Musings

Mercy Now: There is a Place for You

“There is still a place for you at our table, if you will choose to join us,” the young man said.
“Yes,” people chorused, “even now, there is a place for you.”
–Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing

At the end of The Fifth Sacred Thing, when the military forces are over-running their city, Maya and the others decide on this strategy: They approach the soldiers and tell them they have set a place for them at the community table. They know that some of them, in the moment of invitation, will be shot and killed. They know the situation is dire. But they decide to appeal to the humanity of their enemies.

Can I say to the fiercely adamant Trump supporter on my Facebook threads: “There is a place for you at our table of welcome, if you choose to join us?”

Can I say it to the racists who are spouting venom and hatred?

Can I say it to the fear-mongers who scapegoat immigrants and Muslims and Latinx?

Could I say it to Mr. Smucker, my local representative, who consistently votes against everything I stand for, and for everything I stand against?

Could I say it to a denier of the climate Crisis? To a Monsanto exec?

Could I say it to Mitch McConnell? To Mr. Trump?

It’s an invitation that requires some self-reflection: “. . .if you choose to join us.” It doesn’t condone the soldier’s violence. It begs a different relationship, a sideways step across the line. It offers a way out for the individual trapped in a cycle of violent words and actions.

I am unsettled and twitchy these last few days about my own position in this story, my own lack of empathy and welcome. I’ve been working really hard at keeping the conversation to a high level. Still, in conversation this weekend, I said something to the effect that this administration has drawn the racist and homophobic cockroaches into the light. A dear and wise friend firmly and kindly called me on it. Just days after I wrote something calling out the president for calling people animals, I was calling people cockroaches. In my defense, I was being metaphorical. I didn’t intend to dehumanize, I tell myself. But what did I intend? Why use such metaphors? We tend to stomp on cockroaches. There’s a verbal violence for you. I can’t defend such language.

My friend encouraged us to look at people’s needs, to ask what needs are not being met when a person chooses, either verbally or physically, to harm another. This is the beginning of empathy.

In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the community was willing to risk their lives for the truth of this question. Am I willing to risk letting go of some of my protective rage so I , too, can invite people to the table? What will we be asked to risk if we offer this invitation? It’s not about destroying healthy boundaries. The community was actively standing up to the soldiers. Still, they chose to offer their enemies a choice, a way out.

My personal rhetoric in these difficult times has had a strong edge of boundary to it. I believe that to fight the evil (yes, evil) that is harming children and families and communities, we must declaim the truth. When a president uses a constant barrage of lies in order to confuse and demoralize the populace, truth-telling is a necessary and powerful act.

I wonder if there are ways that I can hold firmly to the truth-telling, and still set the tables in the rooms of my words in ways that invite my rivals to sit and eat and be nourished. Can I speak against the lies in ways that invite those who believe them to tell their stories and share their pain? And perhaps become transformed rather than entrenched?

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives,” said Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, who joined the realm of the ancestors this week. She told the truth, directly and fiercely. And she also knew the power of words to heal, the power of narrative to create a bridge to a more just future: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”

And further: “Is there no context for our lives? No song, no literature, no poem full of vitamins, no history connected to experience that you can pass along to help us start strong? You are an adult. The old one, the wise one. Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly–once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.” ―Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

I don’t know if I can do it with grace and brilliance, with fierceness and tenderness. But I can try, as Morrison requests. Language has magic to it. As a teacher of language and a writer, I take that seriously. Let’s apprentice ourselves to the powerful human magic that language offers us, to create spaces within our words where our rivals may find a space to rest and consider, where we may all be transformed, and the future may be created with love.

As an epilogue, I offer you this song by Mary Gauthier, “Mercy Now.” Click the link, sit back, and listen.

Gratitudes, Musings

Learning to Read the Language of the World

Gratitude List:
1. Keeping up with the work. I’m starting out better this semester. Better focus. Better organization.
2. The color orange. Saffron. Tangerine. Burnt Umber.
3. Student poetry. Really. I don’t know that I was trying particularly hard to impart the craft of the poem this semester, but some of these poems in the unit project are really quite amazing.
4. Reflection and reflection
5. Re-membering

May we walk in Beauty!


This is something I wrote in 2015, when Joss was 5 years old:

Today when we had walked to the top of the hill, we stopped to examine that big patch of ice that formed when water pooled just above the eastern corner of the fields beside the little grassy airstrip at the top of the ridge. It formed a nice ice-puddle which Joss immediately dubbed his very own skating rink. I got to increase the step-count on my pedometer by walking around and around and around the puddle, holding on to his hand as he skidded and slipped over the icy surface. It was a classic Christopher Robin moment, a small boy happily involved in the imaginative possibilities of the moment.

At one point, he lay down on the ice, and said, “Oh! It’s beautiful! There’s writing here!”

The ice had crystallized in a hieroglyphic pattern across the surface.

“Can you read it?” I asked him.

“No. It’s in cursive.”

But there’s not a shred of doubt in your mind, Small One, that the writing is there to be read, if only one can crack that cursive code. I know the feeling. I had experienced it myself only moments before, watching a flock of Canada geese honking their way toward the River in front of a Michelangelo sunset sky, the shifting patterns of Vs undulating across the clouds. I had the same feeling as we were watching the robins moving through the fields, the dark brown of their backs seeming to make the very earth bubble and boil like a live thing. I get that feeling when I see bird tracks in the snow like cuneiform writing on the most transitory of tablets. And it’s the same feeling I get when I see a branch or twig that has been burrowed by small insects who leave behind their trails in the wood, like a complex system of writing just waiting for me to figure it out.

Perhaps it’s just that age-old human trick of trying to make sense and meaning out of the seemingly random patterns of a chaotic natural world. Or perhaps it’s an intrinsic awareness that we all have, that even if the random patterns about us do not make alphabetical sense, there’s an underlying order or patterning to everything around us, a purposefulness.

Maybe the point is not so much the attempt to decipher the coded purpose in the pattern, but to notice it and wonder at it where and when we see it, to lie down right there on the ice and say, “Oh, it’s beautiful! There’s writing here!”

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems, Uncategorized

The Gate to Heaven

final (10)“It’s a matter of talking their language. You have a little feel for tradition and some courtesy, you’d be surprised, you can unscrew the inscrutable.” –Tennessee Steinmetz, The Love Bug
*
“The gate to heaven is everywhere.” ~Thomas Merton
*
“Poets are always taking the weather so personally.” –J. D. Salinger
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“Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing; it is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”
–Simone Weil
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“Hold your own. Know your Name. And go your own way.” –Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
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“Wherever you are certain in your knowing takes on a fire. . .a life.” –Bahauddin, father of Rumi
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“One of the truest signs on maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still remaining respectful.” –Dave Willis
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“The poet knows himself only on the condition that things resound in him, and that in him, at a single awakening, they and he come forth together out of sleep.”
~ Jacques Maritain
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“To see is that specifically human capability that opens one up to empathy, to compassion with all that lives and dies.
Merely looking-at the world around us is immensely different from seeing it. Any cat or crocodile can look-at things and beings, but only we humans have the capacity to see. Although many of us, under the ceaseless bombardment of photographic and electronic imagery that we experience daily, have lost that gift of seeing, we can learn it anew, and learn to retrieve it again and again the act of seeing for the first time, each time we look at them.
When the eye wakes up to see again, it suddenly stops taking anything for granted.
Leaf, rosebush, woman, or child, is no longer a thing, no longer my “object” over and against which I am the supercilious “subject”. The spilt is healed. It is at once de-thing-ified. I say yes to its existence. By “seeing” it, I dignify it, I declare it worthy of total attention, as worthy of attention as I am myself, for sheer existence is the awesome mystery and miracle we share.”
–Frederick Franck
*
We have
a microcsopic anatomy
of the whale
this
gives
Man
assurance
–William Carlos Williams
*
“What can turn us from this deserted future, back into the sphere of our being, the great dance that joins us to our home, to each other and to other creatures, to the dead and unborn? I think it is love. I am perforce aware how baldly and embarrassingly that word now lies on the page—for we have learned at once to overuse it, abuse it, and hold it in suspicion. But I do not mean any kind of abstract love (adolescent, romantic, or “religious”), which is probably a contradiction in terms, but particular love for particular things, places, creatures, and people, requiring stands, acts, showing its successes and failures in practical or tangible effects. And it implies a responsibility just as particular, not grim or merely dutiful, but rising out of generosity. I think that this sort of love defines the effective range of human intelligence, the range within its works can be dependably beneficent. Only the action that is moved by love for the good at hand has the hope of being responsible and generous. Desire for the future produces words that cannot be stood by. But love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows.” ~Wendell Berry


Gratitude List:
1. Reminders that rage is not negative, even though it is hard work.
2. How being unsettled moves me into new territory.
3. My delightful and funny colleagues.
4. Quiet and solitude
5. Collage–taking seemingly unrelated bits and putting them together into a unified whole. So, collage, or quilting, or life.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems

Drawing Forth the Impossible Sprout


The doorway to Room 206: Magic happens here

“I am not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship.” –Louisa May Alcott
*
“The only way to live is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle.” –Margaret Storm Jameson
*
“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior.
You are beneath the thinker.
You are the stillness beneath the mental noise.
You are the love and joy beneath the pain.”
–Eckhart Tolle
*
One of my own, beginning with an Aldo Leopold quote. I read the Leopold essay again yesterday with my Academic Writing students in preparation for our Cause and Effect essay:

“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.” –Aldo Leopold

Only the mountain knows perhaps
where the green fire is kindled
how the viridian flame leaps
down the slopes and into the hollows
how it broods in the deep crevasse
enkindles in every womb
caterpillar and field mouse
wolf and deer and human
how it shines behind the eye.

Perhaps the desert too
has pondered with the mountain
the quiet licking emerald ember that
touched by the merest drop of moisture
tenders into flame
drawing forth
the impossible sprout from the seed
–Beth Weaver-Kreider
*
With That Moon Language
by Hafiz

Admit something:
Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud; Otherwise,
someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us
to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a full moon
in each eye that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?
–Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky


Gratitude List:
1. Cheesy bread and eggs for supper
2. Life Force, green fire
3. Collages and strippy poetry
4. When he isn’t yelling or whining, this kid is always singing or making jokes
5. Good Work

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Changing the Rhythm

This is the last morning of my summer rhythm. Tomorrow, a new thing begins, a new school year. I am ready, eager for the day tomorrow with my colleagues, then welcoming the students on Tuesday. I am not entirely sure what will happen in this space. The leisurely search for quotations and ideas that summer offers will thin and dissipate like morning mist or dawn birdsong. Something will happen here, most likely daily, but I am not sure what that will look like until I am living it. Here’s to the new adventure!

“We never really grow up; we just learn how to act in public.” ~Bryan White
*
“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter ’til they bloom, ’til you yourself burst into bloom.”
~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes
*
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die… By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heavens knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” –Charlotte the spider
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“Love your enemies, and pray for the ones who persecute you.” ~Jesus
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*“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.” ~Doris Lessing
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“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” ~Irish proverb
“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know from what we originate. The loss of purpose that so many of us feel is greater than the trajectory of our careers and personal lives, it is a cultural ailment which arises out of forgetting. Our lives are like the fruit of a heritage seed: Each of the generations that has preceded us has contributed to our life’s survival. There is an ancestral momentum to which we are beholden, and which carries us forward when we are in step with it. To hear this momentum, we must turn towards the soul. There, in our dreams, are the clues to what we love and what our lives long for.” – Dreamwork with Toko-pa
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“To teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced.” –Parker Palmer, from Abba Felix tradition
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“As technological civilization diminishes the biotic diversity of the earth, language itself is diminished. As there are fewer and fewer songbirds in the air, due to the destruction of their forests and wetlands, human speech loses more and more of its evocative power. For when we no longer hear the voices of warbler and wren, our own speaking can no longer be nourished by their cadences. As the splashing speech of the rivers is silenced by more and more dams, as we drive more and more of the land’s wild voices into the oblivion of extinction, our own languages become increasingly impoverished and weightless, progressively emptied of their earthly resonance.”
-David Abram


Gratitude List:
1. I met a woman named Paloma yesterday. She was very gracious when I gushed at her about how I loved her name.
2. Yesterday when I pulled in to a parking lot, I stayed in the car a while to listen to an interview with an incredibly thoughtful and articulate student leader from UVA. While I was sitting there, I began to notice the swallows. They must be migrating. There were dozens of them, making little flights between the trees, scooping up insects as they flew, the morning sun golden on their wings.
3. Today will be time with one of my beloved communities, celebrating a group of young people.
4. Playtime with cats. We have a box where we keep their toys, and Thor likes to go look in and choose which toy he wants to play with. They both love laser pointers.
5. That incredible spider. It creeped us all out when we found it in the Lego bin, but it was amazing. It didn’t seem to be as robust as a wolf spider, but it had a few inches of legs, and it was furry.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems, Poetry Prompts

Islands

The distance between two bodies
may be a word and a word and a word.
The map of the distance between them–
that’s a story sent out like a boat on waves.

We may indeed be islands, separate
in our separate skins, and lonely
as rocky hills jutting from the sea.
It’s words that span and sail between us.

TOMORROW’S PROMPT:
We’re nearing the end now. Some people call it Judgement, that final reckoning before the end of the game, the life, the story. Some call it Karma, or Prudence. Perhaps it’s Accountability. It’s the moment of the Last Look Back, the Assessment, the final Final before graduation. How does the Fool stack up? Can she see what she has learned? Find value in the work she has been doing?

Gratitude List:
1. Lily of the Valley. I can’t get enough of the scent. When Skunk Hollow isn’t filled with the smell of skunk, it’s filled with Lily of the Valley.
2. A good story to follow. Right now it’s Poldark, and it’s breaking my heart almost as much as Downton Abbey did. I love Demelza.
3. Song Sparrow
4. These boys. Last night as I was reading to Joss before bed, at the part where Ma Gasket stands up to Polybites, he stopped me and said, “I like these books where the women are leading, too.” Well, there.
5. That tiny little light there at the way far end of the tunnel.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings, Poems, Poetry Prompts

Challenges and Challengers


Another busy day has gotten away from me. I have lost steam. Here’s a small thing, another place-holder.

She monitors her monsters
with her motion-sensor heart.
She has started watering her flytraps,
battering the packs of flatterers
for flinging stacks of lies.
She will not grasp or grovel.

TOMORROW’S Prompt:
Today was Poem in Your Pocket day, a celebration of spoken language. What will the Fool learn about words, about language, about communication?

Gratitude List:
1. Mama Goose is such a fierce and patience mother.
2. Music chapel this morning. It’s always really good. This morning it was kind of sublime.
3. All those things I see as I drive out in the mornings: baby greens, dogwoods in bloom, the fierce goose, violets.
4. The scent of lily of the valley as I came home this evening.
5. Knowing my limits.

May we walk in Beauty!

Uncategorized

Seeking Mystery


The Mysteries of Mary Magdalene, painted by Andrea Solario, Piero do Cosimo, Domenico Fetti

I have been pondering the first and last lines of my Magician poem all day, and thought I might try to make something patterned and structured and rhymed, but the day has gotten away from me, and free verse is easier for the riff. It means that I do not often try my hand at more challenging forms during April and November, because I am caught up in the dailiness of school and grading. I’ll have to give myself some formal poem assignments for the summer.

Listen to the wisdom of the sage.
“What is language, but a kind of magic?
Here am I, in my own organism, my tower of Self,
and you there in your own lonely keep,
and how shall we bridge the gap between us
but by language? These webs of sound
we string together, we cast them through sky,
drawing out threads of meaning,
as with a wand, fiery threads of sense.

“We build this bridge on air,
scratch symbols on a page with feathers,
and stories flow like water between us,
borne on gossamer strands
of word on word on word.
We manage and tend our loneliness
by weaving cloths of language.
How can we find each other in the shadow
but for the flow of speech we offer
and the magic of these words upon the page?

TOMORROW’S PROMPT (April 4):
Today the Fool met the Magician, a mentor who taught her something of the nature of illusion and magic, of her power to work with the elements of earth and air and water and fire. Tomorrow, she will meet another mentor: The High Priestess, who will invite her to learn of the Mysteries. Perhaps this is Mary Magdalene, contemplating the skull, or offering the grail, or reading her book. The priestess is the keeper of the doorway of the most sacred of the mysteries, and so she is a challenger as well as a mentor. The Fool must prove herself before she enters the realm of the priestess. Tomorrow’s poem will be about Mystery.

Gratitude List:
1. Refried Beans. Such a basic comfort food. Add salsa, hot sauce, and a little sour cream, and it’s a delightful bean porridge for a chilly night.
2. Feedback. Sometimes it just nice to know what other people think. Not to validate, but to get a sense of whether people perceive me as I perceive myself.
3. Thoughtful guidelines for living more deliberately and authentically with our technology. That was a good chapel this morning.
4. How language links us.
5. Seeking wonder and awe. Preserving the mystery.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes, Musings

Finding a Common Language

littlesister
Little Sister harvesting sunshine from the aconite.

This is a lightly edited version of something I wrote the other day (though it’s still a little raw and choppy), modified with the thoughtful ideas of friends who offered me wise feedback:

I want to keep open the doors to healthy communication with people who have vastly different opinions about things than I do. But how can we keep the doors open when we can’t even agree on what a door is, exactly? It’s like we speak the same language, but we use utterly opposite vocabularies. Truth and fact have become shifty, like sand, like smoke. When someone says “wall” and someone else says “door,” where do we find the space in which to begin our conversation?
Sometimes it’s easier just to say we don’t belong together, the ones who say “door” and the ones who say “wall.” But we do seem to have some of the same words for love, for hope, for puppies, for belonging. Can we at least begin to open some of those windows?

I will continue to be alarmed at the actions of the current president. You will continue to wonder if the previous president was a communist. I cannot understand how you could support him and still be a good person. I want to ask you: Can’t you see the hatred and greed at the core of everything this administration is putting out? If you care about Life, if you care about children, if you care about people, if you care about the Earth–how can you support this man and his cronies? My hardest questions are for Christians: How can a follower of Jesus support the separation of families, the turning away of people fleeing for their lives? How can a follower of Jesus accept an administration that is gutting all protections for the Earth, opening pathways to destroy God’s creation? How can you support the brutality against the First Nations people in Standing Rock who are simply trying to keep their land and water safe and clean? How can a follower of Jesus support the bigotry and racism and misogyny that are unapologetically spoken from this man and his representatives?  I need to hear how you reconcile this.

Still, you love your children, and I love mine. We both love fudge and knitting and really strong coffee. You tell great jokes that make me laugh. We can probably both recite the first three lines of “Hiawatha” together, if we think really hard (okay, maybe only two, but I bet you’re going to look it up now, eh?). Neither of us can resist a cute kitten video or the awe-inspiring sight of starlings flying as one creature. Neither one of us is a monster.

(The “you” in that paragraph is an aggregate person, my imagination of someone who is unlike me and yet like me, someone with whom I might probably share a specialized vocabulary for our particular interests although our political vocabularies do not intersect.)

Can we find language that we both can understand? I hope so.

Gratitude List:
1. The Little Sisters are out and about today, buzzing among the aconite, gathering pollen in their golden saddle bags. Welcome, Bright Ones! May you thrive and flourish! (You can see one on the attached image, if you search.)
2. Warm sun
3. I received my first issue of Rattle poetry journal in the mail today! This is the best submissions fee ever! I submitted a chapbook to a contest a few months ago, and the submission fee includes a subscription to the journal!
4. Nuthatches. How can you not just love people who seem to prefer to live their lives upside-down?
5. Playing Tabu with the kids this morning. I would give the clues and they would guess them, with Jon chiming in every once in a while when the answer words got too obscure for the kids.

May we walk in Beauty!

Gratitudes

Slipping Out of Bounds

Cacao
I went through a period of time when, instead of gluing down the pieces of a collage, I would just set them together, and then photograph them.  I carried with me a little box of collage elements for months, arranging and rearranging them.  I don’t know if this was a good and interesting artistic process or a symbol of something in my brain that was unwilling to commit to permanence.  Still, some of the photos that I took then continue to grab at strands in my unconscious, like this one.

Gratitude List:
1. The way crocus refuse to stay within their borders.  While I do believe in good, strong, safe boundaries, I do think that those crocus escaping out over the lawn have a special message.
2. Good strong boundaries.
3. Breathing room.
4. The poem that is beginning to form.
5. How language shapes and creates ideas.  How ideas hinge on the language used to express them.

May we walk in Beauty!