Some Things You Didn’t Say Because You Thought You Had More Time

A week or so before you disappeared into that unreachable realm, I asked you, the way I often did, to tell me how to live a better life.

Clean your windows once a month, you said, and I said, No, seriously.

I suppose, you said, you could read Wittgenstein and ask him, and I said, No thanks, that’s not a path I wish to follow.

Or you could read Heidegger, you said, and in my mind I tasted the water someone once brought me back from Heidegger’s mountain cabin spring.

Or you could read Plato, you said, and I said, Enough, it’s you I’m asking. Tell me what you think. For once in your life, teach me something in a straightforward way.

Find someone, you said, speaking from experience, who will teach you to be better. Find someone who will see the mess of your outline and say “I care about everything you are.”

That’s not an option, I said. I’m too afraid of pain.

Then, you said, find an animal who evokes tenderness, so you can learn to give without fear.

My landlord’s a shrew, I said, I’m not sure he’ll allow any other rodents on the premises.

Then, you said, all I can say is, remember to love carefully everything you hold, no matter how briefly; to be open and giving even to that which runs away; to see each colour for what it is, and for the way it impacts the one next to it. Remember that cutting your own hair is an act of kindness, in a way. Remember that the room you live in is just a shell, the way you are just a crab. Remember that whatever you are is not your fault, nor does it last forever. Remember that loving cannot help but feel like stepping on an urchin, and that no matter how carefully you remove the spines, the sensation stays inside your flesh until you find another urchin to step on the same way, to fill the same deep and narrow holes. Remember that the flesh you have is always changing, but that its need to be held, to be part of the world it’s made from, will never disappear.

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The Sky falls and breaks its back

The possibility of assumption ended when the sky fell and broke his back. Even after the fact, they felt there ought to have been a crash, a sound, something more than quiet dream distortion to designate the change, but there was nothing. There was only the sky, who had fallen, and in total silence his spine had cracked.

There is so little ground on the earth. Whatever ground there is, they fill with their toys and bellies and ideas, a maze of tripping hazards and military traps. But the balance between up, where the expanse of the sky stretches full of possibilities, replete with drops and streams, and below, where things pretend to have a certain density, where they accumulate and squirm, that balance is just about steady.

In falling, the sky dragged down with him the moon and clouds and stars embedded in his fabric. Even the sun came down in shreds. The fall left flying birds dumbfounded, suspended at first, then dropping as if cut loose from their strings. The stars hidden in the violent blue rolled onto the ground like small, sharp gears, and lay there dumb as birds, cumbersome and worthless in a world of reduced floorspace.

For a while, no-one knew how to react, so they continued their upward staring, as they were used to doing, but upwards had now vanished. Their eyes quickly hurt from staring into nothing. 

They felt there had to have been a warning. Until the instant of the fall, the sky had seemed to exist up there firmly, with so much self-evidence. His formidable expanse was the backdrop to a dance of clouds, to the trajectories of birds and flying machinery. He was the backlit tarp on which the changes of the day appeared, and his position up there was beyond question, synonymous with the very concept of upwardness.

They never assumed that the sky might merely have been hanging there, in precarious suspension, himself devoid of the sovereignty he projected. It didn’t occur to them that the sky was perhaps holding on just barely. They could not have conceived such a reality, because what they assumed in their daily lives was that the sky was up there in a fundamental way, that the sky’s very location defined what it meant to be ‘up’, and made ‘looking up’ possible in the first place.

When the sky fell, there was nothing left up there but sudden empty space, and looking up felt like going blind. Below, there was too much. Not only had the clouds and sun and moon all fallen, but below was the only thing in existence; there was no more up as an alternative to below. Below was everything, up had vanished, leaving below crammed full of being. The ground was littered with objects and notions that hadn’t been there before. The weight of things was out of kilter, and there were all these questions all of a sudden, questions they couldn’t answer and needed to ignore.

The state of things was this:

The sky had broken his back, and they had to figure out what to do.

The sky was in pain.

They knew this, but they weren’t sure how, because the sky never said a thing. 

They weren’t old enough to drive, so they called an ambulance. Within fifteen minutes, its blue lights were licking through the cold windows of the second floor and covering the walls of the world with a fake, insufficient blue that wouldn’t fix a thing. A blue that seemed an imposter sky, impossible now that up had vanished. With a howl, the ambulance took the sky to the hospital.

*

The hospital is a Catholic hospital with white insides; it is a place that takes care of your body because bodies are gifts, vessels bestowed by God who creates them from clay, or maybe only the prototype was clay, they’re not sure. All of this is confusing to them because they weren’t raised religious, the sky never mentions God at all, God who some say made bodies so that more bodies could grow from them. The sky barely ever talks about bodies, the sky is all mind, so their understanding of the body’s abilities is a puzzling dearth of detail, a flat mass.

And now the sky lies in a hospital that believes in God, a kind of church with needles and respirators, and constant binging sounds, a place named after some saint, dark wooden crosses nailed above every door.

The sky was always so quiet about God that those living under his expansive tarp began to develop a fascination with what was kept from them, pieced together a vague idea based on snippets of stories, and tried folding their hands and asking for ponies, for rainy days, for specific kinds of desserts. They once entered a church out of curiosity and saw nails driven through skin, they wanted to scream but the echo licking the painted blood stains scared them into silence, and around them all this metal and stone cradling a disappointed parental spirit. They fled back to the world of home, with its clean lines and absence of divinity.

The sky is wheeled into one of many rooms with a dark cross above the door. In hospitals, the body is an innocent machine; in church it is the gift given through sacrifice.

They visit the sky in his white room. From a nurse, they learn later that the sky has left his bed twice since he arrived, in spite of specific orders not to move. The sky drags himself to the door, takes the man on the cross off the wall and put them both in a drawer. Each time, a nurse returns the object to its place.

The sky sits up sulking in his bed in the terrible way only something eternal can.

They wonder why the sky, with all his power, never just takes the man off the cross, separating flesh from wood, and puts him, only human, unadorned, into a hospital bed by his side to allow his wounds to heal. If his wounds could heal, they think, maybe the man could love again; he could go out bowling, enjoy the company of others, and he could give more of himself to the world than by hanging on a cross. They wish the sky could heal the man of his isolation up there on the mountain of his cross, make him into a person again, but something tells them nobody in the world is capable of such a feat.

To Dance

On the itchy chair I watch the orchestra as it lies prostrate on the stage like a giant animal scratching its ticks, and I remember that a conductor is not at all leading a vehicle but operates the way a sculptor does, smearing the sounds into shapes with his hands.

Being part of an orchestra always felt to me like being someone else’s paint, someone’s matter, a sensation I found twofold even then, perversely so, on the one side my desire to give life to my own mind in space, and on the other the delight of being only a small part of that living body, my instrument’s voice pushed around to make sense alongside the others, all of us melting into place under the hands of the person painting this deliberate, fleeting masterpiece with the colours we provide. 

Do I miss it now? No, I left it behind, like so many ways of being.

But my body remembers what it felt like, the rasp of resinous hair on strings, how the arm lifted and the breath changed when he raised his hand and closed his fist.

Camel

Camel speaks truly only by means of quiet humidity. The wet babble of her armpits is the cause and expression of her heart’s distress. In the dark folds, two mouths speak in wordless streams.

Camel’s eyes are glassy, two spheres rolling along a wet road, they pick up the blue sheen of fallen rain, turning its flat shadow into spherical gloss.

A snowball is known to make snow curve around its centre; a dung ball pushed by a beetle picks up in rounded layers the excrement that makes its bulk.

Camel is leaking. Her emotion has turned her into a sieve, her skin is the cloth cradling a sweating cheese. At all times, Camel is covered by a vulnerable sheen, which catches from afar the eyes of the approaching, exposing to them her nature. There is no chance of deception.

Camel, beheaded, spends a day without coffee and feels her eyelids throbbing, her eyeballs rolled like dough between the two hot palms of her temples.

A man she knows, perhaps remembers from a stronger bond, sits down two rows ahead of her, closer than Camel to the cinema screen, and Camel shuts her rolling eyes to avoid being recognised by the back of his head, which she remembers cradling in her lap, his face looking up at hers with features hinting at the words, I can’t wait to spend my life with you, Camel, I can’t wait to see your eyes open next to mine each dawn. Later, the man’s features changed, became unreadable, and Camel felt as though she had gone blind.

Camel sees the clouds bunch like struggling tissue underneath the belly of the plane on which she sits in order to escape. A river circles her torso, curling down her flanks like a tongue trying to lick the hurting parts of her.

Camel’s eyes are tethered shut by the elastic filaments of sleep, but she sees through the gaps when she concentrates on the metallic shudder she sits within, the jolts fed into her body by the chair, and barely the length of your forearm between her and the hungry, bright blue void out there.

The Green in Black

I look for the green tinge in the black paint. When it isn’t there, I know my eyes have adjusted, finally. I feel my hind legs straighten almost all the way, which is supposed to be a sign of something. Then there is the fur that comes out in clumps whenever I touch the skin underneath. Could the energy of it rupture something as sibling as these quick moments woven into one another?

*

The bonds between cells which the plant material releases are wet paint, never had a chance to harden, crushed beneath a stride.

*

There is no healing. Not for anyone in this world. The work of healing is distraction, an occupation like any other, towards an empty eventual fall, a failing, there is no healing, not from anything. There is the moment of being passed through by life, and there is chemistry, and there is the no-longer.

*

I reach into your solar plexus all the way up to my elbow, and I hear the gushing, when my arm comes out it is coated with mud, and the touch of the world dries the mud so quickly it pinches my skin like tiny slaps before it crackles and flakes off, dusting my feet.

*

So little in the grain of the table is free from association with the things I own as a girl, these thighs, the striation in the skin goes both ways, up-down-left-right, and then some associative, diagonal nonsense.

*

My teapot is somewhat green, my cup is black. There are other colours and tints in all of this, like silver and white, but those don’t blend in with previously written words.

*

I think of the fact that I’ve never liked drinking from straws, or sucking at those water bottles that come with nubs. I’ve not been fed by breasts that way, I’ve been fed by rubber, and I’ve had enough, I think, of all this sucking.

I’m hungry, not for the difficult pull that constricts the throat and makes eyes bulge, but for the wide gulp of liquid tumbling in, the flow inward, unconstricted, a fall the size of an apple, into the mouth open as a well.

*

I don’t close my eyes during daylight hours. There is too much that could be missed, and I still haven’t earned my passport to life, after all I have spent years not really partaking, feeling so separate that I was convinced I would never die. Now every beam is something to be soaked up, something to be put aside for later use. As you can tell, I still postpone, but at least I consider the world something to be partaken in, in whatever way I can.

*

Money can be thrown at objects and it places them into your hand, it’s like magic. Food can be put into the mouth, then ferried into the stomach, and from there into the blood. It’s amazing. I can drink and speak and hear and see. I don’t know what to do with any of what I take on, but I’ll take it, who am I to say no?

*

I leave the day with armfuls of objects and words and pictures and thoughts, and I arrange them around my body every night in bed just in case I don’t wake up, and this is my way of saving my family and friends the effort to decide what to put in my grave.

*

We are Egyptian still, never got over that side of ourselves, and we still surround our dead with things, and I surround myself to pretend I live, just like the dead wear sheets and makeup, because it is spooky to look at them with their bones so slack in their faces, looking loose like the earth that calls them home to it.

Birdearth and Boudmo

Birds pull worms from the wet earth, loosening the seams that hold the world together. The world is fabric made from disparate pieces sewn into a unified joy, but the birds pulling at worms unstitch the composition, cause the continents to drift apart in island shards, and the body too splits in half along a winding seam, the soft drapes of its flesh now open in raw edges, budding with teeth. Two matching rows of teeth, zipped down and apart by the irresistible force of aching beaks. The teeth chatter to reveal their presence, unheard because no ear has time when the mouth is open. The teeth try to clamp back down on their mirror peers but cannot reach, and in their yearning they shudder like cymbals, like sequins on a spinning dress.

****

In other news, I never seem to get sick of this: https://youtu.be/OwCSkQpnWvk