Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quotations and graves

"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is to be understood."  ~Marie Curie

Famous quotations are postcards from someone else's trip. They can adorn margins, shelves and tack boards, or they can inspire a person to investigate the true location herself.

Yesterday I laid my hands in various postures on a glass square under an x-ray machine, first my right, then my left. I turned and angled them, splayed fingers like a sun as directed, under a long red light-line shining down from the machine as a guide for straightness. I imagined my basal thumb joints under skin and flesh. Are they worn carbuncle stones that glow red like the light striping my arm? After each placement, three for each hand, the technician and student hid behind a wall to protect themselves from the radiation.

When I was done I left the lab, noticing the Radiology sign over the door, and I remembered a visit to Marie Curie’s burial crypt in the Panthéon in Paris. She is one of only two women among the notables of France to be entombed in the Panthéon, for accomplishing, among many things, the discovery of radium and the use of radiology in medicine. So many graves and monuments of the famous to visit and contemplate what they conquered or were conquered by, including Les Invalides, where Napoleon lies buried inside his seven Matryoshka caskets, as if he still had enemies to be fortressed against beyond death.

I don’t want to only be a tourist of someone else’s life (and death). I want to understand the country of myself. I don’t want to wish I were there. I want to wish to be here. What are the frontiers in this body, this heart, this mind that mark my journey? 

The doctor called and told me I have osteoarthritis. Now that I understand the source of the pain, I can explore how to overcome it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A wedding: Blessing from the Meadow

My son was married yesterday. After all the months of work making preparations for the big day here on our small farm—the painting, building, planting, mowing, trimming, the million wildflower seeds planted and then watered through drought—when we all sat down in the meadow among amaranth and goldenrod, it felt like there had been no work at all, only meditation and joy of two families come together. After the short but sweetly tearful ceremony, the guests filed from the meadow through the black locust woods to the orchard for food and dance. When I looked back from the opening to the orchard, I saw the most beautiful sight: one hundred guests flowing on the ribboning path through the woods, as if the earth had woven us together and made of us a garland. 

My son and his bride asked me to write and read a poem in the ceremony. I have not written poems for some months, and I struggled with it. Until I realized I only needed to write a blessing. And then I had all the help I needed from this, the center of my universe. I stood between the bride and groom, who faced each other (and me), when I read ...

Blessing from the Meadow

We are standing in the superconducting bowl of the meadow!
Rays of goldenrod shine as if Earth herself is a sun.

I have stood here and met wild friends: tree, bird, grass, insect and doe.
And now you are here, blessing us in your turn!

We gather around this new ball of light like birds around a sunrise,
chirping and cheering. With this blessing:

As the warm sun of your love grows like yeasted bread
may you nourish each other and tantalize the world with your fragrance.

The way the silk of the spider is woven between stalks in a morning mist,
may you reflect light to each other, especially when days are not clear.

Like the sparrow and phoebe who sing their morning songs
may you open each day with music, the language of the heart.

Like the red dragonfly balancing impossibly on a blade of timothy grass
may you color your home with joyful surprises.

As the turkey vulture floats on thermals scouting silently for food
may you be watchful for what sustains you.

The way the bluebirds steadfastly guard their babies,
may you protect each other, and one day your family.

With the cleansing clarity of lavender and rosemary,
may you clear the air of restless uneasiness.

As a breeze makes the grass dance, free and wild,
may you love and enhance each other’s solitude.

As kind as rain after a month of drought
may you renew each other when you feel dried up.

Like the owl and fox who patiently wait,
may you wait patiently on each other.

And like fireflies winking their starry code from the tops of trees to their mates below
may you never stop wooing each other with your light.

And now, creatures of this meadow, take their light, and multiply!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Well it's all right

The Traveling Wilburys, with:

George Harrison
Jeff Lynne
Roy Orbison
Tom Petty

End Of The Line by Traveling Wilburys on Grooveshark

End of the Line

Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, doing the best you can
Well it's all right, as long as you lend a hand

You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring
Waiting for someone to tell you everything
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring
Maybe a diamond ring

Well it's all right, even if they say you're wrong
Well it's all right, sometimes you gotta be strong
Well it's all right, As long as you got somewhere to lay
Well it's all right, everyday is Judgement Day

Maybe somewhere down the road aways
You'll think of me, and wonder where I am these days
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays
Purple haze

Well it's all right, even when push comes to shove
Well it's all right, if you got someone to love
Well it's all right, everything'll work out fine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line

Don't have to be ashamed of the car I drive
I'm just glad to be here, happy to be alive
It don't matter if you're by my side
I'm satisfied

Well it's all right, even if you're old and grey
Well it's all right, you still got something to say
Well it's all right, remember to live and let live
Well it's all right, the best you can do is forgive

Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, even if the sun don't shine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Is every soul beautiful?

We say of a particularly wonderful person, He is a beautiful soul. Who is the person we say this of? Someone who is loving, generous, magnanimous, humble, and lives an examined life, perhaps?

Is every soul beautiful? There is an implied comparison in the statement She is a beautiful soul, and the conclusion could be that no, every soul is not beautiful. People whose actions consistently demonstrate anger, vengeance, hatred, greed, cruelty—can these be traits of a beautiful soul?

But I believe that every soul of every individual who has ever lived is beautiful. Each is unique, and each is beautiful beyond imagining.

Like ships from the Black Sea that carried barnacle zebra mussels through the St. Lawrence seaway into our Michigan waters, damaging ecosystems and water treatment plants, people in their individual circumstances and journeys pick up bad habits that suck onto them for their life. And then the bad habits colonize, even into generational and cultural psyches.

I think of that ugly old fish in the poem by Elizabeth Bishop—battered, his skin hanging in strips, yellowed eyes, his lip pierced by five hooks, still fringed with fishing line—a “beard of wisdom.” What did she see, through staring, staring, staring at that fish? How do we recognize, in the end, that she saw something so powerfully beautiful she could only respond in release? We recognize it because we know that something beneath the skin and suffering and dim eyes is beautiful.

With compassion could I even see that a person clothed in ugly hatred and vengeance is suffering, like this battered fish, who was once young and flipped so high in the air above the sparkling water?

The Fish
by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn't fight.
He hadn't fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested 
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The clarity of washed stones applied to the news

In a world of multiplying discord, my lack of historical knowledge compounds my own confusion. Now, mystery is a wonderful thing. Digging for meaning within clouds of mystery is something to relish. (Like the never-ending mystery, What is the Divine?) But confusion is different from mystery.

As I keep exploring what it means on a daily basis to be cleaner than washed stones I realize that avoiding news of the world’s conflicts because I don’t understand them only makes my mind jumbled, making me even more uneasy.

I’m a woman in my fifties. It’s late to build a foundation of historical knowledge in order to gain understanding. But it’s my obligation as a member of the human enterprise to bring my own personal being to bear upon the circumstances I can affect. And by affect, I include understand, because where else would I want to start?

All the talk about global this and global that is primarily about corporate business, right? But what about being global in the sense of understanding?

So the other day I was digging into the basis of the conflicts in Africa. Why not start small? But seriously, I found something helpful. I read that one of the sources of ongoing conflict in regions such as the DRC is the trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 16th-19th centuries. As we know, one tribe would kidnap members of another tribe and sell them to traders. Tribe One reaped financial rewards that built their economy. But Tribe Two, the victim of the kidnappings, not only lost members of their community, they also did not reap any benefits of the trade. Not to oversimplify things, but apparently much of the ongoing brutal fighting in Africa to this day began in deep and understandable resentment over that betrayal and the painful economic imbalance of resources that resulted. (Dr. David Livingstone was an early proponent of the view that the fragile economies of Africa were harmed by the slave trade, and he worked to abolish it.)

Susan Sontag, in her book of essays on photography observed that when we see a photograph taken somewhere in the world (think of the famous Pulitzer-prize winning photograph of the naked girl running down a road in South Vietnam after a napalm attack), we think we understand. I keep this in mind, always, when I read the news. So when I say I want to “understand,” what I mean is, I want to listen and learn.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Earth wears us

Rilke’s poem “Not Poor” is an inspirational platform for this writing space. However, I do not intend to do nothing but analyze the poem.

But to continue for now, Inge tells me that in the original German, Rilke’s stanza that Macy and Barrows interpret as Earth weaving us together like roses and making of us a garland is a bit different. The sense in the original is that Earth can make of us (or them, the third person plural of the original: the broken ones) roses, and wear them like a talisman or charm. With due respect to Barrows and Macy for creating a poem that made sense to them (I admire anyone who takes on the translation of poems!), I love and prefer this picture of Earth adorning herself with us, crafted from our essential being. And not only that. She wears us as a signifier of something magical—creative and powerful. 

It is easy to feel that humans are paltry and pathetic ignoramuses when it comes to Earth’s ways. We’ve made such a mess. But what if who we really are, in our core, were an ornament to Earth and Life? So often I feel that it’s too late for this. But there is something beautifully seductive about imagining this conceit at the outset of a day. Can the talisman of a human rose (or a washed human stone) that Earth wears — me, this being I am — participate in how and what the Earth creates? It must be true, just as the inverse is true. And I don't just mean planting a garden of veggies, or flowers, or tending cows or chickens in a field.

I will post the original German text of “Not Poor” when Inge sends it to me. I cannot find it in German on my own, and I was impatient to continue writing.


Oops, shhh, it's supposed to be quiet in here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

washed stones, and the poem "Not Poor"

My writing pen is rusty. Poetry is far from me it seems. I can neither read nor write it with any relish. But there is a call to me from this poem of Rilke's. My being is not mute in response. With a halting post I open this quiet, spare place.

Times are not so different from Rilke's. WWI made a mess of the world, and now it is not much better, certainly. Maybe it is even worse in some ways, since one would have hoped for more improvement in a century. But what a century it has been!

First Rilke says that we are not poor exactly. It is just that we are not laden with riches, with things. Economic times are depleting our stores. But he says we are weighted with the dust and debris of our surroundings. We are outcasts. Broken, and without flesh even, barely alive. Even if I am not literally broken, it feels as if I could break easily and imminently.

But Rilke shifts, from poverty and brokenness in the first two stanzas, to something hopeful in the third. What does Earth do with broken things? She breaks them down even more. But is this what Rilke says? He does not. He says instead that if She needed to "she could weave us together like roses / and make of us a garland." Then he goes from plant matter, miraculously grown and woven by Earth, to ageless stones, smooth and clean. And from this to a newborn animal, eyes yet unopened, yet perceiving the only need worth needing: to be who we really are. No matter how many years and centuries pass, our bare essence remains unchanged.

We are not in our true state laden with things, whether the glitterati of the world, or the dust and debris of the earth. In our true state, the cleanness of washed stones, we can be made into roses and woven into a garland. Is this not reason to shake off attachments to material possessions and cares?