"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Staying Alive, Temporarily


“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things
and still be calm in your heart.”

~ Anonymous ~

No one seems to know who said those words,
but they remind me of something that
Walt Whitman says in Leaves of Grass:
"Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter’d this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while."
from "The Song of the Open Road," #9 (112)

In very simple terms:
"A ship in the harbor is safe,
but that is not what ships are made for."

~ John Augustus Shedd ~

Or as succintly, existentially expressed
by poet David Wagoner in one of
my all - time favorite poems:
"This is called staying alive. It's temporary."

Staying Alive
Staying alive in the woods is a matter of calming down
At first and deciding whether to wait for rescue,
Trusting to others,
Or simply to start walking and walking in one direction
Till you come out--or something happens to stop you.
By far the safer choice
Is to settle down where you are, and try to make a living
Off the land, camping near water, away from shadows.
Eat no white berries;
Spit out all bitterness. Shooting at anything
Means hiking further and further every day
To hunt survivors;
It may be best to learn what you have to learn without a gun,
Not killing but watching birds and animals go
In and out of shelter
At will. Following their example, build for a whole season:
Facing across the wind in your lean-to,
You may feel wilder,
But nothing, not even you, will have to stay in hiding.
If you have no matches, a stick and a fire-bow
Will keep you warmer,
Or the crystal of your watch, filled with water, held up to the sun
Will do the same in time. In case of snow
Drifting toward winter,

Don't try to stay awake through the night, afraid of freezing--
The bottom of your mind knows all about zero;
It will turn you over
And shake you till you waken. If you have trouble sleeping
Even in the best of weather, jumping to follow
With eyes strained to their corners
The unidentifiable noises of the night and feeling
Bears and packs of wolves nuzzling your elbow,
Remember the trappers
Who treated them indifferently and were left alone.
If you hurt yourself, no one will comfort you
Or take your temperature,
So stumbling, wading, and climbing are as dangerous as flying.
But if you decide, at last, you must break through
In spite of all danger,
Think of yourself by time and not by distance, counting
Wherever you're going by how long it takes you;
No other measure
Will bring you safe to nightfall. Follow no streams: they run
Under the ground or fall into wilder country.
Remember the stars
And moss when your mind runs to circles. If it should rain
Or the fog should roll the horizon in around you,
Hold still for hours
Or days if you must, or weeks, for seeing is believing
In the wilderness. And if you find a pathway,
Wheel-rut, or fence-wire,
Retrace it left or right: someone knew where he was going
Once upon a time, and you can follow
Hopefully, somewhere,
Just in case. There may even come, on some uncanny evening,
A time when you're warm and dry, well fed, not thirsty,
Uninjured, without fear,
When nothing, either good or bad, is happening.
This is called staying alive. It's temporary.

What occurs after
Is doubtful. You must always be ready for something to come bursting
Through the far edge of a clearing, running toward you,
Grinning from ear to ear
And hoarse with welcome. Or something crossing and hovering
Overhead, as light as air, like a break in the sky,
Wondering what you are.
Here you are face to face with the problem of recognition.
Having no time to make smoke, too much to say,
You should have a mirror
With a tiny hole in the back for better aiming, for reflecting
Whatever disaster you can think of, to show
The way you suffer.
These body signals have universal meaning: If you are lying
Flat on your back with arms outstretched behind you,
You say you require
Emergency treatment; if you are standing erect and holding
Arms horizontal, you mean you are not ready;
If you hold them over
Your head, you want to be picked up. Three of anything
Is a sign of distress. Afterward, if you see
No ropes, no ladders,
No maps or messages falling, no searchlights or trails blazing,
Then, chances are, you should be prepared to burrow
Deep for a deep winter.

David Wagoner, profound American poet (b 1926)

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, March 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Heart of Hearts

Someone's Front Door ~ San Francisco
photo taken by wandering tourist on March 6, 2014

"The human heart is vast enough
to contain all the world."

~ Joseph Conrad ~

“Each friend represents a world in us,
a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

~ Anaïs Nin ~
The Diary of Anaïs Nin
Vol. 1: 1931-1934

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone!


Thanks for all the Worlds!

My multi-talented friend Tammy Sandel mentioned something recently that I knew would make the perfect blog post for Valentine's Day. She told the story of her son Austin asking her, "Mom, why are we always talking about our heart? How can your heart feel anyway?"

His questions brought to mind a couple of Tammy's own poems, filled with visceral images of pumping, bleeding hearts at work. In the first poem, the vivid -- i.e., filled with life! -- motif of red thread, red note and red word connects the reader to the poet's creative energy. The opening lines run like this [emphasis added]:
Red Note*
A blood red thread runs through the chapters of my life, stitching them together, feeding the future from the past like an artery.
Some of my chapter titles are the names of men. Of boys. Of my boys. Of animal friends. Some are titled with women's names, those women who invited me into the intimacy of birthing their child.
And some chapters are simply Moments. . . .

Zoom Hover Reverse.**
(tlks 12/12/14)
Alternate realities put me in the center of a Venn diagram. The intersecting circles pen me in with iridescent wings.
Living labile demands strength. Trying to notice and feel and say every thing to every one you love? Zoom.
Wishing, dreaming, imagining is exhilarating. And time consuming. Hover.
Second guessing, guilt, and regrets exhaust. Reverse.
Do you see that I feed you with the meat of my racing heart?
It's the only way I know how to be. . . .
Tammy, thanks for sharing your poems!

[*See "Comments" below for the complete text of both poems]

The conversation between Tammy and her son continued with an exploration of mystery, and how older cultures attributed emotion to other organs. Then they spent a day substituting the word liver for heart. For example, "I feel it in my liver." "He's got great liver." " I love you with all my liver."

Ever ready with a sly joke or an unexpected pun, Tammy provided an excellent literary connection, observing that "Maya Angelou said:

'Life loves the liver of it.' "

And Gerry, my clever husband, contributed: "Well I was born in Liverpool, need I say more?"

I was reminded of those good old gutsy expressions of disgust that capture some of the emotions we feel in our gut. For example:
1. When something is so annoying that
it really "sticks in my craw."


2. When something is so distateful that
I feel my gorge rise."
Another charming connection that came to mind was the time back in Philadelphia when Ben and Sam (around ages 10 & 7 at the time) were playing out on our side street with some neighborkids, and one little girl named Daisy took an accidental blow to the tummy. She got the wind knocked out of her but didn't really have the medical knowledge to explain her pain. Instead, she came running up to me and Gerry and said, "I think my heart just got broken." To this day, we still repeat little Daisy's phrase whenever we can't quite figure out where the hurt is coming from!

As a closing artistic connection, how about this lovely Valentine that I received from my wise and wonderful friend Nancy T. I like the way that the pink landscape, if you glance just right, resembles an organic human heart, rather than two trees and a clump of floral earth! Do you see it?

Words, painting, and calligraphy
by Renee Locks
, 1997


Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, February 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading