for Robert Heyob
This is to thank you. Not you but the boy Marine whose nose was cracked by a sadistic officer, summer of ’68 — with a rifle-butt across the face. Penalty for moving the eyes, trying to see more than the raw shaved neck of the recruit in front. Of the recruit. In front. Of. This is for the boy you were, called Scum, Animal, forced to bark back “Yes, sir!” Who resisted just enough to survive and drive a cab for 12 years through gray backstreets, ferrying tourists, whores, and junkies. Bless the stubbornness of your frustrated hands who held on, knowing they could do more than cock a gun, grip a steering wheel, or stuff dirty dollar bills in a back pocket. When I met you I saw the lined monk’s face, the thin ponytail, arms drooping like banana leaves beneath sloped shoulders. Your deceptive mildness that made jokes instead of promises. The makeshift massage table set up in a friend’s basement. Did not guess the power, what was in your hands. You held our wrists like flowers by the stem. Listened. Did not know. Nobody knew what to do and we were desperate. Alan pale puffy and weak as pastry dough, lay down under your hands, accepted without faith the strange needles, drank the bitter herbs you gave him. I sat and watched you work on him, your face still as stone water. Only the eyes dowsed, searching for the place to tap, the place to touch. I saw a man hover over another man’s body, not to kill or take, but knead, stretch and pull health from swollen joints. Watched you press then cradle his leg affectionately. “You’ve got legs like goddamn tree trunks!” How you laid it back down with the care of a mother. Over the months we came to trust a healing we couldn’t understand yet. Followed you into T’ai Chi, your hands weaving baskets of air. Carry the invisible ball of energy, life-force, cradle it as if the earth itself were between your breast and hip, with great care, great love, great breath. Great craft, a boy from Ohio who moved like a block of wood you told us, laughing. How you had to persist three years in this old slow excruciating dance, had to study bears’ lumbering shuffle, before warmth buzzed in your hands and made honey there. Where is healing? Does it move through our shimmering moments like a snake shedding its skin? Or is it the stone at the bottom of the pond we dive and dive for, the stone we tossed ourselves all those years ago? This is to thank the boy who didn’t want to break or be broken. Who stood at attention blood running down his face, insisting he was whole. Who could not then have dreamed this, here, now, the herbs in neat rows of spiky smelling jars, the people in their bodies, each like music locked mute in its ecstatic violin. Thank you for not knowing what or how but for being willing to say yes when this dreamed you, yes there must be something precious in what burns between my hands.