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.
Monday, 25 August 2014
The Waterfall Experience has tempted a couple of people in these days of sun; it's still sublimely and shrinkingly cold, though, so I've been more tempted to sit on a rock in the heat and gaze at ripples and dragonflies and intrepid bathers.
With my own creative expression still hiding out in the hills somewhere, I give you from Miriam in England and Bea in les Cévennes (writing outside the same café as I was the other day) two more lyrical lots of 100 words.
100 from home: 24.8.14
They’re here, like a squall in the green-gold evening though the wind tiptoes.
A niece, calm and beautiful, her graceful moves belying irritation – her husband a driving hailstorm of assertion; their one-year-old toddling, reaching bare-foot for the world beyond our windows. They leave after a disturbed night. Now, the wind holds its breath, as if sensing the caul of exhaustion in late-summer cool, light still gold.
Seventy-one years ago today my parents married. Too late for this third generation, their shadows weave contented abandonment through the trees containing our haven. This year, autumn’s early.
Place de l’Eglise –
in one corner
“attention chute de neige du toit!” –
watching the first leaves
fluttering from the planes
boules waiting dents
into gritty sand –
street lanterns gracefully
draped with geraniums –
to their mums –
where I am thinking of you –
“t’as bien dormi?” –
three years ago
you said good-bye to this world –
“vous avez fini maintenant?” –
the metallic twelve o’clock
chimes from the nearby clocher –
by the panting
of the lovely black lab-spaniel
under the next table
echo the sound
of leaving footsteps –
I can see the seam of your skirt...
Saturday, 23 August 2014
Spill of it all: geraniums, foliage, wild herbs; words, desires, fears, hopes. Children, French voices, mobile phones, coffee cups. ‘Attention chute de neige du toit’, declares the church. All the fêtes: next month ‘Fête de l’Onion Doux des Cevennes’. Gazing up into the plane tree – young branches radiating from pollarded stumps like umbrella spokes. Two glossy dogs’ enthusiasm, 100 metres’ distant, at meeting their kind. Tonk of boules in the sandy place. Anniversary of a death; anniversary of a birth. Me in the midst of the moment, the day, our many mutual lives, the quiet ancient presence of les garrigues.
Tuesday, 19 August 2014
I used to fear those absence-of-inspiration times, too. But one of the advantages of getting older – and it took illness to show me this, as so often happens – is that I'm wiser, at last, about taking 'being' time; and, in relation to poetry, recognising that not only do we need time for the well to fill up again before we can expect to draw water from it, but also and most crucially time for simply being receptive to – well, anything and everything. This is a critical part of the creative process; it's not all about transmission.
Printing out course materials for a new participant, I came across this quote from William Stafford.
‘A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him a whole succession of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays, laws, philosophies, religions, or …
This is from The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart; in my view, one of the most inspiring anthologies out there. It's edited by that wonderful vital and insightful trio of wild men: Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade.
|'...Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.'
I hope to be back on the blog before I leave for France; or if not, from there.
Meantime, enjoy the last of the summer, wherever you are...
Saturday, 16 August 2014
The moondaisies – ox-eye daisies – are still flowering madly, but the purple flowers of Michaelmas daisies, harbingers of the end of summer, are sobering the flowerbeds.
The garden has been taken over by triffids:
... where I planted far too many squashes for the space available, and on pure manure. However, these beauties are nestling among all that green (this one would just fit into both my encircling arms, and it's not even a pumpkin):
If, like us, you are struggling to find new ways to use up green beans, try pickling in spicy vinegar; and I've just marinated a batch in vinaigrette with chopped onion, sundried tomatoes and lemon basil. (I recommend Alyss Fowler's wonderful book Abundance for preserving veg.)
And OH! At last I have my firepit (a little late for lughnasadh but still very much appreciated; thank you, TM).
In the lanes, the tides of creamy bedstraw and swags of purple vetch – spreading near Riverford over a good mile of verge and bank – have given way to plumy seeding rosebay willowherbs, toadflax and silverweed. There are butterflies and bees aplenty, thank goodness; and my herb and bee garden is coming on nicely.
The young buzzards mew in their nest just a few hundred yards down the valley; try out new wings above us.
'No doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written,' says Stanley Kunitz.
Transition time. The end of summer ushers in a strong focus on my ecosoul work. I've just completed responding to the summer assignments for my online writing courses, and finished outstanding mentoring work. I shall pick this up in the autumn, too; but for now, I'll make the transition with my Writing the Bright Moment retreat in the French mountains, which incorporates outdoor mindfulness practice to feed into creative expression.
I've been working so hard recently, and suddenly it's done; and now I can turn my attention to gearing up for that course, which begins in a week's time. This means prepping it, packing materials for that and clothes and books for me for 3 weeks, and checking out the idiosyncrasies in the 21-year-old campervan in TM will be joining me a week later, and the van will come into its own.
Last time I tried to fill the internal watertank the hose leaked in about 6 places. This has been replaced but – unless I overfilled it just now – there's a leak somewhere else. And I'd assumed that, like so many other dashboard functions which operate only intermittently, the flashing temperature light was a wiring fault, since the radiator is no longer leaking and the coolant level's fine. It's only occurred to me this afternoon that maybe the radiator fan doesn't work; or if it does, the fuse doesn't. Something else to check soon. And does the fuel gauge work, or are we relying on an estimate of consumption (which seems to be better than I hoped) and the odometre?
But I am so glad I have this van. I love the bed, the curtains, the solid reliable engine, the cooker, the sink, the fridge, the cupboards and the wardrobe, all in such a neat well-thought-out small space. And it's not a huge great motorhome; I don't feel embarrassed driving it, except for the fact that I'm driving an old diesel engine; or indeed any vehicle at all, environmentally-speaking. And thank goodness there's no geriatric chemical toilet. Next stop, a small solar-powered outdoor shower-thing.
'Blessed are they who know that what they now have they once longed for,' says poet Jean Valentine, in her extraordinarily beautiful poem 'The River at Wolf'. Oh yes.
How blessed I am, how blessed.
I'm still managing daily 100-word prose-poems, as per my challenge to myself nearly 3 weeks ago (officially from the beginning of August, but I began before that).
There has been sad news this week. I am so blessed; but my subconscious is not so easily soothed. We're all in this together.
Wednesday, 13 August 2014
Yesterday, under the yellow August full moon (the hunter's moon??), we stood outside and four meteors streamed across the sky in their dying glory.
The perspective – the vastness, and yet the reminder that everything, even stars, is/are transient – was useful to me in a time when the suffering of the world and other people's troubles (not to mention the deadlines I need to meet before I leave for France), can be overwhelming in moments.
Tuesday, 12 August 2014
As I've aged, I've realised over and over just how true that is. Anger? Look for the fear underneath. Hate? Ditto. Shame? Blame? Self-righteousness? Territory wars? Theft? Envy? Jealousy? Deceit? Lies? Betrayal? Ditto, etc.
What a useful lesson it is.
It's normal (whatever that means), natural, to fear the new, the unknown, the not-yet-comprehended. (I maintain it's natural, too, to fear the unnatural – I justify my fear of flying by asking myself just how natural is it to have simply a sardine can and two internal combustion engines between me and oblivion at 15,000 feet; though actually, truthfully, it's not so much the fear that makes me reluctant to fly these days as environmental concerns; but that also gives me a great, and virtuous, excuse not to face the fear. But if I do fly I can usually overcome the fear enough as to enjoy it.)
Someone once said to me: 'Fear is excitement without the breathing.' That's useful, too. If we can recognise the adrenalin-rush as something that can help us meet what we fear, if we can remember to breathe and stare the fear-provoking Thing in the face, we can see through it and find a sense of – what, adventure? Anticipation? 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' may be a cliché, but the book of the same title by Susan Jeffers was very valuable to me when I first read it.
In it, she makes the obvious but oft-overlooked point that true courage doesn't reside in not feeling fear, but in recognising our fear – and choosing not to let it set our limits.
Obviously, I'm not talking about dismissing a very real instinctual fear when we're facing real danger, when our life or wellbeing or that of someone we love or are simply witnessing are being seriously threatened. It might indeed be crucial to read that fear-prompt correctly; to listen to our instincts and our intuition. But that might be where the role of fear stops.
I'm talking more about coming up against our habitual limits when faced with a new situation, and the way, if we're not careful, we can be hijacked by our emotional reactions which render us incapable of maintaining an inner stillness and calm, both of which might be not just helpful but also essential in meeting the new.
The problem, as I've mentioned here before, is that we so easily fall into identifying our self with our emotional reactions. In a balanced state (and this is a spin-off and bonus from meditation), we can sit at the hub of the wheel and allow ourselves to notice our reactive responses, our chaotic emotional ephemera, as they spin around on the perimeter, without mistaking them for essential nature.
I'm reminded of all this because this morning I had some correspondence from someone in which the fear was so palpable it infected me immediately, until I stepped back and took a breath. What was harder was that I was copping the blame for a choice that person had freely made.
My own immediate response was fear and anxiety that I experienced physically: the clenched stomach, the thumping heart. My mind kicked in and I ran an old pattern, as they say, which suggested that, maybe, I was, in fact, culpable for the blame and perceived attack (good old ex-Catholic child's introjected critic). A moment's clarity immediately resolved that for me – I had no responsibility for the situation. Then I was angry at the anger misdirected my way.
Simultaneously with all this – and this is the benefit of cultivating mindfulness; even ten years ago I wouldn't have been able to notice all my reactions and choose whether or how to respond – my heart was telling me to relate to the fear underneath the correspondence, not its manifestations. There was panic for the person concerned in relation to a pending new experience. That way, I understood; and reminded myself that I know well what it is to be whirled around on the perimeter of the bicycle wheel, and that some people, and I too am one of them at times – respond to that by hitting out. I didn't need to hit back.
And – and what a relief this is – I could choose to carry on sitting at the hub of the wheel myself, and respond kindly but firmly by putting responsibility back where it belonged – with the person concerned.
In every minute, we have that choice. Of course, easy to say – and of course I fall out of the hub frequently.
But how good it feels when I don't.
Buddhism reminds us of the dangers of going off on one: whether it's a craving or an aversion; neither is truth.
In timely fashion this email from Tricycle Buddhist journal arrived in my inbox:
'Like a forest fire, anger tends to burn up its own support. If we jump down into the middle of such a fire, we will have little chance of putting it out, but if we create a clearing around the edges, the fire can burn itself out. This is the role of meditation: creating a clearing around the margins of anger.'
~ Mark Epstein, I've Been Meditating for Ten Years, and I'm Still Angry. What's the Matter with Me?)
That's a good way of putting it. I've had a big lesson in that in the not-too-distant past, too.
So we can see fear, if we want (and I'm sorry to sound so Pollyanna-ish, as the Americans say), as an opportunity to peer into the nature of reality; to learn a smidgen more about ourselves and the world, to grow, albeit minutely, beyond our current limits. We don't learn from safety, but from uncertainty and insecurity.
Rumi (in Coleman Bark's translation) says:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in...
Monday, 11 August 2014
Thank you to all who have sent prose-poems in; there's time and space for more – see here.
The turret rising hard up, as if on a hydraulic lift, spreads up over the ruins of neighbourliness. Arrow slits on the castellation follow along, forking historical zeal, reminding the party-goers below that an assault had once been planned. Almost paralyzed up on the parapet, bow taut like tensile steel, the keeper plays out loud to the gallery.
Have you spoken of the wayward? Think of your origins. Where would your families be? Have you spoken of the signs?
It is the dance of the ancients, stone around stone around stone.
Go, they whisper. You are young, you are young.
© Julius Smit
Saturday, 9 August 2014
Gaza’s ChildrenDribbling slow flow of thought, heartless in Gaza where the wellspring of armistice blood seeps from the hundred year aneurysm of sovereign divide. To the victors the spoils but beware the spoils of war, ground-glass shards, the shadow-lurking wraiths that scour revenge through time. Age does not wither them floating through eternal night on owl-soft wings of memory; patient, biding, hunting, pouncing in lethal silence, leaving the echoing screech of war to fade over blasted poppy-fields. There the opiate of complacency, dung-fertile ground for ripened seeds watered by ancestral tears, nurtures the blood-red blooms, the petalled souls of Gaza's children.
© Neil Howell
Thursday, 7 August 2014
I like the way the end line contains and completes the opening.
My dreams are missing and I wonder why I can’t reach them; as if the sea that laps my liminal shores is trapped.
Miles of sand, the sea a thin grey line, too far away and stilled. And so, one evening, I’m drawn to the window, looking for something to feed my sleep.
Or is it the light which catches my eye? Sun has thrown a lens of burnt orange over the land. Had thrown, now faded, sunk by the crenellated battle-ship cloud out in the northern sky.
A window opens on my dreamworld; let it wake me tonight.
© Miriam Hancock
Tuesday, 5 August 2014
The taste of the chubby blueberry on my tongue just lacking luxuriant sweetness,
apples blushing on their branches,
flies drowsily circling in muggy air,
clouds drawing a humid curtain across a stage
where floods and landslides have just acted –
metaphors for a folk that celebrate their national day, when night closes on Lughnasadh.
Celts were here and Romans
and people praise us for being multi-cultural - open-minded and hearty?
Small is our land, covered with mountains, deep the blue of rivers and lakes.
Let there be room for those who need it, ripe is the fruit, almost ready to pluck!
© Beatrice Grundbacher
Monday, 4 August 2014
Friday, 1 August 2014
But first, here's a thing: I've decided to write a 100-word prose poem, incorporating outer and inner worlds, each day for the next year (we'll see how long I keep that up). Join me? Maybe just for the month of August? If you have any you're pleased with, send them over for the blog...
On the hill, the barley is dancing.
Heart, make your first harvest:
extend your arms like rays of the sun
to gather in all whom you love
and all too who feel themselves unloved:
the broken, the lost, the abused –
shadow-dancers all. Gather them in –
give them all bread. Give them
cause for laughter, for love.
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