People are not commodities.
They cannot be imported,
They are the brick and stone;
the pavement and the horns;
the barren trees that twist in winter storms.
People are an expression of culture,
and their absence is death.
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO RECORDING
A dandelion is torn from my hand by a wind that cloaks the prairie.
Storm clouds nock like archers, sky bruised and yellow.
My tabby cat’s fur is worried,
his eyes are flecks of gold shaken over a green river.
There is a cut on his belly,
fat and orange,
the blood well-licked.
He cries in the flowering tree in my front yard where
sheets of rain pain the branches.
Our horses lay down in the pasture,
bodies heaving like frightened angels.
Chickens hide in holes where they once took dirt baths.
I huddle in the basement with my mother and sister,
waiting for the storm to pass.
The projector carousel stalls.
Someone in the room coughs.
I can’t turn my head.
The images click forward once more.
I’m on a boat of tall sails on a glinting ocean.
My hand clasps a glass of golden wine.
The liquid shimmers and dances in the afternoon sunlight.
The boat see-saws gently like a rocking horse.
A gull swirls in the cornflower sky, free of clouds and storms.
A woman with blonde hair and calico sunglasses holds her hand at her brow.
“I told you the weather would turn,” she says.
The projector stalls.
“That was wrong,” says a smudge.
“Correct it. Hurry. Turn the slides backwards,” says another.
I am present.
My hands are on my knees.
My breath still,
joints stiff from the folding chair.
Others are in the room with me, watching slides of their own.
And I wonder:
Are any of these images really mine?
Or just memories that someone wanted me to see?
I stand to leave.
“You can’t go!” says the smudge.
“It’s too late,” says the other. “She’s awake.”
I happened upon the wrong kind of magic.
The key was lost in the movements;
a sequence designed to be impossible to master
unless you sacrifice all to become asetic, turn your dreaded hair into knots and paint your face gold.
Even then, the magic may not work.
You need many – thousands even – moving at the same time with equal bodily freedoms: twisting and folding, rising like Lazarus from backbends, walking as if crabs and pounding the ground like snakes turned to staffs.
All together. All at the same time.
Therein lie the trap, the false promise that was bestowed upon me by many teachers, a spoonful at a time, and all these years later I am still a baby in a bib eating mashed peas.
But what of this magic?
It was whispered in a dream that it opens the door to a larger question, which gives rise to a spectrum of other worlds, where chasing the answer to who I am, and why am I here has no end, only more doors.
And dare I open these doors?
I fear what is behind them, for I know the terror of the unknown, of ancient subway systems turned underground highways filled with small men in flying capsules and black eyes, where I am a stranger with my yellow hair and milk fed bones.
Neanderthals cannot navigate such a place.
Not with the wrong kind of magic.
When losing a button
becomes the end of the world,
and you think this is as far as you can go,
you’ve reached your edge,
the limit of what a human can endure.
You think of the struggle:
waiting in traffic at the tunnel,
the man who flips you off,
on a street cleaning day
that leaves your car blocked in
so that you can’t get home
so you write a note
saying how pissed you are
that goes unanswered.
Is this worth it?
Does any of it matter?
Is anyone listening?
You close your lids
and stare into the emptiness
where you watch your breath
move in and out
and label your thoughts
past, present and future,
and soon you see a splotch of purple
that turns into a palisade with a
darkened sky and dancing trees,
but it has nothing to say to you.
Another dead end,
which makes you think that this too
So you return your attention to the present,
which is in the room where you are sitting,
and you can hear the voices around you,
and the music playing softly;
you can feel the breath and the sweat,
and the warmth of lights on your skin
and the floors touching your thighs.
These are just atoms, you think,
made of nothing until they are labeled,
but they do matter,
So you get up,
and do it all over again.
Incoherent scattered thoughts
under a moonless night
where I cannot see shape or shadow
moving on a frosted roof.
My breath is both frozen and warm
because it is winter and summer
on the black rubber roof
where I spy the moon
as big as a flying saucer
and as shapely as a cat’s eye.
I perceive that night too,
when we we reach our arms
towards the starry sky
and lean into the elemental traction
which pulls us upwards,
on a boat drifting through Deutschland.
For time moves in all directions,
here under this pitch black sky.
The words of my mother fade,
her voice reverberates,
in a vacuum
of stars and gently turning planets
where we are all connected
among astral light and dark matter,
between oceans of space
that stretch beyond comprehension
into parallel universes and other dimensions,
among ghosts and shadows
that we cannot see with our eyes.
Eternity moves through me,
and I wonder if this is hell.
Am I trapped in my memories
without any future?
The emptiness in your eyes
disturbs me so.
I’m not sure what you’re thinking
when you stare,
Your breath cools the room,
or is that the air conditioner?
Perhaps you are depressed,
but I wouldn’t know because
I’m not psychic.
The harpsichord pecks out a tune
in my mind,
for there is no music
in this bamboo room
where we speak words
that have very little to do
with the stirrings in our souls.
But we share a common interest,
and perhaps that is enough.
If not, then there is only the count,
and the breath,
and your eyes,
which tell me nothing.
A freight train at night thumps on a track in the countryside.
There is no railroad crossing.
There is no moon.
The street, hastily paved and potholed, is empty.
I hear a clacking and see movement against the dark landscape, like a kraken turning in the sea.
Or maybe I see nothing at all, and it is instinct that drives me to break the car.
The Mercury’s tires shriek to a stop.
The train presses by, steadily, as sweat gathers beneath my wool gloves.
I am a creature of narrow escapes.
Was this luck or a future portended?
I saw two geese flying north above the black rooftops, honking like angry drivers at the throat of the palisades.
“Winter is near! Leave now before it swallows you whole.”
I watch them go and return to the book by the bearded man who proclaims there are millions of suns left.
But the geese are a memory house, and I set the book aside.
Then I think of winter, of the snow and the sweat that clings between my sweatshirt and skin as I shovel to the edge of the sidewalk, where it will turn black with fallen smog.
I recall the table fire in my living room, the spiced wine in the slow cooker, and the smell of musty hats and scarves that have rarely been washed laying rumpled in the plastic drawers.
I consider the Scottish cap that sits in the bottom of my hamper – the one that I said I would dry clean when you died.
This is only the second winter since you’ve been gone, and it still smells like you.
I wonder how harsh this winter will be if the geese are leaving this early.
What do they know anyway?
Nothing, I decide.
I left my little dog at home with a single light on, just enough to play with her dolls and bones.
I kiss her goodbye, then slip outside, beneath storm clouds that gathered in a tomb of stone above my head.
I feel the dreary sky’s presence, heavy and lasting.
Dawn will not raise the horizon today, and the lingering darkness cannot be chased away.
Not this morning.
Today it will be gray.
My umbrella’s spindly arms shelter me from the drizzle, yet droplets nip my naked ankles, staining my red shoes darker, malignant.
Onto the bus that drives through the curling, black tunnel.
Off I go!
The fabric seats are bristly as a I sit, then slump.
The pinpoint of daylight at my back narrows, then disappears, and I am alone inside the tunnel amongst strangers and taillights.
A weak light.
My senses are overflowing with steel fences, cement, pavement and iron curbs.
I drift past the terminal with brown ceramic tiles and puffy faced crowds bumping and bristling at the mouth of the subway.
On this gray day everlasting, I’m here.
And I can think only of my dog and her light.