A Medical History

The last 24 hours: six a.m. eating breakfast I bite my tongue really hard on the side and it hurts quite a bit. I finish breakfast contemplating mindfulness in general and mindful eating in particular – I am thinking about mindfulness, mind you, not actually being mindful.

There is a pain in my jaw from the day before that can’t decide if it is a toothache or a headache. My memory of it calls forth the actual sensation – don’t think about it! My tongue hurts for the next eight hours. At lunch I eat some junk food and feel full of stomach and depleted of spirit – my tongue seems acutely aware of the nearby gnashing teeth, fresh is its memory from this morning and it is still sore.

After lunch I develop a thick feeling in my throat and it is awkward to swallow – I ignore it and do my job all afternoon, preparing some items for a shipment with a nagging irritability lurking around my work area.

Early evening I have no appetite. I watch some of the film called Babel and when Cate Blanchett is struck by the bullet, which has a complicated history, I think about how many causes lay hidden in the scenery of our plodding days, unbeknownst to us. I visualize myself as the Medicine Buddha for a moment and become a light-filled mandala hosting every living being, human in form, Buddha in essence, from the past, present and future, and everything functions as medicine, even poison. Back to the movie. Everyone in the film is either making bad decisions or dealing with their consequences – this goes for the one watching the film too.

I have no known allergies to any medications. Check. My maternal grandmother had diabetes. Check. My deductible on prescription medicine is outrageous and I relive a bad memory in which I accused, in an unpleasant phone call many years ago, an insurance rep of malfeasance after receiving a letter saying my policy would not cover a condition which they had determined I was susceptible to: I stopped short of calling the man a heartless grifter, however, in a follow-up email I did suggest to him that he seek an honorable line of work before it was too late – deathbed regrets are not a treatable condition.

At around nine p.m. I head to bed, my bodily condition seeming like a profound irrelevancy. My aches, pains, worries and anxieties, complaints in general, are like a ship full of waving vacationers leaving the harbor, setting sail on the ocean at large in a vessel lighter than water, heavier than air, and stocked with delightful amenities.

As I drift off to sleep I wonder briefly what the weather will be tomorrow.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968)


Died December 10, 1968

50 years ago today, Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk, writer, outspoken man of peace and sanity in the emerging age of nuclear weapons was accidentally* killed by a malfunctioning electric fan at his guest cottage in Thailand.

* Since there was no autopsy, there was no suitable explanation for the wound in the back of Merton’s head, “which had bled considerably.” (wikipedia)

Fifty Gallon Drum

(Another notebook dump where the yammers have gathered like little critters nesting in the walls.)

-:-

They didn’t drain the swamp, they drained
the brains. Are the valves not properly labeled?

-:-

The day will come to grind it
And tomorrow comes behind it
Too bad you can’t unwind it
Take comfort where you find it

-:-

I think people who identify as skeptics are overreacting to the error of blind faith, which they rightly fear when they see it take hold of others. They overcompensate in their belief that blind faith is the only kind there is. But evidence is accepted on a reasoned faith—that subtle errors or deliberate deceptions have not slipped into the conclusion at hand. In the end: a little leap of faith, because facts are endless and it is literally impossible to consider each and every one. Reason cannot function without both faith and skepticism.

Faith on its own will likely run rampant without the skeptic to keep it in check. Skepticism on its own is just a brute prejudice, slamming doors shut for whatever notion it latches onto as valid, not at all unlike blind faith.

The third leg of reason’s little stool is called curiosity, or wonder.

-:-

They dismiss the supposedly irrigorous logic as magical thinking, as if the intellect was the retainer and not the retained. As if thinking itself is not magic!

-:-

They say you should choose your fights but I never find any I like.

-:-

How many nihilists does it take to not be?

A nihilist is an eternalist who has resolved the first of the two errors.

A nihilist walks into a bardo…

-:-

We working class white people who do not think ourselves the powerful oppressors of others should still contemplate the level of privilege upon which we operate: I can drive to the store and never have to think about being pulled over, arrested, or even shot, after having been seen doing nothing more than driving down the street.

-:-

When it comes to the sun I try not to look at the bright side.

-:-

If you’re somebody, you better watch what you say.
If you’re nobody, it’s better to keep it that way.

-:-

Worry is an outlier indulgence, mentally going to the place you are afraid you’ll end up, while the remedies to impending troubles are left neglected, undone.

-:-

The knees, they do a thankless job
Midway twixt the heel and hip
Protruding like a misplaced knob
To cap the pavement when you trip

-:-

Sometimes I stick my head in an empty 50 gallon drum and speak loudly the things that might otherwise go here.

-:-

Not being nothing, space fulfills form. Not being something, form fulfills space. Not two, yet not not-two. Not something, not nothing.

-:-

I’m not a pull-string
talking doll, y’all, but
sometimes the things
I say: no way.

The phrase automatic
on instant recall, someone
come finish this for me
okay?

-:-

A lot of people take things for granted, but in stores they call that shoplifting.

-:-

I wonder what would happen if they pressed all my buttons at once and I collapsed without recourse into a short-circuited heap of malfunctioning habitual responses.

-:-

Knee-deep in needy
wit’ a dolly made a hay
all she wanna do be holler
golly all a day.

(to be accompanied by banjo and Jew’s harp)

What All

or, real as a
boulder clutched by five
hundred-year-old roots
in the fluid of a mountain’s
gradual crest

or, our own
skeletons remain
clutched by continuity
in the fluid of a moment’s
gradual assumption

assume rise
crest fall, and
what all

Why So Quiet?

I look, dumbfounded, at the
world, I think of my mom
saying, “don’t stare, it’s rude.”

I look away, in a
hasty search for a new fixation
and think of my dad
saying, “finish what you started.”

I look down at
my shoes, and think
of everyone who ever asked
me, “why so quiet?”

Tread Wear

Steel Belted Radials

They don’t make movies like
they used to, he said, but they
never made tires like this—then he
says it: haltingly, wistfully, as if
it were a line from a popular ballad

Steel Belted Radials

as if Leonard Cohen himself
were standing there before you
casting tire-buying spells with
magical incantations and smiles
backed up by the pedigree of
a pure bred confidence

Steel Belted Radials

spinning, orbiting
they sing against the pavement
with a melody above, apart
from the automotive implication
of a sure grip on a slick surface
or a rolling rampart

against punctures, evoking
scenes of roadside despair
with passengers pressing sad faces
against rain speckled windows
as you labor with a jack handle
against fate itself

Steel Belted Radials

upon the radiant bearings of
the gods, such a car would soar
on a cushion of air, uplifting
inspired, like an ode to a planet
draped gloriously in robes of
carbon monoxide, cinched by cords
of endless highway

Steel Belted Radials

you reach for your wallet
like a magistrate for his gavel
to the background hum of a
grinding economy, and spit gravel
peeling out of the flag-draped lot
and drive, you drive back to the

bottoms where your domain asserts
a stubborn little imprint, the tread sipes
in a dirt driveway, within patterns too
large and convoluted to comprehend
perhaps, and the radio is tuned
to a country song about disgrace
and redemption

All Hallowed

A black cat arches
its bristled silhouette
against a sour green moon
in a newspaper ad
for mattresses.

September thumbed its nose at one keen summer and abruptly closed that happy book. We turned out each day after school to a gradually shifting light and a sense of turning. October’s grid of even and odd days played out like a roll of tickets and we slashed out the calendar squares one by one. Now it looms. It’s Halloween.

We dress out in style, not costume, and hit the pavement, the night before us rising in imagination. We meet up at our usual haunt and set out. The evening is drained of its color and clouds hang like wilted lilies at the edge a tree-clawed horizon, still glowing in the daylight’s wake. Mist is creeping below our knees. Flashlight beams vivisect the malign shadows. But the senses cannot claim what unknown dimensions might intersect with the ordinary on a night when saints and ghouls mingle together.

An election of angry spirits descended upon the hordes of feral children. Eyes open wide, the youngsters saw nothing amiss. They felt the strangeness of a life-eclipsing moment, no more palpable than a sense of being watched. It went unnoticed in the excitement of the holiday. Soul-snatchers unseen drew the essences right out through their tiny pink nostrils, and their animated costumes continued as before, lurch forward from house to house, shouting for sugar treats at the neighbor’s stoop with the echoes of little voices they no longer quite possessed.

We don’t see it happening like that. We are counting candies, sneaking cigarettes and breathing free, wandering the neighborhood with a sense of power over destiny. We have mischief in mind. Trick-or-treat is a make-believe protection racket and every kid knows it. Nice place you got here. Shame if your landscaping got TPed. All this youthful energy and potential, radiating on the hailing frequency of the vampiric, hungry spirits. A dead chill arrives on a gust, like a summons, and we disappear into the cavities between street lamps, wild spirits revolting all around us. We can’t see them. These ghosts, they would burn down this sleepy borough if they could even grip, yet strike a match. But their rebellious fits are as unknown to us as heartbreak.

On the night called All Hallowed the living do perversely antagonize the dead. A police cruiser slows, shines its beam on some trick-or-treaters by the side of the road. Their reflective costumes and glo-sticks shimmer at the burning edge of youth. He sees who they are, there is recognition but he sniffs, like a wraith, to be sure. The officer was himself robbed of spirit as a little punk, on this very lane. His memory of it a latency sunk like stone into forgotten water. He operates on instinct now, pulled out of nowhere. Pulled out of the darkness.

We meander down the last alleys there would ever be, fleeing the warm safety that has driven us, by the length of its boredom, right out of childhood and straight into a kind of nightmare we could not have hoped to guess. We laugh and chatter and eat treats. The glow of our cigarettes, like sprites or faerie traces, inscribe with movement cryptic runes in the darkness. The subtle chill of a watchful gaze seems to tingle upon our necks, we are so ready to be spooked.

Seizures

eyes open at dawn
darting like fish in a bowl
gathering sparkles

~

eyes craving the light
cross and double everything
bountiful mirage

~

eyes speculating
outbidding the richest dark
cunning investment

~

light and distraction
the secret wealth of vision
from the fount of tears

~

these eyes are pennies
their pictures bought and paid for
bagged like possessions


#575 #Haiku

Black Arrow Tonglen

Have the patterns stopped being patterns
or is this something new?

Am I craving repetition and motif while
I cheer the onset of change?

The goose flesh lends a pattern to my skin, which I lug around with me like a favorite sweater. Like a fiddler crab, I am shelled up in it. At night I spread it out and sleep on it. The sky, like old skin, looks tired of stretching itself over the frame. The air is stubborn, full of picky fish bones. You have to pick at the air, most carefully, if you want to breathe it.

I replicate the land with thoughts, streaming
(like fabric spewing out of a big commercial loom.)

It stinks and makes pollution but where
would shameful flesh be without cloth? Ill-defined goals

make it difficult to script these plays. I am
the wobbly table that supports my entire religion.

I rise from prayer, in prayer. I can see that the tiniest details all reek of scripture, holy and encoded within the ratcheting make-work of a creation that cannot seem to stop unfolding. Worry, sharp little digressions, like fish bones in pudding, is self-asserting: Will they have properly placed the blame before they get around to me? Will the cancer of such faithless doldrums feast upon me? Will Christ’s sacrifice be seen to have appeared in a mirror? Could death be a reflection?

Countless archers, all points of life
they all release their sufferings:

the sky fills with it, fills with black arrows.
I magnetize them, draw them all in

—my own pierced flesh transforms into light, shining
purified, the shafts are all sent back

to their quivers, as light.

The fish swim out of the air taking their bones with them and they are gone and nobody knows where. They were last seen on the surface of a street puddle. Their disappearance was a reflection. But everyone is breathing easier, attributing the relief to various causes, including but not limited to the will of God.