17.6.18

Mitosis

I, grasshopper, jump from word to word
And thought to thought
Clumsy in the confusion of a million neurons
Untangling themselves to send off
A cacophonous delirium of fireworks.
They are celebrating Independence Day,
As we gather together to recognize
The birth inherent in all separation:
For I?
I am rent asunder.
We begin life anew.

11.6.18

My Body Rests in Hope

For the days when you wake up and wish you hadn’t;
For the days when you can’t wake up because you never fell asleep;
For the days when it feels like everyone is a million miles away
(Even though they’ve been sending you support at every turn);
For the days when you’re afraid to go out in public because you can’t stop crying;
For the days when you’re so proud that you’ve held it all together
And then a second’s loss of concentration sends you spiraling back down;
For the days when you can’t rewrite the narrative no matter how hard you try;
For the days when you spend twenty minutes on a simple task
Because you can’t organize your thoughts long enough to get it done;
For the days when some ray of light breaks through,
When a thousand fireflies light up a cornfield on a hot summer night,
When a touch, a word, a look, a kiss, the soft brush of a cat’s tail
Help you lift your head a little higher and help you see a little clearer;
For the days when the world is right, and you don’t have to try,
And you know that you are strong, you are loved, you are wonderful
(Even if the feeling is fragile and every step is a step of faith):
I know. I’ve been there. We can do this.

31.5.18

She

I think the dead are tender. Shall we kiss? --
My lady laughs, delighting in what is.
If she but sighs, a bird puts out its tongue.
She makes space lonely with a lovely song.
She lilts a low soft language, and I hear
Down long sea-chambers of the inner ear.

We sing together; we sing mouth to mouth.
The garden is a river flowing south.
She cries out loud the soul's own secret joy;
She dances, and the ground bears her away.
She knows the speech of light, and makes it plain
A lively thing can come to life again.

I feel her presence in the common day,
In that slow dark that widens every eye.
She moves as water moves, and comes to me,
Stayed by what was, and pulled by what would be.

{Theodore Roethke}

26.5.18

Of Hedgerows and Husbandry

(This was written while in flight back to the U.S., and I've only just gotten around to posting it, hence the somewhat odd temporal placement of verb tenses and that sort of thing.)

In our travels of the past few weeks, Katrina and I have had the opportunity to observe numerous hedges and hedgerows (evidently there's a difference) scattered through southern England and along the border with Wales. There are many features of the English countryside that would appear alien to anyone familiar with American rural life (see also: public rights-of-way that cut directly up someone's driveway, within three feet of their house, and into their back pastures, through which one is perfectly entitled to walk without fear of being charged with trespassing), but the hedgerows are among the most immediately distinctive.

They close in over narrow lanes, making them seem even narrower, and provide both shade and protection from or obstruction of the winds and breezes. They act as fences and habitats, depending on the creature. And they are astonishingly complex, upon taking a closer look. Far from being an untidy jumble of plant life--although they can become that under certain circumstances--they are arranged according to a particular design and require maintenance and care to become what they are.

I was sufficiently intrigued by them to pick up a copy of English naturalist John Wright's A Natural History of the Hedgerow, which provides a much closer look than I've managed in one paragraph, and it's my airplane reading, en route back to the U.S., hence why I'm thinking about it right now, while pausing to write this.

One of the things I found interesting about them in a casual observation was the way that branches had been woven together and back in, trained to grow up, but not out, and forming a relatively impenetrable barrier. (Seeing it, I'm better able to make sense of a scene from Howl's Moving Castle, wherein Sophie Hatter frees a dog caught in the hedge - I don't think we typically have bushes thick enough to trap dogs here, but it's not hard to see how it might happen in some of the thicker bits of a stock-proof hedge.) Wright details numerous ways of laying hedges, some regional, some more attentive to the materials at hand, but they all involve some measure of skill and, perhaps most importantly, patience. It takes approximately ten years from the initial planting of trees before a hedge can be laid, and the hedge will have to be re-laid in successive decades if it is to be well-maintained.

I suppose I'm a little too irresistibly drawn to moralizing from these things, but I've been thinking about the kinds of processes that are involved in life maintenance. A life may be lived haphazardly, allowing each day to come and go without giving much thought to how it's being conducted or where it might be going. Or there may be a patient, ongoing work of care: establishing healthy patterns, practicing good communication, evaluating relationships and goals and activities.

I made a somewhat nonsensical comment earlier about hedges becoming what they are, and I think that's one of those odd constructions that gets to a more complex notion of what it means to be anything. I am human, and without any particular judgments on how other people choose to exercise their humanity, I might think that there are better and worse ways of being human. In both cases, the only way to get closer to the extremes is through purposive or neglectful repetition of specific behaviors and ways of interpreting or thinking about the world.

Hedgerow maintenance requires attention, care, knowledge, and wisdom to do it well - and repetition. You can't do it once and expect that all will be well forever thereafter, although a once-well-tended hedge may endure for a while before it starts to break down. The work that you're doing is to build toward something, certainly - there's a notion of what the thing ought to be, that you are shaping it toward - but the work itself is done in the present on the thing as it currently happens to be. You can't work with resources that aren't there. You also can't will a flourishing hedgerow into existence merely by wistfully contemplating what it could be. Again, the work happens now, with what there is.

Hopefully the connections between how one maintains a hedgerow and how one maintains a life are fairly obvious. If not, then I suppose I shall simply say that attention, habits, self-evaluation, and patience are all vital ingredients to the process of building a life. If my metaphor holds and if you happen to think, as I do, that the best kind of life provides some benefit to others as well as the self, then let me add this: that the strongest hedgerows also offer a vital habitat in which many species find food, shelter, and protection. And for those of us who enjoy observing both great lives and great hedgerows, they happen to supply an unending variety of interesting details that only become richer upon closer inspection and could preoccupy a happy nerd for a very long time.

22.5.18

Untitled

Smoke signals and semaphore
Are the means I use to speak to you,
As though we stood, each of us,
Atop two distant mountain peaks,
Lonely watchers in a wasteland,
And attempted to break the spell
That deadens our dry tongues.
But what would we say if we said at all?
How do I transform the way a feather feels,
Brushing against the skin,
Into a language that will span the gap?

Perhaps if we managed
We’d find in fact that
The moment of connection
Left us lonelier than before.
When I imagined what I did not have,
I could not be bereft.
And now, if the silence falls,
And the words fail?
How shall I ever cross that hollow void
Within myself?