Text Companion for Earth Blood Project
It's easy to smear dirt and talk about blood. To work mud, in place of the smelling searing red that actually drops out of us.
Last week sometime, in the calm of my studio room I thought about the crucifix and how I’d seen a cross collection on the wall of someone’s living room (of all places).
Pastel, and wood; canvas; even bejeweled crosses all clustered together against the wallpaper.
It seemed too strange. No noose collections here, no electric chairs assembled in the backyard. No tidy row of lethal injection syringes lining the entryway. But just the cross. This brutal symbol of death as strong as lynching. Have we forgotten what is stands for?
It’s easy to forget when we’re not suffering. It’s easy to hang a cross, even to haul a heavy bucket for miles and then wake up and live like death is not imminent, even within us.
But when at two am the phone shudders in my hand and there’s News
of death, of blood
(blood, blood, blood my sister said) —What can abstraction do
At 2 am in bed, the cell phone heavy in my hand?
Comfort must be concrete. The inexact and the impersonal cannot hold us close.
We need something real: down to the DNA.
An oozing mix of blood and water,
From a specific wound, in a specific side,
Specific hill (a trash heap really).
Blood not abstract but actual,
Pain universal and specific,
But mostly here: beside us.
Dispute his DNA, dispute his claims; dispute his teaching, but no one can dispute: he was a man who breathed (4 BC to AD 30). No vague abstraction, he. Who ate and drank (and drank strong drink). And not vague theology that he flowed hot with human blood, felt human pain, the one who when he made the earth said: let there be veins, and nerves.
Said: let there be dirt, and fill it rich with iron. And from the dirt he made a man, veins flowing full.
And making, knew that he would bleed, drop potent back to iron heavy earth.
Nerves of a man who lived,
Who cried as humans cry:
My God, my God, my God, my God
Have you forsaken me?
The wind is sharp and my shoulder bruises, but this weight is welcome weight.
I wish I could take your whole body into my body,
could bear your weight in my body and give you
A moment of rest.
And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 Then the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? Who answered, I cannot tell. Am I my brother’s keeper?
10 Again he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me, from the earth. . . which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thine hand.
Then Cain said to the Lord, My punishment is more than I can bear.
Am I my brother’s keeper? My sister’s burden bearer?
I am not strong enough to carry both of us.
The whole earth has been crying out as in childbirth until the son of God is revealed.
Deep down, dirt magnet-like drew the sharpest iron from his side down to itself: the only one whose blood pulsed with our pain.
into the earth
and compounds fuse
As like meets like:
In Tennessee, from the road I can see the hill’s bare shoulder curve up before the trees. Red, exposed. Rainwater has washed basins into the earth, ripples and waves where water used to be. I scrape some of the ground up with my hands and trickle it into my water bottle, take it home and set it on the table: the ground rich and full against the plastic.
Weeks later I flee blindly back to the same hill, her story ringing in my ears. I cut the earth open with my shovel. Frozen veins of mud, clotting into my bucket. My hands are stained from earth and cold. The rich red mud will not wash off: I see it when I sleep, when I wake in the morning.
My body aches.
Her body aches.
His body broken with us both.
There is no way around the blood.
There is no way above it, or beneath
but only with it
Only within it
Trickling off his rib onto
The thirst-cracked, dusty earth.
The rules are writ in soil itself:
There is no way around the blood.
He living took our blood into his veins,
he dying spilled it out where ours should be.
In dying spills it out:
“Death by laceration
Of the heart will cause life blood to flow
Through the aperture into the pericardium,
Being extravasated, will soon coagulate
Into the red clot (blood) and the limpid serum (water).”
This accumulation in the heart released by
The spear-thrust of the solider:
Now, in death, not only blood
But blood and water both.
Into the thirst-cracked, dusty earth
He is diffused.
In the instant of death the water breaks (like Mary said):
“Breaks as warm water
shatters at birth
rivering every way.”
No wonder when he woke from death the scars were still there strong:
all knotted, rough,
No servant is above his master.
From earth God formed the first man:
Hebrew Adamah meaning: earth.
The Hebrew Adam meaning: red.
From earth He forms the second man:
Stained in blood and washed in water.
Silent in the midnight hour when
Aches are raw and I can’t bear your pain,
I click on the bedside lamp to see that bottle
Full of earth.
Not by abstractions but by this,
We are sitting at the kitchen table in our sterile Izmir apartment, eating boiled eggs while Dad reads Spurgeon aloud. His face is gummy-eyed, full of stubble, as if insomnia sped up the growth of facial hair. We know that’s not it -- it’s the pain in his arms that keeps him from shaving. Mother tried once, painstakingly, to do it for him but it was too nerve wracking for them both. The knots in Dad’s back took an extra forty minutes to get out after Mother abandoned the attempt to shave him.
But Dad embodies 2 Corinthians as he sits there, slightly hunched over Mornings and Evenings: the outer nature across the table from me, with a crumb of toast stuck on the beard, is surely wasting away. And yet, as with every morning for the past ten years, he opens to the days’ date to read. His reading voice was so often the barometer of my mood. On good mornings, when he could see sunlight over my shoulder, Dad would read slowly and laugh into his coffee cup at the oddities of the antiquated English. Other days, like today, he would read without change of tone, or hand the book off altogether to Mom, who read tightly, pinching off each word as if she could cut off the pain clearly distracting her husband’s tired mind.
I could see his weariness then, feel it through me. Those were the days I scraped our eggshells with an odd mixture of grief and fury into the trash.
Even with 364 days between each reading, the texts of Mornings and Evenings eventually gained a slight flavour of deja vu. Today’s was from Phillippians 2: children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life.
Dad read it calmly. Maybe I was the only one wondering, as his tired voice poured like gravel onto the table, what that meant. Look at us. God in heaven, is this radiance? Look at us, sent to the heathen with the word of light.
The darkness is all around us. It’s vast, it engulfs. Like engulfing bacteria, it invades us. It’s in us, good Lord, it’s inside us. It’s here at our kitchen table. It keeps Dad awake at night, makes him cry at Easter because the proportion of those who care and don’t is too great.
It was Christmastime last I was here. And we gathered, three small families with squirming children, in the living room as night approached. Candles lined the piano and I faltered through some carols. The Bible went around the room as varying voices read prophesy after prophesy. We sang.
Ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice.
Night was indeed falling around Izmir, slowly, almost unnoticeably, till we sat encircled around a few candles. The kids kept putting their hands too close to the flames and Mom was distracted and fearful. One apartment in our huge complex in a city of three million. Oh, yes. Radiance.
Tables warp and change in my memory, kitchen windows of different views come and go, but always Dad sits there with a hand curled around a mug of homemade espresso, foam rusting around the edges, one hand on Mornings and Evenings.
Whichever side of the world I’m on, the older I get the more I realize people are all the same amount of weary. We scrape through the live-long day and fall into bed waiting for a morning that comes too soon.
How can that be? We were made to welcome the mornings, to groan with the world for the dawn and the daybreak but we’re so damn tired when the daylight comes we sleep right through it, bury our heads in the pillow. Morning means dawn pressing in through the venetian blinds, and morning means dew on the city concrete and dew on the dust in the desert. It means that slowly tingling awake feeling down to your tiny toe; the springiness in your joints from just enough rest, ready to catapult you forward into a day of real living. Mornings are the slow awakening of color as light hits dark and brings out the rainbow through that complex process people in safety goggles refer to with words like polarization, frequency transmission, and electromagnetics, whatever they are. (The key is this: the color is not in the objects we see but in the light that shines upon them and is ultimately reflected or transmitted to our eyes.) Morning is before you put on the safety goggles. It is wriggling your foot out from the cocoon of covers to feel a nip from the chilly bedroom air.
Or is it? This bedroom still feels dark but my clock’s ticking towards noon now. Because we’re in the perpetual third hour at promises dawn but never follows through, th, tough the clock keeps spinning around on this bouncy ball of a planet. The beauty of morning depends on what meets your eyes when you wake up and here, the crust clings to our eyelids: evidence of tears we shed unawares. But some aware, and morning’s only welcome as a cessation of the sensations of night. When he wakes up to the rhythmic ache all up his back; a dull variation on yesterday’s themesong. When she doesn’t wake up: she’s been working all night and dawn means rest, so she rolls off the bed onto the floor. When they wait for morning, hopeful for light that will dim the endless replay of that moment in their heads. Morning’s beauty all depends on what your eyes awaken to so maybe we are after all better off shoving our heads into the pillow, rolling over like oppossums and playing dead.
The smart ones will tell you oppossums are stupid and nocturnal: evolution will soon rob them of their eyes. The Enlightenment would be proud of that bit of knowledge, but light bulbs floating over our heads haven’t done much to illuminate this dusky apartment. We talk about enlightenment, but where the hell is the light in this tenement? We owe two thousand years’ rent and our landlord cut the current. It’s in the breaker: wrestle with the breaker till the breaker’s broken and bring out Barabbas cause we need an experienced thief to steal some light.
I didn’t break in. I was broken into, and light came through the cracks to engulf my darkness in a little light that’s mine. I’ve been torched, the me that dreads the dawn and now I’m ready burning until the daylight comes. Don’t let Satan blow it out.
Shine like stars in a universe that dreads the dawn. But when I consider the heavens, they are vast and broad and sterile. Is space a vacuum? No, it’s a parasite. This blackness grows, engulfing till it covers the broadness of the expanse and is ever pushing outwards, pulsing in a big, black mass. Hungry for light. Hungry to smother. But light expels the darkness, has no need for it. If there weren’t such as thing as daylight, darkness would mean nothing. There are no levels of darkness. I am speaking physically. There is just dark.
But you can have twilight, daylight, pinpoints of light. Light has substance, variety. Light doesn’t have to have darkness to be light. But darkness is a rejection of light, a swallowing up of light. Without light to hate, darkness is nothing. It must be total in a place or it is vanquished.
It must be complete in a place, or it is nothing at all.
I can’t light a little candle of darkness. I can’t turn on a little lamp of black to occupy a little stronghold in the light. It would die. But as soon as a tiniest sliver of light hits the darkness, darkness has lost its battle of phagocytic expansion. It is no longer truly dark if there’s a tiniest bit of light. A match can conquer a whole room in the instant it’s struck. Darkness doesn’t reign there anymore. Suddenly, the room is no longer dark, but lowly lit.
The night sky is not compromised. Cold, distant specks of light keep shining and we call them stars and they are so small in comparison to the sky they penetrate, but it doesn’t matter. The size of the thing is the least of their worries. Do they know their tiny beams have gotten all the way to our galaxy and we stand on the surface of our planet and point up at them with hope? Likely not. Likely, light years away from each other, they think they’re alone. Does Eta Ursae Majoris know he has an apparent magnitude +1.9, making him the 35th brightest star in the sky? He is a young, bluish-white main sequence star of spectral class B3 V, the outermost star on the handle of the big dipper. But he is cold and lonely, light years away from the next star of the handle. Does he live and shine thinking he is alone? And yet he keeps the light alive.
The beauty of it is, his light alone could conquer the night. His light alone, that little piece of the handle of the dipper, changes the far darkness around him into brightness and throws off the whole balance of the engulfing night. Alone in bald space, the light in Eta Ursae Majoris prevails.
Eta Ursae Majoris is not visible from our apartment in Turkey. Perhaps the sight of him would hearten Dad, who is telling us they still haven’t found Cyd’s body. A year ago she was martyred in Afghanistan. Taken hostage into the mountains and we didn’t hear from her again - her captors toyed and bargained with Dad and the other team leaders, but eventually she was pronounced dead. A light snuffed out.
Eta Ursae Majoris comforts me when I think about Cyd Myzell. Eta could have died twenty years ago, and we would still see him in the constellation. The smart ones say it will take over a thousand years to stop communicating his light because of the vastness of the distance between us.
Cyd’s captors must have seen the little light in her: stars burn brightest before they die. Stars burn longest in the dead of winter. Dad’s fingers, lined with wrinkles, curl weakly around his coffee mug. But his eyes never lose their intensely hopeful burning as they stare past me out the window at the glowing morning sky.
Stratum. stra·tum (strtm, strtm)
She is turned inward. Self absorbed in the most unselfish of ways: one hand curved over her swollen belly. This look comes over her fairly often now — she has slowed down, moving more cautiously around her wide and light-filled house. This inward expression sets her apart; I am pondering a mystery from afar, with an indwelled sister two steps away.
In the fabric store, and everywhere we go, there is a welcome of woman to woman: is this your first? You don’t know what to expect, do you, honey. Wives lean in and share succulent details of their own deliveries, every drop of blood a gruseome jewel held to the light: evidence they’ve been there, fought, conquered.
Kate stares down the tunnel of her remaining months as they close tight around her, a canal of her own, a gauntlet she too must pass through. She tells the people who ask her that now, she is just praying for deliverance. I realize, at some point, lying under Mama’s quilt in my dark room after a day of waiting tables, that there is no escape now from the impending labor: that there is only one way out from this heavy-hanging work of daily bearing the helpless one jammed between her ribs and her bladder.
All this life comes from death. We are speaking, over bear meat sausage brought from Alaska, about food. Jeremy corrects me: it would be more accurate to say death’s necessary for the continuation of life. No new idea, this: the curse we’re under. Bear meat, with all the sausage spices, tastes much like beef. But someone stalked this bear with knapsack and rifle, pitting life on life. And then animals eat plants to live, and plants, good land: they consume light. . . the most sacred of all. Life living on life, cyclically, a macabre version of Peter Pan and his cronies chasing Hook’s men (who are chasing them) — except in Neverland nobody ends up dead.
Inside my sister’s womb this tangle of forming limbs and life sucks open-mouthed gulps of amniotic fluid with a brand-new tongue: draining my sister’s energy, prodding at her sleep, stealing her young elastic body in the raw impulse to live, live, live. She embraces this as she embraces the baby growing inside of her. If I die, she says (we are still speaking of the bear eating plants eating light), this baby dies.
I wonder about that. The child’s first breath comes at great cost. His life in this world already inhabits spaces vacated by ones gone before him. And the loss that accompanies all these things, the cost of them. No wonder the jaded way we adopt a veteran’s attitude as we walk through our days, masking over new experiences with a look we hope proclaims confidence: this ain’t my first rodeo. But each footstep is a first somehow: a placement into cloud from cloud, the risk of imminent and prevenient death the ground beneath us. Every day we breathe into tired lungs we kiss the warm womb of sleep goodbye and we roll out of sleep’s grip, spend the next hour shaking off its lingering touch.
It’s too vulnerable to live in the first days of every day. We can’t face each consecutive morning’s first breath with the same candor we face that first flight, that first kiss, that first loss of someone close, the first taste of bread and wine.
To live in that kind of tingling awareness of every day’s firstness would kill us faster than it already does, so we sink into mundanity as if we know what every day will hold, as if routine could ever be a reality, that we have control over the days’ events because of scrawl in our planners. As if a day echoing the day before it is, somehow, the same day. My faint mind, too shallow: unable to bear up under the idea that every second knitting me into my life is as real a first as the first breath-gulp of this child jammed into my sister’s body.
Alone on the road somehwere in Iowa, I’m surrounded by open and empty green, swirling past in a blur. I’m entirely alone. The car I’m driving in has become some kind of companion to me: I speak to it, encourage it forward like a horse, while it ensconces me in this in-between place of travelling. I’m insulated by the Suzuki’s glass and steel walls, hurtling forward at 80 miles per hour past earth I’ve not touched and never will, green I’ve never seen, fields that, for all I truly know, could go on forever.
I fly on: turn on the radio as I pass through Ames and scan from strange midwestern accents onto NPR, with its daily recitals of deaths and details packed in against fascinating tidbits of new research: on color theory, on the human brain.
Deaths and details: I cannot hang onto the ones in my own life, much less these from the clean curt voice on the radio. Grant, too, is dead. I found this out yesterday. A rising star of a chef at 28 years old, he seemed unassuming: John said, a bro. His scruffy brown head reminded me of my old friend Rob, the musician: they had the same sheepish smile, a look of deference, as if guessing themselves to be in the wrong somewhere, and poised to make it right. Grant bought coffee from me the day before I heard he’d killed himself. We had laughed about his new moustache. I thought about that, afterward: those little hairs, valiantly thrusting their heads out of his face day after day, being razed down, growing again that particular morning with no comprehension their routine was almost over.
And in the bustle of a busy coffee house, I feel falsely safe enough to wonder about that first, Grant’s first, the moment after he breathed the first last breath. (The amniotic fluid rolls in and out of unborn lungs, vital as air, heavy as water. What must air feel to lungs that have only breathed fluid?) I have no conjecture for it. I wonder if Grant gulped in air like Kate’s baby gulps fluid in the womb; if he had to fight through death as through a threatening gamut bent on his destruction, or if death took him in, warm and gentle. I wonder if his death here broke him into a new, a terrifying, a vibrant first, as vastly bigger than ours here as a world is to a womb.
And, though I only spoke his name maybe five times in my life, I hope so: I hope so: I hope so: