January with Jane – 9 – Silk Cord

In the dream the string had broken
and I was trying to
pick out its beads among all others.

The large coral beads,
the beads of turquoise and ivory—
these were not mine.
Carved and ridged with color, burnished, weighty—
my hands passed over them without regret or pause.

The tiny ones,
of glass,
almost invisible against the white cotton bedspread—
these were mine.

The hole in the center
scarcely discernible as different from the bead itself,
the bead around it
scarcely discernible as different from the bed or floor or air—

with trembling fingers
I lifted them
into the jar my other hand cupped closely to one breast.

Not precious, merely glass, almost invisible.
How terrified I was at the thought of missing even one.

While I live, I thought, they are mine to care for.

Then wakened heavy with what I recognized at once
as an entirely warranted grief,

frantic for something plain and clear
and almost without substance,
that I myself had scattered, that I myself must find

-Jane Hirshfield

Lately, I have been dreaming (a lot!) of losing things.* My way. A child. My ability to use a phone. My shoes (forcing me to wear a pair of mismatched shoes, which are not my size, on stage at the pageant) My dress in the clutter of clothing tossed on the dressing room floor. The CD of music that settles the baby to sleep. The barrel of food before a canoe trip. A pen to write down the guest’s order at a restaurant (where I am the only waittress and the coffee is overflowing the pot)

These are not new dreams to me, especially the one where I am driving to a familiar place — sometimes home, sometimes just a place I know well the route , like the proverbial back of my hand, as if the map itself is etched in the life lines there. The dreams, in the end, often make me feel like I’m losing my mind, too. And perhaps that is simply it, the premonitory experience of what it may feel like if/when my brain starts to fail me.

And that makes me wonder, as I think Jane hints at in this poem too, what is it that makes me me. If my brain is no longer able to recall who, what, where I am, who you are, what the object in my hand is, how to find my way, how to read a map, a book, a calendar, a clock, how to wear my clothes, am I still present at all? Is my soul still present in my body, on this earth? Is a brain that which makes me precious? Its contents, the glass beads spilled upon the bed?

I like to think not. And yet I know the vacant stare. Vacant. Unihabited. Deserted. Tenantless. “The light’s off” . Flesh devoid of spark.

Yet, again, I like to think not. Perhaps I revere the body too much, this sacred vessel we inhabit. For me, its not as if the soul is separate from it, housed within it like a guest in some inner room. Rather the soul grows with it, within every light inspired cell, is one with it. As it is embodied also within the patient tree gazing at me from through this window.

Is an animal, with her different kind of consciousness than that of we humans, less present upon this earth? Does memory itself make life more precious?

What makes me, me? You, you? Those glass beads spilled upon the bed, nothing special nor unique– scarcely different than the bed, the room, the air made of the same elemental substances– yet precious the same. Something to be-held , cupped to the breast. Something that is mine to care for, to bear, while I am here.

Is it essence (essential?)? Or is it something more substantial, a substance of a sort. And what if my job is to spill it, after all? Spill it all, out upon the bed where lovers meet and dream. Let those simple beads tumble to the floor to be picked up by another, surprised and curious as to where and how it came to be? Like seeds scattered, not knowing what may grow.

And if at the end of my life, I am thus scattered , like grains strewn across the fields of life, if I have given myself away, that will perhaps be a very good thing. If I can no longer ‘hold it all together’, I like to think of those dropped beads being out there in the world. I think perhaps I need not clutch those beads so fiercely to my breast, but let my heart fly open. Spilled open to it all.

*The psychological and jungian interpretation of these common dreams of mine (evidently losing things or feeling lost is a universal motif) most often suggests to the dreamer that s/he is feeling overwhelmed by something in her life. Well….. perhaps that, too, my loves. Perhaps that too. Overwhelmed by this world’s deep need. Overwhelmed the same, by its beauty.

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