Truth Or

But lies were for people who didn’t believe in the future. Who saw only an endless stretch of present without consequences or change.

– Yoojin Grace Wuertz, Everything Belongs to Us

One day the ground begins its thaw.
The blind things just below the surface shift
in their sleep.
4.5 billion years and nothing has jarred the rock
from its grinding rotation.
We know this much: even if we hold it to us,
even if we drive the stakes to pin it in place,
what’s old will slough off.
Continue reading “Truth Or”

In Defiance of Morning

Wangechi Mutu, Riding Death in my Sleep

You catalogue the early shames,
a tattoo on the lining of your lungs.
The mural leaves its stain despite the stretch
and growth you chart first on door frames
then belt notches
then monthly statements,
each unit of measure distorting the fresco
as much as the measurement taken.
Recognizable no matter the eons intervening,
the arcs of those stories.
Petroglyphs,
kaleidoscopes,
crime scenes,
autopsies.

All tales have tongues.
They scour the natal down
from your heart. They leave a taste
like pennies and char.

Continue reading “In Defiance of Morning”

Eclosion

What they don’t know is his wings come out at night. The leathered edge splits free of the scar zippered white across the burrow where it stays tucked in daylight hours into weeks into years. For longer than he can remember the damp fur has housed germinal flight. Something rests like brood XIX down there where the subtlest shift could mean the difference between incubation and asphyxiation.
 
For some, burial is only dormancy.
 
His need to unfurl is as pressing as that of a coiled spring wound wrong-way past its tensile capacity. The stretch never quiets and the threads never fuse even when forced immobile. They hammered beams criss-cross over hasp and hinge. They forgot what was in there.
 
Just because the creak of need is not discernable to the naked ear does not mean it has been stilled. Bend close enough
 
(I do)
 
and you hear it. The groan is not bone. It is not age. The creases by his eyes cloak hoods over the range. A low flame hisses at the furrowed firebreak delimiting the mouth, his cave. Stalactite teeth. Whiskers of plated beard thrum in the follicle and wait to split the skin from within. At the source the tunnel forks. A tongue thirsty for heat is pressed back waiting helical beneath his flushed neck. Up from the other corridor, fume and the hint of ignition. Somewhere, a fusebox. The plunger is cocked in a shadowed channel of his body where old leaf and stone have hidden it so well.
 
My fingers seek
 
what they claimed fell away like an umbilical stump. Perhaps they had to believe pubescent eruptions would fade into soft craters. Time alone would scour away roughness. Walking upright among the diurnal would grate off any remnant of scale. They imagined him inhabiting the rippled dune just as it poured into him and filled every crevasse. They pictured him, finally, submitting to the inevitability of that boundless desert terrain.
 
Except his fissures were already occupied.
 
Except everything has a boundary and every boundary has another everything it is holding back.
 
This chimera with the vocabulary of inventors (though I suspect he knows only a streak of what he is) finds no relief in sleep. Mind on fire. Minding the fire? Mining? The other half half-wakes. He cannot find comfort stretched on his back, lips falling open. The rumble deep in his lungs and lower still is too much like the first roil of contraction.
 
He knew what to expect. He knew their intent. He was fully two wholes when only one could live. He saw the glint of the knife before they had even divined their own actions, before they had even closed hands around hilt. They would. He prepared.
 
Second sight is not just the blessing of an intuitive but the birthright of a pterosaur. Like echolocation, that sister faculty of his mammal kin, it is not magic at all. It is not even a marvel, not to anyone who can conceive of the hum of momentum when its source never shows itself to sight.
 
Here now.
 
The slender strip of stars skulking at the edges of the blinds is enough for distance but not intent. I know by feel he has turned on his side. Breath and hunger. I reach. The webbing noses out against the sheet at his back. An inch then two. He lets his guard down though I would never tell him and he’d deny it if I did. The teeth of his scars unclench. As hungry as they are to tap the marrow of whatever they’ve been gripping all this time, their appetite for night’s promise is greater. He stays awake, or perhaps returns again and again to wakefulness. He watches. He keeps watch. Not with eyes and maybe not with any sense I can name though I surely recognize the tattoo of its clang against the etched walls of my own forgotten cave.
 
What they don’t know is that it is never too soon to knit the tears nor too late to tear back the stitches.
 
The creak of wing, the scratch of pteroid against the base of my skull draws my head to his shoulder and I am creeping finally into the hollows of my own eyes at the moment his tongue pushes free. Longer than any, a thickly sown field of buds seeking heat now whets itself against my jaw, my throat. Its length alone bespeaks a palate for furred flesh. It is a nocturnal thing hinting at blood and strike but this close I can tell it is as translucent as the membrane between the digits pulsing now from the trench beneath his scapulae. They hold me but reach past. At any moment, he will sense the expanse beyond the ceiling and vault up and out. Will I have a place in that ascent?
 
This right here is the entirety of what is promised. And even this is not guaranteed.
 
I release the damper and let in whole the chord of his appetite so tuned like the lost lower fifth of mine. Glossa streaks of ink and string, he sculpts the notes of a long dead language into the spells that bind my breastbone to his rib. The current he strains to catch with the first beat of his awakened reach is the one we trace onto our shared night.
 
It might slip. It might lift.
 
We fuse halves to fractions and produce a vibration to fit this tilted air.
 
Surfing into my own thawing dawn, I search for the stiffness in my neck, the ache, the thud of resistance I have carried for decades. It has become as familiar as the shape of my voice. Yet it is nowhere here. It has blurred into memory and even the electric pulse of recollection has skipped from its gutter and seeks a new route. All that remains of the body I suddenly inhabit is just softness upon softness. Feathers of ash rise free. The rest is burned clean.
 
Maybe the scars on tears on years were never there at all. The shape of those wounds was just the last generation’s abandoned husk. All this time they have been thinning. They have been giving way. They have been waiting to let me through as raw as newborn tissue unmarred and falling like water into him.
 

Happy 100 Days: 58

This must be what the snake feels
when her skin starts to peel
back from what has been
tucked away
 
asleep.
Which of those coiled
selves will push
aside the rest, confine
them to another dormancy
while it becomes
the whole of what the living
thing knows
of stone and meat and predator
and mate
(and, of course, all of what they know
of her)?
 
Only one
will feel the next rake
of earth
against fresh belly.
 
Such a crap shoot.
She has so little say.
The manner, perhaps,
and place,
but not the timing
and certainly
not the fact
 
are hers to choose.
No wonder she goes
so still
when the husk
makes its intention known.
 
Who in her will suffer
the singular pleasure
of being
born?
 

Unfurl

The quiet white stillness outside the chrysalis bears no resemblance to the cacophony within. The rending of flesh from bone, and bone from marrow, the screeching tear as seed splits hull and a wing cracks into being. . .  the noise of that inexorable process is as deafening as a war zone.
  
There is no help for it, though. Becoming is the only choice. It is not Change or Remain the Same. It is simply Change or Change. Even death, with its pretense of permanence, is an illusion. Renewal is the only constant. All the time, within all things. Listen closely: inside, you can hear shift and jostle of the next embodiment.
  
Even down on the parched forest floor under the long-fingered shadow of winter, no endings can be found. All is becoming.
 
 
Spring, but only the first of the bushes have begun to shoulder open their purpling buds. Weary, crooked sticks lean against the sky. What I know, we all know: the feathering leaves unfurl, the flowers begin. Life returns as it always does. Also, it never ended. It was happening there in the blank silence, too. Death is no less alive than life itself. Everything is becoming, even in dormancy. Even in the in-between.
 
I dig up the calendar from 2010. An insurance change requires me to stretch back into forgotten history for an accounting of doctor’s appointments and hospital stays. The first of that year is life in Technicolor, even against the heavy Adirondack days. I see in my own hand the careless flourishes across January, February, March. A sledding play-date on camp’s tipping hillside. Staff game night. A preschool field trip. Visits from grandparents scrawled in bold letters across entire weeks.
 
Then, one square in April, blank. Another. And another. Days into pages, three, four, weeks into months. Not even a dog-ear, not even an erasure. Paper as empty as the branches here, the dull, bare maples sighing in their dry earth.
 
The nothing was not nothing. It was everything. It was the ground falling open and a marriage collapsing into the ragged sinkhole. The small frames of the calendar seem oddly cramped in their attempt to mark the tectonic event, and about as reliable as Dali’s clocks. Is this not what survivors of disasters say? The seconds slowed to minutes, hours, lifetimes. In a blink, one entire universe trades places with another. The rearrangement is anything but momentary. It is a whole new age in the history of the world.
 
Failure and ruin. Even when they reduce us to fragments, they are the whole of that terrible verge. They are the bellowing commandment for a new beginning.
 
May.
 
June.
 
Finally, July.
 
The strident nothing of everything turns into something else. A few job interviews are penciled in. August 23rd is squared off as the first day of the position I hold now. Just as suddenly as they froze bare, the pages crack open, blossoming with trainings and brown bag talks and the names of students who have since walked across the stage.
 
It was just three months. One season. In the span of a single exhalation, one stunned breath, the shedding of skin and form, the white-bellied exposure of the most translucent husk. Then bones knit. The strange flesh is grafted on, and the beginnings something altogether new crawls, dazed and damp, into the searing luster of the world.
 
It is hubris to believe this one thing can be chosen and so it will remain. We are forever stepping into baptismal waters just as the silken threads of the next incarnation thread themselves through our limbs. These wisps spin around us before we have even begun to dry. We feel just the faintest breath of this new weaving, and it is easy to mistake it for something we can brush away. It pulls us in as surely as we step to the shore, believing ourselves renewed once and for all, believing ourselves reborn.
 
We are shapeshifters, blind to our own relentless becoming until we notice too late we have lost our legs for fins, then our gills for beaks, then our arms for the finest cilia, then our bones for smoke and honey, and soil and light.

What Did You Learn Today?

I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.
– Aeschylus

In college, my friend Gabriel and I used to ask each other this question: “What did you learn today?” It is hard to remember the exact parameters of this exchange. Did we ask each other every day? For a few weeks, or the better part of a year? It may have been a passing fancy or a practice to which we adhered with religious intensity for as long as the passion lasted. What I do recall is how much I loved the question.

“What did you learn today?” Imagine ending your day with someone you love asking you this and really listening to your answer. Imagine then offering up the same curiosity, sitting back, and hearing how the other’s mind has opened up, even if only by the slightest degree, that day.

Imagine walking through your world, knowing that someone is waiting to know what you have taken in.

Gabriel was the most precious companion during those wide-open years of our early twenties. The world around us was a fecund jungle, exploding with exotic curiosities. He was always willing to peek into the guts of things to see how they worked. With Gabe, I learned how to identify jewelweed and its more menacing cousin, stinging nettle, on springtime hikes in the Green Mountains. I learned how to knead bread, dry apples, facilitate a meeting, and appreciate Jorge Borges. I learned how to look at a stone by putting all five senses to the task. Most importantly, I learned that a bottomless appetite for questions is, paradoxically, the greatest way to sate a curious mind.

Gabe has drifted off into the fogs of time. He is, I hear through the thinning grapevine, a doctor in Boston. Internal medicine. I remember the explanation he gave years ago for why this type of practice appealed. “I love the puzzle,” he told me. He was jazzed by the chance to figure out what is going on with patients before the specialists get hold of them.

I was out and about this afternoon, and Gabriel’s question bubbled up from the depths. “What did you learn today?” Here are just a few things that captured my mind on January 1, 2012:

• When making tamales, you spread the uncooked cornmeal mixture on the corn husk first, followed by the raw meat mixture and sauce. All wrapped up together, the component parts cook at once inside the pressure cooker.

• A “luthier” is the fancy name for a guitar maker.

• It is only two turns off Monument Drive to get onto the Dulles Toll Road.

• Just because there are six cookies in the Tupperware, you do not have to eat six cookies.

• That thing I sang in church (Praise God from whom all blessings flow. . .) is called a “doxology.” This is a general name for a brief song of praise for the trinity, often sung at the end of a hymn.

• Some mallards, geese, and other waterfowl do not migrate south for the winter. These oddities, called “resident geese” or “resident ducks,” are becoming less of an aberration and more of a menace in some populated areas. Biologists are not exactly sure why the migration signal does not kick on in some waterfowl as it does in others, even others of the same species in the same region. The behavior of the resident birds is not nearly as fascinating as that of their migratory kin, if you think about. For as much as it is studied, migration is a poorly understood phenomenon in the biological world. How is it that these animals have their entire life story written around an annual journey of many thousands of miles?

Not bad for a day that did not see me crawling out of bed until 12:30 in the afternoon.

Most of us ask more questions and learn more things in a day than we can list. Whether we pass the hours bent over a computer or scaling a peak in Shenandoah, we are thinking and engaging. Often, we do not even know how to frame or name the occurrences into which we have inquired, as our minds are chewing on them without our conscious attention. What if we gave voice to our insights, what if we held them up to the light? We might be brink of unearthing something remarkable, even if that something is just the next question.

In the past few months, I have returned repeatedly to the theme of being on the cusp of a significant change. With the divorce final and the true magnitude of my single-mother-ness coming into focus, what faces is me is larger than a single lifestyle makeover. Several unsettling transformations are taking place simultaneously. As I try to capture, observe, make sense, and make choices, I barely catch one re-alignment in the landscape before another tremor shakes things up.

I am not sure exactly what my job is in all this (although there are more than enough people around here who are happy to advise). I wonder daily if I am missing something big. Hell, the whole of the marriage was built on shifting sand that appeared to be solid ground. How will I know if this next step – whatever it is – lands me in a sinkhole? Will I build my next home on a fault line? Is this job a mistake? This class, this financial choice, this school for Bug, this way I am spending my time tonight? Is it right or wrong? Is it safe? What the hell am I supposed to be doing?

Trusting the quaking ground to hold me, to shake me out into something whole, is terrifying. But let’s be honest. Pecos Bill did not lasso twisters just because he was a good guy. Grabbing the ropes and hanging on for the ride? That’s one massive thrill.

You know as well as I do that certain practices can keep you upright even as the bucking earth tries to throw you. New Year’s Resolutions are a catalog of these practices. Walk daily. Speak with kindness. Make art. Plant a garden.

Learn something.

Focusing the mind on the question is one way to stay open to the minor wonders of the world. If you are lucky, it might have the effect of keeping you excited about even the most nauseating changes, and give you pause when you face the temptation of the cave’s familiar comforts. It could even quiet that panicky chatter that besets the bewildered pilgrim at every fork in the road.

Finding a suitable travel companion does not happen overnight, if it happens at all. While you seek your Gabriel, make use of your own quiet witness. Ask the question. Listen for the answer. Carry the knowledge back to the journey while you let it carry you forward. Who knows? If you keep orienting yourself toward learning, you might find you have learned your way.