Sunday, October 27, 2013

prevailing westerlies

What is the nature of personal space? How people share a sidewalk in my neighborhood, stand in a line at the ATM, or fill a movie theater one by one or two by two: it seems to me that there is no way of predicting how people will relate to one another. Some folks come near, others seek a wider path.

Yesterday, I was walking in Sonoma and saw this wonderfully barren hill, with two oaks bending toward the east because of the prevailing westerlies. They were nearly touching on an isolated hill. How do oaks determine their space?

Do we make space, or come close, due to some prevailing force? Or, maybe it is simply learned. I grew up in a family where touch was limited, each had our own inviolate personal space in the house and alone time was considered precious. I’m not sure I would be very comfortable with the oak on the left in this picture. I will think about that today as I walk down my street, bundled up against the wind from the west.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

a perfect identity

I spent a long time with this twisted, aged and yet still growing tree. Hanging on the very edge of a cliff, always reaching westward. Gnarled into an incredible beauty, so unlike the “stately elms”, with a broad canopy of green, that graced our street in my childhood Denver. One icy winter day, I was privileged to give a ride home from a community UNESCO meeting to a stunningly beautiful woman. She had a tattoo on her left arm. A holocaust survivor. As she contemplated the winter scene, she said to me, or to the universe: “See how each tree in winter has its own perfect identity. You can’t see that in summer.”

Somehow, because of her, I see that identity in this tree. I wish that I had a photo of those winter trees, or the bristlecone and gnarled sequoias that I have seen. I do have a clear, visual remembrance, though.

A wonderful poem, by a very fine poet about "trees".

Hard Night
          by Christian Wiman

What words or harder gift
does the light require of me
carving from the dark
this difficult tree?

What place or farther peace
do I almost see
emerging from the night
and heart of me?

The sky whitens, goes on and on.
Fields wrinkle into rows
of cotton, go on and on.
Night like a fling of crows
disperses and is gone

What song, what home,
what calm or one clarity
can I not quite come to,
never quite see:
this field, this sky, this tree.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

thinking about Matthew

Another kind of fence

On a sunny California day, October 7, 1998, I was so stunned by a news report of the savage attack on Matthew Shepard in Wyoming that I had to pull to the side of the freeway and gather my thoughts. I know the plains. I was raised in a ranching family from NE Colorado. I knew the kinds of secrets that could precipitate a hate crime.

The memory of a young boy left hanging on a prairie fence post for eighteen hours still sears my soul. He died on October 12th. What can one do to change such a world? His mother and father have devoted their lives to bringing a message of hope and peace to other outsiders like Matthew. And, being from the plains, I know that his killers were outsiders, too. That is one of the legacies of that part of the West.

My greatest wish is that in someway, somewhere, sometime, I have been able to give witness to nonviolence and perhaps someone has foregone learned hate.

Thoughts of the plains attitudes, the long and terribly lonely roads and the need to escape have been motivators of much of my poetry. My poem about Matthew’s death written from a note taken that day on a freeway remains one of the most potent for me, though so imperfect.

 wind : Matthew Shepard

wind-seared fragment of a boy
if only I were able to hang with you
on the Laramie fence post

a son of the prairie, like you
I longed to escape its desolation
but just moved on

life holds less now
knowing that you were
martyred on that split rail

none, none, no virus, violence
or loss of self
marks my quest

no martyrdom beyond the common:
a wearying howl
of an old-man wind

Sunday, October 6, 2013

another voice may speak

One of those days when there simply isn't much feeling of creativity....perhaps too much work, too busy with the stuff of life. But, remembering this poem....allowing another voice to speak....


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.”

― Mary Oliver, Thirst