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…
This week’s challenge reminds me of that old joke, “Why are there no restaurants on the moon?”
So, what’s my ambience? or ambiance? (seems there are two acceptable spellings). It’s Wisconsin. It’s January. The light is distant, southerly, and often behind clouds.
The mood is stark and immediate, like survival, but it brings a certain excitement to the senses. We are alert, light on our feet.
There’s a certain pride in the folks who are out and about in this weather. They are hardy and happy, eager and resilient.
There’s something in the silence of snow – in the wide, white spaces – that brings out a solitude from which we derive a certain strength.
If I want to see the magic of a winter wonderland, I have only to step outside my door. No need to represent it inside my home. No need for a “holiday tree” when you have a holiday ecosystem! I only wish I had a fireplace…
I’m grateful for the world as it is. It may seem harsh, but it is home. Chickadees and sparrows and cardinals and juncos are at the feeder. Deer lie under the trees at night and walk away during the day. Somehow, they live on in the darkness, in the cold, without complaining.
I have a lot to learn.
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?
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!
Half full, half empty. Worn and washed up on the beach.
“Land Ho!” “Pass me the glass! No, not that one, the telescope!”
Through a glass, darkly. Nose to the pane. The ceiling. Don’t throw stones.
Cool and transparent, insulating, sparkly…glass is all around. I look through it all day long, even when I’m outside and have for years. I remember leaving the optometrist’s showroom with my first pair of glasses on. I looked up to the foothills and saw leaves on the trees up there. Suddenly, there was depth and contrast in the distance. It was a miracle. The first time I looked through a microscope was a miracle, too. I imagine indigenous people finding obsidian and cutting their fingers on it, rejoicing. What stuff!
I feel my life getting dull. I’ve been working hard at the book-selling business, rather repetitively. I need to wake up to the scintillating delight of life. This is a perfect visual reminder!
Thank you, blog followers, for counting the days with me and considering the many gifts that we receive in life.
May we be filled with gratitude;
may our gratitude transform our spirits;
may all beings be happy.
From icy Milwaukee, I wish you peace!
And to close, I simply must share my favorite Flash Mob scene of all time, from the 1970 movie musical “Scrooge”. I cry happy tears every time I see it and find myself dancing and singing along. Please click on this link and Enjoy! I was 8 years old when my father took me to see it in a theater. When we emerged, a beautiful light snow was falling on the Chicago streets. Years later, my youngest daughter was cast in a production of this delightful (and musically superb!) show, and Jim and I helped prepare the chorus in rehearsal. I also got to conduct the band from the orchestra pit for every show, and it was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had. Imagine me waving my arms enthusiastically, caught up in the joy of “Thank You Very Much”. Thank you all for supporting my blogging efforts over the years. Your company is a great privilege!
Home. A weighty concept in some ways, but also tending toward the sentimental. It can connote fortification, shelter….and yet, homey can be quaint and trivial. We invent and reinvent our relationship to home throughout our lives. A place to go to, a place to run from, a place without, a place within. Maybe the truth about ‘home’ is that it is changing and fluid. That’s what I want to illustrate.
This photo was taken out of my bedroom window, from within the warm nest where I find safety, comfort, and respite. And yet, the window is transparent. It doesn’t completely shield me from the cold visually, nor does it keep me from feeling it (it’s an old drafty house, not well insulated at all!). It lets me come face to face with the physical realities of frost and even pulls me beyond the immediate perimeter of my house, across the street, up into the trees, and all the way out of the Earth’s atmosphere to the Moon. And still, this is all my home, too. The Universe is where I live. Home is near as well as far. And why should I not feel safety and belonging in all of the world’s manifestations? Cold and death and distance and infinity do not annihilate me, nor do they exalt me. They are familiar and comforting, too. I do not control my home as I do not control the weather…I live in it. And life is bigger than most of us imagine.
For another picture of home, mundane and temporal but nevertheless real and interesting, my last post was about our home business, Scholar and Poet Books. Please click here and take a look!