Sometime in the late Seventies, a certain stream of photons flowed through a window in Barryville, NY. In the flow danced tiny bits of dust. I, at age four or five, stared transfixed at the beam. Did the beam create the dust or just illuminate it? I hoped the former, even though I suspect I was wrong.

Years later, I had an epiphany. According to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, time is experienced according to how we sense light. Therefore LIGHT==TIME. Excited, I sped to an astrophysicist friend and asked if my idea was accurate.

Nope! My friend informed me that light plays very little role in how physicists think about the phenomenon of time.

(This is why you always want to ask someone with expertise, folks)

The thing is that you can go the other way: since, according to Einstein, light is so plastic, physics had to proceed to more reliable ways of describing time (and time gets more complicated and much less assured as you discover more about it.)

Yet there is some relationship. LIGHT==TIME was off. But I am told that if I were to somehow teleport to a point far enough away from earth, I could see that moment captured in my memory fleeing out to distant stars. When we look into the night sky, we see the distant past. Light is a form of time travel.

I still remember that beam of light, defining the dust motes within it. Light and memory and time, all interwoven. Beams of light everywhere and always, in 1978, in 1928, in 1028, in -1028, ten thousand years before that moment, ten million years before that moment, ten hundred million years before that moment. Light may not define time, but it defines the moment.

(A juxtagraph is a prose poetry form, best described as “a mosaic of facts.”)

THE MBTA: A JUXTAGRAPH
-DW Twiddy

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is the mass transit system serving Greater Boston. It includes light rail, trolleys, trackless trolleys, heavy rail, buses, and ferries. The T, as it is known, serves more than 200 communities. At the end of 2017 the system carried 1.7 million passengers, about twice the population of the city of Boston proper, each day.

Between 1996 and 1999, every workday, I rode the Green Line B Train from Grigg Street, near Boston College, to Lechmere, almost its entire length, an hour each way. I read my newspaper, fell asleep, ate my lunch. The trolley became my living room, a second home.

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Shimon ben Yosef was a porter of Bethany. He owned several donkeys, and on their backs carried to the market in Jerusalem his produce, and the produce of those of his neighbors with whom he was currently on speaking terms.

The strangers approached Shimon at his work. “Our Master needs this donkey. He will ride him to the city.”

Ordinarily Shimon would have responded to this request with obscenities. But it was pilgrimage season, his most lucrative time of year, and he was feeling almost generous.

“Your master doesn’t want this donkey, trust me.”

“Has anyone ever ridden him? We were told to look for a donkey that had never been ridden.”

“Fuckin a, he’s never been ridden! This colt here, he’s mean. I’m the only one who can get near him, and that’s only because he know how hard I’ll beat him if he pulls any shit on me.”

The strangers looked nervous now, to Shimon’s great amusement.

“That is the donkey we need.”

“Suit yourself.”

With obvious fear on their face, the strangers took the donkey colt.

“Bring him back, or there’ll be hell to pay!”

“Don’t worry!”

But come that afternoon, there was no sign of them. When Shimon realized he had given away a free donkey, he flew into a rage rare even for him, and all Bethany knew it.

To his surprise, the strangers actually returned. Late that night, when any decent person was asleep. Which would have been the end of the odd episode, except–

The colt was never the same. When Shimon’s wife went to feed him, he didn’t try to bite her. When the village children got too close, he didn’t try to kick them.

Word went around that Shimon’s donkey was the gentlest in all the region of Benjamin. People began to come from miles around to see him. Just to pet his hide and scratch its ears was somehow comforting. The children rode him around the little town.

As the years went on, everyone had to admit that it even had an effect on Shimon. No one said this out loud, of course. It would something of an insult to claim a man had been improved by his donkey. But he didn’t yell as he used to, didn’t utter vile words to his family and neighbors anymore, didn’t lash out with his fists.

This continued. As someone once said: Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey. Even outliving Shimon, and all his family, and all that had been present that day when he served as a king’s throne, the donkey was a grace to many, to the end of his life.

When history presents us with something that doesn’t make sense, we must remember: it made sense to them where they were. If we could stand where they stood, it would make equal sense to us

In the same way, we may retort to our own future’s sneer: “We did what we could with what we had. And you also shall have your follies.”

Last night I dreamed of an Armenian-American woman of the early 20th century. She was in her early Thirties. She was angry. She was angry because her ex-husband had just died and left her millions of dollars.

An odd reason to be angry? But you must understand: she had left her ex-husband, who was a nationalist leader in the American and global Armenian diasporic communities, because he was controlling, abusive, and philandering. At some point she grasped he had groomed her from a young age to be both a leader in the cause and his wife, and became disillusioned with both his cause and him.

Now he had bequeathed all the millions he had raised from Armenians worldwide to her personally. Not as an institution–as an individual. She could either take the money as her personal fortune and use it selfishly, or she could use it for the intended purposes. She could not bring herself to do the former and she knew he knew she couldn’t. From the grave he dragged her back to the Armenian cause and chained her to it. She was furious.

And she took it out on her new lover, Harrison Ford. Or an early-20th-century Armenian-American man who looked like Harrison Ford, let’s say.

Then the dream skipped to her late ex-husband’s battles in World War I. He had raised an Armenian-American unit and led it against the Turks. The scenes were anachronistic–the Turks were using arrows. But then the dream shifted to a World-War-I-era film style, sepia and flickering, showing the unit’s victory parade into Paris. Except they showed up in their gas masks, to the horror and confusion of those lining the streets–until they whipped off their masks to reveal it was the brave Armenians all along! Then everyone laughed and cheered.

(That was all. Dreams don’t usually provide coherent narratives. There was no end. I like to think The Angry Woman took up the mantle of Armenian leadership, but in ways her late ex-husband did not foresee and would have strongly disapproved.)

Every day is another day I could post more Chinese poetry on this blog.

Yuan Danqiu loves celestial beings
At dawn drinks from the clear flows of the Ying River
Returns at sunset, purple and sacred mists within the mountains and hills
Thirty-six peaks circle all around

Long time in their spiral, I follow the rainbows and stars
Riding upon a flying dragon, wind sounds in my ears
Across the river, astride the ocean, connected to heaven
I know how to travel with heart-mind to the outer edge of Infinity.

(Translation unattributed)

I am suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to express our modern era as a movie pitch.

“See, it’s like Our Heroes came from dirt poverty but then they figured out the Secrets of the Universe and used it like wizards to completely restructure the world and make it a palace of wonders. Except here’s the twist: the stuff they were doing to make that palace of wonders? Turns out it was actually undermining the world while they were doing it! And if they don’t find a way to undo that, it’s going to wreck everything they built. So now they’re filled with self-doubt and they’re arguing with each other and no knows what to do when faced with this greatest challenge of all! Can they overcome their differences and come together to find a new way and save the world?”

“Sounds fantastic! How does it end?”

“Uh—I don’t have an ending yet.”