Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spells & Potions

A few weeks ago a patient admired the purple shoelaces in my old & ugly, black & fissured Payless Shoe Source oxfords.

"Thank you," I replied. "They're penitential."

His eyes grew wide; his smile froze; I could see him wanting to back quietly toward the exam room door and flee.

I turned the topic quickly to the color of his nasal secretions, a much safer topic.

Stuff like that just slips out sometime. The persona cracks and the naked face emerges.

Many years ago a schizophrenic acquaintance of mine pointed to a security guard in a bus depot and said, "The only thing that's holding his personality together is his uniform." I think of that, sometimes, when I put on my lab coat and sling my stethoscope around my neck.

My purple shoelaces are a different sort of signifier than my lab coat. I may be giving out mixed messages.

Everything is a question of reading.

For example, in the woods lately, I am rereading the book of late summer; my teeth are chattering; frost weights my lashes; my nailbeds are blue; my companions are Byrd and Shackleton.

I see right through the warm, luscious flesh of the fruit to the cold and earthbound pit.

You must believe me when I tell you this has nothing to do with such manifesti as When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.

For 2 days I have not clicked on a news teaser on the Comcast page, something about a live baby discovered in a coffin. I preferred to leave off at my baptismal association, the seed of which was planted by our priest's crosscultural anecdote -- somewhere, infants are carried to the font -- to their death & rebirth in Christ -- in a literal coffin.

Language is a species of magic. The only things that are holding her shoes on her feet are her purple shoelaces.

See ?

I'm in one of those Novembers of the soul that drove Ishmael seaward and that led Hamlet to cry "words, words, words." I turn weedward, woodward. Weeds are not wordless, though. They speak a different language, to be sure, a tongueless tongue, best appreciated with the eyes and nose.

Even if they could, they would not tell the scandalous tales of kings. They would agree, if they could, with Jules LaForgue's observation that the moon does not bear a grudge.

Their thorns, hooks and prickles do not signify peevishness, and their tenaciousness is neither vice nor virtue.

I am, I confess, sick of stories, sick of speech, sick of exhortation, sick of complaint, sick of argument both shrill and nuanced.

Departing for the desert, I travel light. I lay a few items out on the bed and contemplate them:

Thank you.

Forgive me.

Help me.


Or maybe just this, this one thing --


--handy as a bur, or a scythe.

Oh, I know, these splenetic moments always pass. The salt regains its savor, the wilted posie fattens in the rain.

But from each trip to that frigid, arid edge I return with bits abraded off, my cheap shoes more cracked, the ends of the purple laces muddy and frayed,

babbling about Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Monkshood and Bishop's weed.

It is unseemly.

It is unbecoming.

What, then, is it ?

What !

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