A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.
–Madeleine L’Engle, A WRINKLE IN TIME
A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.
–Madeleine L’Engle, A WRINKLE IN TIME
Arise, Go Down
It wasn’t the bright hems of the Lord’s skirts
that brushed my face and I opened my eyes
to see from a cleft in rock His backside;
it’s a wasp perched on my left cheek. I keep
my eyes closed and stand perfectly still
in the garden till it leaves me alone,
not to contemplate how this century
ends and the next begins with no one
I know having seen God, but to wonder
why I get through most days unscathed, though I
live in a time when it might be otherwise,
and I grow more fatherless each day.
For years now I have come to conclusions
without my father’s help, discovering
on my own what I know, what I don’t know,
and seeing how one cancels the other.
I’ve become a scholar of cancellations.
Here, I stand among my father’s roses
and see that what punctures outnumbers what
consoles, the cruel and the tender never
make peace, though one climbs, though one descends
petal by petal to the hidden ground
no one owns. I see that which is taken
away by violence or persuasion.
The rose announces on earth the kingdom
of gravity. A bird cancels it.
My eyelids cancel the bird. Anything
might cancel my eyes: distance, time, war.
My father said, Never take your both eyes
off of the world, before he rocked me.
All night we waited for the knock
that would have signalled, All clear, come now;
it would have meant escape; it never came.
I didn’t make the world I leave you with,
he said, and then, being poor, he left me
only this world, in which there is always
a family waiting in terror
before they’re rended, this world wherein a man
might arise, go down, and walk along a path
and pause and bow to roses, roses
his father raised, and admire them, for one moment
unable, thank God, to see in each and
every flower the world cancelling itself.
“Arise, Go Down” from The City In Which I Love You. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee.
Poetry Friday today is hosted at Reflections on the Teche.
—after Gwendolyn Brooks
No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color’s green. I’m spring.
—for Walter Aikens
– by Ross Gay, from the 2011 collection, Bringing the Shovel Down
Kindness has never weakened one in pursuit of righteousness, undermined the pursuit of justice, or lessened the strength of an argument. – Cory Booker
How on earth is it already August!? This year has seemed to be the longest parade of awful, ever but somehow this summer is flying by like greased lightning. I guess it’s just that the pace of the chaos has sped up…? Who can tell. This week, I’m writing poetry from a new garret, in a house still filled with the odd unpacked box or stack of somethings.
Our August Poetry Project is another Salas Special, wherein Laura gave us the title and let us go hog wild. Well, that’s never a good idea for me. I was stumped for ideas for a hot minute until I narrowed down my Flickr selections of statues to the actual park, and not entryways, old buildings, cemeteries… These bronze statues are in a graveled park, a short cut between a strip mall and a street of shops. The pair of them are gathering pears. The girl is gathering windfalls, while the man takes care of the official harvest. The light and the wet day perfectly captured the ineffable quality of an autumn afternoon:
Statues in the Park, Vacaville
Gather ye orchard’s gleaning
As sun decants to starlight.
The summer leaves no greening
Untouched by autumn’s appetite.
Soft, the season turns, governed by winter’s oversight.
I like that, but still find five-line poems a struggle (if I actually follow the rules for syllables, which I patently did NOT in the final line). Five lines are just not enough time for wordy-old-me to invest a poem with emotion – which is why I deeply respect people who can really make tanka really work. (I keep trying, though.)
I gave up on the quintet form and just went with rhymed couplets — and a statue that stopped traffic for me. Ever been to Treasure Island?
Like no one’s watching, dance, they said
Away your fears, take joy instead!
Such glib advice! So hard to take.
(Perfectionists can’t risk mistakes.)
Who wouldn’t choose a bird to be –
All blithe-winged swooping, flying free –
…But, what goes UP must come to grief.
DOWN follows up. Joy’s flight is brief.
Light, soaring thistledown I’d fly
Wind’s fickle dance exemplify,
But plodding, scaredy-self the rope
That leashes whimsy’s gyroscope.
Is fearing, living? NO, say I
If convention we satisfy
And let “tradition” turn our feet!
Take back your drum! Dance to your beat.
They’re watching, but dance anyway
Sing loud. Love hard, life’s cabaret
Plays rarely past four score and five –
You have RIGHT NOW to be alive.
This is “Bliss Dance,” by Marco Cochrane, on the great lawn at Treasure Island. She is forty feet tall, and she literally, the first time we saw her, caused us to hit the brakes and gawk. She. Is. Huge.
Some art you can encounter once and simply remember it. Bliss, I could visit repeatedly. She’s just…there larger than life, and …brings to mind the William Carlos Williams poem, “The Kermess,” another poem I memorized in college. I love the joyous defiance of Breughel’s-great-picture-The Kermess; the poem’s thick shanks and big butts and bellies all swinging round made me so happy. Bliss’ body is traditionally symmetrical, but her nudity puts her on the same level – she’s unashamed and getting her slightly awkward, spinning groove on. She’s probably going to trip over her own feet, in a minute. Do you think she cares?
She does not.
The poetry sisters are in the house! Some of Laura’s statues are just waiting for you to leave. Sara’s diving into the complicated uses of Lincoln’s memorial. Tricia’s managing to write surrounded by family. Kelly’s playing with the idea of release, while Liz is traveling. And don’t forget to wave hello to Andi, who is cheering us on from the bench this week.
There’s more Poetry Friday this lovely early August day! Our hostess kicking off the month in style is Donna@Mainely Write. Put on your dancing shoes, dearhearts, and shimmy through your weekend. They’re all watching. Who cares?
Be not dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
It’s what we can’t do for each other.
What do we mean to each other?
What does a life mean?
Why are we here if not for each other?
– Claudia Rankine, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
Things inevitably need maintenance when you need them, thus the oil light went on the day before our last day of packing. We made time to pop over to our usual car shop, where Tech Boy spent so much time before our last car finally blew up and left this mortal coil. They know him well at Honda, so when a lady came out from behind the counter and enveloped me into a fierce, bony hug, I knew it was for his sake, and not my own.
As often happens after the initial greeting of, “I’ve heard so much about you!” the questions begin, as the person tries to measure the real me against what my husband has told them. He, meanwhile, abandoned me to see if he could make the car make that one clunk sound for the technician, and so the lady behind the desk started the inquisition. She asked, predictably, about how Tech Boy and I met, and what my parents thought (they didn’t blink); she shared she’s gay, and her father is homophobic. I talked about being the youngest, and then the middle sibling, about taking care of babies as a tween and teen. We talked about working various jobs. She asked if I had new books to suggest for her nieces, and wanted to know if I had sold anything new. I shared a bit of how my latest project is making the rounds, explaining that the industry is changing and becoming more inclusive. I shared how in some ways I feel that creates a new hesitancy on the part of editors and some writers, but that we’re all finding our feet in this larger world of new voices.
“It’s Obama’s fault,” she said.
Enter feather, knocking me over.
I made my best, “Mmm?” noise, because I just did not see that one coming.
“All this inclusive, political correctness. It’s his fault,” she repeated. “People started talking about race, and felt like they had to pick sides. And it’s not fair to the kids, you know? It’s not fair that it’s affecting you, your business. Children are pure. They don’t know anything about race, and they don’t care about getting stories from blacks or whites or anything.”
“Mmm!” I replied brightly.
Perhaps it was cowardly, but I decided that a dealership shop wasn’t the place to go into my theories of …well, anything, really, and with a woman whose name I hadn’t even caught, whose personal contradictions I couldn’t even begin to plumb? Nix, nein, nope, and thank you. But, I’ve thought of this woman’s egregious assumption often in the days since.
A lot of us assume that children are pure – mentally, I mean. Unsullied by the nastiness and selfishness of the human condition. I don’t know how we manage to forget that they are born professional narcissists and by year one display their amoral characters at will. They will clock you upside the head or attempt to kick/scratch/gum/bite you, should you come between them and their desired keys/toy/cell phone/Cheerio. They scream “MINE!” at the slightest provocation, even claiming ownership over things they’re nowhere near, not to mention don’t actually possess; they can be spiteful little beasts, between bouts of looking adorable and sleeping sweetly and enslaving us with their toothless smiles. They are generally dreadful until taught better, because they, like we all, are wee mammals and nothing more. Animals, until they learn humanity, in a way.
What Honda Lady was trying to convey, I believe, is the common belief that children are free from the bias and tribalism that taints adult interactions due to our having been raised within the constructs of institutionalized racism. But, she’s wrong there, too. Tricia’s recent blog recap of the conference on race she attended at the NMAAHC reminded me of this study conducted by CNN.
With 146 participants, I don’t think it was a big enough study, by any means, but it’s underscoring what other research on early childhood education centers have shown, that adult bias against children of color begins as early as preschool. Little wonder that children’s natural bias and tribalism comes through so young – monkeys see, monkeys do. Human beings begin to make judgments and gravitate toward those who are like us as early as six months…
They’re adorable, squeezable, and perfectly drool-y. They’re plotting, if not world domination, attention domination, and the ability to put everything into their mouths that they’d like, at any time. They’re clueless, but pure? Nope. Children are just… human animals, same as we adults. And, there’s no way you can spin that being the former president’s fault, either.
Sooo, as it turns out, what with one thing and another, my parents aren’t rich. Who knew, right? Other than me, on Year Twentysomething of paying off student loans.
We were ridiculously poor when I was growing up… though I didn’t always see that clearly. I had hints, from seeing one of my mother’s pay stubs back when I was in the fourth grade; she made a whopping four-thirty-six an hour. I looked back at that in horror when I was at my first post-college job, making just over nine dollars an hour. That was ludicrous, right? But it still didn’t seem right that I made more than my mother.
Of course, by then, they had raised her rate of pay, one would imagine. But, I have no idea. That sort of thing was Grown Folks’ Conversation, and little old me would have had no business knowing. What I didn’t know haunted me. I couldn’t be like a normal kid and think, “Oh, well, money. Mom, I want a Cabbage Patch, when you get around to it.” Nope. Knew there were some things I didn’t ask for, couldn’t have, so didn’t bother. I got second-hand Barbies and a lot of knock-off books from libraries and schools thinning their stock (thus supporting my parents’ dream of us reading only nonfiction forever, bless them). I got hand-me-down clothing from two older sisters plus a whole church full of people. That was my life, until I left home at sixteen, got my own work, made my own way, and married. But, I still didn’t feel like my family was brutally poor until about two weeks ago, when my mother said she was going back to work.
I nodded quietly, all the while in my head I heard, Mayday! Mayday! Mission in Jeopardy! Klaxons sounding! Kidfail! Kidfail! Kidfail!
Oh, yes. I had a full Chianina, instead of the usual generic cow. I had to have a quiet lie down and weep a bit. Of course this feels like personal failure. Aren’t you supposed to, like, take care of your parents? Especially if you have no kids. Especially if your family unit is doing okay. And… we do the regular family things, like sharing Costco hauls and CSA boxes when they’re too big (or you really don’t think you can eat another eggplant and your vegan parents lap that stuff up with a spoon). But, it wasn’t enough. My Dad had to retire due to health reasons years ago (though he’s exploring driving for Lyft, I just discovered), and my mother had only stopped working at sixty-three, because she had a series of surgeries (and a really repugnantly ignorant boss). Now that she’s healthy – and broke – she’s going back to work.
It’s not that she wasn’t the director of the school where she’s returning to teach. It’s not like she has to be in charge, or is even working there full-time. It’s not like she doesn’t know everyone there, and see many of those selfsame kids every weekend at church where she does a program for the two-year-olds as she’s done for the last thirty-five years. It’s not like she’s going to not be greeted as a returning hero who knows the ropes and can mentor the others. It’s just… it’s just…
This sort of thing is apparently commonplace all over. The poor British officially have had their pension age raised, and it may rise all the way to 70. I don’t imagine people in less developed nations ever officially “retire;” no, they do what needs to be done, until they can’t. As everyone does.
I was comforted in knowing that a friend’s mother – who is older than mine – works happily at Costco as one of the food ladies who offers samples of this and that – and since she’s a vegetarian, they don’t have her handle samples which involve cooking meat. I know that older people retire and get bored of dandling the erstwhile grandchildren – or realize their Social Security is hardly enough to carry a teaspoon of water, and often go back to work part-time like my mother is, and it’s not the end of the flippin’ world. Hello, Harrison Old-Hoary Ford is in yet another movie, and he’s at least Noah’s age by now. (Okay, seventy-five. Whatever.) It just… feels like I got confused, looking at MY life against the backdrop of the largely white-collar, professional community in which I grew up. I got confused looking at MY world against the backdrop of what I consume in media, where I am given an idea of the life I’m “supposed” to have as I grow older. I grew confused as to what reality was vs. MY reality.
So. Mom’s going back to work. I was going to make it a fun thing where I made her a new craft smock and got her a new water bottle and a visor, because she’s going to be doing playground duty – which I didn’t love when I was teaching – but Tech Boy finally got a new post, and so we’re scrambling for the world’s fastest move, so all that – and all my private tears – will have to wait. Mom’s first day back at school in August is not going to have the fanfare I’d planned. But, maybe that’s just as well. This is just a part of life for hundreds of millions of people, not A Tragedy.
I still hate it with the heat of four thousand suns, though. It’s not right. I’m supposed to have won the lottery by now, so she could have a mansion and a golf cart (why? Why would anyone want one; top speed is something like… eight miles an hour), and never have to work another day.
Reality is freaking hard… but like a bloom on a cactus, it has its unexpected beauty. If your Mom hustled so you could do all the things she thought would make you a stellar woman, don’t limit your gratitude to a single day in May. Okay? Okay.
Photos from Petaluma Adobe State Park; if you teach the 4th grade in Northern California, please take your kids; they’re talking about putting it on the park closures list and letting it rot, and it’s amazing. They do an overnight program and everything.
It always amuses me that whenever my Scottish friends speak of pies, they invariably mean… that which I do not mean at all. Say “pie” and they’ll say chicken-and-leek. Eel. Steak-and-kidney. Mince. Mutton, or something else in Scotch pie. Sweet pies are… um, puddings? So, it gets to be a little confusing.
In view of the fact that today is apparently National Mac & Cheese Day I will raise a …mug to Macaroni Pie. It’s better with fresh peas than baked beans from a tin, to be sure, but it’s one of those ubiquitous quick meal I had when out and about, visiting castles and historical places. I’ve never tried to make one – I truly can’t see the point of adding pastry to pasta when there are perfectly good pumpkins and peaches just sitting around – but macaroni pie was good fuel for a long day of walking in cold climes, so here’s to it.
When cravings for a piece of pie
Meet diet’s parsimony,
Forget the peach – your fork apply
To tasty macaroni!
A hand-pie makes a lot of sense:
Food without ceremony –
(And, in a pinch, it’s self-defense
And lessens acrimony).
Take my advice and make this meal
With peas and pepperoni,
Complete with pastry’s flaked appeal
A pie of macaroni.
This is a DREADFUL POEM of the worst sort of drivel and I’m well aware of that, but I’m also packing to move, so it is what it is. ☺ The rest of the ACTUAL poetry-ites are over at Tabatha’s blog today.
It’s the first Friday of the month, and it’s time for a bit of Byron!
For preference, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” will always be my favorite of the poetic stylings of Mr. “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” but “She Walks in Beauty” is gorgeous, too; a lovely example of the poetry of the Romantic era, and a personification of the Beauty that is Womanhood and all of that you learn in Sophomore English. As all Romantic poems do, it deals heavily in hyperbole and is a tiny bit on the ridiculous side, because I don’t know any women in whom all the best of anything meet anywhere, but your mileage may vary. When tasked to write in the style of Byron, I tried to gently capture that feel, going for the over-the-top flowery language and deathless symbolism while still writing something coherent (this may not have worked, but…). Instead of Beauty/Womanhood, I explored truth, via the story of Diogenes and Ma’at.
Mere Beauty waits to take its bow
Beneath Cardinal Virtue’s gaze,
Seven, the Sisters make their vow
To Veritas, its arts to raise –
And to its Muse – her craft allow
To bright illuminate their days.
Their clear gaze focused on the Truth
Seven set forth their Lamps to raise.
These, undeterred by age or youth
Eschewing private gain or praise,
Sought but to find, by means more couth
Knowledge to set the world ablaze.
Astronomers’ celestial quest
Can no more match this thirst divine
‘Sapere aude!’ Know, and wrest,
From clamor’s call, an anodyne;
Against a world in sore distress –
One honest heart that’s genuine.
In college, there was a yearly competition to find these glorious early Spring flowers, called calochortus amibillis, commonly named Diogenes Lanterns. In the story, Diogenes walked about with a lit lamp because he was in search of one honest man. We never know if he found him, but he should have looked among the women, maybe…? Ma’at is old Egypt’s goddess of truth from which the personification of Justice as a woman holding a scale gets its basis. Though cuneiform tablets and old drawings do not depict her with a scale, her job was to weigh hearts and souls against the ostrich feather she wore in her hair. Only those souls lighter than her feather could go on to the afterlife.
She does her duty – what is right
In desert storms when high winds rise
When taloned carrion birds take flight
– and venturing out would be unwise.
When her gaze finds all clear and bright,
She still permits no compromise.
Though deeds obscure, though lies oppress
The Scales she scries do not displace
A feather’s weight of faithfulness –
True hearts will show their truest face.
No matter if our hearts transgress,
An honest scale’s our saving grace.
She walks ascendant, even now
Though clouds of lies disorient
Her staff in hand, her neck unbowed
Her feather weighs the soul’s intent.
So let it be: let us allow
This lightness, Love to represent.
Sapere aude is Latin for “dare to know.” Humanity has searched for and championed from antiquity various versions of The Truth. Do we dare to know? From myths and gods onward, the search continues…
Here’s Kelly, who started us off, telling us what that cousin really thinks. And Laura’s, which takes a decidedly glittery angle on things. In Sara’s, equine hoofbeats pound in iambic pentameter. Like most of us, Tricia found this challenge both fun and impossible to do while trying to do other things, and Liz skidded in at the finish line – with her usual grace. Andi continues to walk in beauty this month, and will catch us later. For more poetry, check out the Beyond Literacy Link blog.