Why did we have to spot her?
By all accounts the gods know
we have done our best, taking
on one too many before, now
knowing our limits and that
of our yard and sanity;
Yet there she was, and we felt
before seeing, noticed slight
movement and heard a low
warning growl, coal black eyes
and fur to match in the inky
light of evening;
It had been raining, furiously
pouring down, thunder and lightning
and fear may have driven her
to hide under that massive machine,
its labors stilled until better weather,
and it might have driven her straight
into salvation for all we know;
So we fed her, not once but many
times, yet on that first, even
as voracious jaws began working,
she paused to look up and straight
into my eyes and I swear she gave
Today she came out for the first time
to expose tiny dark shoulders caved
in surrender, great patches of missing
hair, eyes still imploring, won’t you,
can you please, I will be yours forever
and it breaks our hearts over
and over again that we cannot.
Bring yourself, oh mortal, down
from strata high above,
perhaps we should remind you
that attention is not love;
It’s fine to think you’re welcome
here among us in our midst,
still, you might not care to hear
that you’re no better than the rest;
The boldness of your rally is
beyond what some can bear
while your brothers, sisters carry
all the stardust to your hair;
Let it twinkle deep inside you
so you know that you are blest,
while you eat and shit and suffer
in the galleys with the rest;
It gets lonely, I’d imagine,
you unable to decide
if those gathering around you
only jump on for the ride;
still, you yearn for fame and fortune
while the vacuum grows within
even thought at times you wonder
who’s the butterfly or pin;
On you ramble and you roll
exchanging favors for a smile,
and you know the jig gets hard
when you are dancing all the while;
never pausing, rarely stopping,
the insanity goes deep
and it fills you to the eyeballs
spreads like fungus on the creep;
Then the questions do provoke you
with self loathing and a jinx
when it strikes hard with a blight
you can’t endure like desert Sphinx;
that you’re drowning in delusion
feeling worthless to the core,
as your long-sought admiration
has reduced you to a whore;
Still, awash within the knowing
you’ll survive this, will endure
you await the dispensation
like some bounding, drooling cur;
let me say this with compassion
for your ignorance runs deep:
it’s time for pulling back the sword,
that journey is complete.
Just get over it, she says,
words spewing like hot lava
from icy lips; intention beside
the point and yet how could I
have understood back then?
She would remain forever mute
on the origins of that rage
and I had the rest of my life
yet to figure it out;
Fifty-five years later,
soles of my sneakers burning,
legs quaking involuntarily, gazing
into fissures snaking red with liquid
earth, ambling along swirly hued
ebony rock cooled now into solid
only barely; to gaze, open-mouthed,
as fiery flows spilled forth, mauka
to makai, plumes of billowing smoke
arching high into the waning light;
stars swimming in mirages of heat
while the surf pounded incessantly,
though try as it might, it could not
beat back an expanding shoreline;
On the the path again, heads full
of wonder, while these feet,
long alienated from restriction
of canvas and sole, began swelling
and bulging like some alien creature
yearning to range free, and I am once
again struck by the irony in her words, If the shoe fits, wear it;
But I’m tired now mama, and my feet
are blistered and raw; still I see you
more clearly through exhaustion
and defeat and your pain suffuses me
with sorrow for all who suffer this
volcanic process of purge and birth,
forging new land into harbors
for the heart.
It’s a scurrilous affair to be the target of an assault upon our humanity. Judgments, condemnation and criticisms all aim to reduce our opinions of ourselves, and are often successful in altering how others view us as well. We may well learn best through adversity, but none of us likes feeling attacked. It perpetuates suffering on both sides of the defenseless/defensive coin, especially when it’s of the insidious variety. That’s how the term backstabbing doubtless came into being, this feeling of being assaulted from behind where we can’t view the perceived enemy. And it’s a coward’s way out, this character assassination. It may temporarily grant the accuser a sense of superiority, but of one thing we can be certain; if we observe another engaging in this practice, it’s only a matter of time before they place us squarely in their sights.
I grew up with some fairly critical people, and would venture to say that years of habituation brought this trait out in me. I was an extremely sensitive child in a chaotic environment, and did not receive much guidance in handling the world with equanimity. And though I did garner some fundamental truths which would later prove beneficial, the chasm between what was practiced and what was preached was too vast for my child’s mind to bridge. Only later with age, experience and my own inevitable mistakes in parenting was I able to put the past into greater perspective. It’s still a process at midlife, so I suspect some lessons are deeper than mere conditioning.
As a teenager, I bolstered my fragile sense of self by finding fault with someone I thought better looking than I was, smarter, more talented or popular. Even if I shared these thoughts with no one else, a sense of smugness enveloped me like the proverbial warm fuzzy blanket. Eventually though, and it wasn’t too long in coming, that wrap felt suffocating. To something more decent inside of me, it just felt wrong. Hacking others down did not fill me up, nor did it give me any genuine or lasting sense of self worth. In fact it lent nothing of these attributes, it only carved a hole in my soul.
It has taken many years to rout the poison of criticism from my core. Like standing before a polished mirror, the presence of truth reflects back anything unlike itself. In this space, I am able to experience an up-swelling of compassion for the child that was me and for all the confused children in the world, trying as best they can to survive and thrive in adverse circumstances. Thus my ruminations extend to the child that lives within every adult, and it is easy to experience forgiveness and unconditional love, both for myself as well as for our deeply flawed yet simply human race.
When I moved to the Hawaiian islands over twenty-five years ago, I shouldered a bit of cynicism and not a little buried anger. Living in a land of volcanoes was illuminating. Time and again, my feet were held to madame Pele’s fire. Time and again, I tried to minimize her impact upon me. Goddess be damned! I rebelled. Still and yet, the earth kept metaphorically shifting and rumbling beneath my feet. Transformation was inevitable and profound.
Deceptions of a human mind unaware never fail to amaze me – what we think we know versus the facts materializing before our eyes. And although we have senses to guide us, too often we hear, see and feel only what we choose in any given circumstance. Some consider themselves brave, others boldly court hubris. Depending on the circumstance, I suppose it could be either. Or both.
Picture a brilliantly blue sunny day in Paradise. Variable tradewinds whip sand playfully on a two mile stretch of deserted beach. Sparkling turquoise waters and medium swells invite the initiated; this is a popular surf haunt, but only for the skilled. I have sat on the pali overlooking this location during winter with enormous banks of water rolling in, sounding for the world like a freight train chugging along miles of open track. This is not winter. Still, rip currents can arrive out of nowhere and the locals have warned me, time and again, to always wear fins. At least one. Never, they repeat, go out in the ocean without fins. Hell, I think, I grew up bodysurfing The Wedge in Newport Beach! I appreciate that you are looking out for me, but I know what I’m doing …
Out we go into these unknown waters, my husband and I. This is not our usual swimming site. And he’s not such a keen swimmer in the depths, has never really been. Loves boogie boarding, goes out into secondary breakers by a small reef to catch bigger waves at our regular spot. As long as he’s on that board with those fins, he’s a happy camper. I, on the other hand, prefer merging swells and body into one, as much as possible. I head out. He backs off. Out I go, where the waves are breaking. I mean, I really. Go. Out. At this point, it seems I have no choice. The undertow is severe. There is no longer sand beneath my feet. I flow with the ocean’s decision to carry me further into uncertainty.
Big waves, at least those large enough to surf, usually come in what are called sets. That’s why, in those surfer movies, you see lots of waiting. Sets arrive, boarders paddle out, wait for a ridable wave, joyfully cruise on in. Six is an average set; really, a person is fortunate to get more. I grew up near the ocean, have studied wave patterns since my youth. Today all my knowledge and perceptions go out the window. There is no rhythm, only unrelenting, pounding oceanic swells. One by one, surfers return to shore. I remain out in the water because I have no other choice. I cannot return, no matter how I try.
Rip currents have swept me down and out, far from loved ones on the beach, further from any recognition of topography. Wave after non-negotiable wave assaults me; I dive under and under and under again until I begin aspirating saltwater. I become afraid, something I rarely feel in the embrace of Mother Nature. In marked contrast to what’s familiar, Big Blue is thrashing me now, as I offer a silent prayer. To be faithful to the truth, I offer many. I ask, Am I going to die out here? In answer comes a firm No. (Gasp, gasp, dive, gulp, choke, surface into sunlight and blessed oxygen.) What, then, I query, Is happening? I hear – and believe me, I could not invent a more lucid, nor more vexing response – Rebirth.
Moments feel like hours and later, I notice a lone Hawaiian man on the beach, waving his arms in my direction. Someone has spotted me! Gesturing wildly, he points to a visible section of a large, mostly underwater a’a lava outcropping blocking my way. If I get pulled closer to it, my skin will be torn to shreds. He’s now flagging me down, down and further down the beach. Far from others but closer to him, my port in this frightening storm. He’s the only one who seems to sense the depth of my peril. Still more precious moments later as my strength is waning, he signals. I glance backward and notice the waves are at a lull. I swim. And swim. Waves break, but carry me now. Landward. My feet touch sand for the first time in what feels like hours. The man rushes out and into the water. Staring at me hard, as if to assess my sanity, he asks, Are you okay? Weakly I reach out my arm, croaking Help. As he clasps my hand, I look into steel blue eyes. Once I am safely on the beach, he disappears.
I rejoin my family. They have no idea whatsoever of the degree to which I have just faced down mortality. I am perhaps a quarter mile from where I started. How independent am I, that no one questions my whereabouts? How many times have I refused help, just to prove my strength against all odds?
Weeks later, I am still querying residents of this very small island about a blue-eyed Hawaiian. The locals just shake their heads. There is no such person. Not here on this rock. If there were, we would know. My good friend, a kindhearted street fighting big braddah offers, It must have been an angel.
I once knew a woman who kept her world on the shortest leash imaginable. This overstuffed orb consisted of all she felt she could control and nothing she could not. It must have been mind bending trying to keep all the plates spinning in the air, for if one crashed to the ground, it would be over. All or nothing. And nothing scared the bejeezus out of her.
On the flip side, nothing is what I strive for; nobody wrangling for attention around my ankles anymore, no mental mice racing on the cerebral hamster wheel, little obstructing my view, no plans most days. I seek nothing like a teen intent upon a scavenger hunt but instead of discovering an old leather shoe or a vinyl record hidden in the crotch of a lichen-encrusted oak tree, I discover solace, blessed quiet, welcome respite from nervous natterings over nothing. Instead of din, I crave a steaming beverage and good companionship. If I cannot sit with a kindred soul with whom I can empathically discuss world events, philosophical leanings and the beauty of what last surprised us in nature, I’d rather be still.
The longer I live, the more I crave quality in daily interactions. The wordlessness of dogs is preferable to that of gossip; the serenity of sitting across the room from my beloved intent on reading grants the mind ease in a world fraught with tumult and chaos. A lack of dissonance soothes the cilia of ears overwrought with the thrum of existence. The overworked fist of my heart craves slack time, a free-flowing whoosh of blood through capillaries like and unlike the fast-forward aerials of headlights on busy freeways. It’s why I live as I do, in the naked blackness of star-struck oblivion; in the endless blue where sky meets sea.
The tintinnabulation of a city’s bustle and hum, metal against glass, hammers on asphalt grant me little rest. At the end of the day my mind cannot cease its grasping, try though I might to engender calm. I don’t wonder at the plague of urban insomnia, for it was not all that long ago our ancestors matched movements with spade hitting soil, watching sun coming up over frosty fields spiked with the husks of dying crops. Before that we roamed seeking food and shelter, a surplus of idle time not likely contemplated, much less craved. Technology has brought, among other things, a promise of release. Machines doing what used to gobble up time have now become our obsession in and of themselves. In the place of honoring silence, we fill every nook and cranny with sound and sight and substance. We fashion a world that then needs orchestrating in its complexity. Ancient genes thrill to the hunt, and we rise to the challenge. To simplify seems unthinkable. The body breaks under the pressure but we drive on, ignoring subtle cues.
I knew my friend was tired. You could see it in her drawn expression, the dullness that veiled the light in her eyes. Some of us are doers and some of us of necessity must simply be. And in holding the balance necessary to a world steeped in paradox, I left her to meet the Beyond with an unspoken whisper of gratitude just inside my lips; for the path I have chosen. For the choices I remain free to make.
Communication is composition,
ideally orchestrated if fortuitous enough
to grasp one another by our carefully
Yet too often in bright headlamps
of passing thought trains, we stand
transfixed, unable to move forward
or back, confused and confounded,
misconstrued meaning having wrung us
flat through slight inflection, unintended
direction; our own mind grasping
that tempting baton and running directly
to the finish, team long forgotten,
striding solo in self imposed isolation,
owing sadly to misinformation.