Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking Into The Nameless

I knew then, through whispers and side-glances, as I know now, that I am different. That the compulsion to jump from fences stirred me even then, and I would run from the sofa, through a house full of cool tile, to the lush garden that awaited with green arms and promises I could never describe. And I would leap, throwing my body into trust I hadn’t the name for, into chambers I had yet to recognize. And I would land, spinning, on my head, smiling with the impact, alive with the hurt and dizzying reality of matter, and something else, something I have yet to place in a box and seal with a kiss.
I have used thousands of words, I have run around it in circles and created colorful stories that hint at its splendor, but I refuse to stare at it directly. I refuse to look it right in the eye and mark it forever with letters and obvious description. It is respect, colored by the sheer knowledge that I know nothing, that any word would fall a thousand miles short and cause bruising that could never heal. I have seen it spinning in blackness. I have poked the edges with a sharp stick and my prying mind and curious eyes that seek the details of all forms.
There is flesh, round and soft with pointed ends. There is darkness lit only by stars and the dreams of the dreaming. And I have walked through the tunnels of my mind and I have taken ships that led me to forgotten caves painted with orange and red.
I have looked, with my head bowed, and my body calm as a steady sea. I have looked. Into mirrors, into eyes that seem to look back with the same curious stare, my eyes, brown and almond shaped, alive with flecks of green I might soon forget.
It is all there, and as I know now, as I knew then, that this is different. Leaping from fences and rooftops, scouring the inner caves of ink and stinking rot, this is different. And I pull on thick boots and walk with my head bent, my arms open for others that might come running naked from the mouths of other caves.
And if they do, we will walk, through tunnels of brown and sooty black, and we will walk, through tunnels I have yet to touch and refuse to name.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We Are All Going To Die

I looked at her from 20 feet away. She was crowned with a head of thick dreadlocks, held away from her face by a red ribbon. Most of the matted stalks were dark brown, as were her eyebrows, but the ones framing her olive-skinned face had streaks of platinum blond through them that ran through the locks like lightning bolts through a darkened sky. She looked thick and healthy, wearing baggy jeans and a jacket to protect her from rain that came in intervals.
Now the city park was filled with a bit of tentative sunshine, a few rays finding their way through a mass of fluffy gray clouds above. She smiled easily at the Afghan boy, his face still taught and smooth, just the hint of a beard growing on his chin. A table of packaged flat breads and jars of jalapeno spreads and humus separated them, though there was not much more, he held out his hand, offering a small sample and two rows of neat white teeth. She opened her hand, accepting his gifts.
I was twenty feet away, behind my own covered tables piled high with thick-crusted German bread and pastries. Whoever might have walked past by my booth in these moments was invisible, a ghost lacking any presence. My head was turned, slightly to the left, watching the pretty girl, smiling, wearing a thick red and white raincoat meant for mountain treks and camping. The young man in front of her, talking, both of them sharing easily for just one simple moment. It was soft, gentle, and I watched.
“She’s going to die one day.” The thought came from nowhere, it was simple and stark, so true as to be startling, yet I was not scared, I stood still, watching them both.
That pretty girl, in her later twenties, a head full of thick dreadlocks, a mind full of thoughts and a machine full of personality. I felt the hum of the market, crowded with white-tented booths and fresh oranges and vegetables. So many people, and all of us will die. The girl, the afghan guy….
And as much as they were alive in the moment, talking, breathing, she, tasting the flat bread, me, watching them, us, the entire market of vendors and customers and the people who drove by in their cars on the street just outside the park, we were all going to die one day. The thought hit me. Not just a thought, but a deep anchor that fell and hit the deepest part of me, a fact so true that I stood shocked, unable to turn away.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Climb

The question came in little gasps of breathy exertion:
“How…. much… longer…. is this….. going…. to take?”
He could barely get the words out, his body felt like lead, his breathing was so heavy, it muted the sound of his feet on the worn mountain path. Sweat covered his vaguely wrinkled forehead, the red shirt he wore had long since turned into a damp rag clinging to his shoulders. His heart pulsed, sending huge waves of blood through him, like dams about to burst. His heart was like a drum, pounding, pounding…
With each step, the muscles in his legs seemed just a moment away from ripping. It was pain, more pure than he ever remembered. He kept moving, as though tied to some sort of invisible rope that kept one foot following the other, endless, repetitive movement. He told himself that he couldn’t take it much longer, with each step he repeated the same thought within like a mantram. He imagined himself falling over, pushed too hard and for too long, soon the end would come.
There was a small laugh, it came a few feet ahead of him and traveled lightly on the wind till it found his ears.
“The path is the path. There is no end.”
Another light laugh followed, somehow finding its way to him over the sound of his heart and breathing and heavy footsteps.
His body reacted to the answer. He felt a sudden coldness, though he saw no wind moving the tree tops. Everything ended. There must be some mountain peak somewhere in the distance, there must be a point to the climb, something that they were trying to get to, something he was supposed to see.
Maybe a shrine? An old mountain hermit? A cave with paintings hidden within? Wasn’t there a point to this? There had to be an end, a place where he could rest his back against a tree and fill himself with slow deep breaths for hours and let his heart rest and his shirt dry.
“But I… can’t take…. much more of this,” his voice sounded desperate, “the… climb…. is almost… vertical… from as far…as I can tell… I’m… going to… fall… over… soon!”
Again the small laugh, almost like a bell, so light, filled with such melody. He didn’t feel offended when he heard it, it was not mocking or harsh, it felt like the sound of a child, innocent and open.
“Don’t worry, you’re fine. One step. Then another. Then you will need to take another. Feel the chain that binds us together and keep breathing. Keep moving.”
For a moment he felt nothing, no pain, no heavy breathing that burned his throat, just a calmness that seemed white and smelled of flowers.
“ahhhhh,” he moaned. A ripping pain in his legs consumed everything. He looked at the tall pine trees on either side of the path. He envied them. He wished he could stand still, adding his shape to their ranks. Just a moment of stillness, a moment to let a cool breeze wash over him and wipe away the rivers of sweat. He wanted to scream and turn around. He wanted to walk downhill, anywhere but up. Down to where he could find a car or a ride or a drink of water, perhaps a ham sandwich. He wanted to close his eyes and take a nap, to let his body rest and recover from this incredible strain. He wanted to do anything but this, but he felt the chain, he felt it wrapped around his heart, and he put one foot in front of the other, following the sound of bell-like laughter.
“Keep coming, the path continues this way.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Staircase

The row of marble stairs rose before him, a stairway that went up and up, then disappeared in the puffs of gleaming white clouds. He stood where the stairs seemed to begin, on a carpet of soft brown soil that housed a few vibrant spouts of green grass. Those tender blades had found the sunlight, and he smiled for them, for their unyielding push towards the sun.
The stairs seemed to begin where he stood, but as he imagined his place on the green and blue sphere, he wondered if perhaps the stairs began much further away. He closed his eyes and imagined buried steps of marble, submerged in the earth, worms using the flat surface for a bed. Or perhaps the stairs continued even further, emerging on the other side of the earth, where men in purple robes stared at the same staircase, wondering if they too, could find its end.
But the words confused him. Where was the “end” and what could be the “beginning?” It was just as likely that the staircase began in the clouds…the words merely indicated the direction of the voyage, not the truth. What would be the beginning for him could be the middle for another, and the end for another man. Or maybe there was no end…it could just be a long staircase that spiraled through the earth in both directions, moving into the black space beyond the atmosphere where both ends linked.
He opened his eyes and looked. The stairs were so smooth, and not just plain white as he had originally saw them. Each step was a subtle swirl of color. Tiny lines of yellow and tan and cream and white, they all moved and tumbled on the flat surface, a painting of color. And he wanted to begin, he wanted to know how far it went and how far he could go. But the question remained, how would he begin?
Of course it seemed easy, one step at a time, a simple movement of the muscles in his legs, one after the other, up and up. But he could see it went on for miles, miles and miles, and then disappeared in the thick cover of gray and blue clouds that had formed. The clouds looked heavy and thick and held the promise of heavy rain. Maybe now was not the best time to set out climbing a slick staircase.
And there was the other matter of food. He would have to carry his provisions with him, maybe water too. How much could he possibly carry on his back? How far could he go before he lay exhausted and thirsty on the marble steps, dying from his own curiosity?
He sat there, at the foot of the steps, on the soil that felt forgiving beneath the weight of his body. He sat with his legs folded beneath him and thought of all the things he would need, of all the problems that he could envision, and he sat and thought and kept looking up to the staircase, the huge marble steps that went on as far as he could see, up and up, a beautiful spire that twisted with strength and the promise of something, something he could not hold between his tongue.
But the same thought kept emerging…where did it go? Was there an end? Or would he find a beginning? Or would he climb for years before emerging stained with soil in the same spot he now sat?
He wanted to start running up the slippery steps, but part of him held back. There was planning that needed to be mapped out, provisions and equipment to buy. But he sat and stared while his mind jumped from thought to thought. His body wanted nothing more than to move. But then he thought about his muscles, was he really prepared for such a feat? Would it be better to work out for a couple of months, to build up the strength in his body for such a climb?
He felt his body pulling, “come,” it seemed to say, “come, and let the mind follow if it wants.” But he continued to sit there, while the light of afternoon began to fade into darkness. And he closed his eyes, imagining himself on the staircase, pursuing the one thing that seemed important, and perhaps it was, and perhaps it wasn’t, but it did seem that way.
He felt a sudden chill and opened his eyes, and the staircase was gone.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


It was a bright sunny day. The sun, a million miles away waved hello, letting each one of them, each one who turned their face up to the cloudless sky, know that another day had come. The reds were redder, the sunlight was stronger, the green of the treetops shone as though she had never seen them. Each of the cars that passed her on the road shone with the gleaming brilliance of light hitting smooth metal.
She drove with her window down and her left arm casually resting on the driver’s side door, feeling the soft breeze of the afternoon glide across her skin like water over marble. The city beyond the car’s surface was bustling. Tall cement buildings lined the streets, and they too gleamed in the sunshine, as though in this one day they finally were the sum total of their architect’s dream, and all the hopes of each person that entered their revolving doors and every person that walked the halls had finally come alive. And the buildings heaved with the breath of life, and the windows moaned, letting their long-held sounds out into the air, where they were met with the gentle groan of the wind.
Her foot pressed lightly on the gas and as the car eased forward, she felt faint stinging in her toes. She wiggled her fingers, feeling pins and needles there too. When she had left her house that morning, the doorknob gave her the first electrical shock. Then each step to the car was one tiny jolt after the other. The earth was energized and she wondered what lighting bolts had shed their power the night before.
The car’s handle was another little shock, and as she reached for it she saw a jagged blue-white current race from her middle finger to the handle. As she pulled into downtown, she saw that the cars were plentiful, each on their way somewhere different, but the traffic moved at a steady pace and the breeze kept on coming, not wanting to miss a thing. And she drove on, but she saw it all moving, almost dancing under her gaze. The tall street lamps wavered and the telephone lines bounced up and down, greeting her with their own language. She turned to her friend in the passenger seat, his face greeting her own with curiosity and a soft smile.
“Everything’s alive today. The cars, the buildings, the street lamps. Everything’s alive and shocking me with its power. My hands are still stinging from the metal knobs.”
He laughed. A gentle deep rumble that came from the kernel of true understanding he carried in the center of his chest.
“It’s you. It’s all coming to you, like a massive network of electrical currents that are all seeking you out. Those electrons feel you, they feel your charge and they’re jumping, like literally jumping towards you in great rivers of energy. It’s not everything else, not the street lamps or trees, it’s you that is electrified.”
She took a deep breath in, inhaling every drop of oxygen her lungs could hold. Drawing in the great rivers that flowed to her like water down a mountain.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


The waves crashed on the shore in quick succession and she sat within the divots of the sand, on the thousands of warm crushed rocks that were soft and harsh at the same time. She took to picking up little pinches of grains and rolling them between her thumb and index finger. These little things, these
almost-round things were what they called sand, what she called “sand.” What everyone understood as sand. These tiny pebbles that were once big rocks, now collectively known as sand.
She had been to more gentle beaches before, where the waves came in leisurely, as though they were in no hurry to find the shore and then melt into the larger form of water that had birthed their shape. But this was not a lazy sea. The waves came and came and came, causing a roar that was so loud it ended up fading into the background, a deep rumble that never settled down. It almost had a mechanical feel, like an industry that never shut off the lights and slowed the gears. It was constant. Churning. Relentless. It was slightly unsettling, but then like all things, its strangeness faded as she grew used to its ways.
The only thing she missed was the birds. The roar of the water drowned out their calls, if there were any flying in the sky above. But she would never know.
She could feel the sunlight, it warmed the exposed skin of her legs and arms and it warmed the grains of sand that her fingers rolled, but she could not see the light. The world was dark, or so others would say. The world was the only way she had ever known it and something can only be called “dark” if there is a comparison to “light.”
She did not know what light was, she had never seen colors or the shape of the waves. Everything for her was a collision of sound and texture and smell. She knew her way around the city because of the particular smells that lingered near certain intersections, by the constants that did not change, year after year. To get to the ocean from her house, she needed to make a left by the smell of the bakery and then another left were it always smelled like old meat. When she reached the bricks of the building on the corner, she knew she just needed to cross the street and soon she would hear the crashing waves.
“Jen!” her sister came running up, she could feel the coldness of the ocean radiating off her skin.
“Jen, you should really go out there and feel the water, it’s so refreshing. The waves are just so beautiful.”
“I will in a little bit, now I’m just feeling it all.”
“It’s just so pretty here.” She could feel her sister smiling and could hear the lightness in her voice.
It was something her sister said often. Places were “pretty and beautiful” and the description stopped there. After many years, Jen did not offer her thoughts, she knew it was part of the sight culture, things “were” something. Places and people were simple words: pretty, mean, ugly, vivid, beautiful. They were supposed to convey meaning but always lacked detail, and so they failed.
Her sister would look at the waves and declare them as “pretty.” But it meant nothing, not to the seeing or to the blind. It was a word that lacked emotion or description, for what was pretty? It was a judgement, an objective judgement that could not really be disputed or quantified, for it lacked anything real.
Jen had never seen a wave, but she felt it. It was not beautiful. For her, waves were the sound of a force she could not describe. They came over and over, relentless in their crawl towards land.
This place was more than a word, much more than a simple, flat word. It was her experience. It was the sun that felt warm on her skin. It was her longer breaths and the children shrieking in the distance. Places and people were never beautiful or ugly, they were described with a thousand words and scents and emotions, they were truly things that could not be seen.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Tortilla Chips, Beans And Desire

I need to eat. This we both agree on. I listen as he explains the difference between need and desire. The very early morning light finds his face through the blinds. I rarely see him like this and I watch with a smile, letting the morning unfold for me with a golden promise. My stomach aches just slightly and I sip my tea and milk as I latch onto an idea that has nothing to do with need. I do need to eat. My body needs nutrients. These soft muscles long to take the iron and deconstruct the protein and metabolize the sugar. This is a necessity, to keep working in this shape, in this small 5’3 body, I need to keep eating. I finish my teas and drive home, a particular thing on my mind.

But what I desire is specific. I don’t just want “food.” Once I start imagining particular shapes and tastes and textures, it goes from the need aspect of a body requiring fuel…to desire. And this is fixation of the mind, not even something I have created, something the world has created for me, something I latch onto and hold upon a shiny golden pedestal, the thing that will make me happy, the taste to complete the morning.

I desire a particular breakfast. I look out the open blinds of my large window and look at the long eucalyptus leaves swaying. I remember it from last week. A warm side of refried pinto beans, next to it, a modest scoop of plain scrambled eggs, they were just a shade darker than the white paper plate. Forming the perfect triangle was another side, a pile of tortilla chips covered in a spicy red sauce. It was on the verge of being too spicy, but it was just barely bearable and though my tongue stung, I went back for more.
I sat on a narrow cement bench beside the ledge of the pier. The sun warmed me and I could think of nothing better. I turned to the people sitting next to me, a couple that were as unfamiliar as everyone else in the crowded outdoor market. They shared the same dish off an identical paper plate. I watched the man push a red tortilla chip into his mouth. I stared in awe. “It’s worth every penny!” I blurted with a smile. They looked up, taking only a second to realize I was feasting on the same meal. They nodded warmly, equally as amazed with the dish. It was a perfect blend of spice. The hot tortillas chips were balanced out with the mild eggs and creamy beans. That was last Saturday. And this morning, this Saturday morning, I am hungry. I do need to eat. I have food in the fridge. Some eggs, a bag of fake meat in the freezer, a few small pieces of zucchini, I could make myself some breakfast, save ten dollars, not give into the urge I know is only desire. I am hungry. I need to eat. I desire that specific taste. I don’t need it. I just want it.

But I cannot will myself to make some food. I look at my only three pots, and they are dirty. In the sink are my only two plates and a pile of dirty forks. I am repulsed by my own filth. “If I go downtown, I’ll have time to take some photos,” I reason with myself. Bargaining with the devil. It is a lie, a perfect excuse. I need food. I desire the refried beans. I want the spicy chips. I want the same blend of perfect, on-the-edge spice.

And so I leave in a rush of excitement. Somewhat believing my own excuse, but knowing all too well what I really want.

I get on the subway. Three stops after my own, a young man gets in and sits across from me. He sniffs over and over. I think about changing my seat, but I never do. On 24th St., an old, wide Latin man enters. He stands by the front double doors for a few minutes, looking perfectly normal until he starts yelling. At first we react with wide, startled eyes and nervous smiles, but soon, no one pays any attention to him, even his cries for attention go unanswered.

When I arrive at the farmer’s market, I stand in line for the food. There are at least twelve people in front of me and I use the time to take photos, like I promised I would. When the paper plate of food arrives it looks just as it did the week before. I walk to a small cement planter box and sit on the edge. There are people all around me. Most are in groups, sharing plates of food and talking softly. In front of me is the Bay. Two small boys chase the pigeons that lurk for our crumbs. I take a bite. The chips are a bit cold. There isn’t a kick. My face melts. It isn’t the same. I keep eating, but I laugh mildly.
I had desired it so much. He warned me. He had explained it to me just an hour before. I didn’t need this particular plate of food. This is desire laughing in my face. It is not as good as I remembered. Something has changed.

No river is ever the same. No taste will ever be the same as the first time, no experience can ever be replicated, no matter how many times I desire the same meal.