Of Innocence

Fleeting youth could have fooled me. It seemed so permanent. Before I had a past, before anyone I knew had a past, we were not aware as we drank our smoothies and smoked our spliffs on curbs and tore our bread into pieces to share and took the plastic wrap off the brie and listened to Dylan and the Gypsy Kings on scratchy vinyl in a room furnished with castoffs from our parents houses, where we shrouded all the lampshades in amber and rose-hued scarves from Nepali shops and our mothers drawers… We didn’t know that we were in the act of past-weaving, that we were stitching our personhood with future hauntings, that we would wear those evenings, sometimes heavily. It is innocence steeped and cured that makes the most potent kind of nostalgia. Years later that blind time becomes a bit of almond cake lodged between back molars, worried by a searching tongue.

From The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman):

Mary: Summer is better than Winter, because you aren’t cold. 

Joseph: But Spring is best of all. I’ve written a song about the Spring.

Mary: Our guests may not care for your songs.

Squire: Oh yes, I write songs myself. You see, there’s one about an amorous fish which you haven’t heard, and you aren’t going to hear it either. Some people don’t appreciate art, so I won’t bore you. 

Knight: We worry about so much.

Mary: It’s better to be two. Have you no-one?

Knight: I had, once.

Mary: And now?

Knight: I don’t know. 

Mary: So solemn! Was she your beloved?

Knight: We were newly married. We played and laughed. I wrote songs to her eyes. We hunted, we danced, the house was full of life!

To believe is to suffer. It is like loving someone in the dark, who never answers. But how unreal all this is in your company. It means nothing to me now.

Mary: You’re not so solemn now.

Knight: I shall remember this hour of peace-

the strawberries, the bowl of milk-

your faces in the dusk.

Michael asleep, Joseph with his lute. 

I shall remember our words-

and shall bear this memory between my hands

as carefully as a bowl of fresh milk-

and this will be a sign and a great contentment.



Indigo eyes of murdered children set in the sky like gemstones. Voices that had been gagged by war join a celestial choir which is never silent and louder with every passing moment of bombs, bullets, bludgeons, blades. A chorus of the disappeared, of the human collateral. A three-year-old Syrian girl sits on the ground in a refugee camp in Jordan. She looks like any child anywhere- like a child in relative safety- which could be a tent or a house or an airlift helicopter or getaway car out of a conflict zone, out of an exploded illusion of peace. I want to say to her: This is when life really begins. After you know its impermanence. That’s when the Devil comes to question you- to find out if you’re God’s or one of his.


Big One

The tremor sleeps beneath our life

cracks in our plaster walls

are signs of its breathing, its hunger

its restless dreams of our destruction



*painting by Pat Burson

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