Dec 032012
Under this moon, the fuchsia orchid
Grows slowly pale until I dream
Only of it.

Now that the crisis is past, the orchid, which had been so perfectly pink–and poised as a butterfly over the evening candles of the hurricane–has dropped all her blossoms at once in a crumpled heap, a Salvation Army supply of donated petticoats, haphazard and bright as a flock of sleeping flamingoes. This beautiful companion of my solitude has now left me only its two broad green leaves, thick as elephant ears, and an ugly stick stem stripped of blossoms, embarrassed-seeming as a wet cat. I tried to laugh a bit at my sentimental attachment to this minuscule bit of life, but found myself instead staring at the fallen flowers for quite some time in silence, hoping they would speak to me.

What was I turning into in my frozen solitude?

To examine in my cold hands
This old dented cup,
First I must pour out
These contents....

We put words on top of everything–as if the whole world were just a shelf for our words. After a big catastrophe, everybody has to talk about it to everybody else–to sort it out into little cubes, little syllables, of understanding. I saw this all over the place after the hurricane had blown through, wrecking houses, trucks, and lives. And I am worse than most–I felt compelled to write this booklet. That’s how desperate I am to keep from seeing what’s right before my eyes!

Basho has a poem that puts me in mind of this problem of living and seeing and talking. Somehow, his poem feels like a moment of “eureka!”, a resolution to the difficulty, and at the same time an invitation to more troubles, more genuine experience, more reality than the mote before us.

Through spring mist,
Without its name I see
The shapeless hill.
Post-storm afternoon--
Is anything all that different?
Even sniffing,
The dogs can't tell.
The next day, an old man
Draws transformer explosions
Excitedly in the air.
After hurricane Sandy,
We huddle together
….As if to ask....
Behind the rain-snail,
His snail-trail widens
Into flood plain.

Nature’s storms unweave our homes; time and illness unweave our bodies. Where will we go to make ourselves whole when all the world must come to the same undoing? Is a snail without his shell still a snail? There’s a well-known haiku that touches on this evanescence of appearances, but seems to affirm strongly that there is a bigger reality behind the appearances we accept–even if we’ve only accepted them for a moment, the duration of a play.

Outside the theater–
The kabuki mask is smaller
Than the actor’s face.

Perspective plays an important role in what we call real or unreal. I am not a confident Buddhist, and hesitate to believe that all we see is “unreal.” But, I do like to stay loose like a big league pitcher, and am always peering about for unusual perspectives that can open up and let a moment be more itself, less of a thought in the mind, less of an inherited opinion or precept.

No room for recycling--
The trash bin is full
Of houses!
So many twigs!
Birds must be wanting to build
More luxurious nests.
Days after the hurricane,
My little palmtree still sits
Windless behind a window.
With the hurricane gone,
There returns the pattern
Of my shadow.

As I had stood in my round-heeled sneakers a few days before, watching the sea whoosh back and forth sludgy and brown against the broken shoreline below Sunny’s small house, I had felt smaller than I ever remembered feeling outside of childhood. From higher up by the highway, I looked around The Highlands and thought of Ozymandius and his “trunkless legs of stone.” My identity was sucked out of me by the reconfigured context of the surrounding disaster–my individual voice was no more than the autumn wind into which it went. Even the sea herself, though vast and changeful, had been, in the distant past, a desert on the very shore where she had raged that day. Give up the names you call yourself, oh brother snail, oh animal man!

This unbelievable flood--
Even so,
There's a dryness in it.
Standing at the ocean's edge,
The wind of autumn.
Where the beach was,
There's a wet, sour smell
--Over there.

I made it into the Cranford office for a single day on what turned out to be my last tank of gas for a week. Most of the others there were dealing with some version of my same circumstances–sometimes with small children. This one had a fireplace to face in the darkness, that one had a gas stove they kept roiling vats of water upon sending steam into cold rooms; a few had packed up the entire family to move in with in-laws. One co-worker, still roughly unshaven himself, mentioned that as soon as their freezer went out, they moved all of the good meat up to his mother-in-law’s house in Bergen County. I was intrigued by the number and variety of impromptu arrangements everyone had made, and it reminded me of the woman who left her cats floating on an air mattress with a dish of dry food and water! The cats survived fine, their paws only wetted by their careful cleaning licks. I felt surprisingly unself-conscious in my curiosity about everyone else.

After the hurricane,
Everyone wants to be back at work
To discuss it.
Gazing thoughtfully
At my scraggly co-workers--
I, too, scratch my stubble.
In the sparse light,
My hurricane beard comes in
Quite white!
*    *    *    *
The silent orchid
In my cold apartment
Keeps trying
To teach me.

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