Author Archives: Pavithra K. Mehta

In My Right Mind

Golden Celebration — the name of the old-fashioned yellow rose bush planted in our backyard that I forgot to prune (again). Its long branches rise briefly, then curve gracefully and asymmetrically back to earth. At the end of an arching branch the first full blown rose of the season gleams against the ground. A meltingly delicate, ruffled, buttery soft and sun-kissed creation, brimming with a deliciously haunting fragrance. I hold it between my hands and it does something to my heart that I can’t quite explain. When I look at certain flowers I have the feeling that if all I did for the rest of my life was to look at flowers, my life would be well spent. 

It is possible to be ferreted out by a flower. Possible to be roused by  powerful fragility from the somnambulist ramble loosely called life. When I look at certain flowers, truly look at them, action loses its importance. Importance loses its importance, and words feel like so many small aliens traveling between us.  

When I look at certain flowers, and register their crushability combined with their candor, their utter lack of reserve, a helplessness takes hold of me. I am shaken by a force so honest, so gentle, it is mildly devastating. And I find myself at a loss. It is not just that I do not know how to respond. I do not even know what language to respond in. Everything I can say or do seems burlesque. A crude approximation of what is called for. 

What is called for is utter transparency. But in my heart are many darkened rooms. So much within me is still opaque. When I look at certain flowers I am freshly bewildered by things I thought I understood. Like shape and color, scent, and form, touch and texture. When I look at certain flowers I become aware of clutching scrappy labels. Labels that shoot like so many drunken arrows only to fall and sprawl on the grass missing that which they were meant to pin down. The experience of the flower. Orange poppy, yellow yarrow, crimson clover, red camellia, purple salvia, white jasmine. Looking at the flowers I recite their beautiful names. The syllables sound strangely wooden. And suddenly I too know the desperation of the lily pad floating in an emerald pond. Yearning to feel the pearly drops that rest on her waterproof skin. When I look at certain flowers I become aware of the flowerproof surface of clever mind.

Then I long to let knowing drop from me like autumn leaves. I long to stand as bare in my soul as the flowers stand in theirs. I want to be excavated from the tomb of my thinking, that I too might brim with the sisterhood of sunlight and air. 

At Spring’s conference I do not wish to be that person at the door who hands out rectangular name tags along with water bottles and forgettable folders. I want to be the starstruck scullery maid, who stands gaping behind the curtain. I want to be that dangerously impressionable, self-forgetful and dazzled. I want these moments to assume their proper mythical dimensions. So that I will never stop telling the story of these incoherent encounters. And when people start to wonder if I am in my right mind, that is when I will truly know. That I am. 

My Best Example

The sun is up, but my eyes are not open yet. The hand stroking my forehead is warm, tender, large and eloquent. Lapping my heart, a wave of the oceanic love I am held by. A love that bolsters me a thousand times a thousand times each day. That grows like wild grasses alongside the path of my life, brushing against me gently, even when my steps are hurried, even when my mind is unquiet. 

A greenly growing companionship, steadfast, alive, natural. As varied and unchanging as the sky above. A love that does not interrogate or demand. Radiant and effortlessly life-giving. Like the sun. It is at once my sanctuary, bedrock, ship of passage, a storehouse of stillness, a treasury of energy that dazzles and dazes, fills me with awe.  I did nothing to deserve it. How such largesse is given, so lightly into my flawed hands I do not know.

There was no vetting process. And never once, not even in the midst of my least pleasant moments, not even in the midst of my most unreasonable moods– has that love threatened retraction, has that love ever changed into the subtlest shade of not-quite-love. This love is a constant so unconditional it baffles the mind, blossoms the heart, calls forth the soul of my soul. I receive it as perpetually as lungs receive air. When I hold my breath I realize how much depends on it.

This love is my first definition, my best example, my dearest experience — of grace.

What More Is There Left To Say?

From 2012 or 2013

When the world began, there was a place for everything and everything was in its place. This meant one never, ever had to search for anything. Which sounds awfully convenient, and that is exactly what it was. Awfully. Convenient. In this impeccable order of things everything happened on a schedule. Serendipity, for instance got the 2pm slot on Tuesday afternoons (which meant of course that most people snoozed through it). Everything under the sun was reliable and tedious.

People soon began to devise little games for themselves to make things more interesting. To this end, they banished love to the rainforests and perched happiness high on a craggy mountain top. They left contentment in the middle of the sea and buried fulfillment somewhere in the desert. They also devised elaborate disguises of masks upon masks, until no one was quite sure of who they really were any more. 

All this activity spawned a dubious genre of writers, who began to write prolifically about how to discover oneself and locate true love, purpose, enlightenment and the like. Some of them actually knew what they were talking about, but most just made it up as they went along. This resulted, as you might expect, in many millennia of misunderstandings, wild goose chases and general confusion. 

Meanwhile love got lonely in the rainforest and happiness suffered vertigo on the mountaintop. Contentment  never quite found its sea legs and fulfillment grew claustrophobic underground. So they all crept back home eventually, furtively and unannounced. With spare keys they let themselves back into the chambers of the human heart, took up their old residence with sweet sighs of relief. Their return went unnoticed. 

Each person, by this time, was consumed with his or her own seeking. They were off plowing through rainforests, scaling mountain ranges, leading deep sea diving expeditions and caravanning through the deserts in search of that which had already come home. It was at this juncture that irony entered the world.

Very soon technology began to serve as a substitute for that which was hard to find. When real satisfaction could not be located, humanity consoled itself with the wonders of a GPS that could always be relied on to pull up directions to the nearest coffee shop. Tweets began to stand in for conversation and communion. In the midst of all the frenzied seeking, who had time for more than byte-sized helpings of relationship and reality? People searching for answers to life’s Big Questions began to turn increasingly to Google (who, it must be admitted, on average has a faster response rate than most Higher Powers).

And so the years rolled on, wave upon wave. People’s lives got bigger, brighter, faster, higher. An unfathomable number of ice cream flavors appeared in the market. And yet underneath the frenetic pace, glittering exterior and the availability of all that ice cream, people were more tired, frightened and lonely than they had ever been since the dawn of history. And every so often one of them would grow so sick and tired of the whole charade, that she or he would throw in the towel. They would shut off their cell phones and turn away from the screen. They would stop talking and tweeting and shopping and seeking and fall back suddenly and sweetly into the skin of their skin.

And love would rush over then to greet them at the core. Happiness would put on the kettle, contentment would tend the hearth, and fulfillment would begin to sing.

And what more is there left to say?

Either Or

Some people are capable of loving life and literature at the same time she said. But as it happens I’m not one of them. I only read when I am on particularly bad terms with reality.

St. Kevin and the Blackbird

by Seamus Heaney

St. Kevin and the Blackbird

And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so

One turned up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.


And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love’s deep river,
‘To labor and not to seek reward,’ he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.

— Seamus Heaney


Notes from 2014

How achingly lovely is this poem?

It’s based on an old Irish legend that Heaney retells to perfection. The vivid imagery of the first section holds you hostage. You are captive in the cramped cell of this verse with its kneeling saint, its window, and that single upturned palm. Then the arrival of the bird!

Hard to read these lines and keep your hands from tingling. Such a precise description that for a moment it is the reader’s hand that cradles the nesting bird. It is the reader who has with the arrival of this winged legend, been linked into “the network of eternal life” [what a stately phrase.] Then the birth of an astonishing commitment, so casually announced: “Until the young are hatched, and fledged and flown.” The exacting implications and plainness of the vow confuse the reader, and require a moment to recover from. How thoughtful Heaney’s placement of that starry asterisk * A beat, in which to find the ground again.

And how masterfully the storyteller shifts the tone directly after. Lifting the curtain to tease out the truth that lurks beneath the mythical. Introducing the paradox of seeking out the real in the realm of the imagination. We must try to put ourselves in the skin of the saint. And doing this, are shown a fork in the road — does our inhabitation of the holy introduce our rickety mortality to the saint, or does it elevate us into his transcendent experience? Heaney gives us both possibilities to live. And how.

He gives us the sore forearms and the suffering knees. He gives us too, the numb lostness, the creep of the underearth. We, in all our unsaintliness, know exactly what this feels like. Because while we may have never incubated blackbird’s eggs in the hollow of our palms, it is still given to us to extrapolate. We know what it is to have pins-and-needles.

“Is there distance in his head?” And again the poem makes a beautifully abrupt turn. From the physical to the metaphysical. A question that places distance like an object as a possibility in someone’s head. And the beauty of it is that we know instinctively what that means. To feel the stretch of miles in the mind. The spaciousness that can sometimes be stumbled into. “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…” said Shakespeare’s Hamlet [only to conclude that sentiment with the brilliant, mortal confession,”…were it not that I have bad dreams.“]

But Kevin’s dreams are cloudless. His heart mirrored undistorted in love’s river. His prayer unsullied and transparent, “To labor and not to seek reward.” The timeless essence of the Gita reborn on the lips of an Irish saint. An un-compartmentalized aspiration, issued not from lips or mind, but the wholeness of his being.

And then those bewitching last lines–

“For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.”

And we standing in our own skin full of mistakes and memories and self, we experience what the poet relies on us to experience. We experience what St. Kevin in his transcendent oblivion cannot: The resplendence of our forgetfulness. The forgetfulness that is at once and always too, our ultimate remembrance.


Heaney reading his poem


Some days she can’t tell

If she feels good or bad,

Like questionable milk,

It’s unclear if she’s turned.

The Coherence of Pigeons

From a bygone corridor of 2013, excerpted from a letter to S. The Goddess of Twine & Doing Things Slowly

Coherence. The word has been repeating itself in my head the past several days. A word fashioned like a slender brass key. Capable of unlocking life’s secrets. From Merriam Webster, [isn’t that a beautiful name? Merriam, whose last name is Webster. If she were a person would she be bookish? A librarian? With a hair bun, wire rimmed spectacles and a beautifully modulated speaking voice?] from Merriam Webster comes this definition of coherence : the quality or state of cohering: as a : systematic or logical connection or consistency b : integration of diverse elements, relationships, or values. 

Oh to possess that state! That quality of integration. To be able to hold out your palm like a sorceress and draw in the desperately disparate aspects of a life, to weld and wield that energy like a laser. Directable light. To make meaning out of chaos. To weave cogency and plot out of the potency of a Jackson Pollock. To be able to toss your days like ingredients– bizarre, beautiful, stellar and unsavory– into life’s cauldron and like Macbeth’s weird witches, conjure up philosophy as invincible as any potion in a fairytale. An explanation of why you are here and what you are doing and how it matters. That is what we are looking for. Not the dollar store variety of happiness. Which is too plastic and mass produced a word. Too Made in China. However.

Most everyone still wants to be happy– or thinks they do. Everyone is madly mistaken. What we really want is not a happy life but a coherent one. One whose every part is in sync with the rest, is integrated, involved, intelligible. One whose every part knows its place. 

We make the tragic mistake of thinking this kind of knowing is at the same level as knowing the capitals of all the countries in the world. We memorize our names, our addresses, and the anthems of our alma maters. We plot out neatly, for forgettable strangers, at equally forgettable parties, the timeline of our lives. Leaving out everything that is of any real significance. We mistake the superficial and boring chronology of our lives for coherence. We use our resumes like alibis. Look! I was here! And then there! I did this! And then that! We are only dimly and occasionally aware (usually at unusual hours of the night) that we do not quite remember what we are trying so desperately to prove. Or to whom.

Perhaps this is what makes some people uncomfortable around pigeons. Pigeons will cock their beautiful heads to one side, and with bright orange halos around their black eyes, look directly into your soul. They will not pretend to be impressed by your bio-data. Name-dropping goes nowhere with them, and inserting casual hints of your upward mobility into the conversation is ill-advised. No person is more upwardly mobile than a pigeon. Also, they are not interested in your native place. Their curiosity tends in other directions.

For instance, in a world where pigeons are generally denounced for making a mess of things, [Look who’s talking! They might cry– if pigeons were as petty or argumentative as people,] they would like to know if you can perch on a window sill and observe life as they do (with no words, just plenty of billing and cooing). They would like to know if you like the refracted rainbows dancing in their necks and whether you will stick out yours for them. But most of all, what they would like to know is– have brought any breadcrumbs with you. Or anything really, to help nourish and sustain the lives that flutter alongside yours.

This Side of Eternity

One weekend they went to look at houses on the market, and she unexpectedly discovered an ability that she had not known she possessed. The ability to walk into a house for sale and sense if its last owner was living or not. Now in theory, this sounds like a faintly unpleasant if not downright morbid skill. Not nearly as amiable for instance, as the ability to knit argyle sweaters or play the ukulele. But in practice she found it to be an oddly sweet faculty. The soft crackling feeling that would settle around her shoulders like a magic cloak as she ran her hand across a tiled kitchen counter, felt a floorboard creak underfoot, or as she gazed out a bedroom window at the view someone had woken up to for sixty years. The feeling of being enveloped in a present absence. The sense of something or someone, both here and also not. Her husband smiled the first time she whispered the feeling to him. And then the real estate agent confirmed it. When this happened a second and third time he nodded his head thoughtfully. 

And she began to consider the things we leave behind in daily life, in daily ways, without deeply considering them. Only because most of us believe we can go back for things whenever we want to. But in the end that isn’t true is it? No one can go back. No matter how much they want to. No matter what they left behind. And what they leave behind are things. In the end, with things it’s not take it or leave it. It’s just — leave it. And this is what renders thingishness so precious– despite the bad rap it gets in lofty circles. Lofty circles tend to pride themselves on a preference for the intangible.

What they forget in their earnestness, she realized, is that life is the only place in the universe where we get to experience both. Granted when you are intangible you are invincible. But what is invincibility worth in a world without interruptions, inclement weather, innkeepers or inkfish? Invincibility without tangibility is redundant. Like sunscreen lotion in Plato’s cave.

When you are tangible you can harbor inklings, and intuitions, you can cock your head and listen to invisible music. When you are tangible it is given to you to dabble in the intangible. But when you are intangible your dabbling days are over. So are your days of dawdling, dueling and decorating cakes. And this may seem counter intuitive but — so are your days of doing nothing. When you are intangible doing nothing is no longer on the menu. Menus are no longer on the menu. So if you harbor a fondness for doodling, or a yearning for yodeling, if you are pining for pine-scented trails, have a passion for passionfruit, a hankering for pressed handkerchiefs, or just the simple desire to jump to a conclusion, fish for a compliment, forgive a trespass, retrieve your soul, or go salsa dancing at sunset, you would be well advised to press your advantage while you are tangible. Undertakings like undertakers work best on this side of eternity.

And remember, when it comes time to be intangible none of the thingishness comes with. Not the favorite brass lamp, or the flowering plum tree, not the love notes, not the lover, nor the long twilights of summer…This is not by any means a new thought. But it can be a shockingly new realization.

And all this being so, if that were you then, stepping with no feet, off the edge of this world, and into the nameless next–  wouldn’t you choose to float one last time at your bedroom window? And if you happened to find someone standing there with her eyes full of dreams– just as you used to– wouldn’t you find a way to tap her shoulder lightly? Wouldn’t you too want to remind someone, before you go, to cherish it all? This singular world of dreams, of views, of eyes and shoulders, of touch, and light.

Plaintive Ditty

When did the window say yes to the light 

and the door that was closed open wide?

Why do the sighs that wake me at night 

bring memories in with the tide? 

I wish I could walk without fearing, 

and learn to love without fail,

I wish all birds were immortal, 

that I could ride the wind like a sail,

There are times when I think I’m doing okay

there are times when I think that I’m not 

Would that I be more stable– able 

always to welcome my lot.

The Physics of Apologies

Some words are like Swiss army knives. Small enough to slip in your pocket, capable of unfolding in different ways– depending on whether you need to whittle a piece of birchwood, open a bottle, or tighten a screw. This makes them convenient– but also at times when context is unclear– confusing. A Swiss army knife on a camping trip is more readily understood, than a Swiss army knife going through airport security in your carry-on luggage.

Misunderstood Swiss army knives are typically confiscated. Misunderstood words however, will typically continue to travel through the world unchecked, trailing bafflement, umbrage, heartbreak, hilarity or fertile possibility in their wake. Unlike a misunderstood Swiss army knife a misunderstood word can accrue new capabilities. It can cause happy accidents, productive subversions– even poetry. Especially poetry.

Because whether you are a word or not, meaning more than one thing means you carry, at all times, simultaneous potentials. The potentials to be for instance, useful, problematic, transcendent, lyrical, loathsome, or some combination of the above. Perhaps this is the precise definition of what it means to be a person. And this brings me now, to the subject of apologies.

Because sorry is a Swiss army knife of a word. One whose roots lie in the old English, German and Dutch words for sorrow, suffering and sores. And just as one might wrangle mousse and meringues out of aquafaba, sorry can be whipped into a multiplicity of meanings. For practical purposes, humans must never leave home without it. Must carry it in their back pocket at all times (hermits and tyrants are exempt,)  for social emergencies. 

Sorry proves useful as a sincere expression of sympathy in the face of misfortune (I am sorry for the loss of your pet dung beetle), or as a pity-tinged declaration of compassion (I feel sorry for his poor wife). It can be an efficient way to communicate wretchedness (Bartholemew is in a sorry state), or indicate that an enterprise is entirely regrettable (The whole sorry business of growing up). But we reach for it most often and in daily ways, where lines have been crossed, hearts pricked or severely wounded, mischief or injury done. At such times it is employed as a hat-in-hand expression of contrition, “I’m sorry…” 

Not everyone knows how to properly use the bottle cap opener in a Swiss army knife. Not everyone knows how to properly use the word sorry in an apology. This makes the give and take of apologies, as a field of study– like that of two-toed sloths and blobfish– utterly fascinating.

I don’t remember her name. I do remember her small head sported two brown braids and a grown-up expression. We are standing under a large tree, and she is apologizing for recent meanness. I am five-years-old. This is my first time receiving an apology. Like the first bite of a rare tropical fruit, the experience is exotic. A sunburst suffusion of sweetness fills me in a way I did not know I was capable of being filled. The sting of injured pride eclipsed, I stand rapt, reluctant to let this moment end. So I say the only logical thing there is to say, “I didn’t hear you — what did you say?” 

She repeats the words. Her tone a tinge flatter this time- naturally. When an apology is well-delivered, requesting an encore is boorish. But I am spellbound, oblivious to protocol. Dazed and amazed at this new dynamic. I wish I could tell you this was my initiation into forgiveness. I wish I could say what riveted me, was encountering an in-born capacity for clemency. But I can’t. In truth what enchanted me was a heady, ill-understood sense of power. The glamorous feeling of being influential. And an innocent desire to ride the wave of that feeling. In feeling this way I was of course, fundamentally misinterpreting the energetics of it all. This is understandable because the physics of apologies is confusing. 

Sincerely admit to smallness and you do not shrink — you expand. The fact that we do not always rightly perceive this phenomenon perhaps accounts for some of our sloppiness. As a race humans are notably given to making apologies, and accomplished at making exceptionally bad ones. Variations on the theme abound. There is the seeming apology (I’m sorry you feel that way.) The churlish apology (Well, if it makes you feel better, I’m sorry.) The oblivious apology (No clue what I did, but I’m sorry.) The disguised-blame apology, (I’m sorry you did that,) the expectant apology (I’m sorry, and you should be sorry too.) The forced apology, the perfunctory apology, the relentless apology…each add their own flavors to this sorry stew. And where did it all begin?

Trace a person’s life all the way back to their origins and you may discover the why behind the who. Trace a word back to its beginning and you may catch a whiff of the why behind the what. Apology roots back to early 15th century Greek and Latin, apologia. The word denoted ‘a formal defense against an accusation.’ Yes. An apology in its heyday, was a form of argument, justification, or excuse. Not an expression of contrition, or regret, not an admission of wrong-doing, or a brave preamble to making amends. It was a mea not culpa stance. It isn’t entirely clear when or how the usage flipped. But regardless of timelines and reasons, when such contradictions wrestle within the life of the word itself, no wonder our apologies are muddled. 

But even in such muddied waters there dwells the rare possibility of soulful apology. You will know it when you feel the green fuse rising within you, a cleansing force that requires no calculation or strategy. You will know it when it blooms in another. Lotus-like, perfectly formed, held above all the swirling tumult of the past. Setting the air abuzz with the fragrance of freshly freed energy. 

You will know it by the breath you are no longer holding. The extra space you find to dance in. You will know it by the dawn-like dazzle of finding yourself a few steps closer, to home.