Friday, January 31, 2020

The Universe Responds


A  wonderful story from Alice Walker - I take the liberty of excerpting it here, and hope I won't be punished for publishing without permission. But it's so worth sharing.

The Universe Responds
by Alice Walker

A few years ago I wrote an essay called "Everything is a Human Being", which explores to some extent the Naive American view that all of creation is of one substance and therefore deserving of the same respect. In it I described the death of a snake that I caused, and wrote of my remorse.

That summer, "my" land in the country crawled with snakes. There was always the large resident snake, whom my mother named "Susie", crawling about in the area that marks the entrance to my studio. But there were also lots of others wherever we looked. A black-and-white king snake appeared underneath the shower stall in the garden. A striped red-and-black one, very pretty, appeared near the pond. It now revealed the little hole in the ground in which it lived by lying half in and half out of it as it basked in the sun. Garden snakes crawled up and down the roads and paths. One day leaving my house with a box of books in his arms, my companion literally tripped over one of these.

We spoke to all of these snakes in friendly voices. They went their way, we went ours. After about a two week bloom of snakes, we seemed to have our usual number: just Susie and a couple of her children.

A few years later, I wrote an essay about a horse called Blue. It was about how humans treat horses and other animals; how hard it is for us to see them as the suffering, fully conscious, enslaved beings they are. After reading this essay in public only once, this is what happened. A white horse came and settled herself on the land. (Her owner, a neighbor, soon came to move her.) The two horses on the ranch across the road began to run up to their fence whenever I passed, leaning over it and making what sounded like joyful noises. They had never done this before (I checked with the human beings I lived with to be sure of this), and after a few more times of greeting me as if I'd done something especially nice for them, they stopped. Now, when I pass they look at me with the same reserve they did before. But there is still a spark of recognition.

What to make of this?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I think I am telling you that the animals of the planet are in desperate peril, and that they are fully aware of this. No less than human beings are doing in all parts of the world, they also are seeking sanctuary. But I am also telling you that we are connected to them at least as intimately as we are connected to trees. Without plant life human beings could not breathe. They are the lungs of our planet. Plants produce oxygen. Without free animal life I believe we will lose increasingly the spiritual equivalent of oxygen. "Magic", intuition, sheer astonishment at the forms the Universe devises in which to express life - to express itself - will no longer be able to breathe in us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But what I'm also sharing with you is this thought: The Universe responds. What you ask of it, it gives. The military-industrial complex and its leaders and scientists have shown more faith in this reality than have those of us who do not believe in war and who want peace. They have asked the Earth for all its deadlier substances. They have been confident in their faith in hatred and war. The universe, ever responsive, the Earth, ever giving, has opened itself fully to their desires. Ironically, Black Elk (the Lakota shaman) and nuclear scientists can be viewed in much the same way: as men who prayed to the Universe for what they believed they needed and who received from it a sign reflective of their own hearts.

I remember when I used to dismiss the bumper sticker "Pray for Peace". I realize now that I did not understand it, since I also did not understand prayer; which I know now to be the active affirmation in the physical world of our inseparableness from the divine; and everything, especially the physical world, is divine.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


"Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do also unto me” - and to yourself. 
"God" answers prayers. which is another way of saying, "the Universe responds".
We are indeed the world. Only if we have reason to fear what is in our own hearts need we fear for the planet. Teach yourself peace. Pass it on."

(From: "The Universe Responds: Or, How I learned We Can Have Peace on Earth",
 Living by the Word, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, N.Y., N.Y., 1988.)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Last House on Luna Pier (again)



to stagger ashore,
free, cured of use;

simply to be, itself, a green bottle,
a message delivered,
a sailor, like me

Beloved Poems are, to me, like precious gems I keep in my memory box.  Sometimes I bring them out at need, to wear for a while, sometimes they are more like butterflies, mysterious creatures that seem to flitter across my inner landscape, messengers from the  Other Lands, asking me to remember, taste, touch............... For some reason, the words of  Frank Polite , words that  I've been hauling around in my box of literary treasures for some 45 years, did that today.

I met him at the Cafe Med in Berkeley back in 1975, and he gave me a book of poems, "Letters of Transit".   He never could have known that that little book was a friend, the poems travelling companions over the years, among my own restless "letters of transit".  "The Last House On Luna Pier" was one of those jewels in the box.  In 1989 I was at the Cummington Community, and saw that he had dedicated one of his books to them;  I wondered if the room I slept in had maybe been the room he wrote in?  All I knew of him was that he had moved to Toledo, and much later, I learned that he passed away in 2005.  I never got the chance to thank him for what he gave me...........

A decade or so ago, while on the interstate from Michigan to Toledo, I saw the turnout for Luna Pier.  It had been made  wholly mythical in my mind for decades, a misty place of silent blue herons, the wounded  and numinous presence of Frank's "Lake Goddess Erie". Did I turn off? No.......I knew that the Luna Pier Frank seeded my imagination with was something I would never want to change.

Frank's writings have been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, Poetry, The Nation, Yankee, Exquisite Corpse, The North American Review and Denver Quarterly.   His Collection Letters of Transit can be found on Amazon.   Thank you Frank.

GOOD ADVICE

1

Do not rush to be disappointed with yourself.
Rather, make a world drag you to it
behind 24 mules of irrefutable proof, and you
still digging in your heels all the way
before you say, "I'm disappointed with myself."

2

Trust only inauspicious beginnings,
the modest seed. What comes
dancing toward you tossing flowers,
soon perishes.

3

It is the weed of life
that grips the garden to your need,
that roots you deep into its soil
which is immortal.
Photograph by Brian Comeau
LUNA PIER  (8)

A sea change leans against the pier
in tumult. I know why I'm here.
Cold streams, contending with the warm
grip the rocks as never before
in my life, and hurl up salt at my door.
What drifts in now is mine, cut loose,
thrown overboard, or drowned:
a wooden spar, a beached bone, a yard
of torn sail like an indecipherable
parchment. Even a shoe drifts in, kicked
around out there God knows how long.

I listen now. I witness. I do not
touch or twist at the integrity of each
survival. It is enough to have arrived
at all, embodying sea changes;
to stagger ashore, free, cured of use;

simply to be, itself, a green bottle,
a message delivered,
a sailor, like me.

 LUNA PIER (9)
I promise a poem to a blue heron.

Every morning, for a week or so, it stood
in the marsh grasses outside  my window,
perfectly still,
one leg poised in the air
as if it were about to kneel, or dip
its quill into a blue pool,  or disappear.

I never saw it move.

And when I turned elsewhere, to poems,
or coffee, or pacing the room,
the heron would be gone.

That last morning...
solitude of the blue heron.
Black branches of trees,
a light snow falling
through eaves of Heaven. 

LANTERN

Next year I'm forty years old.
I don't know what hump I'm over.
To have made it this far, what
does that mean? Where am I?

Where have I been? Like you,
I've been places, New York, Asia,
Great fields uncut by wire
or river, mountains leaping up.

And O yes, oceans. I felt my way
deeply into each, into the mind
shafts permitted me, into
a flower (perfect on mescaline,

I laughed and wept for hours)
into the tenderness of people...
I've loved, worshipped stones,
written poems to moon and stars,

and depending on the deep and dark
of my downheartedness, I lit
a flame in my forehead like a toad,
imagining myself, at various

times, Lord of Earth, Light in
the forest, even...God.
Down the road with my lantern, I
lifted up the broken, the poor,

the ignorant, the hopeless, only
to come down to this: to be all of
them myself, at once. So what's
it all about? I don't ask anymore:

I am one with the insect and cloud.
I beg my life to lay me down at last
gently if possible, or fast, the way
a horse, plunging into darkness

kicks a stone out of its path. 


THE BLACK BUTTERFLIES

The black butterflies of night
Clipped for sleep to nightshade and widow grief,
Or in shaking luminous flight
On paired and silver wings, are rare,
And rarely seen by human sight.

Yet, they are there, surfacing
Out of range of neons and streetlights,
Preferring underleaf
And the dark offshores of air
To man and moth-maddening glare of things.
Tonight, As crisis after crisis
Cracks our skies like lightning,
I think of death,
Of different ways of dying,
And of Egypt and the myth
That once held black butterflies
Sacred to Isis.

They lived forever in flight
In her private groves, compelled like
Flickering minutes
Never to touch leaf nor stone,
Never to rest, except upon her nakedness
When she turned to love.
And here is death to be envied;
To be crushed to a personal breast
Between goddess
And whatever bird, beast, lover
Fell to her lips.
We are something else. . .

Myth and love will miss us
When the night is suddenly turned on,
Turned blank white,

And the black butterflies
Appear against that vellum sky
As far, flitting, burnt-out stars.



My face inside
my cupped hands
my fingertips 
at my hairline
like soft pods
tapping the earth.
What is alive
at such times?
The night, the

silence of thought
wrapped in itself.
My skull is
a shell tuned
to emptiness, like
Love itself
before desire
created all things.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Requiem: Art for the Sixth Extinction.............



Only in this hoarded span will love persevere.   
Whether you are pretty or not, I outlive you, I
bend down my strange face to yours 
in farewell.

Anne Sexton, "all my pretty ones"


Xerces Blue Butterfly, indigenous to Northern California.  Became extinct in 1945.  It is one of the first
American butterflies to become extinct from habitat loss caused by urban development.   



"We have been raised to think that our body ended here, with this bag of skin, or with our possessions or education or house.  Now we begin to realize that our body is the world."
Joanna Macy 



Saturday, January 18, 2020

Silent Peacocks and a Benedictine Monastery


I am at the Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David, Arizona.  It is raining, and the only sound is the gentle fall of rain on leafless trees,  droplets of water,  little shining crystals on the dark branches before my window.  And on the banister of the terrace before me are 5 peacocks and peahens, their magnificent, extravagant, impossible iridescent tails hanging over the edge.  

They are just sitting there, making no sounds.  I know that if they become aware of me they will run off, so I join them in their silence, for a moment, unmoving, aware of only peacocks, and the sound of rain.

It is strange……the Monastery is so quiet, there are not even the sounds of sparrows or ravens, no dogs or coyotes. It is also rather deserted, probably because it is winter and mid week.  The land has the familiar peace I have so often found in places of worship of all kinds, rising through the soil as one walks, an essence.  It does not matter what I "believe".....prayerful or sacred places are not about the intellect.  There is a striking statue of Saint Benedict by the cloisters; he is holding a book, and there is a raven at his feet with, apparently, a rock in his beak. ** I do not know what the raven means, but the white statue is welcoming.  I find myself watching my breath as I walk, clasping my hands behind my back.  Maybe the monks and nuns who lived here did that, and I am just picking up a memory in the land...........


It is actually no longer a Monastery, not  since 2017 when the Vatican, I assume, recalled the few monks and Father still living here.  But it is managed by a faithful group of volunteer Oblates.  They are all elderly……I wonder if they will be able to attract younger people to manage this special place? It seems a great shame to me that the monastic life  is so little understood in our frenetic and materialistic world.    


Last evening, as the sun went down, I saw the peacocks, some 15 of them, sitting on a garden fence before a huge pecan tree.  One by one I watched as the peacocks silently flew into the tree, finding their particular spots, while the others waited for his or her own “take-off”. This was clearly a daily ritual.   I was struck by how orderly this procession of the peacocks to their nightly roost took place. Peacocks……… one thinks of them as loud, stupid birds…..but here at the Monastery, where many generations of peacocks have lived freely, they are a tribe going about their business.  Just as the Monastery is devoted to silence, so they also seem to be.  They are silent, and mysterious.  And beautiful in their other worldly iridescence among the gray and brown of winter leaves.


How did I end up here?  Not entirely sure.

As I was driving without a destination a day ago, I vividly remembered a book I read called “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye”.  Harold is in his 60’s, living a conservative retired life with his wife.  They do not really speak any more, as they navigate around each other with many years of habitual co-inhabitation.  One day Harold receives a letter from someone he has not seen in over 20 years, someone who is dying and has written to let Harold know she remembers him fondly.  In his habitual numbness,  but English sense of propriety, he decides to write her a simple letter, a card that says something like “thank you for your friendship, best wishes, Harold Frye”.  Then he decides to walk to the post office to mail it himself.

Except when he gets to the post office, he decides to walk on to the next Post Office, to the north, and mail it there.  And yet, when he gets to that post office, on the outskirts of town, he still has the letter in his pocket, and he is still walking.  And so the unplanned and unannounced and even unconscious pilgrimage of Harold Frye occurs.

Perhaps I am like Harold.  I just decided I needed to get away, from the Holidays, from Facebook, from cars, away from all the noise, and the noise incessantly sounding in my own head,  right now:  but I had no idea of where to go. None. 
But I have a car, and I packed a few things.  All the way down 22nd street to the freeway, I still couldn’t decide where I was going…..west, to Phoenix, maybe Sedona? A long way, and Sedona is expensive.  Or south, to Patagonia?  Head to New Mexico, the solace of those wide open spaces…..even though it is an even longer way than Sedona?  It was only when I got to the freeway underpass that I pulled into the left lane for route 19, heading in the direction of Patagonia, which at least had a bird sanctuary and a coffee shop.  I’d see what happened from there.

As I drove I felt better.  I turned my phone off.  In Patagonia I had a coffee, discovered that the only hotel was ridiculously expensive, then thought what the heck, I’ll head to New Mexico, why not. The mood I’m in I could drive all night anyway.   The road from Patagonia to I-10 is scenic, with a snow covered mountain range in the distance.  In Saint David, a  little town on the way to Benson, I remembered there was a Benedictine Monastery. Always curious about it, I stopped, inquired about retreats, and here I am.  Ask and ye shall receive, truly.

Lately I’ve been having those winter-born (what a wonderful word, “winter borne”)…… “dark nights of the soul”……….which look, practically speaking, more like being overwhelmed, brittle, snappish, and exhausted on a daily basis and being increasingly disturbed by it. I am running a successful AIRBNB “enclave” with 8 units and a helper and a few other guests.  I have made a nice, indeed beautiful  place, and the people there, always changing, are mostly intelligent, decent people - visiting nurses, snowbirds, interns, students, etc. Yet how sweet, how precious silence is now, when your day is a staccato of people I must talk to, phones that ring, texts and emails that demand my attention. And always something I have to clean or replace, or someone I have to listen to.  As most of us,  a life of over stimulation, of too many fragmented demands on one's fragile attention.

I am glad no one notices my inner landscape of late, as I do my duty and nod pleasantly. To me, of late, everything sounds like “yap yap yap”.  There.  I said it, at least to myself.  It is like endlessly being barked at by a chihuahua.  Our world - like an entire fleet of chihuahuas. Everyday, a litany of inconsequential complaint, vented commentary, monologue for the sake of monologue, appeals for money, offers for deals, electronic voices, irritated drivers……exhausting. And, as I am an empath, all the human pain in there too, all the human pain I can’t help, increasingly am too frayed to hear.

I hope no one who lives at my property reads this last comment.  But, the fact is, no one who lives with me, encounters me day in and day out, would read anything I write anyway.  And although the property I have developed is a sculpture garden and painting gallery, it is a rare guest indeed who actually seems to notice the art. Why should they?  They are renting a room.  And yet…..how ego inflating it once was to me to see how very incurious people are of their environments.  

Certainly, if any of my guests do notice, they rarely comment.  People don’t think about art by and large, unless it is in a museum or a gallery.  Or now, I suppose, on Instagram.  Instant art!  For myself, I have come to believe art is a language, albeit an archaic language, one has to be educated in, like learning to speak  Latin. Certainly, it requires what our lives increasingly lack......contemplation. Without that introduction, artworks are just a backdrop that ‘specialists’ understand, dismissed as irrelevant.  Or a colorful passing tidbit to consume like a candy.

People do not see that a painting is a conversation, a window into another world……in this case, my world.  For me, the works have numinous names and places in the landscape of my life.   The bodies of work on my property are the best of me, my personal shrines and devotions, and now I just want to protect them from the infidels, so to speak.  If they don’t see it, it is safe, and those visionary depths the paintings and sculptures arose from are also underground.  

But……I don’t really think this is healthy on my part.  All artists secretly want to share.

How did I end up being so invisible, being someone who cleans, washes, makes sure the thermostat hasn’t been changed or the window left open, must remember daily to examine the garbage can or the traps in the bathroom sink, often must act as a tour guide or an occasional concierge? I used to enjoy it, but now I go to bed with a bottle of wine every night.   My few friends are all as “busy” as me, busy with the demands, mostly, of economic survival.

And I suppose the punchline of this writing is that it is time to change things.  Amazing how we can fail to see the obvious.  

Why do I feel ungrateful, shamed, for saying that I am unhappy? I should be content.  With an income at 70, a self employed job, when so many others face poverty in their old age, I am fortunate. Yet here, in a monastery where hundreds came to seek God........I think it doesn’t matter whether I am “right” or “wrong” in my discontent. This refuge  is about transcending the “shoulds” for a day.   I am willing to sit on a bench, and  listen to the melancholy, winter borne voice of Saturn.

I crave what I am given in this very moment.  A contemplative life.  Time and simplicity to turn to the well of Bridgit,  and the  bottomless reservoir of art that calls, like Undine from the depths of the sea, whenever I am granted solitude. It does not matter what I “think” I should do once I rejoin the noise and distractions of my life.  How I think I should adjust myself, learn to shield, be more grateful, be more compassionate, like myself better, take yoga,  lose weight, volunteer, and so on and so on…….my soul, for lack of a better word, is speaking. 

“When we are living in accord with our inner reality while simultaneously suffering the depredations of this discordant, dis-eased world, we nonetheless have supportive energy, clarifying affects, and a sense of purpose.  When we get off track, these same manifestations turn against us.  While the world rushes to pharmacology to numb the inner discord, the question remaining is simply and obviously this:  What does the soul want, as opposed to our protective but regressive complexes?  This simple question is intimidating because such an agenda can very quickly lead to the larger rather than the smaller in our lives, necessarily re-framing our sense of what our life journey is about.” 
James Hollis Phd.  “Living an Examined Life”

It is time to stop, to seek the necessary nourishment arising from quietude, to find my center again.  I feel blessed to have stumbled into refuge for a few days, to be with   Silence, and the great iridescent beauty that sits on a fence,  or walks before me in the world, waiting to be noticed.  

Dec. 2019



**I learn later that the Raven was a friend of Saint Benedict who helped him by removing bread that had been poisoned by a jealous rival.  http://communio.stblogs.org/index.php/2011/07/saint-benedict-and-his-friend/

POST SCRIPT

Two days after I posted this, I found this earring by the trash can in front of my house.  It looks a great deal like a peacock feather to me!   I have no idea where it came from,  but I will take it as a bit of Angelic guidance and affirmation: