February 07, 2021

Well, there is time left—fields everywhere invite you into them.



Devotions
By Mary Oliver

One of my favorite things to do - lately - after a long day of excessive screen time at my desk, is retreat to my rocking chair, grab Devotions, and turn to a random page for a dose of poem.

This one made me a little teary. I had an inspiring conversation with a mentor on Thursday morning. That discussion and these tender words in the evening were perfect, complementary bookends to the day.

Have You Ever Tried To Enter The Long Black Branches

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches 
of other lives—
tried to imagine what the crisp fingers, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early summer,
feel like?

Do you think this world is only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot 
    in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
    continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
    with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left—
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
    from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
    the mystery, which is the death as well as life, and
    not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome
    with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
    god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,

nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
    present hour,

to the song falling out of the mockingbird's pink mouth,

to the triplets of the honeysuckle, that have opened in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
    to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red, 
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters, 
caution and prudence?

Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
    is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
    upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean's edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

January 31, 2021

They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again.



World of Wonders
By Aimee Nezhukumatatkil

This is a book with gorgeous intent, and it regenerated my yearning for the natural world, a place I love so much but engage with so little. It laid new magic words in my lap (senescence, crepuscular!) and was a reminder and a motivation to be in the world more often, to know our fellow species more intimately, and receive their nourishing and sustaining lessons.

Completely inspired by Nezhukumatatkil's technique, I found myself thinking about the tiny personal stories I could tell—I think of the firefly (photinus pyralid), honeysuckle (lonicera), earthworm (lumbricina), to name a few—and falling into a bit of nostalgia recalling a trove of childhood memories I had forgotten...

Fireflies remind me of spending summer evenings with my family in the Bronx and holding my mom's hand on our late-night bus rides back to Queens. The first time I tasted honeysuckle, I remember the feeling of sweet surprise that something floral could give back to me in that way. Once my neighbor friend and I dug our hands into soil and encountered earthworms and felt gentle, awed and unafraid. And on.

I miss fireflies and what they remind me of: timeless youth, which I now know is at complete opposition to what their light means for their lives. It hadn't occurred to me that most children today will have a different experience of them, or none at all.
"For a beetle, fireflies live long and full lives—around two years—though most of it is spent underground, gloriously eating and sleeping to their hearts' content. When we see these beacons flashing their lights, they usually only have one or two weeks left to live. Learning this as a child—I could often be found walking slowly around untrimmed lawns, stalling and not quite ready to go inside for dinner—made me melancholy, even in the face of their brilliance. I couldn't believe something so full of light would be gone so soon.
I know I will search for fireflies all the rest of my days, even though they dwindle a little bit more each year. I can't help it. They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again. Perhaps I can will it to be true. Perhaps I can keep those summer nights with my family inside an empty jam jar, with holes poked in the lid, a twig and a few strands of grass tucked inside. And for those unimaginable nights in the future, when I know I'll miss my mother the most, I will let that jar's sweet glow serve as a night-light to cool and cut the air for me."
("Firefly," photons pyralis, p. 12)

"Why all the fuss and euphoria over some greenery? Well, I still coo over its delightful pinnation, the double-leaf pattern feathering outward then inward from both sides of a single stem, and its spherical lavender-pink flowers, which bloom only in summer, and look as if someone crossed a My Little Pony doll with a tiny firework. But its best and most notable feature is that when you piano your fingers over the leaves of this plant, they give a shudder and a shake and quickly fold shut, like someone doesn't want to spill a secret."
("Touch-Me-Nots, mimosa pudica, p. 25)

"Bonnet macaques reminded me how good it felt to laugh, to keep laughing in love. To make my love laugh. To let my laughter be from a place of love."
("Bonnet Macaque," Macaca radiata, p. 74)

"I'm certain it's not any magic in my mouth, no special twist of tongue that only I have unlocked. But I think it's the quiet way you settle into the crook of a tree trunk, the still and slowdown of your heart in a world that wants to be quick and to move onto the next thing. The secret in talking to birds is in the steadiness of each limb as you make your way into their territory, in the deliberateness of each movement and bend of tree branch and grass blade. And just like the pot, who is rewarded for her stillness by having her lunch practically fly right to her mouth—perhaps you could try a little tranquility, find a little tenderness in your quiet. Who knows what feathered gifts await?"
("Potoo," Nyctibius griseus, p. 97)

Reading about an animal's slow death delivers a specific kind of heartbreak, and I always notice it. I don't *like* it at all, but I'm drawn to it, maybe because the description taps into the most empathetic, deep feeling sides of me. (See Cheryl Strayed on a bird's death, Chris Jones on a massacre at a zoo, W.C. Heinz on the death of a racehorse.) Here is Nezhukumatatkil on her experience with a dying octopus, which is 100x sadder after she explains how smart and sensitive they are.
"Instead I focused on its golden eye, how it fixed upon my shape. How its arms wrapped and drooped around my wrist and up my forearm while it took me in, tasted me. In those moments I held it, how many things it might have felt or known about me. Could it sense the love and exhilaration I felt for it or my sheer despair once I realized it was dying in my hands? I only know that I had never been looked at, consumed, or questioned so carefully by another being."
("Octopus," Octopus vulgaris, p. 107)

"On those weeks in Mississippi when the air outside is like a napping dragon's exhalations, there's no sweeter cocktail to lull us out of a sleepy, slow summer evening. If you do catch a sunburn, you can mash up a bit of the dragon fruit flesh and apply it to the tender pink of your skin to help soothe it like an aloe. The dragon can be both the wildness we call out when we see this pink egg, and it can also be the balm. This is the fruit for a time of year when the sun and all its gallop don't merely feel as though they have nudged us from a static winter, but into a fully alive, roaring season—when everything you touch feels like it could give you a blister and a bit of wild burn."
("Dragon Fruit," Hylocereus undatus, p. 115)


January 24, 2021

On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars -- Something good will come out of all things yet And it will be golden and eternal just like that -- There's no need to say another word.

there are so many interesting covers of this one

By Jack Kerouac, narrated by Ethan Hawke

I started this blog with Jack Kerouac, read The Dharma Bums in 2013, and then left Kerouac alone for a while—at times seeking inspiration from his haikus with blues, but otherwise favoring other writers.

Then in October, the New York Times mentioned a new audio release of Big Sur, narrated by Ethan Hawke (!). With my love for him not having faded in the least—expanding maybe—this felt like a good way to re-engage with Kerouac.

There's a raspy—sometimes weary + wistful, sometimes charged + energetic—characteristic to Ethan's voice that serves as the perfect conduit for Kerouac's spontaneous prose, and for this heartrending autobiographical novel in particular. Ethan's telling carried me through this reading. There are such moments, especially, where the slightest shift in his tone during a sentence, or a word even, made all the difference to the language and deepened its punch. 

“Ah, life is a gate, a way, a path to Paradise anyway, why not live for fun and joy and love or some sort of girl by a fireside, why not go to your desire and LAUGH . . . but I ran away from that seashore and never came back again without that secret knowledge: that it didn't want me there, that I was a fool to sit there in the first place, the sea has its waves, the man has his fireside, period.”
(Chapter 9)

"But in the morning (and I'm no Milarepa who could also sit naked in the snow and was seen flying on one occasion) here comes Ron Blake back with Pat McLear and Pat's wife the beautiful one, and by God their little sweet five year old girl who is such a pleasant sight to see as she goes jongling and jiggling through the fields to look for flowers, everything to her is perfectly new beautiful primordial Garden of Eden morning here in this tortured human canyon -- And a rather beautiful morning develops -- There's fog so we close the blinds and light the fire and the lamp, me and Pat, and sit there drinking from the jug he brought talking about literature and poetry while his wife listens and occasionally gets up to heat more coffee and tea or goes out to play with Ron and the little girl -- Pat and I are in a serious talkative mood and I feel that lonely shiver in my chest which always warns me: you actually love people and you're glad Pat is here."
(Chapter 23)

"But that's my relationship with Evelyn, we're real pals and we can kid about anything even the first night I met her in Denver in 1947 when we danced and Cody watched anxiously, a kind of romantic pair in fact and I shudder sometimes to think of all that stellar mystery of how she IS going to get me in a future lifetime, wow -- And I seriously do believe that will be my salvation, too. A long way to go."
(Chapter 24)

"...It's blue dusk all up and down the California world -- Frisco glitters up ahead -- Our radio plays rhythm and blues as we pass the joint back and forth in jutjawed silence both looking ahead with big private thoughts now so vast we cant communicate them any more and if we tried it would take a million years and a billion books -- Too late, too late, the history of everything we've seen together and separately has become a library in itselt -- me shelves pile higher -- They're full of misty documents or documents of the Mist -- The mind has convoluted in every tuckaway every-whichaway tuckered hole till there's no more the expressing of our latest thoughts let alone old -- Mighty genius of the mind Cody whom I announce as the greatest writer the world will ever know if he ever gets down to writing again like he did earlier -- It's so enormous we both sit here sighing in fact -- "No the only writing I done, " he says, "a few letters to Willamine, in fact quite a few, she's got em all wrapped in ribbons there, I figgered if I tried to write a book or sumptin or prose or sumptin they'd just take it away from me when I left so I wrote her "bout three letters a week for two years -- and the trouble of course and as I say and you've heard a million times is the mind flows the mind rises and nobody can by any possible c- oh hell, I dont wanta talk about it" -- Besides I can see from glancing at him that becoming a writer holds no interest for him because life is so holy for him there's no need to do anything but live it, writing's just an afterthought or a scratch anyway at the surface -- But if he could! if he would! there I am riding in California miles away from home where my poor cat's buried and my mother grieves and that's what I'm thinking. It always makes me proud to love the world somehow -- Hate's so easy compared -- But here I go flattering myself helling headbent to the silliest hate I ever had."
(Chapter 25)

"...Monsanto will say "That's all there is to it, take it easy, everything's okay, don't take things too serious, it's bad enough as it is without you going the deep end over imaginary conceptions just like you always said yourself -- I'll get my ticket and say goodbye on a flower day and leave all San Francisco behind and go back home across autumn America and it'll all be like it was in the beginning -- Simple golden eternity blessing all -- Nothing ever happened -- Not even this -- St Carolyn by the Sea will go on being golden one way or the other... The little boy will grow up and be a great man... There'll be farewells and smiles -- My mother'll be waiting for me glad -- The corner of the yard where Tyke is buried will be a new and fragrant shrine making my home more homelike somehow -- On soft Spring nights I'll stand in the yard under the stars -- Something good will come out of all things yet And it will be golden and eternal just like that -- There's no need to say another word." 
(Chapter 38) 

*Looks like someone posted the novel online & I hope it's OK to link it here! Keeps my transcriptions accurate, too.

January 02, 2021

And if you take care to live only what can truly be called life, that is, the present moment, you will be able to spend the time that remains until death undisturbed, with kindness and obedience to the divine spirit within.

 


The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Translated & Introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza 

"The sun seems to pour itself down, and pours itself in every direction, but it is not emptied. For this pouring is an extension, and its rays are so named because of their extension. You can observe this if you watch sunlight shining through some narrow crack in a dark room. It extends itself in a straight line until it encounters some solid body which stops its extension. There the light rests, and it does not move or fall off.
This is how the pouring and diffusion of the mind must be, for it is not a pouring out, but rather an extension of itself; and it should not make a violent or angry impact upon whatever stands in its way; nor should it simply fall away, but rather it should stand firm and illuminate whatever receives it. Whatever does not accept it and help it on its way only deprives itself of the light."
(Book 8, 8.59, p. 66)

"Many of the superfluous things which trouble you are products of your own judgment, and you have the power to strip them away and be free of them. If you do this, immediately you will create a vast expanse for yourself, grasping with your mind the whole Cosmos, contemplating both the endless movement of time and the rapidly changing nature of all that exists. How brief the interval between birth and death; how wide the expanse of time before birth, as infinite as that after death."
(Book 9, 9.32, p. 71)

"You are composed of three parts: body, vital spirit, and mind. The first two belong to you only insofar as you are obliged to take care of them, but only the third, mind, is truly yours. Therefore, if you can separate yourself (your mind, that is) from all that others do or say and all that you yourself would have done or said, all that worries you about the future, all that belongs to the encompassing body which is attached to you without your consent, and all that the external rotation of the heavens causes to whirl around and around, so that the power of mind within you, freed from its fate, can live for itself without pollution or stain, all the while doing what is just, wishing for nothing more than what happens, and speaking the truth. If, I say, you can separate this ruling part from all that is attached to it through the senses, and all that will happen and has already happened, you will make yourself like the sphere of Empedocles: "Completely whole, rejoicing in its solitude." And if you take care to live only what can truly be called life, that is, the present moment, you will be able to spend the time that remains until death undisturbed, with kindness and obedience to the divine spirit within."
(Book Twelve, 12.3, p. 90)

January 01, 2021

So pass this brief amount of time in accordance with Nature and dissolve graciously, just as a ripe olive falls to the ground praising both the earth which gave it life and the tree which nourished it.


 
The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Translated & Introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza
 
Some more New Year's wisdom from Marcus Aurelius.

"It has been said, "If you want to be content, occupy yourself with few things." But it is perhaps better to say "Do what is necessary, and what Reason requires of a creature who is made for society—do whatever it demands." For this brings the contentment which comes from doing things well, and doing only a few things. Since most of what we say and do is entirely unnecessary, if a person could get rid of these, he would have more leisure and be in less of a state of confusion. Therefore we all must remember to ask ourselves: "Is this one of the truly necessary things?" But we must leave aside not only unnecessary activities but even unnecessary thoughts, so that unnecessary activities do not follow from them."
(Book Four, 4.24, p. 32)

"Keep constantly in your mind how many doctors die after a lifetime of wrinkling their brows in thought over the sick; and how many astrologers die after predicting with much ceremony the death of others; and how many philosophers die after exhausting their minds with countless discourses concerning death and immortality; and how many great military men die after killing so many people; and how many tyrants die after exercising their power over the lives of others with an insolent snort, as if they themselves were immortal. And how many entire cities—Helice, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and countless others—have been destroyed. So always keep in mind how short-lived and insignificant human things really are: yesterday a glob of mucous, tomorrow a corpse or a pile of ashes. So pass this brief amount of time in accordance with Nature and dissolve graciously, just as a ripe olive falls to the ground praising both the earth which gave it life and the tree which nourished it." 
(Book Four, 4.48, pp. 35-6)

"Every tool, instrument, or vessel is good if it performs well that function for which it was made; and yet, in such cases, the maker is external to it. But for those creatures who are made by Nature, the power that made them is within and remains there. Because of this, you must honor that power all the more and understand that if you conduct yourself and live your life in accordance with Nature's will, then everything will be in accordance with your Intelligence."
(Book 6, 6.44, pp. 53-4)

"Whatever should happen to you, love that alone, for it has been spun for you by the Fates themselves. Could anything be more fitting?"
(Book 7, 7.58, p. 58)

"Turn your attention within, for the fountain of all that is good lies within, and it is always ready to pour forth, if you continually delve in."
(Book 7, 7.59 p. 58)

 

December 31, 2020

This thing or circumstance that now gives me an impression: What is it? What is it made of? How long will it last? And, most important, what quality does it require of me, such as gentleness, courage, honesty, faith, simplicity, independence, and the like?

 

The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Translated & Introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza

I have felt it all this year—grief, rage, confusion, loneliness, despair. And also: overwhelming gratitude, quiet bursts of joy, intimate connection, sparks of inspiration, and resounding waves of hope. Thankful for these silver linings as I reflect on a challenging year.

"Remember how long you have been putting these things off, and how often you have received an opportunity from the gods and have not made use of it. By now you ought to realize what cosmos you are a part of, and what divine administrator you owe your existence to, and that an end to your time here has been marked out, and if you do not use this time for clearing the clouds from your mind, it will be gone, and so will you."
(Book Two, 2.4, p. 12) 

"For the person who has chosen his own intelligence and inner spirit, and the sacred reveling in this kind of excellence, does not play a tragic role, does not groan with lament, and has no need of either complete solitude or excessive company. Most important, such a person will live life neither chasing it nor fleeing from it."
(Book Three, 3.7, p. 22) 

"Nothing is so productive of greatness of mind as the ability to examine systematically and truthfully each thing we encounter in life, and to see these things in such a way as to comprehend the nature of the Cosmos, and what sort of benefit such things possess for both the Whole and for humans, all of whom are citizens of the most supreme City, that is the entire world, compared to which all actual cities are like mere households. This thing or circumstance that now gives me an impression: What is it? What is it made of? How long will it last? And, most important, what quality does it require of me, such as gentleness, courage, honesty, faith, simplicity, independence, and the like? Therefore it is necessary in each case to say the following: this circumstance has come from god and is in keeping with fate or with coincidence; while this other circumstance is caused by a relative and neighbor, though such a person is ignorant of what his nature requires of him. But I am not ignorant, and therefore I will treat them well and justly, according to the natural law which governs any community. At the same time, in morally neutral matters I will work with them in pursuit of what is right."
(Book Three, 3.11, p. 24) 

"For nowhere can a person retire more full of peace and free from care than into one's own soul; above all, if one has that place within oneself into which one can turn one's attention one is immediately at ease. And by ease I mean nothing other than the right ordering of the whole person. Continually give yourself this kind of retreat and regenerate yourself, but keep your rules of living brief and basic so that, when consulted, they will immediately wash away all distress and send you back to your work without resentment. What is it that disturbs you? Human evil? Recall this truth to your mind: rational beings have come into existence for the sake of each other; and tolerance and patience are aspects of what it means to be just; and people do not do wrong intentionally. Also, consider how many people, having lived in enmity, suspicion, hatred, and combat—how many have been laid out as corpses and reduced to ashes. Recall this, and cease your discontent. But will you let mere fame distract you? Turn your gaze to the quick forgetfulness of all things, the abyss of the ages on either side of this present moment, and the empty echo of praise, the transitory quality and lack of judgment on the part of those who praise, and the tiny area in which all this is confined. For the entire Earth is only a mere point in the universe, and what a small corner of the Earth is our dwelling place; and in that place, see how few and of what sort are the people who celebrate you! For the time that remains, remember the humble refuge which is yourself. And, above all, do not be anxious or overextend yourself, but be truly independent and see circumstances from the perspective of a man, of a human being, of a citizen, a creature who will surely die. But among the thoughts that are closest at hand, which you willl look to, let these two be there: first, the various difficulties need not penetrate to your soul but can remain external, unaffecting—such disturbances come from nothing other than your internal judgments; second, remember that all the things which you now see are changing and will not continue to exist as they are. Continually bear in mind how many changes you have already witnessed. The Cosmos is constant change, and our lives are but a series of choices." 
(Book Four, 4.3, p. 28)

October 31, 2020

Through all times the moon has endured out there, pale and distant, determining the tides and tugging at the heart, a symbol, a beacon, a goal.

Full, bright, beautiful moon tonight. Last night, too. She's just gorgeous and perennially guides me out of my head and tides me in to the present.

(Fun fact: it is the first full moon on Halloween visible across all U.S. timezones since 1944.)

I purchased the Wildsam Field Guide to the Moon in the early days of the pandemic and relished in this love letter to the moon and cosmos.

I loved too that it was inclusive of all perspectives and gave space to both the wonder and superfluousness of space exploration when compared to the plights of marginalized Black people here on Earth. Both of these passages are so equally human and valid in their despair and hope.

"Moon Probe Laudable — But Blacks Need Help" Jet Magazine by Simeon Booker (July 31, 1969)

Landing an astronaut on the moon has more priority in America than putting a black man on his feet, in a job, or a poor family on a decent diet. This space accomplishment at a cost of billions of dollars will receive coast to coast acclaim and international attention.
But as a black Washington correspondent, I see this week as a crucial period in history. There will be headlines and hours of radio and television time on the day to day activity. President Nixon invited the president of his alma mater, Whittier College, to speak at the White House religious service on "the Meaning of The Man on The Moon." Meanwhile what of the man in the street—in poverty stricken Appalachia, Watts, and Harlem. He wished the astronauts well and marvels at their courage.
But he also wonders if the powers of science and technology will ever focus in such a fashion on his problems. Thanks to modern communications, even the simplest ghetto dweller knows that the American space program and its counterpart in the Soviet Union are almost as political in their motives as they are scientific. 
And while the victims of poverty watch the space race with awe, we wonder how long it will be before the synopsis of a moon flight wears off and the victims of poverty realize that they are still hungry. Perhaps the presence of the mule train of the Poor People's Campaign at Cape Kennedy will remind some people that their NASA tax dollars might best be spent in other ways.
Sometime, somehow, we Americans—and the Russians as well—must think about making the earth a better place to live. To escape to the moon is no answer for any of us—black, white, brown or yellow.

CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite - July 24, 1969

"Well, man's dream and a nation's pledge have now been fulfilled. The lunar age has begun. And with it, mankind's march outward into that endless sky from this small planet circling an insignificant star in a minor solar system on the fringe of a seemingly infinite universe. The path ahead will be long; it's gong to be arduous; it's going to be pretty doggone costly. We may hope, but we should not believe, in the excitement of today, that the next trip or the ones to follow are going to be particularly easy. But we have begun with 'a small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind,' in Armstrong's unforgettable words. In these eight days of the Apollo II mission the world was witness to not only the triumph of technology, but to the strength of man's resolve and the persistence of his imagination. Through all times the moon has endured out there, pale and distant, determining the tides and tugging at the heart, a symbol, a beacon, a goal. Now man has prevailed. He's landed on the moon, he's stabbed into its crust; he's stolen some of its soil to bring back in a tiny treasure ship to perhaps unlock some of its secrets. The date's now indelible. It's going to be remembered as long as man survives—July 20, 1969—the day a man reached and walked on the moon. The least of us is improved by the things done by the best of us. Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins are the best of us, and they've led us further and higher than we ever imagined we were likely to go."