I receive the gift of a solitary afternoon at Durant-Eastman Beach in Rochester, NY on the south shore of Lake Ontario. The stretch of beach across from where I park is closed, so I walk to the right toward an anchored sailboat. Along the way, I discover a seagull lying dead in the sand. I hesitate for a moment upon sight of it, and in this act of hesitation offer it my condolences. Giving it wide berth, I continue on my way. A dune buggy crawls past and retrieves the bird soon thereafter. Setting myself down into a beach chair, I stare out toward the horizon and long and pine for an unknown unknown. Desire’s many-tendrilled, dendritic — stopped only by awkwardness on account of fear. Speaking of fear: pitbulls on leashes get in scuffles mere feet from my feet. Female owners yank at the leashes until, calmed of whatever caused them to behave as they did, the dogs are allowed to lay together again in peace. Waves crashing I give listen to Muhal Richard Abrams’s Levels and Degrees of Light (1968).
There it is, as if in answer to my ministrations: “The Bird Song.” Lauren Berlant & Kathleen Stewart recommend it in their book The Hundreds. The authors collaborate through “hundred-word units or units of hundred multiples” (ix). The form of their book emerged through obedience to this capacious, generative constraint. Words set toward description of affect-events through scanning of object-worlds for vibrant tableaux. I feel adjacency to this form. “Everyone has their own version,” they write, “of the glimpse of a long-forgotten realm of possibility suddenly intruding into the real like a splice of light captured in a photograph” (9).
The phrase “Lady and the Tramp,” like the title of the Disney film, sung to the tune of “Bennie & the Jets”: such is how I begin my morning. I wake to a lovely quiet hour in the tent, sun rising in front of me. There’s a conversation among crows in those trees there — the ones beside which I slept. It’s good to be back in Syracuse, camped in my sister-in-law’s backyard, listening to crickets and birds, music discernible from the park across the street here in Westcott Nation, a sister nation of sorts to the nearby Onondaga Territory. The Westcott’s persistence gives me comfort. To know better where we are, let us listen to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Kimmerer’s book has me wanting to enter into caring relation with the pecan trees in my yard — indeed, makes me want to honor all beings, including those crows parked in the branches above my tent. Geese, too — like those in the story of Skywoman. Kimmerer shares this tale: the great Potawatomi creation story. “Skywoman Falling” will pair well with texts I teach this fall, thinks the Traveler as he reads. We have been given this gift. Let us share it with others. Let us fit it in at semester’s end. Let it resonate with Silko’s Ceremony and Snyder’s Turtle Island and Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Kimmerer’s cosmology “places” all of the others. Skywoman transmits “original instructions,” tells us where we are, how we got here. It suggests as well what ought to be done. It sets us within cyclings of a vast cosmic gift economy: one that conceives and receives numberless generations of Skywoman’s daughters — for Skywoman is the Great Mother, bearing life despite the story of her fall.
Seagull flies low, peruses the scene along the shore, horizon obscured by fog. Others follow, seeking edibles amid grains of sand. Beachgoers mill about until, fog passing, whistles blown, flags raised, lifeguards announce “Coast clear.” I boogie board, I body surf. In this place but not of it, I jut my tongue out and, as if prepping for a shot of tequila, lick salt from the edge of my mustache.
Birds flitter in the branches: robins, bluebirds. Trees and grounds awash in midafternoon sunlight. ‘Tis a view onto which I look as I write. Together we form the showing-of-the-world-to-itself as it moves through seasons. The Subject wishes to speak — has admitted need to do so and must do so. The gestalt therapist I agreed to meet calls from his vacation home in Costa Rica. He and his wife must delay their return. They want time to hang on the beach. An understandable desire. He cancels our meeting and requests that I return his call to reschedule. Sarah suggests I seek someone in network. Is this already part of the treatment? I am experiencing here in the moment “the therapist-client relationship” in what seems like true gestalt fashion. The therapist stages a situation to which the client may then respond. A command prompt drops down, as in a phone-platformed text adventure, asking the client-player to role-play the game’s next move. Dig it!
I recovered a shoe of Frankie’s while out walking this afternoon. It had fallen yesterday along her walk with Aunt Jojo. There it was beside an odd property: a house set back in a patch of woods with an American flag and “private property” signs out front. Further along down the road past several other houses stands a weird Republican-seeming neighborhood of ugly stone-faced McMansions around a private lake. Not one of my preferred places to walk — though I admit enjoying it, particularly when a beautiful heron flew overhead. The bird appeared shortly after my recovery of the shoe. I paused and admired the bird as it flew past, sensing in its appearance a sign of good luck. Greetings, friend! My cosmology permits perception and experience of a many-voiced cosmos. Sarah and Frankie sit beside me, for instance, as I write. They play a game involving a toy sword in a toy stone. Frankie retrieves the sword and Sarah declares her a Queen.
Resting on a branch in the air above me, a majestic hawk. It flies between trees as if to accompany me as I walk with my daughter. From an awakened sense of Indigenous history let us renew our course. Where are we? What are we doing here, people? Feeling a bit spread out, hardly able to blow words, chowing down on sesame seeds, life multi-tasked into some as yet unrecognizable new genre. Realtime literary beat poetry spontaneous prose free association folk tale jam fest, alongside critiques of Orientalism and a cardinal there on the wire, dropping in for a visit as I write. Sarah walks by, leans the baby in for a kiss. Next stop, Skip Hop Vibrant Village. Kerouac writes in his book The Dharma Bums about his summer in Washington’s Cascade Mountains, serving as a fire lookout, living in a small, wooden, one room cabin atop Desolation Peak. I hold space for a moment like Kerouac, a sitting Buddha atop Desolation Peak, mountainous there beside the Vibrant Village.
Arrived home from work, I go for a short walk around my neighborhood and stare up at trees full of red-chested robins. More than a dozen robins at varying heights above my head. They talk: I listen. Rustles of leaves and feathers, cheery tweets, blissful songs. Beatitudes performed for me, or at least tolerant of my listening. Performed first by the birds and then afterwards electronically, by a car that pulls up beside a park, bass sounds reverberating outward even with the car’s windows rolled up. That’s what I like, something suburbs often lack: neighborhoods with music (especially when the latter is of a spontaneous or locally improvised sort). When I return home, I sit and hold her, marveling and rejoicing, struck with a sense of beatitude as I behold my daughter. One day I wish to read Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954. “I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing,” Kerouac wrote in an entry in the book from 1949. “And that until then I’ll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone’s lapel and make them confess to me and to all.” Always and forever I’m filled with the awareness of countless books unread. From Kerouac to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe.
Crows and helicopters fly overhead on a sunny but chilly afternoon. Squirrels scramble along branches of trees, pausing, waving their tails in greeting. I sit with them for a while, the neighborhood’s lawnmowers and leafblowers heard in the distance. Afterwards I join Sarah for a walk, the two of us visiting a colleague along the way. We talk again about names and the weeks ahead, pausing now and then beside piles of leaves.
I stand on my back deck staring at fallen leaves, listening, building a sense of place, attending to sights and sounds generated by neighboring beings: birds, squirrels, planes, trees, automobiles. A small bird lands beside me and sings to me, dancing in rapid increments. It pecks, it eats, it leaps, flitting to and fro. Capitalism encloses us in its habitus, its time-discipline, its states and estates. Yet there in its borders and interstices, in its gutters and margins, fugitive life proceeds apace. Imaginary bagpipes drone betwixt dueling leafblowers. A sound blown in honor of comrades who died 40 years ago today in the Greensboro Massacre. Mysterious books call out to me, rise off shelves and land in my hands, ready to be read. By these means, I happen upon The Knee of Listening by Franklin Jones, aka Da Free John, sensing immediately in his use of language evidence of a fellow head. Jones began graduate study in English at Stanford University in 1961. He must have been part of Ken Kesey’s cohort. At the very least he volunteered as a subject in the same drug experiments as Kesey, MK-Ultra experiments run out of the Veterans Administration hospital in the early 1960s.