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QUINTESSENCE

Risk

FRIGATE
The anesthetist said sometimes this happens. It felt
like forever. We leaned in over your body to see what

your face might reveal. What your eyes were seeing
beneath closed lids, we'll never know and you won't tell.

Since we had urged you into surgery we felt responsible.
The ash pallor of skin, how shallow the breath

that curled from your lips and each fine line of sweat
beading high across your cheeks. Once years ago, when

you spoke, we leaned toward the fire. And they sped over
water in a frigate...
we remember you saying, though

what we heard was "forget." Smoke hung in our sweaters
and hair all the next day and for the week after. Finally

you came to to peer at our stricken faces lining the shore
of your bed; splattered our shoes. I'm back, you said, hello.

- Katrina Roberts

Consider the actual fragility of life, of this precisely patterned web of intention we weave called "living." Now and then the fabric of the self comes unmoored and drifts. I have watched the spider's silken thread surf the sunlight on an unseen breeze, riding the nothing until the gossamer catches, tears, holds fast. To what? A twig, a leaf, a bit of solid organic something that is now a fresh stake, a new attempt at presence.

Not to fall too far into the esoteric or fanciful, but are we not in fact that spider web? Our lives arc through the uncertainties, tiny trapeze artists far in the azure sky. We imagine our safety nets will hold. Our elaborate constructions - legacies, careers, generations, memories, poems in the bottom of scotch glasses - all things that glimmer in the last light. We live within a kind of mental engineering, as though designing sky scrapers in our minds. Towers of ambition and steel accomplishment, shining glass reflections of accumulation and regret. When I read Katrina Robert's poem I hesitated on the reminder of the uncertainty of consciousness. This shore of separation we flirt with as we skim the waters - alive and damaged by life and struggling with life. And back, and gone. The threads break and the web floats. And perhaps it is the awareness of the drift that guides us to the next anchor. I have no answers here, but I do know that it is the risk of that leap from the trapeze bar that begins the roll through space, free. And it is the catch that ends the plunge.

From the open sea we guide in the travelers; rope our crafts back in snug at the dock. Journey's end. Until then, our lives, entwined in our memories as Roberts so eloquently put it, are balanced in the wordplay of "frigate" and "forget." Ships built for journeys. Risk. Hello. I'm back.

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Continuation

Old Trappers Cabin, Upper Priest Lake
It's today: all of yesterday dropped away
among the fingers of the light and the sleeping eyes.
Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps;
no one can stop the river of the dawn.

- from "Love Sonnet, XLIX," Pablo Neruda

One constant in the world is the measured, dispassionate passage of time. To the soldier, the performer or athlete, the passage of moments may condense into intense vibration: a harmonic in which the entirety of time, of focus and effort, seem to occur in a perpetual present. To the pacing father outside the delivery OR, the student in the last sections of a test, the woman or man waiting for the phone to ring, seconds lengthen and flatten like a twist of ribbon. However the beats of seconds are experienced, they mark and are gone. As Neruda writes so exquisitely, "no one can stop the river of the dawn."

If we really understand and accept this constant loss and influx of time, the inevitable scarcity followed by endless abundance, we find in the apex between the two balance. Without the future there is no possibility of desire, of loss, hence no worry or fear. In the irretrievable past, hesitations languish and nostalgia evaporates like smoke along with regret. We exist in the clear droplet of the possible - the moment we are aware. With all of its realities amongst the shadows of past and possibility. What does this really mean? That in the fullness of Now lies the completeness of living. If we cast our eyes forward, we live in the imaginary. If we cast our hearts back, we live in the lost.

In this way time is the ultimate friend. The firm hand on the elbow; the river guide. Neither tarry nor rush, we slip through existence in the company of time. The passage of time is finite and infinite. We begin mid-stream, and we exit the same. The leaf that falls in at the river bend and drifts out at the shallows. I find time's immutable present tense immensely reassuring. This moment, this now, is real. One after another, discrete pearls of experience.

What will you do with your today?
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Summer Solstice

THE SUMMER TREE
In all the summer glut of green,
Serrated leaves, a dark and shifty screen,

Catalpa flowers, unseasonal surprise,
To tense the landscape up for drowsy eyes.

We come alive beholding points of white,
Among the leaves, immense rosettes alight.

The blessing of pure form that opens space
And makes us stop and look in sudden peace.

- May Sarton


Summer Solstice arrived with yesterday's twilight. The apex in the lengthening of daylight, the full face of one hemisphere of Earth basking in the sun. My dearest friend Cynthia, a Zen Buddhist priest, honors the solstice in a sacred way. She tunes in to the wisdom of nature. Ancient pagan rituals welcomed in the change of seasons, recognizing in the constancy of nature a primal truth which outlasts the brief presence of human lives. We speak with the earth, we honor her ways, we acknowledge our lives are embedded in the wisdom of natural rhythms.

The solstice and the equinox mark turning points in the ebb and flow of light. An equinox is the time at which the day and night come into balance, when there is exactly the same number of daylight hours as there are nighttime hours. The sun crosses Earth's equator during an equinox, which accounts for the balance in light. There are two equinoxes every year. One marks the first day of spring while the other marks the first day of autumn.

"Solstice" however, literally means "sun stands still." The solstice marks the end of the day's increase or decrease in daylight hours, depending on the time of year. The Winter Solstice marks the first day of winter, and is the day with the least amount of daylight hours. The Summer Solstice marks the first day of summer, the day with the greatest number of daylight hours. A hemisphere's nearest pole is pointing toward the sun at the Summer Solstice and away from it at the Winter Solstice.

For me personally, the equinox, the point of balance, is the most meaningful transition in the psychology of my life. I am a woman born on the cusp of two astrological signs, born on the 22nd of September - the autumnal equinox. Basking in the last of summer, embracing the fall. The twin equinoxes of autumn and spring are moments of illumination poised between the the past and the future. The 21st ends a cycle and the 22nd begins the new. My husband passed on the 22nd. A special person in my life was born in that same month, also on the 22nd. My life is as linked to the equinox and the calender date of the 22nd as the constellations in their rotations above us in dark space.

Summer Solstice is a dazzling culmination of energy, Light has opened itself, blooming. The moment is now. Now to dance, now to love, now to work, now to play. Embrace the gifts of your summer.

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Lost Fathers

1957 Sandia AFB, New Mexico

my lost father

see where he moves
he leaves a wake of tears
see in the path of his going
the banners of regret
see just above him the cloud
of welcome see him rise
see him enter the company
of husbands fathers sons

- Lucille Clifton

Father's Day is a national day of commemoration created by a young woman in Spokane in 1910 in honor of her father, who raised her on his own after his wife's untimely death. I spent part of the day yesterday thinking of my own father, Thomas. Dead at 45, a career AF officer and fatherless himself, having lost his own dad in combat in WWII, my dad was an introverted, scientific man. He cooked. He liked Hank Williams, he had migraines. He liked to tinker. My father worked with his hands on projects of his own design, and he liked the wilderness, he was an Eagle Scout. He never said much, but he had a gentle smile. He was a quiet, withdrawn man as he grew older. Some of that a result of the harsh life of the military service and secretive work in cryptography during the cold war. Some of that the companionship of vodka. And there was the widening gulf between my parents as we grew to be a family of six, all the while moving every other year of my childhood. The oldest, I find it comforting to think of the things he and I did together - the hikes through the national forests, the projects we worked on, his large hands patiently steadying mine. The pained moment in the car, just the two of us my senior year of high school, our family destroyed by divorce, when he turned to me and said, "You can be anything you want to be, Glenda." I am saddest that my siblings have no memories at all of him, such is the scarring destruction of life post-divorce.

And then there are my own children. Also fatherless, Ken dying of cancer in their very early preteen years. And yet their world is full of men who have come into their lives as powerful and caring mentors. Friends, music teachers, college masters, family men, military commanders, professors. When they celebrate Father's Day they feel the core of love they grew from, for their childhood had a vivid bright sun of love. There are no forgotten memories of their dad, but a roadmap to what a father's love was and can be. I see my son growing into the kind of man his father was - strong, committed, fun and compassionate. And I see my daughter wanting to love men principled and with character like her father. The legacy is different from my father to theirs, yet our memories occupy the same place in the heart.

As you think about your own father and what that legacy of love may be, remember also what it is not. What you take forward into your own family life and leave behind. What your children will learn based on their heritage of grandfathers and fathers. We are a chain of memories woven into the generations. Nurturing plaited into a rope of commitment and strength. Celebrate the love, and let time erase the rest.
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Salt and the Chipped Cup

SALT
And so the ritual begins at breakfast
again, where you don't want to love
the person you love. You spread jam
on the bread. You stare hard at the juice.
Your chin sets for the day.
You read the newspaper, grunting
with concern but you keep silent,
unwilling, afraid you'll forgive
if you gaze up at his eyes so instead
you look at his hands. He sips coffee in that
same way. Fingers skilled and not unkind,
touching and embracing the chipped cup,
elbow lifted up and out. Sweet, you think,
but no. You won't give up your anger.
The only part of you still burning. No,
as old as you are you must save yourself.
It's hot and bright in the kitchen.
Between you is too raw,
too far from the thing you once were.
Between you, on the table,
on a yellow plate, surrender is waiting -
you salt it and you eat it.
- Bonnie Bolling

I was taken by the love extant within the contained, unspoken fierceness of this poem. The very real sacrifice of the self to togetherness. Here is the core of tenderness nested in the prickliness of disagreement. The pettiness of the rebuff. And yet also the innocence in which love sees the beloved. The way in which we forgive and surrender, again and again. And still the self burns, hot and bright.

A poet that can take a moment from any relationship and make it universal, speak to the tenderness in anger, the solace in hot unbreachable retreat, speak of the self that defies togetherness and the binding of time, the complex meaning of all things from salt to chipped cups... These are the poets that inhabit our lives. Whose words offer more than expressions of observation or direction. Ordinary words that paint pictures from emotion, give wings to what moves us, grounds what crackles with heat.

Salt, as it turns out, is my favorite spice. I relish the deliciousness, the bite. Sea salt in a little dish beside the chipped cup.
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The Heart is Wide


The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, -
No higher than the soul is high.

- Edna St. Vincent Millary, "Renascence," 1912

These lines by St. Vincent Millay are curious in that they speak to a simple truth - our world is shaped by the lives we live within it. A world as wide as the heart and as high as the soul. The poet reminds us we are essentially self-centric creatures: we live subjectively within the boundaries of ourselves. Interestingly, that means the world measures differently for each of us. Your world is not shaped as mine. There is no objective measure of this singular universe save the wholly personal measure of our own lives within a parenthesis in time.

If I think about that a moment, I observe that on some days the world changes shape on me. A day started with a hug offers more heart, perhaps. Another time more soul than heart. How wide the possibilities, how high the sky. Life varies with the expanse of my own perspective as I bounce around within the borders of my inner limitations and definitions. Lately, focused as I have been on the slow machinery of a bureaucratic drawbridge parting between someone I love and their future, I witnessed the world narrow. That one drawbridge came to symbolize a critical link in the grand scheme of things. And yet, as I've questioned my anxiety about these events, and reluctantly opened myself to the "perhaps" that is a "grander plan than as yet envisioned," I've felt the world once again widening. Widening as the soul expands, stretching faith into the furthest outreaches of possibility.

My puddle today feels wide and shallow. Much heart, constricted soul. On another day, perhaps it will reflect back to me something narrow and deep. A world of unlimited spirit, hungry on love. On a good day the world will expand full of heart and unlimited potential - an abundance of love and expression. A vista of grand expanse. What seems true is that this world is gently shaped by our innermost hearts and souls, and the translation this makes within us as we navigate our days. We follow our dreams and fight for our futures, dance with the ones we love, and the world changes as we do.
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Static

photo courtesy of NASA
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
- Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities," 1859

I am taken by the idea of our human nature, organic and eccentric, as "constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." No wonder we find it hard to communicate meaningfully in our most basic, let alone intimate relationships. The mystery of what another person is feeling or thinking, or even why he/she acts a certain way, has made fragile human connection as staticky and easily unglued as a space walk over the blue earth.

Why is there not more overlap common to our nature? Why the mystery? Beyond such universal human inclinations as greed, sloth, lust, and one-day sales, shouldn't we all possess certain coding in our emotional-psychological core that would cover 75% of most necessary human interaction? I'm not asking for the moon here, just a template for the day to day: how to divide the sandbox toys; roommates and pizza boxes; a guide to the 9 a.m. product delivery beat-the-staff meeting; for sex, for love, for any combination of the two; holidays with in-laws; even navigating Costco with half the basket your spouse thinks you should have. (Such purchasing thoughts of course, arising on impulse and as full of mystery as the collapse of black holes.) What I trying to say is, shouldn't a race that lives nose-to-armpit have adapted the functional efficiency of a telepathic ant colony by now? What gives? Why is it so hard to understand the flag signals we shoot one another?

I am personally working on the use of shorter sentences. Analogies that speak to either popular sitcoms or greeting cards. Lip reading. Vegetable or mineral. There is bound to be a way to decipher the confusion and determine the meaning. To communicate with, say, the purity of birds. One note, times two. Unfortunately, I think this project make take considerable time. This morning when I asked my friend if he wanted tea on the way to the airport, the question was heard as "Do I want one more thing to juggle in my hand while trying to lock my bag, find my ID in this duct-taped, exploding wallet while fishing my ticket from the briefcase swinging south off my shoulder whacking my knee?" (accompanied by the wild, walleyed look of someone overwhelmed by baggage).

Umm, hold the tea. I'm working on an analogy here.
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The Daily

photo: Max Waugh

CREDO
I believe there is something else

entirely going on but no single
person can ever know it,
so we fall in love.

It could also be true that what we use
everyday to open cans was something
much nobler, that we'll never recognize.

I believe the woman sleeping beside me
doesn't care about what's going on
outside, and her body is warm
with trust
which is a great beginning.

- Matthew Rohrer

Today a personal essay of mine, "Suddenly Solo," was published in AOL's My Daily online journal. You will find a live link to the essay to the left, and also on my home page under *FEATURED RELEASE*.

The photographic art chosen by the editors at AOL to accompany the story is both fitting and lovely. This essay describes a moment of my life and the winter it entwined with the story of an old swan, known to wilderness rangers here simply as "Solo."

The timing of this essay was completely unexpected - months and months from the time it was written and submitted, and honestly the essay was forgotten by me in the river of events that swept my life and probably Solo's as well downstream into new seasons and different geography. The thought I had when this essay resurfaced yesterday, and published today, was how all of life's currents travel in huge unseen eddies. We do not truly know when things will return to us, when people and history reconnect, intersect, bump up again in new elbows of time. All things and all time sweep forward through a great unknown. I find these deep unseen linkages to be comforting, an eternal mystery.

The poem, CREDO, by Matthew Rohrer reminded me today of the ways we simply wake up, love, and plunge our hands into the raw stuff of a given day. There may be something more. And possibly not. I believe there is. But what we do have is love, the "body is warm with trust which is a great beginning."

And that is the message of the story of Solo, who I hope returned once more with spring.
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Pause and Reboot

There are no second acts in American lives
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Friday has arrived. I have a terrible head cold. All I want to do is lay on the couch and watch the tennis ball pummeled in the French Open finals. Outside the sun is curtained behind a high strata of clouds that say today is off sides. Not in the spot lights. Not today.

A day to pause and reboot. To catch a nap and a moment's reflection. When Fitzgerald made his famous quote, he was referring to the grandiose characters that inspired "The Great Gatsby." A story of lives lived large and to the limit. When you crashed, you failed. When you stumbled, it was the end. No second acts.

Great tragedies often spool out this way - high stakes games without a catch-net. Yet I recently watched "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," from the eponymous book of the same title by Jean-Dominique Bauby. This intense and unforgettable true story is a tale of fierce determination and imaginative adaptation. When everything is taken from a man at the peak of his life, leaving him only the movement of the blink of one eye, he faces within himself a choice - give up and die, or engage with the world on his own terms. This book, and the deeply moving film directed by Julian Schnabel, is a result of Bauby's decision to confront within himself the crushing skid of tragedy, to describe and express the coming-to-terms his soul was now forced to engage in. And in that process, he discovered what his life really meant to him. In loss, perhaps an unexpected gain. Pause, and reboot.

I think its wise for all of us to occasionally reassess the rhythm of our days, the compass setting we plot our goals by. Sometimes, like Jean-Dominique Bauby, reassessment is forced upon us by drastic changes in life circumstances. I like to think the human soul is the most resilient of sails - where there is a will, a wind will arise. I put my faith in second acts.
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The Light Gets In

"Love in the Air," Munkramser

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen

I have thought on this idea of the balance of the extraordinary and the ordinary in our lives, and found myself drifting to contemplating the concept of construction in the chaos of unexpected de-construction. We rise instinctively from the debris of the accidental, the tragic, the disaster. Images of the citizens of Joplin, MO standing and singing Sunday hymns in the tornado wreckage of a community church inspire me. When lives unravel, are we not compelled to engage in rebuilding, to work our hands? The picked apart stitches, re-rolling skeins of yarn rethinking the design, starting over with the raw materials at hand.

"There is a crack in everything/ That's how the light gets in." Leonard Cohen's words possess a sureness of fundamental truth. Light permits seeing with clarity. Light comes through in unexpected openings. Behind broken dreams, the closure of opportunity and breaks in faith. Fresh vision like the rainbow shimmers in shattered paradigms. Creation embodies all that is new, born of necessity. And sometimes I think Destiny arrives in the midst of chaos like a fallen star, an explosion of fractured light that reaches deep into the corners of our darkest moments.

I invite you to ponder a wall that truly forced a turn in your life; a disaster that inspired a better life. Consider the shut door - a disappointment that forced you to turn around and become aware of the wide world behind you, open to exploration. What crack in the pattern of your days, in the dream once pursued so avidly, what crack in that perfect world held tight within your grasp led to this moment's sense of completion and satisfaction? Disappointment, chaos, disaster, misfortune...cracks open in our hearts that let the light of compassion in. And inspiration. Signs of life truly lived.

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