Friday, April 30, 2010
Do you remember him? Or her? That one single teacher who in one brief moment looked you straight in the heart and recognized the center of your being?
Kaylin Haught in “God Says Yes to Me” writes about the Royal YES. Yet there is something about the human yes that is so solid, so physical, so real it almost feels as one of those seeds you buy in small, paper packets.
The resulting flowers have names like Confidence, Courage, Determination.
One of those seeds was planted in me the first year of university. I was young and had yet to understand the concept of education. Learning, I thought, was all about remembering and repeating the words of others. I had no idea discovering your own was its main concern.
My philosophy tutor was a dark, handsome American who insisted on calling me Crete. My name has little to do with the Greek Island, but I was too shy to object. Also I was too shy to believe I had a voice that mattered.
Week after week the American would look at me with sad, brown eyes, and plead, “But what do YOU think, Crete, what is YOUR opinion?” I was unsure as to what he meant, uncertain what he wanted. For what had MY opinion to do with it? Was I not here to learn my Plato and Socrates?
Then came the last day of term. My paper was all about art. About the necessity of art. About how we create, and how our creation in turn creates us. About how the two mirror each other.
We were five students in our tutorial, all crammed into the professor’s small office. Having slumped down on our chairs, we were quiet, waiting for the verdict. One by one the papers were handed out by the American, accompanied with a small remark. When he turned to me, there was a smile in his eyes. Yes, he exclaimed, Yes, Yes, YESSS!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
When I walked through the park this morning, I asked God, if it was okay I treat the giant subject of YES and NO. She answered me as she did Kaylin Haught in her poem God Says Yes to Me (see below).
I continued. Is it okay I admit to my mind being a battleground sometimes, the YESs and the NOs lined up on each side of the combat zone, ready for action? She answered me, honey (she calls me that sometimes), you can do exactly what you want to.
Thanks God, I said. Though I wasn’t sure she would be pleased with what I had to say.
For here’s the thing, I am a warmonger. Or rather, I am a field of conflict. I line my YESs and NOs on each side, and wait. At times the soldiers look like tiny, tin figures, clothed in historic uniforms with bright red jackets and tall, silly hats. That’s when I stand by the sidelines and giggle.
But there are times when the YESs and the NOs are dressed up for modern warfare. They resemble something from outer space, their bulky, camouflaged uniforms bejeweled by automatic weapons and bulletproof vests. These soldiers mean business.
When I see them, I duck for cover. Till I slowly raise one arm, V my two fingers and plead with a small, meek voice: Peace! Please!
I asked God, if it was time to be the diplomat and listen to what both parties had to say. She nodded.
So I called for the NO team to step forward.
A tall man with a sleek suit and shiny black shoes appeared. He said - I’m here to protect you. I am your body guard and your border patrol. Remember the time you didn’t want to attend that meeting? Do you recall when you didn’t want to do that job? Do you recognize all those times I have stopped incoming thoughts of fear and suspicion? Have you noticed how I intervene when you think you have to, but you don’t want to?
I bowed my head and said Thank You!
The YES team had equally good arguments.
I am your sun (no less!), she said, a woman dressed in a silky red shirt and skirt and shoes with small, sparkly diamonds. I am the one who bought your tickets to England first time you went, I am the one who opened your arms and your womb (she’s not shy, this girl!), I let you stay at home when the boys were small, I urged you to travel to France last month, I gave you permission to blog.
I said, I’m sorry YES, I had no idea.
For actually, I had confused the YES with the NO!
I had thought it was “YES, you are a lazy bastard” that had prevented me from doing that job. I had imagined it was “NO, you are certainly no superwoman” that had made me stay at home with the boys.
I asked God if she thinks I am a bit confused at times. She said yes. I said, do you think I possibly might get it right? Sweetcakes, she said, who knows where she picked that up, what I’m telling you is yes, yes, yes.
God Says Yes to Me - Kaylin Haught
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don't paragraph
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I'm telling you is
Yes Yes Yes
Friday, April 23, 2010
Today was the day I stopped writing in the middle of a sentence to ask myself - whatever am I doing? Trying to write about poems is like being the mouse next to the elephant - my writing hand is so very, very small, my legs so incredibly short.
Yet I remind myself that this is not so much about the poem itself, which has its own giant feet to stand on. This is more about the experience of eating it, word by word, sentence by sentence. This is about chewing it, tasting it, sensing it slide down my throat. This is about letting the poem enter my bloodstream, feel how pumps round and round, nourishing my cells.
And when Sharon Olds’ My Son the Man enters my world this is what happens. I laugh. I cry. I am reminded of a cuddly little bundle of soft flesh tossed up in the air, and then caught again. I remember the boy who followed me wherever I went, even into the loo.
Then he grew taller, more bony. Until one day he walks next to me in the park, thin, but with broad shoulders and inquisitive eyes. It is the era of nine-eleven, of a proclaimed good world and a bad world, of axis of evil. People are distressed, depressed, the papers are full of it, they never give us a moment to rest.
“I’m off to Damascus”, he says.
Then there is no more talk of it. For one week. Three. I hope the idea will float away, like a cloud in the sky.
“....This was not what I had in mind when he pressed up through me like a
sealed trunk through the ice of the Hudson,
snapped the padlock, unsnaked the chains,
and appeared in my arms.....”
Did I ever imagine he would counter my wishes? (Hah!)
Did I ever realize he would open the door, to shut it firmly behind him? (Hah!)
Did I ever think there was a world out there, that I would never be part of? (Hah! Hah!)
“........Now he looks at me
the way Houdini studied a box
to learn the way out, then smiled and let himself be manacled.”
When the tickets are bought, he looks at me. And smiles.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I am reading Sharon Olds’ My Son the Man while walking the paths of the morning.
Sweet motherhood. I could write about it for weeks. For months. Years. It could, in fact, be the script of my life.
Yet I would miss the heart of the matter did I not realize the subtle twists of mothering. To mother my child also implies the child be me.
It seems no time since I helped Alex into his play suit, placed him in the pram, and walked towards “Mathilde”, the huge, toy adventure ship in the far corner of the park. On our way we would pass the statues: men and women and children with skin of granite and bronze, expressing inner worlds in outer bodies; Eros, The Monolith, The Wheel of life. Clustered in groups or bordering the bridge were the old and the young, engaged in love and lust, calm and conflict, wrestling themselves and others, turning, twisting, toiling.
In the middle of the bridge is the Boy, the famous little Angry Boy, frozen in an eternal cry, hands clenched, feet stamping.
Alex was familiar with the Boy. We would stop sometimes, pat his bronze fists, or stroke his cold, metal toes. We would talk to him, ask what was the matter. And when at home, the Boy was there to greet us from a poster on Alex’ bedroom wall.
Why had I brought the statue home? Was it to teach Alex something further about the art and esthetics of the park? Was it for the recognition, as in “Look, Alex, the Boy on the bridge!”?
Or was it to give him that permission to protest, to stamp his feet, to insist, persist, not to give in, give up, to express rather than keep inside all that wild and eager energy?
Or was it my own permission I was seeking, my own longing for a license to let go?
Monday, April 19, 2010
Sharon Olds in her poem My Son the Man is facing the inevitable. Being a mother is not just seeing a son grow up. It is also to accept his growth sideways, his breaking free from she who gave life.
no time since I would help him put on his sleeper,
guide his calves into the gold interior,
zip him up and toss him up and
catch his weight.......”
As mothers we give birth. We nurse. With our bodies, hearts and minds we delve into the pool of parenthood. We stay by that water, faithfully, drinking it, swimming it, or merely touching it with our hands. Sometimes when drinking, we choke. Sometimes when swimming, the easy and elegant breast stroke is no more than the survivor’s splashing of arms and legs.
Then one day the very center of this activity is gone. What was once the soft, the fleshy, the cuddly small body, is now the tall, the wide, the bony. The boy has become The man.
I can see him, how has grown. Evolved. Where I once had to bend down and kiss the top of his scalp, I now have to tip toe to reach his cheek.
Then I look into that mirror. The girl - have I noticed how she has grown?
Friday, April 16, 2010
What is to waste a life?
James Wright has a suggestion:
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year's horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
That last line. It hurts.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Embraced by spring, literally.
Over my head a V-shaped (and noisy!) colony of birds arriving from southern shores to spend the summer in Norway. Beneath my feet crocuses forcing their blue petals through layers of brown leaves. Down the ravine water gushing, splashing, spluttering, all that snow from the forest melting faster than the river can handle, flooding the valley where I now walk and shout with an exceptionally silent voice:
STOP ALL THE CLOCKS!
Let not anything disturb this precious second! I am having a James Wright moment, as when the poet was Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota -
“Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.”
To my right a carpet of blue Scilla Siberia, to my left a sparrow cocking his head, watching me from a safe distance.
For a short while my body is only eyes.
Till a treacherous, black creature on my left shoulder whispers into my ear....but it cannot last....
My heart slows down. I know he is right. Soon the budding petals will lose their bright blue color, and the birds will fly back south.
But for now I decide to drop the black creature into the pool of spring, and watch him probe his way out.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Okay - here’s the thing. I walk the morning to exercise my body and mind. I don’t expect divine intervention. But should my spirit be moved, I would, of course, have the absolute experience.
Today, as the slant sun made giant shadows of my moving body, I memorized the final lines of Billy Collins’ Introduction to Poetry:
“I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with a rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.”
I thought - Dear, dear Billy, I need meaning to enjoy!
As I have told the Author Above time after time. Meaning, I say, is necessary. Meaning is my navigational star, my compass. The beginning and the end.
Simultaneously my dear son’s words echo in my inner ear: You don’t need to understand the insides of a computer to make a word file. You don’t have to be a software designer to send a mail.
So. Billy, as William, as the Author Above are all trying to teach me the same lesson - to relax. To accept. Understanding pistons and spark plugs is definitely not a prerequisite to operate a car. Or enjoy the beauty of a passing scenery.
Now - I don’t normally pick up things from the street.
Let me first tell you that I always keep a neatly folded A-4 paper and a pencil in my pocket, for notes.
And there, right in front of me, on the pavement, is a folded A-4 paper, suspiciously similar to one of mine. I immediately feel blood rushing - Did I drop it while out walking yesterday? Has anyone seen it? Read it? My notes are as private as my journal. Or words to a trusted friend.
So I bend down. Pick up the piece. Reluctantly. With my gloves on. Though the paper is pristine and white. Not even a heel impression, or the mark of a dirt paw.
I unfold the note, study the back and the front, baffled. The paper is not mine. It is not filled with illegible scribbles shaped by the hand of a moving body. Instead there are three words in the top left corner. Printed. Yes. The Very Words. And only those.
For a few seconds I just stand there, wanting to tie the moment to a chair and beat a confession out of it. I want to know what it really means.
Then I decide to exercise my spirit. I waterski across the surface of the incident. “Nice touch!” I say, waving at the Author on the shores of the vast seas Above.
(Ps. I know the story sounds constructed. Made up. Forced. Yet I’m telling the truth. I have no means to convince you. And photos can lie, I know.)
Friday, April 9, 2010
If life is a poem, then this line from Billy Collins Introduction to Poetry is a day, a year, two years, three, in this life -
“or walk inside the poem’s room
to feel the walls for a light switch.”
Katrina Kenison opens her book, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, with a quote by John Tarrant: “Every step in the dark turns out, in the end, to have been on course after all.”
This, surely, is a gift to all. Not just to us who worry.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
This morning stepping out of bed, I noticed my joints were stiff and almost sticky. As I bent down to tie my walking shoe laces, my spine ached and cracked.
No, my physique is very well, thank you. What I’m talking about is the mental skeleton. Or more accurate, the muscles of the mind.
Walking is not just an exercise to get my physical pulse going. For lack of better words, I am training to improve that all important stamina of the soul. Or heart. Or whatever she is called, that conductor of my mental orchestra.
So when I closed the door behind me this morning, I held a poem in my hand, As I do every morning. I recite words with the same rhythm as I move my feet, hoping my hearts will expand (yes, the plural: body and soul) With a steady (inner!) voice and good intentions I move. When I am out of breath, I slow down.
Billy Collins in his Introduction to Poetry, asks his students to “take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide, or press an ear against its hive.” He says
“....drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out”
So that’s what I did. I slowed down to drop a mouse into that very poem.
I kept repeating the sentence again and again, to watch the mouse probe his way out. The idea got more and more absurd as I walked along, a mouse dropped into a pool of poetry! I imagined the little creature picked up by two giant fingers and then dropped just-like-that into a small lake. Water splashed everywhere. The mouse kicked and screamed, arms and legs and tail in one gigantic chaos. Till eventually he relaxed and realized the environment was friendly. That’s when the rhythm of his strokes changed from frantic doggy-paddle into front crawl.
But the absurdity did not stop here. For suddenly I myself was in the picture, I was that mouse, my feet kicking as I was picked up by two gigantic fingers. For a while I was in the air, dangling. Till I was dropped from a great height into the Grand Poem of Life. The water splashed when I hit water.
As I tried to familiarize myself with the surroundings, I said to myself - is this world basically friendly - or do I need to kick and fight for my life? Are my worries worth worrying about, or are my mental muscles stiff a result of bad habits?
I tried to relax, to change my stride, to slide along, making each stroke last longer. I wanted to see if my body would float.
And far away, on that distant shore, I caught sight of something gigantic. In a comforting moment, I imagined it was the Creator of all Poems, watching me as I probed my way out.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Introducing Billy Collins yesterday was really a way into his Introduction to Poetry. In this poem Collins asks his students to
“...take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide”
When reading these lines I thought of all the color slides of the world, stacked into boxes and drawers and cellars and attics. I imagined mankind’s complete collection of family albums, Himalayas of binders, one on top of the other. I pictured each person’s computer files, hard disks, DVDs. We click click to save moments, click click to freeze time, click click to extract the essence of what we see. Or want to see.
Collins’ call to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide could be reversed. Take one of those color slides and hold it up to the light. Is there a poem here?
But what about all those moments when the camera is left in the bag? What about the moments when sunny skies and cheeeese smiles are sobs, clouds and drizzle?
Is every second of life camera-worthy? If not, why? Is there no beauty in the leftovers, the discarded, the moments I’d rather forget? And is beauty really the right word?
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Let me introduce Billy Collins.
The first poem I read by "America's most popular poet" (so called by the New York Times) was Tuesday, June 4th, 1991 (from The Art of Drowning). How could I not fall in love with this poet, this
"......secretary to the morning whose only
responsibility is to take down its bright, airy dictation
until it’s time to go to lunch......"
Collins writes about any ordinary day as if it’s special, unique, extraordinary! Which of course it is. For - can any moment, anyTHING, be called by the slightly soul-less word ordinary?
"If I look up, I see out the window the white stars
of clematis climbing a ladder of strings, a woodpile,
a stack of faded bricks, a small green garden of herbs,
things you would expect to find outside a window,
all written down now and placed in the setting
of a stanza as unalterably as they are seated
in their chairs in the ontological rooms of the world.
Yes, this is the kind of job I could succeed in,
an unpaid but contented amanuensis whose hands
are two birds fluttering on the lettered keys,
When viewed from a small distance, the habitual seems so totally out-of-the-ordinary. Or is it when I stand in the very middle and immerse my complete being in the NOW that I see every single second as the only one of its kind?
Sitting here, in my black swivel chair, feet elevated on a pile of old dictionaries, the fridge humming in the background, my tummy rumbling from lack of lunch, I see that this moment will never return, however ordinary it seems right now. It is early April, an overcast and sun-less
that would quickly be forgotten were it not for my
writing these few things down as I sit here empty-headed
at the typewriter with a cup of coffee, light and sweet."
What is life if not a continuous string of special seconds?
I started this post with the intention of presenting Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins. The poem was in my hand while out walking, I was trying to memorize the first lines.
Sitting on my sofa an hour later, gold nib scratching across paper, trying to find something to say, I got all involved with different words.
To Live a Poem certainly reminds me to Live the Moment.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Can you write about poetry without questioning the form itself? Can you talk about poetry without stirring a barrel full of opinions, emotions, prejudices, passions?
Even today, when asking myself about poetry, there is a faint, feeble echo of a no, noo, nooo,.... At the same time I can hear my own vocal cords singing YES, YES, YES with a loud, clear voice.
I avoided the poetry assignments at school. There was something about the word “poetry analysis” that put me off. It seemed like an enormous task, like doing the dishes, or solving a mathematical riddle.
Then one day, when school was just a memory, a poem came knocking on my door. It was not one of those poems that shakes the earth with revolutionary truths about man and spirit and heaven and hell. This was a poem that wiped her feet before entering, a poem that demanded nothing of me, other than I noticed she was there.
Did William Carlos Williams write this poem on one of his prescription pads? I have no idea. Other than it worked as a wonder cure for me and my apprehension about poetry.
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Appropriate words for this day of Easter is Mary Oliver's conclusive lines of The Journey:
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.
The first time I heard the in-flight safety announcements with a baby in my arms, I was not just startled, I was upset, agitated, stunned! “In case the cabin pressure changes, panels above your heads will open, revealing oxygen masks. Be sure to secure your own mask before helping others, including your children.” What? Securing myself before my child?
According to tiger mom instincts, the order of priority is totally contrary. I would rather die than......hmmm....wait a minute....If I’m dead from oxygen deficiency, who’s then to.....
You get the picture. As I did. Eventually.
Mary Oliver’s words carry a message not obvious at first glance. Save yourself might seem harsh and selfish. Yet, is there any other way? Does not Gandhi point towards the same when he urges us to be the very change we want to see in the world?
Then there are the biblical words of Paul - “Love other people as well as you do yourself.” The stress surely is on the latter part of the sentence - for can you really love your neighbor if you have no heart for yourself?
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Just back from a week in England’s green and pleasant land, Mary Oliver’s The Journey is still with me:
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
The year is nineteen seventy four, winter is but scattered patches of snow on wet, brown grass. I am leaning out of a classroom window, breathing the air of spring. And freedom. For school is coming to an end, and so are years of compulsory education, of doing the expected. Suddenly I am the one to decide what to do with the rest of my life.
Or am I? What exactly is for me to decide, and what is this me anyway? What is my own voice and what are the echoes of parents, teachers, peers, culture, tradition?
“What are your plans, then?”
A friend is standing next to me, our school day is dedicated to our future.
“I just need to cross a border,” I say, “I need to go somewhere completely different.”
I had no idea what I meant, there was just this undefined longing.
Five months later I am in another classroom, in green and pleasant England. Upon my arrival, I felt the country had opened its arms to greet me. As if I had come back to a place that was mine from the very start.
As if the country had a voice of its own. A voice that spoke into my ear. And my heart. A voice that lead me to recognize my own. Though only slowly. Slowly.