In Defense of Behemoth

I once met a cat whose name was not Behemoth. His real name, however, slips my mind, replaced by the name of the monstrous, vodka-drinking black cat from The Master and Margarita. Behemoth lay with paws tucked lightly under him, as he sat on the cold winter pavement. There, he gazed at me with wariness, hope, and self-admonishment for that same hope. I held out my hand. Would he scratch me? Cats have a poor reputation, you see, much poorer than perhaps any other domestic animal. “They scratch,” some say. “They don’t care,” others scoff.

I looked into Behemoth’s burning green eyes. Do you care?

His whiskers touched my fingers, slowly, as he watched me like a lover heartbroken a hundred times, learning to trust again. He was hesitant, like a child deprived of embraces and kisses, and indeed, such he was. At a month old he had been abandoned; and as a descendant of a species who chose to love us without our intervention, who chose year after year, century after century, to love us—the wound of betrayal Behemoth nursed must have been deep.

So with bated breath I watched as Behemoth unfurled into a furry serpent, round with age, silver hairs glistening amidst his black fur, eyes unblinking as we stared at one another. Then he closed his eyes and rested his forehead in my palm. Thus we rested for an eternity, and I could feel in his pressure against my hand his silent plea, “Don’t go.”

But go I must, and thus I left, and in my hand I still felt that softness, that token of love that I too betrayed. So here is my defense for that poor black cat, for that condemned, vilified species to which he belongs, and perhaps the heavens might take the worth of these words to spare Behemoth a night from rain.

On Thoughts and Prayers

“I’ll see you,” one might have said, “Remember your keys,” another might have said, but few perhaps thought to say, “I love you. I love you so much. Don’t go, because you never know what happens out there, even on the sunniest of days.”

Then a youth blind with rage, polluted with evil, extinguished the lives of so many who meant nothing to him, but so much to others. The skies should have poured in agony, the heavens should have screamed in rage. But all is quiet in those shifting skies, as they watch in silent grief.

Thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers, all I see is people saying “thoughts and prayers.” And then there are those who condemn the ones who have nothing to say but “thoughts and prayers.” But thoughts—the ones that seep into the soul, the ones that wrench the heart and bring forth tears like drops of blood—and prayers from those who have nothing left but gods and faith, who sob with hands against their heads and knees numb with hours of kneeling, who dare not ask why these things happen, why these things happen to people who have been nothing but kind; can we really blame thoughts and prayers?

The questions then are: Have you really been thinking? Have you really been praying? Have you really imagined the feeling of never being able to say again to Mama, or Papa, or child, or darling, “I love you. Be safe. I love you so much”? Have you thought that perhaps it is not always our negligence when we forget to say “I love you” today, that perhaps it is his fault, and the fault of all who perpetuate baseless hatred that some can no longer hear “I love you” tomorrow?

Have you really prayed—if you pray, that is—not so much for peace but for justice? Have you asked the gods, how can I help end the misunderstandings that underlie hatred?

If you have really thought, or really prayed, then perhaps the dead might feel some solace, or understandably, they might not.

But, if you have not thought so deeply or prayed so thoroughly, if you have not dipped into the rivers of sorrow and felt the acidic drops burn your flesh, then no, “thoughts and prayers” is not enough. Saying “thought and prayers” alone, while your mind drifts into forgetfulness and blissful ignorance, will never be enough.

Sleepy Days

What pleasure, what joy, exceeds that which we feel falling deep into blankets, pillows, dreams? As exhaustion ripples out into stillness, as reality blurs into oblivion, the thought of eternity comes to mind, thoughts on Plato, Socrates, and why they come together at a moment like this, one is too tired to know. In hindsight one might remember Socrates’s comment on death, on slumber, on eternity as a single night, and perhaps in dreams one might see the face of Plato recording with diligence his teacher’s last words. But right now, all one feels is the momentary calm of a tide pool, stirred by nothing, not even the wind. Those blue-green waters summon their courage to face the glittering sun without trembling, and as one falls deeper, deeper into sleep one nods drowsily in approval of the waters’ courage. One nods drowsily, feeling the softness of a pillow against one’s cheek, nods turn into nuzzling as nothing has ever seemed to feel so soft.

A Note on Vanity

In the early hours between dawn and morning, I catch a glimpse of a young man through a window admiring his own reflection. A small smile plays upon his lips and his eyes glimmer as they meet the gaze of his illusory twin, rippling across the windowpane. How we condemn vanity, how we insist upon its death, and yet as the young man passes by I wonder whether the seed of vanity is so terrible. I can bear the sight of a youth gazing at his image, thinking, I might never look so beautiful again, might never have looked as beautiful as I do today—and to keep, in sheepishness and delight, the ray of self-admiration to himself, he smiles at the ground, at the winter sky, and hurries away. Indeed, he will never be as beautiful tomorrow or the day after, for with each passing hour humanity suffers a million sorrows that veil the glow of human beauty. Look then, Narcissus—and I say your name with affection—look for just a little while, just a little while longer, before dawn beauty fades to day.

Retracing Snowfall

On certain mornings, in certain corners between red-brick walls, wind dances in secret beneath my window and sends fallen snowflakes aflutter. Perhaps these winds are not mere drafts of winter air, but winds of time reversing minutes, seconds—winds on which snow floats back into the sky. Or perhaps, seeing the delight with which wind dances, snowflakes forget the heartache that made them fall, made them pitch down, down, down from the heavens into this mortal realm. In blissful oblivion, they thus retrace their steps and find their way back home. I watch these spirits rise like ghosts released from the burdens of the living, watch these angels find new wings of ice. I watch them float in veils of winter gossamer until they become a pattern embroidered in the winter sky.

A Picture for Grandpa

I saved a picture for you, Grandpa, a picture of me and my sister, smiling. This is how we look, six years after we last saw you; this is how we’ll look forever, for I may never see you again. Last night my mother called and told me with a soft voice—laughter veiling sorrow—that Grandpa already forgot I visited him just two months ago. I asked her what became of that photograph and she did not reply. In Grandpa’s misty eyes, I do not age beyond first grade, and perhaps he still remembers the days he used to carry me as a baby—when he still had strength, when the lines on his face were not quite as deep—as though they were only a series of yesterdays. Perhaps they are. Who am I to tell him what is real and what is not? Especially when he looks so happy. Forget me, then, Grandpa, forget my visit, and I hope you never see that photograph, so you will never furrow your brows in confusion. Forget the face you saw two months ago, forget my voice, my height, my embrace. Just remember me as the child you once held, and we will live on forever.

Ellipses and Hyphens

Three dots in an ellipsis. One for me, one for you, one for time. Eventually, the distance between us grows, and time bleeds ink into you and me, until we are no more than a hyphen. A hyphen, followed by empty space. My mouth opens to speak, but my tongue is tied, my lips are dry, and my throat is too parched to utter anything of importance. A hyphen followed by nothingness. You wait, expecting me to say something, urging me to say something, but silence falls and encompasses us like ink, like time, like the second dot in an ellipsis. Eventually the writer realizes she does not want a lingering eternity, and erases the first dot and the third. We fall into oblivion and only time remains. A period, a single dot, marks the end of hesitations, the end of pained conversation, the end of you and me. The writer has forgotten what the period used to be, and so have I.

Love at a Distance

People say distance makes the heart grow fonder. People say distance breaks love apart. People say many things, believe in many proverbs, but know very little about the mysteries of love. I know very little about the four-letter word, only that the two nouns “love” and “leave” trace from the same root. Only that intimacy and absence, romance and distance, seem to have chained themselves together, like new lovers holding hands. I know very little about the tides of the heart, only that those red waters calm in the quiet of morning, but stir with fervor in the hours of night. I know so very little about that miraculous number “fourteen” that falls on a February morning every winter, every year. Tell me what those flights of roses do, those showers of chocolate that fall on attic floors uneaten, that sweeten the cold winds for lonely mice and spiders. I am not a cynic, and I dare not mock that sacred tremor of the soul that we call love. Only a stranger to the sweeping emotion, only a passerby glancing through windowpanes on candlelit nights like this one.

Verbena in Window Boxes

Verbena in window boxes, lifting their heads to watch the way sunshine reflects on windowpanes. A light breeze dances at this quiet hour, not yet four in the afternoon; passersby have long passed by to retire to their beds for an afternoon nap. Stray cats stroll on cobblestones, sometimes running after one another in a game of chase. Sparrows hop here and there, resembling wind-up toys dropped from the pockets of children at recess. The distance wavers like wet water colour on parchment; a swift stripe of lavender caught in studio sunlight as an amateur artist rearranges her brushes. Such were the afternoons that passed unnoticed in a sleepy village, such were the hours spent dreaming of other hours, other days. The verbena sways a little in their window boxes as the breeze continues to dance.

A Cradle for Newborn Souls

Perhaps each snowflake is a soul reborn. Cleansed of memory and heartbreak, the souls fall as petals from the Elysian Fields and transform into snowflakes. A little confused, a little scatter-brained, they drift down from skies of grey, floating here and there in search of a cradle one millimeter in area, one shadow of a pinprick in size. Careful not to disturb the hush of snowfall, love, lest you awaken the innocents, lest you frighten them as they come to meet us. Let them fall upon your eyelashes and adorn your eyes with their affection. Let them dance as children do in the absence of grownups. Watch them drift away as you would your growing child. Time passes too quickly to dwell on lost souls, so do not wait for them; they will not stay. Too soon they melt, and too soon you will forget them.