The box is with Larissa.
The box is with Larissa, and Larissa is with the hole in the ground outside her house.
This morning, BQ and I are with one another, by the rivers, which this morning smell a bit eggier than usual.
The birds are with one another, as, possibly, are the heavy machines rumbling this way and that. They call to one another: news of the universe.
News of Cleveland: heavy machines are rumbling through neighborhoods where people have abandoned houses they can no longer afford, thanks to shitty loans and vanished jobs. In the short video, heavy machines break through the walls and ceilings of old houses, like vultures breaking skin. Old houses collapse into undifferentiated rubble, which is trucked elsewhere to be sorted by hand, by men whose building jobs left years ago. Now they are the carrion-sorters. They send broken bricks down the chute, send broken boards to be ground up for mulch, send metal to be foundered again into whatever. Beds, cars, new keys for old locks.
The manager of the house-recycling plant says, “It makes you think.” It does. It makes you think.
The leadup advertisement before the carrion-video on the New York Times site is from Microsoft, who, from the depths of their wisdom and generosity, have found a way to address billions of people’s deficit of… banking services. See? Before, banks were only available to some people, but Temeros (I think it’s actually called that) will fix this problem. Now, wherever there’s a man with a cell phone, there can be shitty loans for brown people! “Now,” [pan to Asian man hand-painting paper parasol] “people can start a business, and for the first time, hire people to work for them!” Thanks, guys with phones! We here with our exotic, flimsy umbrellas had not gotten that far in thousands of years! We were just, you know, painting umbrellas, with nowhere to go, and no one to help us. Whew! Banking sure saved the day. Just like it did in Cleveland.
The box is with Larissa, and my mind is with all the bullshit, underhanded ways those in power congratulate themselves for making things in their own image, and squashing all the rest. The ways those in power magnify their pain, while remaining clueless to other forms of pain, particularly those they themselves are causing.
Also in the news this morning: Law Enforcement Mourns Unprecedented Losses. Which, not to be callous, but, last time I checked, is eight. Compare that with, say, this year’s numbers of women killed by their partners, or prisoners killed in detention, or people killed in countries destabilized by our wars, and you really have to think that something is up. An unprecedented loss of eight, in a world roiling with catastrophe, smacks of unconsciousness about the pain of others. I know it is hard to remember to feel, especially when the box is with tribalism, nationalism, us, them, turf, right and wrong. Even asking the question, "How am I failing to feel the pain of others?” is hard. It’s important to know that.
My wrist hurts from scrubbing like a madwoman yesterday, and from battling the huge sprawl of wild grape that has taken over the crowns of our improvised sumac hedge. My friend the botanist once described this section of the yard as our “invasive species collection,” and that is apt. I’m grateful to the sumac for shading us and screening us from the street, but I have no such feelings for the grapevines that twine and bind and crush everything in their path, and then produce unsatisfying, sour little pips for fruit. Not like scuppernong and muscadine in the South, which do all those aggressive things, but then also drop down sweet thick-skinned globes from the canopy. Scuppernong, in the right season, gives rise to Dionysian patches in the woods – places where the grapes have been crushed underfoot and fermented to forest wine.
I do not feel the New Hampshire grapes’ suffering as I cut them down and shred them out of the sumac. I want them gone. I want them off. I make declarations like, "OK, you can have beyond this point, but no more. I am coming for you."
The box is with Larissa, and the stench of the dump is with BQ and I. Sticky grapefruit, egg salad, gasoline. Sickly, I want to lay down and go to sleep in the grass. I rub my grape-slaying, fence-scrubbing wrist for support, and keep moving the pen.
Under the table, please, just a little nap? The dogs throw themselves down – brumph! – and flop on the floor, their mouths hanging open, revealing gums like mussels, rubbery and plump. There’s a word in French – babines – and not in English. We have no words for dog-cheeks like shellfish, the box is with Larissa, and I want to lay down.
The heavy machines keep rumbling. Yesterday, in meditation group, we talked about the possibility that our desires might be God’s–through-us. That what we want is actually what we are supposed to do. Does God want me to take a nap under the table? The train horn blast visibly startles both BQ and I. I guess not. OK, then. Awake. Writing. The train speeds up.
What if the whole shaggy mess of life were about tempering one’s desires? Learning by indulging them, exploring them, and gradually, in this way, burning off what in them is not essential. Dangerous: who decides what is nonessential? Some dragon lady within? Some desiccated priest? No. Some ring of truth.
Allyn from the Zen Center tells the story: the thing had been used at Dartmouth as a planter for years, and then sent off – too large! unfashionable! – for recycling. A guy at the physical plant noticed that if you hit the thing it rang for five minutes. Maybe it was worth paying attention to? It rang true. The inscription no one had noticed said it had been cast 250 years ago, as a bell for a temple in Japan. Someone remembered it had been brought to this country by Mr. Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and then given to his somewhat inattentive Alma Mater.
It’s like that for us, believe it or not. We discard, say, dancing, as too large! unfashionable! And just when it’s on the brink of being recycled into productivity-pellets, some worker underground strikes it, and it rings for five minutes. That’s a desire that has stood the test of time. That’s one to let out of the box, to keep close, to allow to grow and shift as it will.
The nap under the table, by comparison, might as well get melted down, so we can find out what comes up next time. Hey presto! A little gentle rub of the shoulders, a remembered story, a glimmer of recognition in the murky water.
Testing and proofing desires is scary, takes time, and precludes a lot of glamor-selfies and other leakages of Little Me into the arena where the action is unfolding. Great stinking piles of rubble must be made and gone through. I myself must become the carrion worker and the carrion, the ruined house and the clean land reorganizing itself into wild pinks and sumac, woodchucks and raspberries, a meadow with a gnarled wood beside it.
Julie Püttgen is an artist and meditation teacher.
108 Names of now