She Looks Upon the Land

I live in the forested mountains of Northern California.  It is nearing the Fourth of July.  When it’s not a time of Covid, we have a huge influx of tourists (around 3,000 people) to celebrate the holiday.  It’s been fun in the past.  However, due to the virus, the event was cancelled.  Honestly, it’s a relief for many reasons.  One being, the long term drought in California.  The tinder-dry forested area isn’t a place for fireworks.  (It’s hard to believe that they allow fireworks in such an area!)

A few days ago, when I noticed the Safe and Sane Fireworks Booth going up by the local supermarket, I felt myself tense up.  Honestly, I cannot believe that a mountainous area would ever sell fireworks and permit their use.  This shows a great disconnect.  We’ve had several years where we’ve been living on pins and needles as forest fires have encroached.  We’ve lived with months of intense smoke that obliterated the usual pristine vistas.  We’ve been prepared to evacuate should the fires get any closer.  We’ve watched neighboring communities be forced to evacuate and witnessed a complete town, Paradise, CA, succumb to fires.  And not too far south of us, in Redding, CA where my sisters live, I stood watch with them hoping that the Carr Fire would be contained, controlled and put out!

I wrote to my local City Council expressing my concerns.  The sale of fireworks has been a profitable fundraiser for a local club.  It’s been done this way for awhile–sort of entrenched system that I’m coming up against.  Safe and Sane Fireworks, according to the local Fire Chief, have not caused problems…it’s been the illegal ones that cause harm.
Regardless, my bottom line is that fireworks of any type should be banned in forested areas!  Does that seem like common sense to you?  It does to me.  Better foresight than hindsight.

She just knows
© by Christine O’Brien

She looks upon the land and she just knows

That things could be much better than they are.

we day tripping visitors blink and doze

While wise ones see into the future, far.

When hindsight and foresight fall by the way

And the many lessons offered aren’t learned

As media hype says what it may

Through promoting fear, their paychecks are earned.

What else is new across this span of strife?

Humans burying their heads in the sand

We hear past echoes and we join the chime

“we can’t make a difference, one small life.”

Remember, holding hands, we are many.

Infused with earth love, we are not puny.

Forest

 

Sonnet Two

Not that we shouldn’t desire more
of that which feeds the hungering soul
for such yearning, it seems, opens the door
as we stare out upon a distant knoll.

“Comfortable complacency” is fine
–we all need pauses in our quest for more–
Grateful for the banquet on which we dine
fingers laced, beside the fireplace, shut the door.

But when the bell tolls the eleventh hour
mustn’t we from our sedentary rise?
Step into our uncomfortable power–
this before our comforts become a vise.

The hungering soul feasts on freedom.
Quick!  They are capturing the kingdom.

 

sonnet2

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago and again tried to merge poetry with imagery.  I’m not really pleased with the painting…but I think the message is current.  Truly, it doesn’t seem like we can hide behind our “comfortable” doors any longer although we mostly shelter in place.  I think that we are asked to be activists in a way that is true to our nature.

When any one of our freedoms is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  When our neighbor’s freedom is infringed upon, we are called to stand up against injustice.  For truly, if my neighbor isn’t well-cared for by our society, then I’m affected too.  We’re in this together.

Remember, Spaceship Earth, so-named by Buckminster Fuller?  We’re all here together riding around on this very small planet.

“How can I serve?”

I frequently ask this question of myself.

 

Yearning

now1This was one of my first attempts at merging art and poetry.  I write what has been termed personal poetry.  This sonnet was the first poem in a series of twenty-one poems that I was determined to write.  I illustrated the first two poems of this grouping.  It’s not so easy to do, I found.  This poem was written several years ago…the mood at the time.  Poetry is a great way to manage our various moods and emotions and to help us move beyond or integrate these passing energies.

I’ve written poetry for at least thirty years.  Within that span of time, there were periods when I didn’t write poetry.  The tangles that we can get ourselves into with words.  The things we tell ourselves.  As author Byron Katie has reiterated “Is it true?”  The things we say to others–did they receive it as we intended it?  The words we hear– are they fact, theory, opinion, judgment?  How do other people’s words–the media–color your own thoughts and opinions?  Where is the truth in these tangles?

That’s why I chose the paintbrush over the pen for a few years.  No words!

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This blog has become a commingling of art and words with which I feel comfortable these days.

 

 

My Mother’s Hands

mom1

This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

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One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

The Dreamcatcher

Years ago, I wove hundreds of dreamcatchers.  It was a very challenging time in my life.  I don’t remember how I discovered the dreamcatcher…but when I did, I found that designing and weaving them was healing and engaging in a way that I hadn’t expected.  I gathered supplies, hoops, twigs, willow, waxed threads, leather strips, feathers and beads.  Each dream catcher was a unique creation.  For me, this indigenous craft held deep meaning…and they were to be shared.  I gave one to each of my family members.  A man I met had a booth at a local flea market.  He sold them, keeping a profit for himself.  What they provided for me in the moment was without price.

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Tracy Verdugo taught a class on painting dream catchers.  And then invited us to write a poem.  This poem is written around the outside circle of the dreamcatcher.

Destiny

Lace and ribbons
decorate the frock.
“Forget the dreams.
Get back to the kitchen
and bake me a pie!”
Banish your fantasy of
happy couples and
floral bouquet apologies.

Re-enter the Goddess–
no partial woman is she!
So, you are somebody
after all.
Tell us what you know.
Emergence is what you requested–
sit down and let’s talk over tea.

A wedge of lemon?  Honey?
Ah, the bitter with the sweet.
This you must experience
for yourself.

Lace and ribbons,
wedding day vows–
disguise your sovereign destiny.

 

 

dreamcatcher

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A dreamcatcher is an indigenous symbol–a web, often with a hole in the center.  It is intended to let the bad dreams pass through and to catch the good dreams.  The dreams that guide you towards your highest visions.

There is both power and presence when we create.  What is the dream of the future that you’d like to paint, color, draw, sculpt or weave?  Make your own dream catcher using collage and paint.  Are there words or poetry that go with it?  Write them on your work of art.  Get lost in this process.  Invite others to participate in making their own dreamcatchers.  Share in ways that are available to you at this time.

Stay healthy and safe.

Haiku in Turbulent Times

What I’ve appreciated about Haiku is the command to be present.  It is in the observation of the present moment that makes Haiku timely now.

Four years ago,I wanted to paint a piece that integrated Haiku.  I found this Haiku from Gyodai, an early Japanese poet…I couldn’t find his time period.  I let the Haiku inspire the painting.  It’s a busy painting, but in the moment, it felt right.

“Snow is melting
Far in the Misted Mountain
A Cawing Crow”

Gyodai

 

crow

Here’s the thing about Haiku…it’s accessible to everyone.  You could be anywhere, for instance sheltering at home.  Grab a pen, pencil, piece of charcoal, crayon, whatever…and follow the formula.  Here it is:

A brief introduction to haiku.  So far as we know, haiku originated in Japan.  Short poems, usually three lines long, haiku has a total of 17 syllables…5 syllables in the first line, 7 syllables in the second line and 5 syllables in the third line.  Traditional haiku usually contained a season word that indicated in which season the haiku was set.  The season word isn’t always obvious.  Haiku are little philosophical gems, sometimes with humor.  They can describe almost anything.  Often, they describe daily situations in a refreshing way–creating a new experience of something familiar.  It is always amazing to me that some poetic forms, such as haiku, endure.

I invite you to write haiku.  You choose the time of day.  Sit in your most comfortable chair or go out into the forest, up a mountain or by an ocean or lake.  Whatever is permissible where you live.  Take a few deep breaths and settle in.  Deeply notice something in your surroundings.  Honor it by writing a haiku.  Truly–nature, the things we use and take for granted, animals, other people, everything, everyone likes to be noticed and honored.

In writing your own haiku, strive to “give a new
experience of something familiar”.  Try to adhere
to the 5-7-5 syllables (or as close as you can get to
it).

Blessed day to you.

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

Poetry Today (in Perilous Times)…1

Wouldn’t every previous generation say that they lived in “perilous times” or as in the Tao, “interesting times” at the very least?  So many of us have a connotation of poetry as  an archaic (if not boring) language and irrelevant to “modern life.”

How do we get potential readers to cross that chasm of calcified thinking regarding poetry to a reinvigorated and revalued view of poetry?  Is there a place in a relatively newly minted culture where poets and poetry are elevated, revered?  That poetry activates both one’s emotions and values could be one reason that it isn’t welcomed in a society that wants to control its constituents.  There isn’t often comfort in living outside the box.  However, there is power in it.

How does anyone realize that within him/herself, perhaps a dormant inner poet or artist lives?  Sometimes the inner poet comes to life out of despair.  Nothing else seems to suffice.  Nothing else calms or soothes.  Sometimes, she is revived through love.  Sometimes, it is when change is forced and the hand you’ve been dealt doesn’t seem to have an open door–poetry can provide the doorway.

Poetry is not only a bolster for the faint of heart.  In fact, poetry is for everyone and especially in these times.

Consider Wendell Berry, novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, an earth-connected poet of our times.  I love his bit of a poem about salad

“Wash your hands, get them good and clean,
Hurry and find a basket
Let us gather a salad, and so unite
To our passing lives this seasons fruit.”

How relevant is this four line stanza to your daily experience of life?  These days, you better be sure to wash your hands!  Of course, too many of us don’t have a garden to gather lettuce leaves for a salad.  Perhaps there is a farmer’s market nearby or at least a marketplace that gives you that feeling.  However, you gather your salad fixings, to pause and remember our unity to the food that we consume is like a prayer.  Our lives are fleeting and the food we eat to sustain us lends quality to our lives (or it doesn’t)…well, it’s all expressed in this stanza.

Poetry can bring awareness and value to the things we take for granted.  It provides the pause we need in our overly busy lives.  Giving attention to such things makes for a more conscious society.

 

 

Reinvention

When things aren’t working…when they haven’t been working for awhile…what do you do?  When I get quiet and take an overview of my life, I can sometimes see the patterns.  There are patterns that I am at peace with and then, there are patterns that I am undone by every single time.  Recognizing that, what can I do to change a pattern?

  • One key is recognition:  When I am able to identify a pattern and name it, that is the doorway to changing it.  Sometimes, I write it down in detail, the elements that make up this rerun pattern.  Then I gain a clearer understanding of myself and how and perhaps why I recycle this unhelpful pattern.
  • Recognizing the facets of the pattern, I might be able to see “choice points.”  Within the pattern, there are split seconds when I can decide to do something differently.  That is, catch the pattern at work and detour myself away from it.  No, don’t go that way–again!
  • The doing something differently can be placing my attention elsewhere, i.e. doing jumping jacks, dancing, going for a walk in nature, picking up a book, getting out the paints and painting.  Any number of possibilities.  You choose.
  • Another helpful tool is writing poetry about your dilemma.  Because poetry accesses another part of the brain, it can offer up a solution that you might not have logically considered.
  • If you feel safe enough to share your process with a trustworthy friend, you might ask them for support in your mission.
  • Also, if you believe in a higher power, prayer for assistance as you implement something new can assist you.

They say that it takes twenty-one days to solidify a new pattern or habit. Considering that there is the real possibility of falling into the same old, same old, you can remember that Alcoholics Anonymous slogan “Just for today…” I can do this differently.  Then it feels manageable.

Years ago, I read a quote by Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor, and futurist.  It goes like this:

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

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I appreciate the wisdom in this quote.