Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Biting one’s tongue / Che le sa

Image from this site.

To bite down on the very thing itself
that gives shape to our sounds, voice
to our breath? Holding the idiom close
one would think what we’d say was so
powerful, it required warding off in a
deliberate act of self-harm—and yet
the bite is most often accidental. O
Friend, my wish: please let it shape
every syllable, every blessing and chant
you need to nourish yourself, and if you
bite your tongue let it not be to hold
back, let it be no accident, but rather a
gift of Buddha-heart as it greets your
Buddha-nature—“Che le sa, che le sa.”

Thursday, October 13, 2022

My teachers

"Vanitas Still Life," Jan van Kessel the Elder, National
Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Public Domain

The gray sparkling dust on the charnel ground
I’d made. The conceit I had, saying a prayer for
each one I killed, sending it off with an om mani
peme hung
and wishes for it to be reborn into a
better life. It saddened me, killing those things,
and yet I saw no way out of it. The birdseed was
alive with moth larvae, the wrappers pierced and
riddled. Even after cleaning out the pantry, more
moths. And so, my mindfulness for the first dozen
larvae, for their suffering as I crushed them, then
the next few dozen, each time the blessing given
wearing thinner, thinner through my breath until
what had been a blessing became a curse, until
I gave up the pretense, killed them with predatory
pleasure. I didn’t want them to suffer yet gave no
mercy, no more prayers, no thought to their pain.

Their gift to me: to see myself clearly, this hollow
reed ingesting and excreting, my sentience mere
paint on a wrapper of chemical processes ending
with my teachers’ guts and broken wings dotting
the kitchen walls, oxidizing in the afternoon sun.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Negative space (A cadralor)

Near Ernst tinaja, Big Bend National Park,
photo by Geoff Gallice, 2011

Drawing a nude model (oh no not
naked, we say “nude” and I never
thought to ask why) I was taught
to seek the open spaces—as one
example, the soft triangle made by
the inner elbow and bottom of the
rib cage, arms akimbo. We called
it “negative space,” a way of seeing
that’d flatten a whole person, turn
them into an object, the openings
around their life fixed in place like
butterflies pinned by this gestural,
analytical thinking that empties me.

I didn’t much care for exploring
the steep sandstone ravines near
our campsite; too much risk a storm
miles off would bring flash floods,
trap us there. (I have some fear
of drowning, even in the desert.)

Your cupped hands create a tinaja for
the rainfall that fell from the faucet. The
blessing of plumbing, of brazing to join
the pipes; astonishment at your body’s
everyday movement and ease, its grace.
Is it any wonder I love watching you as
you bend towards the sink, set the water
flowing, palms held to receive that gift?

The joy of this world—there are no empty
places, everything is full of energy and life—
is equally its horror.
The biome of the gut,
the hollow tube that pierces us. Archipelagos
where the most violent exchanges occur at
microscopic scale, whose tiny denizens first
preserve us, and then, at last, consume us.

There’s a shallow valley on the bed
that’s still warm, where the sunlight’s
pooling, where your presence is felt
in absence. It’s spring, now, it won’t
be long before the bumblebees lose
their balance, tumbling down off the
flowering currant. The way I lose my
balance, tipsy on all this sweetness.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Passage (A cadralor)

From here; photographer and date unknown

Summer heat, a distant memory at the end
of March in Portland. And even further back,
the desiccation of Phoenix. I’d wake to rust
on my pillow from nosebleeds; lips cracking,
stinging from sweat as I tried to restart the car.
Both of us overheated, stalled from vapor lock.

Learning Spanish. The verb “to drink,” beber,
a softening edge to the “b” through my breath,
voicing sound through the narrowest opening—
a turbulent flow. Scrying my future, when will
thirst drive me to rummage through ALL my
lost words, surprising myself when I produce

Quiero bebo as if from a magician’s pocket?

The sadness sits within my chest and purrs.
It weighs more than my heart, than Ma’at’s
feather of truth, and in this way I know my
restlessness is a marker of the danger I’m
in. At any unlucky moment, Ammit could
gobble it up: my pulsing, chambered soul.

If I had a pocket knife, I’d play mumblety-peg.
If I had a pocket knife, I’d whittle up a whistle.
If I had a pocket knife, I’d need to cut a switch.
I threw away my pocket knife, tossed it in the
river where it sank like a stone, fresh blood
on the blade calling a flathead catfish close.

The path is broken chert, the silver thread of
a creek shallow enough to wade. The path’s
that faint scar on the palm of your left hand,
cut while chopping onions. What I’d wish for
is safe passage; what I have is anything but.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Submerged (A cadralor)

Image from here, photographer and date unknown

I thought I’d be pulling thick mats of wapato from my backyard
bog, but there were no rhizomes, few bulbs. What clung to the
digging fork’s tines—rotting burlap sacks I’d forgotten, jute now
sodden, snake-like. (On the other side of the world, stone-faced
Medusa and her snakes rest underwater in the Basilica Cistern.)

The shudder, as tendrils of eelgrass wrap around my ankles.
It’s the touch of something I cannot see, something benthic
by me, that makes me pull away. (Coney Island, when I was six.
Sharp sand scoured abrasions on my feet, and when I ran to
meet the gray-green foam at the swash-edge, the salt burned.)

(There is a place where time dilates, the way a cat’s eyes do
when its gaze is suddenly fixed on a moth. There is a place
where time cleaves into all its aggregate parts, sedimentary,
granular. There is a place where “when” and “then” and “now”
drain of all meaning, the way a vortex drains a too-full lake.)

The skull spider, above my bed, is hunting. Legs thinner than an
eyelash, longer than my index finger, a slow herky-jerky measure
across the ceiling. Does it see me? I can’t say, but discuss with
myself whether or not to kill it. Whether or not it will scuttle down
the wall, tangle in my hair. (I leave it, dream I'm grafting trees.)

Asked, and answered, with tenderness. What is it I wanted? To
be brave enough to be weak, have the courage of a field mouse
as it waits, so still, hoping the sparrowhawk will miss. To ask for
what I wanted. First to ask myself (and hope not to break upon
the question), then you. Drowning in fear; kissed back to breath.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Pappus (A cadralor)

It’s a snowstorm, or it was, and
now the sun is setting past our
sight, not yet below the horizon
but unseen. The wind’s made a
lung of tree ice: gray crepitations.

Everything’s been elided by this
snow. First the junco tracks, then
my steps, a few gone deep where
snow-crust broke under my boots.
Even these words now blow away

as does my heart, from deep red
to something pale, untethered, it’s
adrift the way dry snow falls, the
way a dandelion pappus floats and
tumbles once its seed’s dropped.

Wayfinding, as the twilight settles in,
tinting the blown drifts methylene blue.
An open question, as I’m lost again:
what is it that I’m bait for, or a trap for?
The blue, now darker, now black.

A pause. My breath—the slow cadence like
yours, I recall, as you drifted off into warm
sleep next to me on threadbare blue sheets.
(Not indelible—a fugitive indigo, so mutable,
weightless as dandelion fluff or a snowflake.)

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Stillness (A cadralor)

I mistook it for a leaf, at first. Why else was it
on the ground, pale and still. Of course I came
closer, my eyes trying to sort what my mind
couldn’t quite, that this was not a leaf, it was
a goldfinch, so delicate, no sign of why it died.

When William Blake wrote “Energy is Eternal Delight”
he had the devil speak the statement. (Would he claim
other angels called stillness delight? I’d never studied
Blake the way you did, dear. All I knew was Blake, the
bravura craftsman, danced backwards on copperplate.)

The stillness of the body of the beloved, who
was once my husband. I needed to witness it, to
speak to it, his body an unravelling, no longer in
consonance with our life. We knew it would come,
the tsunami, the waves draining ahead of death.

I don’t cry much. Unless I see another’s tears
mine rarely come. My mourning wraps itself in
stillness. No plaƱideras need be hired—let us
sit together, let those leaves fall for a shroud,
for every wild thing that falls dead mid-breath.

Our mother star has broken through clouds, its
radiance caught by my upturned face as if I were
a sunflower. It dazzles me. All joy that was, has
been doubled, tripled, washing over me, leaving
me breathless, motionless, for a moment I’m still
in your arms. This love, as profligate as fireweed.