Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


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


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


“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


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
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


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


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

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

KB 3/5/2013