Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Monday, April 28, 2014

It Is Always Now

Today started out with a crying jag. I like to use the word "jag" because that's how it felt: jagged, sudden, an icicle in my guts. One minute I was okay and the next, my face was doing that thing where it feels like a mean person is pulling at your lips, distorting them, making your nose sting and your eyes well up. And then I was losing it in front of a group of people. Compassionate, loving people who were there to listen; but still, I felt like a jerk for bawling uncontrollably when I was sure they all had much worse problems than mine.

But you know what? They didn't have worse problems than mine; they just had different ones. Pain is relative, and personal, and subjective. I was bawling because I felt alone, and abandoned, and that's what people do sometimes when they feel abandoned: cry like babies and hope someone will hear. But some of the people in that room would have loved to be left alone, for just five minutes--the harried mother, the patient husband taking verbal abuse--they'd have traded places with me in a second. From the depths of your own pain, it can seem like none of the other humans really understand.

They do, though. After a very difficult day at work I came home still feeling isolated and misunderstood, to be greeted by a text from a friend who knew nothing about what I was going through. She just wanted to say hello. And that she loved me. And she sent me this:

It turns out that I can do "now." I can't do the past again and the future, honestly, doesn't look all that great. But Now, well, it's just me on the couch with a headache and some fresh tears and a little bit of hope. It's not comfortable, but it's doable. It's just a moment. I'm breathing into this moment--and this one--and this one. I still have to deal with tomorrow, but not Now. Now is filled with its own beauty, its own ache, it is filled with the love of a friend and the peaceful sleep of my dog at my feet. And I find that if I give thanks, then something out there--or in here--returns that gratitude with a quiet nod. It's enough for Now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


It's better to look at the sky than to live there. Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.    
Truman Capote 

They say bad things come in threes
but in the case of love I don't believe it
just a steady trend from bad to worse
lesson after excruciating lesson.

I paid a doctor to cure my love
but all he said was
Try to see the invisible
Look for the beauty in the world
that no one else perceives.
So I am lying on my back, gazing
into a hot Texas cauldron of clouds
looking for visions and hoping to erase you.
It seems to be working;
the clouds say many things but never
your name.

I see a deer lifting its head after
drinking, drops of sky falling from its muzzle
I see rabbits chasing a dragon's fiery form
and a salmon swallowing the sun.
Some shapes emerge more readily from the queendom
of my own imagination:
a heart slowly shredding in the wind
the spreading wing of a pterosaur*
a dog's ear flapping as if waving
from the sidecar of god's motorcycle.

They all come and go
shape-shifting like wizards
blending their furred outlines together to become
exactly what I want to see;
and I am reminded of the ways we tried
and failed time and again to soften our edges
to keep from damaging each other.

But in all the stories the clouds have to tell
I don't see your face
not once.
The face that was lasered into my brain
those fingertips whose prints
traversed the whole of me;
I can't see you
I don't feel you reaching for me.
It could be the person you were reaching for
was born in the kingdom
of your own imagination.

Maybe good things also come in threes:
our past with its indelible scars
the present which offers so much to forgive
my future that is wide as the sky
and peopled with souls who might
one day love me whether or not I soften
into a shape that doesn't bruise them.

KB ©4/23/14


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Death by Progress

Before I sat down to write this poem
I put on my cowgirl boots
and a straw hat
and a pink tutu bought at the vintage store
that was my favorite till it was closed down
to make room for more condos.
Some asshole built a castle on South Congress
overnight, it seems, which has nothing to do
with what I'm wearing and everything
to do with Austin's death by progress:
Farewell music town full of grit and legend
hello Disneyland.

Before I sat down to write this poem
I sipped a bit of Tito's graced with lime
and put on the album of an artist
nobody outside of here would recognize
in other words like most of the talent in this town
brilliant, unfettered, unknown.

All is not lost, I tell myself;
there are still moments when beauty glances out
an aging face reflected in vintage glass.
Afloat today on water so smooth and clear 
I could see the bottom 30 feet down
turtles rising for air then oaring away:
slow torpedoes aiming for sunken logs
their mossy shells belying any urgency.

Love lives here like it always has
weird, mad, wonderful love
bubbling up from the limestone
tattooed on the walls and bridges that make this place home:
Hi, how are you?
I love you so much.
Let's band together!
Love still tumbles in the too-crowded streets
from the doorways and open windows of rundown bars--
love of music, love of dance, love of love. 
You can screw up the two-step and no man will judge
most likely he will save you from yourself
take you in his arms and let you lean into him
for three or five minutes, the slow 
to medium tempo of eternity.

The hills around here are high on wine and Thoroughbreds
rich with the ghosts of Comanches and Rangers 
hunting each other down the cliffs and canyons,
heavy with that sweet summer heat so slow and lazy
one can almost forget what we're killing--
sucking up resources like we're god's only children
replacing them with junk and promises.
But ancient footprints left in river-bottoms
and fossils in the stones write that we are not the first
to have faced extinction in this place.

We are just the first to have faced it in this way:
by our own hands
on the wheels of our own fortune
selling ourselves piece by piece: 
the land, the music, the love
trading grit and legend for fake castles and pre-fab housing
water and trees for high-rises and hotels.

Someday someone will write a song about us
sung low like the devil's own blues 
a palindrome where end meets beginning;
I can hear it already, flung out wildly
and perfectly off-key, belted by a songstress
with a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice
who is just getting her start
in the last rundown bar in old Austin.

KB © 4/19/14

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lullaby for a Tiger

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp? 

William Blake (from Tyger! Tyger!)

I would like to have myself back
That jagged, obstinate inner self whose teeth
were something to be feared.

I would like to have myself back
and not this sense of sleepy disconnect
This brain smothered in plastic wrap that dulls
perception, that thwarts the electric haywire
of my thoughts, fills the deep troughs of melancholy
and shaves the tops off my highest mountains.

The drugs are a sludge that soften my sharp edges
and those were the edges that made me feel alive:
cut and bruised but alive. I could fly
from those edges to a vantage point never imagined
without the aid of insanity; could fall off them
into depths that darkened and drowned me.

But the sludge blurs, blends, turns down the noise.
Putting the drugs in my brain
is like putting pajamas on a tiger
tearing out its teeth and claws and swaddling the beast
in layers of pink fleece. Its heavy paws and howling mouth
stilled and silenced--a drowsy kitten, chirring for milk.

I would like to have myself back
That huge, roaring, hysterically laughing
unpredictably weeping self whose radar picked up
every nuance, every scrap of art and poetry from the world at large
and built a private universe from the remains.

I would like to have myself back
scars and stripes and broken bones and all
but I am choosing life, choosing a self
that will not self-destruct.
Putting the tiger to bed
until such time when tigers are needed
if that moment ever comes.

Sleep tight, beast.

KB © 4/14/2014