Monte Alban

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Funny things, photos. When I updated my I-Mac, and I-photo became Photo, I lost some 10,000 photos, or more. Thanks to some hard work over the weekend by one of my good friends, we re-established contact with the missing photos. Skimming through them, I found this one, my words and Clare’s  computer art. I wrote it a long time ago, sometime after 1995, when I first visited Oaxaca. This piece records a visit I made, with Hayden Leaman, another good friend and an Oaxacan savant, to Monte Alban.

Under a hot sun that weighed us down and struck us like a hammer on an anvil, we wandered around the archaeological site and met with many vendors, some of whom seemed to have genuine artefacts, while others obviously offered us fakes. I couldn’t believe how the old men first discovered and then sat in the thin lines of shade emanating from a post, an edge, or a corner, la grata sombra / the welcome shade, as they say in Spanish. This one gentleman, who told us he had walked over from Arrazola,  some six kilometres or so away, asked us for nothing, chatted with us, and proved to be a wonderful source of local information. It was a pleasure to share our water with him. He was the possessor, he assured us, of a genuine green card, and didn’t believe in illegal immigration.

The words in the picture above summarize my thoughts at the time. I asked Hayden later where he wanted to go. He looked around at the temples, the monuments, the tombs, the ball court, the observatory … “Who wants to go anywhere?” he replied. “I am happy right here.”

I visited this and other sites later with Clare. She too proved to be very adept at finding the shade and just sitting still. Look and listen carefully: you too may be able to see and feel the beauty and the silence.

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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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Light

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Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

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Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

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Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.

Change

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Change

Summer walks along the garden path,
imprinting its footprints of flowers.

Green dreams wander the wind-lisped
grass with its multitudinous tongues.

Bright birds toll the morning bells
and announce a midsummer madness.

Occupational therapy, this forced feeding:
a million beaks and bellies nurtured.

All too soon, the shortening of days,
fall’s stealthy approach, the long trip home.

The moon will then swing its winter lantern.
Orion, dog at heel, will hunt his star-frosted sky.

Crows, those eternal survivors, will take salt
and the occasional meal from icy roads.

Comment:

It’s cloudy this morning and there is a chill in the air. The rowan berries are a bright yellow-turning-rapidly-to-orange. The crab apples are little red faces peering from laden tree and branch. The whole world has a sense of imminent change. Winter is never far away and the fear of frost-on-high-ground is always upon us.

Sun Worship

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Sun Worship

Worship the sun
as it rises over the hills
from whence cometh
its golden glory.

Trees and their forest,
forces older by far
than this Christian god,
walk in darkness
until touched by the sun.

Worship the sun ropes
that tie you to your daily work,
rejoice in your bondage,
for no man kills
to glorify the sun.

Sun, my father and my mother,
sunshine that floods my spirit
and enlightens my world,
here, before sunrise,
I raise my voice in a song
praising you, and your strength,
the life you give, the death
you will one day bring.

 

 

Standing Stones

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Kingsbrae 21.4
21 June 2017

Standing Stones

Standing in a stone circle,
surrounded by standing stones,
listening to their voices.

The reverberation of their uprooted rock
remembers its birthplace,
recalls the sculptor’s toil,
the polishing of granite and grain.

I’ll never forget those other stones:
bluestones at Stonehenge,
the Bronze Age tomb in Wick,
the toros de Guisando,
the danzantes at Monte Alban,
Hengistbury’s double-ditch and wall,
stone circles in Singleton
the Gorsedd ring in Caer Dydd.

Nor will I forget the deep-voiced
song of stone, here at the solstice,
standing in the middle
of three powerful granite statues,
their energies released
at this afternoon’s unveiling.

When I closed my eyes
I opened my mind and heart
to the deep earth-soul song
strummed in tune with the sunshine.

I breathed it in, retained it,
then allowed it to shine out
through the lantern of my heart.