Open Your Hands and Look

Do you see what I see: white fluff floating off trees like light snow; an army of ants finding their way; blue-green aquamarine ocean approaching and retreating; a toddler losing himself in an ice-cream cone; bronzed tingling flesh stretching and reclining; teenagers strutting and crowing in their glory; men throwing a Frisbee; pigeons circling and observing; the sky opening and opening with its visible fields showing; wild yellow flowers pushing from the cliff; the day wind and all of life dancing? Can you see it?

Do you hear what I hear: a thousand birds caroling as they glide over undulating waves; drumbeats caught in the branches of your heart; voices chanting for freedom, for peace; a boy calling to a girl swishing past (hear her hips); a whistle warning; three girls laughing; ice cubes hitting glass; a hundred soft breaths exhaling in ecstasy; one long sigh; the day wind seducing, “Relax.” Do you hear it?

Do you know what I know: you’re always learning; it’s not complicated; you are deserving; you’re the chosen and the chooser; you must find what you’re looking for– never stop exploring– it’s already yours; it’s true, “love it or leave it alone;” the night wind cajoling, “Relax.” Do you know that?

Listen to what I say:  Open your hands and look in them, your life is there. Take control of it.

Movements of Silence

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In front of Pastelaria Pau de Canela, a boy, in a tie-dye shirt, runs past the pigeons causing them to flutter, surge and fall. They move as one. The boy’s not running to anything or from anything; he’s not racing anyone; he’s not exercising. He’s not fleeing his shadow. He’s running, because he’s healthy, joyous, and loves the feeling of his heart jumping in his chest.

On this day in late April, orange blossoms pierce the air; neighbors greet each other with sun in their voices; friends kiss each other on both cheeks; a father kicks a ball with his two sons; young mothers push strollers; couples walk arm in arm; a man buys a flower from a peddler. Bells intrude and recede: it’s one; it’s two; it’s three– the clock will continue to chime, when we’re gone.

A mother and daughter, in matching striped shirts, walk arm in arm; a girl feeds her boyfriend a spoonful of ice-cream; an old man with a cane pauses near the carousel; two middle-aged women savor strawberry cones; a man wipes dirt from his son’s feet; a toddler drops her lemon-lime icicle. Ash and sand and jasmine rain on us.

There’s always a guitarist in the square– this square or any other. He strums, and many stop to listen. His guitar paints thoughts lilac. “Prayers aren’t important,” a man says. Is that so? Then, wish others love, wellness and comfort without calling it a “prayer,” if the word offends. Help financially, if you can, but if you can’t: love is currency; a smile is currency; positivity is currency; action is currency; time is currency; blessings, spoken or silent, are currency. Self-love is capital; loving others, an investment.

There’s music, then there’s silence; there’s chatter, then there’s silence; there’s laughter; then there’s silence; there’s life; then, there’s silence. The world, tragedy-filled, but not tragic, goes on…

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The Body Pays — To Antonio Variaçãoes (obrigada Duarte)

Olha! The young are dancing; grandmothers are curling their hips; the lovers, busy loving; the boy, rolling his cigarette; the girl sighing, “Ohh la la.” We play every day.

Night reveals us. We have traveled the world three times between us– the journey ends here.

We drink 1.50 euro wine in water bottles from Senhor Costa. At first sip, vinegar blazed its way down our timeline, but now we see tomorrow. In Portuguese, your poems makes sense– we are realized– a melody to sing along to, the last verse, incense permeating the night, the unconscious drawn to the fore.

Let’s chisel, mold, break each other down– again. Let’s chisel, mold, break each other down. We’re artists and can’t help but discover new things. Let’s bathe in stars. Let pearls flake on the floor. Let’s wear eternity around our necks. Let dust coat our ears after the bath. Words ooze like molasses off your tongue and coat my limbs– let’s create visions.

You said, “The body pays.” Oh new one, these ideas are for tomorrow. “When the head is convinced, the body suffers. Let it suffer. Let it suffer, if you’re liking it.” We imagined this moment before birth, but let’s talk about this tomorrow.

The First Date at Princesa do Castelo (It Happened Like This…)

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The streets layer themselves; they collide; they diverge; they wrap around and meet; they hover over each other. They are multi-textured and multi-colored: slate, white, marble, cobbled, asphalt, rose. They know the beginning of tales: Senhora Fernanda is reading a book; Senhor Joao is smoking a cigar; Joana is cuddling her cat; Pedro is smoking a joint with his girlfriend; Mateus is drinking coffee at a round table; Carla and her lover are caressing. The street conceals and binds.

There’s a vegetarian café on the street, Princesa do Castelo, inviting pedestrians to enter. The walls are alternately orange and yellow; the tables and benches, wood; a giant red and white mushroom protrudes from a wall; Bob Marley issues from the speakers, “If you know what life is worth, you’ll look for yours on earth.” The menu: salads, soup of the day, nachos, hummus, noodles, quiche, desserts, fresh juices, alcohol.

From the heaving street, a couple enter, order two pots of tea, and settle into the banquette. They are new to each other.

“Where are you from?”

“XYZ. You?

“ABC. Have you been there?

The same small talk being practiced in cafés worldwide: ‘What’s your…do you like…where do you…when did you…?” The questions and responses fall and connect like stones in a wide river. There are some that will be needed to get to the other side. Some will pile into boulders– insurmountable and difficult to process; some will be held onto for safety.

He orders more tea; the laughter grows; the volume of the whispers increases; the energy of new attraction/lust/flirtation palpitates.

“That was good.”

“Yes, it really was.”

They rise– together– and step onto the wreathlike street. With them: white petals racing, a dog running (with its owner trailing), four men playing dominoes, all connecting.

If you know what life is worth, you’ll look for yours on earth.

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The Load Grows Lighter: A Day at Gulbenkian

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On a Sunday afternoon, when the sun is streaming through raised shutters, and nature is beckoning, “Come to me,” get up, and go. Give yourself to trees, to art, to birds, to lakes, to wind, to the sound of twigs snapping beneath your feet. Go to Gulbenkian park in the middle of Lisbon.

Take the Red Line to São Sebastião and within the concrete walls, you will find an oasis. Vamos passear! Walk around the lake; throw a volcanic rock in a pool; see the ducks spreading their wings; notice people sitting under the open sky eating juicy plums, reading, plucking their guitars, practicing their love. Practice your love.

Peer at hearts carved into ancient trees; wonder at the impermanence of romantic love; wonder if the Marie that wrote, “Marie loves Rik 2006,” still loves him in 2015? Observe the peace. Listen to the story of another:

In the past, I had one heart. I gave it to my lover– the whole heart. “Here, take it,” I said. I didn’t learn from a previous heartbreak. When she left, the heart was gone. I suffered. All that was left was air, but I couldn’t lift my head to get some. It’s not the way to do things.

A day in Gulbenkian isn’t enough. There are museums, gardens, terraces, an ampitheater, films being shown, photography exhibitions, musical performances, an art library, a cafeteria. There are tapestries handwoven in wool, silk, gold and silver threads to gaze at; intricate ivory carvings to wonder at; and all of nature giving itself to you on a warm, spring day.

I had one heart, and then it was gone. I trudged up and down the hill to my house with a heavy load on my back. I thought, “Why is this my life? It’s so hard.” Then, one day, the load became lighter. I was becoming free. I don’t have one heart, but many. I have no lover, but I have love– strangers, friends, family. 

Nature gives; nature heals; nature teaches– Gulbenkian is a large classroom– the grace, the birdsongs, the fresh air, the new buds, the towering trees, the silence. Everything rests– even the quivering, ungraspable ripples in the pool.

An elderly couple exits the park dressed in their Sunday best. When she opened her eyes this morning to face another day, she possibly said, “How marvelous! Here we are again. What shall we do?”  “Let’s stroll around the gardens of Gulbenkian,” he responded. “Let’s stand for a moment near the lake, close our eyes and feel the breeze that will kiss our lids. Let’s practice our love.”

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Lady and Child Asleep in a Punt inder The Willows - Sargent, John Singer
Lady and Child Asleep in a Punt under The Willows
– Sargent, John Singer
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Flora –Carpeaux, Jean-Baptiste
The Dance, (*Tapestry from the set "Children Playing)
The Dance, (*Tapestry from the set “Children Playing)

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This Is How It Starts– The Falling in Love

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This is how it starts– the falling in love with a city. It descends and envelops you. There’s nothing you can do, it happens all at once. In mid-step, between your exhale and inhale, you realize it.

You find yourself doing things you’d never do anywhere else; like, leaving the house in the pouring rain to listen to live jazz and blues. You adore music, of course you do, but in another city, one you’re not enamored with, you’d say, “There’s music on YouTube, why would I go out in weather like this?”

You want to hold your excitement in, but can’t help sharing every photo, every realization, even when you may be the only one who can feel the thrill of it all.

Like the “Come to Jesus” posters at Arroios station say, “Every day’s a revelation.” You take the advice of a wise five-year old and taste raindrops on your tongue. You’ve eaten codfish before, but never steamed and served with potatoes. Oh boy, that doughnut filled with custard and the churro with creme, you’ve eaten those before, but heaven hadn’t opened its gates in your mouth then. Floods of flavor. Wow.

You do things you know you may regret, but then you think, “Those five minutes were worth it”– like, the mango margarita at The George on Rua Crucifixo. Tequila, aka “Ta kill ya,” you promised never to imbibe after the 2002 Festivale Mexicano fiasco, but here you are with a mango margarita– mango, tequila, salt, and– is that black pepper on top?

You fell in love before, of course you did, but this time, this time is different. You’re different. This city brings out the best in you; it makes you write everyday; it makes you smile inside and out, to which strangers will respond, stop you on the street and say, “You’re wonderful;” it makes things seem new, and since you know everything ends, your heart constricts a little.

Wait!

The novelty may fade, but the feeling could deepen. It doesn’t have to end. It doesn’t have to end.

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(Check out this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCM_VWzSiMo)

The Shape of Memory (A Love Letter)

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Dear Friends,

There are hours of silence here, in which there’s ample time to sit under the tree of memory. Often in repose, memories shade me, and when I lean against the thickening trunk of the tree, a leaf of the past will drift onto my lap. When one can sit undisturbed, it’s wonderful how much one recalls.

There are incidents, places and names, I’d love to remember, but they are unreachable; other memories are shrouded and webbed; then, there are some, like those today, that are easily plucked and ready to be appreciated. I wouldn’t expect my memories to be of interest to anyone but myself, those who helped to create them, and the minority who ae interested in the past of another. Memories are personal and precious; yet (hopefully), we all share moments of riotous showerings that leave us amazed and happy or weeping from the impact, and those we must share. This letter contains such leaves.

As a girl of four, my safe place was under my mother’s dress, holding onto her legs. I remember my favorite dress of hers from that time was a long, green dress; she smelled of cocoa butter, perfume and cinnammon flesh; she was as warm as the sun outside her skin; and, she let me stand there in peace. For how long?– that detail is insignificant. Some memories– even the best ones– are incomplete and a bit fuzzy, but full of scent, warmth and shadowy light.

Memories are time-travel, which enable us to simultaneously live in the past and present. Looking closer at the same leaf of memory, I encounter my other mother, my godmother– the woman chosen by my parents to love me as her own. Aunt Yvonne. It’s all there: the long train ride on the #4 train to Moshulu Parkway, getting off the train and walking the block and a half to Tracey Towers, her apartment, 12J, pink and plush, three rooms with all the TVs tuned to NBC, the smell of Tone soap, her smooth hand holding a snifter of brandy and orange juice, eight gold bangles on her right wrist, eight silver bangles on her left, her small feet in satin Chinese slippers, the smell of toasted Eggo waffles, fruit cake with hard icing on the dining room table, and pictures of her nine godchildren on every surface. ( I was on her fridge, her TV, on her cabinet, in the den). I can clearly see my mother sitting on one of her kitchen stools drinking coffee, while she stood over the stove frying something. Both, vital, laughing and beautiful.

This isn’t a story– no turn of events, no plot, no conflict. This is simply a page of recollections that have fallen from my tree. When you ask me, “How’s the ashram? ” I’ll tell you that this letter reflects ashram life– a chance to feel your heart expand, everyday, and remember who you are, and from whence you came, in the quiet of the mountains. While the sun sits alongside me, I’ll close my eyes and reflect on those who have loved me with every thread in their heart, and of whom I’ve felt the same. Maybe, when you have free time, you can sit under your tree of memory and do the same?

“Of course I love you,” the flower said to him. “If you were not aware of it, it was my fault.” (The Little Prince, p.41)

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Love,

Val