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Archive for May, 2012

In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
my impossibilities.
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
my considerations.
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.

“Passage” by John Brehm, from Help is on the Way. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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I had a place in the woods behind my parents’ house I called the Cathedral.  Tall pines and slanting sunlight, just like in the beginning of the poem, and a sky that seemed to be miles above my head.  I used to go and walk around there whenever I was upset and needed my troubles to feel small.  There was a stream there, too, with a little bridge across it.  I was drawn to this poem first because of the memory of my Cathedral.

But I love the image of the water going through and around all obstacles, not in a pushing or angry way, but simply joyfully determined not to be stopped.  A lot of the time when I am doing something hard, I feel a frown and stubborn, almost angry determination. It would be better for my soul, I think, if I could be determined in the way of the water.  Not “this must happen and I will make it happen or die”, but “this is going to happen and it is inevitable, so I will be happy”.  Maybe I need to lose my fear of failure.  Maybe the word I need isn’t determination, but confidence.

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what strange alchemy of tinged petal

and drifting breeze can make one feel at once

reborn

and immeasurably old

it must be the instinct of Eden —

immortality slipping

through the fingers that grasp

the apple of

knowledge

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People who live by the sea
understand eternity.
They copy the curves of the waves,
their hearts beat with the tides,
& the saltiness of their blood
corresponds with the sea.

They know that the house of flesh
is only a sandcastle
built on the shore,
that skin breaks
under the waves
like sand under the soles
of the first walker on the beach
when the tide recedes.

Each of us walks there once,
watching the bubbles
rise up through the sand
like ascending souls,
tracing the line of the foam,
drawing our index fingers
along the horizon
pointing home.

“People Who Live” by Erica Jong, from Becoming Light. © Harper Perennial, 1981. Reprinted with permission.

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I’ve often thought that the sea and the sky are the only notions we have of eternity — flawed, because our atmosphere and our oceans have borders and ends, but nonetheless, the only concept we can truly have.  The idea of something fathomless stretching beyond our eyesight, and ultimately beyond what we can map and own, is the closest we will come this side of heaven to any kind of understanding of the infinite.

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Mother’s Day Proclamation – 1870

by Julia Ward Howe

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Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

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We live like this: no one but
some of the owls awake, and of them
only near ones really awake.

In the rain yesterday, puddles
on the walk to the barn sounded their
quick little drinks.

 

The edge of the haymow, all
soaked in moonlight,
dreams out there like silver music.

Are there farms like this where
no one likes to live?
And the sky going everywhere?

While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.

“Love in the Country” by William Stafford, from Stories that Could Be True. © Harper & Row, 1977. Reprinted with permission.

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I liked this mostly for the instant word pictures that jumped into my head as I was reading.  Then, going back to read it again, I felt like I feel when I read some writers’ work, poetry or prose — kind of an achy-beautiful feeling, longing for something I probably never had, but remember somehow.  I don’t know if it makes sense.  I think the best idea is the German word sehnsucht — realizing the shortcomings of life and yearning for ideal experiences, while understanding they will probably never come.  Go look it up on Wikipedia — it’s hard to explain! 🙂

Other writers whose work gives me this feeling — C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Tennyson (The Splendor Falls, among others), some Bible texts, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, oh, I probably have twenty “loose” quotes I’ve saved at one time or another.  Music does this too — there are those pieces or phrases that seem to draw your heart out and cast it — somewhere — and all you can do is yearn after it.  Paintings or photos can do this too.

I think these tiny glimpses are just a proof that we as humans were created for something better, and these phrases of word or music, these beautiful pictures, just somehow capture a small part, just a glance, of Heaven for us, and we yearn for it, though we don’t even know what we desire.  It will be wonderful when we are truly there and our yearnings are fulfilled — can’t you feel your heart leaping there already?  The longing is so sweet; what will it be to have it completed?

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Today
is the
perfect day

The sky
just so
clouds moving
fast

Drops of water
on leaves
of Russian sage

Dog sitting
her chin
on crossed paws

Light streams
through branches
of locust tree

I sit
just so
at the
small table

Everything is
perfect
just like this
you would have said

“Requiem” by Abigail Gramig, from Dusting the Piano. © Finishing Line Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

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Nothing much to add to this — just wanted to share it.  In memory of all of us who have lost someone we love, and still sometimes turn to tell them something and then remember they’re gone…and those of us who don’t do that anymore.

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