Word Salad

The dressing is up to you…

Of Cabbages and Kings…

The mantra coils seductively around my arms and tickles every sense. I become deliciously deliberately helpless, and there’s a scent, an overwhelming hint of earthy tones, the intent inscrutable and obvious at once. Intent? Chest vibrating basso profondo I sing on, but that’s not it at all, ears sympathetic, but that’s not it at all, sweat-lodge sweat running in intimate rivulets, but that’s not it at all, not the point. There is no point, or maybe it’s all point. It depends. I sing on.

Robert drums; starts with an indeterminate whump whump whump which becomes a more elemental rhythm, then adds his own mantra to the dawn stillness, breaking the symmetry. Layla keens a sweet tonal lament of love and loss. It all adds up. Direction is meaningless; everything is the center, I sure am, each of us parts of the same. Time is no different. Memory of past is interwoven with memory of future. It all comes so effortlessly.

This is better than any drug, any sex, any secret ritual. Or maybe it’s all those things in synergy, been there all the time, mythic, worldly, inevitable. It depends. We sing on.

This is life.

I think of Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, he, a creature of his world. I think sum ergo cogito or maybe sum ergo sentio, me, a creature of mine. But how can that fit within the illusion of time? The answer is there, right in front of me, of you.

A mosquito lands on my calf, a little vampire wanting to stay alive just one more day. I let it have it’s fill, hoping the sun hasn’t risen too high, that it’s not too late.

I think of the American attention span and quickly move on to something else.

Sarte lying in bed wrapped in sheets of Egyptian cotton. Before him de Beauvoir explains that double reciprocal incarnation has more than a sexual context, that it applies to all and everything. He’s so close to it, so close, but he doesn’t listen, the idea is fixed in his head, immutable. She gives up because she loves him and won’t willfully damage him.

Ram Dass knocks on the inner door, feet muddy from the walk. He has the system down pat, the oneness, the wholly outside otherness, but he has forgotten about the parts that make it up.

Some people fly above the surface, others dive below it, but each place is incomplete without the other. I know this because my grandmother told me it was so.

I sometimes think about her, my crazy grandmother. I say ‘crazy’ because that’s what everyone said she was, but then again they didn’t know her, not the way I did.

Her given name was Cora, but my sisters and I called her Gunny. I’m not sure how we came up with that but it seemed perfect for her. She was of stern Prussian stock, wore long dark dresses buttoned high on the throat, even in summer, and carried herself as though her spine was made from a single piece of machined stainless steel. She smiled often, but never with her face. She was fiercely intelligent, and fearless. People either loved her or were frightened of her, as though she were a bomb that might go off any second if things weren’t handled just right. But she never did ‘go off,’ ever.

This is the woman who insisted I wear white cotton gloves when I played, some kind of litmus test for playground dirt, and that I always carry a vial of eucalyptus oil with me. She told me to sniff the oil whenever someone near me coughed so I wouldn’t get a cold or whatever illness it was that they had. I probably didn’t get fewer colds than anyone else my age, but I did develop an inordinate fondness for the scent of eucalyptus. And I ‘get’ colds to this day. She told me that to ‘catch’ a cold sounded silly, like you had to run after one first.

This is the woman who, after a day-long spring storm, looked through the kitchen window and said “Our tree is hurting. Let’s help.” I was puzzled but followed her as she collected a hunting rifle and some 30.06 shells and headed outside through the mud-room door. The tree, a spreading maple laden with mounds of wet April snow, sagged to the ground, where a few large limbs already lay broken, litter for next winter’s hearth. Gunny loaded a handful of shells into the rifle, took aim, and shot several of the higher branches. Hundreds of pounds of snow obeyed the report of the rifle and the impact of the bullets and cascaded, glistening, to the ground below. The tree joyously raised its branches toward the sky, shaking off the rest of its burden, then shivered. “it’s still hurting,” she said, “but now it won’t uproot, it’ll live.” She was 82 at the time.

This is the woman who, when I was six, took me to see an animated Christmas diorama and thereby challenged how I look at things. As I pressed my nose to the cold window and stared in wonder at Santa and the elves and Rudolph and everything Christmassy Gunny whispered: “Imagine that those figures are what’s real and that they’re only here to look at us. Imagine that it’s us, you and me, who are like marionettes at the end of long invisible strings, acting out some play.” That perspective scared me then, and I cried. “Don’t worry,” she said, “what is simply is, just don’t make assumptions, or at least try not to trust them.” She spoke to me like that, even at six.

This is the woman who dropped a two year old me out of my second story bedroom window into the waiting arms of a neighbor as the family farmhouse burned down around her. She leaped after me, breaking both her legs. A few years later she explained gravity by saying “Don’t put too much stock in ‘up’ or ‘down’ because they can switch places in an eyeblink.” She kept newspaper clippings about Albert Einstein in her nightstand. She never went to university, having been evicted from her homeland by the churning political tides of World War I, but she knew more than most who have.

I was only eight when Gunny got sick one last time. I wondered then if she’d forgotten to carry her own vial of eucalyptus oil. I still wonder about that. On the day she left we all visited her in the hospital, arriving just after my uncle had given her a bunch of ripe bananas, her favorite fruit. She had thrown them back at him, yelling: “Are you trying to poison me?” “Dementia,” the doctors said, but they didn’t know Gunny either. After a short time I found myself alone with her, everyone else having invented reasons to be in the hallway, trek to the cafeteria, whatever, just something to be away from impending death. I didn’t mind, really. After all, she was still alive, and still Gunny, my Gunny. Suddenly, without warning, and those are two very different things, she opened her eyes, found me, and said “Remember you have a third eye. Don’t lose sight of it.” It was like her to make a joke out of serious advice. Then she closed her eyes and lay there, breathing gently, mouth slack. Later that evening, sometime just before the day gave up and ripples of purple spread across the heavens, she went away. Everyone, doctors and family, started talking to her, calling her name, with the doctors adding mysterious rituals using needles and ancient machines. It all seemed very silly to me. It was so obvious that she wasn’t there any more. I didn’t understand what the big fuss was all about about. I couldn’t understand. I had seen her go. It was okay.

So she’d named the tiny spot way in the back of my eyes, somewhere between a dream and the sharp prick of torn flesh. I don’t know what it’s made of. Sometimes I think maybe it’s iron, an unyielding thing smelted in some hellish furnace. Other times it’s more like a knowing crystal grown in a cool dark place, but one with edges bleeding into softly bounded facets. I’ve known about it ever since I first counted myself among the conscious, but it was Gunny who told me what to call it, it was she who taught me how to use it, how to ‘see’ things in their interdependence, how nothing exists in isolation, except for everything, and maybe not even that. It was she who told me that this is the thing that makes us human, that creates the reality we only think we are a small part of.

Her gift is with me on the day I think these words, the day I sing. Subsets and supersets, each thing extended, unlimited.

I sing on.

I think, I am, of things integral, of consilience, of unity and one.

My ass gets soggy, the ground is a bit dewy.

I get up, hungry. Breakfast awaits. I turn toward the camp, the others too. Daylight, then thunder and rain. We walk.

I sing on.


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