Thursday, April 16, 2015

Round and Round To Move Ahead

  A:   In a fit of unexpected bravery I've signed up for BikeNY’s Bike Basics (for fearful adults.) The last time I’d tried to conquer my resistance coincided with my older son flying off to college—one wobbly ride on a borrowed rusty bike down a quiet road to the beach. If nothing else it gave rise to a poem, a mothers’ musing on taking flight. So much time has passed. Now might be the time to try again.
     In a gym on Roosevelt Island on borrowed bikes we glide without pedals until we can balance for longer, then longer strides. Once mastered the pedals get reattached. We circle and circle, first one direction, then the other. The spokes of the wheels blur in a whirling illusion of solidity. After class, I am limping. Woe the tender creases of my uppermost thigh.
     At the next session we practice looking back over our shoulder and extending a hand to signal a turn. White knuckling the handlebar the effort to release my hand is far too great in the fleeting moment between the backward glance, and the turn itself. Plus there’s the jam of other fearful adults. Round and round, turning my head, glancing but not seeing, almost releasing, finally signaling for a nanosecond. It is ridiculous, I know. Acrid sweat is causing my glasses to slip down my nose. Round and round and the glasses are as precarious as I am and in a flash of cockiness I reach to push them up and find instead I am crashing down and the young volunteer with the Aussie accent is lifting the bike and me and chatting ever so warmly.  Round again a few more times, spinning my wheels. My heart is not in it, nor is it in my throat—my heart is in suspended animation least its beating throw my balance. It is the clock’s ticking towards classes end that circulates my blood.
     Kickstand kicked, helmet in the gunny sack, a sausage shaped welt is throbbing on my shin. I feel beaten. My illusion of control, rent. For now the enormity and discomfort of not knowing trumps any inkling of pride. On the tram crossing the river I practice yogic breath. Back on ground in Midtown, standing on a street corner in chill winter sunshine I tear the skin from an orange, then with sticky fingers pull apart a hunk of pumpkin apple bread, swallowing cake as if gasping for air. Later, ravenous before supper, I polish off some ice cream straight from the tub. 

B:    Standing at the cutting board, again with dull knives and I think as I have thought for weeks, no months, I will take them to the sharpener any day. And I think if only I were better with my knives. And I think, if only I practiced more. Wait, am I kidding? I cook every day. I know to get precise cuts there is wasteful trimming—I won’t do that. Then slices—mine are never even. Then julienne, a few at a time perfectly aligned, cut perpendicular into dice. Instead I stack too many, skew them in my fingers’ grip resulting in trapezoidal approximations. Or take chicken—my knife glides through some of the joints but has never mastered the one between the wishbone and the wing. Its a perpetual hack job. 
      There are things I know but don’t do, things I don’t know and won’t do. Things I might try. With the knife what’s missing is a deft, rhythmic clarion of the blade upon the board which comes from practice, and suffering an awkwardness of posture, a kind of coordination I will not, perhaps cannot master. Dare I let go the interminable buzz of what I should do, that constant judgmental fret? Dinner gets on the table. The cuts, though imprecise, are fine.

C.   At a meditation retreat at the local Zendo periods of zazen (sitting meditation) are interspersed with kinhin (walking meditation.) I’m listening to the bells, mimicking the bows. I suppose knowing where hands should rest and eyes focus and the ordering of time frees the mind. To me the formalities are spectacle.
     By all appearance we sit in stillness. Inside, a whirlwind circles my brain, breath, heart, gut, yoni, toes; the vortex contains me. Thoughts escape. I wrangle them back—you, and you, oh you again.
     The revelation is the snaking loop of kinhin which in the past I have despised—the hyperconscious tedium of one foot before the other in mind-numbing slow-motion. But here I am running to keep up, amazed by the gap before me, worried least I hold up those behind. Expanding. Contracting. Round and round, seeing faces, feet, gait, a part of the community and apart from it. At each round I anticipate glancing out the window at the far end of the room—an eleventh story vista I can’t quite take in because we are moving so swiftly, but still, the view is there. Maybe this time I will see more. Maybe this time. This one. Hello hopefulness, you again?  

D:  Days pass. Sitting with this story rising thoughts get lassoed, then corralled into notes. Round and round. What stays, what goes? The trick is finding balance. Maybe the trick is trust, or maybe just sticking with it.   
     On that street corner after biking my fingers were a mama bird feeding cake to my gaping mouth, soothing ruffled feathers, quelling a hunger borne of risk; a circle of its own, mother and mothered in one. Eating defiantly, lustily, indulgently, shameless. The taste of the cake created a memory that will outlast the incident with the bike. The flavor of the cake, and the act of eating it holds the emotion words only circle. I thought there was a way to break free of the circles, that if I mastered the circle I could then take flight.  Now I see its how the circle gets filled. 

Ellen Gray’s Pumpkin Apple Bread
yield: 2 loaves

3 cups AP flour (sometimes I use part whole wheat)
3/4 t. salt
2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t. ground cloves
15 oz. canned pumpkin
3/4 cup canola oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups chopped apples (to peel or not to peel… that is the question)
Two greased/floured 9x5 inch pans. Pre heat oven to 350.

Sift together dry ingredients. Whisk together oil, sugar, pumpkin and eggs. Add dry to egg mixture in thirds. Fold in apples. If you’d like, sprinkle 1 t. demerara sugar over the top. Bake about 55 min. 


  1. Very nice. I like the thought at the end of the piece. Good choice of images too.

  2. I loved this. "Mother and mothered in one." Thank you for writing.

    1. thanks Cosima. So good to hear from you.