Tag Archive - Words

Summer Morning

Summer Morning
Charles Simic

I love to stay in bed
All morning,
Covers thrown off, naked,
Eyes closed, listening.

Outside they are opening
Their primers
In the little school
Of the cornfield.

There’s a smell of damp hay,
Of horses, laziness,
Summer sky and eternal life.

I know all the dark places
Where the sun hasn’t reached yet,
Where the last cricket
Has just hushed; anthills
Where it sounds like it’s raining;
Slumbering spiders spinning wedding dresses.

I pass over the farmhouses
Where the little mouths open to suck,
Barnyards where a man, naked to the waist,
Washes his face and shoulders with a hose,
Where the dishes begin to rattle in the kitchen.

The good tree with its voice
Of a mountain stream
Knows my steps.
It, too, hushes.

I stop and listen:
Somewhere close by
A stone cracks a knuckle,
Another turns over in its sleep.

I hear a butterfly stirring
Inside a caterpillar.
I hear the dust talking
Of last night’s storm.

Farther ahead, someone
Even more silent
Passes over the grass
Without bending it.

And all of a sudden
In the midst of the quiet,
It seems possible
To live simply on this earth.

To Paint a Bird

First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving …
Sometimes the bird comes quickly
but he can just as well spend long years
before deciding
Don’t get discouraged
wait years if necessary
the swiftness or slowness of the coming
of the bird having no rapport
with the success of the picture
When the bird comes
if he comes
observe the most profound silence
wait till the bird enters the cage
and when he has entered
gently close the door with a brush
paint out all the bars one by one
taking care not to touch any of the feathers of the bird
Then paint the portrait of the tree
choosing the most beautiful of its branches
for the bird
paint also the green foliage and the wind’s freshness
the dust of the sun
and the noise of insects in the summer heat
and then wait for the bird to decide to sing
If the bird doesn’t sing
it’s a bad sign
a sign that the painting is bad
but if he sings it’s a good sign
a sign that you can sign
so then so gently you pull out
one of the feathers of the bird
and you write your name in a corner of the picture

~Jacques Prevert

I Haiku, Do You?

I was that kid in high school. The one who asked: How many pages? Double or single spaced? One inch margins? I liked knowing my boundaries. Because…inside the safety of those parameters, I could be wildly creative. I still like boundaries. They force me to be succinct. Not my strength. They compel me to choose potent, vibrant language. And even when I choose to flaunt the boundaries, it is purposeful…to achieve force or a desired discombobulation.

Haiku is an ancient Japanese form of poetry favored by Samurai. The original Renaissance men, these formidable warriors also painted, wrote poetry, and tended gardens. Japanese Haiku are usually about nature and adhere to a strict three-line form of 17 on, divided 5, 7, 5. The on has been roughly translated syllable in the English form, though it is more complex than that. English haiku take a great many more liberties, but you can usually expect three lines, with lines 1 and 3 shorter than line 2, and roughly equal to one another in syllables.

During a run last week I was framing a tweet in my head about what appeared to be the waning of the Cicada invasion in Franklin. I suddenly realized it seemed to be framing itself in approximately haiku form. So, I spent the next mile or so eliminating superfluous articles and strengthening vocabulary. It was so much fun that when the local fox crossed my path, I wrote one for her.

I invite you to play with me. Try your hand at haiku. Post yours in the comments, and I will add it to the post. To get you started, I offer here a famous haiku from the old Japanese master Basho. Also, the two mentioned above as well as one I composed on this morning’s run by the sea.

old pond…
a frog leaps in
water’s sound

roar decrescendos
cicada carnage litters
the invasion wanes

fur-clad femme fatale
tiptoes in black stilettos
foxy lady, she

sea of verdigris
white hot shimmers, frothy foam
neath cerulean sky

Your turn. Ready, set, GO!

Thanks, Patsy!

sun-speckled maple
anointed in dawns first light
full of ruffled song

From my cousin’s daughter, Emily (via Facebook)

storms roll into here
lightning strikes all around us
we are scared to death

snow covered mountains
mountains are taller than me
I sink below them


Surface and Symbol

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts-such is the duty of the artist. ~Robert Schumann

When God has difficult truth to convey to David, he sends him a storyteller. Because he knows that stories carry truth to the deepest parts of us. The parts of us that most need healing. When He teaches Moses about worship, it is a multi-sensory affair with incense, gold, cedar, silk, candles, bells. Why? Because he would have us breathe him….stand inside him…know Him viscerally.

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. ~T.S. Eliot

Have you ever encountered a piece of music, a poem, a movie, that troubled you though you knew not why? That rankled your heart, your mind, for days? Or, perhaps, that somehow elevated and ennobled you, though you could not say how? Such is the power of art. Deep calling to deep. Soul to soul. In Ian Cron’s new memoir, he speaks of a literature professor known for his keen analytical abilities. He tells how sometimes this professor would read a passage to the students, close the book, and stand in silent reverie. “Sometimes it is wiser to reverence than to parse.”

I want to beg you to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. ~Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke

So much of myself is unknown to me. Like a skilled surgeon, art probes these unknown places, revealing what lies within. It is not always pretty. I do not always want to know. And sometimes, it leads only to more questions. But this is how I grow. This is what frees me from disastrous choices made to appease hungers I do not even know I have.

All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

~Oscar Wilde

An encounter with art is not for the faint of heart. It will always ask something of you. It will, if you let it, teach you about yourself. It will, if you let it, make you more than you are. I challenge you to pick up a classic work of literature, spend an afternoon in an art gallery, read a poem–out loud–letting the words wash over you, treat yourself to an artfully made film or an evening at the symphony. And listen….

Suggested Resources:

The American Film Institute’s Top 100 films– All American films, yes, but not a bad place to start.

Invitation to the Classics
or The Joy of Reading– If your education, like mine, was woefully spare on classic literature, these books will help you know what to read. Invitation to the Classics tells you why the work is significant and gives suggested translations/editions. The Joy of Reading has wonderful synopses and includes a ten-year reading plan.

Though my house is full of art books, I believe nothing compares with standing before the work itself. Include visits to great museums like The Metropolitan Museum of Art or MOMA in New York, The Smithsonian in Washington, or The Getty in Los Angeles as part of your travels. And frequent your local museums and art galleries, however humble.

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry is a beautiful book to share with young ones you love, and not a bad place to begin yourself if poetry is new to you. My copy of Good Poems, compiled by Garrison Keillor, is dog eared and worn from much love. You can also meet some of my own favorite bards in the post Thoughts That Breathe, Words That Burn.

There is nothing like sitting in a live music venue and letting the music wrap itself around you, pound in your chest and seep into your pores. True, here in Nashville we have more than our fair share of options. But wherever you live, it is there to be found if you search it out. If you live near a city of any size, I’ll be willing to wager your symphony will do something out of doors (and maybe free) this summer. Visit a writer’s night at a local cafe. Save your pennies, and take a road trip if necessary, to hear your favorite legendary rock band or Indy artist do their magic in person.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start and, whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what it was or wasn’t.

Here begins one of the most riveting stories I have read in a long time. In fact, I read it twice. Ian Morgan Cron is a marvelous storyteller. He could weave the most mundane happening into an engaging narrative. But as it turns out, his life has been anything but mundane.

It seems too fantastic to be real. Movie stars, heads of state, life among the social elite and privileged, mysterious silences and questions that were not permitted, and the terrifying uncertainty of life with an alcoholic father. Cron whisked me into this world so unlike my own, and I found myself identifying with his longings, his hurts and needs, and his fugitive moments of transcendence.

Wounds formed early in our tender hearts by fathers who are absent to us send out tendrils that wrap themselves around everything that follows in life. Nothing is untainted. Unspoiled. Most of us can relate at some level. Questions about our worth. Am I loved? Do I deserve to be loved?

A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.

Ian’s life is laced with luminous moments. Eucharist. A sacred encounter with a young fawn in the wild. Even a university professor whose reveries over certain pieces of literature are “better than church.”

I never told anyone how fascinated I was by the Eucharist…the harmonic frequency that rings at the center of the heart of God made something vibrate in mine while all this was going on…He placed the Host on my tongue…and I fell into God.

He says that with his First Communion a tether was tied around his waist. Although he would test it sorely, it would never let him be completely lost. After years of being angry at a God who he had once loved purely, but who had done nothing to mitigate the tragic circumstances of his life, he finds himself back at the communion table again. And a lifetime of radiant moments are woven together into a glorious crescendo that leaves me sobbing.

I didn’t want to parse God–I wanted to be swept up in His glory. I didn’t want to understand the Holy One; I wanted to be consumed in his oceanic love.

The road from here will not be easy. So many broken places need healing. Cron is vulnerable and honest about just how much this costs.

My favorite chapter in the whole book is the next to last where he talks about his children. I have had the joy of meeting Cailey, Maddie, and Aidan, and they are wonderful. I have seen their father ruffle their hair and hug them long. I have seen the easy laughter and camaraderie between Anne, Ian, and their children. I had no idea how miraculous that was.

How can I give something to a son that I myself never received? I want my son to know how to be in the world; how to love himself; how not to settle for too little; how to walk with God with humility, compassion, and an inclusive heart; how to never hide his true self because he’s afraid.

In one magical story we see this coming into being. We learn the difference between falling and jumping. And we see the astonishing sweep of redemption…just how far it can go. I must confess, this chapter had me laughing hysterically. Just wait til you read it. You’ll see. 🙂 But as Ian poured his heart for his son onto the page and I saw a whole family who is FOR one another, I was undone. The beauty of what God has wrought is astonishing. Astonishing!

You probably already know Ian from his novel, Chasing Francis: a Pilgrim’s Tale. Official release date for Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts is June 7th. But you can get it now from Amazon. I cannot recommend it highly enough. An engaging story. Artful articulation. A miracle of healing and restoration.

Only He Who Sees…

Truth, so far, in my book;–the truth which draws
Through all things upwards; that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos.  Natural things
And spiritual
,–who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points.  We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,–
The perfect round which fitted Venus’ hand
Has perished utterly as if we ate
Both halves.  Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural’s impossible;–no form,
No motion!  Without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable;–no beauty or power!

And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(And still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it,–fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal
, to the antetype
Some call the ideal,–better called the real,
And certain to be called so presently,
When things shall have their names.  Look long enough
On any peasant’s face here, coarse and lined.
You’ll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
As perfect-featured as he yearns at Rome
From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
And, if your apprehension’s competent,
You’ll find some fairer angel at his back,
As much exceeding him, as he the boor,
And pushing him with empyreal disdain
For ever out of sight.  Ay, Carrington
Is glad of such a creed! an artist must,
Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone
With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
Why else do these things move him, leaf or stone?
The bird’s not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;
Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:
But man, the two-fold creature, apprehends
The two-fold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him.
A mere itself,–cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And build up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God.  ‘There’s nothing great
Nor small,’ has said a poet of our day,
(Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell)
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct.  Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnet 86 from “Aurora Leigh”

Making Friends With the e-book

I LOVE the smell of books. Put me in The Bodleian, Blackwells, or the most common book seller’s, and the first thing I will do is breathe a long, heady draught of book scent. Then I will run my fingers over the bindings. Especially the leather. I am mad about leather bindings. Finally, reverently, I will tenderly explore the surface of the pages. Nubby cloth, hearty and strong. Fresh, new paper, cold, slick. I have a peculiar affinity for pages with torn edges.

The experience of reading a book is often far more than words or story. Which is why something inside me rebelled against the very idea of an e-book. But, I have to tell you, I am becoming a fan. Mostly, because I have been able to vastly expand my library for a fraction of the cost. Old books, the ones I love best, are often free. Even current authors, like Steven Pressfield, Tim Sanders, and Seth Godin have offered their new books for free for a limited time. And I have immediate access. No driving to the library or the bookstore. No waiting for the postman. No shipping costs.

I worried I wouldn’t be able to interact with my books. But this has not been the case. I can highlight and write notes and fold down pages just like I normally would. And with a click I can pull up all my highlighted passages. Some books also allow me to obtain definitions for words or translations for foreign terms. And even if this is not a built in feature, my dictionary is only a click away.

Here is the part that might surprise you, I have obtained all these benefits without ever buying an e-reader. I downloaded a FREE Kindle app to my computer and to my iPhone. AND they talk to each other! So, if I read the first seven chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo before bed on my computer, then decide to knock out another chapter the next day on my phone while waiting for an appointment, my phone will ask me if I would like to jump ahead to the farthest place read. I am sure this is also true if you have an e-reader.

I remain a sucker for first editions. For tomes old enough to have a story. Scribbles, a bookmark, from another place, another time. But I have made a place in my heart, and in my library, for books that sail to me across years and across wires and air, to arrive inside an electronic device.

Incidentally, if you miss the scent of a “real” book, you might be interested in this curious product I happened upon recently: Smell of Books: An Aerosol e-book Enhancer 😉

What is your personal experience with the e-book?

Stone Soup

Provisions were so scarce in the little village following the war that everyone horded what meager supply he had. When one day a tired, haggard soldier wandered into town, he was advised to move on.

“We have nothing to share with you here.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright,” he answered. “I was just about to make stone soup to share with you.”

And with that, he removed a smooth stone from a velvet bag. He dropped it into a large pot which he filled with water and set over a fire. As the soup began to heat, he carefully tasted the broth and made signs of great satisfaction. The curious villagers gathered round him.

“You know what is even better than stone soup?” he asked. “Stone soup with cabbage. Now that’s a real treat.”

An old man stepped out of the circle and returned in a few moments with a cabbage from his carefully guarded stores.

“Now that we have the cabbage, I do wish there was a bit of salt pork. Salt pork does a great deal to flavor the broth.”

The butcher suddenly remembered that he had a scrap of salt pork in his shop. Soon, to this was added carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. When all was done, the soldier ladled the warm, fragrant soup into bowls and everyone ate his fill.

I loved this story as a child. It seemed to me a most wonderful trick to play on the unsuspecting villagers. The “magic” stone held no magic at all.

Or did it?

An intriguing convergence of events today made me think of the story.

Mike shared with me the curious account of how W* built a deck. He and a friend, equally unskilled in the carpentry arts, made a show of beginning. Perplexed. Confused. A neighbor, seeing their difficulty, brought his considerable expertise to the project. Before long, several carpenters had gathered to contribute to what turned out to be a splendid construction.

Stone soup.

He shared this while I was reading Steven Pressfield’s new book, Do The Work. I was in the middle of the section titled Start Before You’re Ready. Provocative. Disturbing. Convicting. Inviting? Terrifying. Starting is ALWAYS the hardest part for me. Perhaps not only for me.

“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.” ~SP

There is a terror in not being able to see where you are going. But I know, from experience that once I can get past the first few words, the path begins to illumine itself. Just like the invisible bridge that conveys Indiana Jones across a chasm in The Last Crusade. Just like the path that opens for the Israelites along the bottom of the Jordan River AFTER the priests plop their toes into the water. Those bloody, chaotic, frantic, terrifying first steps unleash something bigger than you or me.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way…”

~W. H Murray

Stone soup.

Thank you, Steven Pressfield, for again giving me a much needed kick in the pants!

Dear reader, if you have ever had a dream, of any sort, I beg you to read BOTH Steven Pressfield’s the WAR of ART and Do the Work. The latter is available as a free Kindle download through May 20th. Simply click the title.

What dream terrifies you so much that you know you MUST follow it? What are you waiting for?

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

*Though my friend, W, will read this story with great good humor, I elect to preserve his anonymity. 🙂

Who is John Galt?

Who is John Galt?

It is the opening line of the book. An enigma. A conundrum. A plea? A brilliant bit of storytelling, to be sure. If one is asking a reader to make a 1200 page commitment to a novel, one must seduce them right up front. Ayn Rand certainly knew how to do that.

Today, “Who is John Galt?” has become a password of sorts to those who know her work. It has also become a rallying point amidst fears that we might be slowly creeping toward the type of socialist, entitlement, incentiveless society that horrified her.

You now have a chance to taste a bit of her work. A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is currently in theaters in limited release. While it is impossible to bring the subtleties of the novel to the screen-the luscious character development, the complex meanderings of plot, the layers of philosophical wrangling-I believe the film remains true to the essence of her magnum opus.

While some of the casting decisions are less than stellar, I think Dagny Taggart is spot on. Elegant. Pretty…enough. Fiercely determined. Cool. Collected. With passion reigned in always just below the surface, but thrumming loud enough that those around her are properly intimidated. I love the look in Hank’s eyes when he speaks of Reardon Metal. Pride, wonder, love…all in one delirious jumble. I love the dinner scene with Ellis Wyatt when three people who are living life full throttle share ideas and unrestrained laughter over food and wine.

Hired personally by Cecil B Demille for her first job in the movie industry, it would be interesting to know what Rand herself would think of the film. She had studied at the State Institute for Cinema Arts, and her first successes in America came as a screenwriter.

I will be eager to see how film-makers play out the rest of the story. But, more than that, I find myself longing to plunge back into the novel again. To watch Rand bring these characters to life under my eyes. To feel the anxiety and terror and confusion of a world losing its most brilliant minds. To remember how easy it is to delude ourselves into believing almost anything if the words are just right. To get inside the mind of someone who sees the world with clarity and vision and dares to dream of what might be.

Who IS John Galt? It is a question that matters more than you know. Especially today. I invite you to find out.

Theme and Variations…

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it ware ten thousand mile.

~Robert Burns

I sometimes wonder who that first poet was who, compelled by heart pangs of delicious agony, rested upon the rose as symbol. Symbol for the inscrutable, the mystical, the delirium and fascination…of love. Fragile, complex, fragrant, sweet, dangerous; roses have an ineffable quality that makes them seem like spill-over from a world beyond.

Mine have held me spellbound all week. Joshua and I have cut arm-fulls to bring inside. I can’t walk across the porch without stopping to inhale their scent. I have taken dozens of photographs. The delicate, almost translucent petals, when seen against the sunlight display whole prisms of color. The intensity of their beauty is so precise, so sharp, it pains me. Glorious pain! I can’t stop looking at them.

As I find myself carving moments out of my day to simply sit and ponder them…completely captivated by their extraordinary loveliness…my heart beats with that poet. The one who, completely at a loss for words, said to himself, “I will lead them into the rose garden. I will show them this. Then they will know…”

*Unlike Robert Burns’ Scotland, here in the southern U.S. our “newly sprung” roses enjoy their first flush in May, not June. All roses in the post are David Austin English Roses, a delightful combination of old rose form and fragrance with hardiness and liberal re-bloom.  Of the seven varieties I grow, five are featured. Top of the post: L.D. Braithwaite, Numbers 2 and 7: Mary Magdalene, 3, 5 and 8: Lillian Austin, 4: Mortimer Sackler, 5: Othello

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