Category Archives: The Abstract

Bittersweet

If you were to ask me what it was like, I would pause for a moment. I would tilt my head to one side, as if listening to an invisible spirit. Then I would begin to speak. Slowly. And this is what I would say:  Before this time I believed loss was just loss. Light was just light. Now I see that loss is also beauty and longing. Light is also shadow. This cannot be explained in words. You who have felt this, know exactly what I mean. To the others I will say, please consider this: Words are like pebbles. Small and easily picked up. While this may make them lovely to hold, it does not mean they are exact.

Language is irresistible, and often unreliable. Me and you. Black and white. Endings and beginnings. The delineations we make are functional, not always accurate. This is why I like the word bittersweet. It does not pretend to extricate what is inextricable. You who have felt this, know exactly what I mean. To the others I will say, please do not misconstrue any of this to be sad.

A child draws a wavy line on paper and calls it water. This is a simplification. The depiction omits depth and flow. A picture’s truth relies implicitly on the dimensionality of the viewer’s experience. It is the same with words. Happy and sad are simplifications. What we are talking about is the alchemical dimensionality of experience. Please take a moment here. To fully appreciate how nonsensical and important, how like a dissertation topic that sounds.

Sometimes it happens like this: In the blue shimmer of evening you take a walk with your husband. Like a jack-o-lantern (only kinder and much better-looking) he is lit from within. A-glow with goodness. He is also unwell. An autumn rose blooms, vivid as an accusation, over a garden fence. For the first time, you will experience the perfect beauty of the rose and the strickenness of mortality as the same thing. As inevitably one as the wave that rolls onto the shore and the wave that’s drawn back to the ocean.

There is no unknowing this. Once you have seen it, you are a half-done Midas. Everything your gaze touches will gleam both dark and bright. A disorienting, truthful mingling will take hold of your life. One day you will wake to a sun pouring molten gold over the hills, and your hand will fly to your heart as if to staunch blood from a wound. At night a distant dog will bark at the moon, and in that lonely howl you will hear a world of love and courage. Aggrieved and robbed of absolutes you will stumble into new realms of richness. You will mourn the loss of a certain kind of innocence. And you will surprise yourself by the admission, that given the impossible choice, you would not choose to cross back.

Little by little, you will learn to hold the infinite complexity of what is, with a simple(r) heart. But this cannot be explained in words. You who have felt this, know exactly what I mean. To the others I say gently: Fold these words into a back pocket friend, and go on your way. Perhaps they will wait there. Like so many little pebbles. Dreaming side by side… Until it’s time.


Conquest

An upstart bluejay seized the morning, just as a squadron of clouds annexed the sky. Meanwhile an imperious garbage truck took possession of the streets, and a spendthrift wind acquired the trees. Every last one. I who rose late and have commandeered nothing, watch from the window. Had I more ambition I would be perturbed.  But the spirit of conquest has always seemed troublesome and presumptuous to me. Time is not interested in my philosophy. This is is not the moment for self-effacement chides the clock on the wall. Go now. Before I beat you to it. Go. Lay claim to your life.


Why I Still Talk To You

When I try to go right you turn me left. When I say “No”, you cup your ear and feign deafness. When I hold up my hand and say, “Enough!”, you mimic my gesture and words, then burst out laughing. Like a rascally five-year-old. When I swallow my pride and ask you for something, you nod, and then proceed to give me something entirely different. Sometimes I wonder why I still talk to you. True– you are charming. But you are also incredibly infuriating. When I sweep my house you send in a hurricane. When I fall asleep you strike up the marching band. Now I see I have lived this life sitting at the chessboard. Foolishly trying to outwit you. Not realizing that the match is cleverly fixed. In my favor. It has always been your move.


What To Call It?

What is it that you sometimes lose, and then find, that turns the day from bleakness to splendor in an instant? What to call it — that nameless flash, that infusion of un-summoned energy that flies you across a chasm believed uncrossable? On this side, a very capable gloom takes hold of your ankles and refuses to let go. Like a child throwing a tantrum on the floor. Its stubborn weight makes it difficult to walk with any semblance of grace. On this side everywhere you go, you drag an invisible, horizontal sadness with you. On that side, your feet have wings and whatever is so much as grazed by your glance, sparkles. Joy floods your being, gathers at your fingertips, stands ready to be released in the world like a spell. On that side, you live as royalty. Each moment unfolding like a red carpet in front of you. What transports you from this side to that, is a mystery. Nothing calculated or studied does the trick. It is triggered by things that are, but did not plan to be. Like the sight of a hummingbird hovering above a riot of purple flowers. Or a child’s hand stretched towards the moon. Yes. A thing so slight now electrifies you, draws you up, returns you to your proper home. Flouting the laws of gravity and time. And how to explain this feeling? Imagine a blighted apple falling in reverse. Raised up from muddy, trampled ground and reattached, round and whole to its green bough. Free to shine again. A small red sun. It feels…like that.


A Strange Predicament

When I stop to consider the facts they astonish me. There you are couched in your own skin, and here I am in mine. No matter how close, we must each do our own living. Your heart cannot be persuaded to pump my blood. My lungs will not consent to breathe for yours. It is an odd arrangement. Inside me a mansion of memory and anticipation. A place other people may visit, like a museum. Inside you, a similar mansion. That I can visit and with your permission gaze at pictures on the wall. But only until closing time. And is this not a strange predicament? This seeming and inescapable individuality? The hard shell of ‘I’ that we live inside like soft-bodied sea creatures. When did we choose this? And on whose ill-advice? How different the world would be, if we could waft through different identities as easily as the wind inhabits the trees. Then the woman selling flowers at the street corner would be me. And the crumpled leaf of the half-blown rose in her bucket would be me. And the man reaching into his back pocket to pay for the bouquet – me. Me. Me. Then I would not be ‘I’ any more. And neither would you. No not at all and never again. Once out of the bottle, no genie of sound mind ever chooses to return, to such cramped, uncomfortable quarters.


A Secret

Listen. Today I will tell you a secret. Attached to my right pinky toe is a silver thread spun finer than the eye can see. So long that it spans oceans and continents, so strong that nothing, not even saber-toothed tigers nor Time, that masked highwayman, can snap it.The other end is slipped over the curved horn of a very old buffalo who spends vast quantities of time meditating, some might say sleeping (I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt), in the midst of a once blue lake that has long been under siege by an army of purple waterlilies. Because he stands for the most part with the still grace and perfect indifference of a statue, I forget the thread’s presence for long stretches of time. Like I forget my breath (that other faithful silver filament). But every so often a wayward fly will land on the buffalo’s nose, inspiring that large head to flick itself to one side in a grand, sweeping motion. The thread pulls and tightens momentarily. Jumbled visions dance in my dreams. I see palm fronds on the horizon, rubber chappals in the rain and saffron strands in rice pudding. I see painted masks mounted on unfinished buildings and small, green parrots. I hear my mother’s voice calling my name up the stairs. I hear the honk of my father’s car at the gate. I see my sister’s blue and white school pinafore folded on the bed and I wake with an ache of love and wistfulness. On rare occasions, the buffalo heaves himself out of the lake, dripping water like diamonds. Weighty with wisdom and age he walks on red earth. In the way of all buffalos, unhurried and deliberate. As the thread that connects us grows slowly taut, my dreams turn technicolor. I see children with braided hair burnt orange by the sun, I see wiry street dogs with eyes expressive as bharatanatyam dancers. I see ladoos arranged in golden pyramids, thatched roofs, and mustaches on most of the men. I hear the complicated festival of extended family calling to each other. I see the gap-toothed grins of my nieces and feel their small fingers tugging at mine. I wake with a smile and palms that tingle. Listen. Today I will tell you a secret. The old buffalo is awake. He has been journeying for many moons towards the next lotus-choked lake. And though today I sit here at my computer, sipping green tea, paying bills and settling trifling disputes between the Californian sparrows outside my window, I feel the silver thread at my toe straining East. And I know. Soon it will be time. To go home again.


Truth

I went questing for truth in the world like a knight, with set jaw and drawn sword. Ready to scale mountains and slay dragons in their dens. As if truth were a phlegmatic princess, captive, inert and awaiting deliverance. I found it not. I went haggling for truth in the marketplace like a shrill housewife, beady-eyed and tight of fist. Trading insults and scorn. As if truth were a loaf of bread or a ruby-red pomegranate to bargain for. I found it not. I went begging for truth like a vagabond, with bare feet, tangled hair and a piteous expression. As if truth were a susceptible kinsman with philanthropic tendencies. I found it not. So weary with questing, and barter and plea, emptied by failure I called off the search. Leaned my forehead against the window, and looked out on a moonless night, too tired for thought. I watched as the stars came out, like so many lights on so many distant porches. I stood as quiet witness. And I do not know why somehow this — was enough.


Relationship

Today as I chop small red tomatoes in our light-filled kitchen, I look at the green trees waving in the window and think about death. How we travel closer to each other every year, every moment really. The way people in a long relationship move imperceptibly towards each other across time and space, until their beings are so braided together it is difficult to discern where one leaves off and the other begins. At the end of this humble task I will be fifteen chopped mini-heirloom tomatoes closer to my last breath, because life is in a committed relationship with death I think to myself. And it is as if I am discovering this truth for the very first time. The thought fills me with wonder and surprise. Makes me lift my head and look out the window past the green of the trees. To whisper softly,  Hello partner.


A Lightyear

The poetry of a lightyear lies in its dreamlike definition: a unit of length equal to the distance that light travels in one year in empty space. Just under 6 trillion miles (or 10 trillion kilometers if you prefer). A unit of measurement, in other words, that belongs to the gods. Who, it might be noted, every so often catch us religiously tracking our frequent flyer miles, and try not to smile.


Happiness

The poetry of happiness depends on an element of surprise. It is lithe and built like a jungle cat. Adept in the art of camouflage, capable of consummate stillness and able to traverse large distances with great velocity. In ill-advised moments you find yourself stalking it through the jungle of the day with your too-loud feet and bad-timing (your species was not built for stalking). Later, in an unguarded moment, happiness will pounce on you. Roll you to the floor with soft paws and sit on your stomach gleefully. Joy will swallow you whole. Because you are prey to happiness. And always have been. Not the other way around. It. Has. Never. Been. The other way around.