The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Saturday, 25 February 2017
Wary in daylight they’re at sea
what’s left of them twenty six this year
a few remember fifteen hundred more
coming ashore on this their Granite Island
before the long causeway was built
to give a way for cats for pet diseases
and white light hurts them too too bright
for salty little eyes so it’s a red torch beam
a red oval that looks for a muted Tinkerbell
while pressed against railings sheltered
from ocean bluster you don’t believe in fairies
until one is there nailed and your breath is stilled
wings twitch for balance it falters
walks with a pirate’s gait sea legs on land
first fairy tiniest of penguin kind
© Graham Burchell
(According to yearly surveys, the colony of Fairy Penguins on Granite Island, Victor Harbor, South Australia, has crashed from 1548 in 2001 to just 26 in 2015).
Graham Burchell is the author of four collections: Vermeer's Corner, The Chongololo Club, Kate, and Cottage Pi . He lives in South Devon, and is very active both with Moor Poets and the Teignmouth Poetry Festival.
Monday, 20 February 2017
Truth is, it's hard enough to sit, simply sit, doing nothing, on the cushion. In Zen meditation, unlike many other forms, we're not even substituting affirmations/positive thoughts/creative visualisations for the kind of fragmentary chatter of so-called thoughts and emotions, the white noise of 'monkey mind' that is our habitual mode; we're simply sitting, being with how it is right now.
We're also watching the breath, and the mind, until, perhaps, a little oasis of tranquility arises beyond that.
The practice is sometimes described as 'big sky mind', where thoughts and emotions arising are simply noticed and left to drift on past, like clouds, and we return our attention to 'sky mind'.
To do this day after day can sometimes nearly drive you nuts. Other times it's so crucial to wellbeing that if I haven't sat first thing, even if only for ten minutes, I feel something akin to what people describe as 'having got out of bed the wrong side', I imagine.
Even after forty-plus somewhat erratic years of this practice, which brings me firstly face-to-face with myself, and then, after that, perhaps, with the vast emptiness beyond thought, beyond self, beyond ego, it's still hard to dissolve the 'me' that wants to see results (to be a better person, to live a calmer more ordered life, to not get stressed etc), that needs something measurable from the practice.
Instead, I have to let go – keep letting go – and simply let spaciousness take me; trust it to gently displace the thoughts and emotions that keep me small, keep me selfish, or mean, or unkind; in fact keep me experiencing the separative 'me' altogether.
This is what 'waking up' means; the Buddha's most concise injunction. Being aware how much of our lives we live sleepwalking. Waking up to the reality that resides, if it resides anywhere, in this whole amazing invisible but deeply interconnected web of being. Waking up, too, to the great beyond: the nameless Mystery. Waking up to the fact that we are indivisible from What Is: that our egoic separateness is an illusion, the greatest of all of them.
The Zen quote in my inbox yesterday from Shambala Publications which was from Natalie Goldberg's The Great Spring: Writing, Zen, and the Zigzag Life*, spoke to me of such things. It was a relief to hear her say that no she didn't manage to sit every day; and yes it still made her knees ache, and yes she still found that turbulent thoughts and emotions arose after all her time meditating (40 years in her case too).
So that's already hard enough, to sit in a dedicated period of stillness in a dedicated place on our zafu, meditation cushion. Every single day.
Nonetheless, it's what happens off the cushion that's the test: can we maintain that practice of mindfulness, of calm clarity (because of course there are moments, even minutes, even long minutes, in each meditation session when we do and can float beyond individual mind into something like clarity and shunyatta [great emptiness – a 'good' thing, by the way!]) when the phone goes as we're in the middle of something, when we're late, when the baby won't stop crying or the dog won't stop barking, when someone needs something from us and we have no resources left, or someone speaks sharply to us, before we open our mouth to say something less than skillful, less than kind?
Can we bring ourself truly present to this moment, this one and only moment, which is all we have both of past and future?
Can we watch our mind, the tricks and illusions it offers us as 'truths', in the middle of the speediness in which most of us non-monastics live?
Can we be sufficiently aware as to remember to stop and breathe when one of our habitual habits or unconscious patterns threatens to ride us?
Can we carve out just a few moments' space to really experience spaciousness when everything about our lives is screaming that we need to do everything but that right now before the world falls apart?
Can we afford not at least to try? – The darkness around us is deep.
* PS: I see Goldberg's official publication date is today for the book mentioned.
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
I'm delighted to post a longer poem from him in his distinctive voice (the original was at a wider spacing but Blogger won't let me do that):
After Charley Harper’s ‘Mystery of the Missing Migrants’ (1990)
& brittle silence of winter
(cold middle of day)
lasts as long as corvids are content
which is not long
when the buzzard keeps turning its kee
& no silent spring
when the geese remaining
pick up flightfeather buzz and creaking door call
to shift local fields before northing
& silence in summer once the breeding calls fall off
(post great tit’s teach-er teach-er, blackbird’s careful reprise)
until swallows return to their pockmud clasp
and zwip and burble
at the bulbous blind of the 2nd brood’s eyes
& silent autumn afternoons
(pre-migrations south & north)
hoping that what is amiss
will not translate to the missing;
that winter will be silent only until sound.
© Dave Borthwick
Charley Harper on ‘The Mystery of the Missing Migrants’:
‘For centuries, the neo-tropical migrants in this picture have shuttled between winter homes in the tropical rainforest and nesting sites in our woodlands. Now their populations are plummeting. Why? Habitat destruction Down There? Up Here? Is your favorite songster in this flock? Each April, I listen anxiously to the dawn chorus for the return of my favorite, that world-class flutist, the wood thrush. Are silent springs forthcoming? Remember the canary in the coal mine?’
To see the image, go here: http://charleyharperartstudio.com/shop/index.php?main_page=popup_image&pID=99
Dave Borthwick is a tramper of fields and stander in the rain, who also lectures in Environmental Humanities at the University of Glasgow's School of Interdisciplinary Studies.
Monday, 13 February 2017
To live in this world
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
This reminded me of Clarissa Pinkola Estes' words about living from soul: 'Three things differentiate living from the soul versus living from the ego only: the ability to sense and learn new ways, the tenacity to ride a rough road, and the patience to learn deep love over time.'
Here are some:
Thursday, 9 February 2017
It always adds an edge to a poem when two apparently divergent disciplines come together. Hope you all enjoy this one.
Millions of years on
Megalodon swims its half ghost
through the ether of museum-space
part-shark part-reconstructed cartilage
top-jaw hoisted for a pig-eyed profile
made an example of.
But who’s to say unequivocally
that at this exact moment she’s not
holed-up in the wreck of an old war
nursing in the cold vault of our history
or charnel-mouthed over its huddled bodies
who’s to say there’s no glint in her dead eyes.
After all where better to see-out extinction
than from beyond the last glimmer of sunlight
where her movements sound like whispers
in our deep water soundings.
Who’s to say she isn’t just beyond our reach
Who’s to say she shouldn’t stay that way.
© Rachel McCarthy
Element won the Laureate's Choice award 2015 – picked by Carol Ann as marking ‘one of the brightest new voices in British Poetry...brilliantly bold.’
You can read more at www.rachelmccarthy.com.
Tuesday, 7 February 2017
I always think that January is going to be a slow time in my calendar, as befits hibernation season, and each year I'm caught off-balance by the fact that it never is. (You'd think I'd have got it, after so many years of working freelance.)
So in fact there's been a huge amount of work going on, mostly on the computer for long days for me, arranging, organising and promoting the courses for the year which create the bulk of my income (like 97% of writers, the income from my books is not enough to live on).
And finally my websites are more-or-less up-to-date with the annual expressive arts courses and retreats that I lead, many of them at least in part outdoors in beautiful and often sacred places, that I find so very inspiring.
And for too many weeks now I haven't even looked at the forest book whose first draft I've nearly completed; not even once this year, I believe.
Anyway, in between all the admin-type stuff, for a couple of weeks in January I spent a delicious hour or three most weekdays, drizzle or frost alike, up in our little orchard pruning the apple trees who've been consistently generous with their fruit, as you can see above, despite being somewhat neglected the last couple of years.
I can't begin to tell you what joy such a simple hands-on experience has brought me. I never expected to spend so much of my life indoors at a computer, and being out with the trees and plants has been so restorative; very healing.
I couldn't reach the tall branches without a ladder (since the trees are planted on quite a slope it needs two people really: one to climb to the top of the tree, and the other to put their counterweight on the ladder, so that occupied parts of two weekends as well, when TM could join me). SO I've been doing the equivalent of a pudding-bowl haircut on the lower parts of the trees. (Or perhaps that's more a kind of spherical mullet-cut??)
I love the apple trees. I talk to them all the time. Their wonderful harvest lasts us months into the deep winter, despite TM getting through half a dozen a day (! at least it's a healthy addiction.)
And we've a new addition to plant this weekend: a little Germaine de Brasparts that we brought back from Brittany after having tasted the fruits of this at some friends' – perhaps the most delicious apple, dessert and cooker both, that I've ever eaten. It'll like our soil here, so similar to its original soil in the Monts d'Arrée.
As you might know, apples are also a deeply magical tree. They're one of the sacred trees of ancient Britain, and are associated with Avalon (as the name tells us), the Otherworld, Morgan la Fée, and Merlin, among others. (There have been tombs excavated from the Neolithic era where mummified apple slices on small platters have been found.)
Pruning is something I'm anxious about in theory – it seems so imposed and unkind, and I don't feel confident in my knowledge – and enjoy enormously in practice. The principles are simple:
- let light into the centre of the tree
- have an eye to the overall shape: it needs to be goblet-shaped
- cut back diseased, damaged, crossing or rubbing branches.
And, being a poety type, it's not long, as I prune steadily, until I start thinking in metaphors. Specifically, this time, about pruning, and what in my life (it being a new year) could do with cutting back.
Letting light into the centre. Cutting back any unhealthy or diseased growth. Having an eye to the shape of a life.
Here's my list. Any of this resonate for you?
WHAT MIGHT I NEED TO PRUNE (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)?
- Is the way I’m living congruent with my values? If not, what needs to go?
- Do I squander my energy and my time in prevarication and distractions?
- In what areas of my life do I need to concentrate my energy and time?
- What is my clutter – physical, mental, emotional – looking like?
- How many of my ‘things’ can I let go of?
- Do my habits, beliefs, thoughts, words and deeds support a deep, compassionate and clear way of living?
- Do my friendships and relationships support me in being the best I can, and vice versa?
- Does the way I live my days add up to the way I want to live my life? (pace Annie Dillard)
Saturday, 4 February 2017
How can we meet our times? (Any times?)
WHEN BORDERS ARE CLOSED, BECOME A FRONTIER
'I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences, I can’t look at hobbles
and I can’t stand fences. Don’t fence me in.'
So, how do we turn an imposition to an invitation?
Myth is insistent on the fact that the conditions of our time are the exact gradient of experience that deepens spiritual education. That the dictates of recent days are in fact the frayed hem of our prayer rug. They are our holy hills, our Gethsemane, our Mount Kailash. There’s simply nowhere else to be.
That we steward a path through the sorrows of the world, seeding wild blue flowers as we go, placing gold in the hands of the young. I think it’s how adults are meant to behave.
Nothing here is making light of what's unfolding.
And the old stories say we don’t go easy. Oh no. That in the presence of an Ogre we develop what the Greeks called 'metis' - something like a cunning-in-service-to-good. That a particular kind of naïvety within us is traded for a lively intelligence in the face of sweeping ignorance.
How could we become a frontier? Claim back some chutzpah?
A frontier is a richer, more dynamic proposition than a border. A border lacks eros; usually just the thin, officious mark between two areas of geography. A frontier usually does away with the sharp edges of one language crashing into another – there is usually some connecting tissue between dialects. The border really gained momentum with the creation of the nation-state – in Europe it really amps up with the late eighteenth-century arrival of the French Revolution.
And frontiers are often biologically mutable, rarely a defining indication of gene pool – a lively hinterland rather than a statement of constant geography – we have only to think of the Celt/Anglo Saxon frontier dance across Britain in the years 400-700 c.e. It’s not a bored official flicking a passport, more a tavern filled with interesting strangers - the fire is lit, conversations spark stories spark music spark conviviality spark an educated heart.
So, could we not ourselves be a tavern filled with interesting strangers?
Let’s gather friends and play music from across the waves, tell stories from far off lands, give generously with our money and our time, speak in languages other than English - especially in front of our children. It’s a radical act.
Let’s become apprentices to the intricate metalwork of Scythian art, or decide our hips are an altar to some barely-named old North African Goddess and take up belly dancing, or run three week courses from our porch on the relationship between Aztec temples and Gypsy gambling games from Medieval wales.
I promise you, the moment is now. This isn’t an indulgence, this is activism.
A frontier also tunes its furry ear to the changing migrations of animals too: snow geese are wintering two hundred miles further north, fish once regarded as exotic like the red mullet or the anchovy are being found on the coast of England’s north sea, for the first time in seventy five years mosquito-born Dengue fever is back in the United States. Not one of them carries a passport, but all are in a state of flux, re-invention and flat-out disaster.
In the end, the construction of fear-based borders damages ourself most of all. Myth claims that rummaging around in what we call ‘ourselves’ we find there dwells a multiplicity. It’s actually what gives us our wider character. What one day may grant us pathos. Before sleep, have a look into yourself and see who’s wandering around. Myth – with its many intelligences – is a way of addressing the whole den, no one gets left out. The storyteller is the one that gathers us in.
When these beings stop talking to each other – secreting little love letters on candlelit boats at midnight across misty moats, or shaking their ochre-red feathers in elegant dispute, then we risk a crack-up on the most acute level. We build a border inside ourselves.
Then, one day, as Antonio Machado says:
'The Wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
"What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?”.'
Let us not forget. What we send into exile will grow hostile to us.
Thursday, 2 February 2017
Thank you all for visiting; and thank you, Geraldine, for another fine poem to add to this collection.
This poem is from Geraldine's Passing Through work in progress. It has also been accepted by an American e-zine: http://www.thecitypoetry.com/2016/12/winter-2016-17/
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