The Tree Outside My Window (circa 2004)

The tree outside my window is rooted in the ground
It looks immobile from a distance
But I have seen its branches
Grow, bend, break, be hacked off, grow again
And I have seen its leaves
Grow, twist, change, fall, and grow again

Compared to the tree, I move a lot, and quickly
Compared to other humans, I don’t move much, and slowly
I spend years of my life lying down by the window
In those years the tree tumbles in through my eyes
The jumble slowly etches a deep pattern in my brain

The tree outside my window is not immobile, inert, or unaware
It understands warmth and cold, sunlight and rain
It has an understanding not contained in a brain
A sedentary, ordinary understanding
But one too foreign for most of us rapid creatures
To do more than, one way or another, distort or deny

A woman recoils from the mere thought of how I live
She says my pain and weakness steal time and life from me
I had no words to make her understand
But unbidden the tree forces its way into my mind
Flashing bright, demanding to be recognized
It is not wasted, and neither am I

Advertisements

Slow Days

Rock in a creek bed
Water flows and babbles past
Rock still and silent

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

My Last Gift to My Parents

Father, your heart is like the sun
Shining on a granite mountainside
Your heart is like the pine trees
Growing up to the tree line
Your heart is like the Sierras
You were seldom absent from
And I know that's where your heart will rest
When your souls merge with the sun

Mother, your heart is like a garden
That grows wildflowers, vegetables side by side
A garden that can only be tended
By someone who knows the lay of the land
Your garden could even be mistaken
For a random flow of wild plants
If it weren't for the fact they're all chosen
For the birds and the bees and the fit of your hands

If you ever doubt that your eye for plants
Is the love that will see you through
Remember the morning glories
You enticed into bloom for a final view
He never thought he'd see one again
And I can bet he cried
When you led him outdoors
To the flowering vines
You had coaxed to climb up the wall

Your hearts have been growing inside each other
Since you were fifteen and twenty years old
My mother hiked in the Sierras
And my dad did some gardening of his own
That's what happens when you fall in love
For more than fifty years, with your hearts
Embracing, unwinding, unraveled, entwining
With all that time to germinate
Into something more than they were

Mine is the heart of a redwood forest
As if you hadn't noticed long ago
My body grew in my mothers womb
But my soul grew in the soil underground
And the redwood sorrel grew out the soil
And turned its leaves to the sun
And the sun sang a song so sweet and smooth
That the plants all stopped to hear
And they grew and they grew in their love
With every passing year
While underground the soil still did
The stuff of life and death and life again

You gave each other your hearts
Long before your marriage vows
And maybe you don't need to hear anything
I'm about to tell you now
But I'm holding up my redwood heart
And offering it to you
And you can plant if in your garden
And you can plant it in the Sierras
And because we are a family
It will.thrive in both locations

I offer you my redwood heart
Because it's all I have of any vaiue
Surely you both see by now
Love is the only thing that will bring us through
Love outside death
Love outside time
Love has meaning when nothing else does
Love conquers fear when nothing else will
Love is everything
Love is everywhere
So my last gift to you
My very last gift
Is my redwood forest heart

 

Time Travel

Books are time travel
Because I can meet
Frederick Douglass and Madeleine L’Engle
At the same time

When I was a child
I didn’t understand
That authors could be dead
They seemed alive to me
As long as their books were printed

People showed me dates
Copyright © 1951
As if this was supposed to mean
The book died before I was even born
I couldn’t understand
The book seemed alive to me
And 1951 was just
An incomprehensible string of numbers

George MacDonald and Julian of Norwich
Teresa of Avila and Sherman Alexie
Sojourner Truth and Diane Duane
Donna Williams and Saint John of the Cross
Lao Tsu and J. R. R. Tolkien

These are people who would never
Just decide to get together
But you can read them side by side
And it’s like meeting all of them
Sitting round a table
And talking to them
About their ideas

Much has been written
In lofty language
About the immortality of the page
But I was living it directly
In written words
Long before anyone taught me
The sonnets of Shakespeare:

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.”*

You will go to the moon
No one has been there yet”**
Reads a book that I cherished as a child
But how could it lie to me
When Neil Armstrong had been there
Many years before my birth?

Copyright © 1959, said the book
But this had no meaning to me
If the book existed now
How could it fail
To have modern knowledge?

Later, I learned that books
Are the only form of time travel
Available to human beings
Encapsulated in each page
Is the time and place
Where the author wrote the words

So Lao Tsu and Harriet McBryde Johnson
Can sit side by side on my bookshelf
And side by side in time
And I can travel from modern Charleston
To ancient China and back
In the blink of an eye

* William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55
** You Will Go To The Moon, Mae and Ira Freeman, 1959

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.

In the Sea of Nun

You told me I didn’t know what water was
I told you, “There is more to the sea of Nun than you could ever guess”
But you told me words were the only way to wisdom
Do you know what life is like floating without fins or flippers to move yourself from here to there?
Do you know what it is like before those words you hold so dear?
Have you been blown around in the currents?
Have you had to make your life wherever the water took you?
I may have seemed like a sleepwalker to you
Without the parts you use to guide and steer
But part of me has always been wide awake

I sit alone, and time is gone
You come in, and turn into a blur of movement and sound
I am like a statue watching living people fly past
But when I’m alone, time stands still for me again

In between your words is silence
In that silence is the world
Beneath all your ideas things come together on their own

I am awake when you call me asleep
I have a voice when you call me silent
I can navigate where you see only chaos
(In the waters of Nun)

The lines are twisting underwater
I feel them spread and branch away
They twist around the corner
They wrap around me sideways
They double, triple, even more
They slide around and up and down
And still it all makes sense to me
Or maybe it makes me to sense
Either way this is my home
And there is life in the sea of Nun

One day I woke up
There was more than the sea
There was a strange place
I found myself there
I didn’t go there
Make no mistake
I just was here then there

How can I describe it?
You have always had a ghin
What is a ghin?
It’s what you’ve always had
I don’t have a ghin
Something else was built
But how can I describe the building?

You have a ghin
You can never know the steps it took
I didn’t build it
It built up like collecting dust
So the dust settled on me
More dust
More dust
More dust
More dust
Eventually the dust hurt
And more dust
(Ow)

And then a mound of dust
A mound shaped a little like a ghin
But it was not a ghin
I will call it a foom
My foom tried to be a ghin
It had not the. of a ghin
And the foom hurt
And the foom hurt
And the foom hurt
And you said “She is alive, she has a ghin”

And they all danced around
They looked at the foom
They touched the foom
They said “She is alive, she has a ghin”

“Where did she come from?”
(He pointed to the sea of Nun)
“Oh surely not there”
“Nothing from there is alive”
“Nothing from there has shape”
“Nothing from there is real”
“Nothing from there has a ghin”

They set me in the shallow water until I floated
They poked me with long sticks
They watched me bob around
They laughed

I felt the currents underneath me
They could not feel those currents
To them there is only chaos in the sea of Nun
They saw the part of me that was above the water
I lived in the part of me below

And they pushed, and they pulled
And I floated side to side
And they clapped, and they laughed
And the sea of Nun became my tears

I stopped moving
They threw a rope and pulled
I washed up on the shore
They formed a circle around me
Then they drilled me full of holes

They filled each hole with a different machine
And they whirred and they clacked
And I buzzed and I bounced
But the machines all fell out
So they pushed me back in the sea of Nun

And there I stayed and there I dreamed
And there the currents pushed me round
And there I drifted, there I slept
Until I grew flippers