Archive for the 'poetry' Category

“‘TO ALL AND SUNDRY — NEAR AND FAR …'”: Burgundy pullover

December 22, 2015

The weather here has been unseasonably warm, but some days the wind has been chilly and brisk and I have found warmer layers to be welcome when I go out walking.  So choosing what to wear has been a little more of a challenge for me this season.  Compounding this is my discovery recently that it now costs $5.20 to dry clean a heavy sweater at my local dry cleaners.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out layer #2 this morning, the one that comes after the cotton shirt, and I got stuck.  Do I want to get back out clothing I thought I had put away until next year?  Do I want to risk having to take another sweater to the dry cleaners after only minimal wear?  I had a number of specs and was having trouble figuring out what garment I owned would satisfy all of them.

So I did what I usually do when I get stuck and I threw it out to the universe for some guidance, and from that, I opened my closet, went straight to moving a couple of shoe boxes aside, and immediately discovered the perfect layer on a low shelf — an old burgundy pullover, washable, seasonally colorful, warm.

I remembered the article of clothing once I saw it, but I don’t think I could have actively named it as something I owned.

I think I had put it away somewhere obscure because I thought it was beginning to look a little down at the mouth.

This time of year I think about A.A. Milne’s “King John’s Christmas.”  My mother read it to us with great passion and fervor when we were young, and with especially great enthusiasm at the part near the end when the india-rubber ball makes its dramatic appearance.

Well, it’s not yet Christmas (then again, I’m not King John, nor even a Christian), and a pullover isn’t a ball, nor is burgundy really red, but I enjoyed seeing a faint parallel and thinking about what comes to us as a surprise from the outside may actually be something within us that we had merely lost sight of.

Books that channel

January 18, 2015

It recently occurred to me to bring my mother one of the anthologies of poems she so loves.  She chose her replacement copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People, which I had found for her after she spoke of her regret of having de-accessioned years ago her copy from her youth.

My mother had me leave it in the top drawer of her nightstand in her room in the nursing center, and I must say that reminded me of Gideon’s Bibles in hotel rooms.

This morning, when I visited in the early morning, my mother had more energy than she’s had some recent mornings, probably because the aide had not yet come to help her with her morning routine.  So we got out the poetry book, she chose poems, and I read them.  At some points, I could feel her enjoyment — I found myself reading a closing stanza in her cadences and intonations and she was smiling, for example.

It is Sunday.  My mother is not religious, she is of the generation and culture for whom the Holocaust negatively impacted the ability to be open to belief, but poetry can be, I think, for some people an avenue to the source that inspires our spirits, to the extent possible.

Organ pipes

July 8, 2014

I was reading the quotation from the poet Hafiz at the end of Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation.  It reads,

I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath
moves through—listen to this music.

The image comes to me differently, or at least I perceive the image differently.

For me, we are more like pipes in a pipe organ, and we have different lengths.  The hole part of the image for me has to do with our each having different holes in different places, according to how much of our ego we have cleaned up, how many and much of our flaws we have sanded down and polished.  For example, I have a small green jade Buddha and a small uncut green stone, and for me, that’s representative of spiritual development.

When the breath of spirit moves through us, we make our own sound, but in concert with everybody else.

Et tu, Brute?

October 19, 2013

It occurred to me that I should follow up my previous post with a note that, just prior to my moment of catching the spark of faith while watching a concert on TV, I had experienced one of those “Et tu” moments, when someone you didn’t expect to do something that feels like betrayal, does something that feels like betrayal, and also feels like the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  I suspect this prior experience is relevant to what happened next, perhaps like the drawing back of the slingshot before it releases its projectile.

And as a footnote to this note, I would mention that the particular incident that produced this feeling of betrayal did not at the time really seem to me intellectually to be the big deal it felt like to me emotionally — I wasn’t entirely sure at the time why it bothered me as much as it did.  In retrospect, I can understand better why it had the impact on me it did, especially if I see it in terms of its being the repetition or reenactment of an old pattern of events for someone who struggled to find faith and whom I was helping.  I think they had experienced the same sequence of events without achieving faith, and I kind of did it for them, like the narrator in the A.A. Milne poem about Binker.

One last note.  As I was proofreading the last paragraph, I discovered I had typed “achieving space” for what I intended to type as “achieving faith.”  As I said in my last post, I seem to talk to myself.

Leaving something unsaid

October 28, 2012

Poetry does this.  (I was going to call this “Leaving the Rest Unsaid,” but I think that may be a poem by Robert Graves and I think that poem may be about something else quite different, as well.)   My point is to explain why I am sometimes cryptic and don’t spell out everything I mean.

It’s because if the reader is ready for the lesson they will see the rest — what I write will be suggestive and it will prompt a leap to the concept I have in mind.  To explain it in a way that everyone can understand would be to support a situation in which understandings might be incomplete or distorted, relying as they would on the content of the communication appreciated through the intellect, etc., not on a perception prompted.  And these misunderstandings are the ones that tend to be then disseminated through ingeniously wrong books and such.

So I try to say enough to direct someone else’s attention towards where they might find an insight within themselves, I try not to explain what I think the insight itself in great detail.  This is why metaphor and imagery and story-telling are so important, I think — they are suggestive without being dictatorial.  The mind slides around its thoughts, and in so doing, sees things for itself.  That, to me, is teaching a person how to fish and not just handing them a cooked seafood platter.

Of course, this explanation, in a way, undercuts all that.

Going against the grain

September 25, 2012

I get a lot out of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations, but I don’t always agree with everything in them, even if I am grateful for them and respectful of his abilities.  This morning’s is an example.

I disagree that God initiates in a relationship with us, unless, of course, we want to split hairs.  What I see is that God’s love is there all the time, what initiates the relationship is when we somehow become open to that love.

While I’m at it, at criticizing people whose work I enjoy and whose presence I am grateful for, I will take this example of where I disagree with Fr. Rohr to show where I disagree with David Brooks and today’s column of his on conservatism.

I don’t think what I said about God’s love always being present is anything new, wouldn’t surprise me if Rohr says it too, I could even have gotten it from him.  Nor is our openness as key anything new, especially to more eastern spiritual traditions, I think.  But overall my approach to spirituality is a little more radical a change than David Brooks would apparently advocate, a little less prudent and incremental and respectful of continuity and tradition — I want to jettison our conceptualization of God as a cranky parent, for instance, and I want everybody to remember that everybody learns, eventually, to merge their humanness with the divinity within them — that everybody eventually becomes enlightened.  Nobody does it for you.  And that the basic tools are the same for everybody, regardless of their stage in the process — willingness, becoming more self-aware, becoming more open, getting out of the way, listening, following guidance.

What I see is, to track David Brooks’s idea that conservatism is focused now only on one of its components, is that to clear the runway and get lift, we need to do more than take baby steps, we need to do something more like leap into space.  (…we/Fling our souls into the/Pitch dark again, and/Wait for the stars/To shine.)  Faith for me is the concept that if we do, we will be borne aloft.  Metaphorically, of course; I am, after all, the daughter of an aeronautical engineer.

Because if we don’t take enough of a leap, we fall back, I think, we revert to a prior stage, even get more stuck in it for having tried to progress beyond it and not accomplished that goal.  There are risks to taking small steps when larger ones are called for.

On the other hand, to end on a more conciliatory note, as I assume Rohr and I agree on the fundamental importance of love and its eternity, maybe my spiritual approach is sufficiently rooted in tradition to pass muster with David Brooks’s notion of what kind of change is helpful.

Faxes, phones, and copiers

May 17, 2012

I was on my way to a meeting this morning, sitting on the bus, and it occurred to me to wonder if I had left my computer printer on.  It’s one of those 3-in-1 things that combines fax, printer, and copier.  The way it’s set up now, if it’s on and somebody phones in, I think they end up with the fax screech rather than being transferred over to voicemail.

I got to thinking further about this all being filtered through one machine (it’s got a phone, too).  And that got me thinking about poets and mystics.  (I’m also reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now, so that may be an influence here.)

I’ve probably said this before, but I often wind up with poets in my life and I think my mind works in ways similar to theirs, so I think that may be the basis for the apparent affinity.  But like songwriters I have known who were even more explicit about it (“I’m just a songwriter, it’s just a song.”), many poets tend not to go all that deeply behind what they write, unless they also participate in what we might call mysticism.

There is a fairly loud strand within me that sees mysticism as purer than poetry, as somehow more valuable, important, or primary.  It’s not the only strand but it is there and it can get pretty loud.

Thinking about the fax/phone options in my printer gave me maybe a more neutral way of looking at it — maybe poets process faxes, mystics take phone calls (from the universe, the collective unconscious, whatever we’re all tuned into).  And some people probably do the equivalent of making copies.  (Printing from the computer is actually what I associate with the way I revisit past lives — I kind of play them out and then look at them.)

That’s my main point here, this metaphor, but while I’m on the subject, I will give voice to another loud strand within me.

Some people communicate on what I think many people call the astral plane, as well as on the physical one.  I suspect that different people who do have different ideas of what those connections or relationships mean, how to integrate those astral plane connections into their physical plane lives — or not.  I think there can be real problems when one person treats them as no different in significance from ones on the physical plane while the other person doesn’t.

Example:  an obvious beacon on the astral plane whom some people interact with as a muse but who is just another person and who therefore expects interactions to be reciprocal when they involve any part of the ego structure, and observes and experiences a distinction when we pull that aside and let our souls communicate and commingle.  The part of this “muse” they could communicate with without engaging in a personal relationship is different from this “muse’s” astral plane presence.  That interaction with the “muse” on the astral plane is sometimes experienced as “hacking,” when it’s surreptitious, and when it’s more overt, it can be experienced as deceitful or teasing if there is no bona fide relationship behind the interactions.

Sometimes I think this “muse” issue arises when the person being thus perceived is having trouble pulling her own ego out of the way, and that’s probably true, but if she’s also mirroring back the ego of her interlocutor, then there’s not much she can do to keep the egos out of it altogether, though she can keep repeating that “This is not what I’m about.”

This, I think, is a danger of astral plane interactions between poets and mystics — some ego gets in and then we’re off to the asymmetrical races.  This muse thing may work for the poet, but it doesn’t seem to for the muse.  I think it occurs at length and not for the good when the muse has interior damage she hasn’t resolved, so I do think she contributes to the dysfunctional relationship.

This is not to say that mystics and poets or poets and others or mystics and others can’t have astral plane relationships, just that for some of us, there is no meaningful distinction between an astral plane relationship and a physical plane one, and this muse relationship is just plain uncomfortable.

“Rap Exegesis”

May 12, 2012

“Rap Exegesis” has made it to the cover of the Yale Alumni Magazine.  It was the name once chosen by some Yalies for what turned into, I think, a website called “Rap Genius” that focuses on the interpretation of rap lyrics.

I’m a big fan of interpretation, and I am aware that once a person’s work is released into the public arena, it’s fair game for whatever interpretation is brought to bear.  But I want to say it comes across to me as some kind of co-option of genre.  Maybe “co-option” is too judgmental, and I should see it as embrace by the mainstream.  What I think I am concerned about is the use by interpreters and web entrepreneurs of somebody else’s difficult experiences for their own gain — go have your own, is what comes to me, and then interpret somebody else’s.  Doing it from the safety of a mainstream existence seems like what we used to call “slumming,” I think.  We engage in it at our pleasure, while the other person has no choice.  Whether it’s a difference in class, income, residency zone, social experience, or race, it’s one person’s life, another person’s interest.

Of course, there’s a compliment in that interest, and something unwelcoming or unseemly itself in holding another person’s privilege against them.  But I think there’s room for a lot of hurt and damage to happen in that gap between one person’s life and another person’s less comprehensive involvement.

Poetry from memory

April 1, 2012

My mother likes to recite poetry from memory, and this evening she responded to my discussion of my recent pulling back from some group involvements I have had with the line, “Her mirth the world required.”  It turns out to be from “Requiescat” by Matthew Arnold, and my mother was a little abashed that the poem is about someone who has died — she hadn’t remembered that — but I told her, when she advised me to ignore the ending, that it fits me if I revise it a bit, and replace “The vasty hall of Death” with the open expanse of the spirit world, since I love to spend time there as it is.

I don’t think anybody’s been requiring my mirth, nor am I capable of “smiles of glee,” but the line “But her heart was tired, tired” fits for my sense of having my energy drained through my heart, and, of course, my tiredness.  I saw Gita the other day (she who tells me what I don’t see for myself), and she said I’m like butter getting spread too thin on toast.  I liked that; I like toast and (thickly spread) butter, and it also fits my sense that when I’m in a large group, my energy gets drawn out of me and spread around.

Another thing we talked about is my need to be me and have other people be themselves, and not get entangled in someone else’s confusion about who I am or who they are.  (I even got entangled in Gita’s cold symptoms while I was there, and she does try to keep her own stuff to herself.)

I got a kick out of the line toward the end of the poem my mother quoted (when I looked it up), about “Her cabin’d, ample Spirit,” because I recently heard the term “cabined” noted, on the PBS NewsHour, as a legalistic one, and I had been unfamiliar with the usage at all.  The synchronicity makes me feel anchored in this world in a way.


March 7, 2012

Having alluded to having had a sort of spiritual experience back in 2000, I thought I might write about an aspect of it that I haven’t yet understood to my satisfaction.  I wrote that “I found myself connecting with faith, joy, hope,”in my previous post, and that’s true.  I also found myself with a really strong sense of yearning.

My immediate association with the yearning was high school and unrequited romantic love, which was quite an experience at age forty-two.  I felt moved to write a poem, the first one I had written in decades, and it turned out to be about longing and previous loss, about the narrator as an adolescent and about a younger boy named Icarus lying dead on the beach beside her.  In it also figured her burnt hands, an accident, a great love from her past whom she hears singing in the distance behind her.  It started off with a question about how do you capture the emptied heart, and it seems to resolve it by not trying to possess the love of this man in the background but to accept it, to bask in it as being for her but not hers.  She winds up by the end of the poem being able to look at her scarred and misshapen hands and not hide them, as she had, and somehow by accepting his love as for her and but not as generated, in its origin, on her behalf, [“It is just what he does / for a living, his living], her heart has grown full again.

There are three kinds of yearning I’ve read about since I had that experience and wrote that poem that have rung a bell for me in connection with that experience.  One was C.S. Lewis’s sense of yearning in his own spiritual journey, another was something I read in a eastern religious context about yearning and about not confusing the willingness to serve (which does lead to a requiting of that yearning, through union with God, which does not and instead results in a “fall”) with desire to merge with God and experience that love and resolution), and the third was about a yearning for admiration and righteousness, as I recall it from memory from a recent David Brooks column.

So, to me, this all indicates that the yearning is for love, and for a very deep love.  Maybe some people hope that the sum total of the love they receive from others in response to their upright behavior will be the path to that love, while others seek it through an interior experience.  I’m going to speculate that the orientation of pursuing admirable and righteous behavior is a way, and a wonderful way, of keeping a person’s heart open during adverse circumstances.  My own experience of needing to keep my heart open was in the context of creating a family, and I knew after losing a baby, that I needed a child to nurture in order to keep from becoming angry and bitter, which I knew with a great certainty was something to avoid.  So my husband and I adopted children (which was actually something we had planned to do after having a couple through the biological process), and my heart was kept open through that (maybe also broken, but I’d prefer heartbreak to a closed heart).  When the heart is kept open, I think great things are always possible.

This leads me to my latest understanding of my old poem.  That there is, in the context of romantic love, some sort of equivalent to loving a child born to another set of parents, and that somehow I am trying to figure out how to do that, and to do it without lapsing into petty emotions like jealousy and selfishness and whatever emotion “neediness” comes out of.  If I can figure out how to locate that purer strand of love in the midst of romantic love, I think I will find the blessing in the difficulty of the situation in which I found that love, and, paradoxically, come to accept and appreciate the difficult context.

How that experience of love relates to love of the divine and to spiritual merging I am not sure, but I have this nagging and annoying suspicion that it involves learning to love myself better than I do.  I think my sense of what it meant to buy flowers might be an opening to that understanding — when I love someone deeply interpenetrated with me, I love myself, perhaps inadvertently, and that experience allows me to prime the pump and feel what self-love feels like, and from that have that kind of love grow inside of me.  I’m not sure, probably because I’m in the midst of it.  I know I try to love and help other people in a way that probably is unhealthy, that doesn’t come out of a place of strength and deep resource, and I am aware of trying to adjust what I do so that I love people and help as I can but not become drained myself.  My sense is that my struggles with this are related to my difficulties with self-love.  I think for me a huge challenge is how to love myself in the face of loss, to not let difficult outcomes that I can’t control affect my regard for myself.  And I do know that I am a work in progress (although I do have that voice that keeps asking, “Are we there yet?”  We are when I don’t hear it anymore, I think.)

In the meantime I am thankful for having great love in my life, even when I feel frustrated by its context.  I guess I hope that recognizing the blessing in that perceived difficulty, welcoming it, and developing the gift it offers me will lead to a sense of peace that may quiet the yearning, either directly or indirectly.