Monday, December 9, 2013

A Dozen Zebras

NOTE: I recently found this piece in my computer files. I remember that it was written in response to a painting that showed zebras running past a group of seated Zen monks, but I'm not sure when I wrote it (at least ten years ago, I'm guessing) or why I chose to enter into this particular fictional persona of a woman considerably older than I am.

There is a place I know, somewhere on the vast expanse of sandy beach we call our coastline, where I once sat cross-legged at dawn as a dozen zebras galloped past. 
Or perhaps not. It might have been a dream. Difficult to say. These days, with my mind creasing in upon itself, how do I know what is real and what only appears to be so?
There is an ocean nearby, of that I am almost certain, I can hear waves caressing the shore like an insatiable lover. It used to make me restless, the endlessness of it, and when I was particularly cranky — and I will admit to that now, why not?, although there was a time I would not acknowledge the slightest deviation from perfection — I dismissed the ocean as so much static, a radio left on after-hours when the station had already signed off. 
Yes, I was arrogant. I admit to that as well, and any other accusation you choose to hurl at me, I was that, too, I’m sure.
Thank you. I did need to be reminded. I am not on trial.

Shall I call it a habit? Self-defining, self-excusing. Self-annihilating.
The mind, this treasured, precious mind, relentless as the ocean’s waves. For how many years now? 
It’s a relief, in its own peculiar way, to hear the hinges creak — slowing down, a trap with no teeth. The mind loose in its moorings, nobody standing guard. Perhaps no one is there to care anymore?
I cared about everything, once. Every silver spoon and cut flower. Every single one of the body’s movements — an approving nod, a dismissive shrug. 

Now I care about my bones. Will they be there, all in place, whole, when I wake up? It makes sleeping difficult, worrying about one’s bones, not wanting to turn too quickly, not wanting to wake to the sound of anything snapping.
When I was a little girl I didn’t ever want to go to sleep. I begged my mother: one more star to wish on, one more wave to count, one more goodnight kiss, only one more. 

She was kind, my mother, she indulged me. Too much, they said, but what do they know? She’d lie down beside me, so many nights, stroking the inside of my wrist, soothing me to sleep as the candle on the windowsill flicked shadows on the wall.
They say we return to childhood in the end. It used to amuse me, all of the things “they say.” The hind-legged pronouncements of men with their proud theories, so pleased with their own brains, so taken with their hollow utterings.
Their bones are nothing but crushed meal now. 

And here I am, lying still in my childhood bed, on the same carefully mended linens, the candle no longer flickering because They Say it is not safe for me to burn a candle. Safe? Can I be saved?
My mother is here with me, in this bed, in my head, and the ocean is also with me, and somehow — I think this might really be true — I hear the approach of a dozen galloping zebras. 

Does that make you want to laugh? Go ahead and laugh, it’s a beautiful sound, your laughter, and then I will know that I can laugh, too. And I will be fairly certain I am still alive.