Strange Fire

(i come to you with my offering)

You are going to break me.

I didn't know that. Not until right this second. It is 1:15 in the afternoon on the fourteenth of December, 2012, exactly one week before the end of the world. And you are not just going to master me. You are going to break me.

That is what you want. That is your desire. I think that makes you different than anyone I've ever loved. 

Oh dear.



Heal This Man.
Powerful dream, this one was.


In my dream of you we were at the beach again. A different house, yet again one that doesn't exist. Except this time you were there, interacting, around, along with the requisite crowd of people. I don't remember much of what happened in the beginning, though I did when I first woke up. Before you called me, asking to change our date to a meeting with F. Which I'd known you would, since the night before.

There were people, and noise, and it was unsettling. F was there. And my coworker Adele, who was, unaccountably, your lover. Or in love with you, at least. I don't remember what happened or why it was unsettling, but it was. And then, finally, at some point, you asked me on a walk. Got me away from there. And I was grateful. I remember that I was grateful.

You said you had something to show me. Someplace to take me. So we walked. Along the beach, then away from it. We held hands. I remember being able to smell you. Loving the smell of you.

You took me to a very old brick building. It looked like something out of the bowels of Boston ... mottled, pitted brick, floor mostly filled in by ages of accretion ... clearly a structure that had once been freestanding and above ground, but that was now almost subterranean, because the entrances were almost filled with packed damp silty black dirt. It looked like an ancient aristocratic stable, or a train depot ... all the entrances were arched brick, and once we ducked inside, there were huge vaulted ceilings and row after row of arched brick rooms with no doors lining the single massive passage down the middle. Everything smelled of mold. And it was a squatter's camp. People had set up shop in the brick concavities in the walls, like Chinese market vendors, except they weren't selling. They were protecting. We passed blank glare after blank glare, people stooped under the weight of the rags they were wearing, people who had scavenged broken tables and rotten chairs and had made a little home in the bricks or people who could do little more than huddle on the earth and glare. We even passed a few stalls where people were conducting a sort of frenzied distrustful trade: this spoon for that bit of purple rag, this tin can for that doll-sized rocking chair. It looked like the set of a post-apocalyptic musical, frankly. Rags too ragged to be real. People too frenzied, too broken, too poor, too desperate to be believable. It looked so like a set that I wasn't afraid, and realized I wasn't, and wondered why. Because I knew that I should have been. We did not belong in this place, and I did not understand why you'd taken me here, or what you were looking for. And you were looking for something ... we were there for a reason. You kept a tight hold on my hand. You seemed aware that there may be danger for me, but unconcerned about your own safety. And again, I wondered why.

Because as we drew people's eyes ... and we did -- we did not belong in this place, and they did not like our presence -- it was you they were looking at. You they were threatened by. I wanted to get us out of there.

We walked down the long wide corridor on the damp packed earth, and rounded the other end, turning into an identical corridor on the other side of the building. The whole place was just one long U. You were enjoying yourself ... you were smiling, dear. For real. 

And then a man came up from behind you, enraged, furious, screaming. Black snarled hair matted around him like a mane, no sanity or humanity in his eyes. You didn't even have time to turn: as I looked over my shoulder and caught a glimpse of him, he was already on you. He stabbed you in the back of the neck with a knife. It made a clean vertical
slice, right through the bone. Split your second and third vertebrae right in two. And you knew this, somehow ... knew you might survive. Because as you crumpled and I turned to catch you, you said to me, "Not the neck! Keep my neck straight!" So I did. I somehow kept an arm under your shoulders and one under your head, supporting your C-spine and skull in a perfect, straight plane. You bled all over me. But you were still alive. And in the dream, I was strong enough to hold you like that and still stand -- hold your torso straight while I held you up, off the ground.

And as I held you I looked at this madman, who was still gesticulating wildly over us with his knife, and I stared him down. He quieted. And he looked back at me. And I held his gaze, and I said this:

"May the roof of your head rot and cave in like an apple, may your brain turn to mealworms, may they come seething out of the ruined cauldron of your skull and pour down around your eyes and into your ears and feed in a frenzy on your desperate face, may your eyes bleed to see it, may your flesh fall from the bone and the bone become a catacomb and may you live through it all, may you go on and on in unending awareness and unendurable pain as your body betrays you and rots into the putrescent earth. I will curse you, I will ruin you, you and yours and all your line will walk this world in grief and pain and rage with the smell of your own putrefaction around you, no food will feed you, no drink will soothe you, you will lose your heads and all your limbs and all the memory of everything you ever loved, you will be less than mute matter, you will never be appeased. Now heal this man."

And he did.

And we walked out of there. Together. Holding hands.

And then we got back to the beach house. I don't remember much of the walk back, but I do know that F had been worried, once we got there. Annoyed that we'd been gone so long. She sort of whisked you away, and I wandered back into the party, not knowing what to do with myself. And I walked into the kitchen and came upon Adele. She was kneeling on the floor, crying, blond hair hanging all in her face, trying to pick up some pictures and a letter on the ground. I saw that they had all fallen out of one of those magnetic photo frames made to go on your fridge -- the front had separated from the magnets, and everything had fallen to the floor. But she was crying too hard to pick it all up. So I helped her. They were pictures of you and her, and a letter she'd written you. I saw part of it. I didn't mean to, but I couldn't help it. And when I woke up Friday morning I remembered exactly what it said, but right now all I remember is that it was filled with longing for you, a kind of desperate, wild, innocent love. A naive love. I knew, reading it, that she had felt more for you than you had returned. But I also knew that you hadn't told her that. You had been lovers. But, somehow -- maybe because of my presence at the party? I was never sure, even in the dream -- she had just that night figured out that things weren't what she'd thought. You'd abandoned her. First for me, then for F. And she was devastated. She was crying so hard she couldn't speak. And when she did speak, it wasn't to thank me. She barely knew I was there. She was rambling about you, and about how she didn't understand. And suddenly I just had to get out of there. Because I hadn't even known, until I got to the party, that you *had* another lover. Much less one whose heart you'd broken.

I don't remember the rest of the dream. It ended shortly after that. I do know that I never saw you again. I think I wandered out of the house, by myself, and walked on the beach. Or maybe not. It's unclear.

But I remember, word for word, cursing that man. And I remember the pictures scattered on the floor, and the kneeling girl with her hair in her face, crying.

Work and the Sacred.
I got a raise.

There will be more to this post, more in keeping with its title. But right now, I'm procrastinating from the work I should be doing by writing it. So I'm going to stop. And leave it at ...

I got a raise.

Wow, does that feel good.

A Small Prayer
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine...
 I woke up today with hopelessness sitting on my chest like a cat. The cat would have been preferable.

May I remember that I live a blessed life. That I live in a world in which I have as much of whatever I want to eat as I wish, clean hot water on demand, vitamins, medicines, relief for even the smallest pain and, when that fails, support for the unrelievable greatest, access to knowledge at a keystroke, a library full of treasures, a house full of beautiful things and comfortable things and love. A wealth of friends. A family that believes in the good in this world. Magical technologies that make all of those people accessible, instantly, no matter how far away they are. Days unmarred by the violence of war or poverty. Air that smells like green things. 
May I remember that I will have survived to turn thirty very soon, despite the times I've almost died, because I live in an age and a class in which lifesaving surgeries are not just accessible, but commonplace. May I remember the people I love who did not survive, who never saw thirty, who can't wake up tomorrow and walk out into the beautiful world and be glad of it. May I remember that I live a life of wonder. May I remember that I live, which is itself a wonder.

Hopelessness, you have no place, here. I do not want your company. 

Help me remember.
Wild Geese

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Ghosts, Approaching Thirty

For Cameron, On Our Thirtieth Birthday

When I mourn you now
it is sudden,
like summer rain.
It clears quickly.
After, I'm grateful
to know I can still be pierced
by your stunning smile,  
enough to cry. 

What is it that survivors are doing here?
Awaiting the inconsolable dead?
They are not coming back,
they are not coming home,
I could stand by the pecan tree looking across the west field
with one hand shading my eyes 
every evening this summer, and I still wouldn't see
a long shadow limned into 
your impeccable stride
as you smiled at me, not hurrying.
The shade into which you have faded does not resolve into form,
into bright kernels of enamel and nerve,
into cheekbones like high shiny plates.
There is no light
where you're walking, your irises
will not gleam out like blades
from the gathering dusk
as you begin running, sure of your welcome.
Even if I set a table for you and filled it
with crabapples with dusty skins,
sliced white bread, 
Coke in glass bottles, 
golden jelly,
a shell dredged from the pluffmud, 
a ribbed strip of denim and pinking shears,
costume pearls, a handful of wheels
from toy cars, everything 
with the sandy Carolina clay in which it was buried 
before I dug it out of the last place I saw you
because I had nothing better to do, standing at sunset, waiting --

even then, you would not rush out of the light
with it gleaming on all your loveliest planes
because you are not here, you are 
long past my comfort
or the love of the
we had.


Alone, II.
Remember this, girl, and remember it well.  Remember it and drink it in and know it in the darkness inside your bones where your life is being remade, every second, every fraction of every second: you cannot depend on anyone else for your own happiness. You must, you must, you must, be able to make it for yourself. Anytime. Anywhere. Under any circumstances. At any moment. Period.

And at the moment, my happiness involves Bono and the Boss. Standing by me. Give it up, ladies and gentlemen. Some songs never grow old.

Is there a certain amount of irony in the fact that I'm listening to "Whenever you're in trouble, won't you stand, stand by me?" and thinking Remember that at any time the people you depend on may fail you? Remember, remember? 
Perhaps. Maybe a little.
Or maybe they're the same thought. Maybe we are always in relationship -- with the people in our lives, with the world, with ourselves. With all we know and all we love. And maybe the point is to remember that the nature of loving and trusting ourselves and this world involves trusting those relationships -- all of them. Including our relationship with ourself. With the innermost Self, that does not fail us, that will not leave, that is always waiting for us to ask for it, to turn toward it, waiting with great awareness, and immense love.

I do believe you can mostly depend on the people you love. Present mood aside, I do believe that, because if I didn't, I'd go insane. But I also believe that we are, all of us, human, and fallible, and wonderfully imperfect. And that if I don't know, in my bones, that when there is nowhere else to turn I may turn, again and again, to myself, for my own safety and comfort and love ... well. If I didn't know that, I'd be a little bit fucked right now, now wouldn't I?
Sigh. Still angry, apparently.
I'm trying for grace, here. Maybe I'm falling short. But in this anger, I'm trying for grace. And I'm trying, trying, trying to listen to the world with the old and wise and loving heart of me, the one that's a bit amused at this little tantrum I'm having myself right now. The one that says, "But, silly darling ... you're never alone. So what's the matter?"
So what is?

bliss and awe and pride
 pfenixwings  asks me:

As you look for work, don't forget about bliss -- and I know that's a cliche at this point. But seriously. Kneeling on the concrete, next to an industrial parking lot, playing an inanimate object to hand off a piece of electronics to an actor, I was awash in it. What utterly improbable circumstance gets you high, love? What could you do that might give you a bit of income that could get you closer to that?

Oh, thank you, love.  As usual ... exactly the right question.

Lovers of the Word
 (I'll tell you a story.)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was confused. It had no voice with which to speak, no hand with which to write. The unreceived Word believed itself unlovely, half itself. The Word was lonely.

It stood on a promontory it could not recognize above the void from which it came and made itself a question. The Word curved. Its grief strove toward the void; grief dissolved in tendrils toward the ground and became the ground, reached sightless and pulsing, deeper and deeper, reached for the small spaces between that would allow its unmaking.  But the Word grew, too. The Word's hot viscous heart flowed up through itself and gave itself a shape, a skin, a means by which to reach, and the more it reached the more it desired to keep reaching.  The Word wanted to hold itself.  It wanted to say its own name.  It grew breath.  It grew bone.    
And then the Word was not alone.

Don't you see? We were made to be the lovers of the Word.


China, Changing
 Where have I let myself get to, the last four years? Five? (God. Five years, almost, since I got back from China. Half this decade. Half of my relationship with Ralph. Five fucking years.)

I just found this, searching through old posts of mine on a board I used to frequent and had dropped away from, until recently. I pm'ed it to a friend of mine in March of 2006, and then promptly forgot about it. 

Five years ago.

Who am I, this girl who forgets about her own writing for half a decade? Who is that?

Pantoum for China, Changing

In China, the people sound like birds.
My voice is a clumsy, toneless thing.
I must trust my hands to say
everything for which I have no words.

My voice is a clumsy, toneless thing.
I think so much more than I can say.
Everything for which I have no words
feels restless inside, hatching.

I think, so much more than I can say,
that China's waiting hurries to its end.
It feels restless inside, hatching,
just about to leap and fly away.

China's waiting hurries to its end.
I must trust my hands to say
that in China, the people sound like birds
just about to leap, and fly away.


I wonder if this is when it began, this voicelessness of mine.  This repression of desire.  I wonder if I never got over the ways in which that year in China locked my heart in on itself.  It's quite a thing, to have spent a single year of such expansion in so many ways, and such brutal, crippling disconnection, in so many others.  If Ralph and I have gotten past that year, and I'm not convinced of that, then it's really only happened in the past six months.  

And meanwhile, then, what have I been saying to the nesting things in my heart? 

Wait, is it? Wait, wait, wait?

 "... forgive me, I forgot
what He, who great in gold ornament
sat as in the sun,
would have you know, you musing one;
space has bewildered me.
See: I am what is beginning,
but you are the Tree.

I spread my wings out and became
wonderfully wide;
now your small house overflows
with my great dress.
And still, you are so alone
you scarcely see me;

because I am a breath in the grove,
but you are the Tree.

The angels are all so full of fear,
letting go of one another;
never has longing been like this,
so undefined and great.
Perhaps something will happen soon
that you, in your dream, understand.
So be welcome. My soul sees this:
you are ready. You are ripe.
You are a gateway great and high
and you shall open soon ...

-from The Annunciation, Rainier Maria Rilke, The Book of Pictures, II.i.
-with apologies to the translation of M.D. Herter Norton. Translations from the Poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke. New York; The Norton Library, 1938.

I live in a small and lovely house that I have made smaller and less lovely by isolating myself within it, and it occurs to me, now, to wonder why.  For what have I been preparing, I wonder?  What is it I'm waiting for?

I'll say this once, and put it here, because there's nowhere else in this small house to be honest: I'm tired of waiting. Whatever it is I am here to know, I ask to be open to it. Because I have waited long enough.

I am ready. God help me, I am ready.


Log in