Thursday, March 23, 2006

"What words break you?"

Last week, I read at the MCCCA with a dozen or so other poets. The theme was ostensibly poetry about Africa (sponsored by Africa Without Borders) but there were many stripes of poetry and poets there. I was honored to follow on the tails of professors like Daniel Kunene and Roberta Hill Whiteman, Doctors of their craft and veterans of three hour readings like the one we had. I met great new faces, and afterwards, the younger contingency hit the Angelic, wiggled to reggae and shouted out ideas at each other - talk of poetry community was strong, about bringing together community and university, about bringing together our own and each others' words. Unity. I was overwhelmed many times in the conversations - so much sound, all evening long, from quiet, isolated words, to escaped hollered expression, to blaring live music backbeated by other, random, social conversation. Many times I found myself in a corner, beer in one hand, someone else's hand in the other hand, straining to listen to just the content of their speech - their history, their ideas, but I felt overcome by it all. This time of year marks the time I was in Vermont, and I am so hungry for writing community I am beyond hungry - so hungry I had forgotten I haven't been eating, forgotten that the bread of poety is supposed to nourish me.

Breath is what breaks me.

I went to a dentist for the first time in years earlier that day.

Ok - I have to stop for a funny side story here...

Earlier on in the day, I had gone to the dentist for the first time in over three years. Even three years ago, all I got was a cleaning, and even that was a three-day cheap MATC training cleaning. There's a classic side story here - I've even written a poem that alludes to it, so many of my friends have heard it, about how due to some weird bureaucratic miscommunications before my cleaning, my attendant got interrupted in the middle of it to be told by her supervisor that she was cleaning the wrong woman. What made her supervisor think that? They had somehow mangled my name into Muaim Han (presumably "asian", though who knows which country) and so she was shocked to see a white woman and worried they had scheduled the wrong one in.


Back to the breath story... entering the clinic last week, I was horrified to quite clearly hear every tool in its chip and scream action in the whole joint. I thought, my god, I never used to hear THAT at my childhood dentist. I'm leaving! But it turned out later to be a rhythm for my breath. See, my childhood dental assistant (because its about the assistants, not the dentists, big surprise) talked too much and with bad boundaries. So when they asked me what I wanted in order to be comfortable, it didn't take me long to realize I wanted to try silence. "Silence, please". My assistant looked surprised, and she had to stifle some of the normal chit chat, but eventually the rain and clinking of tools let me be with my body, be with the pain, and it was the breath I was best to be with all along. So when a new friend, a poet, at the bar or afterbar after the poetry reading asked me "What words break you?" I struggled, but underneath I knew, I knew it was a boring and also glorious buddhist-y answer - its breath, it's the moment before words become words. Chogyam Trungpa talks about this a lot - mostly with photography, but also with words, in his first book, Shambhala Path of the Warrior. I am stunned by it again and again.

Let's face it - who *doesn't* think they hate the dentist? I went through 4 years orthodontry, with my scary white and skinny doc and all his pert, fuckable assitants. My overly invasive hygenist. I can't help but think, now that I've seen what silence does for me, that so much of it was the dread of attempting to avoid pain. What breathing allowed me, as it always has eventually in the last few years, is silence. Silence to recognize as the pain would come and go. In some ways, I see all of this as part of the joy of getting older and being ok with asking for what I want without inhibitions. I think Buddhism is a major catalyst, though. That, and that my new dentist's first name is Golden. As he also followed my silence request, I watched the snow outside and was able to imagine my grandfather and the tiny window he lived with for years, telling the temperature by the temperment of the local squirrels scurrying past the tiny section of sky he could squint to see. It was contemplative dentistry. Go figure. Breath, you win one more point. And you break all.


  1. "As he also followed my silence request, I watched the snow outside and was able to imagine my grandfather and the tiny window he lived with for years, telling the temperature by the temperment of the local squirrels scurrying past the tiny section of sky he could squint to see."

    You are connecting quite a few threads here.

    Some coincidences - I am reading poetry tomorrow at a local poetry group called Loquations and I am reading mostly Black poetry - from a compilation called "Aloud", which puts together in print the "poetry slam" of the neyoricans poets cafe. Another selection I will be reading is from a compilation titled "Revolution on canvas," which is mostly poetry by musicians who are known mostly for their lyrics.

    Second. I have never been to a dentist either. Never. How are my teeth, bad I fear, good I hope. Late, lonely nights in Mumbai can suffocate you, and I've been quite stressed this month. I've needed my sedatives quite a lot - but now I am trying to get back to other forms of sedation - like overwork, writing etc. Because mostly much before writing and art were "work" for me, they were medicine. And I should remember that.

  2. thanks for this miri. didn't know i was saving this post for tonight but that's how it works out. thank you.