On the Way to Adrian, A Bridge

National Coming Out Day

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In thirty seconds high winds toppled eleven of the 300 foot towers upholding the longest train bridge in the worlds in Kinzua Bridge State Park.  Steel girders scattered like scraps of yarn or distended tendons on the valley floor.  People visit now to look into the confluence of natural beauty and human fallibility and folly.  My brave-hearted person, who is intimidated by the average everyday bridge, has driven two and a half hours  with me to walk out onto the remaining section of a terrifying bridge which brings to mind the images of hellfire and brimstone preachers describing the frailty of human life hanging from a thread.  I wear my keys on a carabiner, therefore I am, as a friend recently said, “prepared to dangle.”  After we walk on the bridge we walk to the bottom to look up at ourselves as we were minutes before.  The evidence of bridge failure is spelled out all around us in massive twisted scraps of metal strewn on the hillside.  It is impressive to watch H. confront a deep and reasonable fear head on.  And also I see the connection, between how H. confronts fear in many areas of life, from homophobia to racism.  This person who I love is also my own bridge to many things, and sends me readings and reflections all the time. Last year I received these words, from an address given by Nikki Sylvestri not long after the Trayvon Martin decision:

My ask to you is that you be a translator, you find that thing within your people that is hard to understand because it is complex and it is scary, whoever your people are, however you define that, and you find a way…to take that screaming part of you and have a cordial conversation about it without dampening or at all suppressing that part of you that needs to scream because that part of you is real; be grateful for it because it keeps you safe, and because it validates the struggle that so many people who can’t not scream, feel. But if you have the opportunity to be a bridge, be the bridge.

-address to the SF Commonwealth Club, 10/2/13

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I heard these words both for their own truth as well as the way in which H. lives them out in their own life.

All bridges, real or metaphoric, contain both the possibility of connection and failure to connect, and the higher they fly, the more susceptible they are to high winds.  In the face of all of this my person has come to this bridge, and written on this very morning of National Coming Out Day:

i have been “coming out’ for over a decade. this year, i changed my name and asked people to use gender neutral pronouns when speaking to/about me. although sometimes it feels a little bit like starting over, i know that it is part of a larger story — one in which i actively participate in defining who i am and how i identify, every day.

it comes down to this: as i have come to know myself better, accept myself more fully, and then integrate all of me more completely, i am profoundly changed to be(come) the most authentic version of myself. i have no other choice. today, i stand in solidarity with all of those that do the same.

happy national coming out day. live your truth.

– H. S.E. B., October 2014

It seems fitting too that this delving into the past is balanced out by a projecting in to the future.  In the meantime we stand by the half bridge, we descend into the gulf where the land cradles the river, and I am glad that the land itself is there.  Firm, solid, not going anywhere. The land doesn’t know it needs a bridge, and it doesn’t- we do, and so we make what we need, as best we can, when we can, and we go.

Silence

wraps us.  Is cold, is empty.  It is the antithesis of any day that is meant for the speaking out of truth.  It is lonely.  It is hard.  It includes both trees and stars, though trees silence includes a whispering that both is and is not silence.  It is only heard in silence.  The loons wait for silence to call and the stars, to shine, as they do over the black lake where we camp, where the cold reaches in under every layer I have.  The fire is silent and not. It chatters in its burn and flame. Silence is a terrible and powerful force or it is a quietude and peace.  It holds both ends, they come back around.

Cold

How you know it is cold: when, in the morning, you take your sleeping pads out of the tent, and then the moisture freezes instantly into ice.  That is when you know your person really loves you because they hate to be cold and the Pennsylvania autumn is so cold that you yourself would not actually think of camping in it.

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words written in frost

 

In the morning the mist rises a foot off of the lake and then stays to fog the mirror glass surface that reflects the moon and ring of October forest along the shores.  The only disturbance, microscopic, is the zip of black water bugs that look like watermelon seeds, while the motionless moon ghost hovers in the center as the sun invisibly lights first the tops of the trees and then each color, a living encyclopedia of the progression of Autumn in the forest.

Bones of wood littered the crescent shore and springs carved their way through it to reach the reservoir.  Behind us on the shore the young Aspens tremble their yellow leaves, a whisper of leaf-lace binding woods to rocky shore. Loons of the night had gone by the icy morning. We leave too.

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Breakfast, and other Points of Interest to the Traveler

Breakfast is important.  On the main street in Kane we pull up in front of a long low building with a front porch along length of it, a brightly painted sign on top and a bunch of pick-up trucks parked in front.  On reading the sign we realize we were not at a diner filled with local but rather a Mennonite Church on Sunday morning filled with locals.  The Feedery next door, likewise, turns out to not be a brunch spot but an animal feed store.

It is on a side street, at the Texas Red Hot Ice-cream/ Hot Dog Joint/ Restaurant/ Bar that we finally find the five-dollar eggs, bacon and diner coffee we are looking for.  The place is wall-to-wall with wholesome looking families, but I have to wonder, with the rest of town over at the Mennonite Church: are we dining with the heathens?

From Kane to Punxsutawney we drive through gentle hills of forested land replete with hunting cabins and ammo supply depots, along winding roads whose roadkill abundance speaks to forests filled to bursting, like a cornucopia whose fruits are spilling out.  I still think deer are beautiful animals.  When I go for a run I feel like a deer, loping along.  I would not go for a run in these woods, not at that time of year. Roadside signs: lots in the “Guns and Ammo/plus other random stuff” category; a nervous-making one that says “Turkey Hunters! Make Sure of Your Target!,” others whose specific words I forget though I remember the sentiment- “State Gambling: It’s a Problem,” “DUI’s: Also A Problem,” “Freedom: Yes!” and it’s corollary, “Freedom Fighters: Also Yes!” My favorite: an unobtrusive mileage sign at a turn-off: “Desire: 5 miles. Panic: 8 miles.”

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Our half-way point of the day is Punxsutawney, and the central library, home place of Punxsy Phil, a sleeping little groundhog in a glass window on the side of the building.  I expected more out of his habitat considering he has to be the most famous groundhog in the world but it is kind of in the realm of a big diorama. There is a sign about the “groundhog elixir” that he supposedly drinks every seven years, a bald-faced lie that H. says was not there years ago, though everything else is the same- the library, the little town, the honor-system parking meters.  The biggest upgrade is that the little white gazebo in the adjoining park has been replaced by a stone platform-amphitheater where we eat lunch, and where the mayor makes the announcement.  I also wonder if there is a groundhog retirement farm, after they do their seven-years duty.  Groundhog day is connected to Candlemas, which is a church holiday connected to a pagan holiday (surprise!) marking the halfway point between solstice and equinox.  It also marks about how much time it has taken me to write this essay.  Whew.  Hoping to finish by the time Phil has his moment in the sunshine.

Also along the way we pull over in an impulsive swerve to go tiptoe through a giant vine-wrapped, weed-filled roofless brick industrial building.  We take a lot of pictures.  The sun is warm on us and time stands still, in this random place that I can’t name, and I am very much in love. These moments crop up all the time, when I am suddenly immersed in love that is as still and warm and slow as the sunshine just sitting on my shoulders and making H.’s eyes look bluer than the sky. This love is the ground that always nudges at our feet, and when there is no bridge, if we follow that ground it takes us down and across and up the other side again, into the sunshine.

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Snails: An Inventory

snailwhale3My apartment is covered in snails, likewise my bookshelf.  All that is missing is their tracks.  In the medicine cabinet in the morning a snail tells me: why hurry?  Two snails face each other by my typewriter.  In between them is a tiny music box that plays “What a Wonderful World.”  Lift them up, look at their foot, and read: Take your time.  On the corner of my desk a blue snail the size of a pencil eraser has been carrying a heart across the polished wooden plain for eons.

I have spent two recent birthdays fashioning snails out of clay with friends.  Now they line my sills and stand watch over my porch garden with its mini-rock garden and reflecting pool.  A shining glass snail guards the mantel, a gift from the boy at school whose cubby symbol is the snail.  In the play yard at school I crouch by the Black-Eyed Susans with small children.  We carefully reach into the densest, wettest, darkest undergrowth in search of snails.  One day a little girl brought me snail whose shell she had pried off out of curiosity and it died on my desk.  When I myself was young my mother and grandmother sang to me: Shellakie Shallakie Bookie, come out of your shell, the British are comin’ to get ye.  The snail here was the Irish resistance.  When my grandmother was little, the young men of her house and village had to disappear when authorities were rounding up suspected resistance fighters.  My grandfather, as a boy, had to help dig holes for them to hide in.

On my bookshelf the amazing, surprising Virginia Woolf short story on this subject; Gertrude Stein has something too within her voluminous works; and Lewis Thompson, in his The Medusa and the Snail, writes a disappointingly brief snail treatment.

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When I first acknowledged a minor snail obsession I lived in the Bay Area where it practically rained snails.  We regularly rounded up the snails in the community garden and put them on Snail Island, a patch of grass where the only place to go was up the lone tree, not a natural place for an earth-loving creature unless they have that horrible snail-zombie disease where a parasite makes them climb a tree- I don’t like to think about it.  Clumps of them gathered forlornly on tree branches.  It was gardener versus snail but in looking back I find it kind of heartbreaking.

Now that I am living back in the east yellow nautilus shells collect in more reasonable numbers in the garden, a lovely gift to find.  I prefer to see them in spades rather than in droves.

Unless, of course, I go to snail world, as I just did.  On an amble in the city I found myself unexpectedly transported to an underwater realm of  miniscule industrious black snails, many young ones with just a beginner baby toenail of a shell and elders whose gnarled shells go round and round.  I look in from above and marvel at their mysterious and busy lives, lives which are entirely spent cleaning the fuzz from the mud and each other in a shallow puddle, on an abandoned dirt road, on the outskirts of the city, bordered by swamp and train tracks, none of which they will be cognizant of though they feel the thrum of the trains drum in their muscle-y bodies.

Cicadas hum in the row of stunted trees dividing road from swamp.  Here is snail world, over there, bird land.  In the distance the road finds its way to an abandoned warehouse.  Its other end parallels the tracks where they disappear under a bridge that is seamed with a broad pipeline.  On either side, everywhere, walls of chirping grasses that sway in the sun that beats down on us, the humidity that rolls over us, and even so, snail stays cool and dark in its secret world.

These puddles appear every ten feet.  Rather than being laid down on the road, they are like windows that have opened, dusty dirt shades all snapped up to reveal jewels, living pictures, in slow motion.

The next day I tell the children about snail world and they hang breathless on every word, as entranced as I was. They listen to a story about nothing, about a puddle in the road.  Then they go on to other things, and I do too.  Small children may have an affinity for microcosms, being ones themselves.  I forget the snails are all around me until they suddenly assert their presence again one morning- I don’t know why. I admit: I am in my own puddle.  Sometimes I don’t leave my two block radius, though at other times I fly far and wild.  I have dropped these little anchors, these earth-creatures, like sinkers on a lure, their one foot firmly tasting ground, and we are connected as though by invisible lines, although unlike those of  Lilliputians, theirs cannot pin me.  Instead, they use them to transmit their wise words and news of other worlds.

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The Hummingwhale

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draws the most crowds on the harbor cruise,
pays no taxes,
browses flora and deep waters equally,
guards its young, sups on nectar,
bears clumsy grace delicately.

It can name five tragedies of youth lost
and shakes its finfeathers to soul and funk and
minuets.  It paints self-representations
by the bouganville.

Uncatalogued by Melville,
defiant, in fact, of the whole cetalogical-ornithological-industrial complex,
the hummingwhale whistles Dixie while empires burn, oil rigs and biochemistry experiments.
It can get in through a keyhole and then destroy every chimp cage within reach of its tail.

Evolutionarily speaking, it refuses to be mythologized,
opting out of the Bestiary of Magical Creatures
as well as its high-school yearbook.

Recruited by the mafia
it went underground
and developed love-interests and web-based social media networks.
Never caught, never seen,
when it finally resurfaced,
the world was gone.  Such a thing to lose.
The hummingwhale settled in for long unbroken years
and began to tattoo its entire body with its life story,
high points, lows, offspring legit and not,
herbology of; anatomy of mood, placing the universe,
illustrating in smaller and smaller modes,
dividing and subdividing infinitely,
always to find one more place,
one more division of space to fill.

by jac

2011