Poem: A Prodigal Turns Prophet

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Three summers I spent by the river in the heat of a homeless camp. (Having left my father’s home, which was my home, though I knew it not.)

Three summers of night terrors howling through my tent as the stars threw down their furious spears. (Having left my mother’s home, which was my home, though I knew it not.)

Three summers trolling the streets in blistered feet while eyes turned sideways at my glance. (Having lost all I loved, which loved me still, though I knew it not.)

As I walked the flesh melted from my bones, my teeth melted from my mouth. My thoughts dried up and blew away. Past and present dried up and blew away.

Nothing was left behind to claim a name, to know what I was or wasn’t.

Empty, careless and carefree, I danced along the street like a wind-tossed leaf, like a moon-mad fool, marveling at how all I saw danced with me.

Now my tent is my temple and the river flowing past me washes through me—mother and father and all I love and always was and ever will be.

Now as I walk the streets flowers grow at my feet, and every eye turned toward me is mine.

By Deborah J. Brasket

The story of the Prodigal is a favorite found in almost every faith because it tells deep truths we all recognize. We are all prodigals in some ways, whether living homeless on the streets or in the home of our dreams, if we have not, as this Prodigal has, returned home to our true self. If we have not gone through the weaning process that strips us of all we never were and gives back to us all we are, the magnificence of our oneness with the All-in-all.

This poem, too, is influenced by the tales of the old Zen Masters, relating their journey to enlightenment, a process known as “losing and losing.” Often they began their journey in abject poverty. Chuang Tzu describes how he was able to free himself from the limitations of the finite mind and gain an insight into his innermost being: First freeing himself from the concerns of the world, then from all externalities, from gain and loss, right and wrong, past and present. Finally he was freed from his own existence, from birth and death, I and Other. He sees the One and becomes part of the One. At that point, he was able again to enter again into the world of men, but this time with “bliss-bestowing hands.”

The photo above is one I took at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. I wrote a blog post about that visit called “Fascinating Faces, Tao and the Arts.” I wrote: “Some works of art speak to you on a level that is hard to define. You gaze and are drawn inward. Something in you identifies with what you see there. It’s not outside, it’s in here. It was there before you saw it, and the seeing is just a reminder of its presence.” I felt an especial affinity with this face.

Writing Again, Loving It

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By Charles Dana Gibson, 1911

I’m working again on that novel I wrote about in The White Hot Flow of Writing some time ago. I feels good to be back in the saddle after that long interval. I’m making good progress so far, putting in 30 hours of writing a week, or more if you count the reading research, of which there is plenty. I enjoy the research almost as much as the writing.

I started in again with the intention to write one full draft and one full revision in one year. It’s more of an experiment, actually. To see if it’s possible, especially with a historical novel set in Central America in the 70’s during all the political unrest and guerrilla warfare going on at that time.

In the White Hot Flow post, I wrote in more detail about the characters and plot, and especially more about my writing process, which I’ve copied in part below. It remains pretty much the same process as now, even after such a long break.

First there’s a germ of an idea, and then the need to anchor it in reality. The need to immerse myself in some aspect of the history, the setting, the geography, the larger ideas that underpin what I’m aiming to write: Research.

( I’m still researching now, and that “germ” keeps growing the more I learn.)

Next in the process comes the need to discover the names and voices of my main characters. I cannot write a word without that.  This  almost happens simultaneously. The voices must have names to embody them, the names must have voices to bring the alive. The names evoke the voices, the voices evoke the names: Lena and Raoul.

(This remains the same, although the list of names grow as I add characters. within out their name, how can I embody them?)

Once I have these, there’s no stopping them. They take over my life. They start telling me their stories and I run and grab a pen. I keep on writing, pages after pages in my notebook and on my computer. I look up and morning has turned to nightfall. It doesn’t matter. They follow me to bed. I sleep with them. I dream them. I wake up writing love poems in their voices.

(Yes, this is the sweet spot, the white, hot flow of writing, and I still have mornings where I sit in bed till noon with my yellow writing pad and blue pen, taking dictation from my characters.)

Then I need at least a vague sense of how the novel will open, how it will close. It may change along the way, but I need this parenthesis to contain my writing and to show me where it’s moving. They tell me.

When I have the beginning and the ending, keys scenes in between emerge. I write them down quickly before they disappear. They may change over time, but at least I have key points upon which to hang my novel.

By then my characters have become real to me. They have flesh and bone, names, voices, histories. They have deep, deep urges, conflicting desires, inner and outer struggles, a sense of transformation.

It’s like watching a miracle unfold. How they seem to come from nowhere, out of thin air, then suddenly they are breathing bodies, passionate, possessed.

(It still feels that way.)

Eventually I had so many handwritten scenes and research notes and ideas I had to organize them into folders of where they will fall in the novel, which I’ve divided now into 5 parts.

Now I’m in the messy process of inputting the raw material into word documents and shaping them into actual chapters. This is the hard work of writing—not flow, but fits and starts and stops: slowing down when I hit a snag, reversing course as I try out a new plotting strategy, or staring blankly at the screen as I try to reimagine how a scene could unfold. Sometimes I stop to do more research, or put on a load of laundry to give myself a break, or take a walk to clear my head. I take a notebook with me where ever I go in case the dam breaks and the words start flowing again.

But it’s all good, even when the little trolls in my head start complaining: Isn’t this a bit too ambitious? Do you think you might have bitten off more than you can chew? Do you really want to be a slave to this novel for the next year, or two, or whatever it takes? No, no, and yes, I reply.

I chose this. For now. And I’m loving it, even the hard work and crazy-making of the fits and stops and starts of the writing process, as well as the white, hot flow.

Lena and Raoul deserve to have their story told, and who is there to do it but me? I’m writing the kind of novel I would love to read, and even if no one reads it but me, well, that may just be enough.

Three by Langston Hughs on Juneteenth

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Thomas Hart Benton, 1945

The Negro Speaks of Rivers


I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

From Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

. . . . .

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Under the Midnight Blues Painting by Colin Bootman

In Defense of Joy

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We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Jack Gilbert, from “A Brief for the Defense

The title of this poem is so interesting. How sometimes we feel we must defend our pleasures, our moments of delight, in the face of so much suffering in the world.

Finding the balance between wanting to save the world (as if I could) and wanting to lay all that aside and just savor it while I can, has been a lasting theme in my life.

More and more I’m tending toward the latter.

My favorite treatise on the subject is the tale of the Zen monk being chased over a cliff by a tiger. He grabs hold of a vine to keep from falling, while a hungry alligator snaps at his heels in the river below. Just then, he spies a juicy red strawberry hanging nearby. He reaches out with one hand to pop it into his mouth.

“Oh, so delicious!” he sighs.

As do I.

“Back to the Garden” with Stardust and Irises

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This painting is considered by many as Van Gogh’s finest floral, and one of the only two paintings he chose to exhibit publicly. It was painted after breakfast on the first day at the asylum where he went to heal after mutilating his ear.

The garden has always been a place for healing, and the fact that Van Gogh found some healing comfort in painting these lovely things I find incredibly moving. A poster of these irises has been living with me for years, hanging over a hutch in my dining room in my last home. And now it adds its blue and turquoise dazzle to my pool room bath, decorated in blues and turquoise, shells and candles, and other sea inspired paintings.

The sea too, like the garden, has always been a healing place. Spending time there gives us a sense of coming home, connecting us not only to nature at its finest, but also to some deeper sense of calm and beauty that we recognize instrinsically as part of our primal nature. When we are hurting or out of sorts, seeking that connection brings us home to ourselves and we find healing. Music and art share those healing qualities.

That call for us to come “back to the garden” for healing and renewal is found in an old song from the sixties, one of my favorites, that I listened to recently when doing research on a new novel. The song isn’t actually called “back to the garden” as I’d thought. But a google search of those words brought me to it nonetheless. It was written by Joni Mitchell in 1968. The trio Crosby, Stills, and Nash were the first to sing it, and made it famous, but I like the way Joni sings it better. She named it “Woodstock,” but it’s less about that famous festival than the idea behind it. It captures the spirit of the times, that hope of healing the nation, of turning the turmoil of the times—“the bombers riding shotgun in the sky”—-“into butterflies.”

You may remember the song’s intoxicating refrain:

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

The garden evokes the Garden of Eden, a time before The Fall. And the reference to stardust, of course, reminds us of our even more primal origin, the fact that the stuff of which we are made is the stuff of stars.

Whether we go to the garden for healing, or the sea, what we are really doing is connecting with some primal part of ourselves that includes the whole universe of being. If only we truly knew and understood what that means, turning bombers into butterflies, or a mutilated ear into irises, would be inevitable.

Ding-Dong, The Witch Is Dead!

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How to avoid snakes now that rattlesnake season has arrived in California -  ABC7 San Francisco

Like many living in rural areas, my husband and I enjoy watching the show that nature puts on outside our windows every day. We love watching all the critters parading in the meadow behind our home, the gentle deer traipsing by in their high-heeled hooves, the mighty elk lifting their crowns of horn, the black boars scuttling along through the brush with their young, the wild rooster puffed up in all its finery to dazzle his adoring hens, the skinny coyote trotting by on the hunt, and the comical quail with their clutch of fluff-balls scurrying behind.

But every good show needs its villain to heighten the drama, and ours have been the nest of rattle-snakes that took up residence in our back yard. We’ve killed three in the past two weeks. The first two were young, no more than a foot and a half long. One was found lounging by our pool, another slithering into our garage. Then yesterday my husband caught their mother, or rather she got caught in the black netting we’d hung over the tomato plants to keep out the birds. She was at least 3 feet long and not happy in the least.

He threw her carcuss over the back fence into the meadow where that hungry coyote who makes its daily round might find it.

What surprised us though was how the quail reacted to its demise.

At first they cautiously approached it and then hurriedly backed away. Then slowly they approached again, at least a dozen, surrounding it completely.

It reminded us of that scene from The Wizard of Oz when the Munchkins timidly came out of hiding to gather around the withered feet of the Wicked Witch of the East when Dorothy’s house landed on her.

We imagined the quail viewing the snake with the same sort of surprised and delighted glee. The snake had been caught only a few feet away from the bushes where our families of quail nested. We had been watching three clutches these past few weeks, 15 babies in one, nine in another, but only one little fluffball following its parents in the third. Who knows how long this snake had been terrorizing their homes and gobbling up their children?

So there they all were, gathering around their nemesis, wondering what merciful god had answered their prayers and slain this mighty villain. With heads bobbing and dancing feet, we could almost hear them singing gleefully:

Ding dong, the witch is dead!

Which old witch? The wicked witch!

The wicked witch is dead.

Then the lights dim. The curtain falls. The audience claps. And our cast of critters quietly leave the stage to resume their daily routines.

To Hu-Mor, or Less? That Is the Question

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Last week I was questioning whether my blog had become too serious. To even ask such a question, of course, reveals one’s insecurities—about myself, about my blog, about my own serious take on life. Which is what humor does best. It pokes fun at ourselves, helps us to back away and take a longer view, a lighter view, about whatever is troubling us.

In one of the humorous posts links I shared with you last week, about bears and death, I was poking fun at some very strange, troubling dreams I’d been having lately. By the time I had finished writing the post, that sense of fear and anxiety had ebbed away in laughter. The second link poked fun at the mixed feelings I had when “selling my babies,” short stories I had labored over for so long. Making fun of those anxieties helped me to not take myself or my stories so seriously.

This isn’t the first time I’ve questioned how serious my posts had become and wondered if I should lighten up. In 2014 I humorously dissected the whole Serious VS Humor dilemma. Rereading it recently is helping me again to make peace with myself. So I thought I’d rerun it here for other bloggers who wonder if they should hu-more or less. Enjoy!

Humor, It’s Serious Stuff

Recently I’ve come across several blogs that use humor (the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, tending toward the ludic, the whimsical, the carnivalesque) to great effect. And I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them. But it’s made me realize how serious my blog has come to sound, and to question that.

I’m not sure I want to change it. But perhaps I need to diffuse it now and again. For I fully realize all this seriousness is seriously undercut by the great jest played on all of us: we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing and if any of this (me, you, life, blogging, etc.) matters at all.

Serious is my milieu. I feel more comfortable swimming there. With Serious I joyously jump head first into the deep end. I do backflips from the high dive. With Humor I test the pool with my toe. I find the steps and go down slowly. I keep my head above the water.

Perhaps that’s why people who know me well comment on my “gentle sense of humor”. I used to take that as a compliment, meaning “not unkind” or “unassuming.” Not loud or obvious.

But it could just as well mean “unassertive,” or even just plain “wimpy.”

This could be true. I am shy. I don’t tend to flaunt or assert myself in crowds or public conversations. You would never call me the life of the party. I don’t leave people in stitches or elicit belly laughs. I stand in the shadows. I observe. I take note. And occasionally I let loose a zinger or a well-placed (gentle) barb.

I tease. I poke. I play. At the edges.

It’s the way I diffuse all the seriousness that comes more naturally to me. Playing with things—-people, ideas, words, life.

Humor, after all, is the great diffuser. It reminds us not to take ourselves, or each other, or life itself so seriously all the time. It lightens, softens, disperses, deflects the serious side of life that can, quite literally, crush us under its weight if we’re not careful.

That is humor’s great gift, why it is so needed, and so welcomed. Everyone loves humor. Serious, not so much.

Humor makes you feel good. It lights up your endorphins. It puts a smile on your face and a giggle in your heart. It can even make cancer cells go into remission, or so they say.

Serious is not so warmly welcomed. It’s viewed as suspect and makes you wary. You frown and say things like “Say what?” and “Get outa here.” It gives you heartburn and indigestion. Your head starts spinning, your eyes glaze over. You start looking for the door.

That’s the risky side of Serious. You splay yourself open, heart and soul, for the whole world to view.

Serious is like streaking down your old high school hallways naked. Humor is safer. It wears a helmet and shoulder pads and carries a hockey stick. People back away. They let you pass.

Being Serious is like burying yourself in sand with only your head sticking up. Anyone can ride by with a large stick or sharp sword and lop it off. Humor often carries that sword.

Which brings us to the dark side of humor and its soft underbelly. Humor can be a weapon. And it can hurt.

But more often what humor, the great diffuser, is diffusing or deflecting, is our own insecurities and uncertainties, our fear of the unknown and unanswerable. Humor is a way to keep people at arm length, unsure how to take us, afraid to challenge us. It can help us avoid the serious stuff and make others less likely to talk seriously to us.

Humor also can be a cop-out. It allows us to say, if challenged: But I was only kidding!

If people don’t know whether to take us seriously or not, they might tend to back down, back off, pull their punches, reserve judgment. And they may do so because they want to avoid that zinger or well-placed and not-so-gentle barb we are prone to fling when challenged. They don’t want to become the brunt of our jokes.

The best humor though is serious stuff.

It isn’t used to harm others or to protect ourselves, but to expose ourselves and our society to critical examination.

Humor holds up a mirror so we can see ourselves more clearly, including all our faults and foibles. It makes us laugh at ourselves, our families, our society, our leaders, our politics, our lives, in a way that’s helpful and healing.

It reveals the hypocrisy and vanity, the pettiness and meanness, in a fun way. We feel the sharpness when it strikes too close to home, but we laugh anyway.

And by laughing at our faults, we are more likely, perhaps, to find ways to be and do better. That’s what I love about humor. Being able to laugh at myself. It’s so freeing!

Being buried in the sand up to your ears is no picnic!

I keep thinking about that head-lopping image I used earlier. That poor helpless fool, buried up to her ears in all that serious sand she finds so important, and WOP! There goes her head bouncing down the beach.

That’s me! My head bouncing down that beach, blood squirting everywhere, and I’m thinking, “My God, What did I do? Why did I stick my head out like that? Why the f— did I take myself so seriously?”

But then I have to laugh. Because I realize: This is just a metaphor!

Right about then, another head comes rolling along, the head-lopping Joker’s.

“What happened to you!” I ask.

“Seems I was taking myself way too seriously too!” he replies.

Then we both have a good, serious laugh, rolling down the beach together.

Struggling to Blog

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I’ve been struggling to find something to blog about this week. Actually I spent half a day yesterday working on a poem I wanted to get out. But it just didn’t feel ready yet. It’s tentatively, intriguingly titled “Forgive Me My Whiteness,” or less intriguingly, “A Prayer for Peace and Justice.” About race, I’m sure you’ve guessed. But do any of my readers really want to read a poem about race? By a white woman?

This raises the thorny question, of course: For whom do I blog? You, or me, or a little of both? I’m quite keen on the poem so I’ll probably post it eventually when it’s “done.” So there’s that.

Then I started looking back through my archives for inspiration. Maybe I could find something to tweak and repost. That’s always an easy fix when I’m stuck. But I’ve been doing that quite a bit lately, and if you do it too much, it feels like cheating. So drats to that.

During my search I did find a couple of humorous posts I wrote back in May 2014 that I enjoyed. I don’t do enough humor. I’d like to do more. I think that’s why I’m struggling to blog. Lately it’s all been soooo serious—introspective, philosophical, spiritual. I write where my head is, and that’s where it spends a lot of time these days. It’s not a bad place to hang out, actually. In fact, I rather enjoy it. But then I get to feeling sorry for my readers. Do you really want to read this stuff? All the time?!

So instead of blogging a poem about race, or one about linear and nonlinear ways of thinking that I’m working on, or another I’m keen to write about David Boehm’s theory on the Implicate and Explicate Orders (quantum theory + enlightment, yikes!), I’m going to go easy on you this week.

I’ll just post these links to two fun posts I wrote six years ago. When I was, it appears, a more fun person.

Selling My Babies. Where’s the Joy?

Dreaming about Death—Oops, Bears

The Art of Mothering on Mothers Day

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

Margarita Sikorskaia 1968, St. Petersburg, Russia

My understanding of what “mothering” is, or could be, was hugely influenced by this passage in the Tao Te Ching (CHXXV). The artwork that follows amplifies it.

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 the Divine Creator, 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 it inspires me to embrace my children in that spirit. 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. 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.

I find this kind of mothering works best 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.”

The images in this post capture some of that universal and spiritual kind of Mothering, not only of love, but of unity and wholeness—two in one, and one in two. Two overlapping, enveloping, and yet distinct 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.

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.

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 below also creates the powerful feeling of oneness and unity. 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 child, savoring 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.

Mothering, I’ve 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, to feel that oneness, or two-in-one. When we adopt that stance, all things become our children to nurture, cherish, support, love—to help bring to their full potential.

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

A New Tenderness Toward This Body

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Francisco Zúñiga (1912-1998)


Crossroads

by Louise Glück

My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer
I begin to feel a new tenderness toward you, very raw and unfamiliar,
like what I remember of love when I was young —

love that was so often foolish in its objectives
but never in its choices, its intensities
Too much demanded in advance, too much that could not be promised —

My soul has been so fearful, so violent;
forgive its brutality.
As though it were that soul, my hand moves over you cautiously,

not wishing to give offense
but eager, finally, to achieve expression as substance: it is not the earth I will miss,
it is you I will miss.

A New Beginning for Our Ending

I too feel a new tenderness toward this body that holds me so tenderly in return, within its soft, wide confines. That moves me and moves with me wherever I go. That holds within all that I am, memories and emotions that ebb and flow, that mere touch, taste, scent, releases. And even now, after all this time together, when a foot or knee fails, when bones creak and muscles sigh, and the weight of you seems too much to bear, still, still, you gather me in your arms. You hold me near, breathe me in, lift me up, and lay me down. You try so hard to be what I need, to do what needs doing. Too often I have railed against you, dismissed you, disowned you. Let me see you now as friend, as lover, as mother. As dear to me as sky and earth and tree and sea. Let me cherish you as you have cherished me, and when the end comes, let us rest and rise together.