A State of Grace

What does one do on a morning that begins with Leonard Cohen ? There’s something about his poetry that is unnerving yet so curiously child like. In the film [1] ‘A trip to Montreal with Leonard Cohen in 1965’, directed by Donald Brittain and Don Owen, which is a glimpse into a singular poetic mind, there’s a snippet of an interview in which the interviewer needles Cohen, suggests if he could indeed be a good poet if he did not care about anything. He pushes him to speak of his concerns, if he was bothered by anything, if he cared about anything at all. Cohen very sagely responded that his real concern when he wakes up in the morning is to discover if he is in a state of grace. This state, he explains, is not of having to resolve something as much as it is to approach it with a spirit of balance, ski the slope of chaos, so to speak. This, I felt was a wonderful thought, not the resolution of an issue or the assuming of balance, as much as the question that one begins a day with, ‘Am I in a state of Grace?’

It’s been a wonderful day through an Arboretum; there were friends, tulips and laughter. There was a pileated woodpecker that appeared undisturbed in his singular symphony for an excited audience. There was sunshine and finally a poem after dusk.

Green looks beautiful against blue
On a Saturday, dawn awakens from 
a slumbering in shadows. Saturn rules
the calendar, yes,  but Sol reclaimed
the sky, in  the skein of a conversation,
the shades of an arboretum
Time follows no contrived dictum
A state of grace... I awakened 
in a state of grace. Grace, grace,
he said at early morn, this poet
of fanciful imaginings, skiing the contours
of the days chaos, a slope of road,
a slip of bark and a pileated woodpecker
broke the silence, tunneling
through the skin of dawn.
Through the Tulips
Antiquity held by classic columns,
It's spirits watch through palladian windows,
the sundial never lies about the time of day,
It's grace, only grace that walks you
through the tulips and the green of April,
to the colours of laughter and smiling eyes.
Soul constructions... and must we never forget
the road to those verdant places.
The Verdant and Water

Notes:

[1] A trip to Montreal with Leonard Cohen in 1965 is a glimpse into a singular poetic mind ~https://aeon.co/videos/a-trip-to-montreal-with-leonard-cohen-in-1965-is-a-glimpse-into-a-singular-poetic-mind

A Room with a View

A room with a view

Does the bird know to build a nest in blossoms? I found this on my walk days earlier and it struck me as Virginia Woolf’s, ‘A room of one’s own’, but this isn’t a study; it is actually a boudoir turned bedroom, refurbished to turn into a nursery. Those birds will get creative in there. As an aside, who is to confirm that it takes wealth to scout the best view? I wondered about the title of this poem and wrote one initially, in line with it being ‘A room of one’s own’ and then changed it subsequently into ‘A room with a view’ as I spent unearthly hours before dawn reading Woolf’s classic essay.

If the criticism of Woolf’s essay by Alice Walker [1] is anything to go by, one would imagine that it takes privilege and a safe space to be a writer while she juxtaposed it against the exclusions suffered by women of colour. I find, upon closer scrutiny that Woolf and Walker are on the same page when identifying what it actually takes to be the sort of writer, they imagine a woman writer should be, in chapter four [2] of the book where Woolf quotes

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

Chapter four, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Blossom 
says the wind
and exclamations of winter gather into
a nesting soliloquy.
The sky drapes a curtain
of night
and I can hear
the murmurs of dreams.
Star spangled banners
are the cape
of nationhood but here,
whispers soar on wings
of moonshine
and sleepy buds will blush at an intoxicating dawn.
A room with a view
is no basis for spring
yet on the seventh day
it rained blossoms,
a wondrous thing.

I enjoyed Woolf’s essay and many of the aspects colour timbre in the contemporary even if some of her illustrations are of literary figures from over 400 years. Her flow of thought is as rambunctious as the confluence of rivers and yet, still, soothing like a placid lake. Needless to say, my early morning view was tinted in metaphor and the poem came out the way it did, for if I were to quote Woolf further, in chapter five, she so eloquently suggests the balance of interrelated yet opposing principles even if she genders them.

…it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly…And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized. Brilliant and effective, powerful and masterly, as it may appear for a day or two, it must wither at nightfall; it cannot grow in the minds of others. Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness. There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtains must be close drawn. The writer, I thought, once his experience is over, must lie back and let his mind celebrate its nuptials in darkness. He must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans float calmly down the river.

Chapter five, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

I had so much to learn from this essay, not least, the brilliance of a mind unencumbered by the straitjacket of her times, even as much as she paints it into picture and despises it, she does not shy away from naming it. Her peroration was perhaps even more inspiring in that, it will find a place to nest in any human heart that seeks to capture life in writing, despite the prison house of language, despite the schooling of thought, in spite of the ambitious desire for audience and the inordinate thirst for a purposeful relevance.

“When I rummage in my own mind I find no noble sentiments about being companions and equals and influencing the world to higher ends. I find myself saying briefly and prosaically that it is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves”.

Concluding remarks, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

Notes:

[1]Alice Walker on Woolf’s Essay ~https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Room_of_One%27s_Own (retrieved on 23/apr/2021)

[2]A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (This essay is based upon two papers read to the Arts Society at Newnharn and the Odtaa at Girton in October 1928. The papers were too long to be read in full, and have since been altered and expanded) ~http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200791h.html (retrieved on 23/apr/2021)

I lean against a Baobab

It was in the Ruaha region of Tanzania that a Maasai woman kindly agreed to pose for a photograph. I do not recollect her name now but in every photo, she appeared to be in shy contemplation. Here is one in which she leans against the baobob, while adorned in the collar jewellery that the Maasai are also known for. I wrote a poem for her, to her graceful beauty; serenely contemplative she appears.

I lean against a Baobab


Whispers I sent out at dawn latched
on to the solitary sun trailing
the arc of a common time
in a sky the hue of gold in grass.
The land leans on the baobab
in a dust storm of wheels and lenses.
Wheels and lenses.

When the dust settles, I will dust
my shuka and the goats will return
home, to comfort my eyes that flow
the spate of the Great Ruaha,
seeping secretly into the baobab
I have chores to do, a shuka to darn.
A shuka to darn.

Will they buy the beads I strung
as I rocked Naeku on my back,
to make circles of day and circles
of night, as wide as the baobab,
in the colour of clouds, the colour of sky.
There's colour to stars in a darkened night.
A darkened night.

Killeleshua is fragrant in thousand leaves
Am I not worth more than thirteen Zebu?
The watering hole was flecked in hippos
and the firewood is the colour of dusk
abundantly generous as the baobab
Time, a viscous passing of the sweetest honey.
The sweetest honey.

Notes:

Zebu cattle ~ Maasai cattle that are well adapted to semi arid conditions. Bride price or dowry is set in cattle and paid to the family of the bride.

Killeleshua [1] [Tarchonanthus camphoratus L.]~ A plant the leaves of which are used in bedding or as a deodorant or for fragrance. It smells really lovely.

Shuka ~ garment worn by Maasai, an adaptation of the Scottish tartan

Baobab [2]~ Adansonia digitata, most long lived of the vascular plants and dots the savannas of Africa. Baobab wood has a high water content (up to 79%) and low wood density (0.09-0.17 g · cm(-3)).

Naeku [3] ~ Born in the early morning, the name of a Maasai girl born at dawn

References:

[1]Plant Use of the Maasai of Sekenani Valley, Maasai Mara, Kenya ~https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7105760_Plant_Use_of_the_Maasai_of_Sekenani_Valley_Maasai_Mara_Kenya (retrieved:22/Apr/2021)

[2]Baobab~https://bsapubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3732/ajb.93.9.1251

[3]Maasai names ~https://www.tuko.co.ke/300890-beautiful-maasai-names-meanings.html

Defining a beach birthday

Here are some more attempts at imagery through Ekphrastic poetry triggered by a photograph of my birthday Crème brûlée from last year. There are many months to go before another one and hurrah, I will be two !

Birthday minimalism

Ekphrasis refers to “Description” in Greek and an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. (Poetry Foundation). I have veered away from the traditional in that I have chosen an object from the everyday for the subject of my poem, in this case a sweet dessert.

Hannah Huff has described it best [1] in that Ekphrastic poetry about art is the use of rhetorical device, where art amplifies art. In the original Greek Ekphrastic exercises, Huff maintains, there was a lot of ‘rhetorical sashaying’ unlike as in the more rigid definitions used in latter times, in the poetry oft used as examples in illustrating Ekphrasis. Ekphrastic poetry makes for vivid imagery and draws the reader into the artwork, it brings a fresh perspective on a painting or any form of visual imagery created by another artist. The most over used example I think is John Keats’, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, but in her essay, she has analysed Edward Hirsch’s “Edward Hopper and the House By the Railroad (1925)”, in a thorough Ekphrastic Poem Literary Analysis for it’s lucid detail, poetic response and focus on a painting. This is a great starting point to understand the nuance of image amplification.

Here below is less of an Ekphrastic poem, as in, it started off intending to be one and then simply became a poem wandering in wondering.

Aging in Sand A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing an aging carapace amidst / a sage gathering of beach sanded feet / in stringy thongs of varicose veins / confined to callus corruptions that splice / into years of cloudy hair // Candles are wished away in smoke / as a monsoon carafe pours over a thatched roof / and time slows until the sun returns / and dries the grains of sand to measure the minutes / to another cake finale // Do you not sometimes prefer knowing the days you didn't remain born ? But these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

The other attempt at making the object itself interpret or thread the theme of the poem has a bit more of Ekphrasis but I am unsatisfied that it isn’t wholly Ekphrastic as yet. This calls for further explorations in this genre.

Caramel Halo                    A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing a wise halo amidst / a sage gathering on sand / as pale as the sugar from Morogoro* / The years string in sweet zest / like streaks of happiness in the hair / every old day stamped in cloudy white reflections / but soft like cream / and every new day burnt like sugar, as promising as a new sunrise / Candles are lit in hopes of happy sunsets / as a monsoon carafe pours love / in rain that drops over sand // Do you not marvel that we are alive for a singular spark in the eternity of death ? And these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

*Morogoro is a region in Tanzania that has some of the major sugar plantations in the country.

In a very interesting essay [2] on the evolution of Ekphrasis, of the various writers that engaged in it, is one by Marjorie Munsterberg. The author has explained in great detail about John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) impassioned defense of the painter J.M.W. Turner in brilliant ekphrastic passages where he described Turner’s painting , ‘Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On”, also known as ‘The Slave Ship’. She has also included in the essay William M. Thackeray’s Ekphrasis of the same painting which serves as an art criticism of Ruskin’s work. These are tremendously informative exercises on Ekphrasis.

My Ekphrastic poetry exercise also triggered the gustatory, so I looked for a recipe that I should try sometime soon given that I bought six very fancy ramekins recently and I haven’t even ever used my older ones for a Crème brûlée!! The reason I chose this one from ‘Sally’s Baking Addiction’ [3] is because she wrote something towards the end, that struck me as quite poetic. Her recipe is well illustrated and the dessert looks supremely delicious.

"Burnt sugar on creamy custard = simple beauty and decadence. Doesn’t this make you feel fancy? We should be wearing pearls and eating our crème brûlées with crystal spoons while sitting on our gold thrones calling each other on our diamond encrusted phones talking about how fancy we are."

~ Sally

Speaking of birthdays and aging, I would add that as a woman grows older, she must hopefully do it like Sophia Loren in Mambo Italiano. Here is a woman who knows how to have fun [4] like she is the last one standing. Thank you for reading !!

References:

[1]Ekphrastic poetry: When Art Kindles Literature; Hannah Huff ~https://notesofoak.com/discover-literature/ekphrastic-poetry/ (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[2]Ekphrasis; Marjorie Munsterberg ~https://writingaboutart.org/pages/ekphrasis.html (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[3]~https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/creme-brulee/

[4]Sophia Loren Mambo Italiano ~https://youtu.be/XL8_WRJmFJU

A trail of moments

A trail of blossoms
I spilled blossoms on my walk today / a trail of moments so I could find my way to morning // Morning makes way for day as it rises over the mulberry trees / tart, like  blackberries, sweet  those  jellies I made last summer // Summer will last in sweet confections after the squirrels and the catbirds have had their fill / My neighbour's dog grabbed a strolling skunk that pissed on him // A pissed skunk can get very smelly and the poor pooch mistook him for a friend / after a scrubbing five times over, he smelled of miraculous detergents that pray for such an event, while laying in quiet at the box store // The store boxed many a celestial blossom that I bought for the garden but the phlox I had, overwintered in a pot, a real survivor/ Rosemary yearns for summer and the lavender will flavour mulberry jelly in a hint of Provence // Provence hinted at a lemon tart last week, we devoured it in its crumbly base of Pâté sucrée,  shared some with our neighbour / and the border collie, I heard him howl like a coyote, for lemons smell wilder than skunk //

Further reading:

Morus alba tatarica or the Russian Mulberry ~https://lebeaubamboo.com/Morus-alba-tatarica-Russian-Mulberry.php

A deciduous and large shade tree, with fruit that look like blackberries, this mulberry is fast growing and a great addition to any garden. The fruits make for wonderful jellies and preserves. They cover the pathways mid summer, squish under the feet in crimson stains. The squirrels, skunks and raccoons, all like the berries too !

Some rough estimates on stray and abandoned pets at shelters in the US ~https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics~Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats).

The border collie came fully formed and grown, from a shelter. The adorable dog will probably get skunked again if given the opportunity. He actually got scrubbed down in Nature’s Miracle, a brand for especially such eventualities. Hydrogen peroxide is apparently the easier and least fancy solution to getting skunked.

About the poem: I took it up to myself as an Ekphrastic challenge from a flower portrait I created last week.

Prayer circles

An excerpt from the overstory, I name this, Patricia’s Prayer
Prodigious dying pulls her along, past an immense western red cedar. Her hand strokes the fibrous strips that peel from a colossal, fluted trunk reeking of incense. The top has sheared off, replaced by a candelabra of stand-in trunks. A grotto opens at ground level in the rotted heartwood, big enough for whole families of mammals. But the scaly sprays of branches, a thousand years on, still teem with cones. She addresses the cedar, in words of the forest’s first humans. “Long Life Maker. I’m here. Down here.” She feels foolish, at first. But each word is a little easier than the next.
“Thank you for the baskets and the boxes. Thank you for the capes and hats and skirts. Thank you for the cradles. The beds. The diapers. Canoes. Paddles, harpoons, and nets. Poles, logs, posts. The rot-proof shakes and shingles. The kindling that will always light.”
Finding no good reason to quit now, she lets the gratitude spill out, following the ancient formula. “Thank you for the tools. The chests. The decking. The closets. The paneling. I forget … Thank you for all these gifts that you have given.” Not knowing how to stop, she adds, “We’re sorry. We didn’t know how hard it is for you to grow back.” ~ excerpt ~http://m.nautil.us/issue/59/connections/the-woman-redeemed-by-trees

The morning brought news of the death of people we know, the pandemic, politics and dysfunctional society. The poetry got densely pathogenic, political and sadly, societal. All these are strange bedfellows, so I did a volte face, inspired by those that seem to ‘do’ life much better, the Woodlands. I have chosen an except from the book, The Overstory, a novel by Richard Powers, published in 2018, his twelfth. The novel is about five trees whose unique life experiences with nine Americans bring them together to address the destruction of forests. Patricia Westerford, one of the novel’s central characters, was heavily inspired by the life and work of forest ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard (Wikipedia). The poem today, is about the prayer in breath.

Economy of breath is a strange absence of gratitude / the world, an endless reflection of a mirage / a soul mirroring of fearful deceptions, tethering in ripples / The  iron abs, a hard surface for the navel, a sad reminder / of an earlier, umbilical existence / So breathe //
Prayer circles in the loam / the mycelia of fairy tales / commiserating in prayers / ripples on land /  So breathe //
Ruins, in a forest in Pennsylvania
To what purpose a fireplace in the woods / Of what meaning, your singularity adrift, in the universe / tethered only to Earth / You are alone somewhere roped to pain / If it were love, it would be a tree / undulating canopies whispering in ripples across a forest / so breathe //
A drowning is the rising of breath / spiriting to the surface / Death and life in a single moment as you swallow the sea / but it isn't life without death / and to die, one must live / so breathe //
Is the heart but a knot in an artery / so life can pulse, not flow / It throbs at every moment to startle into wakefulness / wondering if heartbeats spanned in meaning across the horizon / to spirit away in silence / like unseen ripples / so breathe //

Perhaps, I will add to this poem eventually, like a limitless ripple. Thank you for reading.