Friday, July 23, 2021

Carolina wren and more Mary Oliver

Here’s a true story: The past two nights, I’ve slept in a hammock on the back deck. This morning and yesterday morning, a little bird came to visit. It lit for a moment on me the first morning, waking me up. I moved when I felt something on my shoulder. Within minutes, it came back twice and landed on the hammock. This morning it landed at the end of the hammock and watched me for a moment. Then it made three skillful hops along the edge of the hammock until it was RIGHT NEXT TO MY FACE. Like an inch or two away. Then it flew to the ping pong table where it continued to observe me. I am in love. I took a phone pic of it when it was on the ping pong table and sent to a friend to identify: Carolina wren. I’ve seen it many times on the railing of the back deck. It sings the prettiest song. 

And now that I love it, I feel mild panic because I don’t want any harm to come to it. “Maybe I shouldn’t let the cat outside anymore,” was my first thought. My cat is old and overweight and has never caught anything other than one cricket (which was probably also old and overweight and easy to catch). She’s never even shown interest my backyard chickens, which have lived with us for over a year now. But the fear is real. 

Update: The above was written last week. A few days after the intimate encounter with the wren, I found a dead Carolina wren near my chicken coop. Since then I haven’t seen the wren that sang regularly on the railing of the back deck just outside my kitchen window. I’m still processing this. I dug a hole near the coop and buried the wren, which seemed freshly dead but still covered in ants. These are things that happen, but I wonder what actions of mine could have caused this death. I hate Round-up, but I use it on poison ivy because I’m so dreadfully allergic to the stuff. I used it last week on a small crop that suddenly appeared in the yard. I thought I had eradicated most of it when I moved in two years ago. Also last week, my neighbor was carrying a can of Raid, complaining about ants in his yard. Could the bird have eaten some Raided ants? 

I don’t want its death to be for naught, so I’m going to do some research and I WILL find another way to get rid of poison ivy if I contributed to that little songbird’s death. Coming up out of an intense depression, I’m also a bit selfishly determined to not let guilt send me spiraling back down. This is an appropriate time for me to dig into my new practice of self-compassion. I just don’t want it to be an excuse, though, so along with the forgiving of myself, I will also be dedicated to good change if needed. And of course, Mary Oliver has a poem that works some healing magic into the wound: 

I will try 

I will try. 

I will step from the house to see what I see 

and hear and I will praise it. 

I did not come into this world 

to be comforted. 

I came, like red bird, to sing. 

But I’m not red bird, with his head-mop of flame 

and the red triangle of his mouth 

full of tongue and whistles, 

but a woman whose love has vanished, 

who thinks now, too much, of roots 

and the dark places 

where everything is simply holding on. 

But this too, I believe, is a place 

where God is keeping watch 

until we rise, and step forth again and – 

 but wait. Be still. Listen! 

Is it red bird? Or something 

inside myself, singing?

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Rita Dove and happiness

This morning while on a walk I smelled so deeply of a mimosa flower that the whimsical petal strands tickled the inside of my nose. I saw half a dozen bumblebees stumble clumsily through those same flowers, their big, bouncy bodies tumbling headfirst into feathery pink bliss.

I ate a dozen wild blackberries warm straight from the blackberry bush. Darting blue birds (not bluebirds, perhaps blue buntings?) flashed brilliant in energetic bursts. The crows convening on the sidewalk parted to let me pass, but not without significant vocal commentary. 

There was plenty more, of course: the crayon-box variety of wild flowers; the rise-and-fall, buzz-and-hum symphony of insects; the miracle of a star 92 million miles away warming my bare arms; the “weeds” whose resilience and ingenuity found a way to thrive in a sidewalk crack; my own body strong and capable of walking small hills on a Tennessee July morning. 

See, I KNOW there is every good reason to be grateful and see beauty in this world. And I AM grateful. And I DO see. But I also struggle with a sporadic darkness that can grip so fiercely it makes existence feel excruciating. And though this is my truth, it makes me feel silly and dramatic, so I keep quiet about it for the most part. Lately, I am existing in a place much brighter than I thought possible these past few years. In fact, there was a time when the following Rita Dove poem spoke clearly to the limits of my hopefulness. I am surprised by a new hope (though still tremulous, still cautious) that can imagine happiness as deep, full and complete.

“Sonnet” by Rita Dove

Nothing can console me. You may bring silk

to make skin sigh, dispense yellow roses

in the manner of ripened dignitaries.

You can tell me repeatedly 

I am unbearable (and I know this):

still, nothing turns the gold to corn,

nothing is sweet to the truth crushing in.

I’ll not ask for the impossible;

one learns to walk by walking.

In time I’ll forget this empty brimming,

I may laugh again at

a bird, perhaps, chucking the nest – 

but it will not be happiness

for I have known that.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Moldavite and powerful women in the periphery

I just ordered a small chunk of moldavite. Moldavite is (according to Wikipedia) “a forest green, olive green or blue greenish vitreous silica projectile rock formed by a meteorite impact probably in southern Germany (Nördlinger Ries Crater) that occurred about 15 million years ago. It is a type of tektite.” describes it a bit more poetically as “a unique extraterrestrial gem. It formed in the heat of an asteroid impact about 15 million years ago.”

I’m not “into” crystals and have very little understanding of them, but I adore Alea Lovely, host of the podcast Spiritual Shit, and she expounds on the myriad potential positive qualities of this rare tektite. I’ll honestly try just about anything at this point in my journey, but since limited funds insist on fiscal conservancy, I just ordered a little sliver chunk. I figure a little sliver chunk should be sufficient, given its inherent concentrated power.

I know a few people like this. Due to normal life circumstances, they are more acquaintances than friends, but the limited time I’ve been exposed to them affects me powerfully. Dana, who fits this description, has had way more impact on me than makes sense. Her concise response to a desperate text I sent several months ago provided immediate insight and relief and still comforts me. A simple comment to a facebook post has done the same. “She’s next level,” says our mutual friend Ryan. And anyone who knows her would understand this statement. I want to fight for justice and stand up for the oppressed and enjoy life as big as possible when I’m around her. She inspires that in a person.

Another person I’m fortunate enough to have in the periphery is Ciona. Being in her presence is like being in a lush glen or a grove of young trees. I feel calmed down and peaceful. I want to be a kind, thoughtful person when I’m around her. She inspires that in a person. Naturally, she’s a poet. And the poem I want to share today is hers. It was recently published in The Nashville Scene with a lovely illustration by Rachel Briggs. It gave me goosebumps and made my eyes water. Not only is it rhythmically brilliant, it also speaks beautifully to the common societal issue of body-acceptance that I am (and most of my friends are) still confronting. It makes me want to overcome.


“Eat” by Ciona Rouse

I eat an apple and

           each crunch treats my ear 


to a beat, like the bellydance drum solos 

           I become, feathers and coins on my hips


to create a space in my body

           for honoring my folds and pleats. 


In high school I could never feather

           as a cheerleader, always the base beneath


flying some great tiny gal to heaven.

           Your job is threatening your uniform


my coach bleated at me because I worked

           at a bakery, and, yes, I’d cheat myself


some chocolate pleasures. I hid in sweatshirts

           consumed salads for lunch, hold the meat


and I woke at 5 am to sweat.



I hid in the back of the theater alone

           like a heathen on Sunday repenting in the last pew


fingers buttered with popcorn and defeat.

           But now the drum permeates my skin


becomes my blood and breath,

           my body defies lineation


swirling, turning like electric weather

           bumping my heat against the air


my arms, snake-like creatures

           beckon rhythm, hips wreathing.


The downbeat teaches me to drop

           into this body, my cellular caveat: stop


the dieting. With each breath 

           already one sigh closer to death,


why cling to a word so sheathed in 

           die? Emancipate from skinny ideations


and eat.          



Monday, April 17, 2017

small dash of Mary Oliver for the evening....

"The world is: fun, and familiar, and healthful, and unbelievably refreshing, and lovely. And it is the theater of the spiritual; it is the multiform utterly obedient to a mystery." - Mary Oliver

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Renunciation, Longing and Leonard Cohen

"Leaving Mt. Baldy"
by Leonard Cohen
I come down from the mountain
after many years of study
and rigorous practice.
I left my robes hanging on a peg
in the old cabin
where I had sat so long
and slept so little.
I finally understood
I had no gift
for Spiritual Matters.
"Thank you Beloved,"
I heard a heart cry out
as I entered the stream of cars
on the Santa Monica Freeway,
westbound for L.A.
A number of people
(some of them practitioners)
have begun to ask me angry questions
about the Ultimate Reality.
I suppose they don't like to see
Old Jikan smoking.

At least once a week, some line from a Leonard Cohen song will rise up to mirror whatever sorrow, desire, epiphany is on the horizon of my consciousness. The lyrics well up and show my conscious mind whatever angel or demon my subconscious has been wrestling.

I saw Cohen perform a three-hour concert in Memphis a few years ago. It mattered not that he was nearly 80; he was one of the sexiest men I'd ever seen, and when he went down on one knee (out of passion, not aged joints), while reciting "1,000 Kisses Deep," everything in me moved. Everything.

In Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again & Again, Roger Housden gives us a Cohen poem to contemplate, and explains that "besides (Cohen's) evident love of women and beauty, one of the themes that has pervaded all of his work from the very beginning is what he calls, in his novel Beautiful Losers, the theme of Tibetan Desire, 'the unholy union between renunciation and longing and the difficulty in divorcing one from the other'....

Housden tells us how Cohen, after five years in a monastery "putting on twenty pounds of robes every morning at 2:30 a.m....he realizes it is time to call it a day..." and that "nothing is more real than everyday experience, which constantly invites us to let go of any spiritual persona we may have carefully developed and cherished over the years and to join everyone else in the chaos and the light and the dark of this imperfect world. . . . In Beautiful Losers, (Cohen) suggests that 'contact with this energy (love) results in the exercise of a kind of balance the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. . . Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid blood landscape. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of the heart.'"

The last line of the poem shows that Cohen's smoking habit is "a problem for someone who has definite ideas about what it means to be spiritual. . . . Underlying our false notion (that there are some thing that are innately against the love of an examined life) is an implicit schism between body and spirit. . . . When we no longer distance ourselves from anything or anyone, when we give equal value to this messy world and the world of spirit, we may catch the scent of what Rumi refers to when he says

Out beyond ideas
Of wrongdoing and rightdoing
There is a field. I'll meet you there."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Moon Language

You have GOT to be kidding me. Has it really been FOUR years since I’ve written in this blog? Well…. It’s mostly for my benefit: something to keep me reading and writing and thinking. I need all these lately, so I offer up a poem I read this past summer in Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again and Again:

“With That Moon Language” by Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)
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?

Yeah. I don’t even have commentary. Well, that’s a lie; of course I do, but it is short: I want to have a full moon in each eye. I want every other eye to hear me.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Gift from Tatiana: Nikiforos Vrettakos

Tatiana, a new friend from Greece, recently introduced me to Greek poet Nikiforos Vrettakos. I LOVE finding a new poet to love, and this one's spectacular. He reminds me a bit of Pablo Neruda, and when I peeked at Wikipedia, there were several similarities. Both published their first collections of poetry around 17-18 years of age. Both were involved in military/government and were dissidents in some way. And the poems of both are thoughtful, sensual, spiritual, yet earthy. 
The local public library does not have his books, so I just ordered a book of his selected poetry, Thirty Years in the Rain, used from Thank you Tatiana!

A smaller world (from Diary, translated by Rick M. Newton)

I seek a shore where I can fence in
a patch of the horizon with
trees or reeds. Where, gathering infinity,
I can have the sense that: there are no machines
or very few; there are no soldiers
or very few; there are no weapons
or very few, and those few aimed at the exit
of the forests with wolves; or that there are no merchants
or very few at remote
points on the earth where
paved roads have not yet been laid.
God hopes that
at least in the poets' sobs paradise will never cease to exist.

The field of words (translated by Marjorie Chambers)

Like the bee round a wild
flower, so am I. I prowl
continuously around the word.
I thank the long lines
of ancestors who moulded the voice.
Cutting it into links, they made
meanings. Like smelters they
forged it into gold and it became
Homer, Aeschylus, the Gospels
and other jewels.
With the thread
of words, this gold
from gold, which comes from the depths
of my heart, I am linked, I take part in
the world.
I said and wrote, "I love."