Rose Gold and Pewter: Learning to Breathe in Grief

I've been trying to learn to breathe.  I'm very good at holding my breath, and rushing myself about from here to there to somewhere else.  But drinking water, and breathing air always seem profoundly new to me.  

So there I was, walking with the dog along the river, watching the red-wings do their thing, thinking of nothing much, when it suddenly occurred to me 

to be  
a writer 
is to aspire 

to the spark,

and the fire. 

What human wouldn't want to know 

the solitary crow,



me nots. 

and four-o-clocks.

I've recently finished a commission of several paintings for a doctor's office over in Junction.  Large pieces.  The daunting substrate and the big ol paintbrush sat there for weeks before I could bring myself to begin. Somehow the stakes feel so ridiculously high, they dwarf the sky.  In general, I'm comfortable working small: small poems, small paintings, small gardens, small dwellings. This works well for someone with OCC, (Obsessive Creative Compulsion), as I can have several projects firing at once.  Spark, spark, spark. And by the way,

If not for the dark,

no spark.

Do you see those seven little words above?  They have been selected to appear in a college textbook due out next year entitled: Literature: An introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, (17th edition, ed Goia and XJKennedy).  I suspect those seven little words will appear in a section called Really Really Really Short Poems. 

But in recent years, lo, and be almost whole, the scale has begun to change.  The hole in the wall has begun to grow. We bought a larger home, and with it, assumed a larger relationship to mountain, valley, sky, and critter.  Such living nurtures the hermit soul in me, and starves my inner hobbit, who is most comfortable bumbling about in the small.  In any event, it is difficult to leave home.  Impossible to leave at dusk, just as the Bookcliffs and the Mesa begin lighting up and softening like melted pastels.  (The painted desert ain't just a park in Arizona).  So I suppose it makes sense that I've been writing longer lines in verse and plenty of prose since chucking the noisy cottage in town and moving out into open, quiet space.  

What I didn't expect was that the impulse to know the nature of story, particularly local story, was going to force me to see, (in everything), what we call competing narratives.  

I have learned nothing but that the phrase seems to be all wrong. 

Dear Tomas, who taught me to enter the classroom and teach with a child's song in my heart, may you rest deep, and may you rest in peace. 

Dear Timothy Tim, who tested my patience and tested our friendship and tested the waters and tested your own vast capacities each day of the week, may you rest in the arms of the trees and the prophets, and may you rest in peace. 

Dear Jackie, two springs you've rested in peace, and visited me in dream. Fully refreshed, wholly woke, may you emerge in the form of the doe, the flick of the fish, or a slender stalk of wheat.  

Dear Andrea, dark star, white witch, tiny little warrior, you who changed your name and changed your face and changed your name again only to vanish in the mist, may you be a neighboring star, moon-soaked, earth kissed.  The road was hardly paved in gold, but I think I'll miss you most, sister crow. 

So many deaths, so little time.  

Not to mention the deaths of three friends' dear husbands this past year. 

Well, we are certainly of the age when one begins losing count of their dead. Instead, it seems everything's a memento mori, and everything an affirmation.  Although in truth, it's probably always been like that.  Poets, they say, are notoriously death obsessed.  

Poems, another friend often says, do not contain meaning, but they are meaningful.  

I've come to believe the same is true of story.  Perhaps competing narratives are not in competition, but in conversation.  Of course there are those who believe conversation is a competition.  

I'm told in shaman cultures, the word death is akin to the word, cure.

The word hospice originally meant: a resting place for travelers.

Essence, Guddjieff tells us, is a child. 

And gratitude is a grandmother.  

Still, it is difficult to sleep, or wake during times of drought, and grief.  

Replied the garden, the wilderness and the word, 

I never promised otherwise.  

Timor mortis conturbat me.  

Wrote a recently fatherless friend who had borrowed a shawl to wrap round her shoulders as the night moved in,

Thank you for draping me.  

I have been trying to learn the meaning of shelter.  

I have been trying to learn to breathe.  

I suppose I have been trying to learn to make peace.


Ave Atque Vale, Timothy Murphy

The Wanderer

There is no end
to the wanderer's sorrow.
The wisdom of Erda
queried by Wotan,
the counsel of Ragna
sung in a saga.
I'll follow tomorrow,
tomorrow if ever,
for I am no friend
of Volsung or Vala.

Timothy Murphy


Here's Tim reciting the Dirge from the Wulf, which he and Alan Sullivan had translated a few years back:



Ah, the Arts ! Oh, Humanity.

A disturbing trend:

Bach at the Burger King

If the author's name seems familiar, yes, he is the son of California poet laureat, Dana Gioia, well known author of Can Poetry Matter.   The good works have commenced, the voice is a gift, and the acorn don't fall far from the oak.

Meanwhile, here on the edge of the world, though there be drought which runs deep and wide, there be dusk, and dawn, and red dirt paths that cannot be denied.  

And of course there be dragons.  A book of essays I highly recommend: 

I've actually been quoting from this book for a couple of months now here on the outpost, and often in casual  conversation.  In addition to being a life-long advocate for the land, George is a fine writer, has a keen sense of the sciences, the arts, the land, and of course humanity -- and is imminently quotable.  He's an elder, and a sender, and it was a delight to get to know him a little at his home in Gunny a few months ago. 

Each essay in the book begins with a poem.  In recent years I've been very interested in how writers combine their prose and poems.  I have some of my own ideas up my sleeve, and am currently trying to shake them loose.  At any rate, here's one from George which introduces an essay called Lying Down with Fire that I can't resist sharing: 

The Horse: Form and Function

"Just a thing for converting hay to horseshit",
Bill said to me, looking not at me but at the horse,
Which we both were watching, leaning on the fence
At the back part of Bill's thirty-five
Being paid off month by month from his job
Digging coal for power plants he never saw.

"Never really seem to have time to ride her,"
Bill grumped, reaching into his pocket for his can,
For more of the stuff that takes ten minutes
Off the long hours and adds ten to the short ones.
But while he was thus occupied, the horse just
Took off.  Went running up the field, an easy lope
That would have been no harder for the horse
With a man on his back, even one with a belly like Bill's.

We both watched.  Mane catching the wind: thinking
What reason for a mane if there's no air to catch;
Tail streaming out behind...It was just worth watching.
It was just goddam beautiful. And at the far fence,
The horse stopped.  Stood there looking
Beyond the fence.   At what, who knew.  But then,
Even at that distance we could see it:  Lifting its tail
And dropping a load. "Like I was sayin'," Bill said. 


On a similar subject, a little something my daughter recently sent my way:

And speaking of gifts, my son sent me this, a bit of satire which emphasizes form, function, and timeliness, which my politically savvy readers will recognize:

And then there's this, by Alison Hawthorne Deming, which I've had on the shelves forever, and have finally begun reading: 

in which we are given such morsels as:

The kick of transforming a material from one state to another, from one use to another-- or to none-- is alchemy in any language.  It's a ticket into the marvelous, which is where we live every day but forget to notice, because otherwise we'd never get the errands done.

And this:

I have gone down the rabbit hole in thinking about dragons.  I have seen the bare mountain range near my home in Tucson suddenly transform into the spine of a dragon.  I have seen Vesuvius and Krakatoa breathe fire from their mouths as the earth shifts its vertebrae. I have seen a venomous dragon demand, one year, two sheep; the next year, one maiden; the next year, the king's virgin daughter.  ...So why do dragons crop up all over the planet? Here be dragons.  Here and here and here and here.  One need not fall over the edge of a distant horizon to find a dragon.  They emerge in the minds of ancient Greeks, Sufis, and Aztecs; in the art of the Chinese (for whom the dragon is the only mythical creature in their zodiac); among the Cherokee tribe and King Arthur's knights.  They are generally a blessing in the East and a curse in the West, protectors of water in India and Mexico, tyrannical despots in North Africa and Great Britain.  Dragons are monsters thrown out by the unconscious for the conscious mind to make sense of.  They take us into the weird zoology of inwardness.  


Rooster on the Loose: Construe, Construct, Construction, Culture

A culture is the ensemble of stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.  
 - Clifford Gearts 

De Activation

I have decided to ration 
my daily penchant

         for distraction. 
   (So much depends 
       the whole shebang

and the fraction).  


Even as we grow old in the spring, 
the ode begins, 
it tallies forth --

it bursts through --

though I should say sometimes 
I misconstrue.  

Is that abnormal asks
 the songing toad and the soggy moon. 

replies the desert bloom,  
I'm brand new too.   


Dylan Thomas

In My Craft Or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.


Whatness, Whereness

The land was ours before we were the land's ...
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.  

- Frost

Americans today usually talk about "place" and "property" as though they were interchangeable. But if you are going to really consider "place" the first thing you have to do is separate it from the concept of property. Both place and property are matters of possession, but it's who and what are possessed, and how, that are important.  "Property" is a cultural convention whereby a person has the belief, confirmed legally by properly filed papers, that he or she possesses a piece of land by virtue of investing some money or labor in it.  "Place" on the other hand, is something related to the land that comes to possess a person.  -  George Sibley

Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate.  But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street to a sacred bond.  

-Robin Wall Kimmerer

What it takes to dazzle us, masters of dazzle, is a night without neon or mercury lamps.   
-- Alison Hawthorne Deming 


But they can't have Imagination! Fer Namesake , Ursula K Le Guin

Cy Est Pourtraicte, Madame Ste Ursule, et Les Unze Mille Vierges

by Wallace Stevens

Ursula, in a garden, found
A bed of radishes.
She kneeled upon the ground
With flowers around,
Blue, gold, pink, and green.
She dressed in red and gold brocade
And in the grass an offering made
of radishes and flowers.

What I love about Le Guin is that she contained multitudes, with focus.  One minute she could say something like this:

Adults seek moral guidance and intellectual challenge in stories about warrior monkeys, one-eyed giants, and crazy knights who fight windmills.  Literacy is considered a beginning, not an end.
....Well, maybe in some other country  but not in this one.  In America the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order.  Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics.  Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don't work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literaccy is so you can read the operating instructions.  I think the imagination is the single most useful took we possess.  It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.
I hear voices agreeing with me.  "Yes, yes!" they cry.  "The creative imagination is a tremendous plus in business! We value creativity, we reward it!" In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that word creative can hardly be degraded further.  I don't use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like.  But they can't have imagination.

And the next, something like this: 

People who don't worry at least a little bit about semicolons aren't likely to be writers.  

And the next:

Sleep gives us something we need, and we know it; but what it gives us is something we can't know, though we may feel it slip from us as we wake. Refreshment, is it? Solace, simplification, innocence?

Rose Gold and Pewter: Learning to Breathe in Grief

I've been trying to learn to breathe.  I'm very good at holding my breath, and rushing myself about from here to there to somewher...