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QUINTESSENCE

Rhythms

THE NEWS
by Joshua Mehigan

What happened today? Where did it go?
The raindrops dot the window and roll down.
One taps the glass, another, three at a time,
warping the view of black trees limbs and sky.
Long hush, quick crescendo. Wind leans on the sash.
Behind me in the shadows sleep two cats.
Nearby, like something small deposited
tenderly by a big wind on the bed,
my wife sleeps deeply through the afternoon.
The sky is gray. What color is the sky?
Rhinoceros? Volcanic dune? Moon dust?
Breast of mourning dove? Gray butterfly?
Blank newsprint. There's no news, no news at all,
and will be none,
until, at long last, in the other room,
one light comes on, and then another one.


Much of 2017 has unfolded for me as though it were an existential play. We are now somewhere in the middle act. A startled audience, debating amongst ourselves if this violent dramatic arc in world news, and personal local news, is growing exponentially more unreal and negative, or if our minds have simply not yet grasped, This is the way things are now.

I remember childhood conversations with my father as he told me the stories of his father, an army commander, a prisoner of war killed near the end of the second world war. How everyone around him in those days felt confused, dazed by the news of the day. This cannot be real, they said. No, this cannot be real. This falling of nations, these public squares of screaming fascism, plans for calculated genocide, squads of fanatic teenagers, dirt mounded on the unmarked graves of murdered children. An entire planet finally pressed by a horrific enormity of events that "could not be real" to take up arms against the most human of aggressions, power and hatred.

When we walk in the footsteps of the wars across Europe, these ghosts are never far. The wars before, and since. When we turn on the news of the day, the media box foments back at us with rage and hatred and murderous prejudice. Can this be real? Has nothing changed?

I don't have answers. I can't begin to foresee the future for our next generation. The world is rapidly and continuously changing its geography, cultures, and concepts of its own humanity. I sometimes feel as the poet above -- the news of our times is lost in translation. Is hatred a shape? Is that volcanic or stone disbelief? Rose red graves? Or the garden, there, half touched with dew in the midmorning sun.

I listen to the rhythm of the rain; of the dog, breathing heavily, stretched out on his side and asleep by the back porch door. The fast-beating fury of the hummingbird as it plunders the lavender. That unhurried galleon of trailing cloud tilting and slipping across the sky. Rhythms. The half-phrased poems of life. The heartbeat of the world, the word. The news.

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Tending the Quiet


I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loaf with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.


Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Song of Myself (5)

One of the lingering impressions of the wine country in France I carried home is of the peacefulness of the cultivated fields. Especially in early mornings. Alone I walked the dust and gravel paths at the perimeters of the many small and neatly tended vineyards in Champagne. The hour was not exactly quiet, but within, I felt quiet. And I found myself listening.

First there was the riotous joy of full-throated birdsong. Then there was the sound of the light breeze, ruffling its way down the neat rows of vines. The fields slept, the workday not yet begun. I looked at the growing vines. Each gnarled root dark and whorled with age, the young vines rising, unfurling along the trellised lines in a lattice of interlinking green bowers. I thought about the patient work that is a vineyard. Each vine hand-tended throughout the years. Its well-being shepherded through drought, or a too-cool spring or late hail storm. The hands of the vigneron testing vines and nipping suckers or ill-formed leaves, always encouraging the root to pump its life force into the strongest vines and ripen a bounty of grapes.

It is slow work in the fields. A worker may sit with pruning tools on his stool in the sun and work a single long row for an hour, or perhaps half a day, the time it takes to do the work thoroughly and perfectly. There is no rush with wine.

One morning I noticed there was evidence of blackened earth at the base of the low stone wall that bordered the fields, and nearby piles of loose straw, eight to fifteen feet apart. I learned there had been an unexpected May frost and fires were lit in the night from the straw along the stone walls, the smoke furling along the rows, its warmth protecting the young vines. I thought about the truth of nurturing any growing thing. It is a partnership, an understanding, and a rhythm. The process cannot be rushed, each task must suit its need; born of everything unpredictable about life itself. When we nurture a thing we take responsibility for it. We must give nature space and accept the variability of what lies ahead. It may be a season of sun and perfect rain. It may be a season throttled in the soil, or by a killing frost, a blight. But still we cultivate, we tend, we are patient. We hope.

I was thinking of Whitman this morning on my walk through the green sunlit neighborhoods. About the whisper of the soul and how it frequently speaks to us in the quiet, in the ambient lull, the pause. And that we must listen. As our hands tend the vines of our daily tasks perhaps we can slow our hours down, give the soul a space to speak in. Cultivate ourselves.

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