Category Archives: The Abstract

Pick a Pomegranate

Pick a pomegranate. One that cannot conceal its blush or merriment. One that is this close to bursting into ruby throated laughter. Let it sit in the nest of your palm like a flightless crimson bird heavy with gravity and hidden gifts. Call attention to that festive, sharp tipped calyx crown. Feel the shape of its ribs underneath the leathery red, roundness. A globe with subtle angles. Consider for a moment that these wonders grow on trees. On trees! Festooning them improbably as prima donna leaves pirouette into autumn mists. Great pouches filled with garnet gems. Yes — filled! 

Split open a pomegranate. See how its gleaming cargo spills. A jeweled honeycomb, dripping sweetness. Arils like tiny pendants, so many sun catchers clustered in a cavern. It is clear whoever packed these purses was unacquainted with the notion of scarcity. Whoever packed these purses was giving hand over fist from a mythic mother lode. Were we slightly less preoccupied by calendars and petty calculations we would be perpetually dumbstruck by the magnitude of this miracle. We would not rush past our unclaimed inheritance, but would stop instead and fill our pockets with lucky pennies. Dawn to dusk our footsteps would sing a coppery chorus.

But wait. You say I am mixing my metaphors. I have called this fruit a ship, a sack, a bird, a bequest, a cave, a mine, a honeyed hive, a carrier of crystal. To you I say, this fruit is the stuff of legends, and legends defy consistency. They traffic in transubstantiation. Straw will be spun into gold overnight, blood will birth flowers, at the wedding feast water will turn to wine. And so it is with the tumbling scarlet prosperity of the pomegranate. It will render you rich as an emperor if you let it. Quicker than a con-artist’s promise, and ever more lasting.

You will of course need a key. Something to spring the lock, something to cry out at the cave’s mouth that will conjure the boulders, roll them mightily out of your way. A sign that establishes your legitimacy and authenticates your claim. You do know what it is don’t you? Or maybe you don’t. In the stories the protagonist is always slow on the uptake. Always spends two-thirds of the tale wandering in desperation and self-doubt, before the kindness of strangers and tribulation-kindled insight reveal what was there all along. Then the wicked fairy’s one-hundred year spell collapses like a house of cards, the sword slips out of the stone, and the Earth greens with growing things again.

Is it still sitting in your palm? The pomegranate? A thing alive and almost electric with givenness? Look at it again. You can, but you don’t have to speak the words aloud. The feeling might perch in your eyes, gentle as mourning doves inhabited by a wondering, plaintive softness, even that is enough. Or maybe it rides into your chest and lifts the roof off your heart uncovering a canopy of stars and dizzying you for weeks. This works too. But if it must be sounded, then perhaps it vines into your throat and pulses forth a series of small buds amidst green tendrils. Bright flowers shaped like delicate trumpets. Then all you can say or sing amounts to the same thing:

A thousand times a thousand times — Thank You.

 


The Sixth Tree

A rambling and (very) tardy thank you to Maria Popova, curator of the incandescent corner of the internet we know as BrainPickings.

Dear Maria,

The first Spring after my husband fell seriously ill, I was taken by an intense desire to know the names of the flowers tumbling out of buds, scaling walls, and holding themselves around us like so many raised goblets to the sun. Until then I had been content to let them wave annually and anonymously at me as I paraded down the sunlit streets of my life like a (minor) celebrity. I tossed them a bright smile now and then before moving on to the next exciting thing around the corner. If someone had introduced them to me I feel certain their names would have lifted unnoticed out of my memory soon after, in the untraceable way noon lifts dew from grass.

Perhaps I had no use for their names because I was assured they knew mine. Why else would they crowd the pavements and turn such adoring faces my way? When one is known it seems less essential to acknowledge the unknown. We assume the right to remain unacquainted is the prerogative of fame. If all of you know me, I do not really need to know all of you. This is a dubious assumption. To be known is necessary, but not sufficient. One must also yearn to know. The bird for instance is known intimately by the sky, just as the dreaming water lily is known by the pond. But whether bird knows sky, or lily the rippling pond, or whether either knows the first thing about themselves, are questions that cannot be generalized, dependent as they are on the metaphysics of the specific bird and the specific lily in question.

When my husband was first diagnosed with an ill-understood condition, beauty in the world froze. No longer flowing and accessible, it turned rigid, impenetrable. Existing in a separate dimension. One I could still see but no longer touch– or be touched by. Such rapid relegation is disorienting. A bird banished from the sky must fall back on inner resources, must confront who and what he is without that blue embrace. But what does a bird do when he looks into the mirror and sees an abyss gazing back at him?

I was a newly exiled sovereign –but wait  — one must be true to the facts. My right to the throne had always been at best– ambiguous. I do not know by what means I came to be crowned. Was it by miracle or manipulation, by birthright or blessing? The confusion should have rendered me humble not entitled. No matter. What we do not learn quickly life will teach us slowly. Our obtuseness is no match for her patience. Whether you take the short cut or the scenic route your choices are the same. Be humble or be humbled.

Misfortune is a kind of magic, materializing trap doors under silken rugs, worming the fruit in plentiful orchards, turning the dog dozing by the fireplace into a fire-breathing dragon. It is also a key that turns darkly in a hidden passage, unlocking subterranean energies. The sun steals much of our attention when we think of growing things. But darkness is an imperative too as any seed will tell you. We deem misfortune as bad but what good myth ever came to life without it? The plot must thicken or why would anyone ever do anything vaguely heroic or evolutionary? But I digress.

The gates reopened slowly. As my husband stabilized by degrees I was allowed re-entry into the realm of beauty, able once again to touch and be touched by it. An erstwhile ruler returned as refugee. What is that old adage? Less is more? A one-time princess with a tumbled crown, wandering the sidewalks with nowhere but this moment to get to has time to pay attention. No longer the center of the story, she is at liberty to be curious, free to care in unconditioned ways. Perhaps this is why, the first Spring after my husband fell ill, I filled with an intense desire to know the names of all the flowers flooding the hills around us. I looked them up painstakingly after our rambles. How like spells they sounded to me! Incantatory names, simply to speak them was to enchant the air. Snowdrops, jonquils, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, lupins, buttercups, bearded irises…The unidentified ones haunted my dreams. Petalled presences that demanded to be known.

Perhaps when one has been freshly alienated from the familiar, names take on a primal importance. Recognition becomes an act of reclamation. Poppies, pansies, bleeding hearts, flowering acacia, foxtail, delphiniums, double tulips, violets, larkspur, periwinkle, plumbago, chrysanthemums, rock roses, asters, sweet pea, caped jessamine, ranunculus, amaryllis, alstroemeria…To be able to call out confidently to those around you when their faces, floral or otherwise, dance into view is a special kind of belonging. It means you are not a stranger.

Theories abound in the mind’s forest.

Perhaps, having glimpsed the ferocious fact of mortality– that sinuous black and gold striped reality that stalks us so relentlessly and is capable of pouncing when we are least prepared– perhaps having been so starkly reminded that we can only be here now and not forever– I am less able to dismiss the vast triumph of fleeting and exquisite forms of life. Every flower a victory of pure and simple existence. If I do not acknowledge her it is not the flower’s life that will be diminished. And now I realize that I have neglected to tell you about the trees…and the trees are my excuse to be writing you at all.

The first year of my husband’s illness we retreated into semi-solitude, seeing very few people beyond immediate family. How my heart ached with love and fear. It was a relief to focus on simple necessities– food, water, sleep, sunshine– we spent much of that time in our little bird’s nest of a home, perched on a hill with a tangled view of the valley and a peek-a-boo glimpse of the bay. I don’t remember exactly when it was that the trees began to press against the windowpane of my consciousness.

There were five of them — amongst the thousands beyond our door — who silently extended their guardianship — and a sixth who would make herself known a bit later. All five can be seen from our picture window, technically none of them are “our” trees, and all but one are some kind of pine– say I who know very little on the subject of pines– so take that piece of information with a grain– or ten– of salt. Unlike with the flowers, I was not consumed by a need to know the trees’ names– I simply gave them my own. They are rooted on other people’s properties. But between us there stretches a bond of belonging that goes deeper than possession.

First came Eldad Hagar — a stout-topped evergreen with the capable, no-nonsense air of a bodyguard, then Goldengrove a tall, slender maybe-birch who shimmers from green to gold to bare-fingered branches with ethereal grace. Next Piper Longhum, a spindly pine with a missing branch that makes her endearingly lopsided and hard to miss, then Gazeli, the tree who does not like to mingle and who sits high on a hillside above the fray, and finally Grindl the Good Pine who manages to be both slightly stooped and utterly regal in her bearing. She is a shaggy sorceress of a tree with a strong maternal streak. They are each endeared to me — and unaccountably I feel a sense of being endeared to, and also watched over, by each of them.

Of late I have been less attentive of my friends but they do not hold it against me. In that first year of my husband’s illness they were my pillars. I leaned on them every day with only a dim realization that I was doing so. But I have not told you of the sixth tree yet. The tree who it can be argued, inspired this lengthy missive to you.

She stands on the far edge of the horizon scanning it for riches. Stands with an emerald poise that conveys tender intelligence and strength. She is the farthest of “my” trees and in many ways the least familiar to me, but no less significant. Her role in our relationship is to convey the best of what she sees, to pass on glimpses of insight from other worlds and times. My role is to listen, and be willing to be lit by that which I listen to. The sixth tree is the well-placed curator of the blue beyond, and her name (of course) is Maria Popova.

For over three years I have been meaning to write and tell you of the tree I unofficially named after you. I even painted a tiny watercolor portrait of her to send your way with a handwritten letter of gratitude. Then in an absent-minded moment I penned a note on it for another friend, so it is in his keeping now. I am not a gifted painter, so do not mourn the mix up. Any image of the tree in your imagination is assuredly more splendid and representative of the living original than the one I actually created.

Thank you feels too small and flimsy a phrase for all that I want it to contain. So I will double bag it. Thank you, thank you for the work you found your way to –your books, your blog, and more– and for all that you do to delight, inform, spark and enliven the hearts and minds of so many readers. What you have created and continue to create word-by-word feels as alive, prolific, generous and generative as a rainforest.

Thank you for being one of my trees.

In joy and gratitude,

Pavi

 

 

 

 


Nobody, not even the rain

Listening is the least invasive of the senses
Touch the most needful of permission
Gazing has limits which exceeded
Test the bounds of politeness
Tasting on most occasions would incur scandal
Sniffing will almost always seem indelicate
But listening offends no one, pleases most
Endears the listener to the listened to
So would you seek to grow intimate and ocean deep
Contained of many creatures –then–
Prick your ears and still the urge to speak
Fall silent, fill with attendance to
The moment speaking
Take notes like a schoolgirl, forgive like
A mother, receive like the sky that cracks
Open at dawn–
Let not a whisper go unheeded
The voices you are most in need of
Will not break and enter–no–
So do not wait for bugles or trumpets
What you are listening for is tumbling
Towards you like scent of blossoms
On Spring breeze, rising within you like
A full moon and nobody–
Not even the rain
Has such soft feet.
Stop
Place your ear upon the ground of time
Feel the silence rumble
(Nearer than
Your next breath)
Listen!

Stream of Thought

She was sitting very still next to a silver stream and when she looked into it she saw her reflection. Clear eyes looked into clear eyes. And she wondered suddenly whether, when she rose and left, the memory of that face– her face– would still remain in the water. In a secret way she hoped it would. And she wondered then how many other faces had stopped at this silver stream to see themselves in its depths. And suddenly the face in the stream spoke up in a voice that was familiar because it was her own voice— only somehow like the stream—silvery.

And the voice said, “The stream cannot hold me forever because it is a stream and streams do not know the meaning of holding on and they do not know the meaning of forever.”

And she listened to this in some surprise (because you see she was a little unaccustomed to being addressed by her reflection) but when she had got over her surprise she nodded and said in a matter-of-fact kind of way, “ Yes you’re right. Silly me,” and she rose and walked away from the stream without a backward glance—which is why she did not see her reflection smiling after her.


Expiration Date

I found Fame in the cupboard–

Between baking soda and salt,

Her seal was yet unbroken,

Her Expiration Date at fault–

Or was it me?

 

Did I neglect this purchase

And let its worth grow stale?

Did I forfeit grand applause

While–opening the mail?

Tending traceless other tasks

Forgetting to put on my masks–

Has Golden Chance set sail?

 

If so I’ll gladly take the blame

And let this be my claim to fame—

I’d rather bake a cake — or two–

Than chase a Name.


How Do You Live In Your Days?

Do you live in your days like a forgotten ticket stub in someone’s jacket? As if the show were behind you? As if you went out one evening to watch your life, and decided halfway through that it wasn’t worth the price of admission.

Other things more interesting stole your attention, even though we’ve been told and told that all that glitters is not gold, we are so easily seduced by sparkle and the kind of food that fills our mouths but not our stomachs and never our souls.

How we gorge on the insubstantial, and substitute the vibrant, risky, full-bodied occupation of life with a weak-kneed, lukewarm stupor.

Do you live in your days like an unmarked bottle in the back of the fridge? A bottle that has been there so long that no one remembers what’s in it. Do you live in your days like a lone sock in the drawer whose match disappeared in the wash weeks or years ago.

Think. Think hard. What shape are you holding and in what container are you held? Those are not questions to be asked or answered lightly.

Live like the roar in the cave of the lion’s throat. Live like the mustard seed that is dropped into hot oil — ready to explode its flavor into everything. Like the wick in a candle. Flickering. Fierce. Alive.


Senti Mental

As a teenager I was once informed, and not unkindly, by a cousin whose earthly years tallied in the low single digits, that I was “a senti mental.” He split this four syllable word into two words of two syllables each, and pronounced each syllable as distinctly as only a born and bred South Indian can. Senn-ttii Menn-ttall. Taking into consideration his pronunciation, enunciation, and the general context of the conversation, I believe he believed the word (or in his usage, words) referred to less than sound faculties of mind. I recall the combination of confidence and concerned affection in his voice. It touched and amused me then as the memory still does now. I do not think it was an entirely misplaced diagnosis.

With that preamble, from sometime after the turn of the millennium — a decidedly Senti Mental somewhat poem.

and this time
i know
will fade–like the memory of winter
(like the clichéd memory of winter)
when Spring is come.

and when you are arrived
(like that soulsweetseason)
with leaftipped promises
of blossoms and bliss
with brightlipped promises
of–

i shall recall with the
faint bewilderment
of the backward glance

days that were
longand

difficultand

dark

but–

i will not
be able

to summon
this current sensation

this current
current of
sensation–

of
being
cold

coldcoldcold

(and old)

of being
not so much

alone

as–

(only.)

everything that now insists
on its separate

sadness–

the dawn ritual
of heartache-
regular
rehearsed.
a line-perfect

pang.

faking-a-waking.

the swiftsighs swallowed
like small stones
filling nothing
(and lots of it)

smiles tossed like wistful garlands
wreathing the happiness other people
have found

in

eachother

everything now
poignantprofound
everything
par-t-ic-u-lar-ly

painful

shall fall silent and

as

easytoforget

as

asoftlysleeping

scar

that I shall wonder at when
I push back the sleeve of
this time and see it

there–

witness to a wounding
i will barely recall
(if at all) —

so close

soclosesoclosesoclose
will i be

someday

to the sun of your

love

(the sweetsumofyour

love)

there will be
nothing remaining of

this time

to hold onto.

an icicle- sharpointedestined
to melt into the memory of
something-
sharpointedestined
to melt into the memory of–

so close

soclosesoclose
will i be

someday

to the sun of your
love

(the sweetsumofyour
love)

that this time
i know
will fade-

like the memory of winter
(the clichéd memory of winter)
when Spring is come.

and when you are arrived
(like that soulsweet season)
with leaftipped promises
of blossoms and bliss
with brightlipped promises
of—

there will be nothing left
of this time to
hold onto

(save only

…this.)


Elevator Music

In another lifetime they might have been good, perhaps even great friends. Their natures each pitched to unusual keys, offset enough to harmonize in inspired ways. But they didn’t. Not this time around. What emerged between them instead, was the relationship equivalent of elevator music. A vast politeness, a blameless bond neither strong nor interesting. It held them temporarily in the same orbit, no more, no less. Like passengers seated next to each other on a plane, who exchange brief pleasantries then fall into their separate worlds. Or acquaintances at a mutual friend’s party, who listen to one another’s stories with that air of formal attentiveness that betrays a lack of natural sympathies. From their forgettable interactions was absent the trouble or reward of real conversation. They traveled a shared highway, a little more than distant and much less than close. You know how it is with some people. And so it was with them. Though it might have been otherwise.


I Think I Heard Her Sing

And if there’s no bread to be had tonight I will eat words she said

I’ll sprinkle them all with pepper and salt, and gobble them up in bed.

***

If light is a language and sunset a sermon

And dusk is a tribesman in deep purple turban

Then why speak in words that will ruin the night?

When nothing that’s said can ever be right.

***

Bright lights on the hillside no stars in the sky

My heart it is heavy and it won’t tell  me why

The frogs they do croak and the crickets they chafe

While alone at the window I stand like a waif

Though my life it be full of love and its singing

It harbors still shadows of pain and its stinging.

***

Who put the cluck in the chicken and

Sharpened each green blade of grass?

Who rouged the cheeks of the sunset and

Filled the blue rivers with bass?

I’ve scoured the world for the artist

Whose skill grazes everything

I haven’t glimpsed her yet, but once

I think I heard her sing.

***


Visitation

Sometimes it strikes me as curious. The many, seemingly disparate meanings certain words hold. Words like Swiss Army knives. Small enough to slip in your pocket and 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 easier to understand for instance, than a Swiss Army knife in carry on luggage going through airport security.

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 an imperfectly word can cause happy accidents, advantageous reactions– even poetry. Especially poetry.

Meaning more than one thing means carrying, at all times, the potential to be useful, problematic, poetic, or various combinations of the aforementioned. In some ways this is the precise definition of what it means to be a person.

***

In the dictionary the word ‘visitation’ has several meanings. Though they do not at first glance appear to be related to one another, they actually are. These meanings brush up against one another in inventive ways.

Visitation (noun)

 “an official visit by an important person especially to look at or inspect something

The appearance of a divine or supernatural being

a time before a dead person is buried when people may view the body

a special dispensation of divine favor or wrath

a severe trial 

access to a child granted especially to a parent who does not have custody

the visit of the Virgin Mary to Elizabeth recounted in Luke and celebrated July 2 by a Christian feast”

***

Yesterday, after sunset, a visitation. Actually, two.

I stepped into our mudroom and startled a little cat sitting at the top of the staircase outside our front door. She darted down the steps. Then stood behind the trumpet vine bush at the base of the staircase, her head peeking around it so that she could still hold my gaze. We stared at each other silently for a few moments, then I called out to my husband to heat up some milk for her. I crouched down at the top of the staircase and began talking to her. Where did you come from sweet one? What do you want? Are you hungry you beauty? I began to walk towards her and she stepped cautiously out from her hiding place. Then rolled on her back and let out a plaintive miaow. A movement so trusting, and endearing it made me smile. If it was a movement calculated to win over hearts, then it was well played. 

When I placed the container of warm milk on the step below me, she stepped up to it on her ballerina paws with no hesitation. Began to drink, pausing every so often to look up at me again as if suddenly transfixed by what she saw. 

We stood at the top of the staircase, in our darkened mudroom watching her. She drank and my heart filled. 

Not long after she had vanished into the night, we looked out and saw a little fawn at the base of the staircase — a startled brown face in lamplight looking up at our startled brown faces in the window.

***

What if –we are each other’s visitation?

***