For some strange reason, this felt like a chant, a litany. I read it many times. The smell and feel of all those earthy things, and the long walk to the market with the ox, brought me peace. [20 Dec 2012]
Ox Cart Man
In October of the year,
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,
counting the seed, counting
the cellar’s portion out,
and bags the rest on the cart’s floor.
He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather
tanned from deerhide,
and vinegar in a barrel
hooped by hand at the forge’s fire.
He walks by his ox’s head, ten days
to Portsmouth Market, and sells potatoes,
and the bag that carried potatoes,
flaxseed, birch brooms, maple sugar, goose
When the cart is empty he sells the cart.
When the cart is sold he sells the ox,
harness and yoke, and walks
home, his pockets heavy
with the year’s coin for salt and taxes,
and at home by fire’s light in November cold
stitches new harness
for next year’s ox in the barn,
and carves the yoke, and saws planks
building the cart again.
The Second Sermon on the Warpland For Walter Bradford
1. This is the urgency: Live! and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.
2. Salve salvage in the spin. Endorse the splendor splashes; stylize the flawed utility; prop a malign or failing light— but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth.
Not the easy man, who rides above them all, not the jumbo brigand, not the pet bird of poets, that sweetest sonnet, shall straddle the whirlwind.
3. All about are the cold places, all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft— all about are the stormers and scramblers but what must our Season be, which stars from Fear? Live and go out. Define and medicate the whirlwind.
4. The time cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.
Whose half-black hands assemble oranges is tom-tom hearted (goes in bearing oranges and boom). And there are bells for orphans— and red and shriek and sheen.
A garbageman is dignified as any diplomat. Big Bessie’s feet hurt like nobody’s business, but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny, stands in the wild weed.
In the wild weed she is a citizen, and is a moment of highest quality; admirable.
It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud. Nevertheless, live.
Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.
And again I recall how small we are,
how ninety nine percent of all species
that have ever lived are extinct,
how thin our stripe in geologic time,
how remarkable that we are here at all.
And suddenly all that matters
is that I love you—and what are the odds?
How many billion years in the making,
this rush of gratitude, this burgeoning
joy, this thrill in the sheer Cenozoic luck
to feel the concurrent burning and quenching,
the simultaneous bite and salve, the Quaternary
gift of thriving and failing at the same time?
If it feels as if it’s taken forever to get to this place,
lover, it has. Think trilobite. T-rex. Cave bear.
Wooly mammoth. Think how little time
has passed, and how lucky, how lucky we are.
"I'm making a list of things I'm not allowed to say:
That I'm lonely. And that I fear this loneliness will crush me, slowly and by degrees.
...That I feel like I'm stuck behind a glass wall watching everyone else live a life I've only ever dreamt of. That it is isolation in plain sight.
.. That I have become greedy for affection. And I fear there is some threshold for loneliness that should I pass I may never recover. That it sometimes rushes in like a tidal wave, flooding levees and toppling internal infrastructure, leaving me at a crowded dinner table afraid to look up from my plate for fear that someone may see the sadness in my eyes.
That loving someone does make everything a little bit easier. There is this construct in psychology called transactive memory. It is the idea that we store information and ideas - memories even - in the minds of the people around us. I cannot help but wonder if this is true of joy and sadness too? If it is possible to share emotion in this way? And what must it feel like when a person you love carries your heaviness, if only for a moment?
That there is exposure in living one's life alone.
And that for a stretch of time I walk north on Sixth Avenue each morning and pass a man who spends the whole of his day yelling upwards at the sky. I wonder if we aren't more alike than not. It would be easy to say, No, of course not.
But loneliness, stripped of the many layers in which we dress it, is fundamentally the same."
"I wear sadness differently now than I did at eighteen or 25 or any of the years in between.
I'm more comfortable with my own brokenness - more at ease with the notion that it's the well from which I draw empathy and kindness and humour. It is so telling of what it is to be human and alive in this world."
Barbara Kingsolver was introduced to me by a random foreigner who saw me at a flea market sale and ordered me, "You MUST read this!" ('The Poisonwood Bible'). I am always moved by people who take that effort to make my experience of life a little deeper, whether or not they know me - hey, don't we share the same planet, what introductions are we waiting for? - :) - so I bought it. And was completely blown away! Kingsolver is an amazing writer.
I can so relate to this passage, it's something I do. :) On my worst days, I go out early in the morning, bruised, hollow, empty - and look at every fallen leaf and flower, every spot of colour along my way, every squirrel going crazy at the return of the light ("Oh my God, it's back!"), and allow them to fill me, one by one.
“In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again.
Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.”
"Adams raises the questions, “Is art a sufficient consolation for life? Can Beauty make suffering tolerable?” His answer, while not an all-out endorsement for art, is real, and tangible. He says: “The fact is, I think that they are only partly sufficient. If we are not too burdened by disappointment or loneliness or pain, there are certainly times when art can help; there are moments when great pictures can heal. Views by Masaccio and Rembrandt and Cezanne and Stieglitz, among others, have all been important to me in this way.”
He goes on to say:
“Sometimes it has been enough to search out a cafe blessed with a jukebox, rattling dishes, and human voices. Family and friends are better though. What a relief there is in an anecdote, a jumping dog, or the brush of a hand. All of these things are disorderly, but no plan for survival stands a chance without them.”
Our every day life is what will save us, perhaps, in the end. The beauty of that, whether it's captured in a photograph, or in a poem, or paragraph."
When the man pulled my father from the icy waters of Lake Michigan, he did not know years later my step-daughter would need someone to buy her a sweater so she would feel nurtured, did not know
that my son would need someone to make a mosaic with him so that he could feel loved, did not know that my daughter would need someone to tell her that she was beautiful. When the man
pulled my father from the water when he fell in while fishing alone, that man couldn’t know that years later this daughter would sit beside her father and hold his hand and weep at the simple gift of being able to hold his hand.
The man was doing what he knew to do— to rush to the person in need of help. He didn’t think then of the other lives blessed by the man. Did not think of the other lives blessed by his hands when he chose to try, though the odds were low. He knew only to reach.
Years later, my mother still sleeps beside the man that was pulled from the winter lake.
Give us hands that know to reach for each other—stranger, neighbor, friend. Give us hands that unthinkingly choose to save the family we’ve never met.