Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight


Friday, May 12, 2017

Sky Burial

The squirrel had died the day before, run down by one of the machines. Nobody did anything about her little corpse, mostly because the neighborhood animals had forgotten, over the years, how to deal with Death. They'd become nervous around it, numb to it, unlike their woodsy counterparts who knew to take it apart, piece by piece, and feed it back into the whole. In the woods, Death is another manifestation of life. It feeds life, becomes many new lives, becomes a hundred little resurrections for ants and birds and beetles and trees; it becomes the soil and the sunlight, meat for wasps and bees.

But not in the city. The body of the squirrel lay useless in the middle of the street, was hit by another machine so that its guts billowed from its mouth. And the birds of the neighborhood chattered to one another about how, soon, one of the humans would come like they always did and get the ugly thing and put it in a bag and take it away.

That, however, is not what happened. What happened instead is that an ancient priest, one of the old ones, looked down from on high and heeded the call of Death. He circled down the path of the wind, lower and lower, landed in the street, and stretched the shroud of his wings over the remains of the squirrel. And then he bowed his ancient, wrinkled head, as if in prayer, and began to eat.

Well! there goes the neighborhood! Jays and grackles and mockingbirds gathered in the trees. They just--could--not believe! Cries of pious rage came from the right-wingers: This is sacrilege! This is unholy! And quavering calls of outrage from the left-wingers: This is unsanitary! A violation of animal rights! And they all began to dive, one after another, at the priest as he stood, solid and huge and dark, performing the ancient rites with unhurried demeanor. He did not address their chattering; he did not fly away; he did not betray any irritation. He merely went about the sacred ritual of the Sky-Burial as if surrounded by serene, wide-open desert instead of a crowded, hostile city street.

There was nothing any of them could do. Death, despite all their chatter and politics and modern conveniences, could not be reversed. They had to watch as the corpse was transformed, bite by deliberate bite, into a solid mass of bone and blackness and leathered skin and feathered wing. And when it was done, the priest wiped his hooked beak and flexed his massive talons. He looked around him as if noticing the crowd for the first time.

"Someday I will come back for you," he said, and they all hushed, and pulled their heads into their downy little breasts where their hearts beat fast, fast. And with a mighty beating rush he shook the dust and blood from his wings and mounted the wind up, up, past the trees, past the roofs and power lines and still, up, past the thunderheads that boiled in the sun.

And he buried Death in the sky.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wilderness Elegy

When I die, don’t put me in the ground.
Prop me up and let me sit awhile
Among the trees in a northern forest
Where moose walk invisibly among willows
New-grown and smelling wild as heaven.

I could do no worse
Than the hollow trunk of a downed cottonwood
Against which I’ll recline, head thrown back
And mouth agape as if mid-snore.
I won’t bother anyone. Let me rot in peace
Sinking back into the ground until my skin
Sprouts a coating of moss.

Get the ravens to come and pluck my eyes and ears
And fly far and fast in the four directions:
I'll kiss this good old world goodbye
And say hello to the next one
Astride their night-black wings.

Tell the squirrels to come and nibble away
My fingerprints, erasing all traces of who I was
For I will not be needing them anymore.
Hear my last will and testament:
To be left in peace, here in the woods
Feeding myself to the wild.

Break out the oboe and call the wolves:
Tell them to take my ankles in their strong jaws
And sing while they eat my feet.
I cannot imagine a better place
For my worn-out soles and aching arches
Than their swift bellies as they go sliding
With a shadow’s ease among the black spruce
And pale peeling birch.

Rain will certainly come and fill my mouth
Making there a bath for wild birds
And a drinking-pool for moths
And bees and the long tongues of butterflies.
Perhaps flowers will grow where my smile once was:
Peony, poppy, iris, begonia.

But what is left for the great, wandering bear?
Will she want my heart? I can see her passing by
Stopping to sniff my face in its lichen shroud.
She places a paw upon my chest. Yes!
She will take my heart. It will go with her
Where she fishes for silver in the quick cold stream
And shout for joy when she strikes.

With my heart gone (that restless rhythm)
All is finally quiet.
There’s not much left, but what there is
The trees can have. Already they
Are soaking me up:
Drawing minerals from my bones
And water from my blood
While chickadees take my hair strand by strand.

What of my fingernails?
I surmise the wind will scatter them
With the sound of a mandolin played
By a happy idiot.
Here let the moose shake his antlers
In the branches of a yellowing alder
For the eulogy has ended
And the leaves are chanting their mantra:
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Where goes one, there go we all.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

god went mad

i climbed the mountain to talk with god
to ask him why he'd gone mad.
he was up there smoking hits of beauty
and playing with sacred geometry.
giving me a wink and a mutter
he drew patterns in the dust with his finger
then said he couldn't bear to see it wasted
and with a sweep of his robe erased it.