Dawn

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Dawn

I turn over in bed. The light on my neighbor’s garage has come on. It is triggered by movement and I get out of bed to see if the deer are back and crossing his yard. But no, it is not the deer, it is the paper-man, up early to deliver the news. He turns in the yard at the bottom of the street and his headlights flood my room with light as he drives up the road.

6:20 am. I go back to bed. The moon is a thin silver arc. It climbs out from its hillside bed and leaves the forest to scale the early morning sky. Today, the sun will rise at 7:49 am. Until then, this silver sky fish will follow Venus and Mars as they march across my window. On clear mornings I watch them as they move from frame to frame. A double window, with 24 panes of glass in four groups of six panes each. I lie in bed and count them in those sleepless hours before I feel the need to rise. I start with groups of 3 going 3-6-9-12-15-18-21-24. Then I go back down again 24-21-18-15-12-9-6-3.

I think of my father counting the dots on the wall as the sun moved slowly across the walls of his house in Rhiwbina. Then I too play games with the window panes, counting them one by one, then two by two, then three by three, then four by four. It is, I suppose, the magic of counting sheep. First, you count their legs, and then you divide by four. Venus and Mars grow brighter as the sky lightens a little bit more. The moon changes from a clouded orange to a shining silver. I play a new game, counting the window panes in Spanish, then French, and finally in my “use it lose it, long-abandoned” Welsh. I am no longer sure of the order of the numbers, so, when I hit a road bump, instead of stopping, I follow the language pattern and invent.

Dawn: what a funny time, what a funny word, so many funny meanings “and suddenly, it dawned upon me”. Here the dawn walks uphill towards me. It slowly fills the sky with light. The planets shine, then moon and planets disappears as, at 8:09, that first ruddy ray splits the darkness and lands rosy-red upon my bedroom wall. The planet’s dance has ended. The flirtatious moon has come and gone. Time now to end all games and to wash and dress and face reality. February 1: it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Venus, Mars and moon dance through my mind, moving to a different tune.

Take These Chains

 

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The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

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In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

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Wise old bird

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Wise old bird

What do you say when you have nothing to say?

The owl he was a wise old bird,
the more he spoke, the less he heard,
the more he heard, the less he spoke, :
there never was such a wise old bloke.

I look out of the window and watch the snow accumulate. We have set out seed for the chickadees and errant wild birds who fly in and out and and never think about us. So cold, these days, even colder these nights. We have it a fire and keep it burning. We hope it will ward off the frost demons who wait outside our windows, grinding their icy teeth.

Yesterday, in the middle of the storm, the crows descended and danced upon our snow. Snow dance, crow dance, a ‘we don’t really want to know’ dance.

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Do they survive on the crusts we bestow upon them when the crusts grow stale? I really don’t know. Cold weather charity. Christmas charity. A turkey at every table, once a year, and three hundred and sixty days without enough food to eat … my conscience: can it be as clean as the white, crisp snow when I go three hundred and sixty days without thinking about those in need until prompted to do so by a radio show?

I look out at the falling snow. My iceberg garden is a fresh blank page on which I can write whatever I want to write. Right now I have nothing to say. My interior crow has lost his tongue and can neither twitter nor tweet. He is lost within the white wilderness that fills his interior mind. My crow, he is a wise old bird … I think he will think about his next tweet …

 

 

 

 

Heart Dance

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Heart Dance: This is what the heart does when you have a good friend around for lunch and you spend an hour or two discussing art, creativity, meaning, change, artistic development, moving on, changing one’s style, and welcoming and creating new artistic visions. Heart Dance is about possibilities, about opening things up, seeing the interior self more clearly, watering the creative soul and encouraging it to grow outwards until it fills the whole person.

Heart Dance moments happen at different stages in the artistic life. They are urgent moments, impulsive moments, moments when you can suddenly hear the music of the spheres and see the universe dancing for you, before you, and with you. They are magic moments when the heart becomes one with the universe and heart and soul join mind and body in a universal heart dance where the dancers are one and the dance is not just for one, but for all sentient and creative beings who can hear the music and feel the rhythms pounding through arteries and veins.

The dull, grey, concrete life of the nine to five desk-bound existence fades away to be replaced by a flowerbed of activity, full of light and sound and color and music. Usually, this happens to the individual in the privacy of his or her own mind. Occasionally, we can share the event with a friend who is going through the same, or a similar, change at the same time. A unique experience to feel and witness the music with another person and to be bound into the circle of dancers, treading where other artists, great and small, famous and less important, have all danced before.

We talked of the joys of visiting great museums and of staying in one room, before one painting, and of spending the day there. This I did with El Greco’s El entierro del Conde Orgaz / The burial of Count Orgaz, with Picasso’s Guernica when it was housed in the Mesón de Guernica, with Hieronymus Bosch’s The Hay Wain, with Velásquez’s Las meninas, and with Goya’s Desastres de la Guerra, not one picture, but a series of etchings taken in, day by day, over a period of a magical month spent in Madrid.

In poetry it happens when I return to poems that I love. I read and re-read them, again and again, finding new nuances, new meanings, new depths. I think of the anonymous Poema de Mio Cid, of Góngora’s Polifemo, of Quevedo’s Canta sola a Lisi and his Heráclito cristiano, of Octavio Paz’s Piedra de sol, of Lorca’s Romancero gitano and his Poeta en Nueva York … the wonderful original poems of Fray Luis de León and of St. John of the Cross … and this is just scratching the surface of an exterior world that I have interiorized until it has indeed become a part of me.

Heart Dance: my heart dances and sunshine floods my soul as I write these words, words and thoughts that I have just shared with a good friend, as he shared similar words with me and we joined together in a heart dance during which the sun shone brightly and the whole creative universe sang and danced with us.

Guelaguetza

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Guelaguetza
Oaxaca, Mexico

Brass bands, marimbas, violin strings
stretched over turtle shell, conch,
mad march of goat-skinned men,
fierce-gazed, horned and ready,
mirror dance, sun sparking
flint flakes from glass buttons
highlighting feathered flounces
lifting to fancy’s flights …

… beggars hold out chronic hands,
snotty-nosed children baited to hook
your heart from your body,
your money from your purse,
pleading lips, desperate brown eyes
primed to conquer the conquistadors
that still stalk, haughty, the square
where tiny women dance
with angels and devils …

… a backstreet now, an alley,
three men in masks,
one with a gun,
two with knives,
probing for the tourist’s
wallet …

Friday Fiction: Clematis

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Clematis

The clematis unfolds its flowers: bruised purple on the porch. Beneath the black and white hammers of ivory keys, old wounds crack open. A flight of feathered notes: this dead heart sacrificed on the lawn. I wash fresh stains from my fingers with the garden hose while the evening stretches out a shadow hand to squeeze my heart like an orange in its skin. Somewhere, the white throat sparrow trills its guillotine of vertical notes. I flap my hands in the air and they float like butterflies, amputated in sunlight’s net. The light fails fast. I hold up shorn stumps of flowers for the night wind to heal and a chickadee chants an afterlife built of spring branches.

Pressed between the pages of my waking dreams: a lingering scent; the death of last year’s delphiniums; the tall tree toppled in the yard; a crab apple flower; a shard of grass as sharp as glass, as brittle as a bitter, furred tongue at winter’s end.

I know for certain that a dog fox hunts for my heart. Vicious as a vixen, the dog fox digs deep at midnight, unearthing the dried peas I shifted from bowl to bowl to count the hours as I lay sick in bed. I sense a whimper at the window, the scratch of a paw. I watch a dead leaf settle down in a broken corner and it fills me with sudden silence. Midnight stretches out a long, thin hand and clasps dream-treasures in its tight-clenched fist.

The lone dove of my heart flaps in its trap of barren bone and my world is as small as a pea in a shrunken pod. Or is it a dried and blackened walnut in its wrinkled shell of overheating air? Sunset, last night, was a star-shell failing to fire. Swallows flew their evensong higher and higher, striving for that one last breath lapped from the dying lisp of day. Its last blush rode red on the clouds for no more than a second’s lustrous afterglow.

I lower defunct delphiniums, body after body, into their shallow graves. Night’s shadows weave illusions from earth’s old bones. Rock becomes putty, malleable in the  moonlight. Midnight readjusts her nocturnal robes and pulls bright stars from a top hat of darkness. Winged insects with human faces dance step by step with circling planets and clutter the owl’s path. Night swallows the swallows and creates more stars. The thin moon hones its cutting edge into an ice-cold blade.