(A deconstructed bird nest for a new art project.)
When we turned the car west, the miles of snowy Sierra pines and stone pushed into greenly-wooded foothills and then into rolling brown scrub of the Pacific. Only a few birds can make a home in all three geographies, as most birds are specialists. As we flew along, something was being pulled from the middle of me, the fragmentation that occurs in the process of becoming not at home.
They would hold him there until I could arrive to say goodbye. Goodbye to who or what I am not sure, but we kept on driving because a monument was in the making.
This is what comes to mind right now as the fog is peeling back over my coastal mountains from which my plane is turning on the runway. East-bound, a one-way route.
John Berger says home is the vertical line between the gods and the buried dead. It’s one that can move along the horizontal of human mobility, but he admits some emigrations disconnect. Nomadic tribes no nothing of this. Home travels with them. Birds neither. They build the most tenuous nests for their most profound task.
I have written here before about needing to be at home in the state of unhousedness. When there is an ambiguous loss with nothing to bury, and no effable one to pray to. This of course means that there is so much glory here: laughter that stung my eyes, the epiphany of childbirth, improbable resonances with strangers, friends who are fixtures at every milestone, family there in an instant, and moments when the art came and made me disappear. Not to mention this light off the ocean. And it all is tied to this home.
I met a homelessness back in China several months before I knew of our move. It was there that I discovered something true that I still have no words for. And in this, I found myself lonely. In consolation, the thick bamboo forest offered me a dark and aching embrace, but there was nothing to hold on to. When will I learn that an attachment to loving moments quickly drains them. This resistance is the artist’s mischief and rebellion — to try to extend the present moment, to give presence, to still a nearing god.
That moment in China, as is happening on this plane, something fell undone into her pond with the splash of a thousand fish about to be dinner. She built a life story inside ten kilometers of that pond, and I was from ten thousand kilometers away. The epiphany of scaffolding, smothering beliefs, and cloying security falling away. And resulted in the terror of a new vulnerability and uncertainty. A deepening of the divine recognition of fragility.
I am making this goodbye a self-indulgent monument, lovingly constructed of the small numbers of my childhood address held by the eucalyptus and coastal sage in the evening breeze yesterday. Also the threshold of every door and every word through which I greeted you and you greeted me, in the company of language-less ghosts who don’t seem to age. It leads one to draft absurd postmortem directions for the body, a future tense when I am no longer present, long after the goodbye. Here also are the wounds of possibility.
(Detail from my painting of cremated hummingbird, 2009)
“Inhabit vulnerability as a generous citizen of loss.” David Whyte.
“Only when we learn to transcend our earth-bound selves in love, learn to take ourselves not too seriously, do we begin to truly live.” — Karsten Harries