Voices overheard through a wall scoff at and belittle; members of a circle seduce one another with words. Why do I continue to lean in? Do I sense among these voices a proud knowing? Do I think that by listening in, I might learn? Experimenting with that possibility, I place on my turntable a gift from my father — a copy of Sun Ra’s The Magic City. My father trained as a jazz percussionist, and told me a story a few nights ago — the night prior to the record’s appearance in the bins, in fact — of a show he played in the early 1970s. A band of his shared the stage with African percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. Several tracks on The Magic City were recorded live at Olatunji’s loft in New York in Spring 1965. Let us learn of this remarkable happening, part of what critic Paul Youngquist calls “the Arkestra’s wonder years,” 1965 and 1966. Youngquist calls The Magic City “a miracle of musical invention” (A Pure Solar World, p. 182). Let us lie on a couch with our heads in the sun as we listen. Timpani, ride cymbal, bass, and piano: together with horns, these ride “Cosmic Eye,” the first song on the album’s B-side. Cacophony clears the way. Music of this kind helps us breathe, airs us out like laundry on a line.
How do we heal the paranoid, distrusting people in our lives (ourselves included)? Take my mother-in-law, an ardent anti-abortionist. Why do such storylines appeal to her? She watches crime shows. Her and my father-in-law love Jeopardy. She suffered a traumatic childhood. After her mother’s institutionalization, she was separated from her siblings and placed in an orphanage. These experiences live on, I suppose, informing her relationship to narrative. Let us spiral in “sound-star tetrahedrons,” as does Mei-Mei-Berssenbrugge in her poem “Singing” (A Treatise on Stars, p. 82). Let us visit the Santa Fe Institute. Berssenbrugge credits the latter with talk of “ETs, … coincidence, spirit molecules, time tunnels and quantum uncertainty” (88).
Peering at books I received as gifts on Christmas morning, I happen upon A Treatise on Stars, a new collection by poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Sarah brings word of a friend’s new novel dedicated to our daughter Frances. This same friend authored a book I’ve taught — one I plan to teach again this spring. Time to think about stars and cosmologies. Stars appear in the Berssenbrugge book, as they do in the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian, a show we watch with family. My nephews received a talking Baby Yoda doll for Christmas. Together let us explore together systems of stars. Establish communication among spinning galaxies across the distances of space and time. Listen to each star as it sings.
Headlines suggest vaccines are approaching readiness. I’m hopeful on that front — though I dread the winter ahead. We wish to travel north to visit family over break. We wish to gather to celebrate Frankie’s birthday and the holidays: Christmas and New Year’s. We also wish to raise and decorate a Christmas tree here in our home in the weeks ahead, like the one we kept in our apartment last winter before and after Frankie’s birth. When time allows, I bundle up in a hoodie and jacket to gather up bundles of sticks, like that figure from the Tarot. I sit at the picnic table in the yard on a cold afternoon, enjoying a calm moment: light Doppler effect coupled with birdsong. Wind rustles leaves, gathers occasionally for light gusts.
In phone calls a mere hour apart from one another, I receive word that my department has voted to hire me into a better, more permanent position, and that my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, has tested positive for the virus. He has a large, loving family — children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — all of whom would like to be with him. It’s a lot to take in and process, these waters of March.
What is happening in this moment? Birds are singing, springtime is upon us. Families connect, celebrate, commiserate in a state of preparedness through phone, FaceTime, text messages, mail and email. We go for walks, we spend time outdoors, work made remote amid break. It’s a strange situation, certainly. We’re entering a period of change, transformation, adjustment. A perfect time, in other words, to practice hope and exercise care. Somehow in this moment of polarity, solidarity means keep your distance. The question is: for how long? Until when? How does crisis become revolution?
A short walk and a phone call to wish a nephew happy birthday: things I do over the course of the afternoon. Earlier in the day I rescued my mother-in-law’s earring. The day has been a chilly one — though sunny now after a morning of rain. The day’s walk is a time to range about, thinking about life on reservations. My familiarity with Native American literature, however, is shamefully quite limited. Time to change that. Use the year ahead, I tell myself, as an opportunity to pursue what Fred Moten calls “fugitive study.” But also remain present, centered, exchanging greetings and conversation with members of the community. Note development across time of stories, forms, archetypes, mythopoetic patterns. Parallel compute across multiple modes.
A beautiful afternoon — a time to celebrate after several days of rain. Though even those have been wonderful: F. sleeping in my lap, or with her head resting on my shoulder. Sarah writing thank yous as friends and family visit us, bestow gifts on us, and feed us, local friends and colleagues having established for us a meal train. A circle of giving. Freedom is ours when we join and grow these circles of reciprocity. Extend the giving outward through the polis and the cosmos. Support the Sanders bid for the presidency. Make the vote count. Correct the outcome of 1972. Participate, too, in the antiwar movement. Make its number swell.
On this autumn afternoon I don the role of sous chef, chop cauliflower and onions, mix with ground turmeric and paprika, the lot then brewed into a soup. My brother calls after dinner announcing wonderful news: he proposed to his girlfriend. The two are now engaged to be wed. A group-text ensues, my other family members and I all congratulating the couple, all of us filled with joy.
Among the patterns swirled into the stucco ceiling of my office appears the face of a small terrier — happy, excited to be here. In it I sense a correspondence. A cat has also taken to visiting Sarah and I on our back deck, a grey one with black stripes, dozing in a chair midday. Butterflies have come to visit as well — beautiful swallowtails, and out on the sidewalk, a “red-spotted purple” with blue stripes and orange dots on its wings. A white plastic tape dispenser on top of my file cabinet resembles a white whale. The world appears blessed with a multitude of entities and beings. And much the same is true here in the home. Sarah and I are expecting a daughter. From the two of us has come a third. Thus begins our life together as a family. With great respect and reverence, ears attuned to our many co-creating friends and neighbors, we set out on our way.