“THE GARDEN OF HEART’S DESIRE”

(Excerpt from Intimacy, an unpublished novel written in the early 1990s)

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The Garden of Heart’s Desire

So, begin with longing. Longing is the key. 

Without it, the tall thick blue door will not open, will not allow entrance through the arched dark corridor whose end admits a small semi-oval of light, giving just enough illumination so you don’t have to crawl on hands and knees, guided only by the feel of cool bumpy plaster as you make your way to this strange, familiar place. The scent of a perfumed garden precedes your arrival. Your cells quicken with pleasure as your nostrils take the message:

“Oh do not run but be still, my heart, for we are approaching the secret garden of heart’s desire.”

With each step the allure grows greater. Even if, from the middle of the corridor, you can only see the shapes of things — a purple clump that might be irises, a red grouping that might be roses ~ you no longer require exact details in order to situate yourself. You have never seen this garden, and you have dreamed of it forever. It was created by brilliant gardeners who know the secrets of the universe, in whose hands all seeds take root, all shoots are tended, all soil composted with the useful dregs of what you do not need, what is superfluous to your well-being. These gardeners’ ways are light years ahead of anything you could fathom. Yet these gardeners have been brought here to tend this plot for you. This is, after all, your garden.

It has awaited you all your life. You knew it as a child. You lived there when your eyes were closed, coming back to the noisy world with a startled jerking of the head. Later, you learned to  keep your eyes open, to look outside and outside only. The garden was still being tended. But without you there, it lacked a crucial ingredient — a nourishment of mineral in the clear spring water, a special note the local birds could not sing. Your garden has thrived in your absence, well-tended and well-loved from the moment you left it, awaiting your return like the most majestic of fair-minded rulers. And it will continue to be tended without you there, and will continue to thrive, and the gardeners will work their horticultural magic not only for you but for themselves, for the love of creating, of tending, of developing a soul.

Yet you have dreamed, in quick glimpses, of this garden all your life. You have longed for its comfort, you have yearned for its beauty, you have craved its life-giving nourishment for the eye and the ear and the mouth and the heart. You fear, during those rare glimpses, that you are but a trespasser, that you will be turned away if you encroach over the property line — or worse yet, punished: jailed, or flogged, or publicly humiliated. You want so much what is inside that wondrous garden, what is out of reach. You have no idea on earth that you are the rightful owner.

What makes you walk through the dark corridor, this time? What causes you to come so close that you can tell this gorgeous garden is not a dream, that no savage dogs are being set upon you? Why, this time, can you see the door that opens to the corridor that opens to the garden?

Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and the door shall be opened. Ask, and it shall be given. Readiness is all.

— Naomi Rose,  © 1993. All rights reserved.



“LIKE SMOKE”

(Excerpt from The Blessings Ledger, an unpublished memoir about money written in the early 2000s)

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Like Smoke

My mother and I had been downtown walking, walking for hours, it seemed. When we found ourselves in a part of town way beyond home, with the sun starting to go down, I said, “I’m tired. Let’s take a bus home.”

 My mother looked down at the pavement and growled, “We don’t have the money for it.” There it was, again—my family’s sudden, inexplicable poverty.

Pink light streaked the sky, the only thing with color.  This part of town had no green of trees, had nothing at all that grew. Everything was paved. Even the brick-smokestack buildings of the projects down the street were grimed into grayness.  Suddenly, something about these projects looked familiar.

“I think that’s where Carole Schreiber lives,” I said, pointing.  Carole had recently been my counselor in day camp, sixteen years old to my twelve, vivacious and pretty, with thick curly black hair.  She was worlds apart from me: she wore makeup and smoked cigarettes, and joked familiarly with boys.  Yet she was kind to me, she smiled at me often, I grew inches from the look in her eyes when I was with her.

My mother straightened up, hearing this, and her eyes brightened.  “We’ll borrow a dollar for the bus from her,” she declared, pleased with this inspiration, and tugged me forward with finality.

My mother strode before me on the way to Carole’s building, plowing the air on her four-inch high heels as if she were squaring back her shoulders to approach a bank for a loan.  I dragged my heels behind hers reluctantly.  “Do we have to?” I muttered.  “I don’t mind walking home.”  This reversal suddenly seemed preferable to showing up at Carole’s door and having to endure my mother’s asking for a dollar.  It would be better to walk home in the dark, exhausted, than to present ourselves in such an abject way.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” my mother retorted, gathering speed.  “We’re almost there.”

I saw “Schreiber” listed by the doorbell when we reached the project’s front door.  Now there was no excuse.  We rode up in the elevator not talking, my stomach clenched into a fist.  “Here it is,” my mother whispered, tracking the apartment number.  And then we were standing together in the hall right in front of Carole’s apartment, my heart pounding wildly as my mother reached for the bell.

I wanted so much not to be there that I could scarcely breathe.  At least if my mother did all the talking, maybe I could acquit myself silently, could convey with my eyes or a tilt of my head that I was sorry, I’d been dragged here, this was not my idea….

And then, at the crucial moment—when the door opened up a crack and there was Carole looking out at me with an expression of surprise but welcome, with pink curlers in her wound-up dark hair—my mother ducked behind the corridor wall so that I was left alone.

“Yes?” Carole asked quite sweetly, because it was obvious that I would not have rung the doorbell if I had not wanted something.

I stood open-mouthed and mute, suddenly betrayed in front of my idol. Yet I could not fail to ask for the money, since my mother was in earshot behind the wall. 

“We, I, walked all the way here,” I fumbled lamely.  “I didn’t mean to. . . . It got late. . . .  I didn’t expect to get so tired.  Could I borrow . . . ?”  The “I” tasted sour in my mouth.

Carole smiled with kindness and ease, and went back inside to get her wallet.  She held out a dollar when she returned.  “No rush in paying it back,” she said, looking beautiful.  “Good luck.  I hope the bus comes soon.” 

And only when the door had closed audibly with a click did my mother stick her head out, scouting to see if the coast was clear.  And when her whole body came into view, I saw that her shoulders were more erect than before, as if during her time behind the wall she had been addressing her own embarrassment with some internal military drill.

The bus came quickly, along with the night.  I paid for our fare with the dollar “we” had borrowed.  We were silent the whole ride home.

— Naomi Rose,  © 2004. All rights reserved.



“POSTCARDS FROM THE LOST WORLD”

(Full text of a short book published in 2001, reissued in 2007)

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Postcards from the Lost World

All through my childhood, I had experiences of what I later came to read of as "rips in the veil," the parting of a filmy inner curtain that revealed the other world, the world later described by poets and saints and mystics as "Paradise," or "the lost world." Perhaps because my own parents were dreamers, and for a long time fed me on their dreams, I felt more comfortable in the dream world than in the strange, often barbaric and competitive tussle of what was called "real life."

While I was young, and my heart quite open, these rips came as great gifts, like friends from long ago who lived closer in the heart than anyone I knew in person. I could never tell what would occasion these remembrances; only that when they came, there was a great swelling of joy, a recall of something very important, more important than whatever I was caught up in at the moment, and then, when they mysteriously faded away, I felt an enormous loss, a panic to be suddenly stranded here, in this body, in this bright, football-playing world where I was somehow to toughen myself that I too might, in my own way, bash my padded shoulders, my helmeted head against the world that would call me out onto some barren playing field and blow a piercing whistle and I would have to enter the fray.

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No heroic event, no stirring human drama, no recitation of the course of history stirred me more than these glimpses through the veil. When they came, they dimmed the human strivings as so much noise.

One recurrent scene came to me in the crib, and then again later in life, in the midst of an ordinary conversation or during a hard and despairing time. And this scene flooded me with a great golden hope beyond questioning, let loose unbridled certain joy and cellular knowledge of what I was and what for and why. It was simply this: a great cliff seen in sunlight, in the afternoon’s golden light, its massive outcrops copper in the light, the light the gold of just turning, just moving into sunset. And above the copper-glinting cliff a sky of turquoise blue. In my crib I lay looking at this old friend, this call to home, this landscape that moored me to something I could not ever name, but which I knew with my heart’s beat and life’s blood, and had always.

Although this scene came and went, always at its own bidding, never mine, its golden light followed me, invisible, through the gloom of later years. And something of its echo, as a felt sense rather than a vision, would be behind me or within me during precious or trying moments: walking barefoot, as a young child, on moist grass, wearing a sundress of yellow, with the yellow morning sun warm on my bare shoulders, bending down to smell a Black-eyed Susan, its deep dark center cupped by bright yellow petals. The cliff’s untold story stayed with me, invisibly, bringing the natural world into delicious, trustworthy focus, making it possible for me to yield myself to whatever, whoever of love was there: a flower, a grasshopper, Marais and Miranda singing deeply and sweetly from my record player, my velvet-soft mother’s grained, perfumed arms, my oversober father’s freshly shaven face. I was visitor, then, to this world, but one with unexpected postcards from home.

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My father, himself, was a rip through the veil, when I was young. He was stranger to me, and in some ways frightened me with his withdrawn presence, his silent, martyred loneliness. He played the role of Other so well, as men did and were supposed to do. So he left for the day, leaving me with my pincurled writer-mother, and returned at night, walking through the door with the evening cold still hanging on his topcoat. While he was doing well in the World Out There, the place to which he went when he was not in that door frame, returning, he treated us to all the wealth he was capable of. He brought me books and records, and jewelry, and summers in the country, and stories that he had gathered over the course of studying a secular human history, and stories he wrote himself, which was his business as well.

One day when I was in the bathroom and he was helping me wash my hands, he took a box out of his pocket and gave it to me. Inside was a ring with three turquoise stones, set horizontally in silver, As my father fit the ring on my finger, while the morning sun slanted gold-white through the bathroom window, a full sense of recognition came to me, without words or direct memory. It was the same feeling as watching the cliff. It opened an entire level of turquoiseness, and all that that meant, whatever it was: turquoise and silver jewelry, turquoise sky, my father’s wonderful hooked nose that he so hated and that I so loved. With this ring came the remembrance, not ever in words and barely in pictures, of all the many times I had been here before, just not as quite “me”; of all the many times I had stood open-hearted in a circle of light (this time in a bathroom, by the sink), all the many landscapes and city scenes I had known, from sunlit massive cliffs to cobblestone towns, all brought back in this moment of accepting the gift of the ring. This ring, which I received in full delight, married me to this turquoise world, whose threads would fade and almost sever, until, after many a far journey, they returned again.

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But until my heart broke, as a child, and therefore while I still could trust the world, it actually didn’t take much to bring postcards from the lost world through to me. I received the postcard while watching “The Howdy Doody Show,” sitting in my friend Marsha’s living room and eating sandwiches on TV trays in front of this new, strange box that showed black-and-white pictures.

I was entranced by the medium. I hated “Howdy Doody,” he and Buffalo Bob were insufferable and treated kids like morons; I hated the mean circus of its pranks, its loudness and stupidity. But I enjoyed one pompous marionette, Phineas T. Bluster, and I fell quite in love with a beautiful young maiden called Princess SummerFallWinterSpring. In her name, in her gracefulness, in her sweet poised walk, I felt my anchor, my innocence held and buttressed in a sunlight-cliff way. When they chased her with seltzer bottles, or tumbled her, unsuspecting, off heights onto a trampoline, when they made fun of her in any way, my stomach went into a terrified tumble of its own, and I felt physically sick. It was more than compassion, it was more than empathy, it was more than remembrance; it was a gut-level terror that the turquoise world would be somehow beaten down, mocked into nonexistence, and that no one would be there to anchor me to it. I would have to run away, or to join the mockers, to toughen my skin and laugh as though nothing hurt, nothing was wrong, when in fact, by this simple seltzer-attack on Princess SummerFallWinterSpring, the entire world was in grave danger.

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One day, during Assembly Period in perhaps third grade, I sat among hundreds of children fidgeting in hard wooden chairs, wearing the requisite white shirts and blouses of Assembly. I went through the ritual as usual: rising from the hard seat, singing the awkward “Oh Say Can You See,” obediently putting my right hand over my left heart — but not saying the Pledge of Allegiance, merely lip-synching along with the crowd so that I might walk that fine line between not standing out or being punished, yet not promising fidelity to something I did not understand or, in its obligatory nature, come to freely. Its sing-song over, I sat down with the others and waited for another boring speech to come from some teacher or the principal or a guest speaker, a speech that would make me dizzy with boredom and make the vertical folds of the curtains on the stage begin to shimmer and dance.

But this day, something different. A family of Indians, dressed up in nature costume: feather and buckskin, and beaded wondrous designs and colors. The Turquoise World had come to me, here in this ritual prison! A man and a woman and children spoke softly, then did a dance on the stage, and sang a chant in syllables that I seemed to know better than I knew my own language. Vowels, long and full: Heya, ho, heya, ho.

And the sunlight came not so much on them, in this dreary huge public school auditorium, not so much on them from the high, small windows, as from them, from within them. Gold light filled me, hearing them, watching them. I felt known, and rescued, and scooped up with kindness, and loved — more loved than I had known in this life so far.

How strange to feel this. How strange, when I knew full well, at the age of eight, my own name, my English/Yiddish-language history, the family stories, my address, my phone number, my middle name, the capital of France, the inventor of the sewing machine, how strange to want to leap up and out of my hard wooden seat and spring down the aisle and run up into the soft gold-streaming arms of these strangers dancing on the stage, to rejoin the circle of their musical light, to take them back and be taken back.

— Naomi Rose,  © 2001, 2007. All rights reserved.