Winter Solstice: “…oh, the night…”

 

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.

arboretum in winter

     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.

ancient sufferingVoices, voices.  My heart, listen as only

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?

mysteryThe cloudy sky grows lighter.  I wish you peace, my friends, in your night and in your darkened day. 

Long, dark nights – brief, sunless days

A poem I wrote many years ago, re-written slightly.  Originally about Advent, it works well with Solstice, too. 

A cold dissatisfaction oozes poison into hours

of solitary boredom that once tasted summer’s warmth

and rejoiced in sensate ponderings of heaven’s languid clime.

 

Now prayers lie frozen on my lips these bitter, ashen afternoons.

 

Glossy catalogs and magazines lie orphaned at my door,

but I will not adopt their cheer

nor bed th’insouciant whoring of our winter holy days.

 

So melancholy punctuates the numbing march of time

into that darkened solstice of medieval isolation —

propelled into the farthest arc, forsaken by the sun.

 

Thus emptied into neediness, to famine and despair,

I search the yawning pitch-smeared void

and there behold a piercing Star!

 

No gaily burning candle nor twinkling hearthside glow,

this is the hard-edged hopefulness forged pure and straight of cosmic might,

arising out of nothingness toward Life’s salvific land.

 

My soul, a silent universe,

lies naked in its beam,

a prayer more fragile and profound

than any summer dream.

For warmth and life, nothing beats baking and eating tasty treats!  Steve made a Pear Rosemary quick bread the other day.  It filled the house with a savory aroma of sweetness, tartness and tangy evergreen. 

May your brief, sunless days be warmed with life, your long, dark nights with be warmed with love!

© 2014, poem and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Wilderness and the Myth of Nothing

“There’s nothing out there!  It’s a barren landscape.  Why would you want to go there?  Why should we preserve that useless place?” 

Nothing out there, eh?  Well, if that’s Nothing, it’s pretty spectacular.  It’s vast, for one thing.  Stretching in all directions, as far as the eye can see and further.  And it’s limited, encased in a single droplet from a juniper berry, sweet and pungent in my mouth, yet powerful enough to stimulate a rush from my salivary glands and wet my parched throat.  You could live on Nothing.  Many have, and left their artwork in symbols on the rocks.  Yes, they had time for Art in ‘subsistence living’.  Do you have time for Art in your life?  It is barren of some things.  There are no strip malls.  There are no straight lines.  There is a meandering curve of vegetation down there.  It’s a lot more narrow than it used to be.  The air is warming.  The climate is changing.  Fecundity is fighting the curse that foists barrenness upon it. The energy of life will not give up easily.  And that’s why I want to go there.  To learn.  We must preserve it in order to let it teach us.  We are ignorant.  We ignore the wilderness and call it Nothing.  There is a story there.  A Myth.  One day we may get wise. 

the myth of nothing

The Ojito wilderness

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

100 Thousand Poets for Change

As a core team member of The Bardo Group, I have been invited, encouraged, challenged to participate in the 100 Thousand Poets for Change event.  For more information about this event, and to be stirred and prodded in you own artistic lethargy, click here

I yearn to be a poet, an artist, a musician.  I often find a piece that seems so right, so seemingly effortless, so fitting that I think it can’t be hard to craft a work like that…it simply lays over its theme like a glove.  Not so.  Listening to music on my way to work yesterday, I heard a poet’s frustration: “I don’t know why I spend my time / Writing songs I can’t believe / With words that tear and strain to rhyme.” (Paul Simon: Kathy’s Song.)

I feel this theme of Peace and Justice coursing through my life, my thoughts, my work, my hopes, and I wonder how hard it would be to write a poem about it.  I talked to a young man half my age who has studied forensic justice and just interviewed for a position as a mentor, a parole partner, someone who will help perpetrators and victims get together and talk, face to face.  I thought it was a great idea, for both parties, for all parties.  Here’s my attempt to let that idea percolate:

Let’s Face It

Behind the veil, the dirty shroud, the black burka, the white Klan sheet,

the knit ski mask, the heavy gas mask, the transparent oxygen mask, the impenetrable death mask,

the dense fur, the redwood bark, the shiny scales, the matted feathers,

the protective shield, the official badge, the repeated slogan,

the coarse beard, the perfect make-up,

the injections, the implants,

the scars, the screen

 

There is a face, a viable being.

 

When eyes recognize

kin and skin, then peace begins.

Face to face is the starting place.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

The Weekly Photo Challenge prompt invites us to interpret the theme “Between”.  This response is dedicated to my oldest, Susan.  When she was a little girl in Kindergarten, she memorized a poem by A. A. Milne (the author of the Winnie the Pooh stories) and performed it for the K-3rd grade Speech and Oratorical Contest of her elementary school.  Here is the poem:

Before Tea by A. A. Milne

Emmeline
Has not been seen
For more than week. She slipped between
The two tall trees at the end of the green…
We all went after her. “Emmeline!”

“Emmeline,
I didn’t mean —
I only said that your hands weren’t clean.”
We went to the trees at the end of the green…
But Emmeline
Was not to be seen.

Emmeline
Came slipping between
The two tall trees at the end of the green.
We all ran up to her. “Emmeline!
Where have you been?
Where have you been?
Why, it’s more than week!” And Emmeline
Said, “Sillies, I went and saw the Queen.
She says my hands are purfickly clean!”

 

Susan did not perform this poem ‘purfickly’.  As I recall, she left rather a long pause between the second and third stanzas, perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps to indicate that some time goes by in that part.  The audience began to applaud too early.  Nevertheless, her memory was perfect, and she finished in her own time, in her little 5-year old lisp, “Thillieth…”, and I was, of course, inordinately proud of her. I still am.  I visited her this past Sunday, and we went for a stroll in the UW Madison Arboretum, where she slipped between the branches of trees — like this:

between

Poets Revving Engines

NaPoWriMo!!!  It’s SPRING and it’s POETRY and the world is a wonderful place!  I feel the excitement, the bloom of emotion, the fascination of symbol and script!  It’s romantic, pedantic, nostalgic, elegiac, existential and full of potential.  WHOOOOOT! 

Okay, with all of this enthusiasm, you’d think I was about to bust out a whole anthology of poems that I’ve just written.  Sorry to disappoint, but it’s also Spring Break month (because, really, no two school districts plan this for the same week) and things at Discovery World Museum are pretty hectic – meaning that after being indoors with 600 school children for 7 hours, my ears are ringing and my head is aching and I haven’t been in my quiet, creative place all day.  Still, I have looked up the prompt from the NaPoWriMo site and consulted the Bibliomancy Oracle.   It has led me to a wonderful poem called Parable on Fish & Fire.  Coincidentally, I made tilapia for dinner tonight, and after sitting down and offering my thanksgiving for fish, I recalled the saying by Kabir, “I laughed when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.”   We are thirsty fish, we are celebratory poets.  We celebrate the mundane, the environment of being human.  Love, life, beauty, truth, concept and experience…we make it up and tear it down.  We’re social animals with big brains, but we’re only minimally distinct from all the other carbon life forms on this planet.  Isn’t that a riot?  Sure it is.  So let’s riot…but stay a little aware. 😉

— A Poem I Wrote sometime before 1997 —

God is a poem

Infinite in meaning

Economical in expression

Clothed in symbol and harmony

A breathing Word

Engaging all perception

Writer’s Fourth Wednesday: Second Person Poetry

Victoria Slotto’s prompt post invites me to share a poem written in the second person.  She says, “It is less rare to encounter poetry in the second person. As poets, we love to address our “audience,” celebrity figures, other poets or teachers who have an influence on us, people we love (or hate), God, mythological figures, people from our past.”  I went through the book of poems that I self-published back in 1997 and found one that I like.  Back in that decade, I was extremely rooted in a Christian identity and was rather prolific in my writing to God.  These days, I do not identify myself as Christian or even theistic per se, but I still have a great sense of appreciation.  The world is an amazing place; the beauty of it often makes me weep.  My brain is accustomed to seeking a source for manifestations, but I now realize that is more about me than it is necessarily about the way Life is.  I often find myself wondering, “Who do I thank for this?” It’s more likely that there are myriad contributing factors to the conditions that arise, the harmonious conjunction attributable to all of them simultaneously without hierarchy.  So I simply say, “Thanks be,” and leave it at that.

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The Sky

 

Did I ever thank you for the sky
      spread far around like an open field
           piled high with moods and structures,
                a playground for my soul?

This space above bids my thoughts expand
      to climb the heights of an anvil-cloud
           and teeter on the edge of a dazzling glare
                or slide down the shafts of the sun,

To swim to the center of its lonely blue
      where I find no mist to hide me,
           and lie exposed to the western wind
                like a mountain braced for sunrise.

Or clad in the shroud of brooding gray,
      it coaxes me to musing
           far removed from the minutiae
                that chains me to my life.

I search for light and openness
      to shadow the bonds of earth,
            exploring the vault of heaven
                for its meaning and its truth.

Thanks for this cathedral speaking glory through its art.
Thank you for these eyes admitting You into my heart.

© 2014, words and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

My Personal Titanic

From manic to panic

to sinking, slowly,

letting go, breathing with the flow,

the end of woe,

the bliss of weightlessness,

the natural company of fish.

It’s been kind of a crazy week inside my head. Steve admitted to being a little scared of me.  It started out on a real high – Valentine’s Day.  I was full of positive energy, on my biological upswing, energetic and eager to communicate my passions, my dreams, my optimism.  I went face-to-face with Steve’s downswing and asserted my intent not to be the killjoy in his life or the cause for his anxieties. “Go ahead, follow your bliss and don’t worry about explaining it to me!  I’d rather come home to a mess in the living room and you deep into an exciting project than be greeted by restrained order and depression.”  I went face-to-face with a family issue the next day, emotionally charged and endlessly repercussive, feeling open to multiple possibilities and honestly vulnerable. My karma was kickin’, I thought.  My vibes were sure to cause some awesome progress in the near future. 

The next day was a Federal holiday, but I was at work at the museum and anticipating starting lessons with a new student directly after my shift.  Families with kids home from school opted not to venture out, however, because of a huge snowstorm in the forecast.  The staff was dismissed at 2pm because the place was so empty.  I drove 2 co-workers home in a complete white-out and was barely able to maneuver my car into the driveway through ankle-deep snow.  I decided to cancel my lesson, hoping my new client wouldn’t mind.  She never called me back.  I began to doubt my decisions. 

010

The next day, I bundled up boxes of books for shipping and headed out the door for work, running a little late in order to get the last package included.  Sitting in the driver’s seat, I noticed there was still snow crusted on the windshield wipers.  I pulled the door handle to pop out and clear them off, but nothing happened.  I thought perhaps the door was frozen.  I pushed with my shoulder.  Nothing. “I’m trapped!” I phoned Steve in the house.  He told me that he had a similar difficulty the night before when he returned from shoveling at his mom’s house. “Just roll down the window and open the door from the outside,” he suggested.  The window is frozen.  I finally squeeze my way out the passenger door into a snow pile and meet Steve in the driveway.  “When? Why? What do I do?” I’m late to work, and I don’t know if my window will thaw in time to let me collect a ticket and enter the parking garage without parking the car and climbing out the other side.  What if the gate closes on me?  And I REALLY have to pee!  I arrive at work late, flustered and cramped.  I wonder why Steve didn’t mention this door issue to help me prepare.  Is this a small fire?  Why am I feeling angry and unsettled?  We talk at dinner, and I tell him my plan to slow down, breathe and concentrate on my bliss the next day. 

My shift starts slowly, sun streaming through the windows, small family groups perusing the museum.  Suddenly, the school groups arrive.  I will be calm and proactive.  I will greet them all and give them information and safety rules and smile.  But they’re arriving one on top of another, and not listening to me!  I whirl around and lunge at a girl going head first down the ladder and drive my knee into the boards of the ship.  Ouch!  Can’t think about that now, I’m still talking to this other group…and I realize I’m talking so fast that I can’t breathe.  My chest is constricting.  Asthma? Heart attack? No, you’re still talking.  Stop talking and take a breath, you fool! 

I am panicked.  I am going way too fast.  Where is my Willy Wonka detachment? “Stop, don’t, come back…”  I am addicted to my thoughts (as Eckhardt Tolle would say), to my ego, to my responsibility, and it’s causing me to suffer.  I need to let go and get grounded once more.  My knee throbs.  I can’t walk.  I must slow down now.  I have no other option. 

I had my first lesson with another new voice student last night.  It went very well.  I rang the wrong doorbell initially; I don’t think it hurt my client’s first impression too much.  Steve and I had planned to go to Madison to take a class at the arboretum this morning, but with a “wintry mix” of snow, sleet, and rain on the roads, we decided to stay home.  Initially, this was one more disappointment in my Manic to Panic downfall, but it dawned on me that I could choose to look at it as an opportunity.  An opportunity to really slow down.  To sink.  Like the Titanic. 

It’s a very real, natural environment down here.  Nothing is “good”, “bad”, “successful” or “progressive” among the fish.  It simply is.  Things happen.  Fish eat fish, waves come and go, and any drama is simply in my head.  I meditate on plankton, sucking in and gushing out, enriched by the flow, going along.  I’m staying here for a while.  I’ll let you know when (and if) I surface.

© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Relationships: Why U R Doin’ It Wrong

Steve brought me a book we’d sold. “There are a few light pencil marks in the quiz section. Could you please erase them before we ship this out?” I glanced at the cover. Getting To “I Do”: The Secret to Doing Relationships ‘Right’ by Dr. Patricia Allen.

Oh, dear.

I breathe a sympathetic sigh. I grieve for our culture, for social creatures with neuroses fueled by the media, insecurities about whether or not we will be loved, cared for, valued, mated and saved from personal extinction. Our fears are inflamed, and then ‘experts’ step in to tell us the magic or the scientific formula that will save us. Just take a look at the Yahoo! “Dating Tips & Advice” section: How to Stop Falling for Ms./Mr. Maybe, Happiest Couples, Tips to Get the Love You Want Instead of Settling, Traits Unhappy Couples Have in Common, etc. I imagine it’s big media business. How many of these articles simply recycle the ‘statistics’ from identical studies which probably report varying results? We are in a research culture that strives to control and predict, a desperate attempt to apply a balm to those neuroses that we irritate with obsessive attention.

Let’s take a step out of that arena, shall we? Let’s take the relationship out of the Petri dish and place it back into the organic garden. How do you learn about a growing organism? Attention, observation, action and response. Over time, the bloom becomes less a ‘specimen’ than a personality. It is unique. It is dynamic. It is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It IS. And the more honest you are in your interactions with it, the more you trust it…to be itself.

And where do we find guidance in this garden of real relationships? In stories. There are billions and billions of relationship stories out there. Some are fact, some are fiction. Many of the fictions center around the magical or formulaic as well, but the ones that really inspire are the ones that are singular and sincere. They give us the hope that our own inimitable story may be just as satisfying.

delicate

I have relationship stories of my own, and they are very important to me. I have a yearning to share them, with my children and with anyone else who may be listening. Why? Because I hope that my practice of observing and appreciating the slow unfolding of a delicate bloom will spark the same in someone else, that our posture in relationships will become less that of a victim on the couch, more that of a poet in the garden.

© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved

Weekly Photo Challenge: Beginning

Winter illumination

Winter illumination

 

Weekly Photo Challenge

My New Year’s resolutions have been made and clearly stated.  First, “Stop shaming myself”.  (read my post “A Cup of Kindness” for more) Second, “Stop spending so much time playing Solitaire”.  I realize that organizing cards and Mahjong tiles is not a bad thing necessarily.  I get a certain satisfaction out of putting them all to rights or trying again until I do.  But it’s kind of an OCD thing, too, so I don’t want to get sucked into doing it when I could do something else.  Like bring chaos to order.  I’ve been researching right brain/left brain behavior a bit (I recommend Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk “My stroke of insight”), and I’ve decided that I need to exercise my right brain more.  My creativity — expansiveness, inclusion and collage-thinking.  Here’s an exercise I came up with:  take a familiar, well-known and memorized quote and mix it up.  Use the same words in a different order, add new punctuation.  Voila!  Chaos out of order poetry.  Here are a few:

“What twilight’s proudly gleaming light,

Early hailed by the dawn’s last ‘Oh’

We can see, so say at you.”

 

“The forefathers, four score and seven, conceived new, created and brought forth years ago,

dedicated in proposition to all men on this continent that a nation are equal – our Liberty.”

 

“No other shalt have me, before thou gods.”

 

“The beginning: the word, the word, the word.

God was God. And was. And was with.”

My daughter Emily tells me that Facebook provides a random generator to make something new of words you’ve posted, too.  Hers are quite poetic.  So maybe it’s not an entirely original exercise, but it’s a start.  A beginning.  A way to set off on a new adventure, to shed habit and convention and embrace the unpredictable nature of life unfolding.  Stepping off into 2014 — we can create and uncreate a new beginning.  What will chaos bring to you this year?