Peace in the Midst of Chaos

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

11011995_10207524310489835_6784827811432251936_oIs it possible to find peace in the midst of chaos? An early Chinese poet asks and answers this question.

To build a house in the world of man

And not to hear the noise of horse and carriage,

How can this be done?

When the mind is detached, the place is quiet.

I gather chrysanthemums under the eastern hedgerow

And silently gaze at the southern mountains.

The mountain air is beautiful in the sunset,

And the birds flocking together return home.

In all these things there is a real meaning,

Yet when I want to express it, I become lost in no-words.

By T’ao Ch’ien from Creativity and Taoism: A Study of Chinese Philosophy, Art, and Poetry by Chang Chung-yuan

“When the mind is detached”–how do we do that? How can I let go of wanting things to be the way I want them, of striving to make things the way I feel they should be instead of the way they are? And let go of all the frustration and upset that accompanies that struggle?

Yet underneath all that turmoil, when I let go and become lost in the “no-words” of “what is”, I experience that peace.

A deep calm underlies the surface struggle.

Just reading this poem brings me a measure of relief and the assurance that I too can find peace in the midst of chaos.

Where else is it to be sought or found?

Into the Flow, Bringing the Mountain Top into Market Place

Tags

, , , , , ,

IMG_0308Have you ever felt being in the flow of things? That optimum experience that many athletes and artists feel when time disappears and everything you are doing just seems to click effortlessly into place?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who has written extensively on flow, calls it “an almost automatic, effortless, yet highly focused state of consciousness” in which you “become, at least temporarily, part of a larger entity” or even “at one with the harmony of the cosmos.”

I’ve experienced this a few times for extended periods, but most often only for brief moments. The type of flow usually comes after long periods of meditation, usually when I’m outside, immersed in nature, when thoughts cease and sights and sounds flow through me. “Mountain-top” moments you might call them. But occasionally, more rarely, they happen in the “market place,” unexpectedly, in the middle of a busy day. I love it when that happens.

Anchored in MooreaThe first extended period of this came when we were sailing in the South Pacific. We were anchored in a cove off Tahiti and I went ashore to do some shopping.

I felt unusually light-headed, as if walking on air, or as if some filter called “me” had disappeared, and all that was left was this crystal clear awareness taking in everything and everyone I met—that “not-two” feeling I mentioned at the end of my last post on ‘Lightness of Being.” That sense stayed with me during the bus ride to Papeete and slowly dissipated as I went about my shopping.

I wrote a poem about the experience when I returned home, focusing on the bus ride. When sitting in the open-sided bus looking out at the passing landscape that sense of “flow” was especially intense.

On a Bus to Papeete

Wind through the window
Streaming through my hair

I in my stillness
Hurtling through the air

Trees and grasses and roads bending
Faces with flowers and houses blending

Objects like petals on a dark stream,
streaming through me, leave me

Clean and empty as a hollow reed, still
faintly tingling with the rhapsody of being.

It happened another time when we had returned home from our voyage and I was working as a manager of a small popular family restaurant. It was Sunday morning and we were slammed. Folks were lined up out the door waiting to be seated. The hostess was going crazy trying to keep up with the demand, scribbling down names and crossing them off, leading couples and families to tables, bringing out highchairs and crayons and coloring books, taking out trays of water.

The waitresses were buzzing around the room taking orders, pouring drinks, balancing up to six plates at a time in their arms. The poor busboys were clearing tables as fast as they could, wiping them down, hauling cartloads of dishes back to the kitchen. Things were at a fever high pitch of frantic in the back of the house too, as cooks called out orders, slapped slabs of bacon and sausage on the griddle, flipped pancakes, whisked eggs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd I was everywhere at once, making the rounds, helping out as I moved along, taking around coffee, refilling cups, chatting up the guests, helping to clear tables and seat people, checking up on missing orders, lending a hand to the stack of avocados that needed peeling to make up a new batch of guacamole.

Everywhere at once, acutely attuned to what was needed in the moment and filling in the gap, just streaming along, light-headed, calm, exuberant, being all things at once and nothing at all, just letting the ebb and flow of activity move me along, marveling even while in the midst of it, at how natural, spontaneous, hyper-aware, hyper-alive I felt.

It lasted all morning and well into the early afternoon. Then as the stream of guests faded, and the restaurant began to empty, so did the “high,” that sense of flow, and I was gently landed back on the ground again, normal me, but not a bit tired and still very happy.

Scenic003Now most of the time I feel I’m being carried along mid-stream, not “in the flow” at the center as I was then, but skirting it, somewhere between the flow and the swirling eddies at the edge of the stream. It’s a pleasant place to be, knowing the “flow” is right there beside me, ready to whisk me away again when I’m ready and things are just right.

But happy too that I’m avoiding for the most part those pesky eddies that try to pull me away into the shallows—-those petty, tiresome swirls, and fearful spins, and down-spouts of grief and anger that are always there, ready to pull me under and upside-down when they can. Usually I am able to scramble free easier than I have in the past, knowing that whatever trouble in the world they represent is more easily solved when I’m not tumbling around in the turmoil.

Mostly it’s a balancing act, trying to bring those mountaintop moments into the marketplace and finding myself somewhere in between. Not an unpleasant place to be.

[First posted this in May 2013 under a slightly different title. Things are rather chaotic in my life right now and I found this post a soothing reminder. Still seeking to bring those mountain-top experiences down into the market-place.]

Hot Hills in Summer Heat, Revised

Tags

, , , ,

“I watch them every summer, the hot hills crouched like a lion beside the road, tawny skin pulled taut across long, lean ribs. I would take my hand and trace round ripples of male muscle, feel the hot rise and cool dip of his body. . . .”

So begins a poem I wrote years ago as a young woman driving along the Central Coast of California on my way to class at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo.  I loved the commute along highway 101, especially that stretch between Pismo and Avila with the golden rolling hills studded with oak groves towering up beside me on one side, while on the other side lay the Pacific Ocean, cool and shimmering,  far below.

My commute was a kind of communion with silent companions that lay still and passive while I moved past them, watching them fervently. I traveled with my hands stretched out, tracing the changing contours of the passing landscape with my fingers. I felt the silky coolness of the sea, the soft brush of the hot hills– physically, intimately, intensely. And I felt as if I was leaving part of myself behind as I streamed past them

It was an overwhelming feeling, permeated by a sense of longing and loss, because that sense of connection, of “oneness,” I felt so keenly, was so fleeting.  A waft of perfume, a balmy breeze, that slowly dissipates and disappeared.Photo DBrasket Fleeting Rose

Knowing this, sometimes my watching was like a spurned lover or jealous mistress. Sometimes like a distant voyeur, or persistent suitor, watching and waiting, watching and waiting.  Waiting for that moment, as my poem concludes, when the lion so still and silent beside me would “rise, stretch his sensuous body against the sky with one low moan” and “pursue me”.

Pursue and devour, was the unstated implication.  “Swallow me whole” is the metaphor that comes to mind these days—consummation.

All that waiting paid off, it appears.  My relationship with the natural world has matured over the years. How I remember so long ago watching the streaming stars passing overhead on those hot, balmy nights, and being filled with a deep sense of longing and loss.  This too must pass, I thought, and it was almost unbearable.  But no more.

Photo DBrasket Moon RisingNow when I say goodnight to the stars before going to bed–the nights hot and balmy or crystal clear and cold–there’s no sense of longing. When I turn away toward the house nothing is lost. It’s all a part of me now.  A sustaining presence.

And the passing days and nights, that sense of fleetingness that the poets have mourned over the ages, is “a dark stream streaming through me,” as I write in another poem.  It’s all one, the stream and the streaming.  It always was.

For those curious, here’s the complete poem I quoted earlier, written so long ago and recently revised.

 

Hot Hills in Summer Heat

I watch them every summer, the hot hills

Crouched like a lion beside the road,

Tawny skin pulled taut across

Long, lean ribs.

 

I would take my hand and trace

Round ripples of male muscle,

Feel the hot rise and cool dip

of his body.

 

I see the arrogance—rocky head held

High against a blazing sky, the patient

Power unmindful of the heat

that holds me.

 

One day he will rise, stretch his sensuous

Body against the sky with one, low moan.

On silent paws he will pursue me.

And so I wait.

[I first posted this in September 2012 with the original version of the poem. This post features the revised draft. It’s a work in progress, as all things are, it seems.]

Major Life Changes – Writing with Toddlers (or not)

Tags

, , , , ,

Writing Albert_Anker_(1831-1910),_Schreibunterricht,_1865__Oil_on_canvasFunny how life plays these little tricks on you. When my own children were toddlers, I put my writing aspirations on hold because it was too difficult to care for them and write at the same time. I know many authors are able to do both, but I discovered I couldn’t. Not happily so, at least.

Putting my writing on hold was a sacrifice, but I felt good about my choice. I knew my little ones would not be little for long and I wanted my care for them to be free of the distractions and frustrations that trying to write would bring.

Later when they were in school, other obligations and adventures kept me away from full-time  writing. That too was a conscious choice I felt good about. My plan was to retire early and devote myself to writing then. And that was what I was doing, with great pleasures, until very recently.

That’s when life played its little trick. The saying goes: “Man makes plans, and God laughs.” Well, he seems to be laughing now. But maybe not for long.  For the time-being though, I must learn to write with toddlers playing at my side, or put my writing aside, again, for a little while at least.

My beautiful little granddaughter is living with us for a while. For how long, I’m not sure. I love having her here. She’s a joy and a delight. I feel so blessed holding her in my arms, watching her play, teaching her to swim, reading and singing songs together. But finding time to write is almost impossible while she’s awake, and when she’s asleep, I’m so exhausted that writing is the last thing I want to do. Sleep is what I crave. Mindless rest. No thought.

So my posts here may be fewer and far between for a while. I’m still working on the final copy-edits for my novel, and sending off queries to agents and publishers. That’s as much as I can manage for the moment.

If you are a writer with small children and have suggestions on how to care for both at the same time, I’d love to hear them.

Mothers & Other Lovers, Compelling Art

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Margarita Sikorskaia 1968 | St. Petersburg, Russia | TuttArt@ | Pittura * Scultura * Poesia * Musica |

Margarita Sikorskaia 1968, St. Petersburg, Russia

What makes compelling art? Why do I find this image of mother and child, and the ones below, so powerful and profound?

I’ve asked these questions since creating a new Pinterest page titled “Mother & Other Lovers.” Somehow I felt compelled to collect and preserve these images for my viewing pleasure.

I could probably write a post for each artwork in the collection, exploring the rich associations and symbolism, both personal and primal, as well as the emotional, philosophical, and spiritual subtexts and connotations. But I’ll start with these four.

One element I’m drawn to is how the depiction of mother and child is a powerful symbol, not only of love, but of unity and wholeness. It depicts two in one, and one in two. Two overlapping and enveloping identities. “Not-two” is the way a Buddhist or Taoist might put it.

The painting by Sikorskaia at the top of the post shows this beautifully. The mother’s body wraps about her breast-feeding infant and fills the whole space with the solid, four-square wholeness of her presence. Her dark head is bent, attentive, surrounded by a halo of light-colored flesh. Her arms, open hand, and bend back form another circle, encircling the first. Her feet tenderly touch each other, and with the raised and lowered legs form a triangle of unity, the base upon which the mother sits.

The dominant colors of blue and gold complement each other. She is sitting on the earth with the mountains at her back. She is grounded and centered, while the child is loose in her arms, able to move and to feed freely, but blending with the mother’s flesh, showing how closely knit they are even while separate beings. The dominant lines creating this painting are round, curved, circling each other. Mother and child are one in body and being. Two in one. One in two.

The following image by Barnet is similar. Mother and child completely fill the space and overflow it. They are facing each other, mirror reflections of each other. She sees herself in her child, the child sees itself in the mother. Her hands are wrapped around the child, but open, as is the child’s hand, reaching up toward the mother, toward its other surrounding self.

The unity here is expressed in layers of gently curving horizontal lines, the gray space between the two indeterminate. The two-ness is more distinct than in the last image we looked at, but the oneness is also clearly seen. Soft shades of grey unite them. But that bit of red fuzz  on the child’s head, as well as the vertical slant of the child’s knee and arm, sets them apart. Their eventual separation into two-ness is gently hinted here, unlike the first.

Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006, Oil on canvas, 26 x 30 inches. Courtesy of Mr. & Mrs. J. William Meek III. ©2006 Will Barnet

Will Barnet, Mother and Child,1993-2006

The painting by Irwin that follows also creates the powerful feeling of oneness and unity, but without the round and horizontal lines of the first two. Here we see the indistinct features and form of mother and child surrounded by a shadowy, indistinct background. The vertical figure is centered and reaches top to bottom, nearly bisecting the page. Clearly it shows two in one, one in two. The soft, indistinct edges of the form feather into the background, soft and permeable. The Mother and Child are one with each other and one with the surrounding environment. The whole painting is a study of unity and wholeness.

Madonna & Child  by Holly Irwin

Madonna & Child by Holly Irwin

Two-ness is more evident in the next paintings.

In the first below by Harmon, mother and child again fill the space. Wholeness, oneness, is still the dominant theme. The mother’s face seems blissful, as if she is drinking up the scent of her, to savor her closeness. The sea surrounds them, symbolizing the womb, the place of birth, of oneness. But the child’s dangling legs, the soles of her feet, denote her readiness and ability to separate from her mother. The restless waves at their feet foreshadow the coming parting, when the mother puts down her child. We can imagine them walking hand-in-hand down the beach.

In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon

In The Ocean Air by Johanna Harmon

We see this close unity and foreshadowing of separation in the following image by Sorolla as well.

Here, the sea as backdrop both unites the figures of mother/child and introduces the element of separation in the layered waves and wayward boat. The deep shadows and strong light also denotes two-ness–the pairing of opposites. The towel flung over and around mother and child unite them, but all that takes place behind them foreshadows separation. It seems a beautiful, tender, but fleeting moment in time. Unlike the first three images which seem iconic, timeless and eternal.

Sorolla - Masterful colorist "Just Out of the Sea" 1915

Sorolla – Masterful colorist “Just Out of the Sea” 1915

This last painting by Larson is probably my favorite among these six–for so many reasons. But first and foremost because it captures that golden glow of late afternoon on the beach, when the strong light casts shadows so deep and dark. The light shimmers around them and through them, uniting them, and revealing a transparency that we see in the figure’s back-lit clothing.

Mother and child are clearly two distinct individuals now. Still, the touching heads and hands form a circle of unity and closeness. Even the shadows at their feet flowing upward through the two figures form a second circle of unity. We still have two-in-one and one-in-two, even while the separate individuals are clearly defined.

There is something nostalgic about this painting. A tender sweetness underscored by the foreshadowing of separation as the two move apart from each other and this singular moment is lost in passing time. We cannot stop passing time, but we can capture it in these sweet moments, and preserve it in our art and our memories.

"Beach Treasures" by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)

“Beach Treasures” by Jeffrey T. Larson (1999)

And I suppose that’s why I find all these paintings so powerful and profound. They capture universal and primal experiences we all have shared at one time or another in our journey from one to two and back again.

Do these images speak to you? Which do you favor and why? Visit my Pinterest page to see more.

Sensuous Sunday: Air, an Enigma

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Cc PalojonoHills of Vietnam flickr-5224736618-original“What a mystery is the air, what an enigma to these human senses! On the one hand , the air is the most pervasive presence I can name, enveloping, embracing, and caressing me both inside and out, moving in ripples along my skin, flowing between my fingers, swirling around my arms and thighs, rolling in eddies along the roof of my mouth, slipping ceaselessly through throat and esophagus to fill the lungs, to feed my blood, my heart, my self. I cannot act, cannot speak, cannot think a single thought without the participation of this fluid element. I am immersed in its depths as surely as fish are immersed in the sea.

Yet the air, on the other hand, is the most outrageous absence known to this body. For it is utterly invisible. . . .

[T]his unseen enigma is the very mystery that enables life to live. . . . What the plants are quietly breathing out, we animals are breathing in; what we breathe out, the plants are breathing in. The air, we might say, is the soul of the visible landscape, the secret realm from whence all beings draw their nourishment. As the very mystery of the living present, it is that most intimate absence from whence the present presences, and this a key to the forgotten presence of the earth.”

From The Spell of the Sensuous, Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram

Nature and Consciousness – Seeing Things as They Are

Tags

, , , , , , ,

© Luc Viatour (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Every time I write about nature I get deep into human consciousness. You can’t really separate the two. There is no “nature” – no way to identify, quantify, categorize, articulate, or understand it—apart from human consciousness, from how we think and talk about it.

We can’t study or explore or write about nature as something separate from ourselves, our own senses and experiences, our own thinking, perceiving, observations, experimentation. In that sense, nature is subjective, no matter how hard we try to objectify it.

This is not new, of course. Better writers and thinkers, from different disciplines, have explored this in more depth and detail that I can here.

This grand book the universe . . . is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it: without these, one wanders around in a dark labyrinth.  —Galileo, Astronomer

All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from the experience of the world . . . .  –Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenologist

We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation. –Edward Sapir, Linguist

If the world exists and is not objectively solid and preexisting before I come on the scene, then what is it? The best answer seems to that the world is only a potential and not present without me or you to observe it. . . . All of the world’s many events are potentially present, able to be but not actually seen or felt until one of us sees or feels.  –Fred Allen Wolf, Physicist

Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner—what is it?
if not intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.
-–Rainer Maria Rilke, Poet

The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. –John Muir, Naturalist

At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the processions of the seasons. There is nothing . . . with which I am not linked.  –Carl Jung, Psychologist

See this rock over there? This rock’s me!  –Australian Aborigine

But in the ordinary play of our day, we forget this. We experience everything outside ourselves as “not me,” “alien,” “other.” Even our own bodies are commonly experienced as “not me.” We say “my stomach growled,” or “my foot fell asleep,” or “my sinuses are acting up,” because they seem to act involuntarily, with a mind of their own, without our conscious consent. As does nature, and other people, and the things we create—toasters and cars and computers.

Separating the whole of life and existence into parts is a useful way of talking and thinking about things.

But too often we fail to put everything back together and see how interdependent it all is, how embedded we are in the whole, and the whole in us. When we fail to do so we lose a vital understanding of ourselves and the universe, and we act in ways that may be harmful to the whole.

The see the ocean in a drop of water, to see ourselves in everyone we meet, is not, as some think, merely a poetic and rosy way of looking at the world. It’s to see things as they actually are.

Original posted 8-9-2012

“Looking for Bobby,” or Losing & Finding Ourselves

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Ismael_Nery_-_Nu_no_Cabide,_c__1927 Wiki CommonsMay is short story month, and in celebration I’m posting a short story I wrote years ago and published in an online journal, Bareback Lit. Unfortunately, the story can no longer be read on that site.

It’s a strange little story that plays with how we identify ourselves and each other, and how we lose and find ourselves in those identities. It’s not a story to “enjoy,” but I hope you find it interesting.

LOOKING FOR BOBBY

By Deborah J. Brasket

Bobby is bad. Just turned seventeen, he’s big and mean with hands the size of basketballs. Not that he plays basketball. He likes the clean, straight edge of a razor or knife better.

Bobby is loose. His long sharp bones seem to hang in his tight skin; and when he walks, he dances.

Now he runs. Behind him the drugstore, the cop, growing smaller and smaller. And the sun, the morning sun, soft on his back. Before him races his long, clean shadow, his sharp legs slicing through the sidewalk like knives through butter. He smiles at the image, then turns, darts down an alley. With a quick glance behind him, he spreads long, powerful hands on the top of a wall and scrambles over. Dropping lightly, he pauses, crouched and coiled. His small dark eyes sweep up and swallow the neat back yard, the little house before him. The screen door gapes open like a black hole and he springs for it, entering. He jerks the door close behind him.

“Out boys! I told you kids to stay outside for awhile!”

The house is dark and steeped with strange, myster­ious odors. Bobby hesitates, his breath big as watermelons and hard to swallow. A taste like blood. Soon his hard, dark pupils grow soft and fat with the darkness absorbed. All around him rush shapes, objects, unfamiliar. Bobby jumps.

“Greg! You hear me? I mean it now. Just git on outside!”

Slowly, stealthily, Bobby approaches the open doorway and the voice behind it. He places his hand on his hip pocket, feels the hard shaft within, and then swings forward to fill the doorway.

The room is draped against the light. Only the glow of the TV and the woman’s pale skin can be seen. She sits curled in the corner of the couch, plumped up like a big pillow, one bare leg tucked childishly beneath her. Bobby grins.

The woman glances up, annoyed. Her round eyes grow rounder as she takes him in. “Where’s Greg?”

“I dunno no Greg. You just sit quiet little mama and you won’t get hurt.”

“Me sit quiet? That’s a laugh! You’re the one making all the noise!” Her plump legs unfold and she pads toward the TV, turns the volume up. “Sorry, but I’ve been waiting all morning to watch this. Go ahead and sit down though. It won’t be long.” She smiles, curls up into a ball again on the couch.

Bobby flicks a wet tongue over his lips. Smart ass, he thinks. He strolls over to the TV and yanks the plug from its socket. Now there’s no light but hers.

“Well, that’s a fine howdy-do! Guess I do watch too much TV, though. That’s what my husband says anyway. Thinks I spend all day parked in front of the tube. As if I had the time! But those soaps. You watch them once and you’re hooked. All those lives running out every which way. And you got to ask yourself–how will it all end? You never can tell which way a life will turn, can you?”

She sits now on the edge of the couch, elbows on knees, her wide pale face caught between the palms of her hands like a moon among clouds, watching him as he stands there with the plug in his hand.

“It’s all right now. You can sit down. I won’t bite or anything.” She winks. “I can see you need to rest a spell. How ‘bout a Coke?”

Bobby flings the cord away and springs to a crouch, whipping his knife out in an instant where it lays now in his hand like a living thing.

“Who you think you talkin’ to, woman?” he says, eyes narrowed to slits. “You see this here?” He turns the blade so that it catches a stray beam of light, making it dance in his hand. “This here’s my own special baby. My very fine and lovin’ lady. She do anything for me. She like nothing better than to decorate little ladies like yourself. So you sit there real quiet-like and don’t get her riled none, hear?” Bobby’s feet move, restless, beneath him. The knife feels like a fish, cold and slippery, in his hand. And this woman like a deep, round pool.

The woman gives a startled little laugh. “My! You’re quick-like, aren’t you! You remind me of my brother. He was wild like that and all. Always springing out at a body! And look what’s come of him!”

Bobby snorts. “Lady, I may be a number of things, but I promise you this, I ain’t nowhere near like your brother!”

“Why sure you are! Look at you. You have his mouth—— corners all droopy, like his smile fell down, I use to tell him. He never did like to hear me say that. No sense of humor. You don’t want to turn out like him, though.”

“That a fact?” Bobby says. “So? Just what happened to this all-bad bro’ of yours?” he demands, curious.

“0-h-h-h, you wouldn’t want to know,” she assures him, shaking her head slowly, her round eyes grip­ping his and never leaving his face.

Bobby’s knife slips from the light as he feels the room moving back and forth beneath him. He gives his head a shake as if to free it. With an effort he lifts his knife.

“You one crazy woman, you know that? Why don’t you shut that fat face awhile. In a little bit, I’m gone, and you ain’t never gonna know I was here at all. See?”

“Oh no you don’t!” she says firmly, rising. “You can’t stay here one minute more with that knife in your hand. Heaven’s! You’re not that much like my brother! The mouth maybe, and the funny way with your feet like you’re going to fall flat on your face, and your eyes. . . maybe. But no,” she adds decisively and strides past him toward the front door. “This won’t do at all. I have two little boys to think about. Why, if they should come home now and see you here like this . . . why, I don’t know what they’d think! It’s bad enough on TV. But in their own home?”

She opens the door, holding it for him. The light on the lawn is dazzling, rising in waves of green. The sidewalk lays across it like a white-hot poker.

“Go on, now. Go home where you belong. Take a nice long nap. You’ll feel lots better.” Bobby steps out into the light and shakes himself free from the cloying darkness.

“Git, now!” she shoos him away with the back of her hand. “And for heaven’s sake, put that knife away! Remember what I told you about my brother!”

Bobby shoots away from her touch like a bullet.

The noon sun is hot and intense upon Bobby’s head as he slows to a walk. He studies his shadow laying in a fat, round puddle at his feet, fishes it for lost images of himself. That crazy broad! He tries to laugh but can’t quite manage yet, can’t quite figure out how she failed to know him. But he ima­gines how he’ll hoot when he tells the others. Tells them how this crazy fat lady mistook him for her brother, tried to sit him down and feed him hot chicken soup and cookies for lunch. They’ll get a kick out of that one! For they know him well. Even the young ones know all about ol’ Bobby and his dancing, blinking blade!

He feels better now and begins to run, his knife reaching out before him. He feels his blood pumping through his veins, pumping so fine and fast it would like to cut loose without him.

He’s almost to the corner when he hears a sound behind him.

“Freeze! Hold it right there!”

Bobby grins. At least the Man knows him. He stops and turns. The sun dancing on his knife blade seems to leap from his hand like a fish.

Slowly Bobby slips into the pool lying like a shadow at his feet. The splash is the sound of gun fire. Cool, cloy­ing arms reach up to grab him, pull him under. He breaks loose, struggling for the surface, for the light, for some forgotten image.

Lying in his own dark puddle, Bobby looks up to see the fat sun wink. And close its eye on him forever.

To Mother the World

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Painting_by_Manoj_PaturkarThe novel I am working on is about relationships between mothers and children and all the ways that is expressed, from the most fearful and destructive to the most trusting and freeing. So I’ve been thinking a lot on this topic lately.

A passage that had a huge influence on my understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, is found in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV):

There was something complete and nebulous

Which existed before the Heaven and Earth,

Silent, invisible

Unchanging, standing as One,

Unceasing, ever-revolving,

Able to be the Mother of the World.

This Mother of the World, of course, is Tao, the all-pervading, all embracing, unchanging, and unceasing. It’s the thing that evolves, supports, nurtures, protects, and provides space for its “children,” all individual being.

A tall order for a mere human.

Yet something about that passage spoke to me as a woman and mother. It drew within me the desire to embrace my children in that spirit. And I found the mothering of my own two children improved immensely when I was able to step back and project in some way this more expansive sense of mothering that allows them to feel loved and supported without all the worries and anxieties and criticism and fear that accompany a mere human sense of mothering.

This mothering is not as personal, intense, or myopic, as the latter. It doesn’t hover, it doesn’t obsess, it doesn’t fret. It frees them “to be,” and is based on an immense sense of trust—in myself, in them, and in the universe at large. In God, or Tao, or some divine presence or higher power that embraces all of us, and gives each of us the capacity to mother each other.

This is not to say that I often meet this ideal. Far from it.

But I know that I mother my own children best and make fewer mistakes when I’m able to embrace them in that larger, more expansive way. And it feels more natural, less constricted, to mother that way.

I find this kind of mothering works best when all-inclusive. When I embrace all around me with the same mothering spirit. Not just my children, but all children, all people, all things—my home, my community, my work—even the individual objects that fill the space around me and the space outside my window.  When I’m able to actually feel and identify with that potential, to “be” the “Mother of the World.”

Mothering, I learned, is a capacity that anyone can embrace: man, woman, child. You don’t have to be a mother, or have children of your own, to mother the world. When you adopt that stance, all things become your children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.

Here’s wishing you all a lovely day of “mothering.”

Poets on Poetry: Mark Doty, Mackerel & Metaphors

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

fishes-421346_640One of the things I love most is writing about writing, unraveling the creative process, how the mind at play works.

Mark Doty’s essay Souls on Icedescribing how he came to write a particular poem, is a fascinating example of that. He put into words something I’ve long felt and toyed with–how certain images, feelings, experiences will strike me as singularly important. Somehow they seem deeply relevant to the world at large, as if I pulled hard enough and long enough at one of these loose strands I’d see how it’s all connected and, in the process, unravel one small corner of the mystery that underlies the universe.

Below are parts of the essay that spoke so eloquently to me, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing at the link above.

It begins with Doty “struck by the elegance of the mackerel in the fresh fish display” and how this sighting prompted his poem “A Display of Mackerel.”

“Our metaphors go on ahead of us, they know before we do. . . . . I can’t choose what’s going to serve as a compelling image for me. But I’ve learned to trust that part of my imagination that gropes forward, feeling its way toward what it needs; to watch for the signs of fascination, the sense of compelled attention (Look at me, something seems to say, closely) that indicates that there’s something I need to attend to. Sometimes it seems to me as if metaphor were the advance guard of the mind; something in us reaches out, into the landscape in front of us, looking for the right vessel, the right vehicle, for whatever will serve. . . .

I almost always begin with description, as a way of focusing on that compelling image, the poem’s “given.” I know that what I can see is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg; if I do my work of study and examination, and if I am lucky, the image which I’ve been intrigued by will become a metaphor, will yield depth and meaning, will lead me to insight. The goal here is inquiry, the attempt to get at what it is that’s so interesting about what’s struck me. Because it isn’t just beauty; the world is full of lovely things and that in itself wouldn’t compel me to write. There’s something else, some gravity or charge to this image that makes me need to investigate it.

Exploratory description, then; I’m a scientist trying to measure and record what’s seen.”

The poem follows. See how his plucking at one loose thread leads to the unraveling of a whole universe of ideas.

“A Display of Mackerel”

They lie in parallel rows,

on ice, head to tail,

each a foot of luminosity

 

barred with black bands,

which divide the scales’

radiant sections

 

like seams of lead

in a Tiffany window.

Iridescent, watery

 

prismatics: think abalone,

the wildly rainbowed

mirror of a soapbubble sphere,

 

think sun on gasoline.

Splendor, and splendor,

and not a one in any way

 

distinguished from the other

—nothing about them

of individuality. Instead

 

they’re all exact expressions

of the one soul,

each a perfect fulfilment

 

of heaven’s template,

mackerel essence. As if,

after a lifetime arriving

 

at this enameling, the jeweler’s

made uncountable examples,

each as intricate

 

in its oily fabulation

as the one before

Suppose we could iridesce,

 

like these, and lose ourselves

entirely in the universe

of shimmer—would you want

 

to be yourself only,

unduplicatable, doomed

to be lost? They’d prefer,

 

plainly, to be flashing participants,

multitudinous. Even now

they seem to be bolting

 

forward, heedless of stasis.

They don’t care they’re dead

and nearly frozen,

 

just as, presumably,

they didn’t care that they were living:

all, all for all,

 

the rainbowed school

and its acres of brilliant classrooms,

in which no verb is singular,

 

or every one is. How happy they seem,

even on ice, to be together, selfless,

which is the price of gleaming.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,202 other followers