Do you want to dance?

November 4, 2010

My body was sprawled on the roof outside my window on an unexpectedly skirt-wearing short-sleeved day in late October, letting frustrated life questions reverberate from my chest to the open blue sky above me: Are my decisions worthwhile? Should I be more practical in my future-attempts?

My dad has this story he told me when I was seven years old about trying to decide whether he should leave his successful financial career to go back to school for teaching. As he was contemplating this dilemma, whispering prayers for guidance to the corner of the room where the wall meets the ceiling, he put on his headphones and immediately heard Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” directing the phrase “Go ahead, make that change!” into his eardrums. He listened to Michael. (I reminded him of the way Michael changed his life on the event of Michael’s death, and he seemed slightly embarrassed that I remembered a story he told me when I was a kid. These days he’s cycled back around from teaching to finance.)

This morning, the church service I went to was a drama of the scene where Jesus comes to visit the home of Martha and Mary. Perhaps my favorite story in that giant book. The one where Martha tattle-tales on Mary because she’s running around doing all the work while Mary sits with Jesus and talks. The famous “one thing needful” is to spend that time in simple presence. “Stop taking yourself so damn serious and be present with me,” is pretty much what Jesus says.

So there I am glued to the roof on a perfect autumn day, trapped in suspenseful anticipation for my mind to reach an answer to my questions, trying to contemplate my life decisions with big words because I have 500 more words to learn for the GREs, and Sufjan Stevens crooning on my computer sings to me:

“It’s a long life. Everything is chance. Does it register? Do you want to dance?”

The song saying to me: Stop taking yourself so serious and enjoy the presence of unexpected beauty. The silly is salvation from the ultimately overserious.

I imagined myself whirling around the sky dancing, present and imaginative on the sun-warmed roof, needful.


It was a stage set with a singer on one side, a poet on the other. I listened to the song that tasted like a strawberry and found myself entranced at the poem that made me freeze and had an aftertaste of swiss cheese.

In the past, I’ve found that when I read two poems in sequence, they are often unexpectedly magnified with the collision of two poem’s words inside my mouth or head. The often unexpected, yet magnificent crash. The way it feels when you put down a book and carry its message into the immediate movement of life.

At the WYEP studio tonight, there was a call-and-response type concert between the singer Joy Ike and the poet CM Burroughs. Both are local Pittsburgh artists and gorgeous women, and both have the capability of filling a room with sounds that echo across ears with the insight of each somehow amplified by the other. I could have kept listening until I was drenched.

You’ve watered them already, he says.
I water them again. I water them
until each leaf is weighed with
water, until each stem drowns from

-CM Burroughs

They sat welldressed and clustered, walled in by a Borders bookshelf, I gazing in at the poet speaking into mic from the side. Beside me sat a disgruntled man clearly not present because of the poetry but willing to give it a chance. He ate a reeses fastbreak and giggled during pauses in her words, discovering some kind of secret humor in the professional mask this woman wore as she read pages from her chapbooks which she had marked earlier in preparation for people to hear.

I hardly heard her over the sound of the thick man in purple suitcoat whose white-haired-head bobbed as each poem reached an end in attempts to convince the room he understood and approved its message. The poet interrupted herself mid-poem to acknowledge the entrance of those who belonged in the circle of people she had come to entitle “poetry,” speaking abstractly of her wonderful acquaintances in attendance.

Earlier that day at the homeless shelter, my coworker started strumming the blues on his guitar. A woman stood and sang in sultry impromptu voice:

one summer night i was walking
i was walking down the road
and well
if you asked which way i was walking
i couldn’t tell you yes or no

And her passion-sound was poetry to the homeless inhabitants of the room, everyone bobbing their heads to the senseless words composed while they watched expectant, somehow thick with meaning.

When the woman sat down, they turned to me, asked me to read a poem of mine. After watching her and understanding what life was, none of my practiced planned poetry survived on pages.

No. I watch from the side, wondering why poetry is segregation and classification in the places and ways it sounds.


whole against the sky

March 31, 2009

I recently learned of the growing trend to “twitter” (can you use that as a verb?) when a story about it’s popularity made it into the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (which is reflective of how attached I am to reading things I can hold; I learn about the internet’s developments from the newspaper). I’ve been contemplating the nature of online offerings like  twitter and facebook “status updates” ever since.


Yesterday when there was a twitter icon on my favorite postsecret website, I consented to check it out. There I found postsecret postcards that were available exclusively on twitter and other “insider information” to which  only I (and the other 51,999 postsecret twitter followers) had access.

But while scrolling through twitter’s details regarding the life of postsecret creator Frank Warren, it began to sound simplified. I got too much corrupting explanation surrounding the weekly secrets that I’ve always considered to be invaluably abstract. Anonymous artistic postcards displaying hidden secrets hold a lofty value for me while they’re found soaking in abstraction, and it seems that people are somewhat better that way too.

Some of our largest curiosities are motivated by the distances and unknowns that exist within the relationships between people. And perhaps communication websites like twitter are so popular (at least to some extent) because they create the facade of breaking down the distances between us. They can provide the assurance that others care about our constant changes of heart or thought even when no one is around, that perhaps we are more connected to people when a less undefined silence exists and a concise sentence that describes a fraction of a thought is constantly updated and shared between us.

Some of my favorite passages in literature deal with the unconquerable distance between people. Like Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities where one chapter begins:

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses it’s own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses it’s own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!

And a prescription to address the dilemna from Rilke:

Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

whole against the sky

I love that image of seeing someone whole against the sky only when you can embrace the implications behind doing so: that a person’s mind will never create a genuine map to aid in our navigation, that words rarely sound like the thoughts they reflect, that eternal secrets exist between every pair of people which can never be shared.

It’s better that way. Mostly because that’s the only way it can be, but also because there’s a graceful movement of life in embracing the mystery which can’t be said.

touching-skyThe only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes “ahh.”

(jack kerouac/on the road)

February 3, 2009

diving into paradise

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.

(jorge luis borges)