March 28, 2010


The human eye is a small globe in an orbit. A bony orbit, to be clear: more than 80% of the eye’s globe is protected in this skeletal socket. Inside the eye, an irreplaceable clear gel called the vitreous humor provides the pressure to keep our eye in its round. Outside: the tough, fibrous tissue called the sclera, our eye’s white. Turn to look at something, and the colored muscle that is the iris expands or contracts, shaping the pupilar opening into your eye.

There is the question of whether to avert one’s eyes. Gut reaction, primary impulse; if the vision is elsewhere the horror cannot be real. Move the gaze elsewhere; move the mind to what is less invasive, less demanding of a response. A change. The garden in the backyard, growing and green and comfortably fenced-in, safer than the front yard which faces the street and is open to blowing bits of litter and garbage, to the hacking coughs and muttered curses of men wandering the street in bitter pilgrimage to the bus stop.

Blooming, bloody pomegranate on the desk facing the street.

But the astronomers say averted vision is the best way to clearly see what is dim and hard to perceive. Something to do with the rods and the cones, you’ll have to look it up. But they swear, and practice regularly, the averting of the gaze; allow what they want to slip in the side, sneaky and quiet and subversive. An indirect route to clarity. Who was it said sit and wait, what you want will come find you? Is it true? That knowledge of its own accord slips in, unseen. Is this the best way forward: look slightly to the side of where you want to go?

The lights clicking above our heads like an army of beetles. Like the beetles—what was it?—something about ancient Egyptians and death. Again, this irony: the one absolute to our lives and the one thing we deny utterly. What kind of paradigm if we held it rather than rejected it; if we took it for what it can offer, the one solid platform to an otherwise upheaveled and unpredictable life.


‘A form cannot be recognized unless its image already exists in the body that discovers it—is an idea as old as bodies themselves.’ Is this analogous to: without the words to conceive of them, pin them down, certain lines of thinking, concepts or ideas simply cannot exist. We define our own paradigms. Seek our image wherever we turn. I have created you in my own image indeed.


(Tenuous attempts at belief) breathing that vexes the shoreline soft & scarred, dovetailing the light; petalled and quiet at daybreak. Do we live by heart (does it hold water) or are we cells alone.


To speak quietly of having faith is to wonder: are we speaking of action or its opposite. To rise from bed each morning requires a certain degree of faith, an act of choice.

My grandfather told me he was unafraid of dying. Felt certain there were other lives, more growth to come. When a year ago he died in his sleep, he was lying on his back, hands folded over his stomach. He spent ninety years walking around this surface. Helping other people. Praying in the morning as he moved around the house, opening curtains, touching pictures of family members who’d passed on, helping my grandmother dress. A kind of meditation, he said.


What does faith require of us, then, besides a willingness to break open. Just that as if it were a small gesture of the hand or face.

As if to plead don’t let me be lonely though loneliness is where I’ve found most of what was important. Where something got broken, and other things grew around them. Those pieces (in some way heal me?), little fruits, a shifting and a capturing.


Once I asked him what he thought was the difference between a boy and a man. Dependence versus accountability, he told me. To be a boy is to think someone is always going to come get you out of your scrapes. To be a man is to have respect, and have a sense of responsibility to the people around you, people you care about.

When he was young his uncle would send him across the street to help the neighbors. They worked all day in the mines, he would say. They’re tired. Go give them a hand.


We get this body and we get choices. Our lot. Everything else, the subtle shift of pattern on bone, scrubbed daily anew. (Though more things may be choices than we tend to concede) in the fissure of wind, a longing of flightpath. A kind of meditation.


If we were to say (a fraying of sun) some cataclysm of heat & motion. Is the body a prison errors at work or does it let us free. Driftwood in a smearing tide.


I’ve noticed we avoid endings, as if even that weight were too much to bear. Do we believe in a beautiful world? as if it were lovely enough to die into. As if there were something we might care about. A kind of hope which we would crush for exposing us, for holding us– waxed paper to a window’s light.


I get this choice. To attempt, to risk, to be willing. As if there were something we might care about.

I heard a story on NPR. In it a woman describes her last years with her husband. He had Parkinson’s, and also he liked to cross-dress. For her, these years were challenging and often painful.

At the end, she stated, As hard as life was, when people say to me, now that Doug’s gone, you could date….. I would never be interested in being with anybody else. Does that sound strange to you? It sounds strange to me.

Doug was my…..he was my beloved person. That’s who he was for me.

(The crack of landscape offers storm & sunset, a bloody spill some basis for desire. A shadowy mathematics to say: my little nothingness.)

Her beloved person.

I didn’t ever think I would put faith in something like that. But now I find myself wanting to. Wanting to believe it. And wanting to profess—- it’s an act of faith, it’s an attempt. We all know we’re human. But sometimes we want to believe anyway.

Try not to cover yourself in (feathered or in) breaking.

Arianne Zwartjes is an EMT and teaches for the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS, as well as in the English department at the University of Arizona. She is the author of The Surfacing Of Excess (awarded the Eastern Washington University Press 2009 poetry prize, and forthcoming this month) and (Stitched) A Surface Opens (Diagram/New Michigan Press, 2008). She lives in Tucson, and is currently completing a collection of medically-themed lyric essays.

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