Saturday, March 05, 2005

South Beach, Part I

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I think I would have been okay with the boa constrictor around my neck until its owner put another one on top of it. He was a skinny hyper guy with tanned leather for skin. This was not pleasant. The snakes -- each about 6 feet long -- were writhing restlessly over my shoulders and one was putting its head disturbingly near my left breast. The second boa constructor was yellow - the color of maize, and it was definitely edgy.

"Hey, it's hungry, tiene hambre y me da asco," I said. The skinny guy moved the yellow one closer to my neck and laughed.

"Si, she's hungry, but if you don't smell like a rat she won't bite you," he said. I looked at his face. He had blue eyes and dark curly hair, tangled, but not dredlocked. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I hated his snakes. I thought it was exploitation, too. Exploiting my fears. Exploiting the reptiles. Exploiting people's fantasies about what it means to be in a place of the eternal carnivalesque. I loved it. Welcome to South Miami Beach.

Versace was murdered 500 yards from here and his sister still lives in the house. 2:00 am and a light on in a second-floor bedroom window.

He was savagely killed in a moldering Italianate Sunset Boulevard-esque mansion facing the beach. And now, the mansion was a featured stop on a "Graveline Tours" bus. Flashbulbs blinded us as we stood on the sidewalk in front of the wrought-iron fence that skirted the house. Fame was equally glaring and painful.

"Look, the snake he bit me once, but I had been carrying the little ratoncitos by their little colitas --- look here at where he bit his sister snake," he said. He then wrapped the two snakes around Nick, my "compaƱero," who was being surprisingly good-natured about all this. After all, if the boa constrictors got any more restless, we'd die together, our necks crushed in the same, loving, snakey embrace.

"This makes a good photo for the two of you -- something to show your grandchildren." Obviously he thought Nick and I were married. The truth was, we had met each for the first time about six hours earlier.

"Saca la foto, please - me voy a desmayar, te juro, and if I faint, I'll fall on them," I tried to keep the panic out of my voice. Maybe they were pythons. Or anacondas. It didn't matter. I didn't want them to think I smelled even vaguely rodent.

"Ja, you've got a good sense of humor, sister -- they're stronger than you. You can't hurt them."

"Too bad," I thought.

In the photo he charged Nick 15 bucks for, I was shamming a smile, I guess the best approach would have been trying to look hip and cool, with the yellow?maize python flicking its tongue over the space between my breasts, and the dark-brown sister curling itself itself around my shoulder, lifting its head and staring straight at the camera.

Nick looked pretty relaxed about it all, amazingly enough. And, now I had a Polaroid to prove I had actually handled a baby boa (or python). I could picture myself in a boat trip down the Amazon or the Orinoco, with boas and anacondas dripping like sap from the low branches. Heart of Darkness. The horror. The beauty. The thrill of losing yourself and then realizing you'd never lost yourself at all, you'd just stopped relying on the mirror to define you.

Five Times Into the Prayer

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This poem was inspired by medieval mystics, religious architecture, and the life and times of Mary Marshall Dyer.


Five times into the prayer
I begin to understand the form;
words echoing, smooth domed ceiling
a voice reverberating
echo chamber of reality
this tight, closed space;
I roll out the carpet,
I bow my head --
will today be the day I finally forgive myself?
Tears dripping softly onto the surface
I'm tired of too many failed attempts,
too many dark nights of the soul.
I understand nothing yet; I must persevere;
there is no short-cut
the moon is a sharp sliver tonight
I look upward, think of Julian of Norwich
and other mystics --
A lifetime from here, someone
locks herself away to silence, seclusion, prayer.
I am not shocked.
I understand her thought:
"The mind must be quiet to communicate with you."
The outside world seems peculiar, sad, pointless --
can we ever transcend the space of our own consciousness?
Manipulation is a threadbare cruelty.
Commitment is a kindness one gives to oneself.
The prayer mat glides me
softly toward a place I've never been;
five times into the prayer
a face appears to me,
bathed in joy. I do not recognize it.
I lean forward.
My face touches the wool.
My body aches for forgiveness.
Five times into the prayer
I begin to understand
words take shape
the name is something I am starting to see
converted into lines
intricate patterns like iron
wrought into gates and entries
calligraphy is a barrier and a gateway
iron wrought by fire, but cooled by pure
sweet water; patterns forming
locks and labyrinths
words requiring breath
the breath in me guides me;
the words forming lines across lines
maps of time not place
I breathe. I pray.
I hear the soft words
and then echoes that repeat
endlessly, limited only
by my ability to hear.
Five times into the prayer,
but five thousand time into the echo
the carpet thick and soft against my knees
I am curled up alone here, but
a higher power is at my side, whispering
guidance & guiding me in it,
a place of eternal echoes,
the architecture of transcendence
a window, or at least,
a hope.