From A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard: “Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.
I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
May you live all the days of your life.
The City of Glasgow has an intriguing coat of arms – which features a bell, a bird, a fish, and a tree, elements of four stories told about the city’s 6th century patron, St. Mungo (or known to some as St. Kentigern). The City motto, indeed, is There’s the tree that never grew, There’s the bird that never flew, There’s the fish that never swam, There’s the bell that never rang, (Clearly, in ancient Scotland, ‘swam’ and ‘rang’ rhymed. Or not), telling of St. Mungo’s miracles in Glasgow. If you want to know the legend of St. Mungo, you can find them, for myself; my chief amusement was finding variations on the coat of arms, and its symbols etched into public buildings and included in art glass. I found this bit of poem outside City Halls, the lovely, high-ceilinged 1841 concert venue where the BBC Scottish Symphony plays.
Praise for the tree that growled but grew
Praise for the bird that fainted but flew
Praise for the bell that rusted but rang
Praise for the fish that sighed but swam
Growling or sighing. Fainting. Rusting. This is how we go, these days. We are tired. The winter holidays are wearing. We would all like a nap right now, please and thank you. Even if we’re not quite Bah, humbug, it’s easy to get trapped in feeling like we must smile and give and give and give this season.
We want to sleep, but – we birds must fly. We trees ought to grow, we fish have to swim. We need your song, bells, while it is dark. Soon, the Light is coming. Arise and shine.
Stars over snow
And in the West a planet
Swinging below a star —
Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far —
It never will be far.
~ Sara Teasdale
And we close this month on the threshold of this beautiful truth. Indeed, it is equally true that if you look for unlovely things, you also find them, but aren’t we lucky not to be THOSE people, scrying the world for the ugly?
Polish the lamp, trim the wicks, spark the flint. Arise and shine.
Ay! November already. Here, have some colors of the season. This is from the gorgeous altar display at the Oakland Museum of California. Their combination of migration – the Monarchs – and the passing of life as commemorated and celebrated during the Dias de los Muertos – was among the more memorable and beautiful that I’ve seen. Well worth a trip.
At some point, this form will become easier. At some distant date, all we’ll need is to hear a form and, with a graceful flourish, we’ll pull out a pen and produce said form with grace.
That day is obviously not yet come, at least not for me.
Last attempted in 2015, the triolet remains the more problematic of the repeating forms for me. I think it’s the awkward rhyme scheme, which never gives me a feeling that the poetic statement is complete. Like a song which closes with an unresolved chord, I find myself… stopped, but not…finished. I’m never quite sure if I’ve yet said what I’ve meant to say – or if it was coherent. Nevertheless, I applied myself to this month’s task set by the lovely Liz, which was to use two autumnal words from a list comprised of orange, fall, chill, light, and change.
The poet warned us gravely ‘nothing gold can ever stay,’
Persimmon’s orange a honeyed warmth ephemeral as mist.
You’ll sooner find a treasure in a vacant alleyway,
The poet warned us, gravely. Nothing gold can ever stay
Bright. Tarnishing, the light fades into winter’s shadowplay.
Drink down the days at autumn’s end on memory’s mailing list.
The poet warned us gravely ‘nothing gold can ever stay,’
Persimmon’s orange a honeyed warmth ephemeral as mist.
Technically, red is the more ephemeral color, but I just had to play with that… because orange is a hard word to include in a poem, since nothing rhymes with orange. I also like to play with using fourteen syllables occasionally.
White-hot, our spirits rising through the heat,
The flame renewed with passion’s fiery light,
Destroyed, we fall. We signal cold’s defeat,
White-hot. Our spirits rising. Through the heat
We radiate – our frantic dance complete –
Collapse as ash, with sated appetite.
White-hot, our spirits rising. Through the heat
The flame renews our passion. Firelight.
Now here, I was only writing about fire. I’m told Other Interpretations May Apply. *cough* I take no responsibility.
There’s more poetry on the horizon from Liz, Laura, early bird Kelly, and Tricia. Sara and Andi are still on busy lady walkabout, but may rejoin us presently. *waves*
Also, happy Books and Blogging Weekend to all those gathered in Hershey, PA for the 2017 Kidlitosphere Conference. Poetry Friday today is hosted at Teacher Dance. Sometimes, when you’re feeling blah, the Friday poetry round-up is just the thing. Read on for a little lift of your spirits.
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.
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.
This week, I’ve been unable to read a book without crying all over it. I am reading a lot of middle grade books in preparation for imitating-my-betters and trying to write some this summer, and …wow.
If you read a certain kind of middle grade books (READ: Old School), there seem to be a lot of Adventures, a lot of Doing Things and running around here and there and maybe seeing a ghost or finding a witch (and discovering she isn’t one). It’s about misunderstandings and opportunities – and all those growing up things that you do. However, I don’t remember most of the middle grade books I read hitting me like this. There was a metric ton of historical fiction, all Arthurian and Eurocentric history, and then there were the classroom books – the DEAR MR. HENSHAW/Beezus-and-Ramona/ Judy Blume types of books, including stuff like THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT or THE GREAT BRAIN – zany, funny, weird, slice-of-life middle school. Add to that ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY and A BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and there you find books that are emotional, but in the accepted way of the-teacher-assigned-this-and-I-know-the-dog-dies (Yeah, and I’m looking at you, SOUNDER and WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS). Betsy Byars’ SUMMER OF THE SWANS did hit me emotionally – but I mostly remember reading wonderingly about the little brother character in the book, because he was developmentally disabled, and we just didn’t see a lot of books about kids with differences. (Until high school, and then there was that one dude in GRAPES OF WRATH, and that other dude in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, and don’t get me started on LORD OF THE FLIES or that bunch of books written by social workers, like A CHILD CALLED ‘IT’ which, honestly, what was THAT all about???)
I think if I’d read the books as a child which I’ve read this week, they would have been incredibly comforting to me. Perhaps rather than middle grade books being different these days, maybe the level of genuineness and frankness of writers is more acceptable now. Rita Williams-Garcia’s ONE CRAZY SUMMER trilogy set in 1960’s Oakland, Brooklyn and Alabama touch on themes like being responsible for siblings when you oughtn’t be, and the horrific unfairness of some adults. Shannon Hale’s REAL FRIENDS broke my heart with its depiction of anxiety and loneliness. There’s a silver lining, of course – bad times don’t last, but I think I was a kid who really needed to be reminded of that.
I haven’t quite connected the dots just yet as to how one becomes brave enough to put that much of themselves just out there, on the page, but I’m working at it. On this rainy June afternoon, it feels like it just might be within reach.