Rhinebeck - Kazim Ali
I followed the sound of OM north from the city through tree-lined streets.
That you could lock a secret or a memory into your stomach or chest and still reach for the end of the universe with the other hand.
Felt haunted sliding through space north from the city upriver.
Coming from Cairo where one city was built on top of another and another and another for a thousand years.
Still, as far as cities go, recent.
The hotel built in the Egyptian style built around a central courtyard with a swimming pool. Whose steam room had become unbeknownst to me a meeting place for gay Cairenes driven from the usual haunt on one of the floating casinos by a police raid which occurred two months before my arrival.
Resulting in the arrest of some fifty men whose trial would stretch out for years and years.
Called the Cairo 52. Half were acquitted and the other half convicted in March 2003.
Before or after the war?
Which half do I wish to love, the acquitted or convicted?
Half I fill my body with breath half I hold it.
Half is for the sun and half for the moon.
Haunted then all the way up the river, sheathed in ghost-energy and the red-gold leaves falling from the trees, Perseids cutting the sky across in sentences like slashing knives.
Spiral the breath and energy of the earth you reach still for what has already gone.
A window at the top of your head.
Sondra bent down and put her hands on my shoulder blades pushing them down from my shoulders.
What did I know about the earth until I came into this orange and red painted room.
What did I know about the body until Sondra cradled my neck in her hands and whispered to me to breathe.
When the earth was water or water was earth. In California seeing the sediment pressed sideways and vertical.
Knowing the valleys were pushed up from the ocean, first one then the other, and it was that soil that was able to produce the grapes for wine.
Every event so long after the other that history itself is hardly a chain but a conflation or a conflagration.
Where have I heard that word before.
Words whispered in the empty room but for breath.
Breath above the streets and the road I walked.
I learned to breathe here as the season turned to fall then fog and then the white fire in the night clinging to all the green edges.
Morning's white amendments, wandering on the shoulder of the road watching autumn drag itself, limping over the stile, shredding itself on the nails, fleeing west.
Coming downstairs to the health food store beneath the apartment to buy peaches, goat's milk yogurt, ginger beer, brazil nuts, seitan, tea.
Go back upstairs to work.
An empty set of sentences or syntax. Being then unable to make sentences.
Having left just prior to the skyline's collapse. I would continue to take the train back to the city to meet friends, to attend readings, to ask or to wonder.
I'm still hardly carrying it down, one thought and then another, trying to relive it.
Echinacea planted in the bed in front of the salon, across the parking lot.
Went to see the Maya Deren documentary at the independent movie house. Surprised by her voice. Wholly human, wholly ordinary, neither dark nor stark, the expected voice of a prophet.
There was an abandoned lot at the heart of town, plastic pennons strung from phone pole to phone pole so I imagined it used to be a used car lot.
I would walk a half mile up Route 9 to the fairgrounds to see the car show, or the antique show or in the summer, the county fair.
At the Laundromat I sit washing clothes, reading A Border Comedy.
No Horse Tack in the Machines.
That's a new thing: to actually hear what is being said around you.
In Rhinebeck I started to breathe.
Rhinebeck I came to know.
I lay down in the graveyard, hinged there.
Walking down Broadway the other day from Marble Hill to Inwood Park, not to go to the park but to get another key to my apartment which I had locked myself out of.
I saw a man, lying down on a park bench talking to himself, quite conversationally, quite matter-of-fact, "You really don't know yourself so well."
Like me mismatching his pronouns: you could mean I.
Or again downtown, a man saying to a woman as they are walking across the street in a very low and matter-of-fact tone, "I have to tell you the most amazing thing."
Because we are pressed against each other on the train it is more fun to try to see what other people in the train are reading than reading what you have brought yourself.
Especially when what you have brought to read is Geography and Plays by Gertrude Stein which you want to like very much but cannot latch one thing after another so quickly when what follows does not follow.
I walked from the room of white oceans to the room of black ink through the gates of yarn to the chambers of bent iron.
Is it so simple as having a code to break or can you lie down and close your eyes.
I lay down in the graveyard, hinged there. Closed my eyes and then.
On the train I looked down into a man's shopping bag. On the top was a pad of paper on which were written at least eleven different statements.
One of them said, "When you can't take life anymore, think about the alternatives and then deal with them instead of running away."
When I read "take life" I thought of the man as someone who had killed other people and was trying to rehabilitate himself.
The inside meets the outside in breath.
Where is God. Closer to you than your inhale and your exhale said the Imam.
But I wrote myself down in notes here, the night's cold I reached for me, reached for me and spoke.
Got one million things and another, a tattoo that was delicately airbrushed away.
You write it in your skin, a zero on one shoulder, an infinity symbol on the other shoulder—are those the ways you could go back there if you could.
To that knot of water, the place the river curls around yourself, where you learned to breathe.
Where you wrote out sentences and made them clean.
A boat on shore. The river cloud. All the secrets you heard and the things you wished.
Sounds from the apartment next to you used to keep you up all night.
So skinny you almost weren't there. But you wanted it.
Wanted to disappear.
A wind or sun of winter, the only son. Opens his mouth and no sound comes out.
Don't tell about the five months you never called home.
It was right after Dad showed you and Farrah pictures of a brother and sister who lived somewhere—Chicago perhaps. He was excited, hopeful some root would take hold, you would seed.
You both walked away from him, unable to speak.
You left home and didn't call.
Mom called you in May and you both pretended nothing had happened. That there hadn't just been five months of silence.
Yet still you manage to write about distance as if you didn't spin it into wheels.
You wanted it.
I sat across from my parents at a restaurant just a month ago, desperate to speak. I went there with them to speak.
And found myself suddenly deciding: too many years have passed. It has all been too long.
In Rhinebeck I lived where the river turns around and heads back to its source. Where the river returns to the ocean.
Breathing in that town, stretching yourself out and pulling yourself in at once.
How could you not understand.
On the stove brown rice, daal, and kale with garlic. Coming back with my roommates from yoga class.
But my body doesn't feel clean or correct, instead buckled up, strained.
To walk for an hour in the morning clears my head.
Walking through the neighborhood.
Everywhere I have lived since Rhinebeck I tried to recreate that place.
A small little town where everything was. Going from place to place and knowing everyone.
Having eaten well and breathed better the strength of those little years.
Forgetting to tell of the dark night I was locked out, or the dizziness I could feel over and over again unsure of where I was.
Still in the graveyard I lay down.
The day of the "leaving-home" I sat down.
In a room full of empty chairs I selected the one next to the only other person in the room. A gardener. Name of Marco.
Did I learn myself then.
Did I learn the way breath moves into and out of a person, and that a body is only a place the soul coalesces.
Or is it the other way around, the body like an antenna. The body the real thing pulling the soul-essence of the universe into its house.
I always think about going back and going in.
All the same.
Or is it.
Later that afternoon, convincing Marco to come back to town with me, take a walk through the streets.
At some point, for a moment, I took his hand.
Those moments against the years as you unsummon, unfold, uncry.
I have to tell you the most amazing thing.
You really don't know yourself so well.