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Authors: Lia Purpura

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I was not of two minds at that moment. Instead, I laughed easily, without thought or effort. Whereas two minds
come in
. They find you. They wrestle and present cases, part waters and curtains. There can be legalese with two minds, and wranglings, and shadows vying with rays. But this was one mind—the freedom from sadness, from missing the game; the bright weather; the truck with its tailgate afterthought; and the day, or moment at least, unbeseiged.
Then, closer to home, came a yellow rose in the yard of the hands-down best gardener in the neighborhood, wet at the top of the climbing bush, bent far from the lattice, heavy and shirred on its stalk, but upright.
There is a way a flower can be frightening, and this rose was emphatically so. It was doing exactly what it was called to do at the moment, in that instant, the only moment there to receive it. Wholly in time, it was fixed to its task, with all consequence still ahead. It did not refer to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 50, which earlier I had been reading: “For that same groan doth put this in his mind: /My grief lies onward and my joy behind.” No. Centrally commanding as the rose was, as a heart is, it was not a scooped center posed between griefs. It was the yellowest buttercream custard
and
bowl at once. Unto itself, unhinged from time, I saw it. Not “timeless” in its beauty, but loud. It was, I think, laughing. That yellow might have been a “peal.” There might have been “mirth” or “glee” in its face. The rose might have grown “on a lark” (then flown!). But not then. Not just then. It was fat and its wings were folded. Nimble and fearsome in its flight contained, its one aureate face/body/mind bent on neither staying nor going.
Really, I think there are more than two minds.
But a third, bent on settling up: that’s not the state I’m after here. Not a perfectly pleasing, measured harmonic, a synthed and kindled happy medium. A balance, a stasis; form on its way toward resolve, that cant.
I think we are up to—out there—eleven dimensions.
I do not believe the earth is flat.
But I still believe in the humors. I subscribe to all that good theory, from Hippocrates on down, about the origins and travel patterns of feeling and disease, trade routes of blood and phlegm, the yellow and black biles coursing or slogging, the charts measuring consequences of overflow and congestion. I believe in the humors with their assigned temperaments, dispersed and roaring throughout the body, each with its province bounded and hued, its climate matched to the elements residing in spleen, heart, brain, and liver.
Of course when I’m driving long stretches, I still pull toward the
horizon
, numinous line that exists and doesn’t exist.
And when I saw the autopsies performed, the blood therein was poppy red, red unceasingly, and no misty or frothy, clotted or blackened bilious poisons rushed forth from even the most ruined bodies.
Two minds certainly complicate one’s mythopoetics.
When I read Dickinson and Whitman back to back, I am reading for the precipitous rise and fall between them. If styles are territories, I want to tack along those open ranges and consider the America that holds them both. I read as if trekking, for the recovery period in which a musculature repairs between one exertion and another. I read for the crevice that opens between the vastness on either side. And I read to fall into the gap there, to be the place where the two shadows go syncretic. Sometimes I get confused: whose shadow, whose shoulder
was
that rubbing mine?
I have
two
shoulders, I know, I know. There’s a voice stationed at each—her strain, his force; the oracular and choric; whisper and yawp. And there between them, I tense and hollow out pockets in my collarbone. I make myself a harrowed place into which each abundance, each with its differing cargo falls, for one is not more dense than the other, or more weighty, ecstatic, agonal, dire.
The scission that has been made between them, I am not upholding.
On my way back from Poland where I lived for a year—almost two decades ago now—I sat next to an old woman on the plane. She wore a long skirt with a long-sleeved blouse, and a heavy wig with a scarf, though it was June. She was the wife of an important rabbi in New York. They had both survived the Holocaust and when she reached for her bag overhead, there were the numbers on her arm. We were talking about famous gardens we both knew in Russia, England, Poland, and France. I told her I’d never had much luck with my own, how they were always a mess, everything straying and overrunning the beds, getting out of hand and defiant. She described the gardens she’d always kept. She spoke of her roses, zinnias, dahlias, the tangle of vines netting over the fence, everything crammed in a too-small space. “You know,” she said in her thick accent, “I love them all. All the weeds and flowers. I keep even the dandelions in.” I remember thinking
I recognize that
. And I remember feeling shaken by the recognition, the neatness and the wildness unresolved. That she was not, could not be, discerning. I remember staring into the dirty gray weave of the seat in front of me and thinking, uneasily,
This is the only way anything will ever make sense to me
.
I love the friend who is slow to talk, whose composure is a hard-won grace, who works to find a rent in the persistent heavy folds and drapes that weeks—indeed whole seasons at a stretch—can be, and laughs despite.
And I love the one who stands easily close, goes rib to rib, leans in, eyes closed and sniffs and says, “We are all such animals aren’t we?”
Two minds must state their position, as in any good debate, and fight it out:
I believe in progress and that we get better.
And I believe we inhabit a form/countenance/aspect so essential it cannot be altered. (I like the old-fashioned term “bearing,” the idea of a temperament directing our actions.)
“He had two selves within him apparently, and they must learn to accommodate each other and bear reciprocal impediments. Strange, that some of us, with quick alternate vision, see beyond our infatuations, and even while we rave on the heights, behold the wide plain where our persistent self pauses and awaits us”—wrote George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans.
The woman with the long gray braid, who walks her grandchild to school, ought to cut her hair, I was thinking this morning. The braid is too long and limp and wispy and looks more like a baby squirrel’s tail than a gathered plait, waiting to be undone and let cascade. I thought “terrible to be old”—the sinking, the shuffle, the loss of balance and ease of leaping over curbs . . . but what is it, really, I’m turning away from? Evidence of time as it rests and elaborates in the body? Time commandeering. Offshore detonations rocking the waters. That it’s shameful somehow to be made helpless by time, its scouring away of the individual form one worked so hard, over a lifetime, to constitute. It is the custom of some old women to wear beige—“bone” my grandmother called it. Not “tan” or “ecru.” Not “eggshell.” Not “khaki”—right gear for stalking the land of bones—but “bone.” As if that were a color along the spectrum. Or a charm—so that, disguised as the thing you’ll surely become, the angel of death might pass safely over your house.
BOOK: Rough Likeness: Essays
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