Poetry in Perilous Times (3)

We have not had very much precipitation in the mountains this winter.  We’ve had three big storms that deposited a lot of snow in the city proper and on the mountain.  However, it was quickly washed away with rain at the lower elevations.  February brought idyllic spring-like weather.  While we enjoyed it, we also felt some trepidation.  The summer and fall of 2018 were frightening to us living in this highly forested area.  Fires sprung up in every direction around us.  We were told to be packed and ready to evacuate…but where to, we wondered.  Some of us stashed non-perishable food staples in the car, packed a suitcase, a tent, sleeping bag, bottled water, clothing, important papers, etc.

The smoky skies extended throughout the summer months starting in early July through October.  It was an intense panorama of smoke-filled days and nights.  We wore masks when we ventured out.  Typically, summer is a time to appreciate the lakes and hiking trails, to walk briskly, climb, swim and breathe deeply the fresh mountain air.  Not then.  Honestly, there is a certain dread of the coming summer.  Without a winter of sufficient rain and snow, we pray for our own safety and that of our forests and forest creatures.

I wrote this poem in September of 2018…

When the not-so-far ridges have been obscured
by smoke for months…
When your mind is clouded with confusing thoughts…
When what you once perceived proves to be false
or limiting…
When you sip your morning
cup of tea and place one foot
in front of the other
and say yes to this new day,
you have learned faith.

The smoke hangs on the ridge waiting for
directions from the wind.
The firefighters are out there
day and night manning
bulldozers, helicopters, heavy machinery–
we trust them to do their jobs–
to be wisely directed by those
who understand the nature
of fighting fire in a heavily forested area
with up and down rugged terrain.  We
have to trust them.  We have to trust
and to hold onto faith that everything is
going to be alright…
and until then,
that we can bear it–
be strong
be patient
and live our lives truly
and boldly.

We have to trust that we have
sufficient courage,
to share our gifts and
to proceed
into this new day.
We go forward into the uncertainty
on wings of prayer, hope and trust
and faith
and whatever love looks like today.

Then, I go into the garden to harvest tomatillos.

tomatillos

As of this moment, it is snowing and accumulating.  Yay!  And the rest of March might bring more precipitation.  We hope so.

 

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times) 2

Poets, writers, artists have a three-fold purpose as I see it:
1) the task of witnessing.  2) the task of writing it down or rendering it in some creative way.  3) sharing what they’ve written or created as a result of witnessing.  They’ve then come full circle with their particular art.

Within it, poetry has the imperative to share a message.  That message is intended to be evocative.  To awaken in the reader some of the same emotions that the witness/writer has experienced in putting pen to page.  A writer or painter can never be guaranteed that her audience is going to feel the exact same emotion.”  They can’t be attached to the outcome or response to their piece once it is released.  Fly away little bird.  But they must release it and allow it to affect and influence whoever it might, however it may.

Poets write about anything.  Poetry can express everything.  It is rare that the reader is privy to what precisely preceded the poet writing a particular poem.

I painted a piece with fish as the theme.  I don’t remember why I chose to paint these fish.  As I stood back from it and studied it, I felt tranquility.  It was exploratory.  But it didn’t have pop!  Not enough value contrast.  Or cohesion.  It prompted this poem, regardless.

A Quiet Wonder
© by Christine O’Brien

Underwater Kingdoms
Civilizations that we can’t comprehend
the sheen of scales
glint of colors
that stun in light’s glory
the silver trails through
unimaginable depths
the flash of a tail–
fish or mermaid
who is to say
for certain things
happen in depths
where humans
dare not go
we can’t all be Cousteau
though at times
if you’re at all
contemplative
you dive deep
into the dark waters
into what you’ve not known
beyond fears that taunt
and perhaps discover
another side
a way through
a quiet wonder

If this poem causes the reader to pause and contemplate something beyond their norm, then it has succeeded.
fish6aa

Today’s Poem

A Fresh Start
© by Christine O’Brien

Peach is the color of the sunrise today.
My waking, groggy mind
lingers in the twinkling doorway between
one dream world and another.
If I were a bear, I would growl.

Sliding open the bedroom curtains,
the morning sun persists
like a lover’s promise
to make a fresh start.

The first cup of tea–a reoccuring ceremony–
secret celebration of being,
liquid spirit balm
for what is yet to unfold.

I wonder who I am going to meet today
and what gift will they have for me?

What do I have to give?
Yesterday’s freshly baked almond cake
lifted a friend’s waning spirits.

From morning’s vantage point,
all things are possible–perhaps peace.

With the peach colored sunrise before me,
I step boldly into this new day.

****

Sometimes, a poem can suffice.  Whether you read a poem in the morning or write one, the soft opening of a new day is enhanced with poetry.  For that matter, a gentle poem can be a good way to end the day.  Then, I would suggest reading a poem at your lunch break.

A friend recently sent me this link to a poetry pharmacy in Shropshire, England.  What a brilliant idea!

Changing Colors

In her memoir, An Unfinished Woman:  A Memoir, Lilian Hellman writes:

“I do regret that I have spent too much of my life trying to find what I called ‘truth,’ trying to find what I called ‘sense.’  I never knew what I meant by truth, never made the sense I hoped for.  All I mean is that I left too much of me unfinished because, I wasted too much time.”

I haven’t read her memoir…I’ve held onto this quote of hers for years.  Perhaps I clipped this from an article I read because I wondered if it was true for me.  Have I quested after the truth long and hard and what do I have to show for it?  Have I fruitlessly tried to make some sense of nonsense to no avail?

****
Changing Colors
© by Christine O’Brien

The Goddess is the mistress of these cycles.
“I’ve found a sense of my place in the world,” I say.
as we share a pot of milky oolong tea on the deck of the boat.
The early evening sky is bathed in sunset hues.

“Sharing your gifts is the path to enlightenment,” you say.

We sail our boat in the protected bay.
“If you want, coast when the wind is right,” I offer.

Red and gold tint the sky.
“There is no black and white pendulum of truth,” you say.
“Crystal clarity is rare.”

Our wisest thoughts dissipate into the blue serenity of water
and the dove peace of this day.

The yet to be lived is our uncertain map.

“People’s dreams are where the nectar is,” you say dreamily.

Colors change regardless.

scenery`

Synergy

I appreciate the concept of synergy…better yet, I appreciate the actuality of synergy.  To consider that things are more effective when they work together than when they stand in isolation is fascinating.

Alphabet letters, individual symbols tossed in a heap, would be a jumble.  Combine them meaningfully, a word is created.  Then string words together to make a sentence or grouping…have we expressed a concept?  A concept can then be the basis for a story or a poem.

As a writer, your particular perspective or voice has influenced your choice of words.  Those words are poured into a form–an essay,  poem or story–whatever your chosen vehicle of expression.  Have you related something that has personal meaning to you?  Ideally, it would have meaning for others beyond you, the writer.  There is great synergy in that blending, isn’t there?

Definition:  “Synergy is the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The term synergy comes from the Attic Greek word συνεργία synergia from synergos, συνεργός, meaning “working together”       Wikipedia

****
What I especially appreciate about poetry, as concerns synergy, is that poetry is typically a synergy of feeling, thought and artistry.  And, when a poem is effective, it touches others. Poetry has the capacity to unite us on the universal themes that apply to anyone regardless of what separates us.  

beyond this doubt
© by Christine O’Brien

Sullen is the feeling of this new day.
Who would choose to be in my company?
Are there words of wisdom I could relay
to soothe this hurt, a better way to be?

It seems I’m frozen in this sorry place.
Writing words, drawing images to abate
this well-contrived and crafted stubborn face
which staunchly hides behind this well-wrought gate.

We’re each here, wondering as we go
what is this “mortal coil” all about?
How do we find a path that is in flow?
Is there relief and trust beyond this doubt?

Is there a best way to be with the unknown?
What is this curious life I strive to own?

Haven’t we all felt sullen at times?  Don’t we ask the larger questions?  Wouldn’t we like to feel lighter as we face uncertainty?

 

 

Where the Green Ants Dream

A few weeks ago, I watched this 1984 film directed by Werner Herzog.

 

It touched me deeply.  Afterwards, I had no one with whom to discuss the film and all that it brought up for me.

Sometimes, putting my thoughts and feelings into a poem helps.

****

Some days a sad gloom
descends
and the cello sounds like
melancholy
the sky is gray and
cloudy
Then I remember
again
that I miss you.

Last night, I watched
a Werner Herzog film,
Where the Green Ants Dream.
Aboriginal Australians
in opposition to
the mining company
blasting explosives
searching for what?
The green ants of
this sacred part of the desert
would be forced to move
taking with them the dreamscape
where the future of the peoples
is dreamed into being.

And I thought where the heck are you?
I need to talk to you about this.
My own thoughts are noisy and circular.
They make me dizzy with their roundabout.
You would challenge or agree, but at least
it wouldn’t be only me in reaction
to the air.

I wanted to ask you if you think we have
a good purpose here…the white folks?
If we are orchestrating our own doom
or if there is hope for us
If the planet and all of
its inhabitants would be saved?
Or would we be the lemmings
we seem to be?

Would you agree with
what the tribal elder said–
that we are we asking the stupid questions?
The ones we formulate with our small minds
the minds that aren’t inclusive.
The it’s-all-about-me mind,
the consumption-oriented mind.
I’d like to talk to you about this
before it’s too late.

Do we consider ourselves to be more
advanced
because we crafted these complex
systems?  Identified, classified, named things?
The very systems that distance us
further from nature, the earth and our origins?

Why can’t we be satisfied with not knowing,
with the mystery?

Are you hiding now
within that same mystery?

A Winter’s Tale

One Greek myth is the story of Demeter and Persephone.  When Persephone was abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld, Demeter (her mother) conducted a search near and far.  When she finally discovered Persephone’s whereabouts, she commanded Zeus to bring her home.  Persephone had been deceived into eating a pomegranate seed–this action decided her fate.  She would have to spend fall and winter in the underworld with Hades.  Spring and summer, she could surface and be with her mother.

The season of winter is associated with hibernation, inward time and perhaps a time for grief.  In December of 2018, I lost my sister, a long-time companion and my ex-husband had a stroke.  He died ten months later…that was three intimate losses in a period of ten months.  I began this grief journey one year ago…although, really, as I watched these three people decline in health, the grief was there.

One thing about loss, besides the actual physical loss is the loss of “the dream.”  Whatever dreams I had attached to each of these persons died with them.  I was also then mourning the loss of the dreams.  When I came across the following poem by the Persian poet, Hafiz, (1315-1390 approximately), I understood the need to grieve and transform our lost dreams.

Forgive the Dream
by Hafiz

All your images of winter
I see against your sky.

I understand the wounds
That have not healed in you.

They exist
Because God and love
Have yet to become real enough

To allow you to forgive
The dream.

You still listen to an old alley song
That brings your body pain;

Now chain your ears
To His pacing drum and flute.

Fix your eyes upon
The magnificent arch of His brow

That supports
And allows this universe to expand.

Your hands, feet, and heart are wise
And want to know the warmth
Of a Perfect One’s circle.

A true saint
Is an earth in eternal spring.

Inside the veins of a petal
On a blooming redbud tree

Are hidden worlds
Where Hafiz sometimes
Resides.

I will spread
A Persian carpet there
Woven with light.

We can drink wine
From a gourd I hollowed
And dried on the roof of my house.

I will bring bread I have kneaded
That contains my own
Divine genes

And cheese from a calf I raised.

My love for your Master is such
You can just lean back
And I will feed you
This truth:

Your wounds of love can only heal
When you can forgive
This dream.  

Hafiz’s images are so precise that I find comfort in this poem.

How do you address your lost dreams?

My Sister

It’s one month past the year mark of my sister, Kathy’s passing.

Kathryn Jane O’Brien, November 17, 1955 -December 19, 2018.

Over the past several years, I have witnessed my sister, Kathryn, up close as she continued her battle with cancer.  I have seen the qualities of courage, strength and love personified through her.  Love being the constant force.

Selfishly, I did not want her to leave.  Finally, with love, I coached her to leave.  As did other siblings.  She fought the long hard fight with great dignity and respect for herself and others.

Once she committed to Hospice care, her capabilities decreased rapidly.  Over the past few years, she had been managing increasing pain, wearing a compression sleeve for the lymphedema in her right arm, having her lungs drained weekly, thoracentesis.  Her open wound had to be cleaned and bandaged daily.  She hardly complained.

A month before she engaged hospice care, she emailed me in the morning to say that she was a “shipwreck.”  I told her “I’m coming down.”  We spent that afternoon together and a few hours the next day.  For the moment, she had regrouped and was going to go continue the fight for her life.

Then, three weeks later, she was done.  She called our other sister who lived nearby, Susan.  Susan cleared out a room for Kathy in her home.  A hospital bed was delivered.

Bandages, swathing, wrapping, weaving
what battle has she returned from, has she?
The wasteland of her body resounding
reflections of an earth in jeopardy.

How does she heal what seems like a riddle?
Which rhyme does she summon, where lies the key?
In such a haystack, is there a needle?
How does she unwind this tangle, does she?

Is there an apology forthcoming?
or a salve of forgiveness to be applied?
Questions in midair, balance beam teetering
spanning a chasm that seems far and wide.

What falling before this Phoenix rises?
resurrection modeled in each sunrise.

 

 

 

In the New Year

2020 feels auspicious.  In the mountains, we are expecting snow and rain, that wintry mix.  I am appreciating winter for a good winter promises an abundant spring.  These days, I am also grateful for the inward time that winter proffers.  Did I use that word correctly?

A little poem, a couplet, that I came across in one of my journals:

A bed of earth below which lays
a startle of forceful green relays
the message that beneath tamped earth
there is the promise of rebirth.

 

****
I’ve been painting again.  I wasn’t painting for awhile.  I’ve been grieving three intimate losses in a ten month period.  You might know that grief is it’s own country.  When you go there, everyday life takes on a different sheen.

Anyway, this painting began with a large sheet of watercolor paper (18″ x 24″).  I wrote down my feelings about grief.  Then, surprisingly, emerging from this came my version of “Puss n’ Boots.”  See below.

Blessings to everyone as we go forth.

pussn'boots3

In the groove

When you write regularly, you can write regularly.  When there are stops and starts between your writing, whether poetry or prose, the flow is interrupted.  Working with the poet/teacher Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge over a period of several days, the poetry kept coming.  Writing (and reading) this poem, I enter the surreal world that poetry can create without making excuses for itself.

Ocean Eyes
©by Christine O’Brien

I have ocean eyes
roving, moving
looking for home
cathedrals in Toledo Spain
cafes that stay open all night
laughing voices
lifting on warm breezes.
Whose experience can I engage
to make a better-seeming life?
Is it best to go North
is truth to be found there?
Or to the center?
Every day, I fall into
some rabbit hole
and a greedy fear seizes me.
I reside here so often,
it feels like a second home.

Tonight, at 7:30 p.m. precisely,
I put on my pajamas
entered the cave
and danced ecstatically,
among the stalactites.
They’ve discovered gold in Spain
let’s join the rush
pack up our stereos, leave the car keys
and go!
Don’t break the mirrors on your way out
or do break them.

I’m late again.  When I arrive,
the gold is all gone
or was it only a hoax,
something concocted by those
crazy, grazing cows on the side of the road
late last night
grazing right into my dreams
their big cow heads
shoving down between
blades of sleep,
I patted them
and felt their spindly
slobber on my bare breast.

Rain fell like ocean spray
and I entered through
this center of gravity
again too late to reap the reward.
The prize eternally moving,
just out of reach.
It’s the journey, not the prize
that matters
the white rabbit bellows
and I tweak his whiskers for being
such a smart ass.
My house is portable
My home is me
Oh woman of the Moon
on the move.

****
I realize that a surreal poem is not unlike an abstract painting.  Go for it!