[This is excerpted from a post from Hedgebrook Writes, almost exactly one year ago, May 27, 2011, you can read that post here. ]
I’m thinking about the spirit of relatedness, and its attendant gratitude I feel so strongly anytime I pick up a pen.
In particular, I’m thinking about this in relation to my friend Naomi Shihab Nye. For the past few summers, I’ve had the pleasure of providing some assistance with the poetry class Naomi and Paul Haller have taught at Tassajara & I’d like to share this story from a few summers ago that so perfectly illustrates Naomi’s capacity to embrace the completely inscrutable not from the position of wanting to get the riddle to hold still and disclose itself, but to regard it with a kind of open-ended curiosity.
One morning, a day after we’d arrived, Naomi appeared in the courtyard with a mystery. She’d left her hairbrush in her bathroom and when she returned to her room, the brush was on the bed and around each bristle was a tuft of white fluff. We staged experiments to try to divine the source of this strange development. Naomi borrowed my brush and ran it through her white towel to see if that might have somehow been the cause, that maybe she wrapped the brush in her towel on the way back from the bathhouse. But no, not a thread came off.
Part of the conundrum was how quickly it happened. Was it the cat who matter-of-factly entered her room the night before? Was that a white cat? But even so, who brushed it? Was the kapok filling in a zafu somehow implicated? Again, nothing approached plausibility.
Naomi finally posited that it was the work of her father, who had died about a year earlier, and who in life was known for doing such things as planting fig trees in other people’s yards. She reasoned that the complete absence of any other explanation was his way of making sure she didn’t miss his greeting.
“Angel hair,” as my friend Bernd said.
For days, I kept thinking of Naomi’s hairbrush. It kept collecting theories, asserting quietly its investigation of unknowing. Maybe your hairbrush is a star nursery, I suggested to her. It became a sign of the space, the vents between worlds. Did dimensions meet at those bristles? Was it the (then) firestruck Tassajara landscape restating itself?
After returning from the workshop, I listened to a talk by Enkyo Roshi, “Intimacy and Sangha,” and she was exploring the word for intimacy in Japanese “I love the word in Japanese, mitsu, which refers to the closeness of cotton batting in a futon, the threads of cotton all together, that’s mitsu, to be that close, to be familiar, deeply familiar.” I of course thought of Naomi’s hairbrush.
In the service of trying to explore this close cotton batting of the relatedness I mentioned earlier, I find myself eager to relate incident after incident where these connections unspool in ways that feel miraculous. I can never do justice to it all here. The temptation is to try to diagram it, but the lines extend and blur.
If I did attempt such a drawing, it would probably look like Naomi’s hairbrush.
Here’s Naomi, looking very millions, along with Jerry Stern and Robert Pinsky, at the Academy of American Poets 2010 Poets Forum.