Monday, August 31, 2015

soul toward light

Always Homing Now Soul Toward Light

by Lorna Goodison

Always homing now soul toward light,
want like wings beating
against the hold-back of dark.

Above the face of yet another city
bright with bright points of seduction
I hover, and know from having been there
that the lights of cities go under,
their brilliance is not what
this soul is after.
Night swallows the sunset now
the lips of the horizon come together and there is in all this drake sky
only one thin line of glow.
When the lips close finally
it will seem (be warned)
it will seem like the dark has won.
But it is only the interim
before the true shining comes.
Light is close sometimes,
it seems to burnish my limbs some nights.
And for wanting it so
I'm a child then
who must sleep with some
small part of light
from a connection above
my head.
Surround us while we sleep, light
light in rings marrying me to
To me I say, fold the dark dresses
of your youth
let the silver run like comets'
tails through your hair.
For me, I know, the light in me
does not want to be hidden anymore,

(from Selected Poems, by Lorna Goodison)

Lorna Goodison is a Jamaican poet, who teaches in Michigan. In the 90s, she taught at University of Toronto and published Travelling Mercies with McClelland and Stewart, the same year my book Against Paradise came out with them. The four poets from that season gave a reading and I was too busy freaking out about my own to enjoy anyone else's but I do remember how splendid Goodison's was. She seemed larger than life and I was this small, shy nobody from Western Canada in Toronto for the first time by myself.

The first stanza of the poem above....I just want to read it over and over.

I've linked to articles and posts on the On Being blog numerous times here, and this week there is a particularly lovely one. Please read, "The Monk Manifesto: Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention" by Christine Valters Paintner.

The Monk Manifesto 
  1. I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.
  2. I commit to radical acts of hospitality by welcoming the stranger both without and within. I recognize that when I make space inside my heart for the unclaimed parts of myself, I cultivate compassion and the ability to accept those places in others.
  3. I commit to cultivating community by finding kindred spirits along the path, soul friends with whom I can share my deepest longings, and mentors who can offer guidance and wisdom for the journey.
  4. I commit to cultivating awareness of my kinship with creation and a healthy asceticism by discerning my use of energy and things, letting go of what does not help nature to flourish.
  5. I commit to bringing myself fully present to the work I do, whether paid or unpaid, holding a heart of gratitude for the ability to express my gifts in the world in meaningful ways.
  6. I commit to rhythms of rest and renewal through the regular practice of Sabbath and resist a culture of busyness that measures my worth by what I do.
  7. I commit to a lifetime of ongoing conversion and transformation, recognizing that I am always on a journey with both gifts and limitations.

And so I've been reading the manifesto above, along with another On Being post by Parker Palmer, titled Breathe in My Life, Breathe Out my Gratitude.

In it, he quotes this Wendell Berry poem:

Sabbaths - 1993, I

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

These are the questions that matter: how to become more generous toward each day? How to point soul toward light? How to continually transform?

Also:  How to soar?

Well, since there is no going back, let's think about sweet things.

The sweet light at the end of summer.

Since taking this next photo, all the poppies have bloomed and leaned into the sun, and swayed in the breezes, and breathed in life, and then dropped each petal, reluctantly, helplessly, gracefully.

More sweet things. From the Italian Centre Shop. My pick was the chocolate hazelnut square - which tasted as good as it looks.

One afternoon this past week I made myself a cup of oolong tea, and took it outside and drank it in the sun with half of the chocolate dessert and chatted with Chloe who was drawing. I wrote a little in my diary. Read some of my recent short essays to try to get back into that mindset, that groove. I even wrote a little something this past week and have a few more ideas for something else I want to work on in September.

Summer is strange, I always feel strange in summer, because I go for weeks where I'm not really writing anything. Life intervenes. Which is good and even healthy, but at the same time I don't quite feel like myself. I feel off-kilter, or that I'm walking on the path beside the path I ought to be on, and maybe am on. (There's a Star Trek TNG episode, if I recall, that illustrates this feeling).

Summer, I keep thinking, has a lot in common with Christmas. It's nice and lovely and all that, but you have to beat back those thoughts that everyone else seems to be having a better time than you are. Going on better, longer, fancier vacations. Bonding in fantastic ways with their family. Their gardens are prettier and better weeded than yours. Everyone else is more popular than you are and their families are from some sort of storybook. The land of barbecues and cottages and road trips and the notion of getting away from it all are enviable, I suppose. Thanks to Facebook, maybe, we end up envying things we don't even want and have never yearned for.

What I'm really craving, now, at the end of August, is a little silence and solitude. So I'll be taking the Monk's Manifesto to heart, and trying to apply this:

I commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.

In honour of National Dog Day last week (yes, a real thing) Chloe and I had Ace pose for some photos on our morning walk.

He works for biscuits, which will explain this next shot:

The weeds are going to seed about now.

I've been trying to get a decent shot of the pro dog walker out in the field for a while.

And now back to our backyard - the tallest sunflower is taking a bow.

And Chloe held some flowers for me. Each summer a slightly different bouquet from the yard.

And lastly, stopping a moment to smell the flowers.....

Monday, August 24, 2015

O, white flowers


by Julia Hartwig

O, white flowers of shadow, the wild glistening of the river!

- from In Praise of the Unfinished

I'm a huge fan of the one-line poem, and have attempted to write a few of them this past year or so myself. Wouldn't it be a cool idea for an anthology? Though odds are someone else has already compiled one.

I've been going back and forth between the Hartwig volume and My Poems Won't Change the World by Patrizia Cavalli this summer. Both are on the recommended shelf above.

A line from a poem by Hartwig, called "Not to be Certain"

"It is better to be careful, however, judging the happiness
of others."

And from Cavalli:

"We're all going to hell in a while.
But meanwhile
summer's over.
So come on now, to the couch!
The couch! The couch!

Those of us who are on the internet and use social media, probably more than we ought, are constantly shaping a sort of identity, and in the case of those of us who write, a sort of writer-ish identity also. Of course, there's the identity that we think we're shaping, if we think about this type of thing at all, and then there's how others are actually perceiving what we put out there.

I suppose having photographs taken of me and putting together my website and generally thinking about how I want to be as a writer (rather than how I want to be seen), and more importantly, as a human, reminded me of this poem:

Poets Photographed 

by Adam Zagajewski

Poets photographed,
but never when
they truly see,
poets photographed
against a backdrop of books,
but never in darkness,
never in silence,
at night, in uncertainty,
when they hesitate,
when joy, like phosphorus,
clings to matches.
Poets smiling,
well-informed, serene.
Poets photographed
when they're not poets.
If only we knew
what music is.
If only we understood.

- from Unseen Hand, by Adam Zagajewski

I love this poem and come back to it often because it reminds me what it really means to be a poet. It makes me want to write a poem immediately. It reminds me of the joy that no one sees, that you can only get to through odd paths, through a strange and beautiful invisible struggle. And even though I also want to write a novel, it reminds me that I want to write it like a poet, unapologetically.

Well, we're all going to hell in a while. Meanwhile, let's be kind.

Whenever we put something out there that can be read and consumed and critiqued we're taking a small chance. We're being courageous. It's easy to mock those status lines about dinners, the brags about kids, the vacation brags, the photos of cats and dogs, flowers, and even the political rants. But someone is trying to express something about themselves, their life. They're trying to join in.

After a while it can seem that Facebook is apart from life, completely distinct, and we can forget that the "faces" are people. I'm sure I'm guilty of being less than kind on FB at times, too. I want not to be. I've noticed that people I know IRL are disappearing from my newsfeed. If you don't interact, or even just 'like' a person's posts, you disappear from each other based on logarithms. This probably says more about us than we would care to know.

And while I was mulling over all of the above, an article popped up on my Facebook feed: "The Stories We Tell Each Other" by Terri Schanks. 

From the article:

So who are you, and who are you becoming? What stories do you tell yourself about life, death, happiness, what you can allow yourself, the kind of work you can do, how much money you can make, the opportunities available to you. What are the stories you tell yourself about your life? Thoreau pondered this at length and said:

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you think it is. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor-house.”

How often are things as they seem?

Well, it's unlikely that Adam Zagajewski is on Facebook. But I suppose it's interesting to think of all the types of friendships there are there that might not have existed before. The idea that we might meet people on the internet and think of them as friends seemed creepy not so long ago. These days, I can say that I have un-met friends with whom I have much in common and admire and respect and am inspired by, and whom I met via the internet. What a lovely gift this has been. There are friendships both impossible, and not.

Impossible Friendships

by Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh

For example, with someone who no longer is,
who exists only in yellowed letters.

Or long walks beside a stream,
whose depths hold hidden

porcelain cups—and the talks about philosophy
with a timid student or the postman.

A passerby with proud eyes
whom you'll never know.

Friendship with this world, ever more perfect
(if not for the salty smell of blood).

The old man sipping coffee
in St.-Lazare, who reminds you of someone.

Faces flashing by
in local trains—

the happy faces of travelers headed perhaps
for a splendid ball, or a beheading.

And friendship with yourself
—since after all you don't know who you are.


Late August, nearly the end of summer. There are likely many poems about this time of year, and I'm sure I dogeared a few earlier in the season, but I can't find them now. Poems about the way summer breaks you down. Poems saying, it was enough and it was not enough. I want more. I can't take any more. Poems about the slow opening of sunflowers, and then the way they droop and how heavy they become, how gloriously sad and frayed they are at the end.

Now is the time to gather and bring in flowers, now is the time to love your life as poor as it is. To search for radiance. To tell yourself stories about how utterly gorgeous your life is, no matter how difficult. 

I think I really should end every post with this line: I have no idea what I'm doing here. 

But I'll end with some more photos I've taken for my website (still haven't figured out what I'm doing there, either, though thoughts are beginning to form). 

And with a few shares:

watching (I resisted this one for a while, but as they say, resistance is futile).

finished watching Silk (Which was terrific and brilliant for the first two series. Still mad about the way it ended in S.3). 

Wishing you all a calm week ahead.

- Shawna

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