Sunday, November 02, 2014

Even At The Grave

The river -- opaque, blighted, smelling of oil -- called to me yesterday. 

I'd spent the morning wandering the halls of the afflicted to have more opinions rendered on the topic of my battered brain. I was, it seemed to me, one of the luckier ones: I was walking, talking, and my destination was not the oncology floor, so what more could I ask ?


I like that part of the name of the hospital where my neuromelodrama has been playing out translates to House of Israel, and that the more recent merger-related suffix -- Deaconess -- alludes to a Methodist healthcare movement: a broad religious courtesy lies behind the Radiation-emitting robots, and is poised to spring out and place a hand on the disconcerted shoulder.


That is not to say that a broad humanist courtesy is not prepared to offer succor, but there is something about the religious context that appeals.


Live without appeal, replies my inner Camus, and I suddenly realize that appeal is Janus-faced. Something appeals to me, attracts me, interests me, calls to me; I appeal to something, someone -- cry out, plead, turn to. There is a mutuality, as there is said to be in prayer; something of a conversation, a call and response that goes both ways.


We are creatures of flesh and speech. We inhabit our landscapes and our houses and our stories.  I sat in the neurology office as the fellow went off to present my case to the attending and found myself thinking about body image -- not the outer body, but the inner. I can place my hand on the right side of my skull, feel the shallow indentation where cheerful Dr K sawed into my head, and know that, less than an inch away lies my brain. Its appearance is, of course,  not unfamiliar to me. Yet, when I picture it, it seems impossibly remote, impossibly huge and strange, threaded with rivers and vines, and I am a lillipute navigating its looming passages.


Same thing with the heart. Lying on my left side, I can feel the ventricle tapping on the inner wall of the ribcage, inches from my mattress. Yet when I imagine my heart, it seems occulted in a deep, dark wilderness -- surely something out of Joseph Conrad -- enormous, exotic, full of secret chambers and doors.


All this probably comes from decades of poring over medical images -- from Gray's Anatomy to each day's serving of MRIs and xrays and CT scans -- as if they were foreign landscapes requiring exploration.


Which is all fine with me, as I tend toward a disembodied existence a few inches above my head and outside my skin. So why not inhabit a story, a history ? Where else is there to go ? Where do 10,000 wordless hours on a zafu bring you but into the silences of your own brain ? Is God or enlightenment there more profoundly than in that which we construe in words ? In the beginning, after all, was the Word which was with the Wordless which, in fact was the Wordless. 


God is with you, says the story. It is a twice told tale, in fact: certainly with the Incarnation (hello Advent my old friend) and also at Easter (when heaven is joined with earth).


So, where was I ? Wandering the corridors of the place of the afflicted, wandering the corridors of my brain where forgetfulness itself presides from its tattered, comfortable easy chair,


thoughts popping out all over the place like fireworks, and subsiding into silence --


I love autumn, but who doesn't ? This year the colors seem as dazzling as ever: blood red, bile yellow, cyanotic blue, gangrene black, shit brown. There's something about a nosedive that embodies you -- that yanks your happy ectoplasm back into the plasma-bathed spaces of the corporeal where the wild sounds of reaping echo along every cellular sinus and cavern. Singing -- singing of fall, decline, decay, and death: which is, after all, the faux bourdon of every song on earth, including love songs, and


especially those songs of ours that we make (as the commendation of  the Episcopal burial service so magnificently states)  even at the grave.


So where did you say I was ?


At the river, breathing in the Proustian smells of brown water and leafmold, realizing that this -- this is what is meant by that strange and evocative phrase the fullness of time:


As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. World without end.


Be that as it may, I was walking in a world of endings, happily taking pictures of the most intimate moments of decay, untimely bits of green reminding me that the fullness of time is not just about everything becoming sludge, then going up in cosmic smoke then down to and through absolute zero.


There is that, of course, a metaphysical reductio ad absurdem; but it begs the question of the here and now.


The here and now in which the jauntily-named, linear-accellerator containing robot (with whom, via CT scan, I did a Vulcan mind-meld last week) is poised to shoot its death rays directly into the rasberry-sized knot of more-fragile-than-they-should-be blood vessels that is perched at the top of my cerebellar vermis  in the skull place called the posterior fossa. Worm, back ditch: I translate the body's Latinisms back into a more honest Anglo Saxon.


The warm, green plastic mesh that a cheerful young man pressed to my face hardened into the death mask that will tether me to the robot's table -- but I am growing overly melodramatic, no ? CyberKnife (I am told, and believe) is safe and painless, and the worst that could happen is a wee bit of brain swelling easily remedied with the panacea of panaceas, corticosteroids. Better than the cheerful neurosurgeon hacking through my cerebellum, for sure; better than the little raspberry erupting and drowning the cerebellar worm in a back ditch full of blood.


There are worse things. I got off the elevator at neurology, not oncology.


And after any nose-dive, the ectoplasm is free to re-establish itself in the ether,


leaving one happily dissociated from -- oh, just about everything --


-- or is that simply the effect of  left-over blood still sitting on the left frontal lobe, a virtual lobotomy --


a gory hand laid on a disconcerted brain for comfort ?


It's fall, autumn, the post-equinox of lengthening nights. True, here and there new things are popping into being for a brief chilled time.


Elsewhere, hands are raised (or so says evensong)  for the evening sacrifice.


and arrows pierce the heart's most leathery carapace.


A world of fragments and ruins, said the poet; the same poet who proposed that evenings are like a patient etherized upon a table.


I have been furnished with death mask; a companionable robot packing heat; tranquilizers for the trip. A pamphlet prescribing prayers of loss and gratitude.


I vomit words as if they were my last, as if to say: I am here, I can still speak,


Yet through the fullness of time there runs a river of time,


a salty river flowing into the open water of the Wordless,



It's as crowded with revelers as the Saco River on a hot July afternoon.


But, wait -- where was I, am I, will I be ? Rambling on the high river bank, mindful of the galaxies and of the single falling leaf, of Being and its myriads voyaging beings, each with its own particular appeal, each with its own longing ear listening for a -- any -- response.







7 comments:

tom said...

Thanks very much for this and these, Paula. You have my prayer for your continued healing.

Paula said...

Thank you:
for reading, and for the prayer.

forsythia said...

I can only echo what Tom said.

tristan said...

to have been at one with the universe, even for a moment, is enough

Shameless O'Clawson said...

Hello, Paula, my old friend...

Weigl, who so loved your God's Hand Gun has gone through trepanation, a word I first learned from you. Didn't DK have one?

I wish you well, your prose and photos are gorgeous. Your Charles alone, but so exquisitely shared.

Bless you.

Paula said...

Forsythia, Tristan, thanks for your kind reading !

RJC, my old pal, yes DK was trepanned some years back. Weigl, too ? I am in good company. I hope things are well with you !

Elsewhere said...

Thank you,
Els from Amsterdam