April 30, 2024

The Thousands: A Tithe

By Anne Germanacos

“The Thousands” grew from a simple daily practice, a ploy to liberate the flow of a day—and the thoughts, feelings, and data that accrue throughout it—from its calendar date. Instead of typing January 1, 2019 at the top of a digital “page,” I simply typed “1.” Over the course of a day or two, I typed one thousand words. Then, at the top of the next “page,” I typed “2.” I continued this way, writing one thousand words in a day, or over the course of a week or ten days, until I reached twenty-five groupings of one thousand words each.

For a few years, I exiled the document with its twenty-five thousand words to a folder somewhere, buried and lost “inside” my computer. A secret concealed.

After some time, I returned to this collection of words only to maintain their secret, concealing them further behind layers of color and shape, allowing only traces of the words to peek through. 

Recently, I felt a desire to see some of the words emerge more clearly. I decided to distill the initial set of twenty-five thousand words by condensing it to a tenth of its original volume. What follows is a lightly edited version of the twenty-five hundred words that remained. 

The practice of dividing what we have by ten, and making the smaller portion into a tithe (in order to share the benefits of what we’ve accrued), is an old one. Biblically speaking, a tithe is what we must give away. I’ve done the opposite, only holding on to the remainder:

One tenth, with nine-tenths thrown on the wind.
Handed back—to God, to spirit, to the vast nonhuman.

A flushing out, an emptying, a cleansing. 

What’s left after the purge is more desired, more cherished, perhaps a form or phrase to spark a sense of the elusive present. 

The Thousands: A Tithe 

I learned this then, and know it now.

Thinking about other selves, skins, mottled, ripped, torn. 

Can art catch a soul?

Sometimes I mistakenly put the brush into the coffee instead of the water, adding a little color to the brown.

A breeze in the trees. 6:20 p.m. 

This is just what a mother is: too much. So you suck and push her away and pull her back and walk beside her when you can, but something in her, the very fact of her, is too much and is somehow crushing. You crush her in return. Not necessarily the solution to the problem. The story follows her to the grave, including trills of humor. Even past the grave, you laugh at the same things. More than anything, you share laughter.

We ate dinner in the light because it wouldn’t get dark until late. You made a sound like a mortal injury. The salad was majestic. The vegetables had sat for a day in miso-ginger dressing. Black and white sesame seeds. Yuba. 

I waited, frightened.

This is our time on earth. A drop. A sprinkle. Let it thicken to know what it is while it is. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing, even, lasts very long.  

Who was this old woman with a long white braid tied around her head, tucked beneath a loosely woven cotton scarf? 

How did she know a language I could understand, and what, really, was she telling me? 

Why did she continue to fill the black cistern with goldfish when, at every full moon, they disappeared?

When the tide goes out, you can walk on the seabed. It’s startling, the lack of water. When the tide returns, you take to your fins, your gills. Give up lungs, legs.

So, really: Whose placenta is it? The mother’s or the child’s?

No one ate it, scooped up and incinerated before I could claim it. 
Does that make me a bad mother?

It rained for two days but that knot of bird shit still marks the corner of the north window. 

We huddled there, looking out at the bay. We gossiped a little, laughed a lot, touched and laughed more. That doesn’t begin to express what it was.

Revelation is language. Being in its hand is right brain; holding it in your hand is left. 

Dreamt that a woman I trusted took a knife to my throat. Lengthwise. She drew it down across my sternum to a point between my breasts. Blood flowed, then stopped. It hurt, but not terribly, and I knew it was necessary: a form of healing.

For a variety of reasons, I think this is a good place to grow old.

A crying child.
A conversation in Hebrew and English.

The plumber returned but couldn’t fix it. He couldn’t even locate the problem.

Swam. Almost alone in the pool. When the sun goes behind the building, everyone goes inside.

The crying continues. 

Another baby now. Two babies? In summer, the crying goes house to house, a buzzing fly.

Nihad prayed here yesterday. 
As he bent towards the ground, I poured cold water into a clear glass. 

In the night, I said to myself: I don’t want to be here! Then, like a baby, calmed.

Here we are: looking out on the Galilee, looking inside: internal eternal.

Avivah said, and she’s said it before: it takes such courage to live. 
I know what she means. 

We were immersed in green.

I’ve never lived on the street.

Though I once ran away from home, with a child-sized suitcase. I don’t remember what I put inside it, but a toothbrush comes to mind. I stood beneath the stairs leading from the sidewalk to the house, knowing I was (almost) somewhere else. 

I am happy, at peace. You are asleep on a bed of clean white sheets in the other room. Only the cicadas and a slight cool breeze between us.

Oleander is poison, smells like cake.
Good baking, she says, handing me the bloom.

Here the rooms are, essentially, one. I hear his breath, his movements, his hands in the water, his feet on the wooden floor. Zucchini soup. Revithia soup. Something with the leftover pork from three days ago, oh well. 

Our children and their partners, and the two of us, and the air that unites us. 
And now, a crow.

Spiro with one eye is a kind of secret friend. We say hello and chat, exchange a sentence or two, and my son is with me when the one-eyed man atop a tractor says: he deserves to be skewered and cooked alive. 

I love reading books about consciousness. They jolt me awake.

Paint brush dipped, smeared, coated, released onto the page.

Last night, the rabbi said he went through all his drashot from the past eight years and culled several dozen of them from the pile. 
He said: I say the same thing over and over again!
I said: We all do. Every book, every drash, every conversation. It’s all one thing.

And suddenly it all came back. In bubbles of being, existential champagne. She was there for herself and the world and if it had to happen in a bubble, so be it. No one survives very long without one, I’ve come to think.

This house has a door and windows, but as for sound, outside is in.


No desire for islands. Ever.
Never desired islands. Ever.


Last night they were saying these three things:
Nihilism, escapism, and just plain trying.

That layer between the world and the moment arrived:
itself a place.

This, here, is bliss.

I wake up, paint a portion.

God frames,
allows for the ballast of humility.

How we depend on the contrivance of man-made time to put a bead on light.

Late July. Heading toward winter.

Grapes are so much better than grape juice.

I swear I hear—

Danny’s face darkened. He was somehow overcome.

I couldn’t see it play on their faces, just their voices.Tell a dark story in a dark place—what do you expect?

Too often for comfort, I dip my brush in the wrong cup.
Is watercolor poisonous?

(Is coffee?)

They spoke of the vegetables that don’t taste the way they used to because all the water used for irrigation is desalinated. They prefer Greek produce.

Tamar explained: she remembers how faith felt to her as a young child.
It began as an abyss. She stepped into it, and the world became clear. 

I told her of the sun and the clouds, standing in the yard, euphoric: darkness overcome by light.

I head home tomorrow.

Once, my acts were in writing, not in meaning but in the very act itself: stopping, thinking, feeling, moving words to fingers to screen or page. The thought of that act can be overwhelming. 

Always a fan of freedom, as long as my husband’s hands touch mine.

Labor Day weekend keeps the city relatively quiet. Mostly here, and tranquil, reading my books, drinking my coffee and tea, frolicking with my husband, on the stairs and in the rooms—he goes in one and I come out the other. Like worms in an apple?

I said: Well, you may find yourself crying more.
He said: I cry all the time already!
I said: Like when you see a bird out the window!
He said: Oh, I’ve always cried when I see birds.

The strange thing is this: three men in a row, three men in three adjacent houses, all with prostate cancer. Does that mean it’s in the water? The air?

I love that he’s a priest but wasn’t always a priest. 
He was a translator and a piano teacher, a husband and a father.
It’s only after this accumulation that he got God, or religion, or something,
and became a straggly-bearded black-clad priest.

Occasionally nudge him, as if to say: You’re still one of us.
And: We’re buddies, yes?

I ask Kiki if she’s eaten anything at all, and she says she’s eaten nothing for two days, and that this morning she couldn’t walk. I tell her to eat a little bit of something and drink water. She knows, and will, she tells me. 

There is the possibility of connection with people one has just met; there is the possibility of rupture with those one has grown old with.

Then all my conversations were wordless, each and every one.

As the Sages said: invite the stranger in, meaning not only the refugee, the foreigner, but everything inside that you deem foreign, strange. Make of your inhabitable insides a larger, more hospitable space. Refashion your internal home, and in doing so, grow yourself to fill it.

Kiki called (Father) John to come and see her. He offered to come next week. She told him it could be too late. He went today and wrote that it’s hard to say how long she has. He plans to go again on Sunday. I think she will die this weekend, maybe on Sunday. 

I feel for people who are ready to die. I am on their side, vote in their favor.

Elizabeth Warren will get my vote.

Hands up above my head is the only way I can escape the pain in my right wing, shoulder.
A broken bird?

It’s almost raining.

We walked, talking, up one street, down another, around and around, not exactly in circles. He told me what the dog did and why, interpreting as we went along. And we spoke of other things, then wrote to one another how happy it had made us to walk like that, together.

He made black beans today and the house carries the scent: sweet and spicy. 

Several days ago: dreamt that small (round) pieces of glass in the shape of marbles and small fruit poured from the woman’s vagina that I scooped up and stuffed into my own vagina. I wasn’t exactly in a position to take pleasure from them, but they were there, in position, and while some came out, from time to time, they remained, for the most part, in place. 

After the holidays, the rabbis come back to themselves. 
Having flown so high, so close, to God,
they find themselves bereft:
God is gone and people, too.

The rabbis ask:
Where have I been?
What have I been doing?
Where have all the people gone?

It rained and the upstairs grandchildren, visiting for Shabbat, exclaimed, over and over: It’s raining! 
Yored geshem! 

Is that rain? Or is He pissing?

Last night she said: I’ve been working on a poem I’ve been writing for eight years, just one word.
What’s the word? I asked.
Torn, she said.

There’s only one story left: who leaves first.

Met Tamar for breakfast. She didn’t eat, wouldn’t eat. Said she promised she would when she got hungry.

I ate. And ate and ate. 
Words from her small hand.

I said: This exchange, property for money,
yours for mine,
mine for yours,
lives in many layers.
If we are not family,
the deal will go sour.

Isn’t it always about who eats, who doesn’t,
the negotiation of food
and mouth, stomachs and greed?

At the start of this mess, their ghostliness gave me strength: anger can appear to make iron. But now it’s been smelted by the days of my life into something grotesque, no longer backbone, nothing close to heart.

Now their noisy silence deafens, and I know them differently, and must, and accept sadness over loss not as penance but as the only way to see myself whole again, if that day may come. 

Moments. We exist in brief moments, strung up.
We think we’re the tree but we’re only the lights,

Blink once, I love you.
Blink twice, then out.

One son said: Maybe, Mom.
The other son said: Maybe not.

But he gave me his nail clippers without a thought.
The nail must have grown too long for the shoes. 
I found it cracked, it snagged a sock.

Even he stood up a bit straighter when I said: I’m not fooled. I know I’m the oppressor.

She said: I thought being partners would be like couples therapy.
We laughed, she over her poached egg, I over my green eggs (this is Israel—no ham).

She wore purple, head to toe.
I wore something blue. Often do.

The waiter in the Palace sweetshop on Istiklal insisted on feeding my husband the last piece of ekmek kataifi, stabbing it with a fork, then dragging it through the kaimak so that it stuck and stayed. This happened yesterday.

We didn’t buy anything to remind us of our time away. It’s fine to travel without collecting trinkets.

I brought in the word, euphoria.
Should have known you’d toss it. 

It’s in the air, the light. Novembers past
return when all the world was there, shimmering,

You said and say:
a sense of being alive.

So often you take the cake.
I capitulate.

Infinite stories for finite beings in dangerous times.
Infinite                           stories
finite                beings
dangerous times

Big shifts.

Something just ran over the roof.
High up as I am in this house, limping toward language.

The artist Füsun Onur is not attached to the product, only the process. Lives on the Bosporus and from time to time throws some of her work in the sea to make room for new work. 

I guess you’re dead to me
but not to the world.
Oh well.
Sometimes a kind of hell.

Rain, drizzle, rain.

And some hunger.

How Greece stopped being an oasis. Just a simple watering hole.

It washed over me, gentle, muscled wave.
There was nothing I wouldn’t do for him.
Up against the impossibility of eternity.

One thing I know: I will not die in childbirth.
Another: “The number of lives that enter any one life is incalculable.” (John Berger)

She said: Don’t you ever want what you can’t have?
When I think I do, I know that in a minute I will be full to the point of bursting with what’s already here.

Our son down the street, with wife and dog.
Our son down the coast, with husband and dog. 

I hear him in the shower—that must have been the bar of soap.

Anne Germanacos writes, paints, teaches, and convenes groups in San Francisco, Jerusalem, Athens, and on Crete, inviting individuals to form creative communities through the Firehouse—an actual place in San Francisco as well as a concept and form of social practice. For more information on Anne’s work, see: www.mergemerge.com.