Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lost pt 3

Within the body of a healthy adult, microbial cells are estimated to outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one. These communities, however, remain largely unstudied, leaving almost entirely unknown their influence upon human development, physiology, immunity, and nutrition. 

So who am I anyway? Who are you? The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) currently lists 12,328 micro-organisms in their catalog (ranging from Yersinia pestis to Anopheles gambiae.) These are organisms that have been cultured and made available for research and by no means a complete list of the micro-organisms constituting the Human Microbiome.
I drink my ("my"?) morning cup of coffee. But who lifts "my" hand to the cup? Who is sipping, swallowing, and absorbing the liquid? I suddenly felt like a massive manikin being operated by a confederacy of diminutive creatures. 
Then the kitchen sink became clogged. A dingy pool of water sits over the open drain, stagnant. I take the plunger to the sink and plunge away. A gurgling expectoration ensues and the deep pipes belch up a greasy stew of undigested scraps. The pool slowly (over night) seeps back down and out of sight into the narrow capillaries I imagine that are formed amidst the  waste coagulating in the plumbing.
I run a metal "snake" into the drain and twelve feet down. The clog resists. I go to the hardware store and shop for a longer, thicker, snake to use. While there, I spy a biochemical drain clearing solution. A blend of natural bacteria and enzymes. I dose the drain and wait over night.

That night I meditate on the microbiome of my body repossessing my tooth while the microbiome of my kitchen sink suffers from constipation.

My wife is big on probiotics. I get it. We feed ourselves micro-organisms to keep our microbiome healthy because, after all, not only are we what we eat, we are what is eating what we eat.

The biochemical drain treatment failed. I got a bigger snake. No success. Finally I called the doctor (aka the plumber.) I realize that the plumber is essentially the house doctor who makes house calls because the house can't fit in a typical waiting room for treatment. The plumber performs his version of a household colonoscopy using a very big snake. The drain is clear. 

The money goes away with the problems: to the plumber and the dentist (and the repo man.) I am still confused about where I begin and the world ends. Not only am "I" an expression of millions of micro-organisms outnumbering my human cells, but I am a component of an even larger organism called a house, which takes in food and other materials (the paint I brushed onto the bedroom walls,) processes it through me ("me"?) and the rest of the family and then eliminates it through the various pipes that link it to the larger biome of the neighborhood, the city, the endless infrastructure and skeletal schema of the world.

continue to "Lost Pt. 4" a.k.a "Found"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lost pt 2

Novak is a Bohemian name meaning "New Man" or "New-Comer." Bohemia is "the home of the Boi," encompassing a large portion of the modern Czech republic, including Prague. Bohemia appears to have been settled when the Romans drove the Boi out of Northern Italy in the 2nd Century BCE. The Boi appear to have been a large Celtic nation, the name meaning variously "cow-herder" or "warrior." It is likely they were ancient cowboys depending on agriculture and warfare to survive.

They may be related to the Boetians of early Greece.

So, the Novaks are "New-Comers" from an ancient race of wandering Celtic cowboy warriors with ties to the early Greek civilization. Wild.  This much I know: not one generation of Novaks that I am aware of (in my family tree) has remained in the place they were born. We are perpetual new-comers. Strangers.

It is highly likely that the Novak name became so widespread - it is the virtual "Smith" of Bohemia - due to the Christianizing of Central Europe. As previously pagan peoples were converted to Christianity, they were made "New Men" having been "reborn in Christ."

Either way, the name carries a story. A story of constant motion and newness. A narrative in which it is easy to feel lost, or at the very least, far from home. Non-indigenous. An invasive species.

So I'm lying in bed with a toothache and this is what is going through my mind: dissolution and invasion. The discovery that my pain was due to resorption made the conflict internal: I was at war with myself.

I could practically hear my body arguing with itself: the tooth attacked by the mouth, the belly angry with the mouth, the limbs impatient with the belly, the mouth, and the tooth.

It was like the old parable: the limbs go to war against the belly, thinking it lazy and greedy, getting all the goodies while they do all the hard work. Finally the entire body begins to starve and must learn to appreciate the different functions and responsibilities each has for the survival of the whole.

[The parable has long been used to describe the socio-political functions of the state - the "body politic."]

So my dissolution continued down to the microscopic level as I realized that my "body politic" was like the early Greece of the Boetians: a loose coalition of independent city-states.

Then I made a disturbing discovery: My body's coalition included a vast nation of non-indigenous micro-organisms. In fact, they were the majority.

There are 10x as many micro-organisms in the human body as there are human cells.

So who am I anyway?

continue to "Lost Pt. 3"

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lost, pt 1

I lost myself. It started with a toothache. A back molar began to throb. I dosed myself with Tylenol and lay in bed enduring the deep dull pain and wondering what to do. No health insurance. No cash. So, until I  could afford a dentist visit, I would floss, rinse, dose, and concentrate. The tooth was commanding my attention. I could picture it, growing in my jaw; an infection developing from some foreign strain of opportunistic bacteria. An invasion. The root reaching into me, a kind of plant, a growth, an entity separate from me. I felt invaded.

There are trees and grasses and flowers in my yard. They all put roots down into the soil. They sometimes are invaded by pests and bacteria. That was happening now in my jaw. Why did I feel the pain when the "plant" was attacked in my jaw but not when the plants are attacked in my yard? "My" is such a relative term. "My yard" because I am the putative possessor of the territory (though the land as well as the bank would disagree.) "My jaw" because I am more than the possessor; the jaw is me. Is the tooth? The tooth is mine. When a tooth falls out, we say we lost a tooth, a thing once in our possession. So, now, this tooth of mine is causing me pain and I am ready to lose it. Will I lose me in losing my tooth? Am I an assemblage of parts? Where is the me that is the possessor and the experiencer?

An Alan Watts limerick comes to mind:

There was a young man who said "Though
it seems that I know that I know,
what I'd like to see
is the "I" that knows me,
when I know that I know that I know."

I was falling apart. Literally. I finally got to the dentist (deferred payment for a week) who looked at the tooth and said it was not an infection but a resorption. Root Resorption. The body was repossessing the tooth, resorbing it.

Medical Definition of RESORB: 

to break down and assimilate (something previously differentiated.) 

Last fall my car was repossessed, resorbed; the bank no longer wishing to play make-believe with me. ("Make-believe you own this.") This happened mere days before I was to appear at a major job: the National Storytelling Festival, which, as it happened, was the Universe's way of getting my car back after hefty fines.

"My car."
"My tooth."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Complete Creche Songs

Crèche Songs 
David Novak 


If you tell the story often enough 
You begin to believe it. 
Of course we had been the City of David, 
Which put us in the running. 
Location, location, location. 
The details helped: 
The star, the kings, 
And that bit about the census. 
An anachronism, true, but what of it? 
Science indulges in far greater margins for error 
And as storytelling goes, it’s nothing 
Compared to what they did to Nicholas of Myra. 
Good press for the North Pole 
But tough luck for Myra. 
So all in all we are happy 
To be the place where it all started. 
Not bad for a little town, huh?

The Ass 

Time was, 
I could chew a blade of grass 
And gaze lazily into the distance all day. 
My mouth would sing with juices, 
My back would hum in the sun. 
But I was taught to carry. 
And if I should drift away to gaze again into the distance 
I was always reminded of my burden and my task: 
To carry, and to wear so many cares. 
In time, 
My cares became me 
And I ceased to seek a heaven in the idle act of living. 
I did not ponder this 
Until that time I carried into Bethlehem 
An unborn child 
Who, likewise, 
Gave up his bliss 
For burdens.

The Bitch 

These people dismay me. 
How is it that such fundamental things 
Are so difficult for them? 
If I had not been there, they had been lost. 
The man was useless, 
The woman was helpless. 
But birth is ordinary work for me. 
I, it was, who licked the baby clean 
So his eyes might open 
And his lungs might breath. 
(And when they did, what a howl! 
It sounded the world’s sorrow. 
And when he slept, all the world was peace.) 
I gave him breath. 
I gave him my manger too, 
Already warm. 
The couple looked on gratefully 
And helpless.

The Spider

I taught the fisherman my art 
Which comes down to this: 
Much work making ready the lines 
Then much waiting. 
Flies, like fish, are drawn to bright lights. 
Any brightness, no matter how far off, 
Will make a migration. 
The trick is to run the lines between 
So thin and fine that they, 
Gazing far off, 
Do not see what is right in front of them 
Until it is too late. 
The hunting was good that night. 
I laid many stores by, 
Some still straining their wings 
Unaware of being caught. 
I however, being sated, 
Was at peace.

The Cow 

I groan with milk 
And yearn to nurse. 
My calves do not stay long enough. 
Too soon they are taken from me, 
And I must yield my teats to strange hands; 
A forced expression, but a relief. 
I have learned to be content 
With mothering others not mine. 
Mothering is enough. 
More, it is a desperate need. 
A longing. 
Come to me, feed of me. 
Take this my body unto you. 
Take this and think of me 
And we will become one. 
I am all communion 
Or nothing. 
Now, even as the human calf calls, 
I let down 
And groan to nurse.

The Camel 

You would if, like me, you were choked 
With desert dust. 
Out here every slight movement 
Makes the air thick, 
Makes the breathing hard, 
Makes me want to spit. 
That night we arrived 
And stopped at last 
There was stillness enough for the air to clear. 
How sweet the clear, still air is to me. 
Sweeter than water. 
Water is defense, but air is heaven. 
My breath was easy, 
I sipped the air like nectar. 
What was most rewarding that night 
After so long a sojourn 
After so many days and nights 
Of cloudy way-making, 
Was watching the dust settle. 
Sparkling motes of starlight 
Slowly sinking back to earth 
Into stillness. 
Into a truly silent night.

The Father 

Love, brimless, impelled me here. 
All fear, like shade, made light 
In Love’s bright promise. 
We said “Yes!” 
Now I am here. 
No home, no prospects; 
Danger imminent as night. 
Love’s bright promise recedes. 
All I see before me now 
Is needy mother and helpless child 
And a life of selfless labor. 
Such is Love’s assumption: 
Without profit or reward 
To give and to give over. 
The child of such Love must 
In his own turn 
Likewise give over. 
What black night is it 
So deep, so hungry, 
That feeds on all light, all sound 
Yielding only Nothing?

The Goat 

No beginnings but presage The End. 
All life feeds Death. 
My milk, my meat, my skin 
Will be taken. 

Even my bladder 
Will yield a plaintive bleating. 

Of all my uses this, my song, 
Most endures 
To voice the desperate futility of Being. 

Gone gone 
This wine becomes piss 
This flesh, clay 
This hope? 

Even this child of Joy and Light 
Shall be larded for Lamentations. 

In the end my song 
Shall be His. 

The Star 

Its funny 
That an event a billion years past arrives in view of these people 
And is taken for a sign. 

Beings that seek significance in events 
Will see significance in events. 
If it is there it has meaning 
If it is not there 
Still it has meaning 

Where I am 
Event is all 
But to those that seek signs 
There must be Time as well 
Time before and time yet to come 

And in the events 
The sign most often seen 
Is one’s self 

It is not enough to happen 
They must be assured that 
They were 
They are 
They will be 

Its funny

The Innkeeper 

Everybody needs something 

These are the things I provide 
Even when I don’t have them 

You find a better solution, go ahead 
In the heat of the moment 
With everyone clambering for your attention.

A stable is a good warm place. 
In truth it is often my extra room 
During high season. 

The storytellers pounced on it. 

Everybody needs something 
A stage for their little drama 
A chance at immortality 
Something to give them hope. 

I’m just the guy who is trying to get what he wants 
By giving others what they need. 

The Midwife 

There were many births that night. 
By the time I reached the stable
The old mother dog had the baby well in hand. 
I cut his cord and swaddled him, 
Then attended to the mother. 
I cleaned her and brought the babe to her breast. 
The father was kind and gentle and not at all reluctant to help. 
Of course I had heard the rumors, 
But I am skeptical of virgin births 
And the assumptions that go along with them. 
All children are sacred 
And the loving union of man and woman is divinity enough. 
What god requires such miracles to prove himself? 
An insecure one I’m thinking. 
If you doubt me then tell me 
What other than an insecure god would allow all my babes 
to come under Herod’s sword? 
Don’t get me started. 
All I have to say is 
He’d better not show himself to me 
If He knows what’s good for Him. 

The Sheep 

You tell the story 
And have placed me in it, 
Albeit in the background. 
If I had your sensibilities I might complain. 
But such things do not concern me. 
I was there before and remained there after, 
While your story only passed thru for a short visit. 
Long enough for wanderers to wonder. 
But I have no need for the extra ordinary. 
To me the stars are always bright 
The days always prophetic. 
Bliss is no special occasion. 
Mere existence, 
Sweet grass, sweet rest, 
Is all one and enough for me. 
For your sake the story calls attention to these 
Ordinary things. 
And if attention is paid, 
Treasure will be found 
Better than any wandering kings 
Might carry.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Creche Songs

About this time several years ago I suddenly had a poem. It was the voice of the Ass - as in Donkey - in the Christmas Creche. That started a flood of voices coming to me as poems. I have since collected them in a group as "Creche Songs." Here is the one that started them all. More to follow:

The Ass 

Time was, 
I could chew a blade of grass 
And gaze lazily into the distance all day. 
My mouth would sing with juices, 
My back would hum in the sun. 
But I was taught to carry. 
And if I should drift away to gaze again into the distance 
I was always reminded of my burden and my task: 
To carry, and to wear so many cares. 
In time, 
My cares became me 
And I ceased to seek a heaven in the idle act of living. 
I did not ponder this 
Until that time I carried into Bethlehem 
An unborn child 
Who, likewise, 
Gave up his bliss 
For burdens.