Monthly Archives: November 2008

Why Bacteria is Fascinating & Other Notes on Awe

* Bacteria and their relative, the archaea, outnumber all other life-forms (there’s 5 million trillion trillion of them)

* Lined up end-to-end, they would stretch 10 billion light-years–from here to the edge of the visible universe.

* Bacteria are the oldest known life-form having been around for at least 3.5 billion years.

* The first artificial life-form will not be a robot but a bacterium. Geneticist J. Craig Veneter is building one from scratch.

* Your body has 10 times more bacterium cells than human cells

* By programming instructions into their genes, scientists have engineered E. coli that act like computers, assembling into glowing bull’s eye shapes on command!

(taken in part from Discover Magazine)

So, I was reading this on the plane the other day, imagining the cabin filled with billions of swarming bacteria…and I thought about a part in a poem of mine that I am working on…it goes:

“There are tiny cities
on the skin. I always thought this: I can witness some thing
happening on my body.”

And I looked down on my arms, imagining these tiny bacterium cities (no, I was not under the influence of anything) and I thought…for some living thing, I am a planet. I am a terrain.

And then I went on, shrugging this thought off, to read:

“Atomic nuclei are bound together by the so called strong force. If that force were slightly more powerful, all the protons in the early universe would have paired off and there would be no hydrogen, which fuels long-lived stars. Water would not exist, nor would any other form of life.”

If these cosmic traits were just slightly altered, life as we know it would be impossible.

Slightly altered…slightly less, more, stretching over, bending back…

When one body touches another, their little cities collide. These cities, these occupants, don’t understand looks, height, skin-color, eyes. They simply mix, survive, duplicate, understand the basics.

When I look at someone else, some other planet, I can’t help but make snap judgments. So I thought I’d try and think only of their bodies as bodies, skin as skin, their bacterium and mine. And everyone on the plane, every body sitting uncomfortably in the cramped seats simply became skin, eyes, hair.

And strangely swirlingly beautiful.

And then I thought, if the plane went down, we’d all burn up, explode and become dark matter versions of our bodies, equal. Which we already are, balancing, for such a short time, in a universe that exists because it’s nit together just so.

Makes me feel a sort of awe and wonder. Makes me want to read Tales from the Alhambra or Dante’s Inferno or Alice in Wonderland…because I can, because I’m alive. Because I am a host to bacteria…and I won’t always carry around these tiny cities. One day, my land form will once again be swallowed by dark energy, sucked back to a void that radiates only promises.

I just thought I’d share my moment of awe.

Because I still can.

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On Faith, Fear, Patience (and a dash of economy)

November 22, 2008:

“All things that can not be gained by our pleading can be given to us only as something unexpected, something extra: this is why I am yet again confirmed in my belief that often nothing seems to matter in life but the longest patience.”

“life’s little wisdom is to wait (but wait in the proper, pure state of mind), and the great grace that is bestowed on us in return is to survive…”

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an intense affection for Rainer Maria Rilke—where the quotes above come from. I often find myself reading his “Letters on Life” over and over again during times of uncertainty. Actually, I often read him in the bath before bed, just to ground myself, set myself solidly on some sort of mountain again. So often, it seems I float in this bubble of contemplation, which can morph into worry. Now, usually I think of this as a blessing—it’s what keep me driven, striving to learn more and more about whatever topic I am currently obsessed with or simply paying close attention to things most people don’t pay close attention to…like colors and number sequences, people’s hands or patterns in speech…the “rivers” on the page created by text, how my mind feels when I listen to Chopin, the number sequences in Chopin, how exactly to communicate this particular feeling into words, sounds, sentences and so on.

The downfall of this ability to wander around in my own created-reality is that it can swiftly turn into anxiety, worry, etc. I’ll think TOO much about something and off I go, fishing for meaning or syntax bravely in a patched up boat, tossed about by uncertain and ill-behaved waves.

Today is one of those fishing days. Actually, I think the past couple of days have been fishing days. And can you blame me? Look where our economy is (not just the U.S., but the world’s). I have never been in debt before in my life and chose this year of years to willingly walk into debt for a degree that, to most people seems a bit “useless.” I gave up a great deal of security and even a fair amount of independence and moved far away from friends and warmth for the debt and useless degree.

Yes, but Shannon, you wanted nothing more than to pursue your dream! Of course, this is true. I am blessed beyond all possible reason to be where I am and able to do what I am doing.

But to blaze forth with the word “Faith” on my chest, I’d be a liar. I don’t always have faith. It comes and goes. It’s hard to possess all of the time. I wake in the middle of the night, hit square on the head with panic, sweating into my palms and think: What am I doing? I’ll get dressed and faith will be lying on the dresser—I’ll grab it and head for the door, but I drop it somewhere along the way between coffee-pot and car. It’s especially hard when I find myself clothed in distraction, reading Times Online or various YouTube videos about the collapse of all things within the United States, knowing I should be working on a poem, working on brainstorming new work, reading that book about metals and chemical compounds (because I have that theme in a work I want to produce) etc. and Faith sort of slips out quietly from the library stacks and into the cold New York day, off to sit patiently and wait for me to go looking for it again.

Faith in the Universe, Faith in my decisions, in my ability to do hard work, in my talent, in my desire–deep, long, ancient desire– to communicate something to someone else via the written word that might one day unfold some beauty or hold up a mirror to their own inner truth, faith in all of these things. I know I have it inside of me, wandering around through synapses gaps and down the left ventricle, taking a stroll along my spine…I carry inside me. But how often I want to tear it down, chew it up, cast it out into those fishing waters, drown it in attempts to retrieve it—how often!

And how funny life is. Because the same movement and melody that bears the talent to write also hauls on its back the tendencies to call forth this darkness. My lover and my heartbreak.

So, what do I do as I woo my elusive and beautiful faith-goddess? What do I do when I get tired and the other hand turns to pull the dark curtains?

What do I do when all signs point towards struggle, possible failure?

I am tempted to say: quick! Find a lifeboat! Cling to security! (aka, get a normal profession!)

But what is sweetness of art but in the struggle to fight for it?

“It is possible to feel so very much abandoned at times. And so much depends on the tiny indulgence of things, whether we can cope at all when they suddenly don’t respond to us and move us along.” (Rilke, again)

“tiny indulgence of things” like the usual comforts and security blankets? Like the well-paying job as a Title Agent? Like my own, sweet, gorgeous, lovely, quite, personal apartment in Fort Worth? Like my wonderful friends there?

And what about when something suddenly “doesn’t respond to us and move us along”? Like what? My poetry? How sometimes it doesn’t come easy, my Faith?

Yes. But what was that deep stirring that leapt out of me and through me to do what I am doing? What of that, of the poetry and faith? Nothing touches either entity of faith and poetry within me. Even when I feel abandoned by both, it’s simply my inability to love poetry and faith and nurture them unconditionally, my short-sightedness, my impatience. How they are mountains! How they are what I wish to spend my life scaling! And of course to expect loneliness and struggle and loss of faith, like the thinning of air, but so dizzy! So dizzy spinning on feeling that much more ALIVE and true to that which I serve. Regardless of economic turmoil.

Even in times of economic bliss, of course, I’d still experience this war, this tug and pull of doubt and fear. And why not embrace doubt and fear? Are they not simply the opposite poles of that which propels me forward?

But not to embrace with the aim to smother. But to allow doubt and fear to speak, allow them to move within me, as faith moves, from left ventricle to down the spine. I think perhaps I should thank them because they are kind of like little hooks which sting and dig into the skin for a while but are what ultimately anchors me, guides me on my way to learning patience and appreciation, hauls me back when I try to run too far ahead, keeps me grounded to the very mountain which I am trying so desperately to climb.

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Clanging of Love Letters

November 17, 2008

Gen. 19:26 as Lots wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.

In the same way it is love’s desire and wish that its secret source and its hidden life in the innermost being may remain a secret, that no one inquisitively and brazenly will force his way in disturbingly in order to see that which he cannot see anyway without forfeiting, because of his curiosity, the joy and blessing of it.

Yes. Because I know that once there’s a taste to dine, I’ll dissolve into bits of ash, or my heart will, on dinner plates. The treasure isn’t possession, isn’t locks of hair, isn’t even how to feel one way or another; do you think God anchors blood to hems of skirts? Do you believe in something as encouraging as the weight of another? Prayer-books outline how to avoid cancer. Your better off blinding the heart’s eye, hand over the rest of the gorgeousness, demand that nothing gets through. When your time grows weary of traveling, it won’t be these trinkets of hearts to save you. It won’t be the clanging of love-letters, it won’t be the memory of her voice patterns in passionate sonnets. It won’t be the caution of staying in one place, holding the hand of another for fear of snakes. It will be your daring. Then, when love does call to taste you, the flowers will bend just so, just so beautifully slant, your hands tremor. I hold this above you like a Bible. I hold this as a child. Oh, dear goddess and god, I send you this to say I always loved you. It is true: I hold this above you because my body will rot. I have nothing to offer. Turn away from me and then. And then. Recieve this and grant me the right to sing for you.

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Letter Series

November 5, 2008

I wish your face wasn’t fluttering. I wish the trees were my body as well. I told someone the other day that the feeling is like holding in bees. I went running on the treadmill and thought “God, let me die.” And this shocked me. I shouldn’t dare think such thoughts. The beauty of Autumn is enough. Why can’t I sustain balance? I know the waves pass. I know the nausea subsides, the blinding whiteness of limbs which seem unattached in their heaviness. A mind that can’t comprehend it’s own space. When all I desire is non-space. Coolness. The smallest swords of stars into the side. The anger somehow subsides into a cargo of thudding weight. You know, the thudding of physical scales. Where only a melody is a saving grace. If I can just grasp a chord. Take ten measurements into my lungs, breathe out a fugue, distance myself between this century and the Black Forest, if that was possible, my body could stand it’s own length of time. Instead, I find myself running on a treadmill, a mantra in my mind that crevices its way between each rib cage. Tears present themselves as if sweet. As if I had a right to long for that kind of universe. I wish your face wasn’t fluttering. But the beauty of you, the beauty of you, faceless. Forgive me for thinking I could achieve your kind of grace. Your eyes, fluttering around feet on sidewalks. How to exist, simply.

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I Could Taste it in Their Manes

October 10, 2008:

I saw a pigeon today, fell from a branch right before my eyes. And it’s odd because I was just reading a book about birds. It looked at me, shivering, in shock. I wanted to hold it and wished then for some sort of magical power, something to mend the bones. The bundle of its body thumping with fear, it’s wings suddenly useless. It tilted to one side, swaying toward grass. Held up in the coal of its eye was an innocence, or perhaps it was simply a mirror…and suddenly, I wanted to be laid bare like that. Did you ever feel this raw? How many poems finally pleased you?

I thought about you today. I thought about how we’d probably talk about variations in stone, the color of earth, and how we try to hang our thoughts off of them like hooks. Were your thoughts useless, then? How do you feel about them now? Can you sometimes spot them running between orange groves? I like to think they get caught in children’s hair. Perhaps that sleep-heavy sensation children feel as they lie down is really a collection of thoughts that have no home.

Do passions push up around us? I couldn’t carry all of mine on the train the other day. I had to leave some behind. But I find that this doesn’t matter, because every commuter has enough to share. How can they not see them, lying on their laps, hanging off their coat, sitting beside them in the empty seat. Sometimes I’m tempted to go up them and say “Did you lose something? I’m sorry, did you drop this?” and then kiss them.

I never talked about the lights when I was younger, until Jenny told me that inside a quartz were a million crevices that hid every secret longing you could imagine. Transcription, of course, is different. I tried to write the way bending works, in and out of the stones in my hand. One time, I sent seven down a well, and it rained so hard the horses escaped from the barn. I woke and found them dancing in the rain. This, of course, was their longing. I could taste it in their manes.

I can sometimes feel something you wish to say to me, hovering above me, or just lightly brushing my arm. It’s a duller ache than the sharp missing of a lover. Your beauty, though, still rustles in the tree-tops. It’s like I have to look up to hear your thoughts. And the pigeon fell from the sentences we never spoke to one another. Our disconnect embodied in the failed wings. But I swear, you do fly within me. I hope you hear me say this, type this.

I take a train again tonight. And though I won’t find your words in suitcases in the overhead compartment, you’re constantly falling off the shelves. I know you’d laugh at this image. I know you’d say “Thank you, Shannon, for remembering my name.”

What do we do, then, but write diaries in our heads, all our lives? You probably wrote one, too. And I think, without knowing it, we’re all writing it to one another.

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Journal of the Abandoned Sort

October 9, 2008

I tried to write about something curled between my feet. Not a snail, not a rope. It’s not even hissing. It just lies there, changing shape.

Knots build their homes between my ribs. I can’t stop them. I can’t breathe in without canceling out what should have been yesterday’s lecture.

Because even if wanted to, my hands are too small.

My fingers smell like juniper. It’s useless, thinking about snails coming out of their shells. I can’t contain anything like that. It’s absurd!

But look, I’m writing about something I’m trying not to write about. It’s chewing it’s way through. I will possess these eyes until I die. The sockets will shut down, will vibrate a little, then quiet. What will they do but feel a sort of dull ache, wait for a new pair, and starve?

Earlier, I went running because that’s the only way I can feel anything. Not because I can’t burn the roof of my mouth with morning coffee, not because of that. But because even the slightest brush against me and I pull in a bit, around the stomach. There’s a leaping that occurs. Manage this for a year, I ask you. Tell me if you don’t feel as though you’re slowly dissolving.

Because I do, sometimes. What’s to tether me to earth but a Juniper? Or something smokey-sweet. Because it’s real and immediate. Because I can’t wake without standing on one foot, and then the other, sloughing off heaviness of dreams.

I want to gather you up in my arms. I was going to say, pieces of sea-glass, but by that, I mean you. You’re kind of smoothed off at the edges from years of collecting things in bottles, things like coins minted only on even numbered years. And because all numbers have distinctions, I wait until seven in the evening to think, just then, about your hands. Seven saves her hours in a bottle for you. Somewhere, she will reveal her true pattern, or, that’s what I keep repeating to myself.

At the edge of what I write, haze gathers. Knots come again, before bed. I shrug it off the best I can. I fold and unfold my glasses. I count out the time, visualizing roman numerals. This doesn’t help with sleep, but it does relax the mind. Still, there’s the curling at the feet again, there’s knots and the questions of how my body works so consistently, even when I don’t want it to. There’s faith. Against odds.

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90 Elements & a Stamp Collection

October 5, 2008

I don’t understand why it’s so hard for me to let go. I stand by the bed and weep. My hands begin to tingle. I have a branch in my side. It grows and grows, pushing it’s way through my bones, rib cage; it refuses to bloom.

There’s this line, a thin string, that ties the rest of me together. I tug on it sometimes, just to see how far I can unravel, how far I can let myself liquify (partially) before it hurts too much to not be solid. Touch me. It’s all about ripples. I haven’t cascaded in ages. How does one achieve this? I don’t know. One time, I was walking along a park’s path and I saw a patch of ferns. I crawled over to them, put my cheek to their cheek and said “how can I return to you?” But it started to rain and I had to get back in time for the bus. I never figured out their secret.

Sometimes I think I see truth in another person, wholly unknown. I imagine their lives before they live them. Each path, I guess, leads to me. I know this because I dreamed I made you from clay. I set you up on the dresser to dry in the sun, your little hands still damp and delicate…and I thought how much I’d love licking your belly in my dream. Oh, I miss your imaginary body. How can one miss an imaginary body? Just imagine you placed them on a dresser in sunlight one day before kendling them. Imagine you spent hours on the tiny pores in their skin, wanting to give them the perfect form, perfect freedom of movement. And you could, because for once, your hands could recall skeletons long forgotten somewhere in Maine. Between mud and graves you sunk your knees to find the perfect fit for your imagined body. I like to think this way, from time to time. As though my mind is really a stranger left at some bus stop and I can’t quite get that sad, abandoned look out of my head.

I am avoiding molding the art that is you. I couldn’t. Every time I touched you, you burned and burst into immediate ash. It leaves me wiping my brow and wrinkling my eyes, thinking “how can I love anyone and not combust?” But perhaps I am the one who keeps burning, bursting into ash….because one time I almost told you I loved you and what happened? You comforted me with something like Darling, you’re so gregarious, don’t feel down

But I didn’t feel down. Not really, I only wanted you to take my hand.

Heartwood grows in the inner-most layer of a wood-bearing stem. It grows outward, radially, until it crushes all of the cell walls around it, which then collapse to form the bark. The bark is simply dead cells. We never see the heartwood unless we gut the plant. Gut the insides to make writing tablets from which we never wrote love letters.

If we could write love letters, some part of us would live forever masked in ink.

I had a friend once who wrote me from miles away. I’d keep all of her stamped envelopes in my sock drawer and stick the stamps on my bedpost near my lamp. At night the stamps would ripple when I half-way closed my eyes. I thought about her tongue against them, and how strangely close my dreams drifted to her. The stamps decorated the bed. Sometimes they would have flowers on them, and I learned every state bird that summer.

It’s like the strings in between my hands pull tight and I need some sort of clapping.

I wanted to write you again. This time I wanted to discuss what horses we would ride together in winter. Wanted the childhood to be in tact and not a slow tear along the corner of a college-lined paper, which used to be living inside of me.

For ages I bend over the imaginary stamps, categorizing tulips and perriwinkle, primrose and dogwood. I smell only glue and U.S. Postage weight. How can I dream of words? How can the envelope float in a glass above the ceiling, pouring milkened dreams? I can’t find myself, fumbling in a room of deadness. My weakness eats me like cancer. Regardless, cells regenerate themselves, knowing the script. Alive means knowing there’s no end to the string, just variations in color.

And the stamps peal off the wood. The branches lose their lignin and curl in to degenerate. It will take years, but eventually, coal will form, a bit of sandalwood will wash up on the North Sea shore. Each hair on the head came from a bit of dust. Carbon fuses with hydrogen and I suppose my body will mulch itself into the root systems of plants, someday.

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