To Angel, with love and hope
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.
—”The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” S. T. Coleridge
He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest.
—”Funeral Blues,” W. H. Auden
Wunderlich, a rural park tucked into the quiet hills of Woodside, California. 2.5 miles in on a solitary upward ramble.
Breathing in the fresh start of a new year, admiring redwoods, sidestepping horse shit.
I pause at a small clearing. A wooden bench planted in the yellow earth. A bronze plaque affixed to the bench, a simple remembrance of “____ ____, Horseman & Friend.” Horseman? Unfamiliar with the first descriptor, I think of a boisterous dapple gray-hided centaur snuffling his feed at a banquet table, alongside the polite chatter and precise forkfuls of his two-footed friends.
Further up the trail, the redwoods recede and the dirt road blooms into four pathways. In each quadrant (no, not quadrant—something less akin to the Four Corners and more like the squat and shaky “X” where Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan converge), the dirt borders play second fiddle to expansive verdant meadows.
A fellow sojourner, who has reached this juncture from the opposite direction, comes into view. We smile. Nod. Exchange hellos.
I spot a young madrone on a hill and clamber to reach the tree, its not-yet-ancient roots.
From this heightened vantage point, I breathe in the landscape, the distant mountains, the near-naked skies.
A small and swift cacophony of clouds to the east, wispy white tendrils moving in a silent symphony.
I play that childhood game. What do you see? What do you see? I see a tuskless elephant, a fleet-footed pachyderm defying the gravity of its weight, this celestial Rorschach scampering along its merry way on a windy January.
I consider the ornery king of Siam. The thing left unsaid. The beast that disappears. And sometimes, an elephant in the clouds is just an elephant in the clouds.
To the west, I see another something in the sky.
Countless black orbs dart and flit, contract and retract in giddy synchronicity. These birds don’t look like the static “m”s from grade school drawings. In fact, I can’t make out the semblance of fluttering wings at all, just a dizzying display of split-second transformations as the orbs squish then squash, become oblong like beetles then almost as round as hockey pucks.
I consider the singularity of this moment, the oneness of this aerial band of brothers. We’re not sure (don’t care?) where we’re going, but we’re in this together! These never-resting dots are Cartesian coordinates, the axes of their invisible system stretching to the heavens, to the spaces between the stars.
Their contoured flurry is harmonious. Effortless. So different from us, seven billion landlocked creatures traversing a shrinking space, our migratory patterns a function of chance and will and want, passion and indifference, blessings and sorrows, the muck and stuff of life.
We are not perfectly spaced coordinates on a plane. Our paths look more like the furious scribbles from a three-year-old’s hands. Lives intersect. Spaces collide. We pull together. Push apart. Say hello. Say goodbye. Don’t say anything at all.
When the flock doesn’t follow. When we’re on our own. When a bullet sears the chambers of our fragile flesh. When we can’t fly any further. When we are soul tired, bone weary, ready to shake our fists to the heavens (enough is enough!) or rest our weary heads in sweet defeat. In those heavy moments—moments that are as true and as real and as present as those moments of weightless freedom when we are Icarus ascending or the phoenix rising from what once was—what are we to do?
So cared for and yet so alone in our anguish, what is there to do but to look to Gethsemane. To gaze upon the man wrestling in the garden, to see the one who pleads and grieves and surrenders to the dark night of the friendless soul.
And though our pain is not like his pain, somehow, on that splintery tree, they are one and they are the same.
But this man is no Icarus. He is a man who was somehow more than a man. He tumbles, he crashes, but then he rises anew. He is the hope of glory, the Prince of Peace.
And in him is order.
In him is simplicity.
In him is Love.
Olbers’s Paradox & Mr. Poe
Liquid watercolor with glitter, kosher salt, and a spray bottle