Tuesday, September 27, 2005


I've always been fond of the symbolic Buddhist being, the hungry ghost, the creature with the infinite appetite and the pinhole mouth. How can it ever get stuff in fast enough to satisfy its powerful desire ? Simple -- it can't. It's doomed to perpetual frustration. Poor thing. It hardly seems fair.

I've been thinking about desire lately, specifically, that subspecies of desire that has an object as its object. Dinglust, as a malapropping German neologist might say. I admit it. I have been wrestling with, and have succumbed to desire, to dinglust. You want the prurient details ?

Eating, for me, is the prototypical desire, the ur-lust. Freud would have called this an oral fixation, more primitive than both the anal or genital kinds, and apt to lead, if untreated, to hysterical neurosis. That's why I feel such a soft spot for the poor, frustrated deva. I know what it's going through. In fact, the deva should be the household god of anorexics --the prissily abstemious pinhole coupled to a secret, inner unfillable void.

Desire begins with the eye. The roving, burning eye. A man walked toward me on the river path a few weeks ago. He had two things: a toddler in a stroller, and a camera with a huge lens hanging from a neckstrap. My eye went right for the camera. Conflict ensued:

Omigod what an impressive rig ... is that a digtal SLR ? ... and the lens... must be a big time zoom ... wait, I shouldn't be staring ... what if he notices me eyeing his lens ... he'll think I'm some kind of schmuck admiring his camera and not his baby ... he'll think I'm an unnatural woman...what kind of a woman admires a camera over a baby anyway...I must be some kind of monster...

I tore my eyes away from his gear and smiled at his baby. It scowled back. It had my number.

The Bible acknowledges the burning eye, and prescribes: If the eye offendeth, pluck it out ! Desire has more eyes than a potato (Mmmmm, potatoes....) : the oral eye moving over the pastry cart, the anal eye cannily scanning the money bags, the genital eye ogling the Playboy centerfold.

Wanting a consumer object could be, freudoanalytically speaking, sublimated desire. Orality strays the least from its primitive object: the infantile mouth that wants its lactiferous tit is the same mouth that wants its Doritos or filet mignon. Anality makes a hasty leap out of the diaper into the world of earthly commerce -- one hoards goods and cash, not shit. The genital still rules the boudoir, but extends its field of seduction and aggression to larger arenas, to such quasi-copulatory enterprises as business, politics and religion. Comfort, wealth, power -- what magic does the object perform ?

As the song says, the shark has pearly teeth, dear. Row upon row of them. All the better to eat you with. And a blurry fin. My psychoanalyst, Dr Mack, speaking of Mack the Knife, died a year ago today. Maybe that's why the Freud's bubbling up to the surface.

Dr Mack got hit by a car crossing a London street a year to the day after Ponytailed Man whanged into my Toyota and broke my neck which, in turn, was thirty years to the day after I'd first transcribed the words "Dr Mack" in my journal. It's a weighty anniversary. What other bonevents and malevents prepare to accrue to this day ?

Event arrows meet midair in a stratosphere above desire. Cupid's arrows, the arrows of love and implicit loss, pierce and wound down here where the atmosphere's thick and savory as blood pudding. It feeds these

and these

and these

until everything's singing (against all odds) happy, happy birthday

and, in the spirit of it all, I just HAD to buy myself a present --

didn't I ? Didn't I ?

One consumes. And one is consumed by desire. It burns one up from the inside. A hectic glow reddens the cheeks. A, dare I say it, consumptive glow. And what remains after the consummating totentanz ?

Something like this. And beautiful bokeh.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I woke restored, from a restless, dream-riddled sleep. Long, discursive, narrative dreams had looped from REM to REM, interspersed with half wakenings: the cat leaping onto the bed, my son's car in the driveway, his footsteps on the stairs. There had even been a dream-within-a-dream: I dreamed, then dreamed I told my husband about the dream. When I woke, the prior day's irritability and peevishness was gone, replaced by a pleasant, blank lightness. Something had rebooted. Some massive data filing and reprocessing had occurred, and the desktop was cleared, the partitions defragmented.

This feels like amnesty, I thought, suddenly, surprised at the word and its implication of forgiving and forgetting. Dreams dissolve like fog, and skitter away like startled animals, elusive, volatile, sublime, leaving only a scent, a vibration, a shred of rapture behind. I was somewhere else, and now I'm here. Adieu, adieu. Like a barely glimpsed past or other life.

Remembered and recounted dreams wither like plucked and pressed flowers. I dreamed a movie producer stood beside our bed and cast us as incestuous lovers. You hid under the bed. She put her finger in my mouth. It was thin and dry. Later, in the dream, I told you about this dream.

Let the beard stroking begin, gentlemen.

My psychoanalytic days are over. I am fully lapsed, proudly apostate. Free association makes poems, doesn't unearth curative truths. Eat my Freud, Shorty as Bart Simpson would say. But dreams aren't complete nonsense. Take for example one of my classics: the walking around knowing I'm going to die dream. A dreadful little number, that. I can trace its origins to the mid 1980's when I was taking care of state prisoners with AIDS. I thought, at first, I was dreaming about my poor patients. Doomed young men. I soon realized that I -- all of us in fact -- was traveling in the same rickety dinghy. Some will pitch off sooner, is all.

It boils, as it often does, down to brain. Headcheese, some might say. That with which we construe the world. That with which we construe the self. The multifarious effluvia of which we can inspect while perched like pretzels on round, black kapok-filled cushions. This brain effluvia -- the whey of the headcheese -- includes, of course, the inspector itself. Everything's headed down the rabbit hole ; it is a vanishing strait; it narrows and narrows until it disappears taking "you" along with it.

Suddenly I remember Mrs. Enman from seventh grade science. She was small but formidable, exacting and sarcastic. She had an atrophic forearm that she held close to her body as she taught. One day she asked me to explain the bubbles in boiling water. What were they ? What caused them ? I hadn't a clue. I was petrified. I had to come up with an answer or face utter annihilation. Did it have something to do with heat ? Which caused things to expand ? OK. I'd take a stab at it.

Uh, the spaces between the water molecules ? That have expanded with the heat ?

She emitted a sharp, dismissive guffaw, more disgust than amusement.

The spaces between the molecules ? You can see the spaces between the molecules ? What amazing eyes you must have !

I sunk into my seat. I wanted to disappear into the spaces between the molecules of my desk.

Forty years later, boiling water for rice, I recalled her question. What does cause those bubbles, anyway ? Did she ever say ? If she did, were my burning ears even capable of hearing ? I stopped and thought. Of course. It's water vapor. Water that has changed state and become a gas. Water whose molecules have become farther apart. What's in the spaces between the water molecules in boiling water's bubbles ? Those spaces I once claimed to see ? Air ? Nothing ? Mrs. Enman, where are you now ? You whose facade cracked only once that year, the day the intercom announced that JFK had been shot. What's between those molecules, Mrs. E. ?

I find, alas, that it's too late to ask.

So is that what I'm looking for, then, as I move in closer and closer to the meadow weeds and grasses ? Some way into the spaces between the molecules of weed ? Or a passage into the quantum interstices of the atoms themselves, that realm of probability, energy, nothingness ? Or into the spaces between my thoughts ? Into the vanishing point ?

Mrs. Enman, you are the Queen of Dis, the queen of an oneiric meadow Underworld, the ruler of the imageless strata below REM.

Wait for me beside the asphodel. You know, that greeny flower ? I'm packing up my lenses and I'll be there soon.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Dream Along The Way

The day had brightened, and the sun had even broken through the clouds, so I hurried to the river with my camera. The afternoon was cool and still, and there was just enough light to take pictures. I walked and looked and shot. The air was fragrant and damp.

But evening quickly approached and the clouds regathered. The walk was overhung with branches still heavy from yesterday's rain. I was on the farthest limb of the path near some hawthorns and locust trees and a cluster of towering mulleins. I stopped to try to photograph some knotweed seeds -- glistening white in the last light -- and heard a voice behind me on the path.

Cindy ! Cindy !

Without thinking, I turned. Thirty feet away stood a man, middle aged, pale, pudgy, slightly unkempt, wearing blue jeans and a red shirt. He stared at me and smiled.

Oh, sorry ! he said. Are you taking pictures of nature ?

He wrapped his arms around himself, hands to shoulders, and walked toward me.

Yes, I replied, uneasy, curt, and turned back to the knotweed bush.

So you're taking pictures of nature ! he said, drawing closer.

He stopped beside me and looked right at me.

I perform, he announced.

I began to walk away. He followed.

Yes, I perform. I can perform for you. I can do anything you want.

He was walking beside me, closer than I wanted, closer than a stranger should. He was smiling. Almost leering.

Perform ? Anything I want ? What did he mean ?

I don't take pictures of people ! I snapped, walking faster.

No ? No ? Listen, I can perform for you. I can do anything you want. he persisted.

No ! I hissed.

OK, OK ! he said, and backed off.

An older couple, a thin, stooped man and a round-faced woman, approached from the opposite direction and passed us. I turned around and hurried after them, past them, and sat down, heart pounding, on a small concrete dais by the path entrance.

They looked at me, blank faced, unsmiling, incurious. Zombies. Robots. They seemed like creatures in an unbreachable dream, ambiguous, unhelpful, apt to transmogrify at any moment.

It was that hour of evening when the light recedes and draws all objects with it; that hour of evening through which one moves like a dreamer trapped in gray distances. Dream objects pull back from the stricken sleeper; they put on the aloof, bland, unfamiliar faces of jamais vu. Words take on double, triple, meanings or no meaning at all. Perform, you say ? Perform.

Perform for you. Anything you want.

She, try as she may, cannot awaken. She is trapped in her dream, alone with the pressing, intimate, weighty, inescapable realization.

Something terrible could happen.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Amidst the new growth of the recently mown meadow -- low, anonymous grasses, plantains, clumps of switchgrass, already flowering -- three yellow spots attracted my attention. They were cinquefoils, a flower I'd first spotted last spring.

Cinquefoils have their own particular yellow -- a pale, matte, bleached yellow --

unlike the rich, voluptuous buttery yellow of another old friend still in bloom, the birdsfoot trefoil,

or the bright, almost translucent, greeny yellow of late summer's evening primrose.

As fall approaches there's still birth afoot. It's like a multigenerational household -- great grandma down to squalling infant all under one blue roof.

Or all on one stem, even.

It's heartening. A few years ago I watched a documentary on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. The narrator posited that Wright's working life could be divided into three great creative periods. The last one began well into his later years, when he was certainly older than I am now.

One keeps working, then. One keeps, to carry forth the plant metaphor into the slightly spoiled arena of popular psychology, growing. But that's not quite it. Changing is a better word, more neutral, able to do justice to the more autumnal transformations, those that feature shrinking, dessicating, withering, simplifying, attenuating, slowing down.

Not all beauty is the slick, smooth, shiny sort,

that useful beauty that attracts a procreating mate then plumps into fruition

and sweetness.

Consider the rampant knotweed -- can you think of a more prolific seed maker ? -- yet it spreads underground, asexually, rhizomatously, clandestinely.

From upthrust wands of tiny, bright white flowers, white, even glassine fruits develop, turn bronze, shower to the ground and seldom take root. If a few stragglers remain on stripped, skeletal grass seedheads, the next stiff breeze will disperse them

And even as these old seeds dry out, droop and prepare to drop

this younger gamagrass just begins its reproductive life.

How wonderful ! Going to seed is as beautiful as this wild lettuce flower preparing to launch its fluff

and as broodingly majestic as the stiff, ancient mullein and its chorus of pods.

That's not to say that summer does no take its toll. Beings end up smudged

and broken by toil

and webbed in sticky sorrow.

I can find ideograms of compassion, too. Two companionable elders hang side by side sharing the last moments of sunlight and suspension.

A thistle gives a bed to a lost and errant leaf.

So who shall I be, then, in this anthropomorphized landscape ? It's impossible to choose. I want to be -- I am -- them all ! But, for now, I'll chose this ant --

as it toils across its narrow black bridge toward the horizon, winter and whatever, if anything, lies beyond.

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I harbor a secret vision of myself.

I am on the bike path by the river, pushing a purloined shopping cart in front of me. In it is a scanning electron microscope.

More macro, more macro. I am muttering. People steer clear, look away.

The weed lady has gone a little mad. She has become a species of Wonderland Alice, the eat-me, drink-me kind, babbling about pixels and resolution, rods and cones. She snuffles close to dirt like a pig after truffles, and comes up gasping:

More light ! More eyes !

Weed lady wants to enter leaves through their stomata and tunnel her way down to the photosynthetic atelier: it's green there, shot through with magnesium flares, very photogenic.

Weed lady wants to walk through queer, misty forests

and fly above stark, shadow-ridden terrains.

She would even consider landing in a deep vallombrosa, a shadow valley,

just long enough to mourn, shepherdless, the fallen

before soaring above the flat green fields and florid trees of a beautiful planet, so new it is still unnamed.

But sometimes even Weed Lady returns to middle earth, the land of neither big nor small, returns to human scale, drawn, for example, by the dervish dance of a pinwheeling sumac's early death.

There are secret volumes in Weed Lady's workshop, where she keeps the most mysterious and precious of her images, images taken with the most serious and potent of lenses, the ones that have no limit. Look:

How can something be so very, very small ?

And what procession navigates this blue vein ?