to climb it?"

Not sure exactly where this is going, I only reserve trust in the vague inkling that it leads somewhere out of the desolation of late. Encountering some phrases in Tinker Creek, not just phrases, but passages that tickle a far-off memory of an idea that had held me in its sway many years ago. I was writing a paper about a dramatic work by friend and utter-literary and musical genius, Jo Carol Pierce’s Bad Girls Upset by the Truth striving to place it within the context of an intuitive feminist theology. If you don’t know the play, many reviews reveal the basic plot, but its real power is in the language and Pierce’s hypnotic West Texas voice reciting such perplexingly provocative lines as emerge in the song Loose Diamonds (which is what he was singing in the play when I fell in love with his voice). I happened upon a book that served up the academic main course of the argument, Extravagant Affection: A Feminist Sacramental Theology, by Susan Ross, but the rest was fleshed out in numinous urges toward other work that had impressed me, perhaps none more pointedly than the film Breaking the Waves, for which it was hard to locate a willing viewing partner. I was completely in its thrall. That the protagonist had entered into some sort of self-annihilating bargain with the creator to save her husband is hauntingly portrayed.

I am against the rehearsed approach to [g]od. I am wholeheartedly for the fumbling, oblique, heart-wrenching one, or the irreverent, profane, and honest one. But perhaps more interesting than our hacking away at the body of evidence or lack of for or against a greater meaning, is the simple awe for the ultimate extravagant gesture, creation.

The point about being, as I know it here and see it, is that, as I think about it, it accumulates in my mind as an extravagance of minutiae….Van Gogh, as you remember, called the world a study that didn’t come off. Whether it “came off” is a difficult question. The chloroplasts do stream in the leaf as if propelled by a mighty, invisible breath; but on the other hand, a certain sorrow arises, welling up in Shadow Creek, and from those lonely banks it appears that all our intricate fringes, however beautiful, are really the striations of a universal and undeserved flaying. But, Van Gogh, a study it is not. This is the truth of the pervading intricacy of the world’s detail: the creation is not a study, a roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine.
--Dillard, PaTC (134)

Monday, March 3, 2008

grief songs

for b.
Editing The Penetrable Air is not a painless affair. The oblique approach of speaking about the past in mythological terms does not deliver us from evil, nor displace the pain. I have severed some part of myself that localized the exquisite memories of that house and its horrors (I say “horrors” although on the spectrum they are subtle, subtle horrors) and yet continually try to find that place that I buried the severed thing, like the dream of the cat stowed away in the box, or the very real rubber alligator purloined form the TG&Y many, many years ago. Time has so contorted the events in my mind that I am no longer certain that I lived there in that old hotel. Today was my “father’s” birthday--ironically he has assisted graciously with the minutiae that I could not call forth on my own--the seasons of planting corn and winter wheat--the lineage of the hotel. And yet he is portrayed in a less than flattering light, as are my mother and grandmother, who I hope never will read what I’ve written. That through many iterations the novel was titled “Medea” gives some indication.

Interestingly, I realized that a strange counter-phenomenon was at work in both Redemption Shoes and Penetrable Air (God, I sound like Ayn Rand writing her own introduction to The Fountainhead!)--in Air, a work of fiction, I had named each female character and offered up lengthy backstory, whereas in Shoes, non-fiction, only the paternal ancestors were explored. It begged the question of whether the female stories could be conveyed in any but mythological terms (consider Housekeeping and Gilead, for instance). It also called to mind Susan Brind-Morrow and her mention of the desire to one day catalog the ephemeral grief songs of the women of the Red Sea, the unrecorded liturgies of sorrow--the grief songs.

Right now my life feels like a grief song. Inconsonant and out of tune with some barely audible scale--if you know the Crowded House song, Fall at Your Feet, Google the tabs and play the chords. These chords seem nowhere in the range of the melody--either brilliance or madness, or something is terribly out of whack. I rest my case. There are a lot of covers of this song on YouTube, but this one brought tears to my eyes--it's so fucking honest. (She's still playing different chords--just try it yourself...)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

self portrait on Thursday

Thursday I thought I was the luckiest person in the world. It was a cool morning and an hour before yoga and I had my camera. Roaming the alleyways of Hyde Park I marveled at what lengths homeowners have gone to in tidying up the alleys. There is some sadness in over-tidiness, and I mourn the lack of respect for the accretive histories of dust (recall Sebald's artist in the studio?). I guess I romanticize dust. God knows there is plenty of it at my house--the ancient leather of my grandfathers cameras decays and flakes away, becomes part of what we breathe, the heaviness of the air we swim through.

Yoga was particularly good, and we ended with Om-ing that always leaves my head humming in another space, and all that immensity of love just swells--I feel a drought of outlets for it. I spill it and slosh it everywhere, but the bucket is forever being refilled from some unending source, watering little.

Lying in the sun during sivasana, I watched the tiny particles of dust waft into the angle of light that split the shadows of the room. It was as if they only existed for that singular moment that they were caught the slant of light, burning with intense fiery existence, and then emptied out into the other side of nothingness. Burning is the metaphor this week, a searing intensity of emotion flaming through--I know that emptiness awaits on the other side where the shadow lingers, but the knowledge doesn't temper the heat.