Snake Eyes

Where does romance come from?

I’m specifically interested in the feeling of romance, but my curiosity has led me to take a quick look at the etymology of the word. To break it down, as an adjective, romance describes any language coming from Rome, i.e. the romance languages that derive from Latin. And from that point onward, those who told stories in the vernacular where known to romance. Often those stories involved knights, heroes, lovers, and adventure, hence the meaning we generally associate with it today.

I sense there is some patriarchal dismantling to be had given its formation during the days of chivalry, but I’ll save that for another time when my thoughts have delved more deeply into its origins and connotations.

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For now, let it suffice on the surface, the feeling of romance arose from a walk through the city, a section known as Kensington.

The night air remained chilly, but not terribly freezing. Nice enough for a walk under the El with the train rattling overhead. The floodlights along the avenue showcased storefronts, most closed up for the night. The metal shutters rolled down to the ground with a clang covering up the glass windows and doors. Barbershops stayed lit up with lights and music and customers into the later hours.

I was on my way to grab a steaming bowl of noodles.

I passed an AA and NA recovery building. People hung outside. Chatting lively. A fenced-in yard stood next to it. Wonky, wooden crosses dug into the ground erected on slanted angles. Across the street a Franciscan soup kitchen loomed humble and unnoticeable save the people always around. When the weather is warm, people hang there for hours on end. Even tonight, a person slept curled up tightly with blanket, snuggled into a nook between the steps and a wall to stay protected from the wind. How tired must one be to fall asleep in the cold?

I served food there once or twice. I remember talking with a monk brother about meditation and psychedelia. In his deepest trances, he saw images of Christ meditating before him, emanating blue white and golden light. I didn’t doubt his experience. He called it visceral despite it being a visual hallucination. I just looked at him like, “You’re tripping.” He traveled with a number of other monks from Wisconsin to Philadelphia stopping at other soup kitchens and churches along the way.

I find I’m often in similar places.

A few years back I attended a Quaker church hosting Buddhist monks. They wore robes like the Franciscan monks except different colors. The Buddhist monks traveled around touring cities and sacred spaces meditating through the creation of sand mandalas.

I found it fascinating.

On one night in particular they planned to play music. I arrived early with a friend, her kids, and their friends. Right away, they ran off to explore the church. I sat with the sand mandala on my own and stared into the patterns and colors, the infinitesimally small mounds arranged so delicately, appreciating the elusive magnitude of it all.

Not soon after, a grandfather and granddaughter walked in.
“Make sure you don’t stare them in the eyes!” He warned. He carried a balloon in one hand and her hand in the other.
“How come, Pop?”
“They’ll hypnotize you!”
“Oh!” The little girl looked surprised yet enchanted, filled with a million lovable questions. She couldn’t control her excitement and interest, so all those millions of questions condensed and funneled into a simple exclamation, “But how?”
“They have snakes in their eyes!”
“Oh!” She hollered again and pointed at me from across the room, “Is he one of the snake monks?”
I smiled at the question. Her grandfather looked at me and nodded his head, “Look at his eyes. He’s got snakes!” I didn’t know what to think about that response, but it amused me. They walked over to a nearby pew.

People slowly filed in. Everyone quiet and whispering. Even the kids kept their cool for the most part.

The monks ushered us over to a different area for the music. We sat in pews and they faced us. I don’t know what I expected, maybe something relaxing or soft. Which it wasn’t. These instruments, which I couldn’t name other than brass, a shaker, a scraper, a drum, probably another horn, in addition, an interspersal of throat singing, made so much clanging and discordant nonsensical sound, it jolted me awake. It crashed into my peripheral understanding of meditation and smashed it up, dancing all over it like a danse macabre. The kids kept trying to stifle their laughter, the parents kept trying to shush them, but the laughs just bubbled up and out like a creek unimpeded and joyful. It was great. The playing. The jolting. The meditation. The laughter. It felt like seeing an abundantly playful noise band.

In all my explorations of meditation, juxtaposed to what we expect, I find the nature of violence to be a consistent theme. One full moon many moons ago, I attended a chanting meditation of the Rinpoche lineage. So much of the language described how dastardly corrupt the world is, and how strong and prevailing in spirit we must be to walk through it.

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We often have this idea that peace of mind is accomplished high up in the mountains far away from society, and that’s true, it can be glimpsed at and cultivated there. But what happens when the practitioner returns to the poverty of the city? It’s a whole different world. The subtle and overt violence is striking. The gentle mask is ripped away. The air is dirty and the water’s poisoned. Are we trying to expel the darkness of life or understand it? We often have this idea that we must always be standing in the light to be healed, to acquire knowledge and wisdom, to live righteously. I think there is merit in that, but I believe wholeheartedly in living with the darkness, in continued confrontation with our demons, treading the shadowed waters. We have to be honest with ourselves. The day falls dark. The moon disappears once a month. The stars shine thousands of lightyears away. How many of them have already exploded into death?

My last semester at school, I volunteered at a soup kitchen in downtown Boston. I went once a week just about every week for a few months. We prepped food, served those who were living there and a few others who came in off the streets. It was a halfway house, so a lot of the folks were either addicts or coming out of jail or both. After serving, we ate with everyone and conversed. It seemed just about everyone wanted to talk about god. They spoke intensely and wild-eyed about their journeys discovering the divine. It pummeled them with inspiration to talk and read until their heads cracked like lightning. I was there for it. No doubt.

When we got to talking, everyone assumed I was there for a class requirement, so they acted surprised when I told them I was volunteering simply because I felt compelled. Good for you, they said. It’s not really volunteering if you’re required to do it anyhow. During that time I found myself buddying up with all kinds of people considered degenerates, drunkards, addicts, criminals etc etc more or less the demimonde, the underworld, the subterranean of castaways and outcastes. 

One day I remember slicing my thumb open terribly bad. We were cutting bagels. Blood dripped onto the table like little ink blots. The pain sat me down for a long moment. I got woozy. The blood rushed from my head. Everything flashed white.

A woman stared at me smiling, “It makes you feel alive, doesn’t it?” I looked at her bug-eyed and she smiled wider. I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up. I felt sick. But her suggestion took my mind a different route. I recovered the ground under my feet and got back to helping out.

That weekend, I drove to White Plains, New York with a friend, hopped a train to NYC and a bus to Philly. My thumb throbbed and yelled at me the whole time. I tried to practice my breathing while repeating the mantra, “Pain is an illusion. Pain is an illusion.” But that worked only vaguely. The pain faded in and out slowly, without warning, and when the pain returned, the intensity didn’t subside.

That night I arrived home, I stayed up staring at the gash, wondering about the healing process. I wanted to watch the mending occur. The coagulation. The scabbing. The slowly closing up of skin like a flower opening and closing in tune with the sun. I didn’t have the patience to stare at it that long.

At one point, my cat walked into the room. I must have been in such a daze. She appeared to motion me to follow. So I did. She sat down next to an aloe plant and looked at me in that peculiar way cats do, aloof yet expecting something. I held my hands out like, “What?” So she licked my thumb and it all made sense. Of course. Aloe. I broke off a tiny piece, spoke with it, and asked it to heal my thumb. I slept with aloe that night and the following night, and in three days time, to my amazement, the cut healed like magic. I still have a little indentation on my thumb from that.

Since that time, I’ve never experienced such quick healing with aloe specifically. I continue to use it when it’s around, but tend towards other woundworts like St. John’s.

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Only one other instance have I personally experienced rapid healing of that nature: I was pounding rebar stakes into the ground with a metal mallet hammer and it slipped down the side of the rebar and smashed my instep. Everyone knows how sensitive that area is. I yelled fuck! and took long, deep breaths. I went back to work, and afterwards, took a trip to the garden to pick a couple comfrey leaves. By the time I got home, my foot turned red and was beginning to swell. I didn’t even crush the leaves up into a poultice. I just wrapped my foot with the clean, intact comfrey leaf, securing it with an ace bandage. Before going to sleep, I brushed up on my study of it and stared into the other leaf I harvested. If you’ve never stared into a comfrey leaf, especially when you’re under the spell of pain, I recommend doing it. It is a deep leaf. It penetrates. It’s also called knit-bone. When I woke up the next morning, I had no pain in my foot and no evidence of swelling or bruising. I could walk on it with ease, but it was still sensitive to a heavy touch. It healed within a week.

I’m not saying plants work like this all the time, but it does happen.

When my friend broke her hand, I wrapped it with a comfrey poultice. Before doing so, it looked like a baseball mitt. She could barely move her fingers. Within an hour of applying the poultice, the swelling completely subsided and she could gently and slightly close her hand. When she showed it to her aunt and mom, they looked at me like I was some kind of witch.

I know it’s hard to believe, but plants really do work wonders with our bodies.

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Interludes of a Winter Blues

I carry a lot of tension in my gut. My whole life this has been the case. So much so, the majority of times I’ve visited an urgent care, a hospital, or doctor, it has been related to the gut. Thankfully these visits have been far and few between, and none have been terribly life altering.

I sit and meditate. I like to listen to that part of my body. I enjoy hearing and feeling my intestines talk. They make wild noises, like wolves snarling, frothing at the mouth with digestive salivas.

There’s a lot going on in there.

If the heart is the ocean (the veins rivers, creeks, and waterways) and the brain is the cosmos packed in with galaxies and neurons, then the gut is the deep caverns running pathways through the earth filled with nutrients and shit. The gut is like the soil, interlaced with mycelium and nerve endings.

I carry a discomforting hurt: The pain the earth goes through. There are tsunamis in my heart. There are earthquakes in my gut.

I sit and navel gaze. I release the spots where hardness builds up. My guts are soft, strong, and wild. I make sure I ingest non-domesticated foods as often as feasible so digestion is not made lazy by sugars and highly processed foodstuffs.

The complex absorption and expelling of earthly being daily.

Is there meaning in the fact that Artemisias such as wormwood and mugwort both tonify the digestive tract & strengthen dream recall? There is certainly a lot being worked out in the gut we are not totally aware of. Likewise in dreams, we are digesting emotions & experiences via the internal actions of the subconscious.

I carry a lot of shame and guilt in my gut. It tenses up like rocks and impedes the creative rivers of will.

Release.
Real ease.

I dreamt of a city. Walking through, the atmosphere was relaxed yet festive. Carnivalesque. I walked through a park and found so many colorful feathers. Several feathers sized four feet long. “These must be my new wings scattered all about.”

I made love with a woman I just met. Boundaries dissolving like fish wrestling in the ocean. Amorphous like the vortex storms of Jupiter. Volatile and pleasingly beautiful. Folding in on one another like spirals of the starry night. We made love.

I woke up naked and attended a street action. It hardens my body. To feel the lick of fire and rage, a constant in the underbelly, trembling like fault lines.

Some days I’m free from worry. Some days my brow is furrowed.

Praise be the shit. For that is an example of the body speaking, “This, I do not need.” I’m thankful for my guts. Discerning nutrients and nourishment everyday.

I passed a river birch on my walk home today. I pushed the wiry branches out of my way, trying to avoid getting poked in the eye. As I did, a wisp of pollen dusted the air. It caught the sun, little specks of yellow
glimmering
delicate.
I thought for a moment a tree spirit had sprinkled me with mind-altering fairy dust;
time felt slow,
so soft
golden,
and my vision focused on minute details otherwise glanced over. Like a blue jay chasing a scared bee weaving
and
dipping
erratically through the air buzzing in agonized fear for survival. The jay missed the bee and landed on a fence perturbed. He looked at me as if to say, “Why didn’t you catch him!” He then huffed & puffed his stately plumage, & splayed out his tail feathers like a handheld fan. He flew to the nearest tree.

Nature is so animate.

A few inches off the ground, I watched a spider catch a beetle with her web. She roped him like a calf at a rodeo, and started drawing him up for a feast. But that beetle squirmed for dear life and slipped a leg free, and continued to lash about dangling & spinning in the air. It was a battle of life and death. A dramatic struggle. The fear of the beetle emanated in tiny waves. The spider kept throwing line after line of web to tightly secure her meal, but the beetle went into full freakout mode and his one leg broke completely off setting him free. He limped away disgruntled & hurt yet visibly relieved. The spider cast some last-ditch-effort threads like fishing line thrown at the end of a long day, but it merely slowed the beetle’s pace. As the spider finally settled for the broken leg, the beetle trudged on with a resolve for life.

And people wonder why I don’t have a TV.

 
 There’s so much reality happening.

I see it in the water. A microcosm.
A myriad of colors all smearing together like a painting left out in the rain. The sky blends
into the trees
blends into the pond.

There’s a family of ducks quacking & waddling & shaking their feathers. They eat from a patch of grass where rainwater accumulates. It’s shallow, and I walk through it. My boots ripple & splash in the reflection of trees.

up above,
The moon shifts
in cycles and slivers.
up above,
The clouds shift
in wind and wisps.
down here,
The sunset is diffuse. It touches everything for a long moment. It seeps into & pervades my being, the atmosphere, the

Branches sticking straight up and sideways. Branches crisscrossing against the sky. Limbs and sticks and branches, a labyrinth for the eye. The roots do it too. Twisting & turning, intertwining, & hugging. The earth erupting in trunks. The bark speaking so many truths, like a book weathered and wrinkled by the downfall of rain. The ink drips & makes up a new story.

Respite. The brief omnipotence of sunsets, saturating and pushing out politics, evaporating the daily grind. Returning one to the sacred.

maybe it’s just ghosts
stirring in the past
blown open like sails,
or an anchor clanking
hoisted onboard
like skeletons & bones
clonking a hollow tone

it reminds me of a treasure beneath the sea

a blustery day
entangled in wind chimes
the jangle adds a charm to the grey sky,
the house itself creaks & whistles
like a wooden ship rocking to life

I took the whole place apart,
piece by piece
I put her back together

I scraped years and years of paint
always working on windows
& doors
it makes me wonder about vision,
and passage,
and stepping thru
seeing

my hands rough & beaten &
callused with so many blisters
accustomed to cuts &
scrapes
I wear this body
like a glove
like a cloak
for my soul
to travel & work

I fell into this craft
this vehicle
this wooden ship
I landed
in this house

There is a widow’s walk atop the attic.
Its namesake comes from the women who
lost their husbands out to sea,
but still had a glimmer of hope
they might return one day

I go up there to watch the trees
to get a moment of solace
to fall headlong in the sky

before climbing back down to labor
to treat the house like my own
to imbue her with character
I sand
the grain & stain
the wood
pops
like an old record
singing blues

It makes me think about lineage & history

I must have been a sailor in a past life
star-gazing on clear nights
drunk on swill & sea air
floating casually
thru storm & days of calm

Prompt: Why do you feel you must incorporate a feminine line of thinking within your life?

Perhaps it’s not that I must incorporate the feminine within my life. It’s simply that the feminine IS in my life. It’s not something from the outside. The muse is within. It’s a matter of discovering her, unveiling her beauty, creating space for her inspiration. The muse is the breath of life sought out by all creative people. At times we get lost believing the muse is to be found in a woman, or a man, or nature, which is true to an extent; inspiration can be found in others. But to rely on another is a dangerous path.The inner woman, the inner divine, is elusive, she may even scare you to death. 

Look at Medusa, she’ll stone you with her stare. Hear the Sirens, they’ll lure you into oblivion.

As a man, it’s important to establish a balance. It’s necessary to find a solid footing in brotherhood and camaraderie, but also necessary to be open, flowing, and receptive to the woman who sits behind the veil. If we are diligent (and lucky) she will whisper her secrets, she will give us a glimpse of the mystery she holds so dearly.

Once we have a peek at the world borne within, it is our job to take the inspiration and treat it like the breath, delicately, to craft the word, our dreams, with care. We are not brute cave men running around clubbing the garden into existence. We, who hang in the balance, understand the feminine is inherent, and we must walk the line with confidence and patience to express ourselves with fullness.

Most of our lives are spent seeking the answers on the outside. Go within. Tap into the feminine. It’s only natural. Don’t you see? We come from the ocean and return to the sea.

Slow day, walking through the park watching all the birds squawk & chirp and fly from tree to tree. They perch in the bare branches silhouetted against the clearing blue sky. There’s a joyousness in their collective chatter, as if they know, despite the wintery mix of snow and rain this morning, that spring is near. A robin excitedly hops across the wet grass and a red-shouldered blackbird flits across the pond. With all the snow melting from the last blizzard, there are so many big puddles scattered throughout the park, and the pond has poured over where the banks are low. As I walk, the earth feels swampy beneath my boots. Squishing and squashing. I keep getting lost in the reflections of the puddles. It gives me a different glimpse of the sky and branches. An elevated, yet grounded perspective. When I walk across them, I get the sense of stepping into the heights of trees like all the birds perched gently & weightless.