Saturday, January 28

The Week in Someone Else's Words

An echo, reverberating backwards in time, a bell clanging in my unpadded head.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,  
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,  
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

19-30, The Burial of the Dead. The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot. Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, January 26

Bolívar 1444

Buenos Aires, 6:00 AM
She wakes up all at once, eyes snapping open in the cold morning. Her eyelashes are clumped with mascara dried into spiders' legs, glitter and char smearing her puffy eyes. The delicate skin under her eyes is swollen and dark. Her hands are still covered in blood, half-dry but tacky enough to leave prints on the white linen as she shoves her way out of the bed. The pliers make a clattering sound when they hit the hardwood floor, even cushioned by the wayward duvet.

She stumbles toward the bathroom, but appears to hesitate, detouring left into the dining room. She picks up last night's half-empty bottle of whiskey and continues toward the kitchen, trailing her sticky hand along the waxed and polished surface of the dining table, burnished red-gold. The scent of lemon oil hangs heavy in the air. The pile of silver and broken china in the corner has a nacreous gleam.

She turns on the coffee pot and sinks down to the blue tile floor. She takes a pull from the whiskey bottle and sets it gently beside her. Her face is blank, inquiring, the face of a younger girl rediscovering a long-cherished piece of music. The burbling of the coffee pot punctuates the heavy silence and she cocks her head to the left, seeming to listen intently to a whisper that penetrates her personal fog.

She stands decisively once more, leaving the coffee and the whiskey to deal with themselves, striding into the bedroom to recover the pliers. She takes them into the music room, uses them to smash the enormous blue-patterned vase in the corner, then tosses them indifferently atop the leaking bundle of flesh slumped bonelessly in the center of the room. She scrabbles at the shards of porcelain without regard for her own skin, pulling from the mess a wad of cash and a wallet stuffed with rail tickets. She takes these into the bedroom, throws them in an open suitcase, then heads into the bathroom for a long-overdue shower.

She is gone by seven-thirty, and is never seen again.

9:00 AM
The fog of the morning is beginning to burn off already. The house is nearly silent, a dim retreat from the vague rush of the traffic outside. Sometimes people walking by are caught by its distinctive architecture, its inviting glow.

There are broken bits of teeth scattered on the floor next to the pieces of the vase, and they gleam in the new sunlight. The record player turns, ceaselessly, the restless scratch of the record's ending a whisper in the noise of the city. The house breathes, drawing in cool against the heat of the day.

Two weeks later:
The body, eventually discovered by the cleaning staff, is wrapped in black plastic and shuffled off to the city hospital. This case is all dead ends, and the police force is already overworked. No one can bring themselves to care about a pair of vagabond foreigners.

The file is put in the records room, the body cremated. It is a cold case.

The story sinks like a stone into some hidden trench, deep into the black. There is no publicity. The house is cleaned thoroughly and becomes just another rental property. This is not the first time the real estate agency has needed to employ a renovator known for his discretion.

When new couples come to view the house, it puts on its most inviting display.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Amanda Lynn challenged me with "a shattered vase, a pair of pliers, and two tickets" and I challenged Brad MacDonald with "After the wave."

Friday, January 20


I am the ocean's daughter,
adrift still on all these years.
Waist-deep in murky water--
is it rain I feel? Or tears?

First attempt at a tanaga, this month's format challenge, for the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

Thursday, January 19


"Good is restraint in body, good is restraint in speech, good is restraint in mind, good is restraint everywhere. The one restrained in everything is freed from all sorrow." 
--Dharmapada 361

In the first pale light of morning, the bell rings. I rise from the mat and resettle my robes. First the samkacchika, the vest that binds, then uttarasanga, our regular robe. I wrap uttarasanga around my left shoulder, its dull ochre weight anchoring me to the cool ground. Antarasavaka, the outer robe, is wrapped around my waist in precise pleats and secured with a plain belt.

It is not too cold this morning, but I fold the sanghati, an extra robe, over my right shoulder anyway. It is useful for long seating, even if the weather continues pleasant. I rub my hand over the fuzzy remnants of my hair. I am pleased to find it still short enough. I am not yet perfectly comfortable with the traditional straight-razor. I pick up my mala prayer beads and step out of the room, into the peace of the morning.

We eat what is offered. I was a vegetarian in daily practice. Now I take hot rice in my bowl and accept anything else that is given. There is strong green tea, bitter and lovely. The trick is to keep from eating too much, as the body then interferes with meditation.

After the morning hours, we fast. More bells ring, softly, and we head into the temple. We enter and execute a series of bows, to the altar, to the teacher, to each other. Some days we hold discussions. Most days, I will sit and just listen. I am practicing silence.

 "Do not speak, unless it improves on silence," runs the accepted thought. Not quite a joke, but not quite serious, either. In retreat, there are long periods of unified quiet, the deep hush punctuated only by the tidal sounds of our breath. The heavy scent of sandalwood rises from the 108 beads of my mala garland and the mantras recite themselves, echoing in my head as I breathe and turn the beads in order.

The sanghati, folded, makes an excellent pad for a long meditation. It does not shift under my hips when I move forward to listen to the murmured discussion of dharma and text. I try to let each phrase fall on an empty mind, dew on an untouched field.

For some, this story is a tale of repression or boredom. For me, this is the bliss of each day in retreat. I have decided I will pass the last three days in mindful silence, listening to the pulse of the universe.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, MaryBethC challenged me with "Write about the events leading up to your vow to stop talking for the rest of the week." My prompt, sadly, went unanswered this week.

Bhikkhuni Ordination from Ed Ritger on Vimeo.

Friday, January 13


it's a goddamned miracle,
your face in the morning,
rising into an evening of shredded song.

if I dare touch a fountain pen, dark words
fly out, iridescent black feathers
drifting down to lodge in my hair

where last night's sunset is still sleeping.
you remember a mirror image, I know.
you see silver-sharp and frail

when I am bone and ink and ember.
I am all of these, steel and amber,
shimmering oil on restless water, pushing impatient

at the struck match burning so slowly
toward your long fingers. I can let
the past reel out behind us like copper wire. I will not forget,

but I can still breathe you in,
old words tattooed in crimson
stitched into my skin.

Written for Marian's musical prompt at the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

Tuesday, January 10


You hover outside my sphere of influence,
ever so close to penetrating within. Just out
of reach, I run my hands along the barrier.
Now, barometric or interior,
pressures are shifting,

the wind is changing. You tell me
my eyes have informed the green of the sky,
the air, and just that fast,
it turns--the supercell whirls gaily toward me.

Your heart, the very center of the bow echo,
sets all the warning sirens shrieking.
That unearthly whine shifts all my dreams,
pierces and stitches. A careful injection
of your inimitable attempts at nonchalance,

at caution, anathematic caution.
For me, caution is just
the laughing mouth of the funnel,
its cruel gape breathing thunder down my neck

while I pull up my striped stockings,
slot garter buttons into each keyhole,
while I step into bright red boots
and wait for you to touch down.

Written for the Personal Challenge at the Imaginary Garden with Real Toads


At the very end,
a stubborn, lovely flower
bares its head, holds tight.

Thursday, January 5

The Point of Roughness

Midwinter spring is its own season, each day in grey and smoky green on muddy snow marching in sodden boots toward the solstice. It's cold in small bites, then suddenly warm, every breath of air fastening its teeth in a lover's ear, whipping loose hair across the face, then the shock of ice down the neck.

It is a fleeting season, fleeing before the gnawing specters of the longest night, the coldest months.

There is a hedge along the hill, still green against the rocky drifts, and it is covered in the wind's scattered offerings, blossoming not with petals but perfect geometric crystals. If you came this way, taking the route you would be likely to take, from the place you would be likely to come from, you might never notice the difference. This is the hedgerow that held out handfuls of honeyed blossoms in the hot summer when we said goodbye.

It is not the end of the world. That lies in England, or so I am told, by many a poem and song, somewhere behind a headstone, somewhere in the fog of the night's passing. Somewhere in the mist let out like the breath of green and living things. And there are other places, which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws, or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city, but this is not why we are here, not something to speak in words on the shortest day of the year.

So we go behind the hedge, past the rocks in the hill, crooked old teeth of the earth standing still in a cast circle. Taking the hand of the person next to you in your own is an act of contrition, tribute paid to the dead shaking and sweating under our feet.

There, yes, there and then, what the dead had no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead:

The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. They whisper their threats, only just inaudibly, into the black and terrible night. We refute them with our pulse, with the song of living breath, with our stories and laughter held bright against Godfather Death.

We will speak of their dim lands someday, surely, but not today. Today we keep vigil for the extinguished sun, the brightness descendent into the underworld to speak with the dead in our place. Here, the intersection of the timeless moment between one year and the next, one inhalation of deep night exhaled into blue-banded dawn, inhaling: never. Exhaling: always.

So it goes, never and always. Earth and air, fire and water, incense rising from a burning cup into the last pale stars. The inexorable dead are silent for another three-quarter turn, the dead who rattle their bones against the dreams of held hands and gentle kisses. Implacable and resolute and tasting of despair.

Silent, yes, the dead may be, but they still make their motions in my sleep. They dance under my feet and leave me wakeful, wakeful. Thick yarn dangles from wooden needles, and there is Earl Grey tea in a white teapot under the world's blanket of snow, until the winter melts away into spring. I want to grow roses in blue clay pots. I want to write arias, bridges belling, belying the flutter in my stomach, in my heart. Then the newness of the year steals away all the words I might have had.

Summer has never returned the favor of my vocabulary, even in the Communion chalice of red-staining blackberries, hand-picked from martial canes, the juice mixed with blood from thorn-pricked fingers. I dance with the dead and hold silence in my heart.

There are reasons, but what they were I cannot say. They rely upon words I can not now speak in any comprehensible fashion, for last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice.


For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Tara Roberts challenged me with "New Year's resolutions - your own or a story about keeping or breaking resolutions."

The italicized lines are taken from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," the fourth of Four Quartets.