Fair Among the Fairest

irisrain2
what a hail and rainstorm doesn’t crush, it causes to glisten…

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
~Louise Gluck from “Wild Iris”

irisrain4Love should grow up like a wild iris in the fields,
unexpected, after a terrible storm, opening a purple
mouth to the rain, with not a thought to the future
~Susan Griffin from “Love”

irisrain
my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.
~Mary Oliver from “Blue Iris”

Thou art the Iris, fair among the fairest,
   Who, armed with golden rod
And winged with the celestial azure, bearest
   The message of some God.~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from Flower-de-Luce

irisrain3May your blooms be floriferous and in good form,
Distinctive, with good substance, flare, and airborne,
With standards and falls that endure, never torn.
May you display many buds and blooms sublime,
In graceful proportion on strong stalks each day,
Gently floating above the fans and the fray.
May you too reach toward the moon and stars,
Bloom after bloom, many seasons in the sun,
Enjoying your life, health, and each loved one,
Until your ‘living days are artfully done.
~Georgia Gudykunst  “Iris Blessing”

As If Dying

sunrise529Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

I began to write after September 11, 2001 because that day it became obvious to me I was dying, albeit more slowly than the thousands who vanished in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies.   So, nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers to others dying around me.

We are, after all, terminal patients, some of us more prepared than others to move on, as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.

Each day I get a little closer, but I write in order to feel a little more ready.  Each day I want to detach just a little bit, leaving a trace of my voice behind.  Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.
There is no time or word to waste.

At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way. It is a parcel bound in ribbons and bows; it has two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you would hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s.

One line of a poem, the poet said – only one line, but thank God for that one line – drops from the ceiling. Thornton Wilder cited this unnamed writer of sonnets: one line of a sonnet falls from the ceiling, and you tap in the others around it with a jeweler’s hammer. Nobody whispers it in your ear. It is like something you memorized once and forgot. Now it comes back and rips away your breath. You find and finger a phrase at a time; you lay it down as if with tongs, restraining your strength, and wait suspended and fierce until the next one finds you: yes, this; and yes, praise be, then this.
~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”

 

Featherless Hope

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—

…And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
~Emily Dickinson from Poem 254

The end of the school year is the season of barely feathered hope in my world.  The academic nest is crowded, the competition fierce, the future uncertain.  Those who have struggled to survive in classes, in debt, in relationships, in a tenuous job market,  can find themselves ill equipped and unprepared to fly on their own.  Their lack of feathering becomes obvious the closer they get to the edge.  Bashed and abashed, they worry and panic, sleep little, self-medicate, cry easily, contemplate death.   Sometimes they tumble.

We try to catch them before they fall.

We remind them: it takes only one feather to have hope in a soaring future of grace and strength.  Only one.

The others will come.

And when they do, they will be beautiful.
crowdedout

The Muttering of Rain

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

…he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy muttering of
drip and runoff…
~Robert Morgan from “Working in the Rain”

There has been plenty of muttering, both private and public, over the past few days.  And not all of it is from dripping and runoff into puddles.  Anytime a holiday weekend gets rained out, plenty of people mutter too.

Rain is what makes this part of the world special, but like Camelot,  most would prefer it never fall till after sundown.   To them we live not in a more congenial spot than Camelot.

I may be an oddity, somewhat typical of northwest-born natives.  I celebrate rain whenever it comes, before sundown or after sunrise, as I grew up working outside in the intimacy of a drenching shower, yet am always happy to have an excuse to stay indoors to be putterer more than mutterer.

He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.
~Robert Morgan, conclusion of “Working in the Rain”

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Slumber Interrupted

herman
my great great grandfather

an updated poem from Memorial Day 2010

Blazing sun bakes a lichen crust
atop a stone so feverish
it is hearth without fire,
reaching down deep
into soil holding a box
that knows no warmth.

Autumn windstorms rage,
lightning crack and thunder clap,
trembling the filled-hole grounds
as dying leaves spin and swirl
through arced cascade among tidy rows
till settled and spent.

Then crisp hoarfrost clings
in glittering crystalline coverlet
gracefully fallen from graying sky,
soft cotton batting fluffs
to pillow gentle slumber
uninterrupted.

When vernal raindrops quench
the thirst of dry bones
suspended between
welkin expanse
and earth’s darkest pit,

these silent stones will shout out~

still no more, reticent no longer,
waking to resonant reveille,
ready to blossom forth
in the fullness of time
and everlasting promise.

anna
my great grandmother

A Presence of Absence

photo by Gary Jarvis of Dutch Reformed Cemetery

“The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did… I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.”
Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow

Today, as always over the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing.  A handful of the living come together for lunch and then a slew of the no-longer-living, some of whom have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.

It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, an alcoholic grandfather I barely remember, my grandmother whose inherent messiness I inherited, my parents who separated for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.

It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging.  But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be.  There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and hoped-for grandchildren to ponder.

The world as it is remembers the world that was.  The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration.

All in good time.

One Mind Between Them

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They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.
~Wendell Berry “They Sit Together on the Porch”
 
And this is how it is.  Minus the pipe…
 
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