The day rustled me back from a mid-afternoon nap. Sunlight beckoned my flickering eyelids and muscles began to twitch, toes and fingers creeping under the blanket. My mind shivered from sleep to awake, recognizing light, hope, warmth, and then my eyes scanned the room, taking in its emptiness and quiet. Like a dust particle paralyzed midair in a ray of sun across a room, I became painfully aware that I was alive. I tried to slide back under the thick envelope of dozing but it had vanished, so I lay staring at the ceiling. Awake, but not moving, I could not remember where I was or what a place was anyhow. I did not know when in my life I was or if I was even alive still. Before breathing or rustling, my mind raced and sifted through dream and memory, quickly creating a map that dumped me into a cottage in Boulder, alone.
Fighting the current, struggling to stay afloat, I did not realize how distant I had traveled from where I began. I had been flailing, trying to swim back upstream or towards the bank, but it had only worn me out and made me more desperate. Overwhelmed by constant sensory input, I just waned to rest for a bit in a place where time was suspended, and I could stop and survey what was happening.
I had been deconstructed into particulate matter of a person, scattered without sense of body or self, adrift and seeing for the first time that there was not even a grasp of I-ness that could direct me to find those pieces that were ‘me’, put them back into something coherent, for myself or others. People from my past interacted with me as though I was here, as though they knew me. But that was impossible, as I did not even know what my self was. But they were distracted by a façade they had come to believe. I, on the other hand, had vacated that building, and returned in fragments. If I tried to explain it to someone, they would nod and then return to talk of ‘how I was’ as a person inherently, my personality, and a reminder that I should behave to fit that conception. I couldn’t remember her, let alone become her.
My personality, the physical expression of my person in the world, was a conglomeration of habit and deliberate craft. I had carried habits through life like excess baggage tied to my ankles, justifying their presence with the over-simplified excuse that they belonged because they had always been there. At least as long as this personality had existed. But, as if the costumes of habit weren’t enough hindrance, I perpetually created more by ladening myself with new decorations, improvements, I thought, to my personality. With calculation and deliberation, I did what we all do: intellectualized my façade, at times hopelessly attaching to the personality rather than face the person beneath.
But now, acutely aware of the portals through which had I re-entered, I was sure there was no relief to be found within the battered structure, only the release from a tie to it. Embodiment was awkward, uncomfortable. And pain was the reminder that I am embodied. I wanted to rid myself of the pain, but it felt inextricable from the body. I could contort, twist, probe to release the stagnation of something that is part of bodily existence—a force, a power that could surge through me and, if unhindered, would free the painful sensations. Prana, a living thing, except not actually made of any of the components of a body. The body is just the vehicle through which it moves, through which we can experience. Stuck prana was the pain, in all of the places I was battered, scarred. Uncomfortable as it was, by feeling the blockages I became aware of the force of its invisible flow, gifting me the visceral understanding that the body was inert without prana and that tissues, muscles, nerves, blood were all lifeless on their own. It was pain of the body that told me I am not my body. I came back from the dead so I could witness who I am and what I am not.
I vividly remembered things that had nothing to do with this realm; that were so ethereal they were ineffable, so I clamped my mouth shut, afraid to betray them with inadequate words. I remembered leaving my body before surgery and the places I went, what I became and un-became, and then the return. In my memory it was all so clear and perfect, but when I struggled for language to describe it, all words sounded flat, dimensionless.
During the days I was mostly alone. Sitting on the porch after a rain, I watched a dark, wet branch reach out from the otherwise flat picture before me. It was calling to me, drawing me back into the world, reminding me I was on the other side of the glass now. When I looked through the pane at the hospital to the park, the world and I were disconnected. It took a split second for the image to travel through the air, twist through the glass to me, and so it was not my present. It could have been my past or my future. But in the time it took the image to reach me anything could have happened.
To me, the tree was just like the memories I had of myself prior. They seemed real but they could not reach and touch. Live in the present we say so often. But in my present I wore my past. Both my body and my mind carried memories from past in my today. The past had formed my present, and I could not extricate myself from it. Every sculpture is a product of each strike of the hammer and chisel. If the memory of the chisel is removed the creation—the sculpture—goes with it. In German the world for sculptor is Bildhauer. A Bild is a picture and hauer is to hammer, so a sculptor is one who hammers a picture. I understood that a person is a three-dimensional picture. Life is the sculptor and memories reminded me where to contort, to stick out, to be smooth to the touch, sharp to the eye. Without my past I was merely uncut stone. I tried to conjure up memory in hopes that I might know how to form myself, what to look like.
Late August, three months past, walking a ridge in the shadow of Bear Mountain, a breeze picked up and the branches of the pines swayed gently and sang softly. I was older now. I had a few hairs of gray and the beginnings of wrinkles around my eyes and mouth. My body was thinner and harder, yet I was softer on the inside. And physically I was infantile—reinventing breath and movement, beginning with the simple discovery that I had a body and that I could control parts of my body. Like a newborn, I was not yet convinced this was true, but when it was proven, I became fascinated and addicted to the exploration of my own embodiment.
On a day of absolute stillness that always precedes a summer storm, I noticed how the trees were resolute, fast and forever, had been there much longer, as I and other humans flailed about. The sun was a weak orb in an uncommon cloudy sky lurking over the Front Range, and I had to remind myself to carry the melody of my own life. Just like being a child practicing the piano, it was easy to be distracted and play two hands indistinctly, allowing lower tones to swallow the sweet high melodious ones. Only with concentration on making the tune heard would I achieve any music.
Cold and gray, splashes in a puddle told me it’s raining—I already knew. The trees were speaking, weeping. Their leaves spun silently down onto metal tables, stone patios, landing crisply, a noisy commotion. I found myself peering outside looking for the visitor I thought I heard, as a breeze picked up, stirred a branch, and more green cut-outs, dried from the summer, floated to the ground, rustled and sounded like footsteps; figures I could not see. And the tears that follow loss dripped thick putrid circles, staining everything they touched, more effective than any crying I have ever done. At night the breeze that made me think of closing windows before I went to bed brushed the trunk and the branches, eliciting a whistling moan, so loud it woke me, so soft I thought it was my own breathing.
Mornings I rose early before the light. I made noise and crept around, pushing my hands against the viscosity of the dark, feeling its resistance, knowing I must be something, somewhere. But every time I closed my eyes I died again. They had shattered me into bits and the pieces scattered. Behind shut eyes I was deconstructed again and again and each time I opened my eyes I had to re-assemble myself. When I met death I was exiled from the land of living people but not given a new place to go. And so I roamed, the shadow of my own ghost. I did not know that I would go somewhere that language didn’t exist, and that when I awoke I would come back speechless. I had no expressions for the things I now knew so when my mouth moved by rote it falsified me and I cringed at my inauthenticity, wondering if anyone noticed the effort it took for me to imitate words, like a deaf person creating sounds for others that they will never hear themselves.
When I woke from a nap, each afternoon—in the moment before I moved I became aware that every one and thing outside had been carrying on without me, unaware of my absence, and I wondered if that meant I was dead. The mobility surrounding me excluded me into an inert possibility. My drooping head jarred me awake. The overwhelming feeling was I had lost something dear. It had slipped away in my momentary neglect; felt my absence and vanished. As longing consumed me, I could not even remember what I was aching for. It wasn’t losing that undid me, but learning that I would survive and learn to be partial. The injunction of duality where there ought to be none wrenched my fibers and instilled distrust.
It was sad and dark there. I could not take him with me, so he could not bring me back. And part got left behind—the one that could see the difference between him and the air around him; that could detect the minute distinction in the DNA of others and the one that colors his eyes, textures his skin. Without it infinity stretched from his cells as he touched scars that led somewhere I only went go alone. Still could not tell if I had returned. He whispered my name in the dark. I should have felt whole with another. Instead I recognized he was speaking to her—the one who was absent. I wished to tell him to remind her to visit—and then I wouldn’t be so lonely. I craved the quiet—that would not try to tell me something I could no longer know; that would not remind me I was obsolete. I bit my lip rather than tell him that when I looked in the mirror I saw a corpse and when I looked at him I saw all the others. I saw the shared DNA that is almost everything, and some unique allele is a red herring; that there really is no difference between anything.
There was no up and down. There were no straight lines. Just particles arranged in different orders. I felt like I could simply collapse. Like the whole structure that was supposed to be me could crumble if I stopped holding up so much. My legs would give way and crumple uselessly in a heap upon my flaccid feet. My torso—ribs, spine and all—would wriggle into jelly, topping the remnants of the base. Something about my idea of myself, my construct, was what kept me moving about with some determination to stay embodied, concrete, to stand upright, moving awkwardly among furniture, buildings, other beings. My human soul made me erect, head balanced delicately atop, wobbling only slightly, heart centered along it so that lifeblood coursed through.
Any remnant of former self that survived in any coherent way was akin to playing with an avatar. Every breath was a movement and every movement followed the ends of the breath that only cycled into yet another. Infinity was in a body that didn’t really exist to begin with. So I contorted and twisted, and played at being human, enjoyed the carnal bliss of it, knowing if I ever reached the end of a breath and forgot to draw it back the other way, like the innate tension of a rubber band, I would crumple into a cadaver.
I recalled, viscerally, what it was like to grow into being. I remembered the process of slipping from the ethereal into my body through sensory awareness. In that moment, I wanted to undo everything that separated me from becoming nothing, yet simultaneously I understood that I wanted to be the feelings so I could be more than nothing; so I wore the pain. Right then, I grasped that it was only through my senses that I could define space and time, and within that—form. That when I slipped from ‘the other’ into my body I took on a form that gave me the ability to be aware of my non-form. My form allowed me the consciousness to see that form was moot and unreal. But without seeing, hearing, smelling, defining form in space and time, I could never conceptualize that form actually did not exist. Through sensing my existence I knew I did not exist at all. The curse of the realization is that it had happened when every one of my senses picked up only something awful; the blessing was—I knew even that was the blessing. I cannot distinctly recall un-being, because without my body and senses that took in information, defined a boundary, pointed out the bliss of form, I could not know I was.
It was brutal how time ceaselessly barged ahead, even when I desperately needed to pause, to take stock. I found myself waking earlier and earlier, gravitating towards the early morning hours in the dark, where the promise of a new day awaited, but the sun had yet to shine down on everything and define it: objects, the spaces in between, what was and was not there. In the wee hours there was potential, and the egg of anything might hatch; hope was not yet moot, optimism reigned unabashedly. Soon thereafter the air would vibrate, dark matter would shift to make way for that which would be illumined, and the understudies would scurry out of sight, knowing they were not yet bold enough to be shown or seen, their lines not yet clearly defined. It was where I belonged.
Decrepit. Everything was crumbling, form disintegrating into its components, more defined in contrast. Pores that allowed room to breathe were fault lines, became crevasses when water seeped in and froze, expanded. The edifice had no iron core so nothing would stand long after, solitary. Burnt grass, stiff leaves—dead things—were the only sign of life, reminding me that seasons don’t tell the time; they undo it.
I became death. I became triumph over death. I could devour time, and therefore all things originated with me. Starving, I fed on life, haunting cremation grounds, sitting upon corpses, roaming battlefields, looking for more articles to adorn myself with the lives that had been taken. Almost no one could stand my detestable, horrific form, embodiment I was of all they feared. But I was true, pulsing life and could invigorate anything—everything—into manifest. I could bestow into an inert being the life force that would make it vital. The same force that I could consume on its expiration. Standing there, holding trident, disc, sword, sickle, bow and arrows, I was the cannibal and the mother—and I had the power to destroy the world. Or create it. A tree: it’s arms outstretched, naked of leaves, dead but not fallen. A ballast or a portal to what lies beyond. I stretched out my hand and waited for the breeze to lift it.
Winter had set. Crystals, intricate with fiber and space, interlocked to a glassy façade. I watched as ice was pushed to the perimeter. Glass thickened, my breath fogged, and I could no longer see through what was now an ice cave carved out for the stretch of long nighttimes. Inside was life; outside froze to a standstill. Shivering, I dove into the hole in the ground to swim among the fish—wise—the temperature of their home is predictable. The black waters felt warmer than above, so I turned down, kicked my way deeper into the fathoms, darker now, limbs numb, I found my way without senses.
Impossibly, I morphed from nothing to something in a seamless instant. The stickiness of becoming enveloped me as I slid to awake, immediately suffocating what I knew before. I brought with me only a faint residue of the memory of an emptiness, whose other-worldly essence did not fit into language. Suddenly, I was aware that I had eyes. They could not see by nighttime, as all was black, yet I was aware that I had a sense that was failing. Having never heard the thing called quiet, my ear now told me that I was listening to the absence of sound. Amid the deathly quiet, I understood that an ear was a thing that heard a sound that was in this place and it was now. The thing called an ear radiated out like a star creating a galaxy that did not exist before it did. I did not have the sort of thing that one would call a body, as it did not yet know that it was. The disconnected parts still fought aliveness as it was trying to discover its own organismic essence. I could no longer say what it was like before I emerged. I could only remember the feeling of what I left behind the moment before I grew senses, and even that I could not say with words. But as I began to move and explore the beauty of articulated perfection of a finger joint, I understood that touch was a miracle.
I was hibernating. My heart slowed nearly to a stop, I was turned inward, reflecting on the sensations of complex movements within me that made my chest rise and fall, my skin warm, my eyes and mouth wet. I was a giant organism pulsing heat against the frigid elements, with barely a good reason to do so, but I could not quit. Life was heat, was blood. My heart was an infrared sensor and my fingertips were its rays, reaching outward, searching. Gazing at my hand held up against the pale, weak evening mid-winter night, I saw bones and cartilage covered by skin. Grotesque in their simple form, and magnificent only because they flowed with life.
I had no false confidence that the world would be anything like the one yesterday or that there would be anything familiar to me. I did not assume that I would speak the same language as the people I might encounter. Usually not. The jellyfish of darkness was stuffed inside me, wrapped up in a ball that emanated, squeezed into my interstitial spaces, suffocated organs, and oozed out my pores. And I could not leave it behind. I was it. I could end my travels at this one, if only I could learn to bear my own awful stink, maybe then I would stop running.
Life is a sticky venture. I touched objects as I passed, trailing my own gooey parts, leaving a residue, losing part of myself, picking up particles of objects I thought I had left behind, so the two became part of the same one, and the distinction was lost. I was a composite of the residues of all that I had touched, while everything I had passed glistened with my own organic trailings. Crashed, tumbled, thrown, crushed, devastated, buried, ill, dying. Thread of saṃsāra. Each anecdote was a well of anguish for yet another creature, throbbing in unison, the heartbeat of shared existence. Could I receive without petrifying? Could I experience without fossilizing into the bedrock?
Reincarnation was the thing I did every day, to shed my own decaying self, so as not to carry into the future the stench of my past. I regenerated new cells and invented new limbs. Hollowed vestiges were unnecessary extra baggage. Me, incontrovertible. I was made of senses. Light was made of photons. Sound was vibration borne on waves. Touch was made of extensions of the mind, tricks of the brain from the photons of eyes. While sense tried to tell me where a thing ended, where I began, it could not answer what made a soul. Photons, waves, vibrations. I was the extension of a mind that was a fabric of a universe that I knew through a sense from the brain that extended. I was the end of infinity and the beginning.
I puffed small clouds into the faint light, as freezing dusk settled, and I desperately wanted to perpetuate, to keep watching the miracle that I was. My shoulders hunched forward, my abdomen tightened, as I fought for stability, pushing my weight to the ground. And then I released, sat back, watched the mist of my mouth dissipate into nothing as it was absorbed by the infinite ether that pervaded everything. As I let go of the tightness, let myself be, I felt warm breath pass my lips, as the corners of my mouth turned up, and I knew that they were diamonds in the night sky; points at the center of the universe.
Spring mornings are best. The air is thick, moist, connective tissue. Tendrils spun out from the tips of leaves, tickled my skin before dropping wetly onto the ground I had just passed. They reached through the branches that held them, through the ground, to the core of the earth, emerging in other soil as different stems, into other leaves that spun a web, and I could feel it crawling back to me through the air in not-yet-dawn from the other side of the world. Mornings are best to see the whole organism alive and breathing.
I wanted to rise early, meet the moment of sunrise, worship the light and let it pervade me and make me shining and resonant. But first the darkness became me, and I it. We were so intertwined that I hardly knew daylight even when bathed in it. Again, I was swimming, scraping the bottom of a basin of muddy water. As merely a seed, a possibility, I fed on wet dirt, watery roots, and algae, growing strength so I might expand, and eventually spiral up from the bottom, break the surface into daylight, and emerge as a lotus. As I dwelled in my own beauty, my stringy tentacles stretching beneath reminded me not to perch quite so high. I did not need to look down to remember modesty.
Everything is so loud in the early morning. Small clanks reverberate, echo vastly. I remembered Morocco, before dawn, the song of the mosque calling in a small oasis in the desert, where I slept on a rooftop. Ringed by palm trees, the few buildings were all the same pale color as the sand that surrounded them, always looking as though it was about to encroach, swallow up the haven. To arrive anywhere else, I would have to venture into the seemingly endless expanse.
On a wet spring morning, a long linear time away from hospitals, I stopped on the sidewalk, closed my eyes, and leaned over a low wooden fence to sniff a flower in a neighbor’s yard. The fragrance crept up my nostrils, activating cells that sent signals to my brain, that told my lips to spread out and up just a little into an organic curve.
I watched the leaves shaking in the breeze and wanted to reach out to touch them, but no longer believed that reality is any more than a portrait. And—as much as I could never step inside a painting—I could not reach those leaves more than I already had by just looking. Gazing down, I did not trust that my foot was a foot or that the root that my foot was stepping on was a root or that both would not disappear in a flash when I lost my human form—my senses—and any way to distinguish a root from a foot or even have a self with which to think such things.
By the evening light of red behind the hill and dark blue clouds, I suspiciously admired a tree in the yard, reflecting how the world is called three dimensional, implying that I could see to the other side of a thing. But I knew that everything came out of nothing and was nothing, so it was non-dimensional. Yet we call it three, in an implied belief that we can penetrate through it. I understood now I could not go through the world trying to get to the other side of things, but had to accept that depth was an illusion.
And again, I slipped out of the time-space continuum. As time disappeared, the concept of my individual life at that particular moment vanished. Like a wave, I was overcome by every moment I had ever had, everything I had ever seen, all of it colliding. I could not differentiate one from another and no longer knew where I was and could not even conceive of the idea of a location. Form, as part of time and space, disappeared with them. Already disoriented, I saw flashes of images that I recognized and understood but could not label with time, place, or name. I closed my eyes and rested. Being still and quiet there was effortless.
I tried to participate: each morning I showered, dressed, eager for the show, but when I arrived at the theatre I discovered, yet again, I was the only member of the audience. Everyone else was on stage, in full costume, with make-up and hair done, reading by rote from their memorized scripts. They appeared to be having decent fun with it, but eventually I realized that they didn’t know it was a play and no one even cared that I was watching, or that I laughed or winced in the right places. And then it occurred to me that perhaps they expected me to pick a role and show up in character on the other side of the orchestra pit, under the bright lights. It looked hot and stuffy up there and the costumes and make-up appeared uncomfortable and smothering, so instead I stayed home, ventured out less.
Waiting as an art. One day I watched my plant grow. One stem was shorter than another and had always been behind the second. Sitting on my couch, something caught my eye; the plant was shaking so I went over and saw that the shorter stem had just burst forth from its position, overtaking the longer one, its leaves now on the outside. I had finally slowed down enough to see, and I wondered how much I might slow, maybe to a point of being in the present without any momentum for the future or inertia from the past. In that space, time would stop, which would either mean that I reached the speed of light or achieved its exact counter. Either way, I would have undone the distance between things.
In the winter I had built a snow cave. I hid in its lightless warmth, unseen—one continuous bank of white with me buried beneath. But, like the trees, I turned hungry in the spring; sprouting leaves, trying to make my own food. I was reminded that I don’t have chlorophyll and must consume other living organisms for survival. From damp soil, with mycotoxic nature, I rose and pulsed a field of warmth around me, possibly to devour. I felt I had been lonely for a long, long while, though I did not know it before.
In spring seeds are thrown. Not all will take root. Sneezing, itching, coughing, a difficult, reminiscent time. I was allergic to memory. The woody, stringy agitations of springtime need their green buds to prickle out, excite, darken, lengthen, take over the world. An agitation that arose from me, for me, of me, to me. I chased it back along the meridians of my body, but it circled around again and I saw that it was as much a part of me as my nose, a feature contiguous with my cells. I wanted to disown it but I couldn’t; all I could do was try to allow it to be, to flow and not be moved by it.
Stiff as an oak tree. Watching lithe bodies, out of the corner of my eye, bend, contort, tuck one limb under another, wrap around themselves a couple of times, I was sure we could not possibly be the same species. My body felt stiff, angular, hard, and I felt that I would likely crack before I would stretch. I had sticks for bones, sharply askew, angled against the grain. I heard others say ‘breathe in’, feel the pleasure of alive. But I had no soft spots. I was a fortress more than a woman.
My jaw tightened, bringing with it the muscles at the base of my skull, the tops of my shoulders. If I toned my core, the upper body softened a little. But then I felt the psoas engage, pull back. I could not disconnect them, as if they were fused together. So I release the core, the psoas, and the jaw, neck, and shoulders react, thrusting my head a little farther forward. I was like a puppet pulling my own strings, jerking around, hoping no one noticed that I still hadn’t figured out how to walk down the street in broad daylight.
The sensations of being alive: the pressures and pulls I felt because of my experience. What about when sensation wasn’t sensual? I explored my body for some kind of freedom, endlessly. As a means to witness my mind, it might be a vehicle, but in itself the sensations of my body could never be perfectly pleasant. What was the sensuality of pain? Of bones? Could I deify my imperfections?
Walking. Sounds of birds, crickets hopping crisply on branches, leaves—and the wind moving between them. An early summer stream that still gurgled loudly, hidden behind thickets beside the path where my feet pad the earth, over stones crunched, on rocks landed flatly, sounding clean and soft. And I heard for the first time that I was part of the song. My own sounds carried a piece of the harmony. I had thought I was in the audience.
Mornings, as a child I leapt out of bed before my eyes were full open, ran to see what would greet me. As a young woman I jumped, landed with my feet flat on the floor, hurried to make a dent, press my person against the firmament. Now I slowly allowed shapes, sounds, light to dance softly about me, coerce me into embodiment; let the sun crawl from my fingers to my eyes, my heart, encircle my lips that smiled—wary still, before embracing that it was, yes, surprisingly, another day.
Chatter. The sound of leaves shaking against themselves. Outside my footsteps were bombastic. I was afraid to stop. Afraid to hear my own silly thoughts against the perfect backdrop of water passing through reeds. Back there I smothered everything holy instead of building shrines in the cracks of the concrete, consecrating the spaces between while pressing up and out, trying to force a wider perimeter. Warriors in street clothes, our weapons are sight and determination, our mission is mostly futile and certainly imperative. We will die unknown save for the blade of grass in desolation that we cultivated.
And after June’s caresses, wet and cool, July burned unrelenting. I watched a tree breathe its nighttime moisture into the early heat, backlit by the sun in a morning forest. Steam escaped its pores that I could only see when the sun burned down upon it. The same light that illuminated was harsh enough to incinerate everything to ash. In the vast, treeless landscape, I hid under the rare cloud from the searing hot sky. I practiced holding fire in my hand, in my being, and not wincing. The heat from below clashed with the sky above, causing a wild torrent. My feet pounded the ground, lightning flashing, wind lashed at me. Taking shelter under a tree, hail stuck in the grooves of my jacket, the scent of wet pine needles, my shivering mid summer, told me something was incarnate.
Denouement. Blindness for eyes. The crest of the wave that immediately crashed into disintegration of its own parts, already churned with new bits, preparing for its next surge. Lightly, softly, I danced around the tumultuous center that sucked me into a violent game. I entered, escaped, emerged battered but whole. I vanquished what I could not hold with a fiery foot planted firmly on the earth, burning my place here.
I was not young anymore. I was not old yet either. But youth, in its chariot of firm supple flesh and smooth skin and its companion, complete idiocy, had definitively slipped into the past, replaced by the delicate limbo I recognized from having seen in others. I had watched fear creep into the corners of their eyes as quickly as the wrinkles, as they wrung their dry saggy hands, and defied the process by finding someone young to affirm they were seductive. I had wasted minutes that built up to years squinting into the future, trying to decipher its outline. Like clouds on the horizon, whatever form that looked identifiable dissipated into ether before I could reach for it.
Quickly, someone tell me, before I forget, who am I? And how does an I live? Suddenly, urgently, what does it mean to say you? You soul. You mind. You brain. You body. You personality. You projections. You theories. And is it something specific, or more general? What do we sum up in there? And from which pieces can I extricate myself? Can I take off a part of it like a pant leg or a tight sweater? Am I stuck with each trapping? When I forgive you, who do I mean? Is it the part of you that you control? Is there a part you don’t control? And is this the same in everyone? I am an autonomous soul, body, brain, mind, personality, but autonomous from whom and from what? And if I can so proudly boast an independence, then to where have I gone in that state and what is the new locale? Who is the new I?
I wanted to be like the wind, loving with abandon, touching everything from each side as I passed. And then I was not alone anymore. One morning, as I was leaving the yoga studio, a man entered. He placed his mat, walked to the front of it, and in a moment that was entirely out of character, I approached him and said, ‘I know you.’ In a brief, quiet exchange, I told him that we had met nine months prior when I was visiting my sister in Virginia. I had practiced at the studio there, which was where he taught. I went home, showered, dressed, and went to a coffee shop. Two hours later he walked in and we talked for a long time. He didn’t have a car so I dropped him off somewhere, and a dance began. We spiraled around one another; at times I sought him, others I evaded, but then he would be there in the aisle at the grocery store, staring at me without asking why I hadn’t returned a message. One afternoon at the studio he handed me a book of poetry. I never had to return it. Soon, it became another shared object on a shared shelf.
I was aware we were other people’s casualties. Racing to the finish, we could no longer remember when winning stopped being fun. Life is a masochistic endeavor. Love chastises hope and shames us—then we search for better weapons. The carnage piles up and we can either run away with stained hands decrying guilt or stay put atop our own compost pile, hoping more than weeds will grow from the refuse. I knew he saw mostly weeds between my toes, wanted to believe there were seeds of flowers too. We had to stop burying our heads in the heap, looking for our hearts that were stolen by the ones whose hands we cut off: no one makes it out of this alive. Fingernails dirty from playing in the mud.
I needed to tell him things. I needed him to see that my jewelry was a necklace of heads, a skirt of arms. Blood dripped from my mouth—my own, those I had devoured. I was the mother goddess of eternal darkness, bursting with the power to destroy and create. I was the dark, negative nature of the feminine. The animals knew this. I lived in a tiny cottage in the back of a large yard in the center of Boulder. Ivy crept up the sides, barely leaving room for the windows. I slept in the loft space upstairs, my face mere inches from the roof, where each night raccoons harassed squirrels. I would wake to the sound of squeaks and light hops, followed by thumping and growling, and then, sometimes, a screech that devolved into weaker cries amid the audible crunching of bones. And the raccoon would sit just above my head devouring the poor baby.
I needed him to know that consumption in volume is a hopeful act, and that I was an ascetic. That I was on a pilgrimage and would have to leave behind those who could not leave themselves behind. And that the wrinkles forming on my face spoke that permanence is a direction, not a place. And that when they cut open my heart they took off my face and even when they jump-started me back they didn’t return my caricature. It would be useful. Turned inside out, they left my nervous system on the outside to be scraped raw by everything it passed. Daily life grated me to frayed. Skin does have a purpose. The breeze could rustle my nerves that cried out. Less than an infant, I was a nerve cell without my own consciousness, a barometer to faltered integrity. I did not have eyelids to hold back the tears that flooded from the weight of the suffering I saw around me. I was merely a cell on the tip of God’s small toe, here briefly on reconnaissance, and tenderness could not be wasted.
There was no whistle through the treetops—the howl and thump, a real being hammering the walls. Branches scraped; fingertips crept in, my stairs shook, footsteps just like his brushed just outside the door before rushing back to the hills.As white moonlight melted inside me, my walls crumbled and my will to hold onto them. I saw that I was a bright creature who wandered nighttimes, stretching swaths of light-colored dust through caverns where others feared to look.
We stood motionless, quiet, until one of us moved and he brushed against the inside edge of the tornado that I had become. Thrashing, I flung him out so he fought his way back, while light shone to show us the respirations of everything as it consumed us. He reached his hand beneath my ribs and placed fingers into the wounds of a tired muscle. I squirmed, tried to expel him with a puff of air, redefine bones as armor, fight my way free. But, his patience, holding the quivering muscle, delicately applying a healing salve, calmed me.
And then I remembered the time that he was a lemon tree and I was a bird who visited and perched on his branch. Neither of us had lips or smiles back then, but it was why his hands were carved perfectly to fit the bottoms of my feet. One time, too eager for something sweet, I had gripped tightly—dug my claws in—his finger wore the scar, proving God like delicate flowers poised beside a stream in an alpine meadow. Wind, rain, snow should kill their frailty. And when scientists contest about tree memory, old scars, and stalwart defiant beauty, I was sure it was because their microscopes were broken, their clocks lied, their brains were paralyzed, as faulty as my own mind that could grasp time. Yes, I remembered more clearly now. It was his claw, my finger. It was I, the lemon tree, and he the bird.
Witching Hour. No sleep—not even the birds were awake. In between times, I wondered if it was more night or morning, and as the wind lashed my hair around my face so I could hardly see, I decided not to step into the thin air up there. So I spun around looking for where to go next. I heard a voice like my own (there were always two of us). There is nothing to prove (she said) and nowhere to go. I looked around me and saw that I was at the pinnacle of the universe—the apex was the center of the bottom of my foot. The only thing left to do was to learn how to balance.