Monday, June 15, 2015

it's beauty that brings it on

And What If I Spoke of Despair

by Ellen Bass

And what if I spoke of despair—who doesn’t
feel it? Who doesn’t know the way it seizes,
leaving us limp, deafened by the slosh
of our own blood, rushing
through the narrow, personal
channels of grief. It’s beauty
that brings it on, calls it out from the wings
for one more song. Rain
pooled on a fallen oak leaf, reflecting
the pale cloudy sky, dark canopy
of foliage not yet fallen. Or the red moon
in September, so large you have to pull over
at the top of Bayona and stare, like a photo
of a lover in his uniform, not yet gone;
or your own self, as a child,
on that day your family stayed
at the sea, watching the sun drift down,
lazy as a beach ball, and you fell asleep with sand
in the crack of your smooth behind.
That’s when you can’t deny it. Water. Air.
They’re still here, like a mother’s palms,
sweeping hair off our brow, her scent
swirling around us. But now your own
car is pumping poison, delivering its fair
share of destruction. We’ve created a salmon
with the red, white, and blue shining on one side.
Frog genes spliced into tomatoes—as if
the tomato hasn’t been humiliated enough.
I heard a man argue that genetic
engineering was more dangerous
than a nuclear bomb. Should I be thankful
he was alarmed by one threat, or worried
he’d gotten used to the other? Maybe I can’t
offer you any more than you can offer me—
but what if I stopped on the trail, with shreds
of manzanita bark lying in russet scrolls
and yellow bay leaves, little lanterns
in the dim afternoon, and cradled despair
in my arms, the way I held my own babies
after they’d fallen asleep, when there was no
reason to hold them, only
I didn’t want to put them down.


We sat in our backyard after Rob's show with big glasses of red wine and watched the darkness seep into the lilacs. We'd had a beautiful dinner out with the gallery people, the show had done well. (Could have done better, could have done worse). We had no real complaints. The unexpected pleasures of the day made up for whatever disappointments. Things balanced out. Still, for whatever reason, I didn't sleep that night. Maybe a couple of hours total, which might be my worst night of insomnia ever. I have spent all the past week trying to get my equilibrium back. I've been writing pages and pages in my diary. I've been breathing. At one point I hit what might affectionately be called, 'the wall.' Well, why wouldn't I? Imagine if your paycheque for a year and a half worth of work was to be decided more or less in one day. 

So now I'm going back to counting my blessings, instead of sheep. It's the only way. 

I'm focusing on small, green things. 

I'm reading favourite Rumi poems. Looking for radiance. 

The China Doll in Us

by Rumi

Some people punch a hole in your being whenever
they are around, and then you leak out energy and
other kinds of vitals you could have used.

Then, there are people who can connect you to a 
depth in their heart and for a moment, maybe an
hour, maybe a day, you will share their radiance.

The china doll in us, at some point, will no longer 
break. It is then you will find you have the ability
to heal others, in a way few in this world can. 

I'm getting on my knees, and pointing my camera toward the light, no matter how cliched the shot.....

"Observe your own body. It breathes. You breathe when you are asleep, when you are no longer conscious of your own ideas of self-identity. Who, then, is breathing? The collection of information that you mistakenly think is you is not the protagonist in this drama called the breath. In fact, you are not breathing; breath is naturally happening to you. You can purposely end your own life, but you cannot purposely keep your own life going. The expression, 'my life' is actually an oxymoron, a result of ignorance and mistaken assumption. You don't possess life; life expresses itself through you. Your body is a flower that life let bloom, a phenomenon created by life."

- Ilchi Lee

This past week you might have found me listening to this.

Conveniently, my library hold on Grantchester arrived and we watched it every night. I quite honestly had fairly low expectations for the series, and imagined it would be fairly cheesy and sentimental. But. It's so extremely well done that if there are a few sappy bits, they're completely integrated and balanced by the philosophical bent of the main character. The show is beautifully filmed - the scenery shots are wonderful. The lead actor is charming and handsome, and there's even a black lab puppy introduced in the storyline. What more could you wish for.

Among the books I've been reading, The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy. Not the cheeriest read, but a book I've long had on my list.
"Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.”

"Can it be that I have not lived as one ought?" suddenly came into his head. "But how not so, when I've done everything as it should be done?”

I've felt myself to be in a photography slump. Which might mean I've taken more photos than usual. A sort of desperation. Trying to say those things that can't be said, or written.

Song for Nobody

by Thomas Merton

A yellow flower
(Light and spirit)
Sings by itself
For nobody.

A golden spirit
(Light and emptiness)
Sings without a word
By itself.

Let no one touch this gentle sun
In whose dark eye
Someone is awake.

(No light, no gold, no name, no colour
And no thought:
O, wide awake!)

A golden heaven
Sings by itself
A song to nobody.

I'm exhausted, depleted. But that's okay as I know it's all ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. The creative spark comes, and goes out, and is magically lit again. One's hope for the universe and one's place in it is large and then small.

The yellow flower goes on singing anyway.

And the pink ones.

One morning I walked out into the field (aka the utility corridor) to look at the wild roses. (Our provincial flower). I'd taken and delete a hundred wild rose photos up to this point. The light wasn't quite right, and actually they're somehow quite difficult to photograph as their petals are so thin. They grow at the edges of foresty places as a sort of keep out sign. They grow in ditches and by the sides of highways. They grow even when there are droughts, even in the driest spring in 50 years.

I love them. I'm drawn to their resilience, their hardiness, their simple beauty. When I stood in the field, clicking away, my ankles were scratched by them, and I was bitten by various bugs. I had to wear long pants for days afterwards out in public. But it was this amazing thing, the light was lovely, the bees were abundant, and all these little blue moths (which I never could capture) were flying around. It was a moment of pure happiness.

I have tried to be like the roses. But I know I fail in this constantly. Still, a goal.

“Is it possible for the rose to say, “I will give my fragrance to the good people who smell me, but I will withhold it from the bad”? Or is it possible for the lamp to say, “I will give my light to the good people in this room, but I will withhold it from the evil people”? Or can a tree say, “I’ll give my shade to the good people who rest under me, but I will withhold it from the bad”? These are images of what love is about.”

- Anthony De Mello

And while I was lost in the flowers and bees, Ace was having his own good times. As he does.

I didn't even know I'd caught the bee flying in until I looked at the photos afterward:

It seemed every second bloom contained a bee:

The post began with despair, so let's end with faith, then. However simple. However complicated.


by Czeslaw Milosz

Faith is whenever you look
At a dewdrop or floating leaf
And know that they are there because they have to be.
Even if you close your eyes and dream up things
The world will remain as it has always been
And the leaf will be carried by the waters of the river.

You have faith also when you hurt your foot
Against a sharp rock and you know
That rocks are meant to hurt feet.
See the long shadow that is cast by the tree?
We and the flowers throw shadows on the earth.
What has no shadow has no strength to live.

And here is an interesting bit of context for the poem from The Paris Review:

You were part of the resistance in Warsaw. You published—or contributed to—a clandestine anthology of poetry against the Nazis. What effect did the war years have on your poetry? 
I was uneasy as a poet, because I had come to understand that poetry could not depict the world as it was—the formal conventions were wrong. So I searched for something different. But at the same time, I wrote a long work consisting of short poems, entitled “The World (A Naive Poem),” a sequence—though I was not aware of it at the time—like Blake’s “Songs of Innocence.” I considered the world so horrible that these childish poems were answers—the world as it should be, not as it was. Written in view of what was happening, “The World” was a profoundly ironic poem. 
That’s the significance of the subtitle “A Naive Poem.” 
This poem is as much pure fiction as a book for children about teddy bears. It makes me uneasy when critics and readers take those so-called positive poems about love, faith, hope and prescribe them for schoolchildren in Poland. I receive letters from children who read these poems in school and learn them by heart—poems that were actually written tongue in cheek. 
In one of the poems from “The World” you wrote, “We and the Flowers throw shadows on the earth. / What has no shadow has no strength to live." 
There is some Thomas Aquinas behind those lines. He asserts belief in the objective existence of things. It’s a sort of naive poem—a belief in the reality of a flower, of a river and a garden. My poems of that era contain a double search: one, a search for the grace of innocence—the “naive” poems—the other, the cycle “Voices of Poor People,” a search for a means of how to deal directly with the Nazi occupation. There is also the influence of the Chinese poetry that I was reading then for color, pure color.


  1. I love wild roses. Wherever I see them I try to stop to smell them. They bring back some good memories of beach days in PEI and Rhode Island. Thanks for the photos of them... nothing is blooming here yet, and I won't be visiting the beaches of the places I love this year.

  2. Lovely, lovely thoughts today, Shawna.

    Just as I grow weary of poetry and all it can and cannot do, you bring me back to its light. Thank you.

  3. Tremendous resilience and humility, thank you. We may hit the wall but then find our path and carry on...whistling.

  4. I'm left a bit puzzled by this post. You say you're in a photography slump but these are some of the most beautiful images yet..especially love Chloe's beautiful hands full of assorted flowers and light...and those wild roses that cup the bees. Understandable how you may hit a wall after a major event with so much expectation and so much depending on it all. I hope you find that resilience you're searching for and cast a great big, long shadow.

  5. Thanks for this today, Shawna - for the contrasts, complexity and contrariness but most of all, for your offering of beauty : ) xo

  6. Thanks everyone for the kind comments. Starting to revive and see things in a new light.....xo


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