Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reimagining the American Dream

My mother's father, Moses, who passed on when I was in my teens, sailed to America from Germany. Moses kept a flock of sheep, a rather substantial flock, which I would sometimes help move from one pasture to another. I can recall one particular day, I was very young and walking in the middle of the field, when the sheep went on the run. My grandfather hollered at me to stand still, which I did, as the sheep jumped, sailing over my head. The sun shining down on the field that day was as brilliant as I ever remember sun shining.

My father's father, Simon, sailed here from Norway. Simon worked in a logging camp. He lost a leg there, an accident which, along with the early loss of his wife to cancer, seemed to mark the rest of his time here in anger, alcohol, and sorrow. I never got to know Simon. He took his own life when I was very young. I wish I had known him, had come to understand his unquenchable grief, that he had once been a good man, and there was still a good man, one who perhaps got lost that day in the logging camp.

They are my grandfathers, and their existence eventually brought forth my own. In ways I'm not even entirely aware of, they helped shape and define my life.

Many immigrants arrived at Ellis Island after a long voyage, anxious to make their home in this new land, a land they saw as holding infinite possibility. Many of us are here because they were willing to make that voyage.

Sometimes I miss the attitude, some would say naivete, that came with holding on to that dream, the dream that in America anything is possible. Because for awhile, it seemed like it was. Some came because they were driven by the same dream many had of lighting out for the territory and creating a new life away from what they saw as the restrictions of home. Some arrived with the dream of creating a business out of their skills and talents, a business that would be sustainable for years, perhaps generations to come. And yes, some arrived with get-rich-quick schemes, designed to amass great fortunes. But many arrived with the simple desire to find a piece of land from which they could create their own life out of hard work and by being resourceful in how they lived. Has it changed?  Yes, it appears so. Are dreams still possible?  Perhaps. I hope so. But I think a massive reimagining is going to have to take place. Charles Darwin said, in The Origin of the Species, regarding survival of the fittest:  "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change."

Here is Dan Fogelberg and one of my favorite songs,  "Forefathers,"  with photographs of that time, of immigrants, individuals and families, arriving with dreams and hopes and plans.

Reimagine the possibilities.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Songs to the Morning Sun

"The Way to Start a Day"

The way to start a day is this --
Go outside and face the east and greet the sun
with some kind of blessing or chant or song
that you made yourself and keep for early morning.
The way to make a song is this --
Don't try to think what words to use
until you're standing there alone.
When you feel the sun
you'll feel the song, too.
Just sing it.

But don't think you're the only one who ever
   worked that magic.
Your caveman brothers knew what to do.
Your cavewoman sisters knew, too.
They sang to help the sun come up.
And lifted their hands to its power.
A morning needs to be sung to.

A new day needs to be honored.
People have always known that.
Didn't they chant at dawn in the sun temples of
And leap and sway to Aztec flutes in Mexico?
And drum sunrise songs in the Congo?
And ring a thousand small gold bells in China?
Didn't the pharaohs of Egypt say the only sound at
should be the sound of songs that please the
   morning sun?
They knew what songs to sing.
People always seem to know.

And everywhere they knew what gifts the sun
In some places they gave gold.
In some places they gave flowers.
In some places, sacred smoke blown to the four
Some places, feathers and good thoughts.
Some places, fire.
But everywhere they knew to give something.

And everywhere they knew to turn their faces
as the sun came up.
Some people still know.
When the first pale streak of light cuts through the
wherever they are,
those people make offerings
and send mysterious strong songs to the sun.
They know exactly how to start a day.

Their blessings float on the wind over Pueblo
in New Mexico, and you hear their morning songs
in the villages in Africa,
and they salute the sunrise ceremonially
in the high cold mountains of Peru.
Today long before dawn
they were already waiting in Japan with prayers
and they were gathering at little shrines in India
with marigolds in their hands.

They were bathing in the sacred Ganges river as
   the sun came up.
And high on a mesa in Arizona
they were holding a baby toward the sun.
They were speaking the child's new name
so the sun would hear and know that child.
It had to be sunrise.
And it had to be that first sudden moment.
That's when all the power of life is in the sky.

Some people say there is a new sun every day,
that it begins its life at dawn
and lives for one day only.
They say you have to welcome it.
You have to make the sun happy.
You have to make a good day for it.
You have to make a good world for it
to live its one-day life in.

And the way to start, they say,
is just by looking east at dawn.
When they look east tomorrow,
you can too.
Your song will be an offering --
   and you'll be one more person
in one more place
at one more time in the world
saying hello to the sun,
letting it know you are there.

If the sky turns a color sky never was before
just watch it.
That's part of the magic.
That's the way to start a day.

~ Byrd Baylor

Happy Birthday to Byrd Baylor, born March 28, 1924. She lives in Arizona and creates children's books based on her love of the Southwest.

The photograph at the top is mine.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Alone in the Canyon of Stillness

"Story from Bear Country"

You will know
when you walk
in bear country
By the silence
flowing swiftly between the juniper trees
by the sundown colors of sandrock
all around you.

You may smell damp earth
scratched away
from yucca roots
You may hear snorts and growls
slow and massive sounds
from caves
in the cliffs high above you.

It is difficult to explain
how they call you
All but a few who went to them
left behind families
                         and sons
                         a good life.

The problem is
you will never want to return
Their beauty will overcome your memory
like winter sun
melting ice shadows from snow
And you will remain with them
locked forever inside yourself
                          your eyes will see you
                          dark shaggy and thick.

We can send bear priests
loping after you
their medicine bags
bouncing against their chests
Naked legs painted black
bear claw necklaces
rattling against
their capes of blue spruce.

They will follow your trail
into the narrow canyon
through the blue-gray mountain sage
to the clearing
where you stopped to look back
and saw only bear tracks
behind you.

When they call
faint memories
will writhe around your heart
and startle you with their distance.
But the others will listen
because bear priests
sing beautiful songs
They must
if they are ever to call you back.

They will try to bring you
step by step
back to the place you stopped
and found only bear prints in the sand
where your feet had been.

Whose voice is this?
You may wonder
hearing this story when
after all
you are alone
hiking in these canyons and hills
while your wife and sons are waiting
back at the car for you.

But you have been listening to me
for some time now
from the very beginning in fact
and you are alone in this canyon of stillness
not even cedar birds flutter.
See, the sun is going down now
the sandrock is washed in its colors
Don't be afraid
                         we love you
                         we've been calling you
                         all this time

Go ahead
turn around
see the shape
of your footprints
in the sand.

~ Leslie Marmon Silko

Albert Bierstadt  "The Mountain's Brook"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight

One hundred years ago today a fire broke out in a factory in New York City, creating an inferno from which those above the sixth floor had little possibility for escape. This event and others, led to labor unions and establishing the rights of workers. There is much to be done to preserve those rights, for those who still have jobs. We arrived at this point with a sorrowful history and much loss of life. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire on March 25, 1911, took 146 lives, most of whom were young girls and women, some locked in a ninth floor room whose only chance for escape were the windows. Many jumped to their deaths.

Here is the story regarding this event. I think it's important to remember:

So often the media does not show the images which truly illustrate the events and their ramifications. In many cases, especially those involving our own political stage (and it is a stage), they still tend to show a very limited perspective that's meant to keep people in the dark, or present a view they wish to promulgate. It seems that every time there is something of significance happening, something that could turn the tide for the lives of individuals here in this country, yet another war breaks out or a new situation is presented that leaves the old story in the dust and, lo and behold, our attention is turned to the new story that's unfolding.

Today I want to honor the 146 lost to unthinkably poor practices in the workplace and those who are still fighting to preserve the rights of all workers.

New York City, March 1911
Wisconsin, March, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

She Who Walks in Beauty

She was one of the most beautiful women to ever grace this planet. To paraphrase the Leon Russell song, "She acted out her life on stages, with millions of people watching."  It must have been very difficult at times. I remember seeing her son, Michael Wilding, around Santa Fe occasionally, and every time, all I could think was that he has the same beautiful eyes as his mother. Those eyes.

I decided to post some of my favorite photos of her, photos that display her beauty, but I hope also her soul.

Elizabeth has reached the shores of Ithaca. I hope you found your journey to be a good one, you of the beautiful violet eyes, and that we loved you well.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sailing Toward Ithaca

When I was a child I was enamored of mythology. We had two books of myths that filled my imagination to overflowing.  For some reason, that probably had to do with my own desire to escape the confines of my birth place, I kept returning to Icarus and his attempted escape from Crete. He flew on wings his father had made of feathers, with wax to seal them. It wasn't the best choice of materials. I suppose he made do with what he had. Despite his father's warnings poor Icarus flew too close to the sun.  It didn't end well.

                                               "The Lament for Icarus"   Herbert Draper

I remember my brief confusion when I realized there were two sets of stories, Greek and Roman, each with the same or a similar story line, with the characters names the obvious difference. It took me a little time to figure this all out but eventually some of these myths had a character or characteristic or even a name I preferred over others. I couldn't begin to tell you what they all were now.

It wasn't until I was a teenager that the Odyssey came into my life via tenth grade English class. I became fascinated by this story of Odysseus, the Trojan War, and his journey home. Beset by trials and tribulation, not to mention a delay or two, the names of the principle players and the creatures that tried to thwart his efforts at reaching home all rang a very old bell.

Mmmm. It wasn't until this moment I realized something: while I was reading the poem, "Ithaca," by C. P. Cavafy, at our poetry reading Sunday night, the neighbor's cat, Penelope, was sitting nearby, keeping vigil. Penelope is the name of Odysseus' wife who kept a vigil for her husband, waiting many years for his return. Sort of.


The Odyssey takes place on the sea, but it can also take place in a forest or the desert. It represents the journey we are all on, each of us journeying to Ithaca. I've run across a Cyclops or two (not referring to anyone in particular), allowed some delays to take place, perhaps spent too much time at those Phoenician trading stations. Yep, I'm still learning, and attempting to fill my days with, "sensual perfume of every kind," all while trying to stay away from angry Poseidon and those nasty Laestrygonians. Yes, we do have control over what we hold in our thought and carry in our soul.

Here is Sean Connery reading, "Ithaca,"  with music by Vangelis.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Songs That Are to Come

"Protest that endures is motivated by something far more humble than any prospect of human success---it endures because acquiescence would be detrimental to one's heart and spirit."

~ Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the field.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

~ Wendell Berry

Painting: Winslow Homer, "5:30 a.m."

The photograph is mine: My back yard last summer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Kindness of Plastic Chickens

Opening with an admission: I was feeling a tad sorry for myself this morning, blubbering about the nameless something, when I caught myself and was reminded what an incredibly fine life I have. As I walked past the living room window, I noticed that the snow had receded so much that the plastic chicken planter that I had loathed, but somehow had never felt I could remove last summer, was sitting there looking all happy and such, and I burst out laughing at that fool thing, that isn't at all afraid of looking foolish, and learned a bit about kindness in that ridiculously sublime moment.

So I decided to share with you the poem I led off with last night at our poetry reading. But before I do, I have to tell you about this fun little synchronicity that happened. A few days ago, Dr. Seuss popped into my mind and I thought it would be fun to buy several of his books and leave them around to read or invite others to read when they came over.

Many, many years ago, I worked at a shelter for abused women and their children. There were several Dr. Seuss books around so when my friend, Vickie, and I, worked the night shift, we would sometimes pull them out, sit down on the couch side by side like a couple of eight year olds and read them aloud to each other. It often resulted in us falling over in a fit of  much-needed laughter. Things can get very emotional and even a little scary at such shelters, so we did what we could to elevate our thought, and perhaps even the mood, the energy, of that sad place.

Last night at the poetry reading, out of the blue, Neighbor Guy and Old Friend said, "We should do a Dr. Seuss night."  I got all excited. We would read his books out loud, taking turns reading a page or two of the same book or each reading a smaller book, whatever we could to keep everyone engaged in the fun. Of course, Dr. Seuss isn't just for kids. Like many animated films, there's a subtext that can often be emotional or very political. So we're planning a Dr. Seuss night.

Much synchronicity was popping out of the woodwork, i.e. our mouths and minds, last night, but I will save those for another time. Today, I want to remind myself of the need for kindness, both a willingness to receive it and the desire to share it.

The poem:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in the white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrow
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
    purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye

Or a plastic chicken. I'm looking forward to finding just the right plant to tenderly place inside her kind and loving heart.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Healing Power of Poetry

The more I open up my thought to the power of poetry, the more I see all the ways in which it can bring healing into our lives. It seems we could all use a big bunch of that, for many different reasons. Some of these reasons might be emotional, some physical, some financial. We are a world in need of healing.

As I mentioned yesterday, it seems poetry is appearing everywhere. Some of our fellow bloggers include a poem now and then, some have a certain day they post one. I see poetry in magazines, introduced and talked about in length. I just read an interview with Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. In this interview, which she almost never gives, she discussed the next phase of her life in which she felt she was becoming a bit more open, more personal in the telling of her life through poetry. She noted that she feels, at age 75, with the loss of her life partner, Molly, and in coming to terms with her troubled childhood, she's finally coming into her own. She also says she's discovered her sense of humor. Isn't that wonderful?   To discover new things about oneself at that stage of life?   To do so at any age allows us to walk through new doors, into new adventures.

I had another poem, by another poet, all picked out for today, but then I read this one by Mary and knew I wanted to share it. I recognized myself in her words. Perhaps some of you will, too. That is the power of poetry.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations --
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save.

~ Mary Oliver


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Divine Intoxication

Back in the days of yore, when I was in college, I talked badly about Miss Emily Dickinson. I thought her poetry was rather trite and lacking in substance. Her desire not to be published smacked of early marketing. What did I know?  I allowed this dislike to fester until I spewed it all over an assigned paper. My beloved professor, Dr. Raymond Milowski, aka, The Bear, walked over to my desk one day just before class started and said,  "You're being awfully hard on poor Miss Dickinson."  So, I explained my stance around what I saw as her thinly disguised self-promotion. I do not recall the rest of the conversation. Class probably started and I was let off the hook.

It took many years and several attempts at altering my opinion before I finally had an epiphany of sorts and realized she might well be a genius and I should be ashamed of myself. I think it was this sentence that did it:  "The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience."  I wrote to Dr. Milowski and told him of my conversion. If you're still out there, Dr. Milowski, I again offer an apology for my belated awakening.

I feel surrounded lately by the call of poetry. It's everywhere. If I'm seeing something this often, I try to take a closer look at why. I may be going into my Poetry Period and I thought I should warn you. I woke up early this morning thinking about how I should deal with it. Another blog?  For some reason that didn't appeal to me, so with all apologies and the distinct possibility of becoming a bore, you will probably be seeing more of it from me. Don't panic. I'm not talking about my own. I'm referring to those who are identified as such, and rightly so.

There are so many fine poets out there. When I see a name I'm unfamiliar with, along with a line or two, or maybe more, that cause me to stop and really listen, it makes me glad to be here, on this planet, at this time, despite any evidence to the contrary. Poetry is alive and well.

It can call up some powerful feelings, with song lyrics containing some of the most powerful, where poets as prophets tell us what to look for, the signs we should be heeding that might save us from our own undoing. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and John Lennon immediately come to mind, but there are many others. My sons have introduced me to a few new ones, including Maynard Keenan, of Tool, who writes some of the most profound poetry I've ever read.

I think it fills a place that's essential to us, like air and water and food. It can nurture and sustain. There's a reason it fits so well with love. Sometimes, it can provide the right words, the right idea, as nothing else can. It spans generations, centuries, even millenniums, to bring us together, to find common ground. It can even be a form of prayer. And to whom are we praying, you might ask?  To No One in Particular. To Life itself, perhaps.

So, with all due penance, here is Miss Emily Dickinson:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses - past the headlands -
Into deep eternity -

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

~Emily Dickinson

Addendum on October 28th, 2012: I have been informed by Dr. Milowski's son that his father passed away on October 27th 2012. I will do a post in his honor after the memorial service. This is very sad news for me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Finding My Way to Quieter Shores

Sleep is staying away tonight and so, here I am,
sitting at my table before a dark and starless window,
finding small pieces of beauty through poetry and music,
though it seems rather sad at the edges.
The wind pushes at the corners of the house,
mimicking the ocean, the rise and fall of lesser tides
on this dark sea of another long night.

It reminds me of the time I spent
last spring, asleep at the edge of the ocean,
the waves below my bedroom window
on those New England shores.
Here, next to the woods, I imagine the deer
out amongst the pines, their little group all bedded down,
lulled to sleep by half-full moons, sentries all around.

Moving from one thing to the next,
I wait for sleep to come, not knowing what I'm looking for
until I find it: the image in a restless dream,
the poem set to music, the stolen child looks back,
portending the poignant moment
when life itself went crazy
and her small world changed forever.

I wanted to write down my thoughts in the usual form and context, but the words wouldn't let me. They kept wanting to form themselves into poetry. So, finally I let them. Here is what I had found and was attempting to respond to:  The Waterboys and William Butler Yeats,  "The Stolen Child."

The photo is mine: the Atlantic Ocean at daybreak

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where You Stand is Holy Ground

I've come across three quotes I really like. I thought you might, too. Plus, it gives me a good excuse to use another Winslow Homer image.

I've always found it intriguing how nature and human beings seem to mirror each other, both being elements of the same idea: Life with a capital L. It is perhaps the grandest lesson offered to illustrate the universe and our place in it, the one idea that seems to be manifested in a myriad of ways, but always remains One.

I have read many of the things Deepak Chopra has written and I agree with much he has written, but sometimes I wish he would take it to an even higher level. When I saw this quote I liked the idea it represents, the notion that all Life is a mirror of the Divine:

Two chemicals called actin and myosin evolved eons ago to allow the muscles in insect wings to contract and relax. The same two proteins are responsible for the beating of the human heart.
~ Deepak Chopra

It's wonderful to me, to see these connections. I might have mentioned this a time or two. Or three....

Before I go on, perhaps it's time for me to define my notion of God, the Divine. I grew up with the usual old man in the sky passing judgment and meting out punishment for our infractions of the stated rules. Fortunately, I always had a problem with that, so it was natural for me to go on a little search and rescue mission. I wanted to find what was missing, rescue myself from a faulty and misbegotten view, and develop a new understanding of what constitutes the Divine.

For today, I'm not going to go into the entire story of how this came about, but came about it did. Through what could only be referred to as divine intervention and guidance, I opened up my life to this quest and the ideas came tumbling in through a wholly unexpected source. It changed my life.

So, to make a long story at least semi-short, this is my working definition of God viewed through seven synonyms: God is Life, Love, Mind, Soul, Spirit, Truth, Principle. God does not exhibit these qualities, God IS them. God Is Life, God Is Love, God Is Mind, etc. You get the idea. So, if you're having trouble with the Grand Poobah in the Sky, and you'd like to move beyond the Flintstones, with Fred and Barney's Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes Lodge No. 26 (I was once a big Flintstones fan), maybe try out these definitions, not as ephemeral ideas, but as real evidence that Good exists and how we can practice seeing and demonstrating it in our individual lives.

Which brings me to my second quote:

Don't try to analyze the Great Mystery. Instead, Be the Great Mystery. Don't go with the flow; be the Flow. Don't struggle and strain to put yourself in harmony with the Creative Surge of the Divine Wow. Be the Creative Surge of the Divine Wow.
~  Rob Brezny

I believe the simplest ideas are the best path to understanding the Divine. Complicating it, burying it under a cascade of words and intellectual ideas only serves to move us further away from the Source. And so the third quote, another by Rob Brezny:

What is the holiest river in the world?  Some might say the Ganges in India. Others would propose the Jordan River or the River Nile. But I say, the holiest river is the one that's closest to where you are right now.

Winslow Homer, "The Butterfly Girl"
The river in winter, on the edge of Lonewolf, my home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stopping a Runaway Train

In the face of what's happening in the world, words seem inadequate. I'm trying not to be mesmerized by what appears to be an ongoing and burgeoning tragedy. So, on a brief note, the deer and turkeys continue to come into my yard twice a day, early morning and late afternoon. I can almost set my clock by the turkeys. It's a nice antidote to the belief in calamity, the bewilderment at how life can appear to turn on a dime.

It's a bumpy road to change. Sometimes very bumpy. We are in the process of creating the world we want to see and experience. Difficult though it is to see right now, great good is unfolding. I have no doubt about it. It isn't easy, stopping a runaway train.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Ritual of Reading to Each Other

As the tragedy in Japan continues to unfold and reveal the full scope of its implications for the people of Japan, for all of us, I have been attempting, not to make sense of it, that would be folly, but to see more clearly the full extent of our connection to each other. "No man is an island," and neither is any nation. The land masses that appear to distinguish, if not separate us, are nothing more than arbitrary allotments assigned, bought, or won, depending on the circumstances that shaped our human history. And nothing more.

We sail around the universe together, breathing the same air, drinking the same water, deriving the same nourishment from the plants that spring from our collective soil. We may not be able to see the thread that lives silently among us, carrying a current of compassion from which we all derive, but it is there. It is our responsibility to understand this so it can travel unimpeded by fear or any sense of separation.

Several years ago, I participated in what some friends and I referred to as The Annual Bungo Poetry Reading. Bungo was the name of the township two of my friends lived in. They were neighbors, so one of them usually hosted this event. We would each select three poems to read aloud. There were no restrictions, just three that felt right for whatever reason at the time. It was held in the middle of winter, a time when we needed the warmth of such an event to help carry us through 'til spring.

Through all of our moves, one of those friends is now my neighbor and we have decided to reinstate the annual event, albeit a tad later than usual. We have chosen the evening of the vernal equinox to hold our poetry reading and celebrate the beginning of spring. It will remain The Annual Bungo Poetry Reading in honor of those earlier times.

While looking through my books of poetry, making selections for the reading, I came upon one of my favorite poems, by one of my favorite poets, William Stafford. To me, it speaks of connection. We oftentimes feel a strong connection to an individual. The first time we see them, or hear their voice, something about them looks or sounds familiar, as though we've always known them. It's something I refer to as 'ancient recognition.'  These valuable connections serve as conduits through which our Oneness is expressed, thereby playing an essential role in our recognition of the interconnectedness of all life. That is my belief.

A couple of days ago, I felt I should post this poem. Somehow it helped me to understand our connection to the people of Japan, as well as the people of New Zealand, all who are struggling with the upheaval that seems to have overtaken their lives. I hesitated to do so, not sure if it was fitting. But then, last night, I dreamed of a young William Stafford (who passed on in 1993), sitting in an easy chair, his head bent towards the written page, all aglow in lamplight, and he was reading this poem to me. So, I got out of bed and sat down to tell you about it and to share his poem with you.

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephants tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs and not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider --
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake, 
or the breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give -- yes or no, or maybe --
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Photo credits:
Red Crowned Crane (Japan) by Huajin Sun
Kakapo (New Zealand flightless parrot) by Shane McInnes

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Thought We Were an Autonomous Collective

Another day. Another catastrophe. Japan this time. I don't know about you, but I need some cheering up. Is it possible to support our fellow beings with laughter?  I hope so. I think we could all use an influx of good energy. Perhaps it should be a Monty Python weekend. Here are the boys in one of my personal favorites,  "The Annoying Peasant."  It's all Cletis' fault. He started it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Boinking For Your Country

Warning: It's time to put on your waders.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Newt Gingrich says that his love for his country made him do it. "It" being his love affair with a congressional aide while married to his second wife. Apparently, Newt just worked too hard. You can say that again. Thank you, I will. Newt says he  "worked far too hard."

There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.

Not to worry. It's all good. He divorced the wife, married the aide, and he's asked God for forgiveness:

I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness.

To quote one of my favorite comedians, Steven Wright:

Is it weird in here, or is it just me?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Mask That Might Have Been

Have you ever walked into a shop and heard something calling your name as though it had been waiting there for you, knowing you would recognize its worth?  Did you look it over, get a deep craving for it, think about all the reasons it should belong to you, and yet walked away without it, your pockets full of reasons as to why you absolutely had to resist it?  Years later, does it still enter your mind every once in awhile? 

It happened in New Orleans in February of 1990. I had already fallen in love with the city when I walked into a little shop in the French Quarter, The Little Shop of Fantasy.  They sold Mardi Gras masks and this was the week before the revelry would commence. I would not be there for the revelry, but that was irrelevant. I still wanted a mask. And not just any mask.

It was a soft brown suede with several feathers and other embellishments, but the centerpiece was a small skull from a calf, right near the top, just above the eyes. I wanted it bad. Alas, it was not cheap. $125 for a carnival mask was just not in my budget at the time. I lingered quite awhile trying to conjure up some justification for buying it. Eventually, I forced myself to walk away with  "the wants"  nipping at my heels.

I think about it now and then. Perhaps because I walked away it still nags at the edges of my memory. Had I bought it, it could well have passed away by now due to neglect, misuse, or too many moves (let's not linger on the misuse thing). It might have went the way of the charcoal drawing I had done in Jackson Square, the one where I looked like one of the Charmin girls gracing a package of bathroom tissue. I tell myself it's much better this way; it can remain forever intact, at the height of its beauty, hanging on an imaginary wall still waiting for that perfect moment.

So, Happy Fat Tuesday everyone!  What better way to enter a holy season than with drunken debauchery, colorful beads, and the baring of breasts?  None of which I'll be doing, by the way, tradition or not. But, I will think about my love for New Orleans: the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, jambalaya, and that mask....

Monday, March 7, 2011

One Painting, Poverty, and a Girl Named Destiny

Today, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," a 1932 painting by Pablo Picasso, of his mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, goes on public display for the second time. It is showing at the Tate Modern in London. It sold last May for a record price. The bidding, amongst nine people in the room and on the phone, started at $58 million. It was bought by a private collector for $106.5 million. Let me repeat that: 106.5 million dollars.

"Houston," we have a problem.

And duct tape isn't going to fix it.

Last night, 60 Minutes aired a segment about poverty in the U.S., particularly as it affects young people. It was a very sad look at how they feel about it and how it impacts their lives, their view of the world. These were heart-wrenching stories of homelessness and going to bed hungry, told by articulate young people who never expected this would happen to them. A young girl named Destiny really caught my attention. She could have been me. In many ways, she is me. She's really All of us. Her story is Our story.

The segment concluded with a very dismal outlook:  this could well be an entire generation shaped by homelessness and hunger.

44 million of our fellow citizens live in poverty.

$106.5 million for one painting.

You do the math.

Destiny and her family may be living with the accepted definition of poverty, but those malnourished souls who believe money and possessions define it are the truly impoverished.  Destiny's soul is alive and well.

May it always be so.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Radiant Mojo

Cemeteries, especially those that have been around a good long time and left in a state of perpetual disrepair, call out to me, sometimes from great distances.  They seem to pop up out of nowhere, alongside the road, quietly nestled in the woods, almost indiscernible to the passer-by. I've found a single gravestone in the woods next to an old abandoned homestead. A friend and I once rode in the bucket of a backhoe, at the operator's invitation, to get to one when the bridge leading to it had been washed out by spring rain. I think of Edward Abbey, who, at his request, was buried in the desert wilderness by a few close friends. Those who know where aren't talkin'. I could go on and on about these little oases of our shared history, the emotions they call forth, the stories they tell.

Cemeteries usually have the same old epitaphs, although occasionally you will find a bit of backstory shared on the gravestone, some laced with humor. From time to time, there's a photograph under oval glass, or inside a small ornate metal door. Or, a few short sentences gets to the heart of the person's life. When an epitaph really stands out, I write it down. I like carrying the thought with me after I've moved on.

A friend and I were on our way to Chaco Canyon when we got sidetracked on the backroads that meander around the hills along the Colorado/New Mexico border. A small cemetery sat under a lone tree just back from the road. It appeared forgotten, but I doubt that was the case. Someone had once been golden to those who knew them.

Just inside the cemetery was a gravestone with this epitaph:

The Radiant Mojo: a mystical experience,
the thing that makes life bearable because 
it shows us the light and depth and infinity
beyond our ordinary existence; the thing 
that tortures us mightily by its absence,
because when it leaves us, there's nothing
but ordinary life again. 


Friday, March 4, 2011

Where the Buffalo Roam

For as long as I've been blogging, I've been threatening to write about my first love, buffalo. They stand among my earliest memories, powerful and strong.

I first became enamored when my family drove to Itasca State Park one childhood summer. At that time, there was a pen with two buffalo just inside the park. It was our first stop. In my mind's eye, I have an  image of myself, about four years old, walking around it, trying to get as close as I could. I remember wanting to look in their eyes.

In the photo above, I'm on the left - yellow ducks on a blue sweater - on that long-ago summer day at Itasca. I did not like having my picture taken any more than the wild turkeys in my yard do. Next to me is my sister, Jane, and our friend, Leigh, looking like the original Cabbage Patch Kid.

Eventually we would move on to swim the day away, followed by a picnic of hot dogs roasted on a stick over an open fire - a real stick - and s'mores. For the uninitiated, s'mores consist of a couple squares of good, old-fashioned Hershey's chocolate and a roasted marshmallow, also roasted on a real stick, between two graham crackers. They always left us wanting s'more.

Later, we walked on rocks in shallow water across the headwaters of the Mississippi, hung around a tepee with a real Indian in full regalia, warbonnet and all, looking rather stately despite being surrounded by the trinkets for sale there:  garishly painted drums, rubber tomahawks, little dolls in dark braids with "buckskin" dresses. It was the late 1950's and life seemed simpler. Looking back through somewhat more enlightened eyes, I see something else now.

My older sister, Christy, on that same Itasca day.

During this time, my father would spend the workweek away from home while Mom held down the fort on our little farm. He was a carpenter by trade and found work in the newly forming suburbs of Minneapolis. It wasn't easy. We wanted him at home; he wanted us to get above the poverty line. When he showed up on Friday evenings, we would beg him to give us what I then called 'buff-ee-o' rides. I couldn't say buffalo. I was four years old and enunciation wasn't my strong suit. He would get on his hands and knees and run around the living room with one of us on his back, Jane or me, while the other whined for another turn. Well, I whined, Jane might have quietly waited.

Several years later, when my parents built Deer Valley, we had a large pen with a pair of buffalo inside. It consisted of a few acres, but still not a lot of roaming space. It was a moral dilemma for me, wanting them to have oceans of prairie grass on which to roam, and having them there with us, our very own buffalo. Whenever I saw them near the fence line, I would stop and visit with them. Have you ever looked into a buffalo's eye?  It's a pretty remarkable thing. It feels as though you can see through time itself, as though all of time, all of our earthly history is still there, inside that dark orb, the planet Earth itself, rolling through dark and infinite space.

One of my favorite places to spend time is the Black Hills of South Dakota. Outside of Rushmore, in Custer State Park, you can still see small herds roaming among the hills. If the timing is right, they might be near the road, perhaps even crossing it. Seeing them dot the landscape still stirs some deep emotions, ancestral memories perhaps: across great expanses of this country, the sound of several thousand hooves, running, pounding out the rhythm of time.

Again, scanned photos from my 35mm.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Bridge Across Time

A few years ago, sometime in the middle of the oughts, I let go of all the ought-nots and crossed that bridge to get to these ruins:

Good times.

Southeastern Utah.

My scanned 35mm photos.