A Strange Day on Planet Earth

August 15

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Afternoon prowl in the garden among all the blooming things.

Contemplating that in some 30 days world leaders will meet not far from here. Wearing synthetic fabrics, walking on tiled floors, and sitting in air conditioned rooms, they will discuss “the climate.”

I wonder who they are, to be entrusted with such matters. And I wonder who I am too, to be entrusted with such a planet.

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August Garden

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I was devastated when I learned I could no longer grow edible things in this soil, on account of a hex from a prior generation known as leaded gasoline.

But then there were flowers.  Crawling flowers, towering flowers, shy flowers, booming flowers.  Deep oranges, addictive crimsons, creamy creams, pops of blue, languid yellows, and everything in between.

This flower garden grew, and my soul with it.  It might be the best thing I have ever done.

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Night Walk in Bushwick

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In this neighborhood you can still find shadowy corners and mysterious apparitions after dark.  Tonight I wander the labyrinth of sidewalks, seduced onward by a cool breeze and endless ache for summer.

Statues of the madonna wreathed with flowers, Puerto Rican flags, storms of graffiti, swathes of warehouses, hairy patches of gardens, and bars with halos of light flooding from the doors.

The tortilla factory, baskets of cassava, a billowing curtain, laughter from a cluster of women on a stoop.

Even with the ominous drumbeat of gentrification, even in the belly of the capitalist beast, these streets feel untamed.  Mismatched, dirty, gorgeous, devout, irreverent, and endlessly sensuous.

Whisper to the night air, I want to live forever.

 

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Orbit

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Like many of the eight million souls in proximity, I seem to be always somewhere on this circle of inquiry: Why do I live in New York?  Is this really living, what we do in New York?  How could I ever live, if not in New York?

The cycle may happen over a year, or as today, a few times between Bedford and 1st Avenue.  Then I happen upon two men—one with a glorious white beard, the other with a non-ironic and massive mustache—having a loving, shouted conversation in Spanish across the train tracks in the Dekalb L station.

And I feel the strange pull of the city drawing me in closer, like a moon to some wayward planet.

Image: modified from page 41 of Kasi, or Benares, the Holy City of the Hindus, compiled by John Murdoch, 1894, via British Library on flicker

Spring Cleaning

I was only looking for a pair of sunglasses in the hall closet. But they could not be found.  Nothing to do but empty the closet.

Which implicated the bedroom closet, which also had to be completely hollowed. And the file cabinets. And somehow the desk drawers, and the bureau. At which point I seemingly lost consciousness and began sorting through each book and magazine. And box. And the rolling containers under the bed. And with no more claims to sanity, I marched about with  various vacuum extensions trailing behind me, hair becoming increasingly massive, wrangling everything in sight into increasingly complex algorithm of piles, bags, and boxes.

This is how cleaning goes. The Cleaning Demon possesses me, and with his awful spirit writhing in my veins, I froth and moan and move about at a speed seven times a normal mortal. Until some hours later, I look up dazedly, pulling dust from my hair, and realize I need a drink of water. Then the demon departs, leaving me with a clean apartment and sore back.

In this case the satisfaction is not quite complete, as the attack culminated in photographing stacks of books, art supplies, and other sundry items. Which I posted under “free stuff” on Craigslist at 1 a.m., with ridiculously verbose descriptions. Then I rested, but with the knowledge this affair will not end until the unreliable masses of Craigslist come to drag away the remains. Many could say their delirious Saturday night was more fun, but few can say it was more effective.

 

Spring Cleaning, Folded Napkins-2

April 15

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For a brief moment, while the tenants slumbered, the eclipsing moon shone over the adjacent row houses.  I stood still on a small sidewalk on a spinning planet, gaping at its shadow.  A passing man looked at me curiously, and I stared at the moon, wondering why the entire city was not on the streets.

April 13

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First night of the full moon.

Planting day.  Little brown pots, dirty fingernails, and an intoxicating dank smell everywhere.

The Cup and Saucer Vine seeds are tough shells that require nicking with a knife.  The Night-Scented Tobacco seeds are crimson dust, and the Amish Cockscomb luminous black orbs.

Planting by the biodynamic calendar has forced me to bide time, waiting for an auspicious day for flowering plants.  Then to sort the seeds: Indoors, outdoors, early spring, late spring.  Plot the locations by way of sun and shadows.  These are the only maps I never have difficulty following.

Per the knowledge this garden is brimming with lead, only flowers will go into the ground.  And everything else into pots and the sundry containers I have slowly been dragging here from all corners of Brooklyn.

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Tomorrow I will plant the outdoor flowers.  Tuesday, herbs.  I cannot think today of dead-eyed politicians, austerity, drones, and species gasping for breath.  Only soil and seeds, the matter of life.  The moon rises slowly in the southeast and squats triumphant on the horizon.  Yes, there are things man cannot destroy.  Soil and seeds, a woman singing by moonlight.

This is all I know.  Whisper goodnight to three dozen brown pots and crawl into bed.

An Organism Among Many Organisms

It’s the same illness I’ve had for the past four years, just with shifting faces.

Today the doctor prescribed Avelox. They are little white moons of dust wrapped in foil like candy.  Pop one per day. Repeat.

On the R train to his office I read that traditionally medicinal plants were picked around the solar and lunar cycles. In the Celtic tradition,

The wortcunner should not wash, pray, talk, or greet anyone when proceeding to the desired plant and should then tell it for what purpose and for whom he is digging it. … A magic circle was drawn around the plant. … Usually the gatherer had to be barefoot and wearing unstitched clothing without a belt, or go stark naked. The Gauls lifted the sacred herbs from the ground with their left hands and held them up, dedicating them to the heavens. The houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum), belonging to the thunder god, had to be picked between the flash of lighting and the clack of thunder.

Wolf D. Storl, The Herbal Lore of Wise Women and Wortcunners

Today I cannot believe that modern medicine holds the rational end of this spectrum. I have been prescribed twelve days of synthetic powder moons. Generated where: unknown. If the infection will be effected: unknown. If it is even bacterial: unknown. The only thing that is certain: some portion of the friendly bacteria that intimately evolved over thousands of years with my ancestors will be damaged, perhaps irreparably.

These are the primitive healers, the MDs in their pale skin and white coats. They often say: We do not know why the drug works. We do not know if the drug will work. We only know it worked for some other people, whose bodies may or may not resemble your own.

They say: We do not know why you have this illness. We can only assist in attempting to kill it, while possibly deadening other body regions—and hundreds of cooperative species—in the process. It is worse than snake oil, this nuclear war waged in the tender veins of human animals.

Today’s doctor is a kindly man. He does not charge me for the appointment, because he knows I can’t afford it. But he cannot do anything beyond his education. His tools are suppression and death.

I stack the pill packets on the kitchen table next to the jade plant. Did my ancestors gather at their kitchen tables upon returning from the doctor? What medicine bundles did they carry? How did they taste? Did they scavenge for herbs on moonless nights? I have no forest to beg medicine from, only a yard with soil that tested for lead at 606 ppm.

I fill the bathtub with dried lavender and steaming water, and lay and sweat until the coughing subsides. I imagine the germs rising with the steam to cling like a million particles on the flat terrain of the bathroom mirror.

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Image: from Page 13 of “Past and Present of Aberdeenshire; or, reminiscences of seventy years” by Paul William, 1881, via The British Library on flickr

March 25

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An unexpected drop in temperature, and the sudden hoarse laughter of wind.

I wrap pine boughs around the crocuses to keep them warm. Be still now. Rest.

Errands in Manhattan, where the cold seems oddly to muffle city sounds. I am wearing my thickest coat, vintage and solidly made. Just the same the wind makes a joke of it, crawling up my arms and shaking out its pockets. It searches for warmth, grasping for any bits of energy a body may have preserved through the winter.

Go away, I whisper irritably. Everything I had you took long ago.

And the wind laughs and soars around the corner, ballooning hems and leaving a cluster of tourists clutching for their hats.

But as the sky bleeds into twilight I cannot suppress a swell of enchantment. Blue expanding like blots of ink, sliced with the impossible gleam of stars.

I stop fighting the wind and feel my scarf expanding like a mast. I will not begrudge winter its last yowl down these dusty streets. As my fingers begin to tingle I bow into a sushi shop, a rare indulgence.  The yellow bloom of an open kitchen, sweet-faced chefs nodding in greeting.

Hot green tea washes down ginger and seaweed. Hands warm painfully on a porcelain mug. Be still now. Rest.

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Image 2: from page 219 of Mistress Haselwode: a tale of the Reformation Oak, Frederick H. Moore, 1876, via British Library on flickr