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This is, also, a stunning poem. Possibly the shortest poem that has ever made me cry. Here it is:

“Body, Remember”

I just copied it out to send to a friend, with whom I have an ongoing poetry exchange. She always sends me the best things. This, I’m sending to her because the last time we were in the same place, she took me to a Korean bath, and paid for me to have my body scrubbed. I was hesitant about it – I don’t really ever get massages, or facials, or manicures, or in general pay anyone to do anything to my body. Which will probably not change, but still I ended up being very grateful for it. As I lay on a table and let a middle-aged Korean woman in black cotton lingerie take several layers of my skin off, I felt an extreme joy in the fact of having a body. That’s all, I was just glad of it. If I’d already read this poem, I might have said to myself, to my body, “Body, remember…”

Cavafy is writing from the perspective of the end of life – embodied life, any way. “Now that it’s all finally in the past,” he says. I can’t tell when the poem was written, if he was in fact at the end of his life. It doesn’t matter – but it’s a poem people should read to themselves at the end of life. “Body, remember not only how much you were loved,/ not only the beds you lay on,/ but also those desires that glowed openly/ in eyes that looked at you.”

Every body should have such things to remember. Re-member. (The Greek for “remember” does not work like that – it’s a felicity of the translation.)

It reminds me of one of Rilke’s early letters to Tsvetaeva. Written in May of 1926, his death (at the end of the year) is clearly, already, present to him. Responding to Tsvetaeva’s insistence that their correspondence “isn’t a question of Rilke the person…but of Rilke the spirit,” Rilke, whatever he is, writes, “you say, it is not a matter of Rilke the person. I, too, am at odds with him, with his body, with which such pure communication had always been possible that I often did not know which produced poems more happily: it, I, the two of us? … And now dis-cord, doubly cored, soul clad one way, body mummed another, different. In this sanatorium ever since December, but not quite allowing the doctor in, into the only relationship between self and self that can stand no mediator, (no go-between, who would make distances irrevocable; no translator, who would break it apart into two languages).”

In the relationship and communion of soul with body, poems are written. What a remarkable thinker. It is also a frightening but suggestive idea that doctors are often imperfect mediators, translators, or go-betweens for this communion and communication – often tragically imperfect. It is a tragedy to be in discord with one’s body, to be doubly cored and different from it. And yet, if not mediators, Cavafy reminds us that others, with eyes that glow and voices that tremble with desire for the body, can give a body back to itself in remembrance – remembrance of how it gave itself “to those desires too.”

 

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(I picked this picture out of all the others widely available online, because of the fabulous spectacles, and the precision of that collar.)

I am not feeling guilty about failing, from the very first, to write about a poem every day; my reason for not feeling guilty is that I actually stopped procrastinating last night and graded some %*#&ing papers. But I did read this poem yesterday, and then went ahead and read all of Cavafy’s poems included in the anthology, and then went online and found an archive and read a lot more – because he’s just incredible. And I didn’t know! I forgot what it feels like to discover a new poet that I love. It is, really, like falling in love. I’m falling hard for Constantine Cavafy. The online archive has multiple translations of most of his lyrics (multiple translations! swoon!), and also Greek texts for all of them, and consequently I’m also more excited about Greek than I have been in a long time. It’s not the kind of Greek I’m (still slightly) used to – i.e., not ancient – but I can puzzle through it somewhat handily with the translations alongside, and at least see more of the form, tell what the meter and rhyme scheme are, and just hear the words in my head. These words sound good in my head.

Here’s what I’m talking about, in the same translation (Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) that is included in the Ecco Anthology: “The City”

And the Greek, for whoever cares: Η Πόλις

The first thing that struck me about this poem was the symmetry. Two eight line stanzas. Each stanza capable of being neatly divided in half grammatically. That’s the case in both the original and the Keeley/Sherrard translation. Each stanza almost capable of being neatly divided into fourths grammatically, but the last four lines of the first stanza get in the way of that. And beyond the numbers, it’s symmetrical in utterance as well. The first stanza begins with “You say: …”, followed by a quoted speech that takes up the rest of the stanza. The second stanza is a response to what was said, and echoes both its structure and phrasing. In the translation there’s no rhyme scheme, but in the Greek both stanzas are ABBCCDDA. And the Greek – the Greek. It’s so beautiful. Just read this to yourself (and forgive me if I transliterate it awkwardly):

Eipes: “Tha pago s’ alle ge, tha pago s’ alle thalassa.

It doesn’t look  beautiful, especially transliterated, so you have to read it out loud so you can hear it. Thalassa has to be the most euphonious of all words for the sea, in any language. Is anybody going to fight me about that? La mer is good too, and obviously easy to play with in poetry, but more for what other words it sounds like. Speaking of French, and “la gouffre amer,” “The City” reminds me a lot of Baudelaire, and not just any old Baudelaire, but what I like to consider my Baudelaire: “Le Voyage.” The traces of “Le Voyage” are all over “The City” – in the dialogic structure, in the flat pronouncement that “You won’t find a new country, you won’t find another shore.” Cavafy writes, “Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look,/ I see the black ruins of my life.” And Baudelaire says, “The world, monotone and small, today,/ Yesterday, tomorrow, makes us see our image.” (That’s just my workaday translation, not a fancy one.)

The party doesn’t end with just those two, though. If “The City” is talking to “The Voyage,” then it’s also talking to a lot of other poems – the Inferno and the Odyssey, just to name the most obvious. Wow, it’s like I never even left home! New poet, but all my same poems. Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to look, I see the black ruins of my dissertation…  😉 But really, it’s not just me. Cavafy is actually much more authorized to be alluding to Homer than Baudelaire is, and his poetry is overtly calling out Dante and Homer all over the place. It’s Baudelaire who’s the stretch to bring in here. But anyway, this is totally a “Ulysses speaking from the flame” moment. (He’s got at least two others poems about that.) This is the guy talking who left home (or wanted to leave home) to seek new worlds, new civilizations (oh shit, has anybody ever talked about Star Trek and the Odyssey?), but didn’t end up seeing anything new after all, because there’s nothing new in the world, or out of it. Only the black ruins of everything you’ve burned up with your own flames.

Yeah, this poem is deep. And depressing, I’m sure my students would readily point out. That’s how I like my poetry.

I’m adding some new phrases to my cache of poetic mantras. When things get really bad, I chant to myself in my head, “La, tout n’est qu’ordre et beaute,/ Luxe, calme, et volupte.” Now I can change that up with, “Tha pago s’ alle ge, tha pago s’ alle thalassa” (“I’ll go to another land, I’ll go to another sea”). Or, if I’m feeling really dark, “perasa kai rematza kai khalasa.”

On Saturday I got two books in the mail, the result of a gift certificate I earned by doing a very easy and enjoyable good deed. That seems like a really good deal.

The first book was Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Pantry, which I’ve been coveting for a long time – almost as long as I’ve been a devoted fan of her blog, Eating from the Ground UpMan, she’s awesome, and the book is too. My stomach is already well-acquainted her toaster pastries, aka my favorite thing to eat in the world, and today I simmered up some chai based on Alana’s recipe, minus the cardamom, because my walk-to grocery store didn’t have any. It was also delicious and soulful, though it would have been better with the cardamom. And a toaster pastry….

The second book was a much more impulsive buy, something I happened across through an interest in Ilya Kaminsky. Not only is this guy a remarkable poet, he also seems to have my exact taste in poetry! Which is to say, he clearly likes all the poets that I like, because he’s translated or edited new volumes for a number of them, and then he knows about way more poets beyond that. It’s okay, he’s older than me. Because apparently now that’s how I measure my success in the world and whether or not I need to feel like a total failure: if I find out about some person who has done amazing and inspiring things, I feel (mostly) unambiguously amazed and inspired as long as said person is older than me – if not, then I feel amazed, inspired, and like a total failure. Anyway, the point is that Kaminsky co-edited this book: The Ecco Anthology of International PoetryIt’s such a treasure-chest of poets that are completely new to me. (As well as some that are not completely new to me. I do know something.)

Having already made the chai, and mentally bookmarked a lot of other recipes, I tried to think how I could use my new poetry anthology in a equivalent way. Read a poem every day, I told myself. Quickly, I reminded myself that if I stop at reading a poem, I forget about it. I remember poems, and learn about them, by writing about them, or by talking about them – in a classroom, usually. Two of my best intro to lit class periods all semester have been the result of me walking into class having no idea what to talk about other than suspecting it would be whatever poem I had assigned my students to read. (Best classes for me, at least – the students were either captivated, or may have been asleep.) So instead, because I have a lot of papers to grade and therefore, obviously, a lot of procrastinating to do (and my iPad deleted my virtual-library edition of The Five Red Herrings, when I was just getting to the best part! how can I be expected to read a 900-page mystery in fourteen days? especially when I forget I downloaded it until there are only four days left? and it’s not like I didn’t try! I tried! Lord Peter, come back!) I decided the best thing to do would probably be to read a poem every day, and then write something about it. Every day. That’s probably the best thing to do, right?

Right.

Because I can’t live with student papers being the only things I am reading habitually. Because there has to be something beautiful. Because I miss writing. Because I’m tired of writing about bad things, and trying to do that in a way that makes them seem beautiful.

So I’ll just get to it.

Day 1: Rabindranath Tagore, “On My Birthday”

I read it twice, then looking back at the beginning, I wondered why it’s called “On My Birthday.” Did he really write it on his birthday? And does that affect the meaning? Do I need to be thinking about birthdays while reading it? I wasn’t, before. Now I’d better read it again.

Okay, yeah, it’s kind of about birthdays. Word birthdays more than people birthdays. It’s also kind of an ars poetica. He imagines “suddenly fetterless” words saying, “‘We who were born of the gusty tuning/ Of the earth’s first outbreathing/ Came into our own as soon as the blood’s beat/ Impelled man’s mindless vitality to break into dance in his throat’.” First of all, this translator (William Radice) is so good. The translation rhymes just enough, but not so much that it seems suspect, and otherwise the lines go every which way, and seem like that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. Against images of words incarcerated “in the fortress of grammar,” “captured,” “bridled and reined,” and “curbed…like a breakneck stallion,” forced into “word-armies/ Drawn into battle-lines,” Tagore assures us that, “…sometimes they slip like robbers into realms of fantasy,/ Float on ebbing waters/ Of sleep, free of barriers,/ Lashing any sort of flotsam and jetsam into metre.” Also sometimes words are “Like a dozen puppies brawling.”

So, not about birthdays that much, really. About poetry more. Poetry is the flotsam and jetsam, and the puppies. All the other stuff – the armies and sadly curbed stallions and fortresses – that is associated with “grammar,” “the constraints of sentence,” “intelligence,” “sense,” “literary decorum,” “complex webs of order,” “reason,” all in order “To enable him [man] to pass on his messages to the distant lands of the future.”

Oh. Hm. I’m not sure I like what’s going on here. To be honest, while I think puppies are adorable and flotsam and jetsam… are eels in The Little Mermaid… I like all the other stuff better. I think it’s important to “pass on…messages to the distant lands of the future.” And I’m actually a big fan of “complex webs of order.” And I think that’s a pretty good definition for what many poems are. Tagore must know that. This very poem is a “complex web of order.” Some disorder, too. And, like the puppies, whose “bites and yelps carry no true import of enmity,” whose “violence is bombast, empty fury,” I don’t think he’s really trying to be polemical. He’s playing around. He’s not, on the other hand, using “words thus shot of their meaning” – except kind of at the end – but even though he has kind of drawn up some battle lines within his own poem, he’s probably not trying to fight with “word-armies.”

But some poets are. Some poets are trying to create “complex webs of order,” and some poems do carry a “true import of enmity.” As they should. I’m not advocating the weaponizing of poetry, but on the whole I would vastly prefer a world where we fight with “word-armies” to the existing world of people-armies. But then he ends with the phrase “into the fray,” presented as part of some “nonsense nursery syllables” – which it is not! It’s a battle cry!

What’s going on here? It’s either really subtle, or not. I’m confused. And that’s the perfect time to stop writing.

(Seth’s thoughts on his accident and, more important, getting back on his bike after. Written for this blog: http://keithsbikeblog.com, put together by Keith Reed – a wonderful resource for cyclists in and around Stillwater.)

 

“Well, that’ll teach him not to ride one of those things.”

I wasn’t conscious to hear it, but my mother told me several months later that this sentiment was voiced by one of the nurses looking over me in the ICU when told the list of injuries I sustained after being run over by a motorist while riding my bike to work at midday on February 27 of this year.

I don’t want to dwell too much here on the precise circumstances of the accident (I have forced myself out of the habit in general), but let me say for the record that I was not preoccupied with some personal training exercise or time trial when I was hit. I was cruising along at a modest spin, in plain clothes, with a bag full of books and papers, on a one mile commute to my office, like I had done many times before. I may have been listening to Moby Dick on audio through some headphones, but that didn’t mean I was entirely in my own world either. According to the accident report, I was seen waving and yelling at the driver before the impact, so I was paying enough attention to see him not seeing me. Not that these details matter much anyway. It was, as I said, an accident. The driver of the car was not speeding, not intoxicated, not even texting. He simply did not see me (his words). He was not expecting to see a biker there, so he didn’t. It is this fact, perhaps the very reason for my accident, which made me glad to hear that my mom chastised the nurse for her remark. Her words convey a perception of the activity of biking, or the object of a bike itself (“one of those things”), as something foreign, out of place on a road. The more people who share this attitude the more dangerous it will be for people, like me, who will continue to bike there.

The accident did, after all, teach me quite a lot, but it sure didn’t teach me not to ride a bike. In fact, quite the opposite. These are some few words about how and why.

First, let me introduce you to my bike:

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This is a 1990 Koga Miyata Prologue. And, yes, it is hot pink, so, no, I don’t think a different color would have made it more visible to a motorist. I am glad to say, too, that this picture is post-accident. In fact, after making a few minor adjustments at the seatpost and stem, restoring the chain to the crankset and cassette, and giving the bike a little oil, a friend of mine had it road-ready again in minutes. I only wish my recovery could have been so speedy. But then I don’t have a steel frame, and my bike doesn’t have emotions, anxieties, memories. Then again, I only came to an understanding of some of my own emotions, anxieties, and memories pertaining to the accident when I got back on the bike. If I only have certain feelings on a bike, if the bike is in some way integral to some feeling of mine, then doesn’t that feeling in some sense belong to the bike itself?

Now this is not a story of traumatic memories returning to me in a fatal rush as I push off and balance on my bike for the first time since being hit by a car, so there’s no need to brace yourself. So far, I continue not to remember the accident and its immediate aftermath. That is the way I would prefer it to remain, which is not to say it will. Most of my experience getting back on the bike has been preoccupied with physical matters. My pelvis was broken in half when the SUV ran over my abdomen and was re-set by three large titanium screws that made it impossible for me to put any weight on my left leg for a couple of months. As a result I had muscular atrophy in that leg as well as in much of my core. So there was that to contend with, as well as a fractured septum (tailbone), which made getting back on the saddle a tender affair indeed (even with padded cycling shorts, my first pair of which I bought after the accident). However, once cleared to exercise by my surgeon, I happily worked through the soreness during several long sessions on a stationary bike, where I also tried to finish listening to Moby Dick. The real physical limitation I have to contend with, the one that especially challenged me upon returning to the road, is the limited vision that resulted from my severe head trauma.

It is complicated and thus far unresolved, so I won’t even try to summarize here what’s the matter with my eyes. But if you see me coming on my hot pink bike, you’ll notice that I wear a patch over my left eye. Now biking with one eye affects you in some subtle ways. For example, you can’t judge depth as well as you can with two eyes, so sometimes you think you’re about to ride into a little dip and the road is completely smooth; other times the road appears smooth and you find yourself lurching into a break in the pavement. Yesterday I was being chased by a couple of stray dogs on my bike and I was fantasizing about kicking them in their faces if they got too near until I realized that with my still tenuous balance the effort would probably throw me from my bike. These experiences are annoying and just a bit worrisome. What really troubles me is the huge blind spot I now have on my left side, right where the traffic inevitably comes. I can’t see a car passing me until it’s passed me. I can usually hear it coming, but that is not exactly a relief to someone recently run over (especially in Oklahoma, where many of the vehicles sound military-grade). The only modification to my bike since the accident is a small rear-view mirror that now juts out of the end my left handlebar; it has given me some small comfort, even as I am just learning to use it.

So I suppose if that nurse happened to pass me biking on the road, she would see that not only have I not learned my lesson and stopped riding a bike, but that I have chosen to continue riding with a distinct handicap that makes the activity more dangerous for me than it was at the time of my accident. What, then, will teach me? Well, I’m counting on biking to teach me, to teach me to bike again.

There was a distinct but diffuse hesitancy before I ventured out on my first solo ride. (On my very first ride I trailed my son as he rode his bike around the block.) It took me an hour of research to decide to ride the one-mile Couch Park loop (which, for anyone biking in Stillwater, might give a chuckle). But, strangely enough, I don’t think I am traumatized about biking. I think I am traumatized about driving. I am noticeably more anxiety-ridden in a car, especially when conditions are dangerous, than I was before the accident. This says to me that my mind has processed the accident as follows: cars are dangerous, not bikes are dangerous. I pushed through the nerves that kept me off my bike for a time to resume a form of transport that to my mind is infinitely more safe, sustainable, and pleasurable than driving, and I found what I was just beginning to learn at the time of my accident: biking is a singular sort of activity, which cannot be simulated or substituted with any other. The only way to prepare yourself to bike is to bike. So that is what I am doing.

            I am planning on testing this theory on the very day I wrap up this little account of my bike story, but I believe group-riding will be one sure way to teach me how to bike. There is a swell of group rides available in my part of Oklahoma that I have never before taken advantage of. Almost dying will teach you not to let opportunities slip you by. My goal at present is to participate in the annual memorial ride for Deb Miller, who was killed while biking on Highway 51 three years ago. Driving between Stillwater and Oklahoma City during my hospitalization, my family routinely passed the ghost-bike standing sentinel just past the Lake McMurtry entrance, honoring Ms. Miller’s memory. My dad told me it gave him a frightful chill to think that one could have been erected for me. I cannot think of a better way to test my resolve than to pedal out to that bike, to look upon it, not from a speeding car but from my own bike (which, fittingly, has a splash of white of its own), and to consider how fortunate I am to be able to continue riding, to trail my son around the block, to smile at my wife upon returning home safe from a ride, to meet new friends, to write again, and to read Moby Dick, again.

I can’t be totally sure, but I have determined that it must have been around this moment in the book that was piping into my ears just as I was hit:

“Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play—this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in a whale-boat, you would not feel at heart one more whit of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side.”

 

Mark has a game he likes to play recently, that goes like this:

“Mom (or Dad), I have a really interesting question. How do wolves (giraffes, bears, snakes, whales, dogs, worms … you get the picture) protect themselves?”

Then we try to think of good, comprehensive answers. We love this game. Really, it’s so fun. I’ve impressed myself several times with my own knowledge of the defense mechanisms of a lot of different animals. Also with the amazingly varied ways that animals protect themselves.

He hasn’t yet asked how people protect themselves, thank goodness. I’m not ready to tackle that one yet, but I’ve started thinking about it anyway. Thinking about my own actions. How much of what I do is at bottom a way of protecting myself? Is there a higher good than self-protection, when it comes to humans? Do we expend more energy protecting ourselves from real dangers, or attempting to protect ourselves from imagined dangers? What interesting questions.

Until recently I would have said that I was afraid of sharks. Not afraid enough to keep me out of the water when we’re at the beach, but afraid enough to be thinking about them a lot, and to shriek every time something bumps into my leg. Did I have a plan for what to do if the thing bumping into my leg were really a shark? Nope. Don’t actually talk to me about whether or not it is a real danger. La la la, I don’t want to know! But maybe it was not a real fear. A few days ago in a sea kayak I had a close encounter with a few bonnet-head sharks. Think hammer-head, but with bonnets instead of hammers – suddenly sweet, right? And I was so NOT afraid. First of all, they were not very big. And then there’s the fact that they are beautiful. I mean, I couldn’t see the whole sharks – just the fins! – but what lovely pearly pinkish-grey fins they were. So maybe I can cross sharks off my list of things to be afraid of. Even if I am still afraid of them, this is my magical defense mechanism: collecting shark’s teeth.

Yes, I am addicted to hunting for shark’s teeth. Fossilized shark’s teeth, to be exact. They are SO old! You can’t pick up anything else off the ground that is that old, except rocks. (And hey, I collect those too.) Strewn about in the sand – teeth that belonged to sharks millions of years ago! I’m not kidding! Not having been to the beach too many times as a kid (mountain childhood instead), I never knew you could beach-comb for anything but shells, or maybe sea glass, until I married Seth and started coming to Beaufort. But from the first time my mother-in-law picked up a little black triangle from the sand and showed it to me, I was hooked. I wanted to find my own so badly. Eventually I found one. And then another. And then a lot. Today I came back from the Sands with more than twenty, including the biggest one I’ve ever found. (We met a guy who told us where you have to look to find the really big ones. He’s found Megalodon teeth!) If you haven’t done it, you just don’t know how exiting it is. But here, I’ll simulate the experience. Take a look at this picture, and see if you can find the tooth:

Here’s another one:

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One more, with my foot for perspective:

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Did you find them all? If you did, you’ve probably done this before. If you found them all within a few seconds, you’re probably my mother-in-law. (Hi Mimi!) And are you hooked yet? If so, you should come and look for some.

A few years ago, shortly after Mark was born, I took a class in translating poetry led by an Hungarian poet and translator. Lovely, dear man. Incredible poet. He wrote beautifully about visiting Tybee Island on a previous trip to the states. It was clear that the seaside was important to him. So at the end of the semester, before he left, I sewed a small bag and filled it with some of my precious shark’s teeth and gave it to him. At first he was mystified. “What are they?” he asked. “Shark’s teeth,” I said, but it took a while for him to believe that I was not being metaphorical, or that they were not some kind of seed that was called “shark’s teeth.” Then he asked, with perfect innocence, “What will they do?” I said I didn’t know. “Perhaps they will protect me from evil spirits,” he said and, looking at me seriously, “there are evil spirits.”

I believed him. I still do. Some times more than others I feel the evil spirits closing in. Fear, despair, anger, regret. That’s my own personal crowd. And if anything could protect me from them, I believe it would be these ancient remnants of powerful creatures that I am, still, kind of afraid of. I’m not quite at the point of sewing them into all Mark’s clothing, but obviously the idea occurred to me, so I’m not far off. Would that be crazy? Something important to know about humans, as well as other animals, is that we don’t only try to protect ourselves.

*Kudos to you if you know what song this is from. And that’s got to be what he’s talking about, right? Today Mark kept going between me and Seth and saying, “Hey Mom (or Dad), are you finding any luck?” Which was so cute.

I don’t know! Clearly it was a bad decision. Stop trying to cross roads, armadillos! You’ve been around since the dinosaurs – stick around a while longer. Same goes for snakes and turtles. (Sob.)

That’s my road trip wisdom. Also, the Oklahoma Panhandle is one of the most desolate and sad places to drive through. Nothing moves but the wind, and it seems to have blown all the color away. You would not even notice the wind except that it blows your car around, and what trees there are are fixed in a position of permanent strain. I feel sad for them, with no rest.

So I was very happy that before entering the Panhandle I impulsively stopped in this place:

Gloss Mountains State Park. It was still early, and there was nobody there. (I don’t know if that had anything to do with it being early. Maybe no one goes there at all. It seemed pretty un-visited.) I climbed up the path with its rickety stairways, and at the top of the “mountain” – more like what I would call a mesa – I sat and had an apply with peanut butter. Hawks were wheeling overhead. A rosy-winged bird flew over me and straight out over the edge of the mesa, which made me wish I was a bird, and then feel very nervous for some reason. There were so many flowers I didn’t know the names of. Like this:

And this:

The mesa was striated with a kind of stone that a sign told me was selenite gypsum. This is what it looks like:

I took some pieces of it. And then I climbed down. And drove and drove, and then got to Denver. I had a lovely dinner with my Mom, slept, switched cars with Mom (the point of the trip), ate cake for breakfast at this amazing German/Japanese bakery where they make cakes that look like the cross-sections of trees. Went to the Cherry Creek Mall to get a phone charger and on the way out I swear I was hypnotized by a a silver-tongued Israeli flat-iron saleswoman. Left the mall half an hour later with very silky hair, and a ceramic hair-straightener. Wow, that was crazy.

Headed south on I-25, planning to stop for the night in Trinidad, CO, but I was lured off the highway by a sign pointing to the Great Sand Dunes. It’s true, they really are Great. Just look at this:

What are giant heaps of sand doing in the eaves of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains? I don’t know why, because I haven’t read the information they gave me yet. And why did I decide I had to climb up them? I think it’s because it was really out of my way, my footwear was utterly inappropriate, and I did not need to do it at all. Actually, it’s the most frivolous very difficult thing I’ve done in recent memory. I guess I’m craving altitude right now. Anyway, I climbed to what looked like the to, from the bottom, and then when I got there it became clear that there was so much more, but my knees were screaming at me, so I sat for a minute, drank some water, and went back down. Here’s me at the windy not-top:

See, my hair! It’s straight! Behind me is the rest of the dunes – not the part I climbed. Because it’s my solitary road trip, I had to take a solitary route instead of the way everyone else was going. I don’t know if that was easier or harder. What I do know is that I have blisters on the bottoms of my toes (yay for driving eight hours tomorrow with blistered toes) because I climbed the dunes barefoot, and I’m so glad I did. I’m in an Inn now in La Veta – I really meant to drive to Trinidad still, but this place called out to me to stop. It’s so quiet. So quiet.

People who know things about bugs – don’t judge me. I’m about to write about ants and anthills without actually knowing if what I want to write about is true at all. It feels true.

I’m not a person who has ever destroyed an anthill on purpose, and that’s partly why I don’t know if this thing that feels true is true. But this is it:

My feeling is that if you destroy an anthill, the ants immediately start rebuilding it, or rather start building a new anthill. That makes me so uncomfortable. I don’t know what I would want them to do instead. Stand around? All move somewhere else? Give up on having an anthill at all? Of course they need a place to… do what ants do in anthills. I don’t know. I’m just troubled by the idea that work would never stop. It’s weird.

The last few weeks have been like that. Something devastating happened. Things were bent, broken, crushed, shattered. Real physical things. Many bones belonging to someone I love. Also a helmet, a phone, a pink bicycle. Also my sense of safety (fragile anyway), my son’s sense of safely (stronger, originally, I hope, but then much more precious), our home life, an idea of our future. Ideas, expectations, dreams.

But things don’t stop. Some force of life that is stronger than I could have ever imagined begins immediately to rebuild. Even too quickly. Blood clots to stop its own flow. Bones knit back together any which way. (By the way, that is a very inappropriate word for what bones do, even if it is the accepted word – if anything, they splice, but they do not knit. Any knitter would recognize that.) A body can work so fast to heal itself.

So fast, my feelings, thoughts, ideas, expectations can’t keep up. I’m grateful, of course, for the healing. In awe of it. I’ve never seen anything like it. But part of me is still back there, grieving for the old anthill. Life wasn’t perfect before. I was unhappy about a lot of things. But now here we are racing furiously into the unknown. I know the future is always unknown. But this is such a different unknown from the unknown I thought it would be. I just want to slow down and get used to it. Sit down and figure out what I’m doing. Just for a little while.

Then I’ll get back to work.