Monday, November 10, 2008

My Mother's Cinnamon Rolls

Still, the power of rhyming words, of word transformations, cannot altogether be dismissed. The feeling of magic remains, even if it cannot be connected with a search for the truth, and this same magic, these same correspondences between words, are present in every language, even though the particular combinations are different. At the heart of each language there is a network of rhymes, assonances, and overlapping meanings, and each of these occurrences functions as a kind of bridge that joins opposite and contrasting aspects of the world with each other. Language, then, not simply as a list of separate things to be added up and whose sum total is equal to the world. Rather, language as it is laid out in the dictionary: an infinitely complex organism, all of whose elements—cells and sinews, corpuscles and bones, digits and fluids—are present in the world simultaneously, none of which can exist on its own. For each word is defined by other words, which means that to enter any part of language is to enter the whole of it. Language, then, as a monadology, to echo the term used by Leibniz. (“Since all is a plenum, all matter is connected and all movement in the plenum produces some effect on the distant bodies, in proportion to the distance. Hence every body is affected not only by those with which it is in contact, and thus feels in some way everything that happens to them; but through them it also feels those that touch the ones with which it is in immediate contact. Hence it follows that this communication extends over any distance whatever. Consequently, every body experiences everything that goes on in the universe, so much so that he who sees everything might read in any body what is happening anywhere, and even what has happened or will happen. He would be able to observe in the present what is remote in both time and space….A soul, however, can read in itself only what is directly represented in it; it is unable to unfold all at once all its folds; for these go on into infinity.”)

Playing with words in the way A. did as a schoolboy, then, was not so much a search for the truth as a search for the world as it appears in language. Language is not truth. It is the way we exist in the world. Playing with words is merely to examine the way the mind functions, to mirror a particle of the world as the mind perceives it, in it. It is the infinitely complex network of connections among them. As in the meanings of words, things take on meaning only in relationship to each other. “Two faces are alike,” writes Pascal. “Neither is funny by itself, but side by side their likeness makes us laugh.” The faces rhyme for the eye, just as two words can rhyme for the ear. To carry the proposition one step further, A. would contend that it is possible for events in one’s life to rhyme as well. A young man rents a room in Paris and then discovers that his father had hid out in this same room during the war. If these two events were to be considered separately, there would be little to say about either of them. The rhyme they create when looked at together alters the reality of each. Just as two physical objects, when brought into proximity of each other, give off electromagnetic forces that not only effect the molecular structure of each but the space between them as well, altering, as it were, the very environment, so it is that two (or more) rhyming events set up a connection in the world, adding one more synapse to be routed through the vast plenum of experience.

—Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude

In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own.

—Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Rudolph Steiner, Theosophy:
Actions […] acquire permanence once they have been stamped on the outer world. (65)

What I have done today will remain in effect tomorrow. It has become lasting through my action, just as yesterday’s impressions have become lasting for my soul through memory. (65)

In our ordinary consciousness, we do not usually form a concept of “becoming lasting through action” in the same way that we form a concept of memory, of becoming lasting as a result of observation or perception. But is the “I” not just as strongly linked to a change in the world that results from its own action as it is to a memory that results from an impression? […] I am a different person in my relationship to the world once I have made an impression on my environment. We do not notice this as easily as we notice how the “I” changes through acquiring a memory, but this is only because as soon as a memory is formed it unites with the overall life of the soul we have always regarded as our own, while the external consequence of an action, released from this soul life, goes on working through aftereffects that are quite different from what we can remember about the action. In spite of this, we must admit that something is now in the world as a result of our completed action, something whose character has been stamped on it by the “I.”

Could it be that the results of our actions, whose character has been impressed on them by the “I,” have a tendency to come back to the “I” in the same way that an impression preserved in memory comes to life again when an outer circumstance evokes it? What is preserved in memory is waiting for a reason to reappear. Could it be the same with things in the outer world that have been made lasting by the character of the “I?” Are they waiting to approach the soul from outside, just as a memory waits for a reason to approach from inside? (65)

Every life body is a repetition of its immediate ancestor, and because this is so, the form the life body assumes is never arbitrary, but is the one that it has inherited. The forces that have made my human form possible came from my ancestors. (70)

In the spiritual world, everything is in constant activity, constant motion, constant creation. “Resting” or “staying in one place” does not exist there as it does in the physical world, simply because the archetypes are creative beings, the master builders of everything that comes into existence in the physical and soul worlds. Their forms change quickly, and each archetype has the potential to assume countless specific forms. It is as if the specialized forms well up out of them—one form has hardly been created before its archetype is ready to let the next one pour out. In addition, archetypes do not work alone, but stand in closer or more distant relationship to each other. One archetype may need the help of another to do its creating, and often innumerable archetypes work together so that some particular being can come to life in the soul world or the physical world. (124)

We must take on physical bodies as our tools so that we have something material through which to work on the material world and through which the material world can work on us. However, what works through our human bodily nature is the spirit.

Things come back to meet us:
what we carry, what we choose.

We find ourselves in places in which and with people from whom we have something to learn, something to teach, something to receive, something to give.

“Volk” ←this is a being (not just the feeling life of a group of people)

Soul inheritance
: RS speaks of the differences, but I want to speak of the similarities, the places where our souls are the same, those places where our souls are formed by the shapes and habits of our bodies.

In my voice, I recognize my ancestors, the women both near and distant to me. In my speech, my laughter, my weeping, and my song, I imagine generations upon generations of the women of my family, doing these things in the same way, catching my ear in the way a familiar voice would. I recognize the echoes of their voices in mine, a familial timbre, an ancestral cadence that finds its resonance and reverberation again, in my voice.

It is true; the “I” can never be heard outside of oneself. Its meaning only ever comes from within. But how much closer and more hauntingly, uncannily even, shades of that “I” come to ringing true when heard by me as spoken in a voice that sounds so near my own.

As very different as I am from her, I know that there are truths about myself that my mother understands and carries in her heart—not because she is the woman who raised me and has observed my growht from the time before my birth into this time now of my adulthood, but because, in so many ways, her self is the same as mine, as is her mother’s, and her mother’s before her, and her mother’s before her… and so it goes, generations back, this inheritance and passing along of so many parts of our selves.

It is in the same way that I recognize and comprehend the rhythms and the truths of the lives of these women who came before me, who gave birth to the women who gave birth to me; because our gestures and expressions are formed so nearly the same—this type of smile, this type of downward curve to the eye, this type of rubbing motion with the hands, this is how we knead the dough—I imagine, and I sense deeply, the striking similarities of habit, how we are in this world: holding a knife in the same way, a spoon, a basket of laundry, a child.

It is in the home that I feel the pull of these habits, the presence of these women, my inheritance, most strongly with me. And yes, habits are learned, as well as inherited; or truer to say, perhaps, that habits are inherited in a number of ways, in the ways that particular genes weave themselves together in the moment of conception, and inherited also through space and time shared with those whom we love.

And so it is in the home, and in the kitchen, most particularly, where I hear my mother’s voice, my grandmother’s voice, reminding me how to stir just so, how high to turn the heat, how to tap and hear the hollow sound that is just right, and how to know when it’s done, and in hearing their voices in my ear, I learn from them still. And I think they must hear the same, in the spaces of their kitchens: the voices of their mothers and grandmothers before them, teaching them how to prepare the foods that will feed their families and friends, at the most mundane and everyday, as well as the most celebratory and sacred, meals, revealing to them the joy and beauty in feeding others.

I return to my grandparents’ home once or twice a year now, and it is in their kitchen where my childhood memories of my family come alive most vividly. And it is in their kitchen still where most of our time together as a family occurs. In their kitchen, my childhood is alive again, as I watch them cook, my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother—it almost doesn’t matter who is doing what, for we all know how to do it the same, our hands and bodies and eyes moving in the same way—and I join them. And so I add my voice to the chorus.

Becoming lasting through action, we return to ourselves, our selves in all our forms, and our children in our forms. Our actions await our return in the world, and our children find them.

My mother, my aunts, my grandmother are all well known and loved for their baking. And so I bake, because it is what I know, and it is what I love.

Life rhymes.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Driving into Oklahoma

Driving into Oklahoma, I noticed how much I missed you. It's the craziest thing; I've made this trip I don't know how many times over the years now, and all of a sudden, this time, driving along these roads, under this sky, I missed you. And of course, this is not a surprise at all; in fact, I expected I might, and I know you'll understand what I mean. Reconnected, you live (again) in these spaces with me. My soul is awake to your presence once more, after so many years asleep. And once again, I find you in so many places, large and small, often unexpected. You live for me at a lonely intersection in Colby, Kansas; at the beach in Rincon, black dolphins swimming with us, so near we could have touched them; you live for me along a quiet, dusty mountain road in New Mexico, on our way home, lost and nearly out of gas; a campsite, crowded and green, the leaves of the white birches shimmering high in the sky above, and another, tan and gravelly, treeless—where they were, both forgotten; in Phillips Hall, the smell of turpentine thick in the air, your face, laughing and earnest; you live for me in the lazy, secret, hot summer days of a rundown apartment painted pink behind the trees; you live for me in a bed of pine needles along the banks of the river’s edge when we were teenagers; on my parents' back patio, the stars shining; outside my bedroom window, after work; in a purple plum tree still growing in front of the home we once shared; and in so many more places, I find you, and my heart is glad for you there. And this is all to say, simply, hello, I'm thinking of you, and I’m glad you’re here.

The whole of love: we are in it now, in this moment.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Even though it was a dream, she knew it was true.

Standing at the landing of the second floor staircase of Swift Hall, there he was, walking down the familiar gray slate steps; the leaded glass window casting his face in shadow. She knew by his lope, it was him.

The joy welled up in her, she thought she would whoop and holler. Instead, she smiled so hard her jaw started hurting. And she jumped in his arms. Always a few inches taller than she, he wrapped his long arms around her rib cage and swung her around, boisterously. With both surprise and reunion joy, he said her name over and over…

As they came to a stop from their swinging, she steadied herself by grabbing his forearms.

“I knew that you didn’t do it. I knew that you couldn’t do that to yourself. I knew you were still alive. You’re alive.” she practically panted, so many words spilling out her mouth, trying to capture her shock, disbelief and utter relief that all the pain could be wiped away.

“Of course, I’m alive,” he said, almost half joking, as if the torture and grief that she had known for so many months could not possibly have been started by him. “I’d never do that to you. You think I could just leave like that?!”

“I knew. I knew you were alive,” she whispered in awed wonder at his presence before her.

And then the scene changed.

She is lying in a hospital bed in a sterile, white room with two beds. She is in the bed by the window and the sheet divides her from the other side. She feels fine but she knows that he is in the other bed.

She stands and pulls the sheet back. Surrounded by tubes and lights, he is lying unearthly still. She knows that he is dead.

She is so angry. She crawls on top of him and starts pounding his chest.

“NO! NO! Come back! Come back! Don’t go!” she cries, her voice cracking with pain.

She can say no more, her mouth is full of tears. She shakes him and clings to his face, trying to yell him back from the dead.

He is gone.

And yet, they are still 17.

Although life still seemed up in the air-there sitting there on the scalded sidewalk, slouching up against the impending Performing Arts Center.

A pair of headphones broken so each could have an earful of music. A melancholy song of lost love and of wanting a reality that is more than words.

They each had other people taking their attention and bringing individual soap opera drama to their lives. And yet there was a level of comfort with each other like an old couch in a back room surrounded by others smoking and talking. A peace that appreciates what one moment has to offer and nothing more.

They would have to go soon. A light mist was falling. Her hair still in pink, sponge curlers for the night’s show, him still in work out clothes. They drew up their knees to avoid the rain, and she laid her cheek upon his shoulder.

They sat in silence under the weight of all they did not know. They did not know that they were both being betrayed by false loves. They did not know that show business was not in their futures. They did not know that in a few short years he would read Crime and Punishment and hang himself. She would never read Dostoevsky again and not imagine the book lying in his closet. The rope. How could he let his family find him? What changed? Where was her peaceful friend then?

So, she clings to her memories and makes them more than they are. It’s for sanity, for peace. She cries.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Love and Truth

"I'm not saying opera is a waste of time,
I just love you for all the things you couldn't change,
though you've tried." Ben Folds

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sweet unheard

Standing at the sink, a large, sticky handful of black seeds in my hand, I want to eat them all and think they will be sweet, like honey, I want you to help me put them into an envelope before I do, though, I want to save them, for next year, but you are in the pantry, looking for something I don't understand, and you don't hear me asking for your help, and small clumps begin to fall away.

Thursday, August 2, 2007


in the summer I lean over the balcony railing that rises fifteen feet above the stinking chicago alley where bins of trash stew in the late afternoon. flies gather, swirl and flap their wings frantically before they lay eggs in bananas, orange rinds and heels of bread. against the forrest green bins something catches my eye, a shining silver rectangle about three feet across and two feet tall. i move my head to the left and to the right to manipulate the reflection that glares only at very specific angles. it is a national geographic map of indonesia, torn out of the magazine, unfolded, flattened and framed behind thin plexiglass. the names of the many islands and the seas in between sound like expensive coffees, troublesome with complicated staggering vowel sounds. i pick it up and carry it back to my apartment where i hang it on my wall. the gem that has floated in from the streets.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Ballad of Pete Yorn and Tobey Keith (IN THE NIGHT) sung to the tune of 'the revolution' by David Byrne

Good Lightning Pie

When We Sleep

and when we wake

my periphery is stained red


Sounds of Records Breaking
Pins Being bowl'd Over

Good Lightning Pie

Thursday, July 19, 2007

To See What He Could See

Not the Elmo video again.

I relent.

"The bear went over the mountain,
the bear went over the mountain,
the bear went over the mountain,
to see what he could see.

To see what he could see,
to see what he could see,
to see what he could see,
the bear went over the mountain
to see what he could see.

He saw another mountain,
he saw another mountain..."

How to tell my son: this is life.

Monday, July 16, 2007

When a child finds his way into the world

"A Tale Begun"
by Wislawa Szymborska

The world is never ready
for the birth of a child.

Our ships are not yet back from Winnland.
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass.
We've still got to outwit the sewers to Warsaw's center,
gain access to King Harald the Butterpat,
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouche.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.

We've run out of bandages,
matches, hydraulic presses, arguments, and water.
We haven't got the trucks, we haven't got the Minghs' support.
This skinny horse won't be enough to bribe the sheriff.
No news so far about the Tartars' captives.
We'll need a warmer cave for the winter
and someone who can speak Harari.

We don't know whom to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the Prince-Cardinal will decree,
which names Beria has still got inside his files.
They say Karol the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation let's appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
change faiths,
pretend to be friends with the Doge
and say that we've got nothing to do with the Kwabe tribe.

Time to light the fires.
Let's send a cable to grandma in Zabierzow.
Let's untie the knots in the yurt's leather straps.

May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.
But not so far

that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift, o heavenly powers.

"After Making Love We Hear Footsteps"
by Galway Kinnell

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run--as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears--in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on--
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body--
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

"The Lanyard"
by Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift--not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.


oreo oreo
give me a hug.
oreo oreo
go eat a bug.
oreo oreo
you are so fat.
oreo oreo
you are my favorite cat.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

25 going on 21

Phase 1: The light came in from the south and east. In the morning the light would fill the room slowly, gathering momentum to eventually stir me awake. The warmth was blousing, and it stayed with me throughout the day and throughout that long time of my life.

Phase 2: Sleeping in public. In small rooms, in libraries, in meeting halls, back stairwells, other people’s floors, couches, outside on the heating vent. The light came from elsewhere, sporadically, without premonition or anticipation.

Phase 3: I lived in the nighttime with coffee and strangers. A time to think of only when absolutely necessary, mostly, with the exception of the morning bicycle rides around the lake, sweat dripping down my back.

Phase 4: The window was westward facing. I lived many latitudes north of here. I was swallowed into shadows. I may as well have lived underground.

Phase 5: Back to the first room, with many changes. Raspberry walls, long tunnels, wistful thoughts, looking a lot and feeling more… anticipation, plans, sinking.

Phase 6: The windows were eastward. The light reflected off of billboards. Most mornings, I lay there, close to empty, in my bed. Dreams of family and Elizabeth Taylor. Death.

Phase 7: Same building as Phase 6, but windows now westward. Construction. Paintings of cats and the Burberry Plaid. Bathing with friends, bathing alone, lots of cigarettes on the fire escape. 4pm sun.

Phase 8: Bed to bed. Traveling. Blankness. Establishing camaraderie. Platonic love.

Phase 9: In-between homes and trains. Building ideas, possibilities, tenderness.

Phase 10: I moved in to hot pink walls and north window. The room smelled of cedar. Dreaming underwater, folk, homemade enchiladas, philosophy, building a business, administrative duties, a baby (Quinn), cut-off shorts, closing and opening.

Phase 11: Westward windows, waking up to sun on my face in a sea-green room. Making love in quicksand. Cats and books, failure and anonymity.

Phase 12: Northward windows on the northside, with brick walls and thick mortar. The wind blew the snow from sideways, upside down and from underneath. The lightning storms created chaos and fires. Smoking in the stairwell. Leveling.

Phase 13: Opportunity granted me luxury. Sunlight from all directions.

Phase 14: Back to the raspberry room.

Phase 15: The window was in a labyrinth in the lightwell in a courtyard, first floor. The light was in a vacuum. I read here incessantly. Nights spent on a bridge overlooking traffic below.

Phase 16: Raspberry room. Searching, planning, waiting. Responsibility.

Phase 17: I was allowed to stay in a spare apartment in return for cleaning it up. Location and view unlike another. Carpet and tiles littered with mice droppings. Dead mice, exploded cakes, decayed fruit, dramatic lighting.

Phase 18: Avoiding home and those upset with me. Small, cramped, dirty. Cheap.

Phase 19: The light came from the south. No roommates, cat. Filth and shouting outside. Lots of air and light. Loud space.

Phase 20: Western light. White blankets and wood floors. Neutrality. Immense, unsettling change. Sifting into place. My body moved into another.