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Snake Meadow

Snake Meadow

After the horrible news of yesterday’s school shootings we have been mourning the losses and feel numb. Today The Chalice newsletter of the Unitarian Church of Barnstable arrived – the church we just joined last week — and Reverend Kristen Harper included the opening stanza from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson to introduce her paragraph about mourning losses during the year. Unfortunately it is very apt today.

Threnody by Ralph Waldo Emerson

THE SOUTH-WIND brings
Life, sunshine, and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire;
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost, he cannot restore;
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.

I mourn all the little darlings who shall not return because their lives were cut short. I will look for them in the hills and valleys, when walking through a meadow I will remember and mourn. I will see them in the sunrise and sunset and along the beaches we walk on old Cape Cod. I will cherish my children and the children I meet in my travels all the more. I will be patient with them all and with my self. I will look for them as I look for Walt Whitman who wrote in Leaves of Grass:

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.

I hope the sweet martyred babies will wait for us until we have the wisdom to see them again.

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Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about The Song of Wandering Aengus by W.B. Yeats. In fact I’ve been thinking I should try to do what the poem describes – to the degree possible – and see what happens. Or maybe just go into the woods and recite the poem six or sixty times. What do you think? And do you love this poem? And can you tell me why? Is it a hold over from childhood or a foreshadowing of death? Any ideas?

Here it is.
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The Song of Wandering Aengus

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
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Do you love it? Or is it strange to you. What do you think?

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Woods like riprap

I’ve been reading Gary Synder’s poetry for while now. I saw him at the Acton-Boxborough high school when he accepted the Robert Creeley poetry award last year. He was fine — a unassuming poetry master reading from his work of the years.  I like his approach to poetry and the more I read the more I like it. It is visceral and direct, unpretentious and as natural as a rock.

For example, this is the first poem in his collection Riprap:

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

I can’t comment on this but will instead quote Mr. Synder himself:
“There are poets who claim that their poems are made to show the world through the prism of language. Their project is worthy. There is also the work of seeing the world without any prism of language, and to bring that seeing into language. The latter has been the direction of most Chinese and Japanese poetry.

In some of my riprap poems, then, I did try for surface simplicity set with unsettling depths.”

And succeeded, I think.

Then the last time I was in Seattle, my daughter, a recent creative writing Master, took me to a little book store — Pilot Books — that specializes in poetry. I bought Ezra Pound’s gem of a book,” ABC of Reading.” I just strated reading it and come to find this:

“The Egyptians finally used abbreviated pictures to represent sounds, but the Chinese still use abbreviated pictures AS pictures, that is to say, Chinese ideogram does not try to be the picture of a sound, or to be a written sign recalling a sound, but it is still the picture of a thing; of a thing in a given position or relation, or of a combination of things. It means the thing or the action or situation, or quality germane to the several things that it pictures.”

Gary writes in the 50th Anniversary edition of  Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems that Ezra Pound introduced him to Chinese poetry. And a whole lot more I suspect. It will be great fun and throughly enjoyable to find more connections between these two as I continue to read them both.


Dylan and Band in Boston 2009

Dylan and Band in Boston 2009

I like Mr Tambourine Man. Its poetic and mystical. I never tire of it. Probably makes me an old fart to some people but I think these lines will be read in English classes 100 years from now. What do you think?

These lines are great lines:

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Sounds like Rumi to me.

Here’s the whole thing:

Mr Tambourine by Bob Dylan

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.
Though I know that evenin’s empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship
My senses have been stripped, my hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin’
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Though you might hear laughin’, spinnin’ swingin’ madly across the sun
It’s not aimed at anyone, it’s just escapin’ on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin’
And if you hear vague traces of skippin’ reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it’s just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn’t pay it any mind, it’s just a shadow you’re
Seein’ that he’s chasing.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.


The song and dance man in action!

The scene from 36 rows back

Aurora and I ventured into Boston on last Sunday to see and hear Bob Dylan at the Wang center. The show was very enjoyable and the band was perfect. Bob’s raspy voice was sometimes too far gone but on other numbers it was clear and I imagine easy to understand. I say imagine because the band with its ramped up bass was often overpowering. Brilliant — but too damn loud!! (Ok so I’m an old guy.)

Bob wasn’t kidding back in the sixties when he described himself as a song and dance man. (When asked ‘do you consider yourself a poet?’ he answered — ‘no, more of a song and dance man’) He was like a low keyed minstrel on Sunday with arm gestures  and foot kicks included. The lighting kept changing and so did the colors on the stage — very often they had a nice south western tone.

Listen to this  bootlegged uTube entry. I love the intro’s combination of honesty and hero worship.

Sounds pretty good and the bass that was so over powering in person is almost non-existent. (A little more would be better, actually.)

After Boston, Bob moved right on to NY where Dion opened for him. Here’s the New York Post review:

Dylan’s Delightful!

Sounds like another great show. We wonder why the man keeps going. He told Sixty Minutes a few years ago that he had made a pact with God — needed to stay on the road to fulfill it. I take him at his word — no irony there. He channels the life force as much as anyone who has ever been a pop culture icon and as much as many prophets. As Langston Hughes told us years ago — “Listen!”

(We enjoyed walking around the city before and after the concert. It was a warm night for November and just perfect for a city walk. Here’s a photo I took — I’m getting my street photography mojo working again — I think this is my favorite way of photography.)

Boston at night

Nice semi decisive moment -- don't cha think?


In 1963 Martin Luther King had a dream at the other end of the mall in Washington.  Now it seems that his dream has come true.Obama was judged by the content of his character, not by the color of his skin. Right here in America.

At the same March on Washington, Bob Dylan sung of the future as well. Listen to “When the Ship Comes In” and see if you agree that it has. The UTube video of Dylan singing the song is no longer available — but here is an excellent cover by Roy Buckley via zonkalbert — http://www.youtube.com/user/zonkalbert. Roy says he just sings for fun but — anyway its fun for us too.

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boston-at-night

Studs Turkel died at 96 recently. Larry Galizio – http://www.blueoregon.com/— is quoted in the Globe today saying: “It is perhaps ironic that we lost Studs when a faux-populist figure such as “Joe-the Plumber” is cynically trotted out to represent the salt-of-the-earth America. For Studs Terkel’s work was largely about interviewing ‘average people’ and mining their extraordinary experiences during times of great triumph and tragedy.”

Very well said.

On the same page in the Globe is an article entitled “A poem for Election Day” written by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Most of the article is Walt Whitman’s poem Election Day, November 1884. Whitman makes the point that to him the election process is America’s most powerful and spectacular show — greater than all our natural wonders.

Here is the poem:

A Poem for Election Day

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and
show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara–nor you, ye limitless prairies–nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite–nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic
geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones–nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes–nor
Mississippi’s stream:
–This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name–the still
small voice vibrating–America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen–the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d–sea-board and inland–
Texas to Maine–the Prairie States–Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West–the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling–(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the
peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity–welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
–Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify–while the heart
pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.


Turkel and Whitman typify what makes us American. But so do Donald Trump and J.P. Morgan.

Today we get to choose between two extremes, I think. Some say the two are much closer than that. But in this election I think not. I think we are really getting a choice. Our nation needs to recapture the soul that Whitman and Turkel reflected so well. I hope and pray that we do.

Vote, vote, vote!!! Be part of our most spectacular show!


Corn Field in Snow

Corn Field in the Prospect Hill Conservation Land, first week in December 2007

I raise my pelvis to God
so that it may know the truth of how
flowers smash through the long winter.
(Anne Sexton (1928-1974), U.S. poet. “The Fierceness of Female.”)

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Over and over, year after year, the flowers need to smash through. This spring it might be a little more difficult. We have had and are still having an old-fashioned New England winter. It snowed last night on March 28th, a week into spring, and then turned to rain. I went out to take photos to record the event before the precipitation stopped. But now low and behold, it’s snowing again, coming down pretty good.
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Cider Mill In snow
The Trail to Cider Mill Conservation Land on March 28th, 2008
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Of course before we had spring and winter snow we had fall snow in early December. Anyone thinking of moving south?
Along the Trail 12-4-08
Boulders Along the Trail – First Week of December, 2007

Brooklyn Bridge

A bridge tower complete with the wrapped wire cables invented by John Roebling

Hart Crane wrote the best tribute to the world’s greatest bridge that I know of:

To Brooklyn Bridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty–

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,–
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

I read somewhere years ago that Crane wrote this while living, unbeknownst to Hart, in the same apartment wherein Washington Roebling, chief bridge engineer and son of John, the designer of the bridge, lived out his final, painful days suffering from the bends that struck him while he dived under water to check pilings progress. Suffering there he watched the crew continue work on what was becoming the largest suspension bridge in the world and the tallest structure in New York at that time. Finally Washington Roebling watched as Grover Cleveland, Chester Arthur and many of the Citizens of New York opened the longest suspension bridge in the world. The bridge opened in 1883.

Washington’s father, John died from tetanus in 1869, two years after starting work on the bridge, after sustaining an injury that crushed his toes on one foot.

Last weekend I walked across the bridge and back with my daughter Robin. She was visiting Brooklyn to accompany her boy friend to a crossword puzzle conference and had some time to spend with me. It was a pleasure to be with her — so bright and smart, beautiful and uplifting — like the day we shared.

We had a wonderful day. In fact my weekend was one to remember. Friday I took the train to Manhattan and then the subway to Brooklyn. I felt capable and proud to navigate Penn Station at 6 pm on a Friday – my old New York instincts kicked in and I had a good trip reading on the train and people watching the whole time (an old hobby).

On Friday evening, after checking into the Comfort In Brooklyn Bridge (it actually in South Brooklyn) I took a cab to the Williamsburg section and had dinner at the Like the Spice gallery – Marisa Sage’s fine art gallery, appropriately located on Roebling street. (http://likethespice.com/) I met some great folks there and enjoyed a wonderful meal catered by Scottadito Osteria Toscana, an Italian restaurant in Park Slope on Union Street, described as ‘rustic, traditional Italian.’ Can’t say anything about the atmosphere, but the food on Friday was superb – fresh, natural without that over spiced restaurant taste and after taste (they use natural and organic ingredients when ever possible).

The two artists currently featured at the gallery spoke: Rachel Beach and Nora Hertling. Both were elegant and articulate describing their excellent and intriguing work without pretense in a way that I found engrossing. I learned something about the aesthetics  for a fine artist. The work is so particular — its about a small detail in life — not big questions or observations but small ones honed to perfection. Lovely people and lovely pieces!

The hospitality provided by Marisa, her father (who was a delight to talk to) and the other guests put me at ease and provided the cushion needed for a most fine evening!

But spending the day with Robin was the real highlight of the weekend. We took in the promenade in Brooklyn Heights overlooking downtown Manhattan and the bridge. We visited The River Café (one of the best) and Robin made reservations for Sunday night (don’t know if she had dinner there – a jacket is required Sunday evenings and Jim did not have one with – question was – Macy’s or no).

Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building from the promenade

Next we started across the bridge. Now the weather forecast was for snow and or rain. So we thought the Brooklyn Museum would be a better bet. But once we started out it was clear that it was clear – and bright, sunny with a gusty wind that ‘made our hearts a dancer.’

Empire from Brooklun Bridge

The Empire State Building from the Brooklyn Bridge

Wedding couple, colorful photographer, cyclists sweeping over, crews of friends photographing each other, gulls winging and the city stretched out before us and all the while the bridge reminded us that New York is a fine old city ans seaport (being on the bridge is like being on a sailing ship).

Colorful PhotographerWedding Couple

Some folks enjoying the bridge as we passed by (no that’s not Robin)

On the promenade we were reminded of 9/11 and the missing towers. But the bridge beckoned with promises that what made New York and Brooklyn special was still alive. The bridge, the Woolworth Building and the entire sweeping vista represented a New York in its heyday so our hearts were uplifted.

Somehow this was like a homecoming for me. To be with a beloved daughter in the city of my birth (was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1943) on a beautiful pre-spring day did make my heart a dancer. It’s a weekend I’ll long remember.

Thank you daughter. Thank you bridge. May you both enjoy many years of life and love.

(Then on Sunday, Aurora and I joined the First Parish Church of Westford Massachusetts in a ceremony that touched us both. This was a bridge crossing of another kind, one that I will write about later on, making the weekend one of trips and crossings from start to finish. For me this joining includes become a Unitarian or at least moving in that direction. I don’t know exactly where this will lead but the trip so far has been a delight…..(many thanks to Reverend Cindy and all the new friends we have made at First Parish Church United.)


Gates

“The Gates” by Cristo in New York’s Central Park

Baha’ullah, like many religious leaders claimed to be infallible. What he meant by this is subject to debate but most people believe it means he could not make mistakes. Sen McGill, noted Baha’i scholar, wrote this about infallibility in an email to me:

“When a man has new ideas, you have to follow him when he defines his own terms. What did “evolution” mean before Darwin got hold of it?”

I told him that I struggle to understand what is new in Baha’i re: infallibility. The Christ of the gospels said something similar — “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father save through me” or words to that effect. And of course the Catholic church has had infallible Popes guiding their religion for centuries.

Darwin spent his life collecting, synthesizing, and explaining evolution which is based on evidence. Baha’ullah’s concept of infallibility uses a well known word to express something which Sen claims is quite different from the accepted definition. The notion of infallibility has been used for centuries to control people. If Bahai has a new concept of infallibility it once again got lost in translation.

In the same email discussion, Sen wrote this:

“Prophecy, in the biblical and Baha’i sense, is not about predicting
the future, but about pronouncing the will and judgment of God. A
really successful prophet is a failure at forecasting, because he
warns people where they are heading and gets them to change their
ways, in time.”

I wrote:

Sorry but I disagree. Prophecy is about many things. Predicting when the return will occur, when the next manifestation will show up, when the Most Great Peace will happen. Sometimes its a warning as in the old testament, sometimes its about predicting the future. The calamity that Bahaullah predicted is certainly of the kind you refer to. But this has given the Faith a cult like ethos when Bahaullah intended no such thing.

In the Iqan (The Book of Certitude) Baha’ullah writes at length about the return of the prophet and the return of the people who renounce him. He tells us to ponder why this keeps occurring. I have done so and have concluded that the religions of the Abraham and his successors while an important part of our history are inherently flawed. The once a millennium appearance of a messenger from God who speaks in metaphor and congers up beings that don’t exist and miracles that never happened leaves us to fend for ourselves while trying to find answers in scripture when we should be working out solutions for ourselves.

Scripture is no more true than poetry and poetry is often quite true. But with poetry we need to pick out the good and true from the bad and false. With scripture we are told its all true and then we spend our energies trying to see how that can possibly be.

Religion is often calcified truth. What we need now (and always needed I think) is the ability to draw on all available sources of inspiration, love and power to help us solve problems in the here and now.

Religion is one of those sources but heaven help you if its your only one!

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