You are sitting on a stained mattress on the floor of a large room. There is light. Outside, the birds are alive and loud about it. You are listening. You are listening because it is better than caving in on a mattress that is not yours, that is stained with god knows what, but that you must take with you because there is nothing else to sleep on; without it there is nowhere to rest. You are trying to listen but you are so tired that your vision is pixelated. You wonder how long you will exist in this space where nothing is normal. Your heart beats irregularly because your body is not rested. You spent the last night chasing the cats out from under the bed of a strange man who sleeps in the same room. You haven’t had privacy in months and the cats fight regardless. You are trying to breathe in order to ward off what feels like a heart attack but is only the panic rising. You wake at seven regardless. The day is a fruit you must peel with no nails and so you use your teeth instead. You ask yourself: what next? You spend money you don’t have because you are walking for hours in the heat looking for a place to live because the place you have is another place to wait.
You are sitting in a medical clinic washed clean by the morning. You are trying to decipher the Spanish on the signs. You are so early no one else is there yet, even the nurse, and you must ring the bell five times before she arrives at the front desk. Outside a fruit stand gathers flies but the tile inside is scrubbed. In a yellow room the doctor feels your armpit where a large mass has appeared. You ask if you have TB and you are serious. The doctor looks at you like a weirdo until you mention you live three blocks from Skid Row, where there is an outbreak. You never know you say and he laughs. You tell him the rest: the windowless room you’ve shared for five months with another person and a cat; the fan that won’t cool the heat, which rises the ten feet every night to darken your sleep. It’s 90 degrees now and not yet summer and you’re worried. Your cough has gotten worse and won’t go away. You keep checking your hands for blood. He prescribes you antibiotics for the ingrown hair and your face, which is breaking out from stress. In the cab home Khalil the driver tells you about his two ranches in Iran. Beautiful. He wipes a crescent in the air: so fertile. He promises to make you two his wives, which is fine because they are allowed four. He insists on your email when you leave and you give it to him because you don’t know what else to do. Like the prophet, you said, as you swooped through morning traffic.
It is the first time you find yourself in a different neighborhood than downtown after dark. It is staggering how free you feel: not having to fear every shadow lurking. The only time you did this you were with a man and you had mace at the ready. He carried a taser in his pocket. You remember this as you take the train east right at dusk. The hour is electric as the track rises behind Union Station heading to Highland Park and for a moment you are above it all; every moment. It is the space between breaths. You are not done yet. The night is a brief escape but you are learning how to seize this, how to make it matter. It is the first time you realize your life for the past five months happened in some fantastic vacuum. You know this by people’s faces when you describe what you have lived. You walk down darkening streets toward your friend’s house where a porch waits. Here the leaves are loud things. As the story comes out each piece feels like a cage you leave, like a wound you shed. In the silence beyond a car backs down the dead-end street. Hot horn leaks from the window and reminds you of other things outside your reach. The man behind the wheel turns around slow and rights himself. Just beyond, to your left, a road ends to make way for an apartment complex. When you stand at the end you can feel a thousand lives blur past your eyes. It makes you feel suspended like a jewel in time. It makes you cry.
Your mother tells you on the phone that depression and poor health are symptoms of poverty. You have never considered this. You want to laugh but don’t because it’s serious. But you aren’t impoverished. You feel lucky beyond belief to even be here; to be struggling like this. You feel more alone than you’ve ever known in your life but all this is under the surface. You are focused only on surviving each day. You move six times in six months and your money is running out and you don’t have a job. You are afraid to write this because future employers might read this and not hire you. Sometimes the fear is so pervasive it feels like a virus: a static gnawing at your gut. Everything is spilling over the edges. You feel so alive it hurts. You try not to panic. People reach out over the wires to remind you that what you do matters and you hold onto these words like bubbles of air underwater. You forget to leave the gallery where you are living because you have no money to spend. If you do, it’s on coffee. You grow thin.
You want to welcome chaos because it is guidance. You seek the problem but your issues are a symptom of something larger. You try and touch it at the edges, to see how big it is. You want to see your life like it exists but you are forgetting what reality is. You are driving with a friend when he says that this is Los Angeles: every reality existing together. You know the dream sucks you in. You are driving down Skid Row trying not to look out the window. Every face insists. You see the danger of this now: the illusion dragging you under to where you can’t be reached. You remember everything instead. People keep saying: You’re killing it, you’re killing it but they have no idea what it takes to live this.
Hell no, I don’t get lost when I’m playing. Only the place changes. It’s like in an elevator, you’re in an elevator talking with people, you don’t feel anything strange, meanwhile you’ve passed the first floor, the tenth, the twenty-first, and the city’s down there below you, and you’re finishing the sentence you began when you stepped into it, and between the first words and the last ones, there’re fifty-two floors. I realized that when I started to play I was stepping into an elevator, but the elevator was time, if I can put it that way. Now realize that I haven’t forgotten the mortgage or the religion. Like it’s the moment; I know that the suit’s in the close, but at that moment you can’t tell me that the suit exists. The suit exists when I put it on, and the mortgage and religion existed when I got finished playing and the old lady came in with her hair, dangling big hunks of hair all over me and complaining I’m busting her ears with that goddamned music.
Desire is the creator.
Desire is the destroyer.
-Hari Dass Baba
After weeks of static dark I dream a mountain. There are red tents and flags: carnival leftovers. Others are with me in front of it and this matters but we don’t yet know why. The journey is chosen. Below us wind lifts the colors skyward. Fabric flashes over mountain heaps as we descend into the valley to get the animals. We make our way towards the goats locked inside the rock walls. They are restless and scream like humans.
I am trying to explain what this means as we walk across downtown to get coffee and juice. I am reading everything in the process of deciphering. In the Book of Symbols mountains are associated with revelation and transition. They are ancient places where sacred messages are handed down, where the wise man meets god and is transformed. The landscape remains unchanged but maybe it is this we must witness: only our movement around its bulk.
Standing in the white-tiled line I remember it all: each conversation leading me here to the room of myself I circle around. It is this I must question: the space and how I escape it. The goat locked inside. If we are to talk in terms of myth: the quest is writ by birth. The Pueblo sage asked Jung: “Do you not think all life comes from the mountain?” The question informs the action. When you leave a life all the pieces still exist don’t forget. They simply rearrange.
The sacred quest takes one to the center. The mountain is often thought to contain a mother goddess in her belly: uterine metal, a pit we mine for precious things. On my birthday a stone is returned to me: a piece of her body. We are walking along the slow waves, sand in our mouths, violet haze rising off the water ahead. It speaks to me: smooth and grey, transformed by softness. And something else: two halves cemented by another buried piece. I think of the river running through me. Black and white both, or rather without color. The color of space. The deep place that meets inside, a profound smoke rising. Bells in a cave. Memory of another lifetime.
I am learning what to recognize. The ancient goat-god speaks to the lust for life. I feel the throb of history push through me: dust lost in the light. On the train I see how darkness turns a man’s eyes. They roll backward and he grips the pole in front of me. What else is there to say? And still downtown is bathed golden, a movie set. The crowd moves over and slows down; syrup. She calls me Pan on the phone because my eyes are glowing.
It is 3 am on the morning of my birth and I am weeping in the shower. Earlier I had asked: what’s next? This question informs everything I am and all I still love left behind. The fabric tatters into a million flags fluttering. I only know how to walk forward into the nothing, alone but more alive, with less answers than you’d think. I remember there is no center for long, there is only the orbit we carve toward it. There is a law: you can’t break what you don’t own.
It is said that the mountain orients us out of the void. It forces us upward. In Judaic lore and elsewhere, “sins, shame, or illness were magically transferred” onto the goat before it was released. Translated literally, Pan means the wilderness of the mind. We fear this place for there is no explanation for what will happen. The mountain moves inside you and you must answer it. Excuses circle the question. There is another reason to laugh today.
I leave you with this:
“The cosmic humor is that if you desire to move mountains and you continue to purify yourself, ultimately you will arrive at the place where you are able to move mountains. But in order to arrive at this position of power you will have had to give up being he-who-wanted-to-move-mountains so that you can be he-who-put-the-mountain-there-in-the-first-place. The humor is that finally when you have the power to move the mountain, you are the person who placed it there—so there the mountain stays.”
HUMANS ENCASED IN PLASTIC CROSSING A GRID
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