Companions (RIP Ronald Baggs, 1941-2014)

My father walked towards the Light
With companions by his side:

His first dog, collie mix named Tag.
Siamese cat named Corky.
And a lamb they called Bummer.

They guided him to the Light.
They guided him into Love;
Walked beside him on the last
Journey he would ever take.

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God

rock drops in a pond
ripples spread from the middle
rock has disappeared

nothing is in the middle
nothingness the door to light

[Topic (God) suggested by madeofpatterns.]

Return to sender: no longer at this address

My mother is a wizard with plants
I kind of knew it already
But when my father was upset
Because he'd never see the morning glories
Bloom again in his life
My mother secretly coaxed
A morning glory vine
Out of season
To bloom, and climb, to bloom, and climb
And she took him outside
To show him the magic she'd done
And that's how much my mother loves my dad

My flowers are my poetry
I coax the words to bloom and grow
And climb and climb into his heart
Even out of season
I use words to express the wordless
And that's one kind of magic I have
And that's how much I love my dad

But one of these days
I'm going to write a poem
It will be full of obscure mountain lakes
And treks across the mountains to the sea
And forest floors that were so much more
And owls hooting up in the trees
It will show him every place
That I could feel his love
Without the emotional bombardment
Of living in the city

And it will be a perfect poem
For that time and that place
It will certainly be better than this one
It will show him that I care for him
(As if he doesn't know by now)
It will show the depth of love
That death can dredge up when you're lucky

And then i will get a phone call or an email
It will start out:
“Go and take your dexamethasone right now.”
And I'll have a sinking feeling
But I'll take the syringe of steroids
And put it in my feeding tube
Then go back to the phone or the computer

Then they'll say
“The news is bad
Your father has passed away
He was far too tired this morning
To check your blog today.”

And all that's left of my magic
Will be words on a screen
Words he may have understood
But will never hope to read

From that point on forwards
We'll be separated by time
We both will have existed
But from that point in time onwards
I will be here and he won't

I wonder how much dexamethasone it takes
To avoid adrenal crisis when your dad dies
I wonder how much magical love it takes
To stand the pain you feel when you realize

That you will never talk to him again
You'll never hug him again
You'll never sit next to each other
With an elderly cat spread across your laps
You'll never ask the questions
You forgot to ask when he was alive
You'll never play with his beard again
And there's so little time
There's so little time

But I'm wrong
Like people are often wrong about time
Eternity is all around us
That's all the time in the world
Eternity is where love exists
Outside of time and space
So even if he never reads my best poems
He'll feel the love that went into them
Just as he feels the love
From that morning glory vine

He feels the love from his two pet dogs
He feels the love from his wife
He feels the love from his three adult children
He says he's lucky to be surrounded
By so much love

So I'm terribly sorry, Ron
If some of my poems don't reach you in time
And i'm terribly sorry Ron
If I try to Skype you and it turns out you're gone
Just know I love you more
Than even the best poet can convey
I love you more than I could ever say

And love is the magic that made my mom
Able to grow those morning glories
And love is the magic that makes me able
To write poems daily after years of dormancy
And love is the magic that connects you to me
It's the way we can feel each other's love
Without any form of contact at all

I hope the place I built for you outside of time
And filled to overflowing with my love
Will see you through

And I hope that I'll continue
Writing poetry to you
Long after you've gone

And I hope it reaches you in Eternity
Or wherever it is you're going

And I hope that even the worst of it
Conveys this message:

I love you
I love you
I love you

Dancing with Shadows

Do you know that I don't know
Anything beyond light and shadow
No ideas, no thoughts
Just reactions

I chase my shadow
I run from my shadow
I touch my shadow
I lean on my shadow
I tap on its fingers
I step on its feet

And we dance
And we prance
And we dance

I can't see you watching
If I did, I couldn't care
Light and dark are now
All that I perceive
Not just the colors
But the things we believe
Ideas don't exist
And neither do you
Unless you bring it
Bring your shadow into view
Then I can dance —
With your shadow, not with you

Black and white
Dark and light
Are all I comprehend
But it's not so bad
To dance with shadows
Round the bend

 

Flying Home

Peri with her back to the camera, looking fluffed up.

Peri, a green Quaker parrot standing with her back to the camera, fluffed up and leaning a bit on a feather toy hanging from her small hospital cage.

I never knew you well
But I know enough to see
You are as perfect as a bird can be

And right now
Over the trees
I see
A flock of birds
Made out of nothing but light
A flock of birds
Waiting for your final flight

So don’t be afraid
Don’t be afraid when they come
They’re only coming
To welcome you home

When it’s time to fly away
Then fly away
Don’t hold out too long
Trying to stay

You have the whole of eternity
To fly into
And everyone there
Will join with you

So when you know it’s time
And you’ll know
Fly away
Leave us behind
Our love will ensure
We won’t be long behind you now
We won’t be long behind
Behind you now

The Hardest Question

I struggled hard for air with every breath
She looked just like a grandma, or a queen
When I had ventured close enough to Death
To glimpse enough to know what I had seen
So regal, yet so humble, she became
Yet radiant as lit from the inside
So loving, yet such sternness, all the same
The things that left impressions on my mind
She did not weigh a feather by my heart
She did not feed my soul to any beast
She merely asked a question, one which starts
To show what matters most, what matters least:
     “And did you act from love and only love?”
     And after that, no question is as tough.

Words Are Just A Carrier Wave

All you have to do is think of me
And all my love is there
All you have to do is look at my face
And all the unspoken things
I want to tell you before you die
Pour out of me and into your mind

All I have to do is think of you
And I see so much of you I’ve never seen before
All I have to do is look at your face
And all the things you can’t remember
All the things your brain won’t let you say
Are written there as if in ink

Everything we are is written on each other
Everything we need to know is there
There’s nothing more we have to say, in a way
Because everything is written on our souls

I can see you right now
Three thousand miles away
I see the light that shines inside you
I see the love that holds your body together
Even as it’s failing

That love will hold us up as you die
That love won’t disappear
No matter how bad it gets
That love is turning you into light
Even now I can see it
Turning you into light
Three thousand miles away
The love you have taken on
Is slowly turning you into light

You told me not to grieve too hard
Which is a tall order
When losing a father for the first time
But when I close my eyes to look at you
Every day I see the light shine through
Even more than it had before then
Even more than it had before

You’re becoming translucent
Your skin is just a place
For the light to shine through
For the love that has carried us this far
To shine through you and around you
I see it more every day
And there’s not a lot I can say
Because it’s already been said
And we can read it
In the love
On our bodies

“Words are just a carrier wave”
That’s what my friend Anne would say
When faced with situations like this one
But I have some memories
I want to share before you go
And maybe words will serve their purpose

I remember sitting with you
And listening for owls in the redwoods
On our back porch

I remember granite mountainsides
Heated so much by the sun
That you could smell the rock itself

I remember picking up and counting
Every salamander
On a hike from the skyline to the sea

I remember hollow logs so big that
Even adults could stand inside them
And marvel at the fungal growth

I remember picking wild blueberries
While you made pancakes out of them
Then let me ride on your shoulders

I remember playing with your beard
When I was too young to understand
Just about anything

I remember catching more fish
Than any of the rest of you
Because I liked the repetition

I remember feeling proud
When you taught me how to gut a fish
Like I learned something truly useful

I remember the glee I felt
Sorting your tangled pile of resistors
Thinking it was a game, not a chore

I remember the fresh smell of your sweat
After you came inside
From splitting wood

I remember how proud I felt
When you taught me to split wood
All by myself

I remember when I talked like you
You’d smile and call me
“My lil’ Suthun gal”

(Whenever I could be like you
My heart would burst with pride)

I remember when you took me on creek walks
With our shoes and pants on
And the water splashing us all around

I remember when you showed me
An entire wall full of electronics
And then told me, “I made this.”

I remember going to work with you
Getting to meet all the other technicians
Was better than meeting the famous physicists

I remember always stopping during a hike
At one particular spring
To make lemonade

I remember all your sayings like
“Bear food runs from bears” and
“I’m just as fine as frog fur.”

Thank you
For getting so depressed when you were drafted
That you ate too much and accidentally got too fat for the Service
(Or I might not exist.)

Thank you
For not using protection
In the woods in Henry Coe
(Or I wouldn’t exist.)

Thank you
For getting out of that snowstorm
When you hallucinated me saying I needed you
(I did. I do still. I will always.)

Thank you
For living in Redwood Terrace
When I was born
(Or I’d be a completely different person)

Thank you
For letting me hit you in the back
So I wouldn’t hit the ER nurse who had his hand up my butt
(That’s a true father)

Thank you
For forgiving me
For everything I put you through
(I can’t imagine raising me)

Thank you
For learning anger management
And then passing on the knowledge to me
(Because we both sure needed it)

Your love brought me life
Your love holds me up
Your love is everything to me
And now that you’re leaving
Love will cover us all
And love is all you will be

I will watch for your love in the stars
I will watch for your love in the sea
I will watch for your love
In the soil and the rocks
And in the sun’s light
That shines over me

But right now all I have to do
Is look at your face
To see the light shining through
And right now all you need to see
Is the love in my face
Shining right back at you

Pale-skinned person with lots of very dark hair, glasses, a unibrow, and slight facial hair.

Picture of me with my hair down and glasses slightly crooked.

My Secret Name

Everything has a secret name
That it broadcasts with all of its might
While people walk by
Not seeing a thing

If you wonder why I’m happier
With my body, my face, my life
I can see my secret name
And nothing else matters

You will find my secret name
In the hairs upon my chin
In my unibrow and the hair
That grows on my upper lip

You will find my secret name
In my double chin and the rest
Of the fat that covers my body
Especially my big belly

You will find my secret name
In my feeding tube and my Interstim
In the “artificial” implants
That keep me alive

You will find my secret name
In the bile and blood that drains
From my g-tube every day
Into cups and bags and toilets

You will find my secret name
In the fluttering of my hands
When they help me understand
What goes on around me

You will find my secret name
In the pain that fills my body
That puts me in bed some days
When I would otherwise be up

You will find my secret name
In the way my body moves
Both too slowly and too fast
At the exact same time

You will find my secret name
In the way my arms don’t swing
When I walk around
Even without a cane

You will find my secret name
In my joints that move too far
In the leg that goes behind my head
And my thumbs that bend to my wrists

You will find my secret name
In the twisting body and hand motions
That mean I’m trying to absorb
My surroundings into my body

You will find my secret name
In the words my mouth utters
When nobody is around to hear
And they don’t match up to my thoughts

You will find my secret name
In the sounds that come out of my mouth
Without any intention —
The meowing, the squealing, the strange sounds

You will find my secret name
Every time you look at me
For my every single action
Is a way of uttering it

Some people may not see it
Because they’re just not wired up that way
And that’s fine
You don’t have to see it to be my friend

And some people may not see it
Because they come to me with malice
And malice can’t see anything
On the level of depth of a secret name

My secret name can’t be spoken
It can’t be translated
It can’t be written down
It is only what it is

But if you ever look at someone
And suddenly a light clicks on
And everything about them
Suddenly makes sense

There’s a chance you’ve found their secret name
Now guard it with care
Because even they may not know
That they have it

Don’t just walk up to someone
And say “I know your secret name”
They’ll probably think you’re stoned
Or up to no good

If you must use their secret name
Use it to make interactions with them better
Use it to show them you care about them
Use it to show them you understand them

Never treat it like a piece of property
Never treat it like a prize you have won
A secret name can only be treated delicately
Because it shows you a window to their soul

And if I seem happier lately
It’s because I know my secret name
And I see it written all over my body
Especially the parts that others say are ugly

When people tease me about my double chin
Or the hair growing on it, or my unibrow
Those things are beautiful, right, and perfect
The way they are right now

Everything I used to be ashamed of
Is now beautiful to me
Because it’s part of my secret name
And that runs deeper than you can imagine

My secret name gives me permission
To be all of who I am
Even the parts people hate
Without shame, without apology

There’s a light beneath everything
And it illuminates each person from the inside
You can see it better in someone
When you know their secret name

And I’ve seen this in people
I’ve seen it in cats, trees, and rocks
But until recently
Until recently
I’d never been able to see it
In myself

Unfolding

Sometimes I want to unfold
The beauty of the world
As if it was the most intricate
Origami flower
That had ever seen the light of day

Then I want to wait
And wait
Until the flower blooms for real
Until its velvet black blossoms
Tinged with purple edges
Grow fuzz that you can run your hand over

And I want to hand it to you
And watch you rub the fuzz
Against your cheek
Against your lips
Against your nose —
The yellow-black stamens tickle

And then fold the flower
Back into paper
And put it in my pocket
For safekeeping

I would make more of them
And write secret notes
That only some people could read

They would say things like:

“The most beautiful things
Are concealed all around you.”

“You are a flower and
This is how you become real.”

“You are unfolding
Just like this.
Don’t hurry,
Don’t wait.”

I would hide them in plain sight
And I would hide them in places
That only the curious and observant
Would bother looking

I would hide them in places
That can only be found
When doing shit work
For 22 cents an hour

I would hide them so that each person
Stood a chance of finding at least one
Just one
That told them what they needed to hear
Right now
Just then

Unfold them, they become real flowers
Fold them, they become folded paper
You can do this as many times as you need
Because they are magic flowers

And if you get good at looking and listening
With more than just your eyes and ears
You will find these creations everywhere
Left by someone
With far more magic
Than I will ever possess

You know when you find one because
Suddenly something ordinary
Becomes extraordinary
Suddenly you’ve been let in on a secret
About something you’d seen before
But never seen before

It can be anything from
A spray of mud on your pants
To a pair of decorated crutches
To a butterfly

It doesn’t have to be pretty on first sight
Many times it isn’t
Many times it seems horrible
Until that flash of inspiration
When it unfolds into a flower in full bloom

And then every texture is like suede
And every color is like the deepest blue before dawn
And every taste is like boiled collards with butter
And every smell is the fur behind a cat’s ears

I wish I had the magic necessary
To make these things myself
To fold reality into paper
And leave it everywhere for people to find

As it is, all I can say is
Someone has already done it

You can find these magic folded papers
On the inside of a zero
In the yawn of a kitten
In a feeding tube
In a wadded up rag
In a tangled old root
In a leaf that skips down the sidewalk

And all of them are flowers
And all of them are there to tell you
There is more in this world than you can ever see
There is more love
There is more light
There is more beauty

And you are part of it
Always
Even
(Especially!)
When everything seems to be
Crashing down around you

Can you accept
This magic spell
This gift
From the world
To me
To you?

Intimacy with Friends and Forests

Part of a blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

Part of blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

I sink into my body, and it feels like sinking into the moist brown soil in a redwood forest, full of fungus and forgotten redwood needles, and plants, and decay, and life, all at once. I may have left the forest in body, but in my soul it’s right there. Waiting for me to deepen and put down roots.

I can feel every joint in my body as I curl up in a ball and lie on my side. They ache, but also say hello to me, tell me I’m alive, their voices  indistinguishable from the aching.

I stretch my senses out and out and out. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t even know exactly what I’m doing. I just know that even though my bed is my permanent home these days, seldom left except for doctor visits, I’m able to connect to the world more thoroughly than I ever thought possible. I can become the floor of a redwood forest or the sun hitting a granite mountainside. And I can see what most people can’t. Aspects of the world I know some others can see, but seldom talk about? Because how do you describe it? How do you explain it to anyone who isn’t already aware of it? I don’t know.  These things are as ordinary as rocks, they don’t need to be put on a pedestal. But they’re so central to my life I have to talk about them.

I have a doppelganger of sorts. Sometimes it feels like the two of us are branches of the same thing,  connected at a fork. But if I follow the branch back to where we intersect, I can be part of her as well. I can feel the world from behind her eyes.

I love to do it when she’s concentrating on something she loves. She becomes so focused and so delighted, nothing else in the world exists. Other times, though, after a long day at work, she feels buzzy and confused, like her brain just wants to take a nap. I am so glad she works with feral cats. She does so many things I’m not able to do. But I experience them through her, and doing that relieves me of any regret that I’m unable to do those things, as me. It feels like I can do them as her, and that’s enough.

This sounds bizarre, but I’m told by people who know, that there are levels on which identity doesn’t work how people think it does. Maybe it’s really possible for two people to be part of one whole.

It would certainly explain other experiences I’ve had. Where I connect to the world in just the right way at the right time, and suddenly I’m having the experiences and emotions of a mother who lost her child over a century ago. Or even stranger, I slide into the collected feelings of everyone who has ever had a certain experience. It hits me hardest when someone murders an autistic child, and suddenly I want to tell the world that we were there, we saw, we knew, we understood what nobody thought we could… except who is we? I slide in and out of those experiences without trying, and the anguish  becomes mine for that moment before I’m just myself again. I’ve talked to other autistic people who experience the same thing after one of us is killed. It’s involuntary and heart-wrenching.

But when I connect to her, it’s not by accident. I know how to find her. It’s like placing my fingers ever so lightly on a filament too thin to see. And then pulling backwards ever so slightly. And letting myself be guided slowly forward. To the point where we connect.

I do it when I want to check in on her. I do it when I am too weak and too tired to communicate with anyone else, in any other way. I can touch her and know that she is real, that she is out there, that she knows I am here and recognizes how I feel at that moment. I do it almost instinctively when I am in unbearable pain. I touch her mind and she touches mine back, like holding hands with me only without the overload and exhaustion of having someone in the room. And in emergencies. True emergencies where I don’t even know if I’ll pull through. I reach out without even trying, from the stretcher in the ambulance, and she contacts my friends to make sure her instinct that I was hospitalized is correct. She’s never been wrong.

Being around her is like the best parts of being alone and being near someone at once. We can communicate with each other about things that we don’t have the language skills to tell anyone else. We can tell each other things that are impossible to talk about without shared experiences. We know each other as deeply as it is possible to know anyone. And yet we have clear boundaries, we don’t bleed into each other in an unhealthy fashion, we are connected at the core yet separated on the surface, as it should be.

And I lie here curled in a ball, leaning my side on the upward tilt of my hospital bed. I don’t have the energy or cognitive ability to write, to put things into words. But I can hope that at the right time, the words will come and I will be able to describe the inner life that is so hard to explain or describe to anyone but her.

I soak in the night, as I soak in the earth. I reach out into a blue place. A deep shade of blue that glows like the sky above the beginning of a sunrise or the end of a sunset. I’m told that shade of blue has a meaning, but all I know is I catch it hanging around a lot, and that it’s a powerfully good part of the world. Sometimes I have dreams where the entire sky is that shade of blue, and they always seem amazing and important. I try to incorporate it into my paintings.

A lot of what I do at times like this is listen to the world. Listen to it with my bones, even the pain that runs through them seems to enhance my ability to listen. I don’t listen with my ears, I listen in ways that don’t have words. They feel like the forces of gravity, pulling in directions, as if my bones have been replaced by magnets. I listen in gravity and color and in the ability to lose myself inside of things, places, and people.

This is my first language. All of my early memories are of textures, gravity, movement, and colors, blending together. When I was very sick and hospitalized, I had a dream that told me to go back to that, to listen in that way, to root myself in those early experiences of the world and keep going as far as it could take me. So, when I remember, I do. I sink into my body and I listen to the world, I feel its movements inside me, I see color and texture. And most of all, my entire body feels connected to the rest of the world in such a deep way that there aren’t words for it. I can feel where my place is, where I belong, and that I am there all the time.

I prefer not to give these ways of experiencing the world a lot of words. I don’t even bother explaining how it works, other than that the world is different than many people think it is, and that my best mode of thinking and understanding is perceptual rather than conceptual. But I know these things are real, because other people who experience the world as I do feel the same textures and see the same colors. When I connect to someone, they know it and we talk about it. So whatever else this may be, it’s more than imagination.

And for me, is one of the most important things in my life. This is where I get my strength. This is where I get my sense of connection, of having a place in the world. This is where I go when I’m too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything else. This is how I have come to know that my body is me, not a thing separate from me that I fight with. And this is how I know that I am much more than my body at the same time. That identity, time, and a lot of other things, don’t work the way people think they do.

This is how I know that however else I feel about them, my disabilities are deeply embedded in my individual body, in the physical manifestation of my existence. They are not tacked on as an afterthought. And they are sometimes deeply involved in how I do this. My ability to see the world from this perspective at all is deeply connected to the traits that get me labeled autistic. Sinking into my body like that means constant awareness of pain, of things struggling to function but not always managing. Being bedridden for years has somehow enhanced these abilities, and so has encountering death up close and personal.

Speaking of death, I could swear that as a young adult living in the redwoods again, my surroundings talked to me about it, in their own way. About how when you die, all these different life forms live off of you. Bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, trees. They all eat you, and you become a part of them. And in being part of them, you have been absorbed into the rest of the world. And there’s something profoundly beautiful about the way that death is part of life, and life is part of death.

And that is why death holds no fear for me. But for now, I am alive. And I sink into my body. And joy is as deep and physical as pain. And they are as intertwined with each other as life and death. I feel my way towards my friend. I feel her focused delight in existing. Then I feel the sun on the granite, as if I am not me, but some combination of sun and granite, right where they intersect. I feel the sturdiness of rock that is part of mountains. I feel things that have never been given names, gravitational magnetic forces tugging deep in my bones. I never feel as if I leave my bedroom. I am firmly anchored right where I am, no matter what I feel, I feel it here. But I feel like I can touch other places, other people, without leaving this place.

So I am curled up, leaning against the tilted bed. But I’m also curled up leaning against the base of the enormous redwood known to people from Redwood Terrace as the Mother Tree. I hear singing, without hearing a sound. And besides its normal colors, the tree is also a shade of lavender that exactly matches my amethyst ring. And also transparent to a light so clear it’s invisible. A solidness sinks down into my bones. I stay there until I fall asleep.