BREATHE AND BE SUNG
by Eve Toliman
I had been anxious for two days. It felt like glass in my blood. It wasn’t just repairing the old house that was wearing us out. We’re gypsies at heart not homeowners. The moment Ramon and I hitched ourselves to one place, we were straddling worlds. On top of that, a colleague was struggling with ambition-driven envy which just made me feel inadequate. I didn’t know how to make her feel better and it stirred old fears about my own lack of ambition.
In this state, feeling stretched and off balance, I met Mojgan at the paint store. I was looking for five gallon drums of pigmented shellac to prime the walls and ceilings. She was holding small squares of warm colors in her left hand. Pointing to a rich golden-green, she turned to me and asked “Do you think this is too dark?”
“That’s a beautiful color. Where is it going?” An easy intimacy bloomed between us. Talking about colors and homes led to families and then quickly drifted to success and failure, materialism and love. Our voices deepened slightly as we stepped closer and talked about desire and jealousy. We talked about Sham’s murder and Rumi’s heart. We talked about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael. We talked about Jesus and the power of stories that move us for centuries. Her warmth cut through my chest and all the sharpness flew from my heart, a plume of care. I felt like myself for the first time in days. “If you don’t mind, where are you from, originally?”
“The warmest, most beautiful women I’ve known are from Iran.”
She looked sad. “I try to guard my heart. Every day, I say to myself, today I will not be so open with everyone.” She sighed, “But then I forget.”
I know, Mojgan, I feel like a stranger in this land, too. Detached from all the vital things that we’re to get and reach, I only want to breathe this day and be sung. We are dust animated by some miracle. We are a collection of swirling motes imbued by magic, for a fleeting moment, with physical senses and the capacity to marvel. No matter how tremendous and history-making a worldly accomplishment could be, I just cannot fathom that the outrageous, fantastic, glorious absurdity of dancing dust would have occurred for that.
I did not tell Mojgan that once I lived with a young king. I sat in our huge, empty house, a lone eye riveted to his startling beauty. He discarded it as he flew. Unfettered, my Icarus rose high and fast. His wings did not melt. They took him places no one had been before. His leaden girl, growing sadder and dustier as he flew, I collected his fallen beauty, sure that he would want it again one day. Five years I waited, dissipating, and finally, a small dejected ashy pile, I blew away.
I blew to hell where friends picked flesh off each other’s bones in large sunny houses encircled by poppies. I blew to heaven where fear is not subdued, it simply is not. I blew around the neighborhood in bits and pieces on a double decker bus getting a guided tour of what is, and then the bits and pieces blew apart and the tour slammed to an end in the gaps of all this. They are big gaps.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I was resurrected as a part-time bookkeeper with two small children, salt air blowing through the windows of our attic loft overlooking the city. It’s a busy world.
I have drive but no ambition. I love how things look and feel and taste as they slip through me. I love comfort as much as anyone but not enough to miss a new experience.
When I am sad, I curl into a small dark place and heap heavy things on top of me. I plunge headlong into black. I land on rock. My fingertips glide slowly over the cool walls of the hard cave that encloses me. I find long thin cracks and chip at the unyielding stone, absorbed by the clicking sound that my thumbnail makes, entranced by the small vibrations that run through my hand and up my arm.
When I am happy, I tumble in the sensations of the day, pressing into the earth, savoring the changing temperatures on my skin, grabbing at the sounds and smells, those elusive teases, as they fly by. I feel the colors of the sky and sea rumble through my arms and legs. Green fills my belly. The day rolls over me and rushes around me, marrying me to this particular place at this particular time. I throw my head back, close my eyes and breathe. I love this air.
I love this air.
I once read that some Sufis whisper Allah’s name with each breath. They begin on an exhalation as their souls express into the world. They end on an inhalation when their souls return home again. The lungs fill one final time at life’s end so these Sufis die with their beloved’s name round and whole in their mouths.
When I read this, I tried to remember. I have been beside three people when they died. Did they breathe in, their chests full when the heaving ceased? I have thought about this for so many years now it seems completely right that when I am done here, I will breathe in and be gone. Breathing out when I die would feel exposed and incomplete, like sleeping nude without a sheet. I prefer to be gently draped and hidden. I prefer to leave no traces. I want to perish with each passing moment, my love’s unspeakable name full and complete on my lips. I want to be resurrected with each coming moment, my love’s ineffable name newborn again. I want this name to eclipse all other words. I want this name to hollow me out and pierce me so I become a flute for that unknowable song, just once before it’s over.