January with Jane – 14. My Proteins

They have discovered, they say,
the protein of itch—
natriuretic polypeptide b—
and that it travels its own distinct pathway
inside my spine.
As do pain, pleasure, and heat.

A body it seems is a highway,
a cloverleaf crossing
well built, well traversed.
Some of me going north, some going south.

Ninety percent of my cells, they have discovered,
are not my own person,
they are other beings inside me.

As ninety-six percent of my life is not my life.

Yet I, they say, am they—
my bacteria and yeasts,
my father and mother,
grandparents, lovers,
my drivers talking on cell phones,
my subways and bridges,
my thieves, my police
who chase my self night and day.

My proteins, apparently also me,
fold the shirts.

I find in this crowded metropolis
a quiet corner,
where I build of not-me Lego blocks
a bench,
pigeons, a sandwich
of rye bread, mustard, and cheese.

It is me and is not,
the hunger
that makes the sandwich good.

It is not me then is,
the sandwich—
a mystery neither of us
can fold, unfold, or consume.

I read this poem early this morning, walked around with it in my pocket all day (that is, if you think of that Lego block bench in the back of my brain as a pocket.) As I consumed my morning oats, my evening beans. As the music played softly from the Bose in the corner (what synapses fire, what new cells are created in the hearing of a song). As a memory rose from an afternoon 5 years ago, when my beloved was in such pain, which led in turn to a memory of an evening with him lying back to drink in the stars on a slope of cool granite next to an Algonquin Lake. As I pulled the stretchy therapy bands and lifted the cold metal dumbbells in order to heal and build back muscle. As I chopped carrots and onions, pinched turmeric that scented my hands savory and stained by fingertips gold. As I strolled past the fan at the back of restaurant and inhaled the exhaust from the fryer. As I scanned the words on the envelopes I pulled from the post office box, mailed from a distant city. As I walked among the trees who exhale each moment so that I can breathe in and pondered how I do the same for them. As I breathed the same air in the auditorium with the other grandparents, aunts, siblings, parents and friends of the dancers on the stage (did the filter of the mask mean we were not breathing the same air?… and yet were we not inhaling the same visual and auditory spectacles into our eyes and ears?) As my mind imagined my being a tiny blood cell coursing through the veins of God’s body— in turn, imagining each cell of my own permeated by God.

I lift the mug to my lips now, seated next to the fire that warms, my body taking in both the warmth of the tea and that of the flame, and I think of all of these coursing through me now— the beans, the soil sunlight and water drawn into their cells, the hands that harvested, sorted, bagged, transported (oh one could go on, and this of course is not a new thought for me or for you); the Algonquin Lake and its days of intimacy transforming body, spirit, marriage, life; so many relationships that altered my life– not merely its course, but my very self – our lives like cells intersecting to share their contents and in turn create something new. I wondered that I too had become something brand new in them. I thought of a virus, also some fragment of God?, swimming in the sea of shared air, into and out of lungs, seeking purchase. I thought of my soul taking it all in — the contact of eye, the beauty of painting, the conversation with daughter, the spector of virus, the death of a friend, these thoughts on the page, 20 years with my new spouse breathing each other in. I thought of the ridiculous assumption of boundary between self and other.

Oh, what a day it was. 12 little hours, a blip in time, and, of course, I have recounted such a miniscule fragment of all that was exchanged in that briefest of time. All that was taken in and given, all that perpetually becoming something new. It was like walking on water all day, watching the miracle of a day from the Lego block bench inside my eye. I highly recommend it.

eat this bread and drink this cup. you will have eternal life.

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