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Seven, One Thousand
We Know Open Sky Eating Salad Amid the Flames The Last Night Lucid Addict Those I Burn For Past-‐Life Encounters Forge Names of God Recognition
This nun turns a corner where that monk is bell-‐ringing & in that instant a dying glacier calves a thousand lifetimes’ BELOVED. Half-‐guessed moraines of who we’ve been. We quake in mats. We bog in peril. We love and forget. Desire is a whirling cloud and I want to know its clear, bright core. This time, we don't bother with sex, betrayal, and recrimination. A new passage opens. Teach me my addiction, and I will hold your death.
1. Here’s a pretty thought: in the course of beginningless time, every living being and I have mothered one another through gnathood and rabbithood, troglodyte times and village life. Here’s more troublesome: we have burned with desire for one another, have set up house and borne children and abandoned them, have started bitter feuds, have broken worlds and made new ones, with our bodies, for one another, again and again. What could be surprising in burning for a stranger, after all this time? Fancy meeting you here. A smell, a glance, a shoulder, a mad persistent tenderness. We know. That’s all.
2. You can’t fuck your way free, and you can’t fear your way free, either, because they’re basically the same plan. Fear, fuck, repeat. After a billion years, if you’re willing to pay attention to what doesn’t add up, you start to notice that there isn’t just the Wheel of Life – which is the Wheel of Caught in the Jaws of Death – there’s also the wide open sky around that whole scene, and in that sky there’s your Buddha nature, standing on a cloud & pointing across the top of the Wheel, through Death’s head, at the rabbit in the moon.
3. I have been faithfully married for eight years, having chosen a platform of vows to remind me there’s sky around any madness that comes burning. Tall, skinny Chris in Edinburgh. Why? Because, foolish, endless, beginningless time. I won’t avoid him; I won’t seek him out. We talk; I burn; I see what’s beautiful in each of us, and also what’s ridiculous. Just before Timothy and I are to head home, Chris and I have lunch together, eating salad amid the flames. Afterwards, standing in the cold stone canyon of the street, he tells me his mother died a year ago. 4. I could tell my sister couldn’t take any more, so the last night, I was alone with my mother, with the blood pouring from her mouth, and the breath rattling in her throat. God, it was awful. But it was real, and I was glad I was there. The thing that really hurt me was that none of my friends ever asked about it. They knew my mother had died, but they didn’t want to know. I had been sober for years, but I started drinking again, and it got really bad. Pippa anchored me when I wanted to die.
5. Chris, the faithful, lucid addict, teaches me I can’t control my way through patterns of old pain, only fail into huge-‐
heartedness over lifetimes. I stand with my mother at the top of the stairs as she is about to leave, and say: this family hatred, grief, and anger is beyond my control. I need help. We are all addicts who need help, though not all admit it, and most prefer to assign the role elsewhere. Chris stands freezing in the winter’s grey half-‐light, and I see I can hold his death. A new passage opens to the clear, bright core.
6. When I don’t chase after or run away, those I burn for teach me tenderness beyond possession. This monk, hardening around the kitchen rules and the temple whacking-‐stick, while his body gives off musk and loneliness. This new father, confessing his running-‐away, his fear of the agony rising between him and his wife. He forgets the lights when he leaves, so stars shine up through the red tile roof of his cabin, while muezzins invite the dawn. I’m not saying I don’t get love-‐sick. I’m saying love-‐sickness can be a symptom of some deeper resolution calling, after all this time. 7. Graham and I each have dreams of our past-‐life encounters. Poking hazelnuts into the ground with the toe of his boot, he tells me: he was a country pastor, and I was his unhappy, cultured wife. Nothing he did could make up for my horror at being bound to a stolid, rural churchman, and my misery became his. I tell him: he was an itinerant musician, and I was the daughter of a house whose men wanted to kill him. I hid him in the spiral staircase while they raged, then set him loose on the dusty road to elsewhere. 8. If we’re meant to learn our way through the illusion of separateness, then those relationships of least understanding and greatest potential will repeat insistently until they resolve. Is that why, so much war? So much divorce. Love, hate, love, hammered and folded in layers, damascened into resilience, honed to a sharpness that has no sides. You strike the bomb-‐casing bell. I see you and the fixities of my life grow thin and malleable. This isn’t a wife-‐question, and it isn’t a fleeting-‐lover question. This is a thousand lifetimes’ BELOVED, firing its forge in us. There is work to be done. 9. Is the work ever done? In Ray Bradbury’s short story, an American engineer has just installed a supercomputer for some suspiciously Kabbalist Tibetan monks, who want it as a tool to crank out the names of God, believing this to be the sole work of creation. On the flight home over the Himalayas, the man looks out and sees the stars going out one by one. What about the names written languages can’t reach? Does the supercomputer speak weasel? The Beloved’s work requires the body & the senses, the awareness of all of us, not just the monks and engineers.
10. I startle out of bed just before midnight to go pick up Timothy, on his way home from Iceland. He’s nowhere to be seen, though the bus has come and gone. Thanks to our squirrely plan, I have no way of finding him. I start to leave. Recognition calls me back: the stranger waiting in the station is a friend from another life. As we greet one another in mutual astonishment, Timothy emerges. We grow together and apart like twigs of the same tree, connected in our separate striving by sunlight above and trunk below, by ground and by grace.