Friday, July 16, 2010

My Cat, My Familiar: Manifesting Totems

In dreams begin responsibility, said a poet. In dreams, in imagination, we begin to be one another. I am thou. The barriers go down.--Ursula K. Le Guin, the wave in the mind

Iowa City. Summer in the heartland, years before manifesting the husband and the family. As I scanned my intuitions, consulting oracles to join a divided self--one lover states away and another before me in my room--I placed a tarot card (Crowley’s two of disks) on the floor on a silk cloth. The card depicted a crowned snake, in the position of a figure eight, its tail held in its own jaws.

I’d been working with a counselor who taught me to turn and confront the rapist in the series of chased-by-a-rapist dreams I was having. Astonishing things happened then in the dreams: the rapist morphed into a boat with wings, a butterfly. I could fly higher and faster. The ticker tape of past lives, that ran like wine at Blacks’ Gaslight village (where I woke often like a child with a dress on inside out), slowed some and I slept occasionally without the exhaustion of dreams dumping out their vessels into my memory.

Several days later my silver tabby, through the window, dragged in the snake he’d hunted, and laid it directly across the tarot card I’d left out. I wondered if I’d reversed my days and dreams. By the time I reached the snake, it was dead. I rinsed the blood off the card, gathered up the snake and found ground soft enough to dig apart, shooed aside my cat, buried the snake.

Mythical characters appealed during that time with their black and white pasts, their traumas clearly delineated. Take Batman: his parents were shot down on the street in front of him. A clear wound, a clear obstacle to heal. Much less murky than being taken advantage of when you’re drunk as a kid. I mean, did Batman, when working through his “issues” years later, trouble his psyche with questions of blame? Ever once think, my parents were shot because I wore such-n-such outfit? Or because I had that drink?

That summer in a movie theater, I watched Val Kilmer, blonde, adept, muscular; listened to singer Seal’s gravelly voice singing Kissed by a Rose. Nicole Kidman, red swath of cloth circling our from her shoulders in desire for what she couldn’t have (Batman) and elsewhere couldn’t recognize at home (lowly reporter), reminded me simply of how split we are in our attractions and desires. How we fail to recognize the depth of beauty in who or what we have right before us in present time.

I woke in the morning, opening my eyes to a dark shape inches from my head: a tiny bat my silver king had snagged, killed, and delivered to my pillow. Not batman, I took it he was saying to me. You don’t need batman the savior, but here, look at the real thing.

So I gathered the warm, still, creature into the palm of my hand, mind flipping from last night’s Hollywood image of Batman to this delicate mouse of an animal with webbed wings that Batman stood for. Thought about what bats do…how they send out a signal that bounces back when it comes up against something either to eat or to navigate away from, and saw the metaphor: my own radar disabled as a kid.

But on the mend, and not without kinship, my animal familiar, listening ever so carefully to the past I brooded on in my thoughts so loud he couldn’t help but hear it, offering what evidence he could that I was in fact, stepping carefully towards wholeness.

Once, before the birth of my first child, I saw my cat in a lucid dream, his own silver cord extending for miles below, flying beside me, my own cord beside his, proving irreconcilably what I already knew: he accompanied me even into sleep, as I struggled to face the night’s marauder-filled dreams.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The 4th by Zodiac

Under the weight of my husband’s body, the back end of the tiny zodiac dips nearly even with the water’s surface as he uses his arms to paddle the boat back towards the shore so he can retrieve me from the river house where ten minutes earlier he and the kids had effectively ditched me to “check on the fireworks.” After 11 years of marriage, my husband aspires to keep me in the loop, so he kindly thought to call me on his cell while he and the kids were drifting towards the Monte Rio bridge.

“Could you come back for me?!” I’d said, washing the last of our dinner dishes with great grandma and grandma flanking me in the one-derriere kitchen. I in turn ditched the women, mumbling an apology, running full tilt past the sauna in the dark and down the patio steps, first the sand and then the obsidian river cool on my bare feet. From here, I can hear the voice of the announcer from the loudspeaker a quarter mile away on the beach, see the purple chem lights wreathing the heads of the crowd waiting for the night’s float parade contest.

“I don’t have the paddle,” my husband informs me as I step over his crotch to scoop up the four year old, sanding off the top layer of my skin against my daughter’s mud coated legs while she and her brother continue fighting in the prow. “Relax,” my husband’s already admonishing me, as we wend towards the carousing voices of a group of ten or so men sitting in lawn chairs on a dock below the Highland Dell.

In the dark, I feel cloaked but barely anonymous, and definitely not interested in accidentally entering the float’s line-up and the floodlights, which is exactly what my husband has in mind until I kill the fun, my sense of humor siphoned off under the four year old’s complaints about his life-vest, foam fronds stiffly pushing his thighs down and his chin skyward. “Relax,” my husband repeats from his full body sprawl behind me, his legs running down the length of the boat. My tailbone’s balanced on the back rind of the wooden seat and the din in the prow has not let up under the octopus of legs the five of us make. If I give in and lean back on my husband’s chest, we’ll be sitting in water, so I hover in place.

The voice at the mic is none other than the woman who certified us for lifesaving back when we were kids, my husband and I. The fire department’s curtain of water descends, and as usual, she’s announcing a last minute problem with the projector, and even when it is righted, the American flag displays backwards. “Honey,” I say to my husband, and mean it, “you’re the best Monte Rio has to offer.”

And with that, he obliges me, keeping us out in the very middle of the river. I’ve got my hands over my little son’s hands cupping his ears, and by the grand finale, the beauty of the nested, descending blooms of light silences us all, even the pair in the prow.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sons and Guns

Why we didn’t think to turn and follow the boy running at full speed past us down the lane of chest-high weeds to the pond’s edge I don’t know, except that summer in the heartland sheens one’s arms with sweat and dulls the mind; we’d driven for twenty minutes with the windows rolled down, the inrushing air retaining all of its heat and sting. Skirting the cornfields, we arrived at the farmhouse we’d been asked to babysit for the weekend. Feed the guinea pig, water the plants, no need to stay overnight, other folks, possibly the farmer coming and going.

Sun stupid, we stepped out of the car and heard first the odd sound of huffs of breath punctuated by the dull thud of boots, then the muscled torso of an average farmer’s son absolutely focused as he rushed by. He did not see us.

Just as we never noticed the broken front door pane glass, nor drops of blood scattered across the kitchen floor we crossed, unaware the sirens we’d hear in five minutes of our meandering over to the guinea pig’s dish had been called from a house up the road when the boy had been unable to find the phone here. We pet the caramel guinea, stroking the white patches along his knobby head, the tubby bloat of his stomach as he chirped and sidestepped our pats.

We left. But as we drove towards the main road, we could see the dirt plume from an oncoming sheriff’s car and a quarter mile back a thicket of red flashing lights. And shortly, stopping us with the flick of her hand, a woman deputy standing in the middle of the road. She pushed her thick blonde braid back over her shoulder as she approached our car, asking us if we were the property owners; a call of distress had been placed, a possible hunting accident.

As the fire engine bore down, we explained we were merely the house-sitters. She thanked us and waved us on, leaving us to slip back to the before: the smell of the sun warm furniture in the house, the sound of the young boy’s breaths, the what ifs we tried to puzzle together.

We’d learn the next day the boy who passed us was rushing back to the body of the cousin he’d accidentally shot and killed moments before we’d arrived.

Something about the three colors of the ocean waves today brings up this memory from over ten years ago. Strange to think the ocean makes me think of fields of corn, but the reverse was true in Iowa City for me when I lived there, falling asleep once on a retreat in a clearing, waking to watch the wind pass through the corn. Not wavelike, nor tidelike, but the scale of blues in the ocean and the way they refract back light akin to the greens of acres of corn waiting, sated with sun, for harvest.

I still ask how we walked into that farmhouse without picking up on the boy’s charged, residual field of absolute panic. Back then, I had no reference for the burden of sons—what they might or might not do by accident. Today in the camel-bending heat rising off the sand beside the ocean, I thought of those cousins, and the boy who lived, having to face two mothers—his own, and that of his cousin’s; though I can’t imagine how one would go about reckoning with such a leviathan tragedy, I pray he’s forgiven himself.
Photos by Robyn Beattie: