Monday, November 28, 2011

West Beach

It's funny to me, how we came to this place on a whim three years ago, piling thirteen people into rooms built to hold twelve, letting all of the laughing blow all of the reds out from under my eyelids. And how in the time since it's become this beautiful anchor that rests just under my skin, one of my favorite places just a ferry ride away. It's funny, all of the places our hearts call home.

This time of year the lowest tide is well past dark, so it's possible to take your winter adventure boots and a flashlight and walk all the way out on soil that is usually hidden and cold and dark. Which is lucky, since that is almost always exactly the soil I want to see.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I went to the woods this weekend, just for a day, happy to wash the restless off of my bones for at least a moment. Lately I have been thinking about the Nietzscheism "We want to be poets of our life — first of all in the smallest most everyday matters." I suspect that it is my very need to construct all of this beauty and meaning with my own hands that makes it so frequently far away. I suspect, generally, that poetry is something the universe gives to you only when your hands are closed. I suspect that some things are just never going to come closer. Still, I think that the closest approximation often comes with movement and watching and finding tiny frozen mushrooms in trees, with looking at the oldest things with my newer eyes.

We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving on magic Orcas Island this year, my whole merry band of reprobates tumbled like puppies into the cabins for days on end. I know I said this last year, but it's still true that the thing I am most thankful about is that I find myself never lacking for love and friends and laughing, for ill-conceived shenanigans and hilarity and adventures. And sometimes, for poetry in the smallest most everyday matters.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not too long ago I read an article that suggested that the reason the octopus is so smart is because it evolved out of its shell, and so suddenly became soft and free and able to explore. The sudden unmooring of the octopus from the bottom of everything gave it a chance to become all brain, to line its tentacles with tasting and its mouth with poison and its actual mind with all of our shapes. Maybe this is why they need three hearts. Sometimes that makes sense, but then mostly just the one seems so difficult to maintain.

Last night we were watching a documentary in which a man in a jungle climbed a giant tree to steal honey out from under bees with his bare hands. It took him more than an hour to get to the top of that tree, to hack into it and send down baskets of honey to his family. (Men of the Aka people reportedly spend more time with their families than any other known society, enough time to make defying thousands of bees a commonsense activity.) I like that story each time it's told, about pulling uncommon things from surprising nooks in the world with our hands, building layers of serendipity and hard work and magic.

The documentary didn't finish the story, pulling away with the man still standing in the tree, no clear way back to the ground. The way down is never as important as the struggle up.

Monday, November 14, 2011

It is time for planting paperwhites, for making something bloom in time for Christmas, all bright white in dim rooms. Paperwhites are related to daffodils, their perfume too strong to just be ghosts of spring's shouting yellow flowers, their bulbs and leaves still laced with poison. The stories say that the whole genus of narcissus stems from the youth who fell in love with his own reflection, but in the language of flowers a gift of paperwhites is a sign of hope, of a belief in the sweetness of the recipient. Paperwhites are the only members of narcissus that don't require a period of cold and dark to bloom, and perhaps this accounts for it.

If I could I would write messages with paperwhites under your windows. If I could, I would tell you all of my secrets with flowers.

I have been to the edges all alone, hands torn and ragged, talking in science and thinking in poems. The secret of ultima thule is that it is only blank space, that the world off the edges of our map is where nothing like monsters live. I would put my hands over the holes in you, give you the space to breathe and to heal, if only you couldn't see all the way through me already. I would throw your secrets off the edge of the map, over the cliffs I have already risked so much to see. At heart ultima thule is only the place beyond the borders of the known world, and so I think that the closer we walk toward it the farther away it always gets. I don't know if it's the distance or the height that causes a freezing that starts in my marrow and shatters my bones, but maybe it's only the freezing that will cause everything to mend again. Maybe the flowers to be found there will turn out to be the sweetest ones to harvest.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


The hummingbird and I have been doing a careful dance since we first noticed each other last year, recognizing perhaps in our advancing and retreating a certain set of similarities in the too-quick fluttering of our hearts and the frailty of our bones. The fortune teller in Italy told me that my spirit animal is probably the sparrow, tiny and drab and wallowing happily in the dust, but sometimes I wonder about hummingbirds. There's something familiar in how the energy they need to keep themselves alive is conversely what keeps them always so close to starvation. As though in the late nights they can probably hear their bones clattering together, too, all hollow and anxious.

It was comforting to have the hummingbird in the trees through the hard winter of last year, to have a focus on needs other than my own. In the summer it ranged farther away, not needing me anymore with all of the flowers to visit and neighbors to meet, but in the last few weeks it had become a constant visitor again. I have spent much of the same time camped in my apartment, finishing my thesis project, and we have slowly become more familiar.

This afternoon I took down the feeder to resupply it with liquid, and when I went back on to the balcony to hang it back up the hummingbird was hovering around the window boxes, searching for it. It moved just out of reach while I put everything back together and then moved right back in as soon as I stepped away. It seems we've come to some new understanding, the hummingbird and I.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I've been looking for fortunes in all of the dregs, drinking to the bottom of cups and rivers and oceans and eyes. Someone has to be hiding the future somewhere, I figure. In a teacup or an orange peel or something.

It's been nearly a year since I threw open the doors to Legba, wrapped up a wish with tribute to the voodoo queen and knocked nine times as instructed, looking for secrets in legends. They say that Legba stands at the crossroads, speaking all languages, deciding who gets to talk to the spirits. In some cultures under other names he can be tricky, dispensing destiny from a sack worn across one shoulder. I wonder what is at the bottom of Legba's cups, all the secrets in the smoke.

The wishing stump belonged to the voodoo queen Marie Laveau, although the question of whether it was the property of mother or daughter is still somewhat mysterious. They say that there were at one point many voodoo queens in New Orleans, but that the competition all faded away once Marie Laveau decided to be queen. She's queen still, and the inside of the stump is layered with wishes. In this way it is something of a comfort to think of my wish snugged down in there with all the rest, waiting for whatever happens next.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

My ants are slowly dying off, lying curled in the bottom of the tank. If they had behaved in the predicted ways the living ants would have brought the dead to the surface where I could have swept them out, the tank slowly emptying, the last ants wandering alone through once crowded tunnels. My ants have so far done everything backwards, and dealing with their dead is no different. Since there's no way for me to get to them without finding my fingers in the grip of those pincers I have left them there. Each day it becomes a little more disturbing, watching the living ants sleeping among the broken bodies of their fellows, at the bottom in a graveyard they built themselves.

From now on, I am sticking with sea monkeys.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

What I have learned is that the red in fall leaves comes from anthocyanins, which is possibly not news. It turns out that the anthocyanins work as a kind of sunscreen, protecting new leaves and autumn leaves from certain kinds of damage and stress. It seems that what they didn't realize until recently is that maybe the soil is sometimes to blame for all the red in the leaves, that trees in poor soil make more red in order to keep the leaves stuck on the trees long enough to store up enough food for the winter. All these trees are becoming vibrant in order to survive.

I don't know if I believe that the secret is all in the soil. Seems like the sky and the rain and the wind are probably involved too. Still, I wouldn't blame you if you started carrying nitrogen around in your pockets, ready to coax the most brilliant colors out wherever you travel.