E, you are an idiot.
–José A. Alcantara
He has flown headfirst against the glass
and now lies stunned on the stone patio,
nothing moving but his quick beating heart.
So you go to him, pick up his delicate
body and hold him in the cupped palms
of your hands. You have always known
he was beautiful, but it’s only now, in his stillness,
in his vulnerability, that you see the miracle
of his being, how so much life fits in so small
a space. And so you wait, keeping him warm
against the unseasonable cold, trusting that
when the time is right, when he has recovered
both his strength and his sense of up and down,
he will gather himself, flutter once or twice,
and then rise, a streak of dazzling
color against a slowly lifting sky.
Embarrassment is a weirdly useless response. I frequently felt it as a child, when shy, awkward and completely uncomfortable with any kind of attention. Eventually it became something I never considered – one can only be embarrassed if one allows herself. And it’s been a long time since I allowed myself to feel it.
Suddenly, though, in the face of not being able to live up to my own standards, burning out and disappointing others, I am crippled by a strange embarrassment that renders me incapable of knowing that to do next.
I was cautioned, “You can’t live another person’s life for them. You can help, but they have made their choices.” I should have listened rather than getting dragged in. Nothing I have done has amounted to anything, and while I trudge on through my daily life and its trials, I find myself feeling embarrassed for having taken the path I did, for not satisfying my own needs, for not heeding the words of caution I received. Now I feel hamstrung and crippled by my own silence.
I shove through bush and bed,
stumping along our house. Somewhere
I learned not to let the plants grow
too close, something about air flow, rot,
our home’s slow demolition by vine.
I wrap my hand around a dandelion,
pull into the tension, breathless
for the slight snap of roots, then harder,
until the earth releases it, or it gives up
its hold on the ground. I sunder
something deep, throw the plant
with its knot of dirt
to the driveway. The foliage
extends. A branch slaps back,
leaves an archipelago of blood
along my calf. Another, another,
I don’t know their names, just
pull with faith in the prior owner,
in her fertile excess that even my blunders
won’t undo. One white twig
feels hollow, comes loose in my hand,
but what of it was underground is red
as a crime, bent and beckoning.
The spring’s first accidental sweat
catches in the corners of my squint.
When I stand upright, survey
my labor, nothing looks better.
–Dawn Lundy Martin
She said, I wish I prayed, I would pray for you. And,
we all wanted a shape of prayer in our brains, taking over
instead of it chomping on itself. Stupid little elf. God has
never come to me. We surrender in the teeming utterance
of materials soaked with sentences already made in air
and by machines. The country says Freedom, crushed under
its own dream weight. I did not make up this song. Design
Within Reach is having a “Work from home sale.” The coming
apart, the giant laceration across the sky, we all feel it. Look
at the fire, look at it, like all the rage of all the smallest beings.
One way to fall asleep is paradoxical intention: trying not to fall asleep.
So the thinking goes, this reduces your performance anxiety.
The question is, who are you fooling, if you really want to fall asleep?
As if sleep were a performance for God.
The instructions on a sleep mask say, you still need to close your eyes.
I wish the pink light of sunrise lasted longer, the warm pink of in-between.
One way to fall asleep is to say Don’t think over and over to yourself.
The instructions say, try to practice it mindlessly.
In sleep, sleep becomes an everlasting interlude, an eternal in-between.
I read that staring into space “can help”—but can’t remember what it helps with,
thinking or not thinking.
Not thinking is the closest we can get to stopping time.
All I know of time is in my mind; my mind is all I know.
Only fifteen minutes ago, I had no idea it was going to snow.
And yesterday, and yesterday, what did we believe?
It’s so easy to forget, as if it were a dream.
The future wasn’t obvious.
And the old snow on the mountains that never would melt—it didn’t look real.
Maybe it’s not real “niceness” if you’re “bragging” about or even mentioning doing positive things, but my point is not to draw attention to my own actions. (I feel I have to balance out my impatience and negativity somehow.)
Mostly I wanted to highlight that it costs nothing to quietly compliment people. Whether it’s the dude in the elevator with a really stunning coat, or the lady in the airport wearing a gorgeous sweater but looking dissatisfied with everything, or the guy reading a really good book… what does it cost to break the silence (as much as I hate noise) to tell them that that they look fabulous and alive in the color they happen to be wearing, that they have a superb sense of style, or have great taste in books?
Sure, the person might not respond well. Breaking the silence and distance bubble and saying something personal is not the norm (depending on where you live, of course). But usually the person lights up and smiles and seems to appreciate that someone noticed. I wish the world were more like that all the time.
Are we living in a world that is louder than ever? There are the standard sources of noise pollution, but today when searching for a quiet space I realized just how loud the world, and everyone in it, is. So much coughing (people are coughing so freely and casually now as though we didn’t just come through a pandemic), the grating sound of scraping bowls and plates, louder-than-needed phone ring tones, people talking (yelling) in public when having their mobile conversations, people watching videos and listening to music without headphones so we all have to hear. And so many other examples that hit me with such sensory overload today that it has been virtually unbearable. It doesn’t seem like people are remotely aware of the sound they make as they trundle and thunder noisily through the world around them.
It’s funny that even when the catalyst for change is a fly-by-night con man, the impetus for change and fire it lights under you is real.
It is like being shaken awake, all excuses discarded in the face of needing to be sensible, you face everything you had avoided with urgency. It is easy to wander through life, even when you are unaware of doing so.
The lack of spontaneity sometimes feels like a collection of lost opportunities. But in fact reality delivers grace and acceptance. Foolish ideas like, “Maybe it will be different this time” or “Perhaps my caution is overkill” or “Maybe I will be surprised by…”, are seductive but misplaced. And not falling prey to them, you end up the stronger.
It takes distance to feel the relief, though, of not being taken in.
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
I saw these sentences written somewhere. I don’t live as though I might die tomorrow (trying and failing to be more spontaneous), but I learn and experience – in a solitary way – constantly. There is no time that I am not trying to inject some kind of information.
A recent acquaintance, despite a surface-level tenor and brevity, gave me pause for in-depth self-reflection. There have been some rough things in my life that I’ve attempted to bury. The acquaintance, by launching into rapid-fire, almost interrogation-style questioning, prompted a lot of buried feelings to bubble up.
He didn’t really seem to care about the answers to these questions (which also makes me realize once more the value of active listening, being heard, detail and memory – and how much I do not relate to people who don’t care about these things). But I understood suddenly that I have to start to confront and deal with more of these rough things.
I also came to understand more acutely than ever what a serious person I am. That is not to say I don’t have fun, laugh, joke or have a sense of humor. It’s just that I am not the kind of person who feels the need to disconnect from heavy subjects or depressing ideas or concepts to decompress. In fact I seek out the heavier things purposely and immerse myself in them. I do not want to be distracted or distant from the inevitable pain of life.
It takes all kinds, of course, but I am going to spend my spare time studying Hungarian, reading about business psychology, devouring books about algae (and never shutting up about them afterwards), doing demanding degree programs that have almost no professional application whatsoever, and watching thought-provoking and often sad films and series in a host of other languages. I mean, I once longed to see a film about nomadic people trying to get one of their camels to lactate and accept its baby. I whined about missing its theatrical run for months before finally getting to see it.
My tastes are difficult to share and, for many, insufferable. I know this is not going to be for everyone – people are, for the most part, never going to share my unusual interests. But maybe I am finally accepting on a more finite level that they don’t have to – and I don’t have to share theirs.