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The Feather and the Weight

Someone asked me if I remembered the good times. Why I could remember the details of the bad times, but not recall the specifics of all the good ones. I answered.

Because the good times are so much more ephemeral. Evanescent. Even among the grandness of life, the good, the joyous, is found in the seemingly insignificant, made up of moments, small kindnesses, sincere unbidden smiles, the touch of the hand, a glance. Whispers. They possess an ineffability that affects us deeply but leaves its mark on our inner world. Like religious experience, they are hard to grasp, but exist no less. Over time, they add up to goodness. Each not so different than another, but with a feeling of being filled with goodness though one may cast about for specific examples.

And the bad times. They come like startling punches to the gut amid the good moments. So surprising, the shock embeds the details in memory.

Some days we get up, look outside at the gorgeousness of the day. And we feel filled with joy and delight. But what particular sunny day do you recall? How many? But the storms amid them? The horrific storms we remember, blow by blow.

The good becomes ubiquitous. The bad embeds in space and time.

The good does not diminish but persists even though we cannot point to it.

And the bad can fade, unless it is refreshed. Unless the storms come again, and again. Punched too often, one becomes sore and shy.

It doesn’t minimize the goodness at all. But our memory treats them differently. Joy and trauma do not process the same way. Pleasure and pain are not remembered alike.

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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in philosophy, psychology

 

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(Im)perfection

There are no scars I can see,
but we know they are there.
The flesh is warm and
tender though beneath
it feels different
than I would have imagined,
I suppose.

Years before
at a youth conference
I was a mentor for the teens
and my partner in class
was a young
lady of forty,
I suppose.
Margot had a close crop of hair
and we talked about imperfections
as we sat on the floor,
she on one side
I on the other
in a circle of kids
all there because they didn’t belong
and so was I.
Margot’s turn came
and she reached into her shirt,
pulled out her left breast and
threw it to me.

Dear Margot,
this is not a normal introduction
is what I said
and the kids laughed
the shock away
as I squeezed lightly
the translucent bag,
jostled it between my fingers
making a mental comparison
which could be seen on my face,
I suppose,
and the kids laughed
as I passed the breast to the left.

Dear Margot,
may I compare
is what I asked
and she said yes, with a smile
I walked the few feet as
she pulled her bra out from her sleeve,
I squeezed lightly
and jostled it between my fingers
making a mental comparison
which could be seen on my face,
I suppose,
and the kids laughed
while passing the breast to the left.

I wouldn’t have imagined,
I suppose,
anything,
because being here
with you, in this way,
feels normal, fine and right,
but who could have seen it coming
as I squeeze lightly,
jostling them between my fingers,
making no mental comparison,
which you can see on my face,
I suppose,
until I kiss your warm flesh
and my face disappears.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Culture, Poetry, Social

 

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My Friend and the Eternal War

Joseph is a soldier. He joined the war before he was old enough and, with faked papers, became a sniper. If you ask Joseph, he has been a soldier as long as he can remember, in his past lives, in his present life even though he is a father, is no longer in the military, cooks, cleans, is a massage therapist. Joseph is still at war.

War follows Joseph. He is randomly shot at, challenged, fought. He is six-four. Impressive. Imposing. Intimidating. Still, things happen to Joseph. Violent things. Hateful and hurtful.

Joseph feels this is normal. Others shake their heads, look with disbelief. To who else do such things happen on such a regular basis? In Melbourne, Florida? Fort White and Gainesville, Florida?

I suggest we get what we expect. Become magnates for what we carry, create our worlds within.

Joseph eschews help, picks up a washing machine by himself, hurts his back, bemoans his misfortune.

I want to fix this but can’t. Joseph is capable of so much compassion, care, kindness. He is the most moral of people, trustworthy. In constant battle.

It is a Saturday night. We have met at Craig’s house to sing, talk, drink coffee, enjoy each other’s company. Evanne, Jack, Beth, myself. We will create sweetness in an evening with our company, our voices. A fat songbook, a dulcimer. It is an evening of pleasantness planned after a difficult week and I know, now, Joseph is coming and the evening will change.

He will talk of war. He will talk over the singing, needing to be heard. There will be bodies, bombs, special forces, politics, shrapnel, combat. I will sing “Peace” by Tom Paxton and he will shout over it about soldiers having body parts cut off, hung in show.

Coffee is served. No-one makes coffee like Craig. He has Kahlúa and Baileys Irish Cream and I ask him if he would not mind preparing my coffee. If I make it, it will not taste the same. He does, smiling, unsatisfied until it is perfect. I appreciate Craig. More and more, as a matter of fact.

We sing, Evanne and I. Joseph comes with his family, long-time friends; beloved, respected, treasured but not always an easy friendship. “Lemmon Tree” is sung in two part harmony and it is sweet, melodic. My voice blends with Evanne’s well and creates one of my favorite sounds. She tells me she cannot sing but her voice in song is a sound of water falling from a height, of children playing at a distance, the sounds of a night-forrest. In harmony it is the sound of peace, the tones sing of friendship, they capture comfort, give it back for all to hold. Suddenly we cannot hear ourselves and Nicaragua is recreated in Craig’s living room. Or it is El Salvador? I use to know this.

I pick up my dulcimer and play “The Water is Wide.” The lap dulcimer is not a loud instrument. I am straining to hear it over a story of conflict, a history of a secret violence. Evanne is singing “Savage Daughter” and I am attempting to learn it on my dulcimer as she sings, but I cannot here the notes over the grenades.

Jeannette, Evanne, Craig and I are singing a shaker hymn, then “How can I keep from Singing”, we try a showtune and always over the notes is a cacophony of gunfire, wounded, the taking of bullets. Hymns of peace in combat with combat.

I think I should be more compassionate, but this is a constancy. At some point, compassion must include oneself and I have heard this as an ongoing saga of bluster and fear. He may be re-deployed. He may have to serve again. I keep my own counsel and say nothing. I only sing louder.

I then do that which I perhaps should not. My birthday is soon. Soon. Joseph is, of course, invited. I could not think of not having him there. I tell him, over his voice, interrupting, next Saturday, there is no talk of politics. I agree with everything he says and still, no talk of politics. My muscles are tight, my stomach hurts. I wish to celebrate my birthday with the living, the breathing. I wish for the dead to be at peace just for a few hours. I pick up my dulcimer and slip it into its bag.

I know we deal with violence. In order to handle violence, we must have a place of peace to hold fast. We can hold it in ourselves. If we can keep peace in ourselves, we bring it into our homes. If we can all bring it into our homes, each home, we have brought it into our neighbourhoods. If we have done that…

And so I should have been able to have handled it, let is flow in and through but it is a practice. It is not perfect. I am not and I spoke up for the first time in a decade. More than a decade.

Last year at my birthday, we were eating cake to stories of street violence, martial arts demonstrations, paramedic episodes. Space around Joseph became wide. In a small apartment, a large man took up more and more space, a wider swath. Is he always like this, I am asked. Yes, he is. He tells me he would take a bullet for me. I have no doubt. I would for him. No question. What I can’t do is take another night of death stories.

It is not that war did this to him. After all, he chose to go before he was of age. This is inside Joseph.

His answer? He will not show up. He will not come to my birthday. He chooses his dead over the celebration of my life. I am more sorry than hurt.

The stories continue. People leave. Joseph wonders if he chased them away. Apologises to Craig.

It is three am. I cannot sleep. I walk into the backyard and hang bamboo shades. I wonder if I should have held my tongue. When is kindness not kind? And what is kindness when it comes to Joseph?

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2006 in Culture, Social

 

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