Friday, October 30, 2009

Just some lines, an unedited poem

Unfold yourself to me
in silent conversation
as night embraces the world

Open your pages so I can read
lines penned long ago, find
leaves from faraway falls

Uncreasing yourself, you'll
increase in my eyes

When you fold yourself together
slip me between the sheets this time,
press me into your pages.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I had to shove the knife hard to get it through the orange rind, but then it slid in sweetly and refused to come back out. I wrestled it in and out, pressing always downward, to sever this pumpkin. The cuts curved and did not meet, so I pried the two sides apart by hand. The pumpkin snapped when they finally separated. Fifteen pounds of golden flesh lay there, dwarfing the cutting board. The shattered edges of the broken globe begged to be carved, shaped, like a block of marble waiting to become a sculptor's vision.

After an hour in the oven, though, the pumpkin was transformed. The rind darkened, the flesh brightened. Fluid had oozed out and now pooled in the bottom of the pan. The yellow marble had melted into orange flesh. Now my fork could pierce it and slip smoothly out. I left the pumpkin to cool.

When I scooped and scraped the flesh off the skin later, the pumpkin was still warm. I was eviscerating this vegetable, and it was even bleeding hot juices into the pan, spurting all over my hands. The yellow flesh scrolled up before my advancing spoon. It piled up inside the uneven half-globe, in curls and chunks. Setting aside the spoon, I plunged my hands into the warm pumpkin innards and squeezed. Yellow spurted out between my fingers; the chunks yielded to my grip. The pumpkin was hot in my hands. As I squeezed it, it slithered across my skin, oozing warm water filled with yellow strands. When I opened my hands, the pumpkin lay on my palms in a golden lump, ridged with the relief of my fingers.

Some things never change. In my mother's kitchen, I was a child who played with the egg yolks, loving their silken slide across my skin. In my own kitchen now, I am still a child playing with the pumpkin, loving its lumps and slime and its golden hue. The pumpkin needed to be puréed, smoothed, homogenized; my hands needed to squeeze, press, touch. Yes, I can rationalize this tactile extravagance. Thank goodness I don't have a blender to steal the joy of feeling my food.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Snail Trail

The snail trail across the sidewalk glitters in the moonlight. The leaves scattered across the ground are blots of black, like ink. But the snail's path shines silver, like the tail of a comet. I never see snails moving along the ground here. They are secretive, emerging only when they have the world to themselves. Languorously, their silken bellies slide across the hard ground, swayed this way and that by their shells, like mountains on their backs.

If I were a snail, I would be gliding, dragging my whole house, all I could ever care about, this burden and treasure that I can never leave behind. It would be more honest to carry it all on my back. As it is, I carry pains and joys and plans in my heart. Sometimes they are just as cumbersome as a mountain of spiraled shell.

Instead of pressing shoemarks into the mud, I would like to trace a trail that shimmers in the moonlight, like a wet finger drawn gently across the ground, leaving luminous loopy messages.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Late night interlude

When you sat in silence, I was tempted to fill the space with words, or at least thoughts. Instead I tried to stay. Still. To fill my mind only with the present. Your face, frozen, veiled behind auburn hair, was squeezed by pain's fist. The words that trickled from your lips dropped, one by one. They soaked into the silence and left it as dry as it had been. And yet they made thoughts sprout in the soil of my spirit, and so I spoke, hesitatingly. Word by word. The room was small, but we were so far apart. The words should have echoed as in a great cavern. The walls were white, the decorations bright, but when I shut my eyes, we were in the dark, in the cold, shut away from the sun.

Is this where you live? I could never stay here.

"I don't want to be here," you said.
"Where do you want to be?" I was sitting on the floor, looking up at you. Your feet, in clean sneakers, dangled at my eye level.
All you said was: "Not here."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Relationships are like Molecules

[because people are like atoms: you shouldn't cut them into pieces. (just kidding, that's not my rationale)]

In chemistry, there's the notion of resonance structures. The Lewis dot diagram can't actually capture a molecule's spirit, because it simplifies too much: flattens, and makes arbitrary decisions about where to put the double bond that has to take up the wandering orphan electron. Sometimes there are two or three equally good (and equally inadequate) dot diagrams of a molecule, and the molecule is said to "resonate" between those structures, because while no single one of them expresses the molecule alone, the real molecule is somewhere between all of them--not quite a sum, not quite an average.

"Resonance" arises as an artifact of having to diagram in two dimensions what lives in three dimensions; it isn't a real phenomenon in the sense that the molecule doesn't actually alternate between those structures. However, the concept that underlies it is real: that realities transcend all representations of them.

And your point is? you may be asking.

My point originated in a comment from my friend O. about being most comfortable switching at will between orthogonal tones (my phrasing, not to be blamed on O.)--from silly to serious, from flippant to enigmatic--which sparked the thought that those spontaneous switches of tone are the thing that characterize a really comfortable relationship.

See, we all have a collection of faces we can present. Reliable, intelligent, well-behaved, adventuresome, empathetic, aloof: A person who embodied one of those characteristic faces could not also wear any of the others. Like the distinct diagrams of resonance structures, they are mutually incompatible. Moreover, no single trait adequately describes a person, just as no single resonance structure accurately describes the behavior of a molecule. Like molecules, our personalities are multidimensional. Our different faces appear and disappear in the context of interactions with other people--the souls we're bonded to, the spirits we're close to.

Moreover, a real relationship has many dimensions to it. You don't just talk about class, you also talk about philosophies. You don't just talk about abstract ideas, you talk about realtime emotions. You don't just know what the other person thinks about the deep structure of life, you know about their day to day experience. All those domains flow into each other, like trees with intertwining branches, not like rooms in a house. You alternate between topics in the verbal representation of your bond (i.e., the conversation), but underlying all the words that code for concepts is the understanding that every layer of meaning is present at the same time. When my friend starts talking about the spiritual significance of Jesus's solitude, I don't assume the idea sprung into existence on its own like Athena sprouting full-grown from Zeus's head. I know there's a good chance that some emotional experience fertilized the blossoming ideas; I know the meaning my friend conveys isn't all in the words or even in the topic. It's embedded in the relationship, in the bond.

And how would I characterize that bond between good friends? It spans the levels of understanding, it resonates between them. Catch the spiritual implications of the mundane, and the concrete implications of the abstract: the conversation doesn't alternate between them as though between discrete states, but rather has all of them present at the same time, because they are all aspects of the relationship. With a friend, I am more fully myself, because together we each resonate through our whole self. And with a friend, I am more than myself, because we each resonate through each other's self. A friendship and a soul, both are more than the sum of their parts.

A relationship is about understanding, having one mind, shared thoughts and energy. It's about functioning together, as a unit. Alone we are atoms; by caring about each other, we join ourselves together into complex structures. These molecules are dynamic, shimmering; they are real, and they transcend the descriptions by which we attempt to portray them.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The streetlights were orange punctuation in a black and blue world as I walked home tonight. Occasional raindrops speared me with cold and spattered on my glasses. Through my little phone, I listened to voices from three thousand miles away, where the sun was still up. Sound from one lifetime, sights from another: it's a wonder I can function with my soul skipping from coast to coast.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Walking home today, I wanted to rise to join the clouds. Above the buildings on the horizon, a sliver of the sky glowed pale gold. A layer of cloud blanketed the rest of the sky, softening it. Sometimes the blue vastness seems hard and dauntingly empty. Under the cloud ceiling, though, the earth felt more like a home, less like a speck in the vacant blue.

More puffs of cloud were floating on the soft sky. If I climbed a tree or maybe a few flights of stairs, I could reach out and grab one. A handful of softness would come away, trailing wisps of white and gray. The fringes of the cloud would gradually reform themselves to restore that neatly rounded edge.

But I didn't reach for the clouds once I had climbed the stairs. I didn't want to disturb their quiet contentment. Instead, I let myself into my little apartment. There, hot soup and tea were waiting to warm me, to round my edges, to set me against a soft backdrop, to raise me into the sky where the light of the setting sun turns all things gold.

Monday, October 5, 2009


In chemistry class in middle and high school, we drew lots of nice neat diagrams of molecules. Lewis dot diagrams, structural diagrams: count the valence electrons, draw the line segments, and there's the molecule. It's a bit of a puzzle, not just a straightforward recipe, but there are wrong answers and one best answer. I always thought of chemistry as something clear-cut. The periodic table is so organized, forests of facts packed into stacks of boxes. The way I tend to see it, the periodic table is hoarding all the answers.

But I just read that those precise little line and dot diagrams don't correspond to experimental results. It's not just that the real molecules have three dimensions and don't appreciate being splayed out and pinned to the page. It's that they won't even hold still enough to be drawn.

So we talk about "resonance structures"--two models that the molecule somehow straddles. Okay. That's like how light is a wave and a particle (though really I am far too blasé about that idea!). Two flat pictures combine to describe a real space-filling thing. That's like how blueprints describe a house someone other than A. Square can inhabit.

But then I kept reading. The books tells me, now, that the bonds in an oxygen molecule can't be single bonds, but they can't be double bonds, either. Our diagrams fit badly, like a too-small jacket. The lines in the diagrams are always crisp and straight. But in a living molecule, the bonds aren't static and clean. The electrons flit and flash everywhere, and they squirm out of their prescribed paths. They go wandering.

I thought chemistry meant knowing the proportions and the way they combine, knowing how to read the periodic table. But it seems that even on the level of atoms associating with each other, living together, getting married (to have all things in common?), nothing is completely known. Uncertainty lurks in the very air we breathe. How many mysteriously structured oxygen molecules flooded into my lungs just now? and how many did I breathe out?

And how often do I leave my orbit?

And what else do I assume I can diagram and label, when really it's a cloud and a dance and an animated creature, not a cadavre to be dissected, not a line to be drawn, not a road to whiz along?