OF RADIANT DEPTH UNFOLDED*: A Sonnet Crown
Randy Magazine 2013
Hold on to your particular pain.
That too can take you to God.
I am staring at the words CHOKING VICTIM.
They are in blue on a vintage safety poster that hangs on a wall between the side door and the bathroom inlet of a bar in Brooklyn—a bar named for the single reputed weakness of the otherwise invulnerable warrior who was commonly known as “the best of all the Greeks.”
To my left sits my lover, and by the time we are through, we will spend one more night together and then she will be my lover no more. I know this as I read these words over and over. CHOKING VICTIM. And I cannot help but think, even as she is talking to the left side of me, even as we clash, cry, how the Universe is a funny one to put these particular words before me on this particular night. This particular vintage poster with illustrated people in blue ink looking like a seventies advertisement for vacations in Hawaii, like they are at some kind of luau that goes terribly wrong. CHOKING VICTIM. The words are like a through-line tethering me to the possibility of laughter even in the midst of this.
That is when it cracks open. Not a lot just a little: like a thread of light tracing the gateway of a door jamb when the light is on in the room on one side but you are on the other side where it is still dark but there is a crack of tiny light, a little line that lets you know there is an other side and shows you where the opening is or could be and where you go to push.
That is when it cracks open. Not a lot just a little and it is still a mystery like a moistness like the seam between ass cheeks one follows with one’s finger that traces down in closure but opens to that hole.
Whole: a possibility. A dancing seeing differently: a way of whirling through the bombed out stages of a consciousness while somewhere in the unseen blackness of the wings there is a me (too) and she is laughing.
At the magic of that hole.
At the magic of that hole is a hot night and I am sitting next to my friend who I sometimes don’t trust (she is a double Leo like my father the triple Leo and sometimes I think these people are more interested in light-basking than in truth—my righteous mind guillotines). But we are sitting in the hot church on the hot night.
Church is where dance lives if you dance in New York City because in New York City most contemporary dance has no home and so dancers are in some ways itinerant—workers migrating to where there is work, performing where there is space. On this night we are in a church named for Luke and for someone else who I don’t remember and carved in stone on the archway above the door is this: To the Memory of An Only Child. And then: In His Name. It occurs to me how kind it is that this church honors kids who might be lonesome from not having siblings and then, only much later, I realize they must be talking about Jesus.
We are sitting in the church where everything has been cleared except a single crown of chairs that forms its ridge just at the edges of the building so that the space in the middle of the circle is as big as it can be in this particular hall. There are four breaks in the chairs—one in each corner—and then a fifth where folks are coming in from the street. All of us perform here because all the audience can see all the audience. But the lights are dim and so we are all of us chatting and laughing and preparing for the performance we thought we came for. The floor is sticky and gray because dancers often have to bring their own floors with them: knees, hips and ankles too sensitive to jump, dance, spring on stone or wood or concrete, which is what temporary homes tend to have on offer.
Long after eight o’ clock and very suddenly, the dim lights outside the chair circle turn off while spot lights—almost search lights—inside the circle turn on and at the very same time a beat comes in so loud a beat like a dancehall like a gay club like a party. So we are at the edge of light, just inside it, the kind of light that reminds me of a prison yard or a military camp when the searchlights crack on because someone is on the run. But we are not on the run: we are sitting. Some of us smile at the surprise of it. This happens all at once in a second or maybe three—but much faster than it takes to write a sentence.
And then, with all this suddenly she comes in the way we came in: from the front, from the street, from that center break in the chairs and I turn to see her as she comes in and she is stark naked: her golden body completely bare, her hair loose and her face beaming a huge, shining smile. She is electric like she is free, like she is present, like she is there. And also, like the joke is on us if we were hoping to see her naked we don’t have to wait because she’s serving up the punch line first. And she walks—fast and to the beat—into the circle and she circles the circle inside only a foot away from our feet, she is walking letting us all near her, near her naked skin and the whole time she is smiling a beaming real smile, an eyes-smile not just a mouth-smile and she looks like she is filled with joy, filled with wildness, filled with light and childhood and with performing.**
And with performing there was a time when people would gather to watch dancers move as a way to transcend: themselves, their time, the specific minutiae of their challenges; a time when people came together to dissolve the boundaries between selves, between dancer and dance, watcher and watched. Transcendence was never a guarantee: dances could be schlocky, palliative crowd pleasers where the dancer stood behind her movements, keeping herself apart from them or making faces at the audience to indicate some recognizable feeling while no current or spark actually ran inside her. On these nights the people would go home unchanged, perhaps having laughed a little but not likely to think of the dance again.
But there were other nights when the dancer would begin to move and some thing would catch fire and no one would be quite sure of when it had begun and no one would be quite sure of where they were when it was all over. And while it was beginning something would shake and start to quiver, something like the air getting thinner and the sight growing sharper and the space inside the chest that holds the heart blowing open and the breath might catch in the throat and a heat might start behind the eyes as they made water for the weeping that had not been done before, or the laughter. And dance then like its origin words: like a trembling like a quiver—tiny threads of knowing knitting themselves between the watchers, coiling themselves through and in and around the watched so that the spaces would get smaller and the air begin to shimmer as a channel opened up for something other to pour in.
There is a story of a time when the moors were still in Spain, a story of nights like these when the dance would begin to tremble. Scattered throughout the crowd, people would begin to say the name of god: Allah, Allah, Allah. Others would join and raise their voices so that across the musk of multitudes beneath the starry night: Allah! Allah! Allah!—praise for a dancer who has danced her feet beyond the dance itself into a realm of fire and spirit and earth and sky. It is said that the Spaniards now say Olé as a word-remnant of the moors who sang the name of god when they witnessed a thing that moved the soul: Allah, Allah, Allah—Olé, Olé, Olé.
That night inside the church inside the circle inside her gaze my heart stomped its feet and said it too.
Inside the circle inside her gaze my heart stomped its feet and said it too:
Why should I seek more?
I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.
It was some time after Shams left him that Rumi spoke these words. I write, “left him” although most texts recount that Shams simply disappeared, that no one knew what happened to him although they did not want for trying. What is known is that it was only when Shams left that Rumi poured forth what was in him: a clarity born of love that was transformed to words by longing— words splashed out of a stream of energy that arises from the heart aching towards a thing, when you know that thing is gone. Gone. That was when Rumi began to sing.
Jelaluddin Rumi was thirty-seven years old when Shamsi Tabriz walked into his life. In some ways, he had been preparing for it since he was a babe in arms, growing up among the learned, well versed in the ways of the mystics who devoted their searching to god. He had fasted, he had gone on retreats, he had prayed and thought and prayed. The year was 1244 and although he had been born in Afghanistan, he had also been on the run much of his life, his family fleeing the encroaching armies of Genghis Khan. It was on the high plains of what is now Anatolia that Shamsi Tabriz came to him—many said that it seemed as though Rumi had been expecting him, that the two fell into ecstatic conversation as if they had been lifetimes already in it. Shams himself said that he came when Rumi was ready to receive his secret. Only four years later they would see each other no more—although mystics who write of their parting speak of it only on the physical plane because what came out of Rumi on the heels of his lover’s leaving, they say, was written with the skin’s longing but could not have been without the soul’s continued contact.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.
i have been looking for myself since there is a person to pour into, to be poured into by but i have to keep the cap on or see the longing as a thing of its own, it is enough. we are in the sea and we are there for a long time and it is the color that is my favorite color when you open your eyes underneath the water and i feel my self back with this person and later we spend hours in a car together playing song after song, singing loud with the windows open and the air conditioning on because it is a heat wave and at night we will drive down dark dirt roads to swim at black sea beaches and she will pay no mind to my fears because she is different, all the while showing me that human being can be different and i had locked myself into a rhythm that no longer allowed me to move, but i will dance with her and she will be showing me this as a way of showing me how to dance with others how to dance with my world and she does this as she stings from her own sometimes sisyphean journey towards the dance, and she reminds me to myself how much this body means to me and how much i gave it up and how this heat, these days, this beach, this sand, this sea, this sky, these gulls, these grasses, this sage i burn that takes us home stinking of smoke and clarity and sense and senselessness, how the journey has been about claiming the steps again, taking them back and dancing the dance again, it is everywhere and sometimes you simply need to see it, and the sting of salt being thrown in the open wound you carry is just someone else’s feet moving otherwise towards the rememory of that dance, and i couldn’t see it then and that thing she said that stung like salt in the open wound of a heart that was being torn out of its hiding place—no time for hiding!—she taught me a Pluto lesson painful and changing, told me all about her new lover before she took her as a lover but would not say it in the moment giving me instead a sentence i could repeat for myself when i wanted to snap the whip down on my own flesh and make it bleed inside just a little harder when she said if i had to tell myself a story let the story be that she needed to laugh and i didn’t make her laugh and now she’s laughing and the sting of it, constant like a beating, like a puss-ing and somehow in the sea beneath the trine in the waves in the car stereo on the ferry in the arms and in the dance, something in all of it reminding me that the phrase is mine too: i need to laugh. you did not make me laugh. and now i am laughing. laughing to learn and learning to laugh and learning to see and laughing even when there is a crying shaking laughing inside because there is love and there is dancing and there is moving and there is spinning. towards that hole.
Spinning towards that hole, whole, god, goddess, universe, light, love, Allah, olé, openness, oneness, energy, source, spirit, emptiness, abundance, joy, the dance, rapture, radiance, flesh, hope—whatever your channel, whatever you call it, what else is there but to let it stream through you, let the streams of others mingle with yours so that you me we come together?
I am buying groceries for a friend who is traveling overseas, picking up things she wants to bring her family. I am in a hurry. The lady at the checkout is having a text argument but she runs all my things and I pack my bag full, zip it closed and put it on my back, preparing to bike home. $74.28: Pay. Try to pay but I can’t: no funds. No income for so long and now I don’t know what to do. Smile. Ask to leave my bag, step outside, call my brother. No. Can’t leave my bag or she’ll cancel the sale. She points to the line piling up behind me. I’m on the phone, trying to think fast but there is no thought fast enough to cancel brokeness and I don’t want to disappoint my friend and I am trying so hard to figure it out, flustered, shame creeping in. Blind, I don’t see the person approaching me until she is at my elbow. Her debit card is out already and she does not ask me anything, just says confidently, kindly, “Here, let me get those for you.” Swipe. And I am looking at her not believing what I’m seeing because she is handsome and tall, muscled lean with a cut-sleeve t-shirt and closely cropped hair and I have been rescued by a silverfox who smiles at me like it’s the most normal thing in the world, “You can send me a check when you have it.” I fumble down my phone number while she writes me her address and then I walk outside behind her so that I can watch her body move, mystified by what the universe sometimes ushers in. You can make someone ecstatic just by buying them their groceries.
Ecstatic. Ex/stasis: outside stillness, not stagnant, outside stuckness, no longer standing still.
Outside stuckness, no longer standing still, I am with the dancer now: she has moved me. Now it is dark and she is no longer naked golden-bodied but wears a unitard atop another set of clothes so that her shape has a strange contour that reminds me of Bhanu Kapil’s the girl leaps into the fire then out again. And is carried. To the sea. On the backs of pink dolphins. Burned, breathing: on the verge of monster-dom.
On the verge of monster-dom, she and we, and a voice is asking her questions and she is stomping, screaming: YEAH! Do you want more food? YEAH! Do you want more love? YEAH! Are you alone? YEAH! Do you want kids? YEAH! It is hilarious and it is heartbreaking and it loosens language so she is free because she is saying Yes to everything.
She is saying Yes to everything: surrendered, channeling, whole. Yes.
Everything in the world began with a yes.***
What more is there but to let it stream through you? Yes.
So you might laugh with your eyes full of tears and your chest full of breath, Yes, and you, Yes, full of the dance and full of the open and full of the sky and full of the night and full of Yes, and full of the longing. Yes.
And the poster is not vintage it is now and the victim is not choking she is you, laughing, staring at the words.
*Rainer Maria Rilke, in a letter to his mother sent from Cairo in 1910 contemplating the night in December, 1273 when Rumi died, wrote: “This is the night of radiant depth unfolded.”
**Section 2 and 7 refer to Michelle Boulé’s solo piece entitled Wonder, May 30, 2013.
***Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star.