Here comes the candle

Who reads blogs on a holiday, anyway? Worse yet: Who writes in them?

Creatures with teeth, things with talons, O Daddimommigod with eyes like saucers and bellies that drag along the ground, your laughter frightens me. I eat mash in clabbered milk and feel it drip through my crop. I gobble corn and hear metal, steel against stone. You have us where you want us. What more do you want? Numbers, numbers. Wings that flop like fish on the end of a line. I clasp my two helpings of darkness to my side with great thanksgiving.

Creatures made of blood and pus and shit, things full of sickness and bad medicine, shears that show off shapely legs on which they never once have had to stand. Empty eye sockets, a dictator in designer glasses pretending to admire my beak, snip! Sorted by lot, we grow so full of sleep it’s hard to keep our backward knees from buckling. The floor isn’t something I’d want to touch with any other part of me than my armored feet: it crawls. It writhes.

Creatures without teeth, things without bones, O Daddimommigod let me hide my head in the down of your breast, so tender and plump. Hour by hour the sky grows whiter, harder. Now, even when I’m awake I drum and drum against it with my stump of a pecker. I’ve swallowed everything until I can hardly turn, I can barely breathe. My knocks are growing feebler. I’m beginning to think there’s nothing on the other side.

But wait – what’s that rumble? What new thing comes flickering along the horizon? These flying drops of moisture, so sweet! More and more of it, a wall of water. I close my eyes and tilt my head back. It strips me of dirt, of feathers, of skin, of flesh. All head and tail I am swimming upstream, one blind whip against the world.


Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) more than left his mark upon the age; in many ways, he exceeded it. While art historians tend to remember him for his extravagant altar paintings, or for elevating engravings to the level of fine art, historians of science honor him for his watercolors,

the first botanical masterpieces, clearly intended as paintings in their own right and outstanding in their detail. Dürer was the first artist to take a piece of nature, draw it as faithfully as he could and produce a work of art. He stated his own philosophy with some force: ‘…Study nature diligently. Be guided by nature and do not depart from it, thinking that you can do better yourself. You will be misguided, for truly art is hidden in nature and he who can draw it out possesses it.’

…The most famous of Dürer’s botanical pictures is Das Gross Rasenstück, which is, as its name indicates, a large piece of turf – a detailed study of meadow grasses and dandelions on a dull day, growing up out of the brown earth. The dandelion flowers are closed, the grasses not yet in full flower; every detail is true.

(Martyn Rix, The Art of Botanical Illustration, Arch Cape Press, 1990)

This morning, it occurred to me to search for a new background for the start screen on my computer, replacing a soft-focus photo of towering trees and mist with – what else? – The Large Piece of Turf.


The ten-year-old boy with no friends finds an old board out in the shed. At first he looks at it shyly out of the corner of an eye. Then he circles it, stepping carefully around the wheelbarrow and the small pile of rusty nails. He squats down, picks up one end of the board in an experimental kind of way. Ah! He smiles, now – something few people have ever seen.

I don’t know what he is thinking just yet. I’m back in the corner, behind the woodpile, spying. I feel I have the right to. It has been many months since he so much as acknowledged my existence.

He squats, very still, for about ten minutes. Then he picks up the board in the middle and goes off with it. Later in the day, when his parents find him and ask him if he is ready to go to dinner yet, he asks if his new friend can go along. “Who’s that?” they wonder. He produces the board. He has taped a piece of paper to one end and drawn a face on it. “This is my friend Plank,” he says.

His mother smiles sweetly. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Plank,” she says, reaching out to shake an invisible hand. His father is speechless. Anger and bafflement wrestle for control of his face. He shoots a dark glance in my direction.

“Woof!” I say. It’s the only word I know. For once, it seems just about right.


Aspiration: a good Latin/English word that still balances perfectly the twin meanings desire and breath. My aspiration for Via Negativa is simple and (I presume) obvious: whether or not inspiration strikes – or lands, or blossoms, or rises from the earth – to write something anyway, at least six days a week.

Aspiration, inspiration, perspiration. Always that spire at the heart of it!

But how to keep breathing when you’re surrounded by dirt? Sing as low as you can:

I wish I was a mole in the ground.
I wish I was a mole in the ground.
‘Cause if I was a mole in the ground
I’d tear them mountains down.

(Old folksong)

Hey, there’s a thought!

At some point in writing down my pretend afternoon and evening, I understood that it was not only possible for me to do what I had decided to do. It was inevitable. It had in fact been inevitable since (at the very least) I left the office with the conviction that my drift had to stop.

In other news, Andi’s back from pilgrimage (wherever “back” may be). I urge you to read both of her lengthy posts about it. (The link to her first doesn’t work, for some reason, but it’s still on the main page – scroll down to “Sarnath: Do the Hokey-Pokey!”). She inadvertently provides strong, circumstantial evidence supporting an assertion I made here just last week concerning the difference between a journey and a pilgrimage. The latter might provide a better model for the course of a human life, I thought, because of its superior power to change us, to make us question ourselves and the goal and origin of the trip. Andi says,

The shrine at Lumbini was rather unattractive, a squat whitewashed brick box over the archaeological work at the site of the Buddha’s birth (marked with an extraordinarily precise stone). But it radiated a kind of peaceful calm, and people came to bow, meditate, circumambulate, and pray. It was wonderful. I was sad to leave Lumbini, but I had gotten a special 3-day visa (side-stepping a rather large 30$ visa fee) and had to leave.

And then, Bodh-gaya.

And here, my mind stops. The words won’t come.

But of course they do. It’s as natural as breathing.

Tyrannosaurus lex

Vocabulary for a New American Century

AMNEIZURE. A paroxysm brought on by the unexpected recurrence of suppressed memories. Example: “On being questioned about parallels with Vietnam, General Richard Myers experienced a sudden amneizure.

CLAMDUNK. Jailing and/or fining reporters who refuse to divulge their sources.

DEBRIEFING. A slight sartorial adjustment made by most foreign nationals within a few minutes after leaving the Green Zone in Baghdad.

DISEMBEDOUINS. Nomadic journalists, often Arabs or disguised as Arabs, whose insufficient allegiance to any state makes them both feared and hated.

FALLUGE. Rapid descent of a slippery slope from military occupation to outright barbarism.

GREENHOUSE AFFECTATION. Pretending to care about global warming.

HYPOCRACY. A system of governance in which the rule of law only applies to suckers.

IMPURGENTS. CIA agents who refuse (or whose husbands refuse) to parrot the Bushite line, inviting a purge.

INSECURED AREAS. Sections of conquered cities that are “secured,” but remain full of resistance fighters.

MIDDLE CLASSIFICATION. A uniquely American way to eliminate poverty and social strife in two, easy steps: 1) Expand the definition of “middle class” to include all income groups below plutocrats, and 2) Give out “middle class tax cuts.”

PABULIATIVE. Pabulum designed to serve as a palliative. Accent is properly placed upon the third syllable.

PSYOPSY. Intense “cross-examination” of selected members of a body politic to try and determine the cause of their seemingly inexplicable unrest.

SELF-FULFILLING PROFLIGACY. A deliberate plan to run up huge deficits in order to bankrupt the U.S. Treasury, forcing massive cuts in every conceivable non-military program, with the ultimate purpose of disabusing Americans once and for all of the absurd and irresponsible notion that government spending can ever solve anything.

SINERGY. The tendency of two or more evils in apparent competition to form feedback loops, resulting in an evil far greater than the sum of its parts. Example: Al Qaeda and the Bush regime.

TERRIF. Steep costs extracted, usually in maimed and slaughtered civilians, for importing small numbers of foreign resistance fighters (“terrorists”).

YELLOW-DOG REPUBLICANS. Republicans who would vote for an administration full of chicken hawks over a Democrat. Interestingly, a great many of them appear to be the children or grandchildren of the equally loyal, faithful, obedient and wet-nosed Yellow-Dog Democrats of yore.