New fruiting bodies pop up from my compost heap of language, like this one—asymptote— and I’m torn between putting it in my basket, or leaving it to shake its fungal head and toss spores windward. Oh, okay then, I’ll reach for the word. But slow. Slower. Hand ever closer but not. Quite. Grasping it, at all—a geometer I’m not. Yet there are other paths. Desire, like an asymptote, is “always approaching, never arriving;” but even a spore will find its way to germinate, once it’s blown clear of the graph.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
It’s a Western plant, all right. The only thing Old World about this little scruffy shrub has been grafted onto its name: Tages, the prophet who appeared at plow-time and taught the Etruscans divination, who’d brought light alongside him within the anise-scented leaves. But his influence in the New World is limited. The Guatemalan and Mexican grandmothers have ideas of their own as to what to do with this gift, and there’s not much use for an old prophet from another place and time when their santos live now, know them each by name. Folks to heal, children to nurse, meat roasting: old Tages must sit outside the jacal until the grannies call him to help.
Saturday, December 26, 2015
All children draw, if they have a way to do so. Chalk on a sidewalk; a rock small enough to fit a little hand, hard enough to scratch away the desert varnish from a cliff; a stick in wet sand. Now we are older, you and I, and carry caveats in our pockets instead of the treasures we’d find in the woods. But still, still, I sometimes palm a piece of flint and leave a mark for you on the soft limestone: a little sun or a heart, ready to fill with a trickle from the seep that softens the caliche; play, to guide you home.
Monday, December 21, 2015
The tensioned rebar remembers the furnace, and the furnace remembers its refractory bricks. This garage, its nested voids skinned in cast concrete, remembers the weeds that once patched the alkaline soil: a caliche blanket snatched away before the garage could dream.
The interlocked slabs that make the garage an empty vessel are kin to those cast alongside the highway. At dusk, those flat planes lay open like palms to a fortune- teller, the seams like lifelines waiting to be traced by a patterned, rusted finger. This evening, a visitor: a lone woman dancing slow, measured flamenco arabesques; her boot-heels stamp out a rock-dust duende, consoling the weeping concrete for what it can no longer dream.
Saturday, December 19, 2015
Photo by Alex Galt/USFWS, 2015.
A slow walk along piled riprap that’s holding back the waters. Is it an embankment for an earthen dam, or the lip of an ancient monster’s water-jug, half- buried in an avalanche of oyster shells cast off after feasting, still sharp underfoot? Both could be true. I listen as the wind stuffs my ears with a dizzy racket: rattle of blown cattail spikes, gimlet-eyed grackles’ whistlings. Then a gift at my feet, perfect, unmoving— a sulphur butterfly, legs folded, not long dead. I’m its only mourner, in the absence of a meadowlark.
Friday, December 11, 2015
Source image: "Ferns at the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens" by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
Unwinding myself. Much like the string that makes nautiloid arcs in the geometers’s texts, I’m pulled just tight enough to sing if stroked. “Let’s practice drawing involutes freehand!” I’d say, and you’d reply with a smile, pointing towards a fern uncurling at our bare feet. It’s not an involute curve, true, but this soft green volute unwinds us out; its center so far from the geometer, so very close to where we lay.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015
Édouard Manet, "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe," 1862-63.
Not a simulacrum, sitting here wearing nothing except your gaze on my skin, but the X-factor in the work: it can’t be done without me. The room smells like turps, linseed oil, wooden stretcher bars, and sweat. Those single-pane windows sieve the light, let in the cold, but I don’t feel the chill. A galaxy of hot lamps circle me like little suns, put me at the center of this universe where I’m neither subject nor object, but co-author: the one not holding the brush, the one who embodies the question of what’s being, and what’s represented, in that fresh, gliding stroke.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Liz West, "Junk Drawer," 2013.
It’s like a junk drawer in here, full of obscure treasures, broken toys, books I’d forgotten (whether to read them or what I’d read, well, I forget that too.) I reach in, back to the back, and find there is no end to it. The drawer goes on, the cabinet deepens, and I grow smaller, lever myself up by brass pulls and fall in. Socks make a soft landing.
Forty questions later, the jinn pause, wait to hear what I’ll say in response to the next question. That question is the one unasked: the one to which the only answer is laughter and joy, here in the endless junk drawer of memory where the jinn circle our stories, glow, burn without charring bits of our lost childhood, the forts in the forest, all the fine trivia and pocket-lint of love.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
You can’t stitch together what’s not been pierced, and these memories do pierce me. I bind them up, chain-sewn through the piercings, and think about those scraps of Moroccan leather you had tooled with an awl—what a beautiful, wine-dark cover they’d have made for this retelling of our stories.
Except we didn’t really tell stories, did we? No, we sat together, dug Johnson grass out of your garden together, watched the late afternoon light as it left gold coins strewn on your living room rug, together.
My friend, my friend, it always seems that if I had the right set of tools, I could take that lock, finesse it open, that lock that keeps thee from me. But I don’t, I can’t. And anyway, you’d laugh and tell me to get outside where the rain lilies are blooming, use that dull awl to punch holes in the caliche, plant some lily seeds and some fresh, feathered dreams.
Sunday, November 22, 2015
"Easter Morning: Battle of the Cascarones," Arianne, 2011.
They say that Marco Polo brought the idea of cascarones from China back to Venice, but if he did, what might have been the reason? Surely the Venetians knew how to pitch woo without needing to toss perfume-filled eggs at their lovers. Regardless, cascarones are here now, having travelled from Italy to Spain to Mexico to San Antonio to my neighbors’ homes, these tissue-papered eggs of love & luck filled with confetti that teases and marks the beloved at every breakage. So if cascarones were a poem, what would they mean? “It’s good luck to break a fragile thing”? No, I doubt that. I’ll go with this: “Love plays with you, marks you, gets in your hair.”
Monday, November 16, 2015
This is where we place the fingertips of the children we lost to sharp knives, to guns, to bombs. See, they fit so neatly in rows in this vestibule, these dusky blue reminders of what’s become so broken. Such tiny fingernails. The crescent moon in each is receding, as if it’s drifting far, far away, taking a child with it, over the fence that surrounds the pocked yard, up past the clouds. The light’s gone out, it’s been shot out, the shrinking moon hiding its face behind those fingertips.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
From Otto Wilhelm Thomé, "Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz." 1885, Gera, Germany, via Biblio.
The log in the middle of the creek doesn’t seem firmly seated; neither am I, leaning out over loose rolling gravel for a better idea of how to cross. There’s the balance point: a place where the shadow beneath the broken trunk underlines the soggy bark, scribes the creek-bed. No gap, but it’s off-center enough to need me to be light-footed, a barefoot dancer on what’d pivot and throw me. I don’t trust my body, don’t trust that I can be single-minded enough to commit with sufficient speed and grace. I waver then wind moves the cane nearby, telling me how it could be done: first, cut a stalk almost twice my height, tie my shoes to it. Then take off my socks, put them in my shoes, step up and, balance pole low and in hand, let bare feet read the bark while I keep my gaze moving from horizon to log and back. My shadow is an elongated asterisk on the water below as I find my footing, one step after an unsteady other, until I look down and see I’ve finally crossed.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
We saw the hunter before we saw the pheasant—a man far off down the trail, bright orange hat, rifle in hand, walking towards us. Then we saw the bird. It stepped deliberately near and ahead of us, towards the hunter and directly along an invisible line between where we came from and where the hunter was heading, as if we three, my brother and I and the pheasant, had gone for a stroll together, the pheasant a friend of the family taking a slow constitutional with us after dinner. My brother waved at the hunter, to be sure we—not just the bird—had been seen. We had. We got a measured nod, as if to both acknowledge us and to compliment the pheasant on its skill, and then the hunter abruptly veered off the trail; a dog, his dog, had found something to flag in the brush. A sharp exhale (I’d been holding my breath), and then a look down at a tangle of soft color. I'd found a scattered handful of torn feathers—stiff contour feathers and downy semiplumes—from another pheasant. There was a small smear of blood at the base of one shaft. I looked up at my brother just in time to see our friend startle, dart away.
Sunday, November 08, 2015
A reconstruction of the Palaikastro Kouros, from "Resurrecting a Lost Minoan God," Billings Gazette, October 2008.
If you sit and fix your attention on him, this youthful god shaped from ivory and beaten gold, you might forget he’d been shattered, burnt, buried in a midden, forgotten. Keep looking: keep your eyes open long enough, for hours or days, and when you look away, the god will still be with you—no longer a dead god in chryselephantine, but alive in dark midnight blue, a vision of the dancing Krishna floating in the Minoan afterimage.
Sunday, November 01, 2015
Brocken Inaglory, "Fog Shadow on Golden Gate Bridge," 2006.
I’ve been chasing light for ages. That gold-edged blue just before the sun shimmied up? It slipped through my fingers like a hatchling minnow. I’ve waited in the shadows of a thunderhead to ravel out fat skeins of crepuscular rays, only to come home empty-handed; the light’s just too fast for me, for anyone, really. (Once, though, I found if I walked slower than my shadow could move, light might press up behind me, kiss and silhouette me.)
Friday, October 30, 2015
The bees have been busy, as, well, you know; their fanny-packs full of gold pollen, bellies all swollen and tight as bodhrán drumheads from a surfeit of nectar. They’re fat; it’s time to bring smoke to the hive, set them to drowsing, pry a frame out and open their wax-sealed treasures to pour into new vessels: 5-to-1 water to honey, boil and skim, cool it down, yeast it, wait for it a few weeks 'til it begins to dance and hum the way bees do, the way fingers tapping the bodhrán do, the way we will do once that hydromel's tapped.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Since those curled keratin shards could be magicked, they must be buried deep: dig a hole to China, put your waxing crescent moons at the bottom of that earth, cover them up. But if the ground’s dry and hard, it works as well to plant two seedlings on the parings (for example, one knockout rose that’s seraph-red, one plumbago cherub- blue), then gather chert left after planting. If you’re lucky, you’ll find two fine-grained stones to fit the palm of your hand, ready, waiting to make a flint-knapped heart.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
The sky’s the color of a raw oyster, shucked and glistening, as I pick my way down quicksilvered steps, moving into deeper water. A current wicks up from my ankles to knees to thighs to belly; I’m half in, half out when a bandy-legged swimmer, small as a leaf, darts away. Being of a place and time together, we’re somewhat kin; I wish it would stay and tell me a story, but no. This isn’t a fairytale where a tiny frog coughs up a magical scroll—it’s a place where the wind plays with my hair, where the pool cossets me, where whorls on my fingertips make the trails I follow—ten small labyrinths water- logged, wrinkling. I touch, then pull up on the ladder out, re-entering the maze of what world I can grasp.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Joseph Mallord William Turner, excerpt from "River Scene, with Carpenters at Work Mending a Sluice," The Tate
You’d need to make an appointment to sit with the sketch Turner made of carpenters mending a sluice (faint tangles of graphite laid on paper that still exhales vanillin and lignin and lead)—but you can look online, dream about locks, and flow, and the now- unseen green of the countryside that day he made it. We’re still in drought here, but I can feel the monsoon coming. The sluice gates are open—I can see the acequias, the wells, the aquifers at last are starting to fill.
Friday, October 16, 2015
Photo by Andrea Booher, FEMA Photo Library, via Wikimedia Commons.
We can smell the smoke from here, and ash has powdered the hood of the car. It’s all that fuel left from years of drought that’s burning; the shredded cedar, tufts of grass tangled up with horseweed like hair in a comb, one spark and it all catches. At night, burning bindweed smolders then glows red, winks out: a field of fuses that outlines the firebreak’s dark erasure, a break too narrow to stop the spread.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Wax male anatomical figure, Italian, 1776-1780, Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images.
It’s an additive process, this rendering what seems flayed so we can understand the missing surface better. Each soft scrape of wax pressed against the armature like a kiss (red for muscle, yellow for tendon and ligament, white for bone) brings me closer to a graveyard fact: it’s the surface that often falls away first, that same surface through which we learn pain, comfort, closeness, isolation. Oh my dear dead teachers, anatomists and artists who broke the seal of skin in your hunt for bone- deep truth, you’d be astonished at the sight of me, your unrecognizable future: this woman warming wax between her fingers, adding on, slowly building up her own body of work.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Russell Lee, "Water witch walks in the direction that stick heads him. Pie Town, New Mexico," 1940, found via this article
I run a fingernail along that branching witch-hazel, feeling for a thrum at every Y. Yes, the answer comes, pick me, cut here. My penknife slips as it bites in, and I nick myself right at the moment I sever branch from limb. A little blood wet on the blade and the branch—a small give- back to the brushy tree—and I’m almost ready. I’ll be over there, over those hills, walking the dry land, palms up and fingers lightly wrapped around the Y as it calls out down through rock, nods when the water held in the branch is answered by the water down below. No matter how far off or deep, no matter how parched, water will find water, the cut tree sings.
Friday, August 28, 2015
"Map with Ship," artist unknown, via Smithsonian Magazine
An airplane will skim the air like a flat stone, city to city. We will be on it, in it, tiny limpets clinging to the stone. An automobile will contain its small, smelly explosions and nudge towards us, then open its doors, take us in. We will be in it, then coughed up and out, undigested. A building will lazily open its glass mouth; we’ll drift in. We’ll sleep in its breath until morning, when it will yawn and exhale us, tumble us through the wind to the edge of a ship, to the edge of the sea, to await our passage.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Dust plume off the Canary Islands, by NASA
The wind makes neighbors of us all—music from dry streets tamped by strangers’ feet, from campsite radios, faint but overheard in those Aeolian processes that lift a veil of dust in North Africa, trailing gossamer above clouds until sifting down, powdering the scrub oak in Texas. Ash from wildfires lifts from the east, stains our lungs west. Crackling alveoli, rales, rhonchi sing overtones with each exhale: jet streams kiss our mouths—a canebreak syrinx.
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Image from Google Maps.
We spent the whole day at the shore, sitting on the seawall from sunrise to sundown, the tide moving out then back in, as if it had to run an errand mid-day. At low tide, we both scrambled down the concrete ledge to look for treasure: dull polished bottle-glass gems, broken clamshells scoured to fit our fingers, a chipped teacup half-buried in wet sand. Later, at night, on the thin hotel room bed, I felt the waves still moving within my body, lulling me to sleep, carrying me out to sea.
Sunday, August 09, 2015
Frank Carey, Fort Union Cistern, 2011
It’s a dry season. My love, that limestone cistern can’t store enough to see us through—there’s a hairline crack, and it’s seeping. Frogs pluck songs from mud near the crack, soft plectrum chirps, singing “Cheer-up, cheer-up,” but I just can’t. I’ve watched the sun beat them down into deep burrows, turn what’s moist into a brittle tomb. Even snakes are leaving, exits marked by acrid, cursive trails. It’s a dry season, and it won’t end—the only thing left is to walk through scrubland, to the edge of the sea.
Sunday, August 02, 2015
The redbirds chit as they chase overhead— dun-blush girl, blazoned boy. I was up before they were, scuffling by a harvestman legging his way (home? to hide?) and listening to my breath. A jay, a jay yells and drops a feather at my feet, then laughs: “Made you look!” To begin under an ink-stained moon as crickets and peepers shimmer, to end sweat-soaked, breathless in gold light? Dayenu, surfeit of joy.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
"Shrine at Covered Wells, Arizona" by Tillman
This bright forge has burnt my heart away. My thoughts all charred by the sun, calcined ribs crack as I breathe: too parched for tears, I’m gutted. And look! Even in a grave, no cool shade—it’s bleached by the white, hot sky.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
We scrubby little things who do well where it’s scraped earth and caliche nod to each other. A squat of prairie tea, a dash out then back by a spotted whiptail lizard, a bustling caterpillar hunter (Calosoma affine) as black as the night I usually wander in, and me, moving through the understory, the slightest wind carrying the croton’s homespun incense: resin and dust.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Photograph by ESO/B. Tafreshi, 2012
This is the time we break our fast, when the sun at last weakens and the waxing moon rises. I reach into clouds, part the darkness to take you, o pearl, o moon, in my hands: an illusion, but your light on my fingers is no less precious. The first thing we must do in the dimming is to slake our thirst; after the long burnt day, I could drink the mountains dry of dew.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
I think about those people of mine, those who sewed uncut gemstones into their hems as trader’s insurance, those who went with slaves and brocade and sharp steel, who brought back silk and aloes, those whose names I’ll never know. Did the needle of loneliness prick them as they embroidered their tales? Did it prick the way it does me, as I stitch myself to a place by way of the names of flowers?
Saturday, July 04, 2015
"Scotoma," Samira Yamin, Video Projection.
Look at the sun long enough, and all that’s left is a scotoma of shadow and radiance - not the face of a boy who was made to watch as you murdered his family, not your own face (and who would dare remember you as you’d been, when once a child?) I know someone who told me the things you’d done, and I laughed at how stupid you were, thinking you could eat Death and live. Is it so hard to believe the simplest mistake is what’s left you blind now, thinking you’d gaze at the sun through the darkest glass and steal its glory? You who all those ghosts stalk, as your blindness grows.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
It’s those little deaths piling up on my doorstep that break me down. The mud-stained yellow of a magnolia warbler, eye half-shuttered, one wing broken and spilling bones; the now unreadable parchment of what was once a house gecko. All these small wild things stilled, and no witnesses save for butterflies who’ve come to sip what’s left. I’m fit for sadness small enough to carry in hand, but know bigger grief waits patiently, stalking me.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
"Heat Lightning near Louisville, Kentucky," B. Badgett, 2010
It’s five in the morning, and I’m moving through the shadows in shadow by touch, unsteadily scuffling with small ravines. A ghost – its spin axis a pale torso – drifts past, trailing a sound like brushes on sand, gleaming for a fraction of a second in the glint and shudder of heat lightning. Storm’s so far off I can’t hear it, but it’s close enough to press its gold coin into my eyes as it passes.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Sweat like nettles where I’ve chafed, the pointed burn of a fire ant unhappy with my position in life, a rebuke after dinner: I’m so thin-skinned, tears abrade as they well up, sting as they dampen my cheeks. It’s the heat of the day, of some moment clinging to itself, you say; but I know it’s the broken shards cutting underfoot after we brought the hammer down on this shell of a world.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
The damp air becomes a spicebox as I walk between floods. The smell of rotting Johnson grass, retted blades waving from beneath piles of brush like some drowned Ophelia; the last star jasmine, sweet overlaying petrichor; the ammoniac smell of bats under a bridge. In this way I navigate between the sacred and the mundane, nose twitching, moth to the flame shining on my fingernails.
Tuesday, June 09, 2015
There’s a mirage along the far edge of the playa, and I’m slowly walking towards it. I measure distance in time here: the weeks since I started, how many more weeks to travel, as the skin of the alkali basin crackles under my feet. The moon sets, and the air drops its furious heat into a thermal sinkhole. Now I can see it, the tilted uplift lined dark on dark by the absence of stars; the mountain still weeks away, still months tall.
Sunday, May 31, 2015
Monday, May 25, 2015
The multiplicity of succor within a storm, if you remember how to tip your gaze up and back into the rain. Artemis Ephesus of clouds: not the Untouched Huntress but the All-Mother, many-breasted, pendulous, thirst-slaker. Those who study the surface things say she was born in steep gradients in moisture, temperature, wind shear across anvil cloud boundaries. An unfortunate reduction of complexity, I think. Are they afraid to name her fecundity spanning time, her bronze and marble idols, her uncanny gray-green skies?
Sunday, May 24, 2015
The conditions are right for a leap. I’m saturated, can’t absorb much more, and I’ve got no runneled karsts to sluice the extra off into some aquifer. It doesn’t matter, though. Rain keeps coming, sheeting down the caliche under my skin, scouring fossils and calcite crystals bare: lightning glimpses of my ancient, lime-white corruscations as I'm tossed downstream, maytagged, pinned in the flood.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
How brackish those inland seas we carry within us, and how sweet the salt memory of those tides. This is all I can do, now: fix myself a cup of coffee, watch the honey-thread spin itself in as I stir, catch it on the tip of my finger and lick it off. A taste of that mineral elixir, and I recall how the berry stains set on your hands: sweat as mordant fixing the juice, dyeing the memory, our skin damp as the inland sea.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Here, I’m walking through a garden. There, beyond this rough-leaved rose hedge, you cry. Lost child, I can hear you from the other side of the horizon, the other side of night. I call you lost even though you’re held, for who can say the man who holds you is your family? All I have to hear you with are these eyes, that photograph. The dark red petals at my feet have been blown down by a storm; the blood running into your eyes fills mine with tears. Who would gouge a small boy? Who would be glad his blood fell, spotted the street, scattered it with iron-scented petals?
Monday, April 13, 2015
The image is from a lovely article on the making of a new mosaic by Aidan Hart.
The alphabets we use are all broken, but you and I don't need them whole. Tesserae from our respective shard-hordes, rough against fingertips that fit them into place, speak for us, to each other, in a mosaic of un- voiced vowels: silent, layered, reflecting glints of light.
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Once long ago, hot fluid rock irrupted, blistered up between and beneath dead oceans, then cooled into a hidden lens that capped deeper fire. Wind scoured it, rain wore it down, but it still grew until it blew itself up then collapsed. A pluton. A laccolith. A volcano. A caldera. These concentric baffles are the places where the whole story is laid out, but I can’t read it with any sure sense I know what happened and when. Some days I feel like that: like I’ve been taken apart, reshuffled, know there’s things missing and I’m still trying to make it make sense. This self, this Solitario; no quest, just a traveler’s field notes.
Friday, February 06, 2015
Laying the ground, let’s just say this isn’t really a loop:
the beginning and end meet, but the sky’s lighter, the
air drier on my skin, and the cormorant I saw with gulls
on a wet containment boom flew off as I looked its way.
scuffling in cypress needle duff. Or walking sans shadow,
not-loop again, recursive. Years ago these half-buried stones
sat atop the trail’s edge and I played patter-steps, hopping
stone to stone along the row. Today or later, another loop;
I’m sure to jump from rock to rock some more, wobbling,
awkward as that cormorant when it stepped into the sky.