Malin Konig Lubenthal

nordic village

I had come from a family of ironists. I was the only three-leaf clover in it. The rest of them were off on some exploration, either to find or to lose themselves. They would travel. To Madagascar. To South Korea. To Denmark. To California. To Alberta. To the Galapagos. To Lhasa. To Nova Scotia. To the Yucatan. It was all some sort of clover-pulling, a worldwide hunt for something a little different, a little vain, a little less known. It was some sort of pretend game of Marco Polo that I never bought into. So I was never the same. I was, as they said, “born without shoes,” which meant that I did not go, I did not travel, I was not fit to travel or go anywhere because, as the idiom goes, I had no leather shoes upon my feet to protect them and to be able to do so. So I stayed at home and was considered by my immediate kind unworldly and provincial. I had been the kind of person who marked time by an ax. By this I had meant only that I followed the natural course of the seasons. There were seasons to chop wood. There were seasons to chop down a tree. There were seasons to lay the blade into a stump. There were seasons to lay it in the corner of the shed. That’s what I meant. The way it worked—irony—was to pretend either in person or in letter that you were just a bit dumber or a bit more stupid than you were in actual life; or, if nobody around could guess it, then just you yourself in your inner, personal life would do it. Only you would know. And most of the time that’s how they were. Once, after a minor operation, when I went to visit my own father in the hospital, he lay with his hands clasped together around a rose in the middle of his chest with his eyes closed in his bed. Then opened them and spoke to me. Like that. I had always been the “I can go on, I must go on” type; they were the “I can’t go on, I’ll go on type.” I was as dumb or as smart as my thumbprint on a Coke bottle. My breath was the fog blown on a bathroom mirror. My very first metaphor was seeing my own image of myself looking back up at me in a clear lake. My last inhalation in life will be the word Allah, and the last exhalation in life will be the word Love.

This Graceful Suspension Of The World

keys and lock

He had a secret wife once whose marriage to they nobody told. Even when her family all journeyed on a five-day ocean cruise together to celebrate her maternal grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary, the husband in name, he stayed at home. That’s how secret she was. Once, another time, she had returned from taking exams upstate. And the exam she took was computerized (not on paper), and while she took it, it learned her learning rate. It gave her very quickly, she told him afterwards, more and more difficult problems to solve, and each ‘one more’ difficult problem submitted on the screen to her, she got right. The testing program recalculated itself, and, with the secret wife’s having rapidly solved correctly such difficult problems as which the program could ever propose, it released her from the testing grounds in twenty minutes with an “800”—a perfect score. Almost ninety minutes had been shaved off her testing time, her sitting time, her being there. That’s how time and testing and the algorithms had worked.

The spatial reasoning his brilliant secret wife could perform with ease at astronomical rates of speed is not the way, in general, anything else works in life. The massive hero Ajax, for instance, that great, lumbering Greek warrior, battles and battles everyday, fighting off the Trojans. And before he rejoins the battle, Achilles sulks in his tent for months, unable to convince Agamemnon to give him back Briseis, his war booty, in all that time. And who can really tell how long, how many decades and years of accident and misfortune, how much lasting grief it will take and all the many dead there will be when spacecraft really do fly and land to colonize the desiccated, lifeless planet Mars.

Today an argument could verily be made that the man who’d had that secret wife long ago, far away, is one day close to his death. His wits are down. His love forsakes him. His cat is gone. His cupboard in nearly bare. His pile of winter wood is wet. For him, all the world’s diseases and sicknesses and misfortunes have fled buzzing like flies into the air. The only saving grace the world has ever known, however, is not “hope”—that miscreant’s negative creed of dissatisfaction, of being against the way reality actually is—but “anticipation”—which, though syllabically awkward, is the better translation of the Greek word “elpis,” of what actually remained in Pandora’s opened picnic basket. It means to simply wait for, and to be able to wait for, the next thing to come. And that, the love-broken man knew, trembling in fear asleep and living in a perfect equation of anxiety awake, by the multitudes of stars which over the span of all eternity shall have opened their eyes at night and closed them during the day, was all there ever was.

Songs Of The Sea & The Earth

Everything I had known, and everything I had held dear had deserted me. And, unlike Yeats’ circus animals whom he claimed had deserted him, what remained for me was an incandescent flame, a vivid, hand-held torch with which I had always and will always hold aloft. And it is by this light of God that I will see the paintings on the wall where for fifty thousand years people haven’t since traveled before. By this I will even view the perfect moment John Wilkes Booth saw like a red maple leaf fluttering down while shooting and killing Lincoln in his theater box. The crimes and sacred moments of humanity, life, and sometimes glimmers of my own death, I have caught these like melting snowflakes falling into my autumn fingers.

To me, I have felt the sorrow of being the common cook whose food had accidentally poisoned the great Buddha. But I have also felt the rope breaking the neck of a bewildered Saddam Hussein. That I have no friends to turn to, nor scarcely any possessions, even an empty dresser drawer to slide in and out, I don’t even have that simple enough human pride of such wooden ownership to stand beside and claim as “mine.” My destiny had become to be a shipwrecked sailor to be cast upon another sea, to drift without craft, and to all my life wander from land to land in search of a numberless people who do not exist, whereupon, like the curse of Odysseus, giver and receiver of pain, my oath was to plant my alien oar.

Gentle Goes The Day, And Gentle Goes The Night

There are so many things when I am walking that I no longer touch. I may see a leaf or I may see a stone, and these objects in the woods are so lovely I want to take them home. But I have learned to keep my hands still at my side. I have learned to see with my mind better, and look with my eyes. Even dead forked sticks that have fallen from far above, once I had sought to clean them up as I might clean up debris. But these suspended branches are really just hanging there in balance for a time. Nobody could position them as they are. Human hands are really no good for this. Instead, how long will this be so? Instead, what breeze is that? Instead, what life will bring a man at times to walk like this, and what events befallen him just as softly, gently sometimes to his knees?

Parenthetical Winter Folder Path

winter mountains path

(The truth was he loved everything in parentheses.) Different aspects of life (the multitudinous ways of being) and different walks of being were just the way he was, and the very way he liked to be. If there were manila folders and in each folder a little of something crumpled or crisp were tucked away inside it, and that folder were put together with others like or similar to it in one bin, and other folders and ones like it were put in another, and these bins were placed on a shelf, and on hundreds of half-remembered shelves there were different bins filled with different sets and different stacks of some folders whose edges were crisp and some whose edges were crumpled, well, that was just the way he was. He wasn’t like a banker living in Boston driven by goals and his beautiful wife to create a unified, whole, and wholly integrated on all levels sort of life, a life by which one could hold a mallet and whack a croquet ball down the green field of grass from one end of where the wickets were to another. It didn’t include a buffet tent, and an awning off the side of the house with a fold-up bar on wheels, and guests all of whom were both social and business contacts, and three (3) children to be spaced out eighteen months apiece for a total of his wife’s being pregnant over an entire birthing cycle of forty-five months by the time he reached thirty-eight years of age such that the actuarial of his death between his having reached seventy-five and seventy-eight years of age would arrive upon even the youngest of his progeny’s having become fully established and wholly and safely ensconced in life’s ineluctable reality. No, he liked to flirt with the caddy near the green, even though he didn’t play golf. He liked to schmooze with the big shots watching the Oscars on TV. He liked to have tea in San Francisco with his old roommate’s wife when the harbor seals were dancing somewhere in the waves. He liked to collect sunstones in the dirt of Oregon by himself. He liked to shave his head and shoot 22’s at the local NRA shooting range and smell the smell of gunpowder there stuck in the air. He liked to listen to Janet Baker singing Mahler alone with his grown daughter on his ancient, vacuum tube-amplified music system in a heartbroken shack along the coast of Maine. He liked to engineer a bear-proof, pulley-and-rope apparatus by which he hung his bird-feeder filled with sunflower seeds for the birds (and the few squirrels who had the desire and temerity to reach it) to feed. He liked to walk along the graveyard path with a bright young lady who was at home and listen to her speak of life. He liked to make and lose scads of money at race car events, betting with strangers in the bleachers, getting his teeth filled with brown dust and fuel fumes from the screaming cars going around the track. He liked to write poems that rhymed ABABCDCD…, and throw them into the lit fireplace. He liked to think about making flies for fly-fishing, and that’s all. Having what others would call a ‘big life’—a full, entirely visible life under the gaze of some all-perceiving, or all-perceived totality of completeness—well, that never held an iota of appeal or any desire to even the tiniest and very best parts of him. (He was, he had to admit to himself, sotto voce, filled with a deep, reverent loneliness, that even the distant ocean could hear.)

Zen Camino Road

crosses

The Master sat, having tucked his robes beneath his knees, and folded them, such that any space that had offered any opening to where his genitals lay, was covered by cloth. He then, having assumed his lotus posture, asked each apprentice the same question, “What is the Way?” And each, coming up before him, sitting now slightly below the Master’s line of vision, offered a glimpse of this. Carefully, the Master brushed away these understandings with care and aplomb. There were concerns with the deception of perhaps feeling something over actually knowing it. There were problems with being able to unfurl many fine words of the Tradition which did not necessarily betray their life as practice. There those that even questioned the Master himself, that he was too much himself a man of intellect and not of the heart. And to each apprentice, I observed how like the moment when I myself have walked alone and felt a falling acorn has hit the back of my hand, the Master was both personal and direct every time, an oak of wisdom. I also, as I sat, remembered reading long ago, sprayed upon a wall in blue paint: “Soy la palabra, soy el camino, soy la verdad.” I am the word, I am the road, I am the truth, when I was walking to my Spanish lesson to learn Spanish in Bogotá. This was back in 1990 when the way was dangerous and I went quite carefully there and back alone. This was when a garbage dump manager almost became elected President of Colombia because most of the other presidential candidates had been assassinated, and it narrowed the field down. He came close enough to the tune of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, whose baleful ominous choirsome music from hell and heaven oppressed and elevated us all. I had wanted, had I gone up to speak to the Master himself, to tell him not all of this, but some of it. I know, had I gone there, I would have faced him, my eyes slightly just below his, and said to him in Spanish, the words of the graffito that I had read and absorbed so long ago on my daily Spanish lesson, and nothing more. I chose to fidget a little since my nose was a bit runny due to the change of weather, from the host of warm summer days that were almost balmy, to the suddenly cool ones of Fall that took that warmth out of my bones.