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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Confession

Penzai on a mural in the Tang Dynasty
tomb of Prince Li Xian, 706 CE

“The first highly prized trees are believed to have been collected in
the wild and were full of twists, knots, and deformities. These were
seen as sacred, of no practical profane value for timber or other
ordinary purpose.” - From the Wikipedia entry on penzai

At first, what was sought looked like what we are: bent concisions
formed naturally, a graceful response to unnatural stresses. Later,
artifice and craft took matters in hand and applied their snip-shears
to the very root of things. That’s why, wearing night to hide myself,
I broke into the nursery where all penzai are formed, stole one or a
hundred, climbed up past clouds to the ash-laden soil on the side of
a mountain. That’s where, wearing a waterfall disguise, I wheedled
the crescent moon down to help me dig holes in the dirt, replanting
each damaged tree in its own cast shadow, to grow as it would. For
a day or an age we’ll hide in that new-old forest, spinning my thefts
into raveling yarns of the sacred, the impractical, the heroic; collect
and recollect one another, confessing to no crime at all.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Amnesia

Brocken Inaglory, "Fossils in a beach wall," 2007

Like a beach wall that’s sun-struck, then chilled, then
baked by the sun again, I’m spalling. All my memories –
(sedimentary, additive, a soft entombment of all those
drifting everythings that slowly settled to the bottom
of my evaporating seas) – are flaking off, and I split as
if struck by a hammer, crack along fissures too fine to
be seen by any eye. I forget my name (it’s on the tip
of my tongue), forget how to listen to the collective
that makes a self, the commensality that binds itself
together by chemical whisperings and handfastings.
And yet, even without listeners or listenings left, at
the long blank broken facings of amnesia, something
new pushes up in the interstices: something like love.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Spoons

David Clarke, "Blow," 2014, pewter and spoons

1.
As if it were an outstretched arm & cupped
hand, made fine as any by Hilliard: carved
rock crystal, gold shaped to bear an unborn
sea to pale lips. That faint sound, the rustle
and shush of watered silk; and fainter, still,
under Argentan lace, a whispering pulse at
the wrist of the hand that holds the spoon.

2.
So delicate, this coral tree grafted on a stalk
of shell-pearl white as shaved ice! Beading
sweat jewels the skin while women “naked
in different postures, some in conversation
others drinking Coffee or sherbet” wait for
the same slaves who brought them ┼čerbet
spoons to weave ribbons through their hair.

3.
Twelve apostles plus Christ, hammered out
of silver not nail-iron, forged as a set for the
child-to-be-immersed. These are now hidden
in a drawer, set in rows on rag paper, loosely
covered with a white cloth: a winding shroud
to preserve them from the rot of time, from
the degradation of touch on saint or spoon.

4.
We two, who feed ourselves with art, lick it
in all its forms from a single source of joy like
sticky children sucking the sweetness from a
snow cone, staining fingers, lips, tongues—
we, too, carve ourselves into the necessary
shapes to dig a little deeper into that dish;
are cast, molten, into the forms of spoons.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Coscinomancy

"Heart and its blood vessels," by Leonardo da Vinci

“…when the young woman, the sorceress, took in hand
some of the tarn water and spake over it words not to be
understood, the fishes lifted their heads and stood up
on the instant like men…”

From “The Book of the Thousand and One Nights,”
Richard F. Burton

Yes, cupped hands can make a sort of sieve, but
it’s my heart that’s a perfect fit for this oracle: it
takes both the sieve and the shears to spell out
hidden things in this way. I run on through early
dim light, feeling not seeing, atria emptying and
valves snipping shut—cut the stream, reopen for
the fill, syncopation pushing blood through the
mesh of my lungs. There are words I speak over
my jackhammering heart, this sieve and shears,
words not to be understood, not even by myself;
and when I speak them, the oracle tells me all the
names of what had been hidden inside my pulse.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Erosion

Photo by Blackland, 2014

The land-shaper here is always water, whether we’re
in drought or not. Paths are scoured, or washed away
when it steps down from the sky. We’re too far from
an ocean for any maritime god to lay a claim—when
land’s reshaped around us, it’s the sky god flinging his
shovels of rain who does it. Even a seep can become a
crow-bar in winter, jimmying ice-blades between layers
of lime and chert, cleaving them into sharp brittle flakes,
some with the bones of past seas showing, some mute,
too shy to speak, but dense and siliceous, a knapper’s
delight. Further along: flint nodules washed out from an
undercut ledge, steel-gray, fine-grained. They’ve been
tumbled one against the other at each flood until their
conchoidal fractures lost every serrated edge; now they
drift to sleep, dream of rain falling on their gravel bed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Three-in-One

"The Line Cook," photo (manipulated) by staxnet, 2009

For flavor, not heat—the line cook calls on
his holy trinity: hands dance their two-step
with knives, kitchen mumblety-peg that’s
left fine scars next to the burn marks and
tattoos. This one’s God the Father, cher,
he says as he winks at me, dicing the onion
until we both cry; this, the Son (bell pepper
almost comically green), that’s Eternal Life.
And the celery, pale and thin, disappearing
into the gumbo like the very Ghost? Spirit
moves us, moves us all in mysterious ways,
he says, belly and hips swaying as he stirs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Listening

Aphrodite Anadyomene, Fresco from Pompeii, Casa
di Venus, 1st century AD, photo by Stephen Haynes

An ancient seabed made these hills, where
the only things rich and strange are the whistle
and percolation of bats bubbling up at dusk,
pouring out from a cavern beneath my feet. No
pearls, no coral; just karst, limestone, chalks,
and a seep hidden by maidenhair fern. I know
this place by touch more than sight now—loose
scree rolling underfoot, bare-root handholds,
slickrock, and tannic stains on all my fingers. So
when I tell you I held a fossil oyster shell to my
ear, held it there until I heard primordial oceans
lapping a warm shore, you should believe me.