Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Turtles Began Surfacing

What was her name, the married nurse I fooled around with in a supply closet in 1990, first year of law school? It happened twice and we were friendly after yet for the life of me I can't recall her name. I do know saying it aloud had to do with the alveolar ridge. She was rail-thin, a runner, murmured "you" a lot between kisses.

I was living with my parents then, an embarrassment but there were no other options, and you do what you have to do. They laughed at my stories about the old men at work, went away a lot on weekends. I'd sit on the little porch and write structurally complex poems that went nowhere but held my attention. I was reading deeply the literature on birds, walking alone for hours at Fitzgerald Pond, trying to square poetry and the law, bird-watching.

In one of those poems I used the phrase "Tooth Mother" to describe Ellen - that was her name, Ellen - because I had an intuitive sense that what we were doing was dangerous for both of us, albeit in different ways. The poem didn't blame her, just went into the question of why desire acts so privileged. I couldn't find a draft now if I wanted.

I went on a couple of dates with another nurse, flirted pretty hard with two more, but something in me with women was slipping. There was a lot of space between what I imagined and what kept appearing and it wasn't clear what could change. Somewhere around that time I saw my first mockingbird and began piecing together the difficult posture of worship my life was about to assume. I remember in late May thinking seriously for the first time about celibacy and then meeting Chrisoula a few days later. The night we met I sat out back with a camping lantern, welcoming moths.

Our second or third date I took her to Fitzgerald pond. We held hands on the trails, ending up on an east-facing rock. A bunch of turtles began surfacing and climbing nearby logs. They were like allies or messengers. It was like that moment before church begins, the priests and deacons and altar servers gathering. We couldn't speak. We knew something significant was happening, we knew it was about us.

Chrisoula put her hand on my shoulder and eased me back on the warm rock. When she knelt to kiss me, her hair framed my face. It was like a veil behind which we kissed gently for a thousand years. When at last we stopped and straightened and looked around, not one of the turtles had moved.

That was how I arrived at last in the Country of Turtles, solidified my poetics and spiritual intentions, and began a long apprenticeship in Love.

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