Tuesday, August 31, 2010
This morning no sound but the loud
breathing of the sea. Suppose that under
all that salt water lived the god
that humans have spent ten thousand years
trawling the heavens for.
We caught the wrong metaphor.
Real space is wet and underneath,
the church of shark and whale and cod.
The noise of those vast lungs
exhaling: the plain chanting of monkfish choirs.
Heaven's not up but down, and hell
is to evaporate in air. Salvation,
to drown and breathe
forever with the sea.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Along with all the other back-to-school information that the dean announced in our faculty meeting before the semester started, was the news that we would all need to memorize new codes for the Xerox machine.
I heard a slightly hysterical, short staccato yelp-like sound come from my area and I looked around to see who made it. Judging from the stares my way, I soon discerned that it had come from my very own throat.
That short yelp was just my brain’s involuntary response to yet another pass code about to be inserted in to my already overloaded memory bank.
Just that morning before returning to work after summer vacation, I had dug around the grey matter for my nine-digit employee number.
I used four different passwords to check all of my e-mail accounts.
On the way to work, I stopped at the bank and used my pin number for my debit card.
Once I got to work, I checked my voice mail using a six-digit code.
I logged on to my work computer using a password and then onto my work e-mail using a password and then went to my online classroom to click on the right class code to check my student numbers.
Numbers and pass codes and passwords, oh my.
To get into my back account online, I use a code. To check the balances on my two credit cards, I use two different codes. My insurance company requires a code to check information. Amazon requires a password each time I order a book. To check my voice mail at home I have a pass code. If I want to send in pictures to be printed at Costco, I need to enter a code on the computer. My pharmacy requires a code to place an order over the phone. I need the right passwords for E-Bay, YouTube, Facebook and yes, Blogger too.
I think you get the idea.
When I was about fourteen or fifteen, I had the opportunity to go to New York with a group of other 4-H kids from Kansas. It was my first time in a large city so you can imagine the impact the experience had on me. After all, I came from a town of 600 people and had never traveled far from it.
During that trip, the leaders took us to the subway so we could experience riding it. I sat there, totally alert, wide-eyed, taking everything in. I watched as a young African-American boy got on. He was probably just a few years younger than was, but I remember being fascinated at how comfortable and matter-of-fact he was on the subway. He carried a backpack and he opened it to take out a stack of plastic cards to thumb through. There was his school ID, his library card, his YMCA card and others. I noticed that inside the front pocket of his backpack was a keychain with about four keys on it.
It struck me then how different our lives were. Our school issued no ID cards. The librarian in our small town knew everybody and no one needed a library card. We just signed our names on the cards inside the books. We had no key to our house. In fact the only lock we had was the hook and eye variety and it was on the outside of the door to prevent it from blowing open during a strong wind if we were away from home. I had no plastic cards to prove who I was to anybody. At that point, I realized how simple my life was compared to his. It was not a feeling of superiority or of disappointment, just a juxtaposition of lives that was fascinating to me.
These days about thirty plastic cards clutter my wallet, each one proclaiming my name and some associated number that means something to the distributor of that card. To each company I am that number.
I have been assigned digits, required to create unique pass codes, and asked security questions that I must answer to prove my identity. A good deal of my life seems to be taken up with proving who I am, affirming that I have permission to enter a porthole, justifying my attendance at an activity, kneeling at the keyboard, hoping I put in just the right mixture of numbers and letters that will allow me to participate.
My daily life requires about 10 or so pass codes just to do the job I am paid to do and so these dance in the spotlight at the forefront of my brain. Other numbers and codes that I do not use as frequently are there too, but in the background. Some of them occasionally fall off the edge and I must struggle to bring them on stage when they are needed.
Last night I asked my 17 year-old son how many pin numbers, codes, ID numbers, and passwords he had, and he nonchalantly said, “I guess about twenty, maybe thirty.” He seems totally nonplussed by this. He takes it as a matter of course. Unlike his mother, he does not utter a sharp sound when another number is added to his repertoire.
He is the boy on the train, heading into the future, already used to being numbered, categorized and given passwords. Just like that day in New York, I sit and look at him, fascinated by how different his childhood has been from mine.
He takes it all in stride, riding confidently into the future while at every stop, I am tempted, so tempted to get off.
It's a fantasy: I walk down the street, the plastic cards, the passwords, the identification numbers falling from me, scattering behind me in a colorful wake as I start to float up in the air, higher and higher.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
I Stop Writing the Poem
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.