Saturday, June 1, 2024

Second elegy

pilgrim’s progress

16. If only you had simply died.

17. “Yes, the lessons do keep rolling in; I’ve noticed that too,” you wrote in your last message to me. If this life is a flash quiz, I’m failing it now, flailing to find answers. Or, answers fail. The wall’s gaps hide lizards and mongooses. But you’ve slipped past my line of sight, even through my fancy new glasses.

18. And then: “It’s nice to think of putting down stakes for good, to lay out books and my mother’s china in their proper homes.” [Pause] “...or less transitory homes, that is.” Apt prosody of a Signal message. Signal from somewhere the map on my phone can’t record.

19. Yesterday morning a signal, perhaps. Lilith and I were climbing a hill when I turned toward the Koolau: a double rainbow! The rainbow didn’t drift in wind, it simply dissolved. Signal to sign, virtual to symbolic presence. There’s presence in your death; I hear you whispering mantras to our animals, blessing them. This morning: a solitary peacock on the road.

20. I hadn’t written you back. I write you back. I cannot write you back. “What happened, Sina?” I’d ask. Interlocutor silent. Not a failure of the net, but of the breath I imagine on your side of it. You were such a spider, weaving out and weaving in. Nets hold bodies, but not their breath.

21. “The revelation that poetry was alive and riding on the breath, line by line, in a direct link to one’s heart,” she ascribed to Olson, whose heart had nothing on hers. Her poem’s breath was slash, oblique, an enjambed line within the line itself. You read as if seated on the back of a gently bucking horse.

22. Radiance of these mountains in the early a.m. Orange yellow cast over green, under blue, and into white. Buddhist shawl sun slung around cliff’s neck. Trees like fuzz on a head resuming its production of hair. After chemo. After radiation. I brought Sangha to the hospital with me; your nurse asked, “where did you get him?” Adoptive mothers, both, we rolled our eyes.

23. We get our lives, don’t we? As in, we acquire them without asking, or acquire them again in adoption. What we don’t get are life plots, tangles, figures of speech, surprises (that seem less so later). The shock of your dying will stop kicking me in the chest, but don’t plan on closure, dear Sina. It’s all detour now.

24. You were our MC when we remembered the university’s dead, too often buried outside of print or email or any notice at all. We performed memory before the Chancellor (who cried), members of the counseling center (in case someone freaked out), students whose peer had died by suicide, colleagues who’d “passed on,” as they say. I prefer the Victorian grave marker, “she fell asleep” on such and such a day. The ground a comforter. Karl Marx and George Eliot whisper to each other from their firm London mattress. The ocean will be your comforter.

25. We set up electric candles, the better not to burn down the Center for Hawaiian Studies indoor/outdoor theater space. We posted photos of the dead. We told stories about them. We pushed them, their names, up grief’s brown hill. Mostly, they fell back to us, undeveloped images still yearning for our company. Syntax is memory's machine. Pull the weed whacker string, hear its whine. A man wearing a monkish uniform will cut back the grass. Grief’s an act of editing.

26. Police say there was an argument between you and her that “escalated.” You, who worked so hard at right speech. Mostly, you were ignored. In the media narrative, you are someone’s victim and someone’s aunt or sister. The real secret was your presence. “She’s a mirror to others,” another author said to me. How the kiss of billiard balls turns to aversion. How your reflectiveness told us who we were, but left you out.

27. “Kali yuga on a stick” is how you described our politics. “The present age, full of sin,” Wiki tells me. The stick lent humor, as if sin were a puppet, bouncing happily on a portable stage, making children scream with delight. Yes, it’s farce all right, this lurching toward apocalypse. All orange wigs and logical fallacy. Stick it to them.

28. Laughter may be the best medicine, according to the Book of Holy Cliche. My meds block my tears. They’ve built themselves a balloon inside my chest that expands when I release my breath. My lungs want out, or at least what’s inside them, prisoner of the Emotional Repression Complex that knocks in code on my ribs. Let me bargain for my tears. Big Pharma, goddamn you, my cheeks call out for refreshment!

29. Oh Sina, truth teller, wise woman, purveyor of explosive laughter (which you offered without terms), colleague who never got to a meeting on time, ethical overlord, pull your trademark scarf tight and gird your loins for the bardo. Seven days in, the lay of the land is coming more clear. I hope you have mountains there, and that they walk like Dogen’s.

30. “farewell, Expectations and False Hope!” you wrote on Buddha’s birthday. “on second thought, don’t fare well. fare badly. fall / & break your wily neck”-- Farewell, dear friend.

Note: title taken from Sina’s poem, “pilgrim’s progress,” in alchemies of distance. Other quotations are from the Introduction.

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