Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Devil You Know


I wonder if anyone would like to rent my life for a few months while I disappear. They could have it and all its amenities. They could borrow my heart and its failures and weaknesses. They could take a slow roll off the couch with my lover, feel that weak heart crumble. They could sit here under my cottonwood tree, sip tepid beer and pretend they were me. It would really be the same thing. A shell of me, with a pale heart beating beneath. Meanwhile the real me, the shadow me, would be off in Australia or Madagascar with no weighty heart to trouble me, living light, breathing all that free air rushing between my skeletal ribs, doing god knows what. Not worrying though. Never crying. I wouldn't be loving or lying or sad about anything. Just existing. Just being. And collecting rent from that sad sack who agreed to the deal.

I wrote the sad, defeated-sounding words above many months ago, during a winter that stretched out long and troublesome and cave-dark, when I dreamed endlessly of getting free. I did get free a few times but always returned to the deep freeze that is Alaska--seven months of numbing cold--and the entanglements of a love I couldn't let go of, no matter how many markers pointed to its circular tread in the wrong direction. I couldn't get it to come right, and I couldn't raise my thoughts above the darkness and cold. It was like drowning in sight of shore: there was help in sight, but I didn't know how to reach it. The numbness made me crazy, eventually; or was it genetics? Or the darkness? Or a deadly combination of all three? Psychiatry in all its wisdom believes I was crazy all along, but I have learned that doctors' opinions differ as widely as the doctors do.

Whatever the reason and whatever the wisdom or insanity behind it, I have decided to disappear before the dark hits again. I am even now engineering the disappearing act. With boxes and packing tape and Sharpies as my magician's tools, and sweeping the dust from corners that haven't seen daylight for over two years, I am growing smaller and smaller. My home is to become someone else's for the time being. My possessions are going to others because I no longer need them: I am discovering once again how little one needs when one becomes, essentially, a citizen of the world. Someone else will, indeed, sit under my cottonwood tree and sip whatever they desire; someone else will hold their lover on what will soon be their couch, their bed, in what used to be my room.

But they will not be me. No, I will be taking myself, and my faulty yet sturdy flesh-and-blood heart (not, after all, a pale shadow) along on the journey. We will not be going to Australia or Madagascar, not this time, but to Austin. We will ground ourselves there, find a home in the sun, a place to live and work while winter hurls itself at the North without us. I wonder secretly at times if I am getting too old for these magic tricks, but really, what are the options? Stay here and face certain insanity (or at least constant cold fingers and toes) on my own, or step out into the world again and face whatever waits for me in the sun. There will be others out there who, like me, want to be on the move. Certainly there will be a four-legged friend going along for the ride, and the two of us always manage to draw company (though he does most of the work).

I am afraid to go, that is true; but I'm more afraid to stay. Unlike the old English idiom, I don't believe in sticking with the devil I know. That devil has a poor sense of humor and a penchant for subzero temperatures, and I'm bored with fighting him. Bring on the strange devil, the new devil, the one who'll teach me the two-step and moan me the blues--and I will sing down his house. Or in the words of Ben Harper:

if you're gonna step
step on in
if you're gonna finish
you got to begin
don't you fear
what you don't know
just let that be 
your room to grow.





Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Farther

Physics tells us that the universe
is exploding.
All of its bodies grow inexorably
farther and farther from one another
at an increasing rate of speed.
Dark energy
unnamed
unknowable
hurls them apart.

One day someone will stand
on the surface of this planet
with her high-powered futuristic telescope
more badass than the Hubble
and look out and see no galaxies
no planets
no shooting stars.

She squints through its one infinite eye and spies
only blackness
only emptiness.
She believes she is alone.

Will that person,
that distant future astronomer,
remember an ancient time when there were nebulas?
When there were suns that warmed other worlds?
That all of it is still out there
unseen
reachable if only she knew it was there?

Or will she believe her own eyes?



KB © 8/7/2013

Friday, August 2, 2013

Among the Living


I learned the particular paranoia of the Alaskan driver when I was very young. My mother taught it to me. She told me to watch for moose while she drove--to help her scan the dark highway for their bulky, sudden, long-legged forms dashing out of the trees. You never knew when or where they would appear to kill you, and themselves: hapless kamikazes diving from the wilderness to take your life, or in some cases, turn you into a cripple or at best someone with a terrible, terrible story.

As a consequence of growing up here, drives through the pristine Alaskan wilderness have never been purely pleasant for me. I am always, somehow, expecting to die or be robbed of my legs. I have lost countless friends to the highway. I drive with my hands obediently at ten and two, my eyes too wide and jaw too tight. As a result I fatigue easily; I begin to look away from the road too often. I mess with the stereo, glance at my phone.

But I wasn't doing this tonight when I passed Hope Junction on the way to Kenai to visit my parents. My eyes were on the road. I was thinking about a disturbing dream I'd had last night, in which I was dancing with a spirit-man whose face was a handsome but gaunt death's-head. A grinning white Dracula-face, oversized for his graceful, narrow frame clothed in a silken black suit. I was drawn to this man, such a skilled dancer was he and so gentle, the way he embraced me and kept his hand at the small of my back. Soft, gauzy, parachute-like material drifted around us as we danced onstage in a dark theatre, with other actors around us. Suddenly, he tossed his parachute over my head and disappeared. I was left with the swirling fabric which bore the imprint of his face. I was a little distraught--to think that I had lost him--this mysterious man, this Death. I went looking for him. People tried to distract me, to fool me with look-alikes, but I wouldn't be fooled. I kept searching, moving through a surreal staged landscape, while furry creatures bounded around me and before me.

I never found him in the dream. But as I drove toward the Hope road tonight, I saw a single flare in the middle of the road. Taillights. A looming bulk blocking half the highway. I slowed. There were cars pulling over, stopping from both directions. Moving closer, I could see him for what he was: a giant bull, just dead (dying?--did I see his side jump? did I imagine that, in those wild moments?) Stretched out on his side in a horrible pose, he was longer than my truck. His furred, palmated antlers branched wide, his one eye that I could see was big and bright and reflected the sky; the lashes, I saw, were long and curled gently upwards, ferns around a still pool. His lips drew away from his square herbivorous teeth in agony or rictus; bright blood ran from there, onto the asphalt. No time to absorb the incongruity of that; Keep moving, my mind said--Get out of the way. I didn't stop to think that there had to be a very badly injured person nearby. I didn't stop to offer help. My mind was gone; it had disappeared into that one clear eye, into that agonized mouth, that pool of blood. I was officially useless.

I drove on for miles, after that. Ten and two, eyes wide, jaw tight. I didn't have another thought until I stopped at Summit Lake to take a photo of the sign that says "Please Drive Safely. In Memory Of ______" --the name of a dear friend who had died years ago in an accident at that spot.

Why is it that death sometimes seems like it wants to drive home a point? You are temporary, it snickers at us. Someday, you won't be driving along anymore, listening to The Shins, squinting into the sun and letting thoughts blow through your mind like summer breezes. You'll be dead as that moose. Dead dead dead. So? So what? Do with it what you will. That's the point death made to me today. Live like you are dying--whatever that means to you. Want to start working out more? Great. Want to eat more cheeseburgers? Get on it. Take your lover to Paris? Experience living in a new place, try something you've always been afraid to try? Go! Live before you're dead. An African proverb puts it like this: When death comes for you, may it find you among the living. 



KB © 8/1/2013



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tabula Rasa

Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.  --The Buddha


If desire is the author of suffering
then it has written its story on our skins
with knives stolen from the devil's table.
Its hands are sticky with the mess it has
made of us, and the circles we tread 
in the bare dirt of its prison yard 
are deep and endless.

And will we learn to let it go
even as it tears through us
like an engine howling off the tracks
its singular blind headlight holding us
hypnotized, moths in its sway?

We will. 
We do, we learn it daily
as we learn, finally
that some things aren't meant to heal 
and that is all right.
It is all right to leave the wound open
to the sky and to the rain that comes
and washes away desire 
that bastard child of love
which is not love at all.

Letting go is love. 
Opening our eyes is love.

Let us leave the boneyard of desire
walk away from the endless circle 
and move out onto the path
which can barely be seen but yet is there
the path that goes in all directions
and only one direction: toward a single point
which has a single beginning--
today.


KB © 7/4/2013

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Universe University

"I do not intend to tiptoe through life, only to arrive safely at death." 

They say ("they" meaning the new teachers, the modern-day buddhas who write self-help books for the masses and whose words mean something for a year or two before being dropped for the next buddha)--they say we are each here to learn something, that we can ask the Universe for the knowledge we want and it will respond to our requests.  That we can even ask for the things we want--money, possessions, power, career success, love, family, physical and emotional health. We must believe we are going to receive these things, and then we will receive them, in spades.

But I think I screwed up somewhere. I've always believed--always known, somehow--that I was here on this earth to learn about love. Not how to get money, power, family etc. but how to love better, how to be a better person, how to lay aside the ego and give of myself.  Not just in romantic relationships but every relationship. So I asked the universe, years ago, for that: please, teach me about love. I thought I was humble then but I was just barely beginning to know what humility (humiliation?) was.

I might as well have said Please, Universe, teach me about excruciating, searing pain; teach me what it feels like to know loss, to know death, failure; to feel abandoned, shat upon and chopped into little bits. It's like asking for patience.  You don't magically become patient overnight. You learn patience through being pushed around, whined at, poked, bossed, sniveled to, vomited upon by your children and then asked to put on your best dress and serve dinner to your husband's direct supervisor. Whose salary you earn for pocket change. (I'm really glad I didn't ask for patience.)

Bottom line is, I think I'm changing my mind. These love lessons are bringing me down like a lion brings down a gazelle--they are tearing into my heart and brain and haunches and spinal cord in ways I never anticipated. And is the meagre payoff (more knowledge about love, ha!) really worth it, for a person who is certifiable several months out of the year anyway? So my proposal is this, Universe: that I switch life-lessons in midstream. Because if all those self-help books are right, I get to have anything I ask for. So my new request is this: I'd like to learn about humor. Yes--about laughter, and finding the funny in everything. Like some kind of laughing saint, I want to learn about how great it is to yuck it up at absolutely anything, including and especially oneself. Show me the saintliness in sarcasm, the holiness in howling with tears of comedy at my own mishaps. That's right--I want to learn about laughing my arse off when my life goes drastically, insanely off the tracks. Why not? Here I am, a person who has always detested routine, bound to a daily ritual of pill-taking, early bedtimes, early wake-times, forbidden alcohol or caffeine (if I want to be healthy--and I don't, not always) or sugar (sugar--!). In essence, asked not to fully live, but admonished against committing suicide. Is my life going to go off the tracks on occasion under this sort of regime, out of sheer rebellion? Yes--resoundingly, yes. If that's not funny, what is?

My reasons for the switch in life lessons, natch, are completely selfish. Because disappointments and failures in love (for anyone, but let me wax narcissistic here, again--surprised?) for a bipolar person are particularly excruciating.  We take everything to extremes. Everything is very, very important; very, very passionately and deeply felt and meaningful and powerful and when we make a decision (such as to be, or not be, with someone) it is fiercely defended up until the very moment where we (just as passionately) change our minds about it. If we do. And I'm not saying we will; but we might. And unfortunately, we believe nobody has the right to get mad/hurt/upset at us for changing our minds about things. Well--that's where the love lessons get particularly searing; terrifying; even nightmarish, for all concerned. Bipolar people will turn inward and spiral into depression and suicidal ideation; they will spike up into mania and hurl themselves onto train tracks--or cut off their ears and mail them to their beloved; they will go numb as fear in the headlights and cease to respond to any stimuli, any helpfulness on the part of friends or family. They will die over complications of love more frequently than anything else. Love gone bad is worse for a BP individual than Stage 4 cancer.

Which is why I'm switching my life major at Universe University to Humor, beginning with Laughter 101. Laughter 101 is where you first begin to learn, when pain announces its throb at your very heart, to find something or someone that makes you smile. YouTube is a good place to start, until you can drag yourself out of the house. Ruminating over the past is not a good place to start, and will lower your grades in Laughter 101. The past is not where you live. And PS? Five minutes ago is the past, sucker--this is the present. Right now. No, now--get it? Go forward. Go into that unknown--where fear lives--one moment at a time, one present, laughing, irreverent moment at a time. Tell fear that you own this moment now; and this one, and this one. Tell fear to go kick rocks. Or as a friend just said to me today: "If you're going through hell, keep going." What have you got to lose? You're already in there. Might as well get up, get going, get through. And let hell's ears ring with the maniacal laughter on your lips.

Laughter 101, lesson 1

KB © 6/30/2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Wilding Night


Tonight the wind changed and I smelt the sea.
Salt tang and seaweed, fish brine and mudflats.
It smelt like freedom
like sails come undone, unfurled and
finally arching loose in a southbound wind.

There is a sweet bitterness in the air.
The trees are spreading and opening
and ripening into themselves, they
are speaking in whispers
like the things that people say
to one another beneath unfurled sheets on wilding
summer nights.

I crouch on the lawn and pee
next to the dog, who looks askance
amused perhaps at my intrusion
upon his nightly rounds of the hedge.
And there are strangers in cars
driving past unseeing
for at last it is dark out, it is dark
and this is my street and my yard
and my house so like a quiet ship
waiting to sail me into sleep.

Only the sound of the wind in the trees
with its bold and briny smell
fit to make a sailor blush; yes, only
the wind is here to see me off to bed
in my little house so like a ship under its own
half moon
on a wilding night in June.


KB © 6/29/2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Parallel

There is a parallel universe
on the other side of town
where you say you don't live
but still do.

When you leave my house
you fall into a time warp
and come out the other side
where there is a family
and there are sports
and schedules
and busy things to do
like save vicious dogs
and other families
and people you don't like
and people you do.
In your universe I do not exist.

Over here, in this universe, there is a house
that I clean and a bed that I make
because you have so quickly left it
and I can't stand to see the place
where your body has lain
next to mine
and I can't stand to be the woman
making the bed
and waiting for the phone to ring;
I was never that woman
before you were that man.
This is not the universe I want--
not the universe I created.
This is someone else's universe
and somehow
I must find the right one,
the one that is mine
and reclaim it
which means evicting the sad actress
who has somehow taken over my life.

Out with you, actress.
And you--you in the parallel universe
on the other side of town
with the busy family
and the thousand choices to make
which do not seem to include me
or this sweet house
or this messy bed
or this beautiful life--you
stay where you belong this time.

There is only room for one universe
on this side of town.


KB © 6/26/2013

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Drunken Monk

This is the power you don't know you possess:
to say
I am weary of this reality that I have created for myself
and for my next trick
I will slam-dunk it into the trash and create a new one.

This life I've carried around in my head
it is old
and I have lived it so many times
over and over
always following the same steps:
once this happens, then do that
and these predictable results will follow
a familiar pit in my stomach will result
or something, some part of me, will break
and have to be put back together by someone
I don't trust, don't understand how to love, and who
doesn't know how to love me
but we will lie to one another with the skill
acquired by years of practice.
This is not why I am here--to spend my days
tangled up in teary pillows and silly fights
or teary silly pillow fights
or fighting of any kind; look, there is so much
I could be learning that does not have to do
with tears or pillows!

Here is what a divinely drunken monk once told me:
No.
You must practice saying no
to the ones who say they love you
but only throw you back on spin cycle
washing your pillow cases and crying
the same old tears you cried
the last time you had that same old fight.
You must practice saying no
to your ego, who longs for love
and seeks it outside the realm of your own heart
outside the boundaries of your own skin.
Be comfortable in that skin
learn to wear it like it's yours
for who else lives there?

Make a new life inside your head.
Tell yourself you aren't a sad person
a bad person, a crazy person
and it will be so.

Say to yourself,
I am lovely. I am sweet
and full of the juicy goodness
that comes with a rich, beloved life
a life that is beautiful to behold and better
because it is filled with love, with well-earned joy
(and fewer pillow fights).
Turn your darkness into light
and your nightmares into friends;
find someone who loves you, and let that someone
be you.


KB © 6/9/2013


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cure

I dream of a cure.
One day I will wake
and not feel the weight of the infinite
yet somehow delicate paw-prints of gravity
making their way across the bed to settle
in their customary place upon my chest.
There will not be this unspeakable stone lodged
somewhere between my mouth and my lungs
so that breathing becomes an unnecessary chore.


KB © 6/5/2013

Saturday, May 25, 2013

India, Lesson One


Varanasi, India, March 2008


“The burning begins the learning.”  

I have come here, like all the other pilgrims, seeking something I lost so long ago my inner eye is beginning to forget its shape.  This is my first time in India, but I wind my way through the alleys of Varanasi like I’ve always lived here: dodging rickshaws, Brahma cattle, groups of shouting children, chai-wallahs, beggars and piles of dog shit. My limbic system thrums to the scent of fresh naan, aloo and incense, mingled with rotting bodies and human waste and pungent sweat.  I round a sudden corner and all of it fades to a background roar as I find myself brought to a halt on the banks of Mother Ganges. 

She is broad, dirty, green-backed.  The air around her is preternaturally still, the setting sun transformed to a supernova behind her.  There is no question that she rules this place. There is no question that she is old as the world; older than that. I am smitten, struck dumb, a child before her.

It happens that I have come to a halt near the burning ghats—the place where people bring their dying and their dead for cremation. In front of me are bodies, some still moving feebly, but most wrapped in cloth and waiting stiffly, silently, for their turn to enter the eternal flames.

Some say this fire has been burning since the beginning of the world: some say five thousand years; some say it is one and the same. It doesn’t matter what you believe—the fire, and the custom, are ancient. When your flesh burns away in this flame, your emancipated soul flies free—into nirvana—and the cycle of birth and death, of endless samskara, is broken. Such a soul gains enlightenment. Small wonder, then, that the paving stones that line the Ganges here are filled with the sick, the old, and the dying. All have come to seek the learning that begins with the burning.  All have come to give up the illusion that life ever belonged to them in the first place; that they were ever anything but love given form in which to dance. This is the end of the beginning.  This is the first day of school for the newly freed soul.  

The Ganges rolls on by, unperturbed, as she has for thousands of years. Body parts that refuse to burn--stubborn bones, bits of teeth--will be cast in, along with countless other nauseating detritus of human and animal waste. It seems barbaric to the Western mind: dirty! we are exhorted. Don't touch! But the people here don't just touch her; they bathe in her, baptize in her, wash away their sins with her warm, oily waters. Mother Ganges absorbs and expunges the hurts and wrongs, the evils and pains and worries of the many.

Strange, to imagine that filth can wash away filth.  Strange, to believe that ashes can birth a new soul.  From the old, the begrimed and the defunct the soul rises daily, renewed, no matter the state of the body it leaves behind. This is the beauty in decay.  This is the jewel in the crown of death.

Daily life in Varanasi tumbles on, its chaos and delight, its smells and sounds threading through the rising smoke, ash and incense. Life and death, inextricably bound together, meet here on the banks of the river of time itself. I walk its shallows. I soak in its meaning. I add my own words to its endless story.  




Thursday, May 23, 2013

Smoke



tonight I am driving
through a memory of rain
and stale cigarette smoke 
in the bar where your words crumbled
to ashes in the drink I never finished

this old restlessness still tracking me
(the highway falling behind
rhythmic, endless
a decision already made) even now
after all these years without you

and my memory is this: you
standing in the rain at my door
damp, unshaven; and I, leaning out for a kiss
knowing all too well the bittersweet taste
of old smoke and promises


KB © 5/22/2013

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Elegy


I imagine you went willing, with a gasp--
astonished? That one last breath--
were you about to laugh? to weep?
No; it wasn't fear that caught you then.
You opened your mouth to let god take a bite of you.

That's what you were here for, nomad:
you knew better than anyone
you weren't bound to stay.
Just a barnstormer passing through, touching down
to explore, to love, to laugh, to ache
to be eaten by life
bite by bite until you were so big
you had to go back to the universe.

There you will live in god's belly
deep in the galaxies and nebulas you came from
you will swing from the silk of Indra's Net
a lovely pearl reflecting all that is
all that was
and all that comes to pass.

There you will bathe yourself
in the light of the impossible
and a smile will stretch you wide
enough to swallow doubt's shadows whole.
It is your turn now; unfurl the mystery for yourself
meet the mystics and the saints
dance with sinners and hypocrites,
feast with gods and heroes.

In this life I have mourned you
mourned the self I was
learned my way around the hole that bears
your shape, a place that breathes your name
no matter how many years go by
no matter how I pull at the silk of Indra's skirt to catch
you in my dreams
or reach to touch your face
with these earthen fingers.


KB © 5/17/2013


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

the penitent


“For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for
Most.”

Hafiz



it is the simplest
and also the most difficult
the most reverential thing you will ever do:
admit you were wrong
fall on your knees and cry out: 'i have sinned'
not for the deeds you have done but
for the imperfect way in which
you have done them.

if you were a better person
say, the buddha--or mahatma--
if you were christ himself, a peaceful warrior
whose life was a candle flame of love
well then maybe you wouldn't have fucked it up
to quite the monumental proportions that you did
but you're not the christ, you're not siddhartha
hollowing his cheeks beneath the bodhi tree awaiting
the vision that was soon to come.

no, in the end you are just you
making an admission: i fucked it up
and i'm sorry about that, i'm sorry i didn't do better
that i wasn't a bigger person back then;
i didn't even know there was a bodhi tree and if i had
i'd have chopped the damn thing down: that's
the kind of person i've been.
but now
i know better; i know something about love
and love is not what i was doing
though i thought it was--i was sincere,
if sincerely, absolutely, fantastically wrong.

and it's not like it gets better after you admit
you're an asshole--not if you've confessed
to the catholics or the fundamentalists, devil
might as well have you if that's what you've done--
because sure as hell
you find yourself alone before almighty god
the one you'd been hoping didn't exist.
you know the one, the old-style god whose face
must be covered by the wings of seraphim
so that you will not be roasted to bacon bits
just for daring to stand before him and plead your case:
o god, o most terrible and sacred and ancient of days
please dear god, give me one more chance
before you throw me in that lake of fire, just once
to do something that resembles goodness
that resembles the kind of love
i came to this life to learn.

you might even throw in a prayer to god's mom:
mother of god, you think to yourself--
you're his ma, maybe you can plead my case--
maybe you can make him less of a bully.
jesus, mary and joseph
cut us a break, will you, won't you, please
show us a little mercy?
good for you if you can get some--
that sweet milk of understanding, those honey-lipped
words of forgiveness--without the slap of the caveat:
forgave you this once, next time
it's the lake of eternal fire for you, buddy
so mind your p's and q's and study the Word,
that's right--the capital Word.

in the end it seems better to go back to square one
which in this case looks a lot like
a bodhi tree with a very skinny man sitting
quietly in meditation, waiting on a vision
waiting on the next thing
maybe waiting for christ to stroll up the path
and join him for a pot of rice.
waiting with the patience of a god who knows
all is not always lost;
mercy is always and ever available to those
who have nothing else to fall back on
who are here to learn about love
no matter that they've fucked it up
over and over, so many samsaras and second chances
so much karma wrung from the eyes of their hearts
that it seems a river must flow deep enough
to water this bodhi tree for centuries
which is never too long to wait
once you have been forgiven.


KB © 5/13/2013


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Never Dreamed

Could I forget
even momentarily?
Could I look at my own eyes
touch my skin
search my fingertips for traces
and not see you?

--Noel Ganter




From those who have
been given much
much will be asked

Forgive me--I never dreamed
I would be asked
for this

In giving you up
I sacrifice myself--like Abraham
a price I never thought to pay



KB © 5/11/2013





Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Feud


"The highest form of love is to be
the protector of another person's solitude." 
--Rainer Maria Rilke


Bullshit, Rilke; I'm sorry old chap but really--
protecting the solitude! of anyone!--that is their own,
that is their first and best lesson. You
must let them protect themselves.

In loving someone you will enter them
and they will enter you; intimacy demands this
or be evicted from love's province.
There are invitations
and consequences; deep hurts exposed and
mistakes made and forgiveness offered.
Such are love's conditions.

The highest form of love is a dance
and the best dancers are those who give
with grace: Yes, my darling, turn to me here
and I will open a space for you there.
Stumble, dear, and I will catch you;
lay bare your most vulnerable parts
and I will shield them from the eyes of the world.

If you fail in this, you fail in love--no matter
how much you may guard that person's solitude;
no matter how fiercely you defend her freeholder's rights
for a lover alone builds a battlement, eventually
against your most tender endearments.
She forgets how to dance with any but herself
these halting, solitary, loveless steps
that lead to the edge of alone: this single set of prints
disappearing into soft gray solitude.


KB ©5/7/13






Sunday, April 28, 2013

Flying Lessons


Struggle.
Don't think for a moment that
you weren't born for this.
Struggle to bear up the canvas of this cumbersome life
feathered and scarred, weighty with the ache of bone.
This craft was meant for flight
but plunges earthward
in a dangerous dance with gravity; haul
on the ropes and pulleys, pray for wind
feed it slack then muscle in some tension
and keep the lovely cursed thing aloft.
You must. Do you see that blackness
on the horizon?
It is coming for you--but only there
can be found the silver lining
only there can you learn to fly.

Like Icarus, you have boundaries
that others impose; like him, you are alone
and must remember, always remember
that to reach too high--to soar the heights that beckon you
and bathe you in golden light--
this is death; exhilarating, enticing, maddening, glorious death.
No, you must struggle. You will never make peace
with the darkness, never know the silver lining
unless you struggle.
You will never learn to fly
unless you learn to stay alive.  Death
is a prize you must earn;
these others will teach you
they will tell you what to eat and when
what not to drink and why
what pills to take and which drugs to avoid
they will give you a bedtime and you must sleep then;
and all of these are flying instructions.

For you must fly this craft--
doesn't matter if you fly it well
but the thing needs a pilot and
if it isn't you
it will be these other people
and you will wish to the bottom of yourself
that you hadn't let go of the controls.
Because you'll want that silver lining.
You will want that black cloud.
You will want to live there,
because it is yours, it is your home, your life
your unwieldy craft to fly
your scarred skin, your heavy aching bones,
your brain that plays tricks on itself
and yet brings you in for a landing, one day,
with the sun still overhead, untouched,
and you here on earth, scorched but alive.
Come home, Icarus. Let your feet
touch the earth, for a time
before you seek the sky again.



KB © 4/27/2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Night Life

Back then we had begun to be like two trees
whose roots had intertwined
and grown together
so that you could not tell one from the other.

At night our limbs would reach and tangle
twisting together, pulling apart
in dream-winds that rattled the bed and
sent the covers sighing to the floor.

We ran through night woods turning over
giant leaves to look for sleeping dragons
and by the faint light of stars we found still pools
where tigers' eyes met and merged.

It doesn't matter now that you sleep down the road
or across town in another person's bed; or,
it matters to parts of me that have no meaning
at night, when they are shut down

and other parts of me are lit up like neon trees:
dendrites, neurons, cingulate gyrus, amygdala.
They reach and sway, they shift and murmur
their branches moving with the electrical storm

while the rest of me lies heavy, stilled and waveless
pinned like an endangered butterfly under glass.
Only my toe-tips and fingerprints dare
to reach for yours, fluttering across the empty sheets

lips treading the desert of the pillowcase and finding
that ever-present animal, grief, there to comfort me
with what sustenance it has: tears enough
for the morning, water laced with the lovely

tales of the night life, which is, I see now
mine and mine alone.



KB © 4/3/2013





Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fear, Love, and a Batshit Goddess


One foot in heaven and
one on earth
Goddess of balance and Mother of the Sun
here stands Isis barely breathing
her lovely face whipped with shock
bathed in the blood of her love
her immortal mind slowly going dark.

For all her sovereignty it didn't matter
in the end it was fear, not love
it was jealousy, not courage tore Osiris
and flung him fourteen ways from sunrise.
Goddess she is but she weeps
as mortals do, sorrowing like the damned
her mouth a howling tempest that rages down the sky
floods the Nile and tears the earth into canyonlands.
She spends her tears and then comes
the inevitable fury: Heaven beware.

When Isis goes, she goes out insane
she goes out raging
she goes out mad as a thousand seraphim.
She follows her love down into death
she follows him down into the darkness
she follows him down into the place where nightmares
are birthed, nursed, given their names.

There are daemons dancing and drumming
there are fires that have burned since Time was born;
Isis flares her nostrils, tosses her head
strides through Hell gathering together
all she can of Osiris: his beautiful ravaged form
plucked from the mouths of dragons and devils
dredged from the river of death and torn
with bitter courage from the Tree of Knowledge.
She will have her Osiris, her forbidden love;
he will live, after all--Isis wills it--
the madness of love wills it
and when love goes mad, fear must bow.

The missing piece is all that remains, and here
let jealousy have its grinning prize
its petty macabre jiggling frenzy of a dance
for it will soon end; Isis, crafty bitch,
has created her own instrument of pleasure
and from it will bear Osiris' seed.
Did ever a more powerful woman exist?
And if she did, would Isis not welcome her
with open arms?

Osiris gazes on his love with eyes freshly
plucked from the eternal fires.  He is a wise god.
There are, strangely, no longer any jealous bones in his body
no false pride in his heart so newly pieced together
no domineering desire to shackle Isis to a hearth.  He bows
his head to rule the unruly Underworld
commanding those daemons and devils
keeping the Hellfires burning--and guarding
that ever-tempting Tree from prying human hands.

All things are most well; most imperfectly well
which is all the gods can ever promise.
Isis glows above, her belly soft and round
once again singing heaven and earth into harmony
once again leading the Sun along his path
her madness in check, her love ruling her fear.
When night comes and she softens to lone Moonlight,
Isis puts her hand to her mouth and whispers
secretly, softly to herself
a poem Hafiz once gave her:

Even after all this time,
the sun never says to the earth,
"You owe me."
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.





KB © 3/29/2013









Sunday, March 24, 2013

Alchemy


You, he growls
you unbound
unlawful beauty
his eyes rolling with something
that looks like rage but isn't.

He touches me, calls me
rough but loving names: pagan angel,
pillow-biter, naked savage.
He watches me like I am the
only woman he has ever seen.

What is it I find there? in his eyes
he keeps lidded and hid?
You hellbound beast, he says
with hoarse affection
(for he loves me in his way)

but I am too far gone to care where
he thinks I am going, the heights
are already in sight
he will take me there or I
will ride him there myself

pushing the white pony onward
unlawful unbound
wings starting now to spread--
pagan or not, no angel am I
astride him still in leather boots

and nothing else. Now begins the alchemy
of distilling all these things down
to one blinding white flash:
rage need want scent and sound
affection and a warm stranger's hand

and here it is at our fingertips--this brief
creation of one from two; this union
unconsecrated, unrecognized
taming the turmoil for these
fierce moments.

You, he pants
you gorgeous creature
you unrepeatable goddess--and then
we roll together into darkness
no rage, no fear, this animal trust.

And in sleep I am leaving, always leaving
a pagan angel after all
closing for now her far-seeing eyes
wrapped in flightless wings and
waiting on a paling, uncertain dawn.



KB © 3/24/2013








Saturday, March 23, 2013

Quell



“Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.” 
― W.H. Auden, Selected Poems



Strange and unwanted miracle, this sudden slowing
of my thoughts from the speed of light (or
sound when I was quick enough
to get them on paper) to the speed
of water: gurgling and tumbling along
quick or slow, over rocks and roots, pulling
me along, giving me moments to rise for air
if it is daytime, or if at night
no time to rise at all
so that I have had to grow gills
and navigate my way through oceans
of dreams that make perfect sense until
I reach the next morning's shore.

But the nightmares are receding. I don't scream
anymore, don't thrash, and I am grateful
for now there is no one to wake me and tell me
it isn't real; that things are, after all, alright.
I have learned to do this for myself
--say, 'it is alright. It is not real--whatever it is
that terrifies you; it is not real.'

Sometimes I miss the speed of light.

I remember the grace in flight
I remember all possibilities rushing past as I fell
before I knew it for a fall--when I still believed
I could survive anything, even gravity
even the reins of my own existence
even the death of the god I worshiped back then
the one I believed could overcome anything.

I used to wonder if Icarus would take a second
flight if given the chance; if resurrected
from water and flame, his femurs unbroken
his spine put back together, piece by puzzle piece
his exploded heart
somehow un-scattered from the winds
and his magnificent wings granted their pinions 
would Icarus glance upward,
let his passion flame to life again?
Would he worship Love, that fierce god?

I know the answer now.  
When you hit that hard
you never catch your breath
you never quite get it back again.
I wonder what the psychs would tell Icarus
if he landed on their couch,
what sorts of drugs they'd prescribe
to make him forget
to quell the nightmares
to rein in his dreams toward something 
made less of fire and air
more of earth and water.

I grieve for him a little--think of him at night
before I go under the waves.
I don't glance upward too often these days
just go murmuring and tumbling, just
follow the thoughts and the flow 
just let things go
as they will and take it for what it is
this unwanted miracle
this diluted life that is, after all
still mine.


KB © 3/22/2013





Sunday, March 17, 2013

Surfacing

I surface without awakening to what sailors call a flat calm, windless, waveless; and what psychiatrists call a life-saving, Seroquel-induced sleep.  I have been dreaming, or am I still?  My love was in the room with me.  There were others too--trusted friends.  They had pulled their chairs close around the bed, and were playing cards, talking softly and laughing, waiting for me to wake.  Comforting voices.  

Sinking again, still struggling, longing for a breath of conscious air.  The surface is gummed with a rime of sleep--this is the drug's protective layer around my brain.  It's doing what it was meant to do, what I pray for it to do.  It is so thick I cannot break it, but I can see--I can hear.  He is here with me, or we are in another place, and he is walking fast and my heart is skipping to keep up.  He has bought us pizza, and in the way of dreams it's apple cinnamon pizza and we are off to the carnival to eat it on the ferris wheel.  I know the carnival, I built the place.  My Bengal tiger is there, and the manticore, and Isis and Rumi and a liger who reads Rushdie.  But a dangerous mix of relief and dread has entered the dream; my love is walking too fast.  He won't speak to me.  And again I am rising, fighting for the surface.  

I struggle against the cloying rime which is growing thinner now and, taking hold of the ropes and pulleys in this theatre of my drug-addled brain, I labor and grind alone until the massive curtain parts and one dazed eye opens. I am not on the ferris wheel; not skipping through the alleys of the carnival; I am lying face-up in bed, limbs sprawled.  But still I hear soft voices (those must be my friends, here to comfort me when I wake) and I feel the weight of him sitting next to me.  And here he is, bending to stroke my hair.  You alright?  Breathing better now?  

It lasts for a moment--a rush, a flood of relief--that all is well, I am not alone, I will not have to do this by myself today.  There will be companionate love, connection, someone to hold the other end of the rope.  And those soft voices in the background; I sink into their embrace.  Yes, I'm alright.  Everyone is here.

But it's not quite right and I know it, deep down where the drug hasn't quite managed to lull me.  I go back to the ropes and pulleys, go back through the motions (baby steps to the opening of the eyes, baby steps to getting out of bed) and haul back the curtains some more, and when the light comes in, reality hits.  There is no one in here but me, a messy bed and a peacefully sleeping beast of a dog who is certainly not playing cards or stroking my hair or joining me at the carnival.  

Baby steps over to the dog, where I weep into his hair in a ritual that, to him, has become simply part of his day.  

But now, after all, there is sunlight coming through the windows, and there is breakfast to be eaten and there are friends to be called and this is how I live, here at the surface, here on the lifeboat which, after all, is more crowded than I thought.  I will be grateful--I will choose to give thanks.


KB © 3/17/2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dickinson's Demon

Grief, that animal
baring its teeth at me
frightens nothing like it used to
its stripes and claws, its lifted lip
strike no fear, bring tears for company.
So many nights entwined with it
the taste of salt and sweat
the dirty hair, an unwashed cloying
odor that sticks
no matter how often
I roll it over in the bedclothes.
It is a matted old friend by now
bad breath, smothering paws and all.

But let it hear the lightest lying trill
the merest saccharine hint borne on an angel's fart
of that goddamn demon of Dickinson's--
"that sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all"
and witness the true nature of Grief:
its five-inch fangs and bloody spurs,
a face distorted beyond repair
eyes that spark with neither reason nor sanity
and deeper down, the spear that goads the beast:
Hope itself--that silly feathered thing that flutters
ever out of reach
taunting, refusing, abusing.

I think there was a story, once
where Grief and Hope lived in peace;
something about the beast's profound patience
and Hope learning to walk around on the earth
wings folded sagely, wisely one might say
making promises it could keep;
but in the end the thing with feathers
took one too many a fancy swoop.
I got myself a new downy pillow
and Grief and I are finding
it's much easier to sleep in these days.

KB © 3/11/13

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Root of the Root

Here is where it happens
here is where the action is
This locus I carry around all day
inside my own soul.

It's a carnival in here, only
none of the performers are trained and
most of them are of questionable origin;
certainly other carnivals wouldn't take the rest
even for a sideshow.

I don't mind.
I put the winged Bengal tiger in a tutu
and the lobster boy seems content
cracking tough cases for the FBI.

Our dragon is rather small, and when I discovered
she doesn't breathe fire
and has no interest in destroying small villages
I set her to work de-bugging the lake;
she does enjoy mosquitoes and flies.

There's a pygmy mammoth in our jungle but no elephants,
as they are out roaming the remnants of the last
wild lands they can find on the ravaged planet
and connecting them to one another with their
regal rumbling matriarchal tread.

There's a fat lady and a thin lady who argue a lot;
we have a two-headed fortune-teller who is 50% right.
We have a nocturnal desert manticore, and a liger who will not
under any circumstances, wear a tutu
but does favor scarves and has been taught to read.

Strange as it sounds, we don't take just anyone;
all beings must apply.  For instance
Cthulhu was denied after he killed the HR unicorn
(she was the Centaur's sweetheart; need I mention
the ensuing gory aftermath?)
We don't take vampires--too trendy--or zombies or hipsters.
Chupacabras need not apply, nor hellhounds
nor strongmen, ringmasters or lion tamers.

Goddesses are always welcome; Isis calls this home
and Osiris resides here with her in safety, although
the fat lady has been known to make a pass at him.
The poet Rumi visits with frequency, for there is nothing
he loves more than absurdity
and when he comes he has tea with Isis.
Of course we take mermaids and sirens
and the ocean is filled with monsters, whales and
that ever-intriguing creature, the relict coelacanth.

But the last, most recondite yet simplest being
is a cosmic mystery with many names
and only one meaning.
Of all the denizens that call my portable locus home
this one alone lives in the simple space at its very center.

It is a single point of light
always moving yet always fixed
dancing the dance it began before the beginning.
From it sprang all the creatures
in all their incomparability, here
for the sheer joy of being--
here because Love made it so.

I carry this carnival around inside
and on the bad days and the mad days
that point of light, that single point of Love
does its warming work at my center
and if I listen
(sshhhh--)
there is Isis, bearer of unimaginable pain
whispering encouragement; and there is Rumi
with that ever-present reminder:

"Come, return to the root of the root
of your own soul."




KB © 3/10/2013









Mixed

The beast in me
Has had to learn to live with pain
And how to shelter from the rain
And in the twinkling of an eye
Might have to be restrained
God help the beast in me

--Johnny Cash


the man in black knew about it
that restless raging sorrowful thing
that turns in circles at the core of some people
turning and turning, searching
for a place to lie down.

tonight mine will not let me rest
she wants to wander forgotten pathways
neurons and synapses long grown over.
she is up and growling and I know for certain
the beast isn't trained, isn't tame.

and it's just me and she in here
she wants what she wants and I can't give in:
drink, drugs, love all consumed
but she is never sated and I go hungry.
she prods me out of bed and I wander exhausted

but wild-eyed into the streets
dressed to kill, can't hold still
and there is music bumping and flowing
out of the clubs and the bars
lights of all colors pulsing off wet pavement

and here we are, suddenly, being fed
here we are, just what we needed
the beast and me
the beast in me--our brains cradled in stimuli
bathed in color bathed in sound.

on another night it might drive us mad but
look!--we are mad already and our
heartbeat only needed a matching one
fast and hard enough to shake our
already-shaken being.

we have found the answer somewhere in the middle
here where the lights turn red yellow green
there is noise: pounding music screeching of tires
and the Beast recedes, turning and turning
finally finds that place of rest.

she closes her eyes and I open mine
in time to see the sculpture--a work of art
a flower of a former car wrapped so subtly
around a streetlamp--have I not seen it before?
and I am a participant, wrists deftly caught behind.

and I think how lovely I must seem
reflected in a thousand flashing lights but nowhere
near as exquisite as that torn and fragile metal
and I wish the beast would awake to behold
the true wildness of the world
the savage artistry of the mind
god help us.


KB © 3/10/2013










Thursday, March 7, 2013

Prometheus

"the wound is the place where the Light enters you."
-Rumi


each day it takes another bite
and I willingly diminish
every day that I do not rise up
the dark bird wins

through slitted eyes I see it coming
those wings turning and churning
talons open then gripping then tearing 
beak bowed for another searing bite, just one, just enough
to leave shreds of memory behind

I greet it with arms upheld
stretched forth in chains
just a shade of myself pinned to the rock
where you betrayed me: this high, barren place
this magnificent view into madness

to think it was I who liberated the light
hijacked what should have been freely shared 
stole the precious gift in its singular 
brilliance and laid it at your feet 

to think it was I that gave the finger to the gods
I, this wreck, this heart-eaten bastard 
abandoned for my sins
who cannot now lift that same 
finger in self-defense or defiance

I track the sun across the sky 
and meditate on this: 
with each golden step it takes
my many wounds heal, going as dusk falls
and my eyes, always open, mark your fire in the night
till morning casts its shadows over my madness

it will be this way unless I choose otherwise
unless the bird and I come to some other arrangement.
but today I stand whole and healed and waiting
and now
comes a rising whisper from the east
a rustle of wingtips, the softest hint of pinions
borne on the dawn


KB © 3/7/2013






Wednesday, March 6, 2013

the dance


"except for the point
the still point
there would be no dance
and there is only the dance"

TS Eliot


six days
spent listening, at last
to the voices that do not mean
I am crazy

six days spent in stillness
at the center of alone
the noise turned down
so far down
till it merely whispers, suggests
but does not urge and does not shove

I still have eyes but they stay inside my head
ears but they do not strain for meaning
in the words that come to them--come
lightly, lovingly, no hidden intent

nurses bend close but do not touch
except with fingerprints light as angels'
their voices murmur when I ache, gloved hands
paw through vomit looking for pills I've lost
and must take again

sleep comes and brings no dreams
in this messy little nest
my fractured egg
my place of rebirth

six nights
spent listening, at last
to the center of myself
to the point, the still point
without which
there would not be this dance
this broken-legged jig, these tragic
comical skinned bones
this divine hell of
loving merely being
alive


KB 3/5/2013



Friday, January 4, 2013

Anthem


  
and yet, there is only
one great thing
the only thing:
to live to see in huts and on journeys
the great day that dawns
and the light that fills
the world

--inuit poem


all these words you use to describe
everyday things: snow and rain, wind
and kicked-up dust in the parking lot
where you met at the movie theater, the taste
of a heady cocktail in the early afternoon.
40 words for everything, maybe more;
every day a journey, relentless light
filling the world and drawing you
onward down that edgeless road you’ve
always known to follow.

each morning brings fresh dreams, spilling
over from the night oceans where you’ve swum
with your lovers, deep in the soul of everything
where words melt into gestures, meanings, breath and touch.
you rise from there, streaked with stars and
ready for the journey
ready to learn the words again.

one day it will be too much.  you will have
seen it all, learned all you want to know, taught
what you came to teach.  you will have loved—oh
you will have loved beyond yourself
poured your heart out onto stones, wrung it dry
and then poured out more.
there are more words for love than can be counted
and you will never stop learning this.

but one day the light that fills the world
will take you into itself.
do you see? so many times already, you
were almost gone
and something held you here, a word, a gesture
an unbroken silver thread.

but on that day there will finally be no words,
only the soul of everything
only the light filling the world
only the great day dawning, and you
yes you
your edges dissolving, borderless
dawning with it.




©KB
4/29/12