DOWN INTO OPEN
The house protects the dreamer. —Bachelard
Downward-facing dog—adho mukha svanasana—is home.
[insert diagram of Suryanamaskara A]
Inhale, lift the arms up overhead, look up. Exhale, swan dive, hands towards the feet. Inhale come up halfway, spine parallel to the ground and look at the horizon. Exhale plant the hands, step back and lower down in a push-up. Inhale lift the chest, straighten the arms and look up, urdhva mukha svanasana. Exhale lift the hips toward the sky, head between the arms and gaze through the legs, adho mukha svanasana. Hands shoulder-width distance apart, feet hip-width distance apart. Root the palms into the earth and spread the fingers, sink heels into the earth and spread the toes. Keeping the hips high, release the crown of the head.
In this held position at the end of a sun salutation, adho mukha svanasana or downward dog, the body makes a tent of itself, an inverted V, a smooth slope from wrists up to hips, and a smooth slope from hips down to heels. The head hangs between the upper arms, a shelter in which to hear your own breath. Eyelids lift to close, and float down into open.
The first tent (new, blue), for two but barely, was good in wind and rain. I and X camped all over in that tent, in Utah, Colorado, Wisconsin and California during our fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh years together. I woke up first and made him coffee, or he woke up first and made me coffee. My family called us "lovebirds". After we brought home the first dog (black, small) from the animal shelter in Boulder City, NV, she slept in the tent, too, safe from coyotes and bears. We could hardly move, and that's when we decided to get a new tent.
Sun salutations clean the slate, reset the clock. To focus on the breath and the pose is to let other thoughts and lists for later fall away—a sundial brushed clean of pollen and pine needles.
MAJOR MUSCLE GROUPS
I would like a blank slate when I think of X. I would like a clean room when I hear "separation" or or "dissolution" or "divorce". I would like for my perception of marriage to drop its weights one by one and regain altitude. I would like for all my thinking about love to be stretched, strengthened, and scoured clean by desert sand and wind. I would like to be flown via a series of small and smaller planes, carried by bus to the horizon, then walk the rest of the way to a clearing where the language is new and birds of colors I have never heard make sounds I have never seen so that I take instruction on how to feel at home.
One home I had, 33 degrees south of the equator in the country of Lesotho, also known as The Kingdom in the Sky, 'M'e Mateboho came twice a month to my cinderblock house and polished the gray linoleum floor to gleaming with lavender-scented wax. In between, in the dusty and windy high altitude, I swept two-three times a day. If I swept after dark I followed local advice and left the dust with all its luck beneath the doormat until morning—what gathered on my floor during the day might protect me through the night.
Home might be the approximate size of a small country, or 2000 days during my twenties when I came and went among twenty different countries. Water curves, hugs the earth, and in one place and time—Eau Claire, Wisconsin—I climbed the roof to see aurora borealis. My friend, whose father was voluntarily homeless, living out of his car, reselling antiques and handing cash to men on the streets of Chicago as we drove through ("Stop the car—I know this guy") calls me up one night and without saying hello (sometimes he could be a pain in the ass) asks "Do you know what aurora borealis is?" I say "Of course" and set the phone on the floor without hanging it up (sometimes I could be like that too) and climb out on to the roof to look up to see.
I once escaped claustrophobic freeway traffic by looking up. And when I almost run out of gas in Montana, I am encouraged that there are still spaces large enough in which to run out of gas, where distance is measured in can I get there before the tank is empty or night comes, night stretching out like a sea, a sea that reaches right up to dusk's shore.
Look at the knees or navel.
A tempestuous friend in undergrad mentally cleaned to fall asleep. The room in her mind was a mess—clothes overflowing drawers and papers spilling from file cabinets. She would start in on it, mentally folding and tidying, closing drawers and clearing the floor, putting aside the day's messy thoughts, and then sleep. I didn't want to clean an old room of its disorderly thoughts of un-love and un-marriage, I wanted a new space altogether—a temple—blue—swept clean.
HOW TO BUILD A SURVIVAL SHELTER
If building a survival shelter, a lean-to shelter is probably the easiest and quickest type of shelter to build...Always build this type of shelter with its back to the wind.
REMAIN HERE FOR FIVE DEEP BREATHS
If building a shelter, probably easiest to keep things simple, probably best to establish what you will and will not do, probably best to communicate this, best to stick with it, rain, health, whatever.
Suitable to fall in love and say it, say it and mean it, mean it and have that never change, suitable to stay happily in love, and ever. Most terrains have some hardness, sharp edges, unevenness. Most terrains are suitable for starting out in one direction and then shifting. Most terrains are shakable, most terrains look beautiful from some angle, most terrains become totally dark some time.
Place yourself beside it and say. Lay yourself down alongside. Say yourself a promise that has nothing to do with shelter or an other. Place yourself beside yourself and find out how you are holding up. Now fill yourself with the feeling the promise gives you. Now weather the wind. Finally you must stand up straight. Now just try to. When you are upside down try to remember what faces which direction, where your feet, face, hands. Now you know what it feels like. Now you are done. Now you are undone. Now you must start over. Now you can't imagine.
Finally you must cover the skeleton structure with whatever is available, for example twigs, grass, bracken, large leaves. Mutual fascination. Finally you must know what you stand in awe of. Cover the spaces with whatever is available, with great ideas, three kinds of irony, self-care, plentiful wine. Always start near but not on the weak spot, the leak, and work toward touching it, work toward evening, work toward being dry-eyed. Work toward being ready by having more with less, by deep breathing. That way if you get lightning struck or gut-punched you have air in reserve, that way you can remember how to breath all the way into your feet.
If warmth is needed, build a fire in front of your shelter. If answers are needed, lay the questions end to end. If whys are welcome, leave the door open. If purification is desired stoke the fire and stare it unblinking until the gift of tears arrives. Start several fires and toss everything in to mark the end of one thing. Build anything from scavenged parts if you want to warm yourself twice. Cultivate the awareness that the hillside curves around you. If after a while you feel desirous, feed the fire brighter and look around for another.
One house—really the top half of a house—I lived in during graduate school in Utah was undulating as a weathered ship's deck, creaky, impossible to level the bookshelves, the windows all in nooks. Sun entered one window at a time, circling the house and telling the time. The helicopters landing on the hospital helipad across the street rattled the blinds and sent waves of worry for someone else's body through my chest. Afternoon summer storms usually brought lightning and dashed tree branches against the ship.
Prana flows in two opposing directions in this pose, reaching into the earth and radiating out. Breath can be directed to tight areas of the body to create space. The pose requires strength, though by focusing on prana and breath it can become light, soft and fluid within the strong structure.
My other hemisphere friends—Ugandans, Basotho, Indians—and I imagined a house in Cape Town, a home at the end of the earth. We could teach at the university, eat and drink well, bask in light from three directions. We didn't talk about how we might have to walk to school with pistols tucked into our belts or shoes. In Cape Town we could find a neighborhood that would take us, with live music and bookstores nearby. South Africa would accept all our passports, let us earn a currency that we could send home, all near the end of the world, the windy cape where two oceans meet.
One yogi said that if you do sun salutations every day, then you know how you feel. As soon as you begin the familiar movements you will notice what is happening in your body, what is different than yesterday, what feels better or worse. As you move, the truth of you enters your mind epigrammatically. Inhale-2-3-4-5—I am filled with love; Exhale-2-3--4-5—I want a divorce. Those were his examples. After the first years in Las Vegas, I thought that the marriage was in a rough patch, a bad spell and other euphemisms. His I want a divorce stuck in my mind. Did I? No, I thought at first. But the thought stuck. Inhale: Do I want a divorce? The answer was the question turned around.
Try to make life easy by using anything standing or fallen. Possible to fall or lie fallen while a shadow passes. The shadow might be: a ring around the sun, a dangling lie or depressing piano music, blue light cast by a TV onto the night. Possible to fall rapidly and weightlessly in or out of love. Possibly fallen among ferns, possibly radiating like a photonegative, possibly pupils burning like holes in the sky. Possibly misunderstood. Easily misunderstood, easily missing an entire exchange, easily dressed in blue intending green, or the other way around. Possibly a ten-year error, easily a huge error, decreasingly easy to imagine a semi-golden era. Possibly fallen by the wayside long ago, possibly a puppet-y image, 3-D and all, brought from a difficult-to-characterize era, a time of girly dreams, all tree-houses and love stories.
The house X and I rented in Vegas was in a gated community on a golf course. We laughed at it at first—it was so not us. But houses for rent were few, and the price was right. Plus it was vast—the biggest place either of us had lived. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, walk-in closet off the master bedroom, glass sliding doors to the fenced-in xeriscaped back yard looking out onto the golf course. I loved how obscenely big it was, its vaulted ceiling and plentiful light. It felt spacious, bright, and we each a room to write in. Later, even when the center of the house yawned between us, I couldn't get far enough away from him, his dark moods. The lucky bamboo I installed on the last New Year's in Vegas died by early spring.
In my other (southern) hemisphere home, my white skin, fine hair and glasses translated to rare and admirable. I might be walking through town or along the road, sun in my eyes and dust on my shoes, and someone calls out "I love you!" Sesotho has one word for both love and like, so what strangers hollered out to me probably meant something more like "I am curious about you!" Yet what they said to me from the hillsides and moving buses, what I heard as I walked to buy flour and candles and maize meal, was "I love you!" "I love you!" "I love you!"
Vesta of the softest ashes, Hestia of symbolic fruits. A home on earth has a center and a heat. Hestia and water sprinkled on wrinkled sheets, Vesta and a story while our backs are warming. Going to visit, to the shops, to the shore. Going here, going happily, wholly going, going home. Walls shift and give voice—hiss of numinous smoke spreading along the walls, shhh of a goddess's shadow finding the way. Hestia and an open window, Vesta and the hottest blue, a center and a heat and a passage up and out. Hestia of an invisible pattern, Vesta of a firefly spark, finding the way or ways home until at home beneath the stars.
YOU ARE HERE. Here where one inch can equal 200 miles, where messages can be sent by air, by wind, where the ovoid earth is held and spun by a single light, where I can find myself among the aqua depths and burnished altitudes, where things may or may not be actual size, where a red dot glows on a grid of streets, star on a maze of green, and a floating compass points the way.
On the same roof in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where as an undergrad I breathed beneath aurora borealis, I shared Chagall-like weightless kisses with an Austrian. We shared a bed and I never felt his weight. We fell asleep, legs entangled and arms wrapped, and I never woke up with prickling hands, or his arm heavy across my chest. He was all light and energy, and his hands precisely matched certain parts of my body. Like Chagall's La Mariee, his elbow softened to curve his arm over my head.
Winter in Salt Lake City, well into an inversion that layers the snow and fog so no sun can reach through, my same-hemisphere friends and I stand outside at a party, freezing. We smoke and pass around a photo of beachfront property in Fiji my friend Ryan is considering buying, trying to read spaciousness into palm-sized sand and ocean. We warm to stories that begin "When I lived in...." Having friends in the same hemisphere means we imagine somewhere else together—the Seven Hills of Rome, Japanese temples in a humid forest vibrating with cicadas. Grapevine mazes, orchards for domes, monuments, ruins, giant green lights pulsing in the Icelandic sky.
Delicious and enormous earth, no small matter its near roundness, or the sixth sense of gravity that balances us on rooftops when surrounded by sky, where we stand tall to see green flashing across the sky, where time is shaped by a breath, a turning, and a light.
"Roll the shoulders away from your ears."
I would like a break from gravity when I think about being unmarried. I would appreciate a kiss to interrupt a day during which I have talked to no one. I expect to feel restored the next time I am given a weightless kiss, preferably on a roof, but I would also adore a kiss in a kitchen, on a front porch, back porch, balcony, or path beside a barberry bush fluttering with chickadees, or while walking up or down a hill while snow falls. I would like to be standing so close the moment before we kiss that our feet fumble for the same space—or would except we are floating, and I wear high heels that feel like clouds, my cheek fanned by birds fluttering over his shoulder. I would welcome a kiss beneath a pavilion near a river, or inside a plane hangar, or beneath the canopy of an old-growth forest, or in an apple, pear or cherry orchard, a hotel room behind parted curtains or in a canyon. I could become less earth bound if kissed beneath the shelter of overwhelming attraction, or by a lean-to of uncritical appreciation, or somewhere warm within the blanket-for-a-tent of mutual adoration.
Or safe inside a shelter like the one my sister and I tucked ourselves into when we were small, spending part of the afternoon in a tent made by stretching a blanket between piano bench and piano. Beneath the piano and red John Thompson books for beginners, we opened and shut the door where the player piano's pedals were tucked, and the secret space felt plentiful beneath the fuzzed light of the blanket that billowed and sloped. The weather was better in there, the rest of the house muffled, the world shrunk down for close admiration and warmed by our whispering.
Place two fingers on the shoulders to roll shoulders away from ears.
Scenes from Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky haunt me—the way the characters throw themselves into the world, trying to get as far from themselves as they can. Unable to stay still in houses, they live out of steamer trunks and temporary rooms through whose unscreened windows wind pulls and twists the curtains. The characters are careless with their lives, flinging aside caution like flimsy mosquito netting each morning. When the man falls ill near a remote desert outpost in northern Africa, there's no help, no one to save him—I traveled in places like that in southern Africa, and it scares me now to think of it. Is the man free in his death? The woman free in her dissociation? Neither seems happy, never completely free of convention. Convention doesn't have a location or structure, it's a sensibility dogging them, so they tear across cities and leap aboard ships and stumble through deserts to escape it, their only shelter the sky.
Either in the first happy years before elopement or in a future year, Earth Ships land in the desert outside of Taos, New Mexico—sun and wind-powered, unanchored to the grid, floating on the edge of a lava cliff overlooking a small gorge. Alone or with someone I once knew or with someone I haven't met yet, I rent the Nautilus Earth Ship or build one of my own and stay for one night or live there happily ever after. It has plants in the starboard window, a studio windward, it is chambered and sailing into the sun. Its curved kitchen collects light, enough to grow a banana tree.
Having friends in another hemisphere means I sometimes think the opposite: autumn in April, acacia and aloe, instead of October, chrysanthemum and maple. If I want to determine their season, I work backward or forward from June and December, sideways from cosmos flowers, prickly bear and eucalyptus. I have to summon heat in the Kalahari in January, or snow in the Maloti Mountains in July. My other-hemisphere friends are sweating in December while having their hair plaited for Christmas, and in June they are having itchy feet from the cold.
When my other-hemisphere friends and I open our mouths to speak to each other our words dissolve into the nearby far away. We send aerograms that arrive faded with news two weeks or two months and 12000 miles old. My friends are preparing a mutton feast to which I am invited, I walk the grocery store aisles embarrassed at my choices. I talk to myself in the language of there as if anyone could understand, they send their blessings as if we lived beneath the same sky.
I have a friend in New Mexico, which means that when water hisses on the hot stove I hear a rattlesnake curled up in a woodpile. My Las Vegas friends are always xeriscaped, backlit, and visible from space. My good friend and graduate school roommate lives in Nebraska, which means that I defend flat landscapes. Having one sister in New York, one in California, a mother in Colorado and a father in Wisconsin means I have to love an expanse, have a broad definition of home, and practice a lot of yoga to remain flexible enough to reach across.
Home should be pillow talk, reading side-by-side and unable to not read something aloud every few pages, then mumble word-play before sleep—I thought it should be, and X who I once had a home with did, too. And then he didn't—he stayed up late to watch movies while I crawled into bed, read, then fell asleep alone. He shouldn't have, but did once say when I was excitedly telling him about one day of yoga teacher training, "Can't we talk about something else?" And then we didn't share what happened, what we heard and thought and learned, didn't play with words before dreaming. It shouldn't have happened, but it did; he shouldn't have broken my favorite mug of ten years, or lied but—. The two of us had a home, we were a home, and then we didn't, we weren't.
Certain wrist or shoulder injuries.
Maybe Las Vegas is too surreal to be home——Nevada too toxic—or Vegas too bright—Nevada too white—or the desert too hot—the meadows weighed down sunk with & toppling concrete—too many sundogs—too much chlorine—too open all night—too hot & not enough water—& too many streets: In every vision of Vegas I'm in motion, I'm always behind the wheel of a car, always at an intersection scattered with broken glass, or in a parking lot glittering with broken glass, or driving past a strip mall half the windows shattered, always squinting into the sun through the windshield rainbowed & pitted from sand, or burning/scorching my hands/bare shoulders on the car seat/door/radio dial while everything's fading/desiccating/unraveling in the single-digit humidity, each of the casinos similar in their fictions, singular in the way they split/divide/steal/refuse light & none of them evoke home.
Nobody loves the work of moving, but the empty rooms as you leave and arrive are lovable. Empty rooms invite the imagined, like when in your still-new small body you lay on the floor or draped yourself over the edge of the couch, legs up and hair brushing the carpet, and gazed upward, imagining the ceiling as the floor, empty and clean and possible.
As soon as the separation was decided, I had to move to a different house. If he moved I wouldn't have been able to afford the rent, but even if I could have, I would have wanted to move. Friends across the street often asked, How's the house? I'd say I enjoyed the west- facing porch, sunset over the hills. The inside of the house, though, was terrible. I wanted to tell them, It's terrible. The brown kitchen depresses. The living room is moldy, and the bedroom, cold.
Home is where no one picks out one-two ingredients and leaves them at the side of the plate, or pours a beer and drunkenly abandons it on the mantle. Home is robed in light, protected by darkness. Home is windows open, no mold on the sills. Home is squares of light inside shining out onto the grass, and light from the sky reaching in. Home is not the blue light of television flickering through the closed curtains or seeping in under the bedroom door interrupting sleep. Home is where no one is too tired to do something, to notice, to talk. Home is the dog's gaze following you around the room. Home is half the day inside, the other half in the field. Home is assembling the new chair, vacuum, stereo with your wits and a few simple tools. Home is not being told you cannot. At home someone runs to catch up with you, touches your shoulder and says your name. Home is someone instinctively reaching for you when you step onto ice. Home is where you are called all your best names. Home is two in a tent and weightless. Home is a blue swept temple.
One of the best homes I had was a thatched roof rondavel on South Africa's Wild Coast between the ocean and a bamboo forest. I reached it after days of hiking inland, along the rocky coast and across estuaries, staying the previous night in a hut with the ghost of a green mamba.
A sentence makes a shelter with its seven parts: interjection, pronoun, adverb, verb, adjective, noun, preposition, as in: Wow—he quickly shared with me the spare key to his house.
The language of instruction comforts—(First read all the instructions. Next use your own head. Then make decisions. Finally you are ready. Now enjoy.)—as does the sound of self-assembled dresser drawers sliding to conclusion on their rollers. My erratic self connects to a steady signal after I have read carefully, identified parts, and assembled the parts into a useful whole—a five-drawer dresser. The steady signal in the bedroom tells me to toss out the old—pastel cotton 3-pack panties and faded tank tops—and replace them with the new—black, deep blue and mauve, with silk and lace, with camisole, slip and thigh-high stockings.
I am instructed that I have the opportunity to try, to fail, to enter, to win. I have the opportunity to assemble layers of color, units of value. I have the opportunity to sweep, to pull up stakes, to be adored. I have the opportunity to be important, safe, a future reference. I have the opportunity Monday to Friday except holidays to visualize all sorts of consolations, to check boxes, to guarantee, warranty and replace, to begin shipping to a further shore within one-to-two busy days. I have the problem or opportunity to distinguish similar parts from each other (NOTE: Using a VOW that is too long will cause damage. Before beginning, separate each type of VOW. Carefully study the VOW diagrams, below (SHOWN ACTUAL SIZE). Pay close attention to the color of each VOW. You may have received more VOWS than you will need.), to distinguish front from back, love from like, hate from dislike, indifference from disinterest, lama from alpaca, understatement from exhaustion, label from inked letter, judgment from discernment, discerning from disconcerting, disbelief from disavowal, saving from burying, bath water run tepid from steaming water cooled, Crenshaw from cantaloupe by knocking, coyote from dog in the dark, morning twilight from evening twilight, bright day through shuttered curtains from dark night gathering around a nightlight, good crazy from bad crazy, security from imprisonment, disassociation from dreaminess, the slight sway at the top of a hill from unmarried vertigo from being afraid of disappearing from a curtain caught up in the wind of an open window and sucked through, very from too, blue from indigo, craters from crater shadows that make the rabbit on the moon.
The pose energizes the entire body, stretches hamstrings, and relieves stiffness in heels and shoulders. Deep, even breaths slow heart rate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The pose circulates oxygenated blood to the heart and brain.
The word "Saunterer", Thoreau tells us in his luminous essay "Walking," comes from "sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere....the saunterer...is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest route to the sea."
I make myself at home by taking my waking slow. I keep going with a red-winged blackbird for a chorister, an orchard for a dome.
What keeps me feeling at home for now in Pullman, WA, might be the energy of the four hills, three roads in and out, and one adorable airport. There's Happy Hour and a 101-year-old bar, popcorn shrimp and mermaid song. Mondays, mojitos, Tuesdays, miniature burgers, and once on a Wednesday when I yearned, ice cream for one dollar, and gargoyles to swallow my nightmares of terrible horses. Paradise Creek swells and circulates. A used bookstore meditates on sound, explains winter—deep, even, slow. On one hand you can't get a good slice of pizza, on the other you can walk home in the middle of the night untouched, followed by a star. Delivery trucks brake for jaywalkers, mockingbirds are the town bird, hawks circle the sky and I am the field mouse, heart and mind, galloping across rills. The thrift store owner in ruby shoes whispers mysticism to the mural unveiled for the Lentil Festival—I hear her. The winery's best red intimates immortality and promises pepper, berry. I gather friends to wine taste on a Sunday afternoon. We float out of the two-hour free parking with windows unrolled in the rain and on sparkling seams of streets row all the way home.
Instructions one how to build a survival shelter are taken from the website [here].
Some of the information and language on yoga poses borrowed from a Teacher Training Course Manual compiled by Indu Bala Bhardwaj of It's Yoga Cincinnati.
With this piece, I decided to write both/between the poetry and nonfiction that I love. In addition to yoga practice, the essay was prompted by a few other things I adore, like a wide embrace, a loose association, a repetition, and directions.