Monday, August 26, 2019

I know you thought you were throwing that coin into a wishing well, but I regret to inform you that it was actually my heart. I can see how you could make that mistake, but the trouble is that now I have your wish all stuck sideways in my inferior vena cava, and it's causing a bit of a ruckus.

Last week I was early for a dinner. I am always early for almost everything except work, especially in this town where half an hour late still counts as early. There was a park on the way to where I was going so I stopped, spread my jacket on the grass, and opened my book. It had been raining off an on all day and the wind rattled the leaves all around me and raindrops pattered the grass. I couldn't tell if they were new or if the trees had just been holding on to them all day, but the leaves were so dense over where I was sitting that not one of them hit me.

Yesterday I was walking home from the store and met a bulldog who saw me coming and refused to move until I stopped and patted it on the head. I can't say this doesn't seem ideal, in a lot of ways; to just stand firm on the sidewalk, unshakable, demanding affection. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Yesterday afternoon we were on the ferry back from Bainbridge Island. It's rare that it's warm enough to be outside on the deck of the ferry for more than a minute or two to appreciate the novelty, but we spent the whole ride across right at the front, goosebumped and getting in the way of people just trying to take pictures. The top part of the mountain was out, and the city sparkled as we approached it, and I started thinking, "what if there was a natural disaster right now?"

I could picture it in either direction. What if Mt. Rainier just blew, shooting its top right of into the air, raining fire and mud and ash on everything south of us. What would that kind of shock wave feel like on the water? Would the ferry stop or would we just keep creeping closer to the dock? I had two peaches in my purse and a small bottle of balsamic vinegar, which would not keep anyone for very long, and I could see the ferry full of passengers smashing and looting the little cafeteria and all of the vending machines. 

What if there was an earthquake and downtown just dropped into the earth? I could see the Space Needle slowly topple sideways, a thick cloud of dust rising up to hide the rubble, screams echoing across the water. If it was the Seattle Fault that blew, would it drop our ferry down into it too? Would we be stuck in a whirlpool like when Ursula gets mad at the end of The Little Mermaid? 

We agreed that everyone thinks that way and made a joke about it and moved on, but my crisis brain had started and as usual couldn't stop. I was almost disappointed when the ferry pulled up to the dock and everyone was unscathed, as though I had spent that 30 minutes training for a marathon that was canceled at the last minute. And then I took the light rail home and the train didn't crash at all, and I spent the rest of the evening on the couch, exhausted by all the catastrophes that didn't happen.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Sometimes I think about the anatomical models in the Capello Sansevero, two bodies that are a tangle of the whole system of blood vessels built on top of a scaffolding of human bones, their skulls hinged so you can look inside and see all the places that blood lives in the brain. From the 1700's until a couple of years ago everyone thought that they were made of real veins, plasticized in some mysterious old time-y mad alchemist way, but it turns out they're just meticulously constructed from iron and silk and beeswax. Just like real veins.

When I was there in 2008 I was trying to cram myself back together, which is hilarious in retrospect because I didn't know then how many more ways there are to be broken. If only we could run away to Italy every time everything fractured. Those figures looked like I felt, all flensed and exposed, open for every breeze that might pass through, grotesque and familiar.

But then I feel that way most days, and it is remarkable to me that you can't actually see through my skin to the thirteen gnomes running around inside it. I seem to have a face that doesn't show much no matter how much it feels like it does, and I am reserved by nature and usually standing quietly enough that I might be invisible, a foot shorter than everyone else and nervously picking at my cuticles. I don't know that I want to be a billboard but it might be nice to give my gnomes a vacation, to let all the running happen on the outside instead of the inside.

Raimondo di Sangro was the wizard behind the collection of treasures in the Cappello Sansevero, and the rumor was that he could make blood out of nothing. He died earlier than he would have otherwise because he spent so much time working with dangerous chemicals but on the other hand he left a legacy of significant spookiness and wonder. Even if you can't make blood out of nothing it can't hurt if everyone thinks you can.

And maybe that's the trick. Maybe I will never be a billboard. Maybe I will always just be a tangle of iron and silk and beeswax instead of real veins, open and exposed and quiet and still. Maybe it's ok if the only ones who see are the ones that are looking, if the magic is a trick but the trick is magic. 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

There's a mock orange tree along my route to work that I only noticed for the first time this spring. I have walked pretty much the same way every day for the last three years, but this tree is on the other side of the street from what has almost always been my route. Lately the neighborhood has gotten more full of people with cars and my usual crossing doesn't have a crosswalk, so I can't always safely rabbit across where I'd like to. I resent it, a little, all of the cars and the new people and what they've done to my neighborhood. But then there's this tree.

Mock orange trees were introduced to European gardens from the Ottoman Empire when a diplomat in the 1500's came back to Vienna. He brought with him lilac as well, and the two trees have been linked ever since. In the language of flowers mock orange means deceit, which I suppose makes sense since it's not actually an orange tree, although it seems a little rude to lay the blame for that on the plant. Lilacs mean basically everything depending on what region and time period you're in, but they got their scientific name because of Pan, who chased a nymph through the woods until she turned into a tree to hide. He didn't find her person but he did find her tree, from which he cut pieces to make the first pan pipe--because when you've been rejected, why not pause for a second to invent a musical instrument. This seems to me like a much less comfortable origin that just being a tree that smells like another tree, and I'll always pick a mock orange over a lilac.

I have no idea how the tree managed to get to where it is. The part of the road that goes past it runs along the side of the freeway, mostly just full of blackberry brambles and unhoused neighbors--there's nothing even remotely decorative about anything anywhere near it. In the spring I was walking to work and there it was, smelling like orange blossoms and jasmine, seemingly sprung out of nowhere. The flowers have faded now, of course, but I think about how they were there whenever I pass the tree, reaching out through the brambles.

I think of how often it's possible to be surprised.