A Word To Live By

I received a prompt today from De Jackson at the dVerse Poets Pub.  He suggested “change” as the topic for a forty-four word quadrille.  Ha!  Who couldn’t write a book on this topic?  You might as well tell us to write about the universe.   Hard science, soft science, fiction,  car maintenance, money, childbirth, sports – the list is endless, everything deals with change.

However, there is one event that always comes to mind first when I hear this word.  My quadrille gives you the gist.  Not the facts, which are different (I now love blue eyes) longer and more colorful; full of scents, sight and sounds, high drama and angst.  But this is the essence and I’ll always be grateful to Norma Cordell, she gave me words to live by…

 

An Unsolicited Epiphany

 

“ Change or die,” she told me.

Her calm blue eyes held neither

judgement nor compassion.

I’ve never liked blue eyes.  My own

are clear, brown as hazelnuts.

Rage followed fear.   Prophecy?

Curse?  What?  Why?

She didn’t know my story.

But she was right.

Posted in Consciousness, dVerse, Poetry, quadrille, wisdom, Writing | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Association

It’s open link night at the dVerse Poets PubGrace is behind the bar and any one can belly up to tell a tale, old or new.  She began the telling with Lines for Winter by Mark Strand.  I didn’t know Mark Strand, but I liked his poem so much I stepped out to google and found another poem about black maps with a line – …not the attendance of stones, that I cover picliked.   All the while, simultaneously,at the back of my mind is wondering what story I should tell.  Studying Mark’s Black Map  the place (that wasn’t a place) felt to me like an island and reminded me of a Irish poem from my book Sitting on the Hag Seat: A Celtic Knot of Poetry.  The poem is about friendship and maintaining it across space and time.  And here we are meeting in a virtual barroom, socializing across unknown times and distances, connecting the way stones connect, and places connect, and maps connect people to places and… and… and the list goes on and Indra’s net continues to twinkle and shine as we dance across his ancient endless web of connections… Que milagro!

220px-dewy_spider_web (1)

A Piece of Irish Earth

She walks the muddy shore alone

searching for just the right stone.

Her friend, a mesa carrier, initiate

of a cosmology indigenous to far away Peru,

has asked for a rock. It seems a small request,

but ordinary Irish earth is hard to come by.

Crannogs, castles, standing stones, hill forts,

faerie trees, tumuli and towers dot

every mile of countryside from Malin Head

to Bantry Bay, from County Down to Dingle.

mesa

The woman who gathers for her friend

will not loot some treasured site, instead she picks

around the Nile green excrement of swans,

bits of snow white, feathered fluff, an empty

mussel shell or two, trusting that the palm-perfect

pebble will rise to stub her toe or send a sunbeam

bouncing from a facet to glance across her gaze.

mesa

She hefts a shard of granite, more ancient

than any man-made artifact, old as air and water,

more traveled than the woman, her friend, or Ireland

adrift upon tectonic currents, and wonders at the gossamer

ties, strong as spider silk, that float across the hemispheres

of planet earth connecting us, each one to another.

Posted in Dance, dVerse, Myth, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why I Keep This Stuff

Yesterday at the dVerse Poets Pub, Lillian asked us to write about some object we have hanging in our homes.  I have so many things hanging from all sorts of places.  My walls are full, as is chris's wallevery vertical surface.  But, it was something sitting, not hanging, that insisted on First Voice.  She’s a little darling about 6 inches tall,  who sits on my computer desk next to the printer and blesses my writing.  I actually found her years ago,  on a writing retreat in Oaxaca, Mexico with Donna Hanelin.

Contemplating all this stuff I have to wonder why I keep it.  Basically it makes me feel good.  My stuff is full of meaning and magic, each piece a doorway to another place and time, most of it is lovely to me in some way so that I always find something pleasing upon which to rest eyes, heart or soul.  Everything hanging  in my house shimmers with symbolic significance forming connections to other realms.  Much of it makes me smile.  Did I mention that Rabbit is my totem animal?  But enough – the picture – the poem – Ta da!

 

chris's rabbit

Rabbit Mother

She came with me from Oaxaca of her own accord,–

this biscuit colored goddess

smoothed by deft brown fingers from cool river mud.

A traveler like me, calla lily skirt hiked high,

sleeves rolled up above the elbow,

a calf tucked tight beneath each arm,

two more hugging hidden legs.

 

I knew she had anticipated me – stringing

cobwebs between her lofty ears, cloaking

herself in dust till I could find her in that crowded shop,

hiding behind the potter’s newest figurines,

and carry her, wrapped in the Spanish-flavored ink

of old newspapers, out of the shadow of Monte Albán,

away from ruined pyramids, enfeebled gods,

hanging high above the tree-lined streets

of Santa Maria Atzompa.

 

Ready to go, whiskers combed neatly

back against her cheeks, breast

pointing firmly forward, eyes

wide-set and open; she looks as modern

as the morning, but she is older

than those ancient ones whispering above –

a creature of the jungle people,

predating priesthood, flaunting the powers

of vine, blossom, pistil and stamen,

surrounding herself in heady perfumes

protected from intoxication by deep grounding.

 

Tidy nostrils disclose her animal nature:

a small sturdy muzzle split slightly open

neither smiling nor frowning.

She is the Creatrix: rabbit mother,

midwife to poems and pictures,

waving me into the forest,

awaiting my return.

Posted in Animals, Archetype, Art, dVerse, goddess, Latin America, Rabbit, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Justice is what love sounds like when it speaks in public.”

We just finished binging on True Detective, season one, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.  The story line is flawed, but the character development, acting and directing is superb.  McConaughey’s character, Rustin Cohle is an existential nihilist.  It fascinated me, not only because one rarely hears this philosophy true_detective___rust_cohle_by_p1xer-d77kmnw-1024x643espoused on TV by a protagonist, but also because he pretty much describes my own take on the human condition.  Except, unlike Cohle, who describes himself as a pessimist, I find the whole of nature so miraculous; so utterly, ineffably, paradoxically, rationally random that I succumb in awe to spiritual wonder.  I suppose that’s why I’m an optimist.

It interests me mightily that Rust and I, while inhabiting the same philosophical ground, hold such different perspectives.  Yet, we share one overriding characteristic – a compelling drive to understand whatever’s going on around us, to us, with us.  It results in a highly-honed sense of justice.  Which brings us to the above quote by Michael Eric Dyson that synchronisticaly appeared on my virtual doorstep just as the last credit rolled.

I agree with Rustin Cohle that the human condition is not a pretty one.  I cannot escape the conclusion that I, along with everyone else, am capable of enacting our entire panoply of good and evil.  To my mind, the only choice left after mapping our situation is to embrace (love) or reject (despair) ourselves.  I think Michael Dyson’s sentence could substitute ‘despair’ for ‘love’ and still be true.  But, love allows us to transcend the despair engendered by full knowledge of human inequity and cruelty.

The great spiritual teachers tell us that to know God, one must first know oneself.  To know oneself equates to accepting the entire range of human nature for what it is.  The spectrum of good and evil is only a part of it.  Our human nature includes every little quark of creation in this universe, from the stardust we are made of to our intimate genetic connection with all the beings of this world.  Thus we come full circle back to the ineffable something some beings call ‘God’.imagesThe thing about insisting on understanding is that one tends to think and act more fairly because understanding includes motive.  Notice that the US justice system may take both circumstance and intent into account.  Some other systems can’t.   Consider “an eye for an eye” or “one strike, you’re out.”

maat-icon

heartThe justice system that I follow boils down to “what comes around goes around.”  It accords well with that of ancient Egyptians who believed in an aspect of God called Ma’at.  She represents the laws of the universe i.e. harmony and balance.  When chvrsw40_1people die they stand before her to be judged for how well they maintained balance with themselves, their families and their community.  Setting the heart on her scales, she weighs it against a feather.  If the scale remains stable or the heart proves lighter, the soul moves on to rebirth.   If one’s heart outweighs the feather, the soul is thrown to a crocodile to be utterly devoured .

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The Beatles were right, “All you need is love.”  Love enlightens the heart.  I experience it as the choice to transcend despair by embracing all that we are, which means loving it all – plants , animals, humans, rocks and stars – every element.

The Christian mystic, Hildegard of Bingen compared her humanity to “a feather which has no weight from its own strength and lets itself be carried on the wind.”  A feather is to a wing as wing is to bird, is to sky, is to cosmos, is to universe and what is our universe but an enormous balanced wheel of being?

If justice equals balance, than may we listen to love, enlighten our hearts and be carried aloft on the winds of change.

 

Posted in Love, Nature, Thought, wisdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I’m No Scrooge, But…

…too much sentimentality and I tip towards the dark side.  Christmas walks a fine line.  I do still love the traditional carols – mostly the hymns with a few dollops of Victorian cheer.  I’ enjoy a rousing Fa-la-la-la-la, but Frosties, Rudolphs, little drummer boys, and mamas kissing Santa push me right over the edge.  It’s why I do my Christmas shopping early and spend more time hanging out in the Poets’ Pub and other dives.

I do agree with Gina, that the ordinary things hold a special kind of magic.  I loved the poem by Pat Schneider.  I would have liked to write something that fresh and simple, but suddenly These Are a Few of My Favorite Things started looping in my head and I had to switch gears.

 

In the Cardspan am playing card

A playing card’s a mundane thing

commonplace and dull.  This one

was the five of hearts, a low number

unweighted with great significance,

though all numbers carry some magic.

The card was well-worn with a scuffed

Pan Am logo on its back. It knew

a bunch of games – poker, gin rummy,

Go Fish!  Money had been won and lost

on its say so. Once or twice the card

had even been kissed.  More often

someone slammed it face down

on the kitchen table.  But no one

had held it for a very long time.

One day, on the day her heart lay broken

in pieces on the kitchen floor, she remembered

the deck at the back of the drawer, remembered

how Grannie used to tell fortunes with that deck

to women who knocked quietly on the back door.

The girl always figured Granni knew she hid in the pantry

listening to secrets, learning what king, queen, jack,

joker and every number stood for, how they combined,

complemented or opposed.  Granni had a way of teaching

without teaching the heritage her daughter hated.

Five of hearts – loss, sadness, depression, grief, jealousy.

It was the first card she turned over.  The table wobbled,

2000px-Playing_card_heart_5.svgshifting her carefully laid spread out of alignment.

She grabbed the card, folded it in half again and again,

shoved it under the wonky leg steadying everything.

Her heart rate returned to normal.  She read the cards

one by one, scribbling notes on the tablecloth.

Two hours later the telephone broke her focus.

“Hi Mrs. M.   No, Granni died a while ago, but I read.

Yes’m, she taught me.  Ok, that’ll do.  See ya Monday.”

Posted in dVerse, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

To Write a Terzanelle: Challenge by Jilly

Our times are so fraught.  Whether at home, on a bus or hanging at the dVerse, I haven’t had a conversation in years that doesn’t circle back to the state of the union and leave everyone distraught.   The huge anger that Donald Trump’s infamous base (has there ever been a more appropriate designation?) clearly feels at being dispossessed, disregarded and dismissed, catapulted him to unprecedented power.   That same anger, with ten times ten better and more bitter cause, permeates the African-American community.   Writing the poem, racism was heavy on my mind.  Reading it aloud to myself afterwards, I realized that the words apply equally to anyone feeling deliberately outcast and disposed.

I realize by using “they” I add to the polarization process.  But, I cannot deny my state of privilege or ignore the implications of that privilege without hypocrisy.  This is one of the conundrums of the evil mess we Americans have wittingly and unwittingly inherited and perpetuated.

All I can do is stand as an ally to social justice, equal rights, and the sisterhood and brotherhood of humankind.  Genetically our only differences lie in that tiny touch of snowflake effect which makes each one of us unique, while all the rest of us nestles into commonality.  Like it or not we are all members of the same pack.  What a waste that some spend all their energy and talent denying the undeniable.

             Death by a Thousand Cuts

The best of times?  Or worst?  I fear the worst,
we brought upon ourselves with our neglect.
Now selfishness and greed have left us cursed.

Too many slights, a thousand cuts unchecked,
too many left behind in hatred’s throe
we brought upon ourselves with our neglect.

The racist slurs felt daily, blow by blow,
unchecked for decades, proved the guilt of all
to many left behind in hatred’s throe.

Unkindness unaddressed will prove our fall.
Endemic selfishness and greed gone wild,
unchecked for decades, proves the guilt of all.

Injustice, once inflicted on a child,
will finally make the child turn and fight
endemic selfishness and greed gone wild.

Power corrupts.  We waste our wealth on might.
The best of times?  Or worst?  I fear the worst
will finally make the child turn and fight.
Our selfishness and greed will leave us cursed.

 

Posted in Community, Consciousness, dVerse, Poetry, Politics, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Secret Ingredients

Gospel Isosceles posted a lovely prompt at the dVerse Poets Pub encouraging us to write about a secret ingredient.  I had a hard time thinking of a response because I already have a strange poem I wrote several years ago.   I know it’s cheating to post an old poem, but I’m well aware that poets are forever ready to extend a little license.  My poem has a dark twist – or so I thought until my fellow artist and friend Michelle asked me if she could switch the genders in the poem and read it at Thanksgiving dinner !! And she did.  So maybe my twist is too subtle.  Let me know…

 

A Morel Tale

 

Wild mushrooms simmer in sauce

brandy, cream, saffron shallots…

She fills a pork loin with apricot and fig

sliding a thin sharp blade into pale flesh

twisting his knife ninety degrees to form a cross,

stuffing dry fruit toward the center

with the blunt end of a wooden spoon.

Sliced the roast will fall in rows

hearts marked out in juicy black or orange,

pretty bull’s eyes ready for an arrow.

                           morel mushroom

The table sparkles, laid for two

hand-rubbed silver, crystal goblets

frosted blue and glass Italian plates

veined in glowing leaves and holding,

in their clear depths, a purple droop

of delicate wisteria.

           morel mushroom

She gathers morels in the morning

quartering the apple orchard,

fingers thrust down knuckle deep in dirt

to break stems off  beneath the soil.

                                     morel mushroom

Morels can fool you, presenting

false faces to less than careful eyes;

cunning as a woman harboring secrets.

     morel mushroom

She will eat the morels,  so will he.

                            morel mushroom

Later they will lie down together

on crisp sun-scented sheets

with time enough to dream

before the first spasm wakes them.

 

 

Posted in dVerse, Eros, Love, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

quadrille prompt by whimseygizmo – cheers!

Monday morning I poured some eggnog in my coffee and set to wrapping Christmas presents. I would rather unfurl poems, but duty calls, days shorten and I have to get theses MAILED!   Still, I was thinking quadrille when I came to some items that demanded a little doggerel as accompaniment. Aha! I thought – two birds, one stone – and rushed upstairs to my faithful keyboard.  Fairly quickly the first one flew together, needing only the slightest tweak to get to forty-four.  The other one fought back, but djarchy'33eventually succumbed.  It all took much longer than I thought, I rushed off to my next chore and the packages are still half-wrapped, un-mailed.  It’s Wednesday not Monday anymore and the crowd has already moved on past cheer to nosh, but as archy said to mehitabel, “wotthehell, wotthehell…”

BELL

A Bell for Tom

Every man can use a bell

to peal a chime of cheer

celebrate the rites of life

and welcome a new year

 

or guide him if while wandering

he’s stumbled, gone astray,

and ring across the puzzling wilds

to point him on his way.

 

Feathers

A feather duster seems, first glance,

utilitarian and drear,

but something might need dusting off

besides the tchotchkes you hold dear.

FDC-14G.jpg.image.200x240

Consider this a magic wand

you may Flick! and commandeer

whatever’s dormant in your life

to Awake! and make you cheer.

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The Little White Horse

Lately, my husband and I have been reading aloud together The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.   A strange choice for an alpha male you might think.  It came about Little White Horselate one night at the end of a road trip.  We were talking about favorite childhood books and I began telling him the story, describing how many times I’d read it, how much it had meant to me.  Two weeks later the book arrived in the mail with a note saying – let’s read this together…

Elizabeth Goudge  (24 April 1900 – 1 April 1984) was an author I continued to be enchanted by, reading her later books one by one as they continued to appear during my teenage years.  They are full of amazing descriptions of nature that make you long to run outdoors,  Her interiors are just as enchanting, brimming with detailed furnishings and wonderful food from the simplest meals of bread and cheese to sumptuous multi-course meals complete with delectable desserts.  She had a gift for storytelling and the talent to breathe life into even the most minor character.

Reading the Little White Horse aloud to each other has been enlightening.  Elizabeth Goudge’s prose is a close to poetry as one can get without tumbling in head first.  maria and Miss HeliotropeAlliteration, metaphor, meter – you name a poetic technique it and you’ll find  it in her writing.  I realize now how much I learned from reading her books; how attuned I became to the rhythm and cadence of lyrical speech; how many techniques I unconsciously absorbed.  Furthermore, she had an amazing vocabulary – she never flaunted it or used a word gratuitously, but neither did she hold back for fear of losing a reader. (Though I can’t imagine one escaping the magic web she wove, after even the first sentence.)

The other thing I noticed was how deeply she influenced me spiritually.  She was Christian in her orientation, but in a way that tinted her spirituality rather than infecting it.  She used magical realism, myth symbolism and legend to en-lighten  her themes of sacrifice, conversion, discipline, healing, and growth through suffering.  It’s probably Magic+Realism+A+literary+mode+rather+than+defined+genrefrom her stories that I learned to love this genre and employ it in my own work.  I’ve spent a lifetime delving beneath the surface of the metaphors of myth and symbol to discover how they link to human psychology, biology and spirituality.  To this day my favorite novels are fairy tales, legend and myth rewoven and retold by modern authors in the context of today’s culture, knowledge and wisdom.

The Little White Horse is a unicorn – all the covers give it away.  I guessed it from Maria’s first glimpse.  Reading it again now, I realized that when Elizabeth wrote this, in 1946, the year I was born, unicorns were not considered to belong to children.  (The Lion and the Unicorn are the traditional symbols of the United Kingdom – the Lion represents 400px-Royal_Coat_of_Arms_of_the_United_Kingdom_(Both_Realms).svgEngland and the Unicorn, Scotland.  The animals are pictured in the royal coats of arms of both countries.)  Even when I read the book twelve years later, unicorns had not been exploited, diluted and turned into toons by the ad industry to the point of nausea.  At that time unicorns were not cute.  Nothing about Elizabeth’s writing is cute, conventional or sentimental – perhaps that is the best lesson of all.

Happily for me, my husband is also a poet as well as a fellow “Elephant’s child full of elephant2‘satiable curiosity.”  His willingness to explore, try new things, and let go of preconceptions has enriched my life immensely.  Imagine my pleasure when he too succumbed to Elizabeth’s charms.  I wish she could read this tribute and revel in my gratitude.  Perhaps she can…

 

Posted in Fairy Tales, Girls, Heroine/Hero's Journey, Poetry, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting

However, I began thinking of the fires in California and all the displaced people and animals.  I used to go to Paradise (not Pleasure) as a child visiting my grandmother on her ranch outside of Marysville.  Nana had a friend living there in a nursing home.  We would drive up the valley in “the machine” (as she called all her cars) watching the orchards and fields turn into grasslands, cut with ravines and stands of oak and pine as the land rose beneath us forming the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It was slightly cooler in Paradise and there was always ice cream after my long wait in the car for the visit to end.  (Nursing homes didn’t allow children in those days.)

On Monday at the dVerse Poets Pub, Guest Blogger, Imelda Santore, presented us with a finely crafted challenge, encouraging us to write about waiting.  Waiting is one of my most challenging situations.  I dislike it intensely.  It is why I always carry a book.  My idea of Hell is standing in line forever with nothing to read.  I could actually say many things about waiting – it’s a great prompt.  Lends itself to rant, romance and revenge… 

Waiting is a human condition, there’s no waiting in nature – everything is happening, now, in the moment – it is always and forever what is.

People thrived in Paradise, playing, working.  They are homeless now.  Dependent on the charity of strangers.  Waiting for insurance companies to pay out.  Hoping their contracts are worth the precious paper they are written upon.

charred leaves fly upward

like paper goods sent skyward

to outfit the dead

The golden meadows lush with seed, alive with mule deer and turkey flocks are blackened now and sear.  Brushfire burns so hot, so fast the oaks live on.  Green canopies belie charred bark, the blackened ground below, the absent sound of myriad insects buzzing, whirring, clicking, scurrying. 

turkeys cluck and coo

pecking among warm ashes

for flash-fried crickets

Jack pines, lodgepole pines and sequoias seal their pine cones in a layer of thick resin that requires the intense heat of wildfire to melt and release seeds.  Seedlings root easily in the newly bared soil, open now to sun and rain.  They sprout rapidly in nutrient rich ash.

blue ceanothus

beautifies fire-swept wastelands

born of fire she blooms

After Mount St. Helens erupted, her forests lay scattered like pick-up sticks across the slopes.  But life barges back.  Bare days after the fires cooled, rangers in orange Hazmat suits, taking temperature readings of the ground, were buzzed by hungry hummingbirds mistaking them for flowers.

flowers follow fire

avian expectations

sweet nectar and seed

The Amazon River floods periodically, spreading for miles across the jungle floor. Brazil nuts, too hard for boring beetles or determined mammals lie waiting for fish with nutcracker jaws to rupture the recalcitrant hulls and drop an occasional nut to sprout in the rich silt dropped onto nutrient poor soil by the flood.

 nuts too hard to crack

 fall into flooded waters

 strong jaws snap seeds sprout

Posted in Animals, dVerse, Haiku, Memoir, Nature, Poetry, Trees | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments