Category Archives: spirituality

Thinking Makes It So

The Play Scene in Hamlet, Charles Hunt 1803-1877

The Play Scene in Hamlet, Charles Hunt 1803-1877

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…. Shakespeare, from Hamlet, Act II, scene 2)

Everything old is New Age again

A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle

In 2008, Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle and two million of their closest friends met once a week for ten weeks, online, for the purpose of studying Tolle’s 2005 bestseller, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. The live interactive seminar was reportedly the first of its kind, with all seven continents represented.

In what had to be the planet’s largest-ever classroom, Tolle and Winfrey fielded comments and answered questions via Skype, E-mail, and telephone. The ten 90-minute sessions are available free on iTunes in large-screen, standard-screen, and audio-only formats.

Here’s the thing: A New Earth, stripped of its packaging, isn’t all that new. The message is three thousand to four thousand years old. Tolle certainly deserves credit for reviving this ancient wisdom, compiling it, and presenting it in a way that appeals to millions and keeps them off the street, at least for the length of time it takes to read 336 pages of rather dense prose. If he seems to suggest that A New Earth might literally save the human race… well, who’s to say?

New Testament, New Thought, New Age, Old Story

Another spiritual-genre phenomenon, A Course in Miracles, appeared in 1976 but didn’t gain widespread attention until 1992 with the publication of A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles,” by Marianne Williamson. Tolle owes much to ACIM and Williamson and to dozens of other authors, including Wayne Dyer (whom I greatly admire) and Deepak Chopra (who contributes the rich and ancient Hindu mystical perspective), writing in the same vein but offering original approaches and ideas as well.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey, 2004, photo by Alan Light

My daughter refers to all this as “Christian Science Lite.” The authors’ debt to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy and her remarkable explication of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
(1875), is undeniable. Mrs. Eddy’s writings in turn reflect New England Transcendentalism, particularly the work of Emerson. They’re part of a metaphysical tradition articulated by the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Rumi, the Buddha, the authors of the Torah and the Christian Bible, and many others..

Christian Science would have gained wider acceptance, I think, had it not been for the emphasis on forgoing medical treatment in favor of a strictly spiritual approach, although my Christian Scientist friends tell me that they are by no means forbidden to seek medical attention. In any case, the New Thought movement emerged in the late nineteenth century making rather less noise about doctors and healing; today’s Unity Church is part of the New Thought legacy. I have not included the much-loved Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale, as part of this tradition because Peale emphasizes faith, hope, resilience, and the miraculous intervention of a loving and very personal God, whereas authors and philosophers from Mrs. Eddy to Eckhart Tolle use, to varying degrees, the vocabulary of science and math. One exception, however, is Marianne Williamson, who combines old and new spiritual practices in a way that is graceful and beautiful to see.

(Christian Scientists are blessed with great generosity of spirit. Even so, they tend to bristle, I’ve observed, when hearing Mrs. Eddy’s complex yet practical message described as faith healing or positive thinking.)

According to Christian Science, as I understand it

  • God (“Divine Mind”), being perfect, creates only perfection
  • Human beings, as God’s divine ideas, are not susceptible to sickness, sin, or death
  • All reality reflects God’s attributes: It is loving, spiritual, eternal, intelligent, joyful, harmonious, and so forth
  • Matter is nothing but a manifestation of thought; it is insubstantial and illusory
  • It is “mortal mind” (“error”) that produces the appearance of anything other than well-being
  • Negative emotions proceed from the false beliefs that people can be separated from God and that matter is real
  • Jesus had a perfect understanding of the divine nature, thus manifesting the “Christ principle”
  • You and I, attaining that level of understanding, would also manifest the Christ principle

Thus, poverty is the manifestation of an erroneous belief in “lack.” War and family strife are examples of the “lie” of inharmony.

Compare these tenets to the “mind-body” metaphysics of modern adherents; I think you’ll find more similarities than differences. More important, though, is that you choose the guru who speaks your language. You might read something out of Chopra that resonates with you in a way Tolle’s writing does not.

Rumi

 
 
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Poem J—The Only Act in Town

Old postcard showing an Arizona motel

To illustrate this post, I used a number of vintage postcards featuring motels that were new and gleaming when my family took summer road trips in the 1950s. The amenities, in order of their importance to us kids, were (1) a swimming pool, (2) air conditioning, and (3) television. The roadside motel, no reservation required, was a novelty. We were used to hotels or "cabins."

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Final Poem in the Series—
Last Chance to Rate

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I have posted ten “possibles,” poem A, poem B, and so forth, through the current post, poem J, and have invited readers to comment.  

Below is the last poem in the series. Please feel free to comment at any time, but I’d be especially grateful if I could hear from you by May 1. Along with comments, I’d love it if you’d give me your ranking of the ten poems, 1 being your favorite and 10 being the worst of the lot. You can leave your assessment as a blog comment or e-mail it to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Thanks very much!    

Rusted Motel Sign

This sign is NOT representative of the motels my family stayed in; we required neon in our motel signs

 _____   

What follows is actually a unit: a poem set into a silly story. All comments enormously appreciated!   

_____   

Q & A with Gutroach and Boogerdung at the Sleep-Cheep-We-Peep Inn

Recently I had the honor of being asked to serve on an authors’ panel at the first annual meeting of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society. I did not, as it happens, actually participate, because I went to the wrong hotel.*    

* Which I didn’t find out until the next day. The conference was at the Cheap Bed Sheep Shed. I showed up at Sleep Cheap, We Peep. Anyone could have made the same mistake.   

I wondered why the concierge gave me an odd look when I asked him to direct me to the conference room. “Well, we have meetin’s in the back of the bar sometimes,” he said, pointing at a faux-hardwood door, which you could tell was flimsy and hollow by the multiple holes at about the level where a man’s fist would be if the man were driving his fist into the door.   

Postcard from an Elk City, Oklahoma, motel on the now-defunct Route 66

Postcard from an Elk City, Oklahoma, motel on the now-defunct Route 66

Plainly, the VUWTRBS was on a very tight budget. Even so, given the fragrance (Eau de Bud Light Breath with notes of Stale Sweat and Bratwurst Aftermath) wafting from the bar, and the ambience (storm sewer, but darker), I made a mental note to suggest renting the KMart employee break room for the second annual meeting.   

Entering the room behind the bar, I was relieved to see a dais, a couple of folding chairs, and an audience of more than a hundred of God’s children who were, like the rest of us, seekers of the holy inner light. I walked confidently onto the little stage, knowing I looked my best, in my navy patent-leather pumps and navy-and-white-polka-dot linen sheath dress with a white Peter Pan collar.  

I chose one of the folding chairs—the one without an overturned beer can and a glob of Cheez Whiz on the seat—sat down, demurely crossed my ankles, and waited.   

Michigan motel postcard

Michigan motel postcard; note absence of swimming pool

I looked at the audience. They looked back at me. Probably. I can’t be sure, because a spotlight was shining directly into my eyes. The few things I could actually see had this sort of pulsing halo around them, like they were radioactive and about to blow. Someone at the lighting board was evidently experimenting with various effects. It was unsettling. The live sound engineer was even more adventurous, as I was about to discover. 

After half an hour, the audience was getting restless, as evidenced by what sounded and smelled a great deal like a certain unseemly type of competition my brother and his friends had sometimes entertained themselves with after they’d had a few beers. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone in authority, I thought it was a good time to show some initiative.    

‘We’re gonna tear this place apart’

I stood up and walked to the microphone, adjusted it for my height, smiled a huge, joyous, I-love-everybody smile, and spoke a hearty “Welcome,” hoping I would come across as friendly and approachable. Evidently, I made a very different impression— more in the style of Linda Blair pre-exorcism, when she intoned (in a deep male voice), “Keep away. The sow is mine.” 

Determined to retain my dignity, I switched the microphone off, waited a few minutes for my hearing to return, and tried once more to charm the audience members and put them at ease. 

Another Route 66 motel, this one in Oklahoma City

Another Route 66 motel, this one in Oklahoma City

I smiled more broadly and spiritually than before, if that were possible, though I had the feeling that my ears were actually meeting on the back of my head and thought I’d probably reached my maximum smile diameter.    

“Well,” I said perkily, “this is supposed to be the Q & A session led by Mr. Edmund Digby. Mr. Digby, you’re not out there in the audience anywhere, are you?”    

There was no answer, other than a signal that the competition might be starting up again, so I hurried on: “Well, let’s just begin. I’m sure that Mr. Digby and the other authors on the panel will be here any moment.” 

A Springfield, Missouri, Route 66 motel

A Springfield, Missouri, Route 66 motel

I held up a copy of my book. “My name is Mary Campbell,” I said. “You’ll see it there on your agenda, next to Unfamiliar Territory, which is, obviously, the title of my book. I assume you’ve read it and you have some questions. Who wants to go first?”    

“I’ll go first,” said a young man in the front row, and the invisible lighting technician obligingly illuminated his face. He was pulling on an odd little pipe, which he then handed to the young lady beside him, and she inhaled deeply from it too and passed it on, and I was about to say something about How Germs Are Spread when the young man spoke again. “My name is Gutroach and my question is, where’s Puking Maggot Progeny?”    

I glanced at my roster, pretty sure I would have noticed such an unusual name; as I had suspected, there was no “Progeny” on the list.  

“Mr. (or is it Ms.?) Progeny isn’t on my attendee roster,” I said. “Is he or she a late registrant, perhaps?”     

Vintage postcard depicting "the South's Finest Colored Motel"

This one speaks for itself

“Well, perhaps he is or perhaps he ain’t, but we paid to see Puking Maggot Progeny and by G__d, we’re gonna see Puking Maggot Progeny or we’re gonna tear this place apart.”     

She Who Must Be Obeyed 

At this I became a little indignant. I had never read any of this Progeny person’s books, nor had I heard of him, but I knew that my work had merit too, and I said as much, with all the asperity at my command.     

“So,” I concluded icily, “perhaps Mr. Progeny ain’t gonna be here, in which case you can listen to me and then we can go to the wine-and-cheese buffet before the banquet, or you can all go home and I’ll see that your registration fees are refunded.”     

“Wine and cheese?” said Gutroach, grinning as broadly as I had, but not, I thought smugly, as spiritually. In fact, what his grin most eloquently demonstrated was poor dental hygiene.    
1950s-style motel in Nevada (pronounced ne-VAY-dah), Missouri

1950s-style motel in Nevada (pronounced ne-VAY-dah), Missouri

“WINE and CHEESE? Yummy, YUMMY,” he chanted. “Yummy in my tummy.”     

Then he licked his chops, scratched his… lower torso, and started to get up from his seat. The odd little pipe, I noticed, had made its way back to him, and I was opening my mouth to give a brief lecture on Hygiene, when he shouted to someone else in the room, or perhaps to someone on the Isle of Wight.     

“Hey, Boogerdung,” he yelled, as if Boogerdung were lying inside a sealed casket instead of dozing in the second row, “I got the munchies. You got the munchies? Let’s go grab that wine and cheese and head over to the Scab Zombie.”     

I had reached my limit with Mr. Gutroach and I had no interest in hearing whether or not Mr. Boogerdung had the munchies.     

Postcard from what looks like a VERY old motel; it's located in Tennessee

Postcard from what looks like a VERY old motel; it's located in Tennessee

Sit down, Mr. Gutroach,” I said firmly, sounding (I was selfishly gratified to notice) just a bit scary.  “The Scab Zombie is closed. Raided. Shut down. Everyone’s in jail. I’m the only act in town tonight, and I’m ON!”     

‘He loves that little girl, man’ 

Mr. Gutroach actually sat down, even looking a little sheepish. The audience was quiet. I cleared my throat and began to read the poem I had selected.    

“Anna Sighs     

“Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales—”     

“Hey!” Mr. Boogerdung interrupted owlishly. Evidently he hadn’t “gotten his nap out,” as my mother-in-law used to say if one of the babies was cranky. “Who gives a shit about your f–ing pearly window?”

“I have no idea,” I replied. “Who gives a shit if Bing Crosby is dreaming of a white Christmas?”     

Silence. Faces blank as notebook paper.     

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s try this another way. Who gives a shit if Mr. Marshall Mathers’s public persona intimates that he’s a pistol-packing drug addict who bags on his momma but he wants to take time out to be perfectly honest ‘cuz there’s a lot of shit that hurts deep inside o’ his soul, and he grows colder the older he grows, and the boulder on his shoulder is like the weight of the world, his neck is breaking and he wants to give up but he doesn’t? And why doesn’t he?”  

A motel along Route 66 in St. Louis, Missouri

A motel along Route 66 in St. Louis, Missouri

“’Cuz he’s bringin’ in the big bucks, baby,” said the girl next to Mr. Gutroach.     

But Gutroach wasn’t listening. “Man, that’s some sad shit,” he said, shaking his head, “’cuz Eminem, he loves that little girl, man.”     

“Is that right?” I said. “Well then maybe, if he wants to take baby steps toward responsible parenting, he could refrain from making music videos that end with his doing a great imitation of himself slitting that little girl’s mother’s throat and yelling, ‘Bleed, Bitch, bleed!’”     

In the ensuing silence, I read my poem:     

Anna Sighs

Tranby House Kerosene Lamp, photo by Gnangarra, commons.wikimedia.org

Tranby House Kerosene Lamp, photo by Gnangarra, commons.wikimedia.org

Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales and, bloated
with the noxious air, it tries to come inside and take its
pleasure there. My little lamp is proof against the first
assault, and bears the siege with dignity, but we are only
three—the lamp and Anna here with me, but Anna sleeps
while Night retreats to breathe the venom that it needs
so it can swell again and burst the breach.     

All-engorging, thick with vile effluvium, and restive, Night
still heaves against the pane and probes the porous mortar,
thus to gain a continent, and breathe again, but holding
breath within, as if release would leave it spent of form
and substance, vanished in a photon storm.     

No, to find fragility and penetrate, just as the hungry sea
assaults the levee where it groans, and swallows up the
shore—except that Night can but devour and look for more,
can ebb but not abate, for it is powerless to moderate
its gluttony, nor would it, if it could.     

Anna tosses in her sleep, and if she feels the indolent
oppression, swollen with its kill, she feels it inwardly,
and moans, the speech of wan resistance, drained of
will, a feeble protestation, habit murmuring, “I am.”
Something in her knows the enemy and would arrest
it, summoning a name, essaying ownership. It rises
out of bounds before the net is thrown.     

Bereft of thought and consciousness, it senses
nonetheless that I alone am here to watch and to
resist — to fill the lamp until the fuel is gone.     

One forgets at midnight that this too will pass; not
even Night outlasts the unremitting circle. But at
midnight one unreasoning expends what has been
grown and gathered season after season, sacrifices
every treasure, throws into the flame a hundred
fragile artifacts, to gain a moment’s clarity. At
midnight, friends have settled in and locked their
doors, oblivious to ghastly appetite, now
thickened by the certainty that Anna will comply
and abdicate her shape, to be a pool, a fog, and
then evaporate.     

Perhaps she dreams that Night will hide her
face and nobody will notice that the Anna space,
once occupied by negligible molecules, is
vacant now. But Night and I were taken by
surprise; we had forgotten that the planet
turns. At sunrise, the tenacious lamp still
burns, and Anna sighs.     

_______   

Sunrise on the Nebraska plains, photo by Deb Kirwan

Sunrise on the Nebraska plains, photo by Deb Kirwan

I knew I had them with the ‘vile effluvium’

“Man, you musta been WAY down when you wrote that,”  Mr. Gutroach said softly. “Lookin’ at you, who’d of thought you ever felt that dark?”     

I moved my chair to the edge of the dais so I could see the audience better. About twenty-five people remained in the tawdry room, with a combined (visible) tattoo count roughly equivalent to that of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet.     

“You all aren’t members of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society, are you?” I asked.     

An older motel in California

Somewhere in California

There were a few puzzled looks, a few guffaws, and one nonverbal comment from a Rude Bodily Noise contestant.  I had to bite my lip to keep from telling the offender that he was a lightweight compared to my brother and his friends, who could have, so to speak, blown all the “contestants” out of the water.

“Well, you sure ain’t Puking Maggot Progeny,” said Mr. Boogerdung, fortunately interrupting my train of thought.     

The girl next to him whispered something in his ear. He shook his head. “Please,” she said urgently. I thought she probably had to pee.  

“She wants me to read a poem I wrote for Mama who died.”    

“Oh, please do,” I said, meaning it. “My mom died a long time ago, and I still miss her. I’d be honored if you’d read your poem.”     

Apparently Mr. Boogerdung always kept it with him, in his wallet. I noticed he had a library card in there too.     

The sheet of paper had clearly been taken out of and returned to the wallet a hundred times. It was about to fall apart at the folds. He opened it carefully, held it reverently, and began to read:     

Mama, sometimes at night, when everything’s quiet,
I wonder if you’re near. I wonder if you hear
Me when I talk to you ‘bout bein’ sad and say I’m sorry for bein’ bad.
When you were here on earth, were you sorry you gave me birth?
Daddy always said I was jest a waste of human flesh.
But you always made me feel better inside, like if I tried
I could be great and do you proud. Is that still true now? 
  
  

Mama, I know you’re in Heaven. I hope the angels up there are givin’
You clouds & harps and such, ‘cause down hear you never got much.
But sometimes I watched you prayin’ to God, and you were sayin’
Watch out for my boy when I’m gone, and if his daddy carries on
’Bout him not bein’ worth a lick, you give that  mean old fart a kick. 
  
  

(Beg pardon, Ma’am, but that’s what Mama said.)     

But after you weren’t there to yell at, Daddy didn’t seem to care
’Bout nothin’ else and died hisself. I love you, Ma. Am I too bad for God to help? 
  
  

Neo Punk dude

Not a member of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society

You could have heard a pin drop. I was so moved by his sentiments and so impressed with his untutored eloquence that I didn’t know what to do except hug him. He hugged me back, probably thinking of his mother.     

“What was her name?” I asked. “Your mother’s, I mean?”     

“Well,” he said, “her given name was Charlotte Rae but everybody called her Sugar.”     

“Sugar Rae? Oh, wait. Your mother’s name was Sugar Boogerdung?”     

Mr. Boogerdung and Mr. Gutroach laughed so hard that Mr. Gutroach belched prodigiously mid-laugh and almost choked to death.     

“Them ain’t our real names, Ma’am,” Mr. Boogerdung said after picking himself up off the floor. He leaned toward me and said in a low voice, “I was christened Jody Leonard Bodie. You can call me Len if you want.”     

“What about you, Mr. Gutroach?”     

“Arthur Billy Clovis Dewitt at your service, Ma’am,” he said obligingly but almost in a whisper and more to his shoes than to me. “My folks thought it’d be cute for my initials to be ABCD. But if you don’t mind, please call me Gutroach or Billy, or Buttface, I don’t care as long as it ain’t Arthur or Artie or Clovis.”     

“Great to meet you gentlemen,” I said, taking Len’s left arm and Billy’s right arm and leading them toward where the wine-and-cheese buffet ought to have been if we hadn’t been at the wrong motel.     

“I haven’t introduced myself properly either,” I confessed. “’Mary Campbell’ is my nom de plume. At home I’m known as Festering Pustule, but you guys can call me Pus.”     


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Poem I: The ‘Great War’

Thiepval Memorial World War I Cemetery, Somme, France -- photo by Trillion via flickr

Thiepval Memorial World War I Cemetery, Somme, France — photo by Trillion via flickr. “On 1 July 1916, the British Army endured the bloodiest day in its history, suffering 57,470 casualties including 19,240 dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Most of the casualties occurred in the first hour of the attack. The entire Somme offensive cost the British Army almost half a million men.” Wikipedia, “World War I”

For reasons that are not entirely clear even to me, I have been reading and listening to everything I can find about conditions leading up to World War I. I won’t even try to describe the causes; they can’t be tidily summarized.

World War I trenches seen from the air

Both sides dug in along a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line remained essentially unchanged for most of the war. –Wikipedia, “Western Front”

According to the excellent instructor of a UC-Berkeley course I’m listening to via “iTunes U,” the emergence of Germany as a unified nation— its hundreds* of independent principalities, duchies, kingdoms, electorates, and other sovereign units having been conquered or cowed into submission during the 19th century, ultimately by Prussia under Otto von Bismarck — fractured the delicate “balance of power” in Europe. Unrest in the Balkans, the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, and a complicated web of alliances that kept changing, even Europe’s network of railroads — these were factors, too.

Those in power seem to have thought that the war would be over in a matter of months. But no one had ever seen a war like this. Once it started, the politicians and the generals couldn’t figure out how to end it, the instructor says. “Earlier wars were over when either side lost a major battle,” he explains, adding that these “earlier wars” had largely been fought without the dazzling new technology of artillery, chemical weapons, aircraft, and trains… nor had they utilized the trenches that made occupation of enemy-held territory so damnably slow.

The official count of war dead is under 17 million, including 1.5 million murdered during the Ottoman Empire’s campaign of Armenian genocide. Many historians believe that civilian casualties—including those from disease—are higher than reported, however, and estimate that nearly 20 million people died as a direct or indirect result of the so-called Great War. The website www.centre-robert-schuman.org reports more than 40 million casualties—”20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians. The Entente Powers (also known as the Allies) lost about 5.7 million soldiers while the Central Powers lost about 4 million….”

germany--the-second-reich

*Prior to 1806, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation… had included more than 500 independent states. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unification_of_Germany

AS TWENTY MILLION DIED

It wasn’t even hate that made the armies
wait imperiled in the long scar spanning
boundaries, bisecting fields—the long
scar from the mountains to the sea.
Their hearts were far from the artillery,
the lethal gas, the twisted wire— in
Ireland, perhaps, beside the hearth,
a baby on one knee.

It wasn’t hate that made the nations
send their young men off to war, with
rifles and too little more. In parliaments
and palaces were pride and fear enough,
ambition, and this theory and that;
and as they strategized, exchanging futile
plans and making promises in
desperation, as they wagered though
the banks were dry, fate laughed and
damned their schemes and snatched her
human sacrifice. The princes and the
ministers of war stood by, resigned and
horrified by turns, as twenty million died,
and even now, when more than ninety years
have passed, no one is certain why.

Who could have known that it would last
so long? —this lottery of lives begun when
leaders failed to lead or to inspire and
armies marched despondently to where
the trains were leashed, impatient-
seeming, monsters straining with kinetic
energy, to chase each other, iron on
steel, with only minutes’ separation,
greedily devouring miles, as powerful on
the incline as on the plain, speed
unabated till they stopped at last,
expelled their loads, insentient
machines that they had always been,
though they had carried men but left
their hearts behind as if these sons,
these fathers, and these husbands might
thus tend the tidy fields and spend the
evening by the fire — such humble
aspirations, honest work and well-
earned rest, how could they possibly
accept the gray reality that fate,
unsatisfied, and war’s momentum would
determine otherwise? They did what
pawns have always done: Until their
countries were impoverished, until the
money to subsist was gone, they kept on
keeping on.

Many who survived were broken when it
ended (though in truth the giant only
slept); some would heal, some wrote in
poetry and prose of what they’d seen,
what they’d endured, what they had
witnessed of man’s inhumanity to man;
but there were those returning to the
land, if land remained, who never spoke
of it, and no one knows if they believed
that fortune had been kind in keeping
them alive or if, instead — their
comrades missing, maimed, or killed
by what they did not understand
sufficiently to hate— they wanted
nothing but oblivion and would have
gladly shared their fellows’ fate,
to perish in the ruined countryside
and lie amid the final stillness of
the twenty million who had died.

* * *

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Poem G — ‘Haunting’

 

 

Better Than a Poke in the Eye
with a Sharp Stick

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Sun-tea jar

Sun-tea jar; photo by Meredith, http://modcottage.com

Dear Jane: Thank you so much for submitting work to Straylight. We would like to congratulate Mary on the acceptance of her poem “Sun Tea,” which we enjoyed very much. Several members of our editorial staff continue to be “haunted” (a direct quote!) by the lovely clarity of her language….

* * *

Omigosh!

* * *

Sun Tea

When I was the mother of young
children, every summer morning I
made sun tea in a gallon jar filled
nearly to the brim with clear well
water, and set it near the porch so
as to sketch the season in my
memory and not let pass without
a grateful thought those long,
warm days and small, bare feet…
reason enough and more, the
timeless alchemy of linking
the deep river with the earth
and open sky and drinking it
with lemon… being put in
mind of how the great wheel
turns, and that things happen
in their time and not
before it or beyond…
reason enough and more,
just as it ought to be: for
I am much more fond
of children than I am
of tea.

* * *

 

Poem E

TapKids

TapKids — Wicked timing, talent, stamina, and entertainment

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God’s Time Is the Best Time

(English subtitle of Cantata No. 106, by J. S. Bach)

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

The Rockettes

The Rockettes

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

I don’t like to explicate my own poems — I let my students do that, and then they explain them to me, and then I get them (the poems; not the students) — but I am not as confident of this poem’s integrity as I would like to be… I keep changing and expanding it… although I think it’s finally Done. I just don’t quite get it! My own poem!

This poem, “Life Is Poetry (Now),” is on my website’s home page, and it is the theme of my free online course “How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically.”

Tap Kids

TapKids again, astounding the audience (see short video below)

And I am going to do a bit of superficial explication, because I’m not sure what the poem is trying to tell me. If you approach poetry-writing properly, your poems will outrun your conscious understanding, just as dreams do. And puzzling them out is usually fun and revealing.

Below are some of the messages I think the poem is trying to express. But I still keep missing that train….

Being ‘on’

If you’re always running after your life, you won’t be paying attention and you’ll miss the signals

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

Fred Astaire and dancers in the 1935 romantic comedy TOP HAT

But if you must live chaotically, do even that with panache; be magnificent, even if you arrive halfway through your big number

Be bold
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. —Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love – Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

Don’t ever, in anything, go on autopilot. I heard recently that Orthodox Jews have prayers and rituals for every conceivable activity, even those that occur in the… um… powder room

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Timing is everything… being in sync with the rhythms that surround you, but also knowing which ones to pay attention to [Ah. I think there’s something here. Not in sync. Unaware of the rhythms]

Brutus, the speaker in the Julius Caesar excerpt above, seems to imply that if you miss the train (“the tide… at the flood”), it’s over, and you might as well just mark time until you croak. I, however, think we have lots of chances, an infinite number. The train keeps coming back… it just doesn’t stay very long in the station… so, travel light; don’t let your baggage weigh you down

BUT THERE’S MORE. I’m still missing something. Look! Except for the fellows below, all the images I chose to illustrate “the poetic life” are big clumps of dancers. I suppose stranger things have happened, but I’m pretty sure that I will never be a Rockette.

The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia
The Scottish Pipe and Drum Band, Alexandria, Virginia

LIFE IS POETRY (NOW)

When you find your spot and hit your stride,
regardless of how hard you tried to be
on time and didn’t quite succeed, yet neatly,
gracefully, and perfectly in step,
slipped into your appointed place as if
you were the missing tuba player in
a marching band, but landed with a grin
and saucy bow, finessing now,
extemporaneously starring in
an unpremeditated bit, and everyone
applauded, just assuming it was part
and parcel of the entertainment — then
you’ve made a work of art out of a chance
anomaly, and life is elevated
from the ordinary: It’s a symphony,
a dance, a comedy… perchance, by grace,
beyond felicity, to be accompanied
by ginger tea and love and handmade lace
and wondering at Coleridge and Blake… now
you must get some pixie dust (before
you are allowed a bit of rest and solitude)
to give you extra effervescence and
a bit of magic, and, not merely reading
sonnets of Rossetti, Keats, and Sidney,
be a sonnet, one with careful, offhand
rhyme, magnificent. Be poetry;
its tide is in, its time may not soon be
so sensible again

STUDENTS

  1. Obviously, “be a sonnet” and “be poetry” suggest metaphors. In what ways might a person be, metaphorically, a poem? (I want your wild guesses here; there are no wrong answers)
  2. Why a sonnet, do you think? Why not a rondeau or a cinquain?
  3. The poetic device called sibilance is conspicuous in this poem. What functions might be served by the use of sibilance here?
  4. Life, metaphorically, is a symphony, a dance, a comedy — something orchestrated, choreographed, managed in a way that the poet (who would be me) evidently believes to be a step up from an entropic, path-of-least-resistance lifestyle. How does the poem indicate — explicitly, or by use of rhetoric — that the poet doesn’t want this “managed” life to exclude spontaneity?

Music Heals!

(Suggestion: Listen to the movie and TV themes without watching, and play “guess the movie (or television show).” Really. I mean it. Do you have something better to do with the couple you’re having for dinner?

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We want to put your feelgood music on the Annagrammatica website... unless your feelgood music makes US feel AWFUL

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TAP KIDS: RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Kevin McCormack and Riverdance

Poem C

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

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A Mother’s Prayer

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Students: Name as many rhetorical devices used in this poem as you can.

Grassy valley under a blue sky

My space inviolate—grassy valley under a splendid sky

My Space Inviolate

My space inviolate, circle of safety, whitewashed
in whorls of sweet sunlit air. Here is a cradle;
here is a lullaby; here is the wild strawberry,
here is the lily of the valley, in the shade, these
unpretentious in their scent and in their aspect.
Charmed, I fill my lungs with earth and flower
essence, and my heart with innocence —
nothing tainted is permitted here;
I fill my sight with creamy pastel spring
blooms and new yellow-green sweet grass.
Angels who whirled in the dance now sit quietly,
expectantly, one who is wise beside me.

New spring grass

New spring grass

Meditate this hour on your angelic
guardians, whose charge is but to guide you
to your joy. Now rest and dream, and when
you rise, put on the vestments of your power.

All that is kind; all things for love; all hope for
harmony, you’ve just to ask. It is our only task
to give you ease, to please you, to create
a clean, unsullied heart in you, fulfilling
what you’ve chanted at the precipice
of sleep, so near believing all these years.
Look! Every tear you spent for love and
penitence is sacred; each was shed in
honest pain, and we have saved them for
this baptism.

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Raindrops on ficus leaves

Be happy, then. Know that we look after
him and mend his heart, so sore and
unprotected. There! It is done,
and he has seen the messengers of his
salvation, and believed. Then we embraced him
with a lambence that will cleave to him. You
need to understand that love like this,
angels cannot resist. It’s manna, meat and
drink to us. Now you must let him go;
now do release him; entrust him to us.
We shall keep him in an easy custody,
his warden shall be bliss.

Here in this circle is no place for fear.
Nothing feeds it here. Now be serene,
as you were meant to be, for all is well.
The insignificant, pathetic demons
from the place called “hell,” which is no place
at all, but just a state of mind, were chased
away, by saying, “Boo,” and making faces
at them. And yet they scare you so,
they interrupt your dancing— as if they were
substantial… as if they were not less than air.

Cattails


Poem A

Pine Ridge Nebraska

The Pine Ridge region, northwestern Nebraska

Turned Around

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Bucolic spot in the Pine Ridge area

Bucolic spot in the Pine Ridge area

Thanks to all 431 of you who visited Write Light on November 29 — my second-biggest day ever for this blog!

My dear friend and colleague Queen Jane the Easygoing and Way Smart is the person who submits my poetry and prose to periodicals and publishers. Sometimes she has difficulty choosing; I’m quite prolific.

In the next few weeks I’m going to post ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

Thanks! Oh, I already said that. Well, thanks again, in advance….

TURNED AROUND

Because I have been less than inches
from the chasm of unbeing,
and have been afraid that, having
nowhere else to go, I would
on purpose, accidentally,
fall in, and simply fall and fall
forever, since unbeing has no
floor; and have been rescued, and
been certain of my rescuer,
and have again felt almost-solid
earth beneath my feet; when I
had given up on earth and sky
and sun and rain and comfortable
shoes and friends and weddings; having
been as good as dead, there in that
purgatory of unbreathing,
and then being turned around,
embraced, and liberated — I
believe in miracles. For everything
is living once you have been almost
dead; and all things shine, as if their
only purpose is to serve as
a reminder of that brief and
infinite dependence on
the spirit who exhaled to give me
breath again.

* * *

The Many Roads…

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creek_woods_reeds_halfsize

How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

Poems

waterfall_mountains_halfwsize

DEEP WATER

The Ancient Ones believe: If we
could hear it in primeval purity,
beside a sacred spring, just by the
sunlit surfacing where it emerges
all but unadulterated, there must
be, in all the fullness of a
symphony, a song within the
watercourse — which, hearing,
touching, tasting, bathing in it
heals the spirit of its slow,
insidious decay and makes us
innocent and wholly realized,
perhaps immortal — who can
say?

Even now, you and I can hear our
voices clear and buoyant in the
chorus — although you might
perceive nuances and notes and
cadences in this eternal mystic
composition differently than I.

For since our origin, we have
sailed on different seas to
different ports; our purposes and
choices have developed separate
pathways in the mind through
which the melodies pour in and
where the orchestration rises like
the ocean at high tide. Yet even
so, divided at a crossroads,
separated by a veil, we can yet
decide — to harmonize or clash,
sing peace or, maybe, dissonance
and, if the latter, float with a
deceptive ease, by flattery and
treacherous inducement,
downstream through the sluice
gate to cacophony; so many
voices, shrill and wounded from
the willful howling, shouting,
shrieking to be heard above the
rest.

And when at last we learn that life
is not a race, nor yet a test, then
destiny — some call it grace —
will bring us home, in this life or
the next, perhaps a thousand
lifetimes hence. The many roads
are one road in the end, and every
soul will seek at last the blessed
lullaby; each in time will kneel
beside a holy well, to rest, to be
made innocent, as once more
called to cleansing in the spring,
the sunlit source of all we know
above the deep and hidden flow.

blade_of_grass

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  • The Riley Factor

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 36

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Case Studies in Poetic Living — Riley

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph
    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph

    Case Study No. 2 — The Life of Riley

    When I met Riley, in 1995, he was living in a charming duplex — one of three that surrounded a grassy courtyard, where there were eucalyptus and grapefruit trees and flowering shrubs. By September of 1996, he — and his plants and antiques and yellow Labrador retrievers — had outgrown the small duplex, so he bought a three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac near a park in the central area of Tucson.

    Hoosier cabinet

    Hoosier cabinet

    Riley and I had much in common: Both of our fathers had the name “Horace,” neither of us had a spleen, and both of our mothers were antique dealers. It was from his mother, Rachel, that Riley inherited his love for antiques. Rachel had given him, or he had bought from her, many of the chests of drawers, art prints, rugs, pieces of crockery, and century-old bottles he collected… although, when I was living in Tucson, he and I spent a great deal of time at antique fairs and in antique malls, and his collections have probably doubled in the fourteen years I’ve known him.

    Riley is not what you’d call religious, though he almost unfailingly practices the principles set forth by Martin Buber in his 1923 book I and Thou. (See Lesson 33.1, “What Do You Want?”) He beholds the world, in all its particularity, with reverence, although he does not care for cats and he has periodic attacks of road rage.

    Creative outlets

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    Here is an example of what I mean by reverence, as it applies to Riley:

    I have an oak rocking chair, a modest little thing that has served four generations of Campbells. The chair had been smashed to smithereens (“shattered fragments,” from the Irish Gaelic smidirīn, diminutive form of smiodar, “fragment”). I would estimate that this chair was in at least twenty smithereens, some of them no larger than a toothpick. I had given up on finding someone to repair it, but I kept the pieces anyway, in a grocery bag.

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Riley took the bag of shards home one day, not long after we met, and brought the chair back to me in one perfect piece within a week. If you could see it, I would defy you to find any trace of smithereen. With the limited tools then at his disposal (he now has a large workshop and a respectable, manly set of tools), he put every fragment back in its place, seamlessly. He had had to replace one of the curved back pieces, but he chose the oak so carefully and stained it in such a way that it is impossible to tell the replacement from the corresponding back piece on the other side.

    There was a small, dark, discolored area on the seat that, as far as I knew, had always been there. Riley said, “I could have fixed that, but it’s part of the character of the chair” (or words to that effect). “The character of the chair” — What a concept! Riley taught me to see into the souls of inanimate objects.

    Living in southern Arizona, Riley can garden year-round. When I visited him recently, he took pride in showing me the new raised garden beds, the brick walkway between them, the automatic watering system, and the handmade compost bin. That’s another thing we have in common: We can ooh and aah about compost.

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    In precisely the same way, he approached the restoration of a broken-down Hoosier cabinet and the reconstruction of an Eastlake bed (similar to the one pictured above), converting it from three-quarter size to full size.

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    I think he must have been a Druid in a previous life, because he has great reverence for wood, especially oak, and for all growing things, whether they’re in pots or in forests. There are dozens of potted plants in the house and dozens more on the covered patio. The vast majority are from cuttings he took from his own plants.

    A little scary

    In 2001, my sweet Monica, a medium-size mongrel my boys and I had rescued from the Humane Society, died at the age of 13. Riley buried her — reverently — in the bit of yard west of his house and planted three rosebushes over her grave. The roses are the color of coral, and they flourish every year. Riley has planted mesquites and acacias, asparagus fern and ivyprickly pear and jalapeño peppers in the large back yard and the smaller front yard. Everything grows for him. He would no more neglect the care and feeding of a plant than he would of his yellow Labradors, Truman and Dani.

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley sometimes refers to himself as “anal-retentive,” but he’s not, really — not quite, just as he is almost but not quite a perfectionist — because he can laugh at himself. Every job he undertakes — from making salsa to building a bookcase — is done lovingly and systematically, and he never hurries.

    Blooming acacia

    Blooming acacia

    There is, however, a teensy suggestion of anal-retentiveness that is evident in the storage of his clothing, which is regimentally folded, or hung, according to type, color, and so forth. It’s a little scary for someone like me, who can never find socks that match.

    More Riley facts

    Riley always pays his bills on time and he never spends money he doesn’t have.

    He knows the names of all the members (and the instruments they played) of every blues or rock band that performed from the 1950s through the 1990s. He owns, I am guessing conservatively here, 120 blues albums on CD.

    He has a complete set of books by Mark Twain, signed by Mark Twain.

    He was something of a rogue in his youth, and that’s all I have to say on that subject.

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    He is loyal. If you become Riley’s friend, you are Riley’s friend for life. Every spring, until recently, Riley went with five or six other men on ten-day backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon. He is one of the younger guys; several of his elders have developed back problems or knee disorders, so most of their hiking these days is done in the mountains that surround Tucson.

    Riley has a graceful, athletic, quietly reassuring way about him. He is confident but never (hardly ever) arrogant. Without having to work at it, Riley lives more poetically than almost anyone I know. As his mother once said to me, justifiably proud of her son, “Riley is a gentleman, literally, in the best possible way — a gentle man.”

    When he’s not at work or on a hike, you might find him refinishing furniture in the workshop, mulching the garden, reading science fiction, or (in season) watching college sports on television. Sometimes he takes Truman and Dani for walks along the dry bed of the Rillito River (there’s a trail about a quarter-mile from his house).

    wallacenutting_road_blossoms1

    Wallace Nutting colorized landscape

    The Wallace Nutting photos, shown above, are typical of the kinds of framed prints Riley favors. He has dozens of prints of that ilk, including several Wallace Nuttings, usually in lovely antique oak frames. But despite all the art, the antique furniture, the valuable glassware (which I won’t even begin to describe) and pottery, and the lovely old rugs, the house is neither museumlike nor cluttered. It feels, and looks, comfortable, soft, pleasing in every way… unless you are allergic to or don’t like dogs.

    evening_after_rain_worcestershire

    Out of Order

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady
    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    We are getting rather close to the end of this course, and I am finding bits and globs of material that should have been included earlier. If it’s a small bit or glob, I just quietly insert it. But if it’s a big fat key to the understanding of a major concept, which is the case here, I feel bound to call your attention to it. The left-out part is What Does It Mean to Live Poetically?” and I have stuck it in its logical place, namely, Chapter 11, “Living Poetically,” which began with Lesson 33. The new segment is Lesson 33.1 and you will find it here. 

    A Living Poetically Fortune Cookie

    I believe, when all is said and done, all you can do is show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

    redoute-four-1