Thursday, May 8, 2014

Day off to sew the week of Mother’s Day

I wake up to the quiet alarm
of distant thunder, rain — Spring
offering diplomacy after a lethal winter.

It is a day to sew maternal gifts,
but it is for pleasure
that I stitch and miter
fabric the colors of robin’s eggs
and lilac leaves just starred.
It is for my pleasure the cotton
steams fragrant from under the iron
spread out open and flat
in the furrows I sew.

If only Spring found pleasure
wielding her power
like this, fingers flying
in grassy compassionate treaties
along the far passes of the blue planet.

I think pleasure would be enough
for her to mete out comfort equally.

* * *
I heard about the devastating landslide in Afghanistan, burying a village after days of rain. It was when I saw photographs here that something strange and wonderful happened. Aren't we constantly presented with wide-ranging emotions? I discovered the beautiful simplicity of this village only after it was partially destroyed. I did not know such places existed, never imagining the neat prettiness there nestled in the mountains of a part of the world decimated by war. Please go see those images and perhaps you will feel the connection I feel. There are no graphic images of people dead, only a village with part of it buried. (There is a photo of a dead donkey.) To imagine what these villagers are experiencing now, one boy losing his whole family. If only Nature could heal all our sins. Well perhaps she will, long after we're gone.


  1. I live in the land of ancient medieval villages that still go on housing generations of families simply. I know how lovely they are. It's heartbreaking to think of whole parts of such a place being destroyed. With all the people of Afghanistan have endured this seems especially cruel.

    1. Mary, yes. When I see a place like this, set apart, picturesque, indicating a life seemingly untouched by the drastic shifts and collapsing systems of the rest of the world, a hope is sparked. So it does seem especially cruel, both because of the decades of war brought upon this country and because the people in this village don't seem to have contributed to the climate shift that is causing havoc the world over.

  2. A lovely poem, Ruth. The images of the Afghan villages are truly heartbreaking — beauty and innocence arbitrarily destroyed by nature. The image of the orphan lying in the mud it almost too much to bear. May beauty, in all of its myriad forms, return to that place.

    1. Thank you, George. I agree, the image of that boy is seared in my mind, and my spirit collapses on the ground with him. To see how remotely these people live, I am having a hard time imagining how they sustain themselves. They are clearly not nomadic now, and I don't see croplands. Any way I look at it, it is a difficult life, now made incredibly more difficult.

  3. Just read this and your haunting previous post. Your question Aren't we constantly presented with wide-ranging emotions? So true, so true.
    Nature, like family, both sources of our greatest joys -and sadnesses. This last thought something of a cliche or truism.
    I looked at the marvellous photos and showed Robert too. Two thoughts - such a beautiful place.
    And what on earth are the American military doing in a country we really do not understand at all?
    I remembered the tragedy at the Welsh village of Aberfan where a slag heap engulfed a primary school.
    On that cheery note. Happy Mother's Day!

    1. Elizabeth, I had not heard of the terrifying landslide in Aberfan, but I've just read about it. What a horrible way for those children to die.

      I heard a story on NPR the other day about military training bases out west here in the U.S. that are replicas of Middle Eastern towns. Could be Afghanistan, Iraq, any Muslim settlement. Apparently they are set up to train soldiers to be culturally sensitive as well as to train them militarily. But the question is just what you ask, what are we doing there in the first place? Well there are a lot of cynical answers, and they don't have much to do with helping people, I'm afraid.

      I see these images and am grateful for the ability to feel connected with people I will never know. And yet I remember what Susan Sontag said about seeing a photograph of someone in a different place and thinking that somehow we understand, and I know I don't.

  4. i have too much to say and none of it meaning anything at all. (perhaps i will come back later after i learn to separate your poem from the tragedy and the tragedy from so many other aspects of how those beautiful people live. how much we must have to learn from them, beginning with our ignorance.) but for now all i can do is consider that poor young man lying in the dirt and his pain and know even in this my ignorance is profound.


    1. Erin, the longer I live, the more I recognize that I simply can't reconcile very much at all. It is impossible to understand, to know, what these people are feeling, and only compassion and imagination lend a glimpse with the help of photographs.

      I think of the nature of suffering, and the effect it has on others, but how it is mostly suffered alone. I am grateful this village receives this aid, and I also know that they are the only ones who really understand what this disaster means.

      So how does this knowledge affect me, and how does seeing this orphan boy transform this moment of my life? I may not ever know, but I feel that the sadness and the beauty of Life has shone a little clearer.

  5. Nature is as random and arbitrary as she is beautiful; the village sadly encompasses both those sides, as does your poem

    1. DS, yes, and how do we then live? It is important to give attention to events like this, and also to ourselves and how we think about them. I don't really know answers, except to keep thinking, living, responding the best I can. Thank you.

    2. I don't know; I have no words for that boy, those villagers (poor child looks as though he wants the earth to swallow him, too & who cannot understand that desire?). It is so easy to say "well, it happened over there, or in Arkansas or wherever; it has nothing to do with me" when the reality is otherwise: we must pay attention, we must bear witness (such a burden, witness. We must care. And think, and continue living. Respond if possible, in our own ways. I have much thinking to do....
      THank you for always bearing witness, my friend.

    3. Yes, what you say, yes. I think if only we keep open and pay attention — bear witness — what we do is what we feel, out of what we feel, remembering how we are connected.

    4. You see i do not know how to process the abductions of those Nigerian girls either...we are connected, root and soul. Something within human consciousness (or deeper) cries out for this.
      Thank you to Shaista and to erin for their sharing...

  6. Blog friend Shaista Tayabali (of Lupus in Flight) shared this in Facebook, and it seems pertinent and is helpful to me, so I will paste it here in case someone else finds it so, too. Shaista has, and suffers a great deal from, lupus. Yet she approaches Life with great grace and beauty.

    * * *

    Day 8: Not exactly a happiness post, but a theory on happiness anyway…


    A friend alerted me to an online community activity called ‪#‎100happydays‬. 100 days, 100 pictures, 100 moments of happiness recorded and shared between friends or the wider public. I was intrigued by the aspect of a happiness discipline, which strongly resembles a gratitude list. If something makes you happy, you are grateful to it, for it. I have been 'playing along' for a week, although this is a practice I made a part of my life ten years ago, when I realised my definition of happiness was the ability to be grateful.

    On 14 April, 200 heavily armed militants in 20 vehicles burnt down a school in Chibok, Abuja, Nigeria, and stole 200 schoolgirls. One schoolgirl for each terrorist. The name of the group translates as 'Western education is forbidden', and the leader has his name mentioned in news reports. It angers me that I know his name, have seen his face; what of the girls? I only want to know their names, and see their faces. But when I do, I pray when not if, what will I see written on their faces? That is the real terror.

    It has been three weeks, and 11 more girls have been abducted. We are aware, we are awake to this crime, and can do nothing to prevent the trauma the girls must already have suffered.

    This month continues the twenty year anniversary of the 100 days of genocide that took place in 1994, in Rwanda, beginning April 7th.

    Always, behind the facts are names...

    How are we to look into the face of our own happiness without seeing the trauma and unhappiness of others? Our minds are fragile things, and our spirits need to be nurtured and nourished so that we can bring our children up into a world of hope and possibility and joy. I think this might be the purpose of the #100happydays movement. It seems frivolous at times. And at other times, absolutely essential.

  7. oh, i don't know what to do now. i came with the intention of responding only to your poem, but i smile, ruth, you did this to me. i couldn't help but read on. you made it impossible to only read your poem.

    what trembles around the edges of the poem is too real to deny, too powerful, too destructive. and yet what trembles around the edges of all destruction is (and must be) empathy and compassion that converts into action. now, what does that mean? how might we save the girls? the boy? the people already lost beneath the mud? obviously we can't. and so we walk across a desert with one question in our mind over and over - what can we do? well, how easily we could surrender. but this is exactly what we must never do in the face of obscene odds. in exactly this situation we must take up the revolution of loving one another directly in our own lives, directly in our own hands. not destroying our neighbours, our children, our environment, our communities - that too is action. love is action. (that is not to say to not put very real pressures on real people or organizations or governments for further action, but also voting in, choosing governments which represent a more rightful way of being in the world community. it is a deep shift in paradigm we need to not just think about, but embody and live.)

    but what i meant to do today was to bring a jane hirshfield poem to respond to your poem in regards to nature.

    Beneath the Snow, The Badger's Steady Breathing

    Beneath the snow,
    the badger's steady breathing.

    He does not count the cold as cold.
    He does not call his hunger fate.
    His sett is neither large or small. Not dark.

    Closer to tree root than human.

    Closer to wilderness
    than to its saints
    who sought to learn from where they'd moved.

    A life uninterrupting,
    without want or aspiration.
    A persistence.

    And yet not meager. Not unfeeling.

    ----Sharp starlight coming all the way down to the snow.


  8. I read your poem, then the Atlantic article with its devastating images. Then Erin's response and the Jane Hirschfield poem. You say we are constantly presented with wide ranging emotions, and these words and images attest to that. The images of destruction and the pain they caused are devastating. But there is a nobility, palpable strength and tradition of the people as well as the sheer power of the landscape that also streams through.

    Spring offers all.....pain and diplomacy. And the badger's steady breathing is there. Not unfeeling. Sharp starlight.

  9. Hi Ruth -- I think what you're digging at here is that our learned arts are poor spades for digging into the world -- the world is so complex, how to have a big enough art to welcome it? Sometimes there's just isn't an apt or sufficient or well-enough crafted way to welcome "what trembles around the edges of destruction" as Erin put it. (Hi Erin.) How to be faithful to that welter of initial reactions we feel when the poem seeks to smooth and order them? The other night I was out feeding two of our stray cats -- sitting with them in moonlight -- when a young coyote walked down the sidewalk in front of our house and turned into our driveway. I stood up and chased him off -- he came back -- I chased him off again. The coyote was a wild bit of wonder - pure nature -- and terrible. What poem can stand in that moment without seeming dumb and ineffectual? That's always the challenge of the next real poem, to harrow and hallow out connection. And it's always costly.

  10. Sometimes it boggles the mind, Sister, that midst devastating landslides and girl abductions we can still revel in the joys of what we create. How is that possible?


All responses are welcome.