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Carries a Notebook

by C.P. Cavafy (1911, translated from the Greek by Stratis Haviaras)

Guard well against the grandiose, my soul.
But if unable to curb your ambitions,
pursue them reluctantly, and with caution. the more you
progress, the more skeptical and aware you must be.

And when you achieve your full powers, A Caesar now,
assuming the distinction of a man of eminence,
be ever mindful, when you go into the street
(a master, conspicuous by your devoted entourage)
should someone from the crowd approach you,
someone called Artemidoros, to urge upon you
a letter, and to implore: "Read this without delay,
it concerns matters of grave importance." Don't fail
to pause; don't fail to put off any speech or affair;
don't fail to push aside those who hail and bow down to you
(you'll see them later). Even the Senate can have patience;
and without delay read the crucial message of Artemidoros.

I happened upon this poem of Caesar by Cavafy, and was struck by the parallels of fate, unheeded advisement, and the consequences of murderous secrecy and destruction then to what grips the world today. History offers the careful reader both preface and epilogue. What then will we do with the pages lived in between?

This is the week of Purim, the week of Easter, and a week of unthinkable violence as the world once more suffers an obliteration of peace. We do not know what time will reveal, or history finally discern, but we do know humanity has tread this path before and does so now with trepidation. How do we preserve life, accommodate our differences, and embrace good over evil? As I despaired of an answer, and wondered if the world was in fact lost, I came upon this poem by Denise Levertov in her book, "Sands of the Well."

by Denise Levertov

Stillness of flowers. Colors
a slow intense fire, faces
cool to the touch, burning.
Massed flowers in dusk, crimson,
magenta, orange,
unflickering furnace, gaze
unswerving, innocent scarlet,
ardent white, afloat
on late light, serene passion
stiller than silence.

More sacred than a prayer, this sacrament of the earth. Hymn to the beauty and miraculous wonder of all things given to us without reservation, lost at a terrible price. The more than and greater than that is the natural world. What can you or I do? What change might we be? What hope might we bring forth from our grief and sadness at this terrible human loss and pain, the senseless murder of the innocent?

Be the witness. Hold to the good. Sing of hope. Attend to nature's life-giving promise, her time and seasons. Remember, remember the love.

And finally, this poem.

by Mary Oliver

What is he scribbling on the page?
Is there snow in it, or fire?

Is it the beginning of a poem?
Is it a love note?

We are all poets of change and belief. Work the world. Record your wonder and gratitude. Learn from the lost innocence of the beloved, and the hard wisdom of history. Above all, give attention to what matters. Nourish love, family, all light. Place beauty in your heart.

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Cypripedium acaule - lady slipper

Sooner or later
we must come to the end
of striving

to re-establish
the image the image of
the rose

but not yet
you say extending the
time indefinitely

your love until a whole

the violet to the very

and so by
your love the very sun
itself is revived.

- William Carlos Williams

The renewal of spirit, heart, and mind has a beautiful resonance for me. The limning of new green on the branches outside my study speak to budding hope. There is something about early spring that nudges us to get on with it. To pluck our rusty dreams up and tinker them back into play. To rethink the impossible, or the challenging. To build a bridge to somewhere. To throw the window open and breathe deep of sunshine and renewal.

William Carlos Williams' poem "The Rewaking," composed April 1o, 1961, reminds us joy may be continuously cultivated through love. Reality, and what we think of as the meaningful real, shift with perception. Souls lost in the darkness of winter, in the pressures of work and responsibility, need only trust in the innocence of what is future. The eternal essence capable of reviving even the sun.

The presence of happiness reshapes all things. Restores, what in world-weariness we believed lost - all optimism, lightness, ease, and hope. Drink of violet. Permit the tender shoot, "the image the image of the rose."
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Of Talismans and Atriums

I had the opportunity to revisit the Houston Arts District, exploring the Rothko Chapel, The Menil Collection, and The Cy Twombly Gallery. This time spent immersed in great art under a canopy of spreading oaks encompassed visual and emotional fields of vision. Engaging with art, even in the company of others, remains a private singular experience. Whatever the "it" of art is - absorption of the media, the contemplation of shape and design, a shift in thinking - occurs from inner awareness.

The Rothko Chapel, if you haven't been, is a brick and stone octagon structure. Compact, plain, and lacking in adornment or outward ostentation. A selection of sacred texts from religions around the world are displayed on a bench outside the sanctuary. The chapel itself meant to be a place free of dogma or judgment, an invitation to meditation. One leaves bright Houston sunlight and enters the chapel through darkened glass doors. Inside, an intimate, silent interior of deep subdued natural light diffused through textured linen across the ceiling. Rothko's panels of dark, nearly black paint (not true black but composed of the weight and somberness of dense, layered color) hang suspended from unadorned walls in singular and triptych arrangements. Each painting faces a low bench for contemplation placed to form an inner octagon. The paintings loom in the dim light. The chapel holds all of it: the barely-there light, the dark panels, silence.

I walked close to one of the Rothko panels and and simply stood, resting in the dark hues, the mysterious shapes in the black-not-black strokes of the artist's brush. Meditation. Contemplation. The sacred within. I thought of another artist, the words hand-scrawled across one of Cy Twombly's expansive wall canvases - "In the atrium of melancholia."

The Rothko Chapel is an altogether different form of quiet than the sepulchral white space Cy Twombly designed for his own work. Walking distance from the Rothko Chapel, Twombly's gallery houses a bold narrative of paint and poetry: mega-sized panels of white paint energetically imbued with shapes and hints of color, hand-written lines of poetry from Rilke, and nuanced, fragmented thoughts of the artist's own. An atrium of melancholia. These words come back to me later in the Rothko Chapel with their suggestion of mood, an inward ache, openness. An atrium opens to light, growth, and greening. Perhaps Rothko and Twombly, in these oppositional spaces of dark and light, circle the same understanding.

Shining white air/ trembling
white light/
reflected in the white/
flat sea

- scrawled in charcoal on a painting, Cy Twombly, The Cy Twombly Gallery

There is so much more to say about this, but let me leave with this idea: Art invites us into ourselves. What we take from art is not what the artist frames on the wall, but what we give to what we see, feel, experience. We find our own talismans. Art is an experience that takes place within, in the atrium of the self.
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Sojourn Through Stillness and Push

The incremental arrival of spring. A cycle of winds, light rains, brief stillnesses and squares of sun. Stillness and push. Reflection and awareness. The gravid lull that awaits transition in the seasons. A strong sense of push. The change in daylight and energies now. There is much to do, more to accomplish. Tender green shoots break earth beneath skies that battle for dominance between light and dark, cold and warm, stillness and push.

We are sojourners on this earth. Humanity born of a nomadic people's intimate knowledge of estrangement: a thinking people's intuition of loss. For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding. Are we not endlessly traveling the days and seasons, essentially animal? And inventing and imagining, seekers of meaning? We find ourselves uncertain of our ground of being.

We don't know where we belong, but in times of sorrow it doesn't seem to be here, here with these silly pansies and witless mountains, here with sponges and hard-eyed birds. In times of sorrow the innocence of the other creatures - from whom and with whom we evolved - seems a mockery. Their ways are not our ways. We seem set among them as among lifelike props for a tragedy - or a broad lampoon - on a thrust rock stage.
- Annie Dillard, "Teaching a Stone to Talk"

"Teaching a Stone to Talk," is fittingly subtitled "Expeditions and Encounters." Dillard's essays tease out the subtleties in nature, the hidden truths of human dislocation. Her thoughts on human solitude and our mysterious role as "sojourners of spirit" on a harsh, physical planet, reminds us the earth's seasons express the unambiguous truth of the elements.

Wind, rain, dark, light.

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