White-EyesBY MARY OLIVERIn winterall the singing is inthe tops of the treeswhere the wind-birdwith its white eyesshoves and pushesamong the branches.Like any of ushe wants to go to sleep,but he’s restless—he has an idea,and slowly it unfoldsfrom under his beating wingsas long as he stays awake.But his big, round music, after all,is too breathy to last…
Back in 1997, I self-published a book of poetry called The King’s Gift: Poems and Parables. It contained this one that I titled “Change”:
In autumn, the trees start to sing once again
of the bittersweet mystery of change.
Is it beauty or pain
now attached to my soul?
Is it grief…
In the scarlet and gold,
the blood-red of life’s hold on my heart
and the warmth of its love
mingles memories and years
into afternoon tears
…to the ground.
I feel this way every fall. The change in light makes everything seem altered and thrown back into the past — until my eyes adjust and my brain catches up. Then the brilliance of the season kicks in. I really love Fall for its ability to draw out a range of emotion and hold it, fully aware and unashamed, in its transient environment.
Text and photographs © 2016, Priscilla Galasso. Poetry © 1997, Priscilla Galasso. All rights reserved.
This post was written for The Be Zine which is dedicating its April issue to International Poetry Month. As a Contributing Editor, I am honored to be able to join with truly accomplished poets in celebrating Poetry, but I am well aware that my skills do not match those of my colleagues! Treat yourself to some truly substantial fare by visiting the magazine here.
My favorite poetry is philosophy dressed in dreaming, not logic. It imagines a larger reality, a more expansive love. Rilke is the gold standard, I think. Oh, but that is the pièce de résistance, and there’s so much more besides that. I am a poem consumer, not a gourmet chef. I know very little of form or craft, but I love to taste and participate. So I’ve written a love poem to my late husband because, well, you might as well start with breakfast.
Thick, boyish lashes fringe
Other eyes, perhaps as blue,
Open, tender toward Beloved
Still smiling youths may offer
Eager grins, warm confidence
Gleaming ‘neath soft whiskered lips
Clear voices might ring
Thrilling, gentle as yours when
You sang at daybreak just for me
Surely now first loves make vows,
Grow mature together, devotion’s
Friendly joy becoming solid strength
Fathers must bend heart and arm
Wrap manhood’s grace boldly around
Each golden, blessed child – like you
No doubt live sorrowing pairs
With looming loss, still holding,
Fingers trembling, to brave last words
I cannot boast an only, greatest grief;
I know this storied world is vast.
But still I weep in fond belief
That you and I loved first and last.
When I was a little girl, my father read to me from E.B. White’s story “The Trumpet of the Swan”. I was 8 years old when that book was published, and I can imagine my father buying it to read to me and my 3 older sisters with his own great curiosity about that remarkable writer neatly disguised as paternal generosity. I had a fascination with the part where the young swan stays at the Ritz Carlton in Boston and eats watercress sandwiches provided by room service, probably in part because I was born in Massachusetts. We had moved to the Midwest when I was 4 years old. When I was 14, we moved to California. When I was 29 and had 4 kids of my own, I moved back to Illinois. Five years ago, I moved up to Wisconsin. In the north woods, and the edge of designated Wilderness, I saw my first wild swans in the half light of evening as I was setting up camp with Steve. I thought of Louis the swan and of finding your true wild voice. I heard the deep silence of that Place and felt the tender understanding of my father, who loved the outdoors. I stood on the soft, summer pine forest floor and took these pictures. To me, the world is poetry – in moment and memory.
This piece is featured in this month’s issue of the BeZine. For a link to the complete issue, click here.
The hero’s journey is a deeply challenging topic for an amateur writer and philosopher. What a great invitation to read and research, to tie strands together and squint to see a pattern! Typically, I submit essays to this forum, as I am much more comfortable in prose. This time, however, I decided that an essay on this topic would be way too ambitious. What I have is Swiss cheese and spiderwebs, full of holes and only loosely connected, so I thought a poem would be more appropriate. However, I will preface this one with a bibliography. I began with the final chapter of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, where I read this:
“Today all of these mysteries [“the great pantomime of the sacred moon-king, the sacred sun-king, the hieratic, planetary state, and the symbolic festivals of the world-regulating spheres”] have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche. The notion of a cosmic law, which all existence serves and to which man himself must bend, has long since passed through the preliminary mystical stages represented in the old astrology, and is now simply accepted in mechanical terms as a matter of course. The descent of the Occidental science from the the heavens to the earth (from 17th century astronomy to 19th century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in 20th century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the force of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.” (emphasis mine)
That reading led me to recall lectures I heard from Dave Foreman at the Wilderness 50 conference. His essay on “The Anthropocene and Ozymandius” can be found in several online posts. From there, I considered Nietzsche’s Übermensch from Also Sprach Zarathustra. And always underlying my thoughts is my admiration for Buddhist practice and The Middle Way. So, with all that as the primordial soup, this emerged:
Homo sapiens sapiens
Oh most separate, separating
The Egoid egotist
Ozymandius, great Wizard of Man
Eyes on screen
Journey who will
That Über undertaking
Condescend to transcend
Dare to die in darkness,
Awake in wilderness
At one, atoned
In mystic Middle
Begs a humbler hero
© 2015 – poem, essay and photograph, copyright Priscilla Galasso. All rights reserved.
What color is humility? What color is Pope Francis? What color is poverty? What color is racial injustice? What color is responsibility? What color is Noam Chomsky? What color is Bernie Sanders? What color is exploitation? What color is extinction? What color is cowardice? What color is love? What color is peace? What color is Thich Nhat Hahn? What color is health? What color is despair? What color is the sky? What color is Earth? What color am I?
100 Thousand Poets for Change event link HERE.
Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hahn
Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.
Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.
Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.
Print on Earth your love and happiness. On the land, on the water, for yourselves, for your children. Peace is the walk.
In praise unceremonious
birds sing to greet the morning.
In liberty they make their voices heard.
Each separate tune a secret speech upon Creation’s ear,
an intimate awakening of love. What expression can I give you
to welcome your affection,
to place myself within your waiting arms?
The murmur of my scattered dreams,
the sigh of lonely longing,
a wish for lasting closeness on my lips.
Hear in my stuttering, open heart,
Oh, lover and companion,
the grateful, private music of the dawn.
Happy Earth Day (one day late) and Happy Poetry Month! I am also happy to report that I am now employed in my first environmental job – as the office manager for the Cedar Lakes Conservation Foundation. I feel very fortunate to be able to use my time and energy toward preserving habitat, safe-guarding watersheds from pollution, and halting development and building in Washington County, Wisconsin. It was Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson who founded Earth Day 45 years ago; the natural beauty of this state has been an inspiration to a number of prominent environmentalists: Aldo Leopold, John Muir and Sigurd Olson, to name just a few. I celebrate the spirit of the land and the people who love it, and I invite you to join in! Write me a comment and let me know how you spent Earth Day!
“All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.” Pink Floyd (my very first impulse; it’s always a song)
The wailing wall, the Berlin wall, the Great Wall of China…so many iconic walls. What about the wall we put up when our privacy is threatened or when our emotions are about to bubble over, and we don’t want to seem vulnerable? Walls and boundaries, according to Steve, are useful at times, but he hopes they are all only temporary. His goal is to be open, always. (You can probably guess he’s a pretty confident person. Me? I like to have somewhere safe to hide.) Fences and walls in poetry: Robert Frost “Mending Wall” (‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’ – yeah, like Steve) and D. H. Lawrence “Snake” (the snake comes out of an earth-wall into his water trough and…well, read the poem. It’s good.) My wall of photos, or my photos of Wall:
Whew! So many walls…gotta go out and walk in open space now. It’s almost Spring – I may even leave my parka behind!
Yesterday, I lost the sun at 4 p.m. I arose this morning at 6:30 a.m. It is still dark. There is no snow on the ground, but the air hovers at the freezing point. I wish I were in New Mexico still, where the stars are so close. Steve read me a poem yesterday, and I’ve been trying to digest it ever since. There are so many heavy, rich ideas in it: angelic terror, love and death. And then there are sensual images I recognize immediately and viscerally, like this one: “…the night, when the wind full of outer space gnaws at our faces…” It made me think of exiting my tent in New Mexico, turning my face upward, and beholding the heavens. The translation I’m working with is by A. Poulin, Jr. It is quite long. Take it in doses. Meditate on parts that speak directly to you. Search for your own vibration in the Void.
Rainer Marie Rilke — The First Elegy from Duino Elegies:
And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic
orders? Even if one of them suddenly held me
to his heart, I’d vanish in his overwhelming
presence. Because beauty’s nothing
but the start of terror we can hardly bear,
and we adore it because of the serene scorn
it could kill us with. Every angel’s terrifying.
So I control myself and choke back the lure
of my dark cry. Ah, who can we turn to,
then? Neither angels nor men,
and the animals already know by instinct
we’re not comfortably at home
in our translated world. Maybe what’s left
for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at
day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,
and the perverse affection of a habit
that liked us so much it never let go.
And the night, oh the night when the wind
full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for,
gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely
heart — she’d stay on for anyone. Is she easier on lovers?
But they use each other to hide their fate.
You still don’t understand? Throw the emptiness in
your arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birds
will feel the air thinning as they fly deeper into themselves.
Yes. Springs needed you. Many stars
waited for you to see them. A wave
that had broken long ago swelled toward you,
or when you walked by an open window, a violin
gave itself. All that was your charge.
But could you live up to it? Weren’t you always
distracted by hope, as if all this promised
you a lover? (Where would you have hidden her,
with all those strange and heavy thoughts
flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)
When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;
their famous passions still aren’t immortal enough.
You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,
could love you so much more than those you loved.
Begin again. Try out your impotent praise again;
think about the hero who lives on: even his fall
was only an excuse for another life, a final birth.
But exhausted nature draws all lovers back
into herself, as if there weren’t the energy
to create them twice. Have you remembered
Gaspara Stampa well enough? From that greater love’s
example, any girl deserted by her lover
can believe: “If only I could be like her!”
Shouldn’t our ancient suffering be more
fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed
us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:
as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum
becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.
saints have listened: until some colossal
sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,
they listened so intently that, impossible
creatures, they kept on kneeling. Not that you could
endure the voice of God! But listen to the breathing,
the endless news growing out of silence,
rustling toward you from those who died young.
Whenever you entered a church in Rome or Naples,
didn’t their fate always softly speak to you?
Or an inscription raised itself to reach you,
like that tablet in Santa Maria Formosa recently.
What do they want from me? That I gently wipe away
the look of suffered injustice sometimes
hindering the pure motion of spirits a little.
It’s true, it’s strange not living on earth
anymore, not using customs you hardly learned,
not giving the meaning of a human future
to roses and other things that promise so much;
no longer being what you used to be
in hands that were always anxious,
throwing out even your own name like a broken toy.
It’s strange not to wish your wishes anymore. Strange
to see the old relationships now loosely fluttering
in space. And it’s hard being dead and straining
to make up for it until you can begin to feel
a trace of eternity. But the living are wrong
to make distinctions that are too absolute.
Angels (they say) often can’t tell whether
they move among the living or the dead.
The eternal torrent hurls all ages through
both realms forever and drowns out their voices in both.
At last, those who left too soon don’t need us anymore;
we’re weaned from the things of this earth as gently
as we outgrow our mother’s breast. But we, who need
such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress
so often is our sadness — could we exist without them?
Is the story meaningless, how once during the lament for Linos,
the first daring music pierced the barren numbness,
and in that stunned space, suddenly abandoned
by an almost godlike youth, the Void first felt
that vibration which charms and comforts and helps us now?