One Day at a Time

One day at a time –

One cloud humming in a pure sky,

One dying tree,

Russet leaves falling.

The flight of one hawk calling

The laugh of one young monkey

In the towering trees,

One caught gecko cheeping

Between my cat’s teeth.

One call from a friend –

Oh, how deep this goes!

One coyote’s song

So wild, so old.

All I have to do,

While I am waiting,

Is listen

One day at a time.

SSH

Photo by Scott Suriano
Photo by Scott Suriano

I Thought the Ocean was Forever

From The Guardian

We hear the call of the sea in poems from Coleridge and Eliot to Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner, but those words also sound a warning – if only we would listen

David Farrier, Mon 26 Dec 2022

TS Eliot wrote The Dry Salvages as second world war bombs fell on London. The poem imagines humanity adrift in a leaky boat, the sea “all about us”. But poetry, like the sea, is never still. “Where is there an end to the drifting wreckage,” the poem asks. The answer: “There is no end, but addition” reads differently in 2022 than in 1941, as 12m tonnes of plastic are added to the oceans each year.

Reading is tidal, and each tide brings with it new associations. It is difficult now to read John Masefield’s Sea-Fever without thinking of bleaching coral, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner without picturing Chris Jordan’s photographs of dead albatross, their stomachs full of brightly coloured plastic. “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” but avian flu is decimating seabird populations.

Poetry, both old and new, not only reveals the oceans’ uncanny beauty, it also frames the monstrous dilemmas of rising seas, pollution, and declining biodiversity.

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner’s collection Iep Jaltok confronts the existential challenge of sea-level rise for island nations. In 2 Degrees, her infant daughter’s fever prompts a bitter reflection on the arrogance of fossil fuel-consuming nations: the difference between 1.5C and 2C “Seems small … just crumbs / like the Marshall Islands / must look / on a map”. Jetn̄il-Kijiner was the Marshall Islands’ climate envoy at Cop27, and criticised the failure to phase out fossil fuels even as developing nations celebrated the loss and damage fund.

“The call of the running tide / Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;” writes Masefield in Sea-Fever. Likewise, the Marshall Islands’ claim to a liveable future in the face of rapidly rising tides is – or ought to be – irresistible.

There is hope in these poems, but it’s something made in the face of grim predictions. Two poems, arranged to resemble baskets, bookend Jetn̄il-Kijiner’s collection, the words like tiny atolls in the white sea of the page:

Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner poem from Iep Jaltok collection

The loss of indigenous cultures washes away whole worlds. Among the Inupiaq of Alaska, seals, whales and seabirds are people. Even “Oil is a People,” writes Inupiaq poet dg nanouk okpik. Throughout her collection Corpse Whale, okpik uses a split pronoun, “she/I”, to express this sense of shared personhood. “Will they crawl around her / me, sink their eyeteeth in the sea,” she asks in If Oil is Drilled in Bristol Bay.

“Where they want / to claim the sea for roads,” she writes in No Fishing on the Point, “She’s/I’ve watched the currents, / […] / which bring […] feasts, and famine.”

For much of human history, the sea’s vastness has suggested eternity, a metaphysical space into which we have poured both our dreams and our waste. There are at least 415 marine dead zones around the world, areas so polluted by nitrogen and phosphorus that the water is free of oxygen. Like the “the rotting sea” of Coleridge’s poem, where “a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on;” nothing can survive in a dead zone, except jellyfish and bacteria. “Globe globe globe globe,” pulses the jellyfish in Les Murray’s poem, Jellyfish, intimating both its soft-bodied shape and the prospect of a future ocean dominated by anoxic life.

But poetry isn’t science; not bound simply to report on the state of things, poetry is free to imagine what could be. Brenda Shaughnessy’s The Octopus Museum presents a future Earth ruled by cephalopods, creatures whose intelligence is proof that, as the philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith puts it, “the mind evolved in the sea”. In Caleb Parkin’s day-glo collection This Fruiting Body, chromatophoric creatures rave (“your skin / sings eight-thousand synthesised octopoid loops”) and Ecco the Dolphin, the hero of Sega’s 1990s video game classic, “roves immaculate 16-bit oceans”.

Parkin’s poems celebrate a fluid nature uncontained by binary thinking. A carrier bag floating in the sea becomes “a lazy misremembering / of plankton masses”. The synthetic and the organic flow into one another. That fluidity can be deadly: turtles eat plastic bags because they resemble “the ghost of a jellyfish”. But Parkin’s carrier bag wants no more than “to unpack itself […] / to become once again bustling plankton masses.” We know some bacteria colonise marine plastic, and have even evolved to metabolise it. The force underpinning all life, Parkin reminds us, is desire.

Desire is also the main current of The European Eel, Steve Ely’s lush recreation of the incredible transatlantic migration eels undertake to their spawning grounds in the Sargasso Sea. Little is known about their ocean-going lives, but in Ely’s telling it becomes a testimony to life’s irrepressibility. A female eel will gradually consume her own body to fuel the journey, “reducing herself to the seed of her species’ future”. It culminates in an ecstatic account of eel sex, coiling in billowing clouds of golden milt and ova, “sparks from the cornucopian flame / of Archaea’s unkillable, dark pleroma”.

Life thrills in the shallows as well as the deep. The glory of the foreshore is celebrated in Of Sea, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett’s bestiary of the intertidal zone. Mud shrimp drifting with the tide float in “silk light”; ragworm, burrowing in estuarine mud, shimmer “in all the love of being”.

We might say a poem is a bit like a boat, a vessel borne aloft by rhythms that surge or eddy. It is also like the sea itself, with its deep places and ever-receding horizon. “The sea has many voices,” observes Eliot in The Dry Salvages. More than anything, the many voices of oceanic poetry declare the vitality of life even in the midst of crisis. “There is a lullaby in all of us,” Burnett writes, “a call of sea”. If only we would listen.

David Farrier is professor of Literature and the Environment at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils

Photo by SSH

Perspective

I am standing on the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.  An object of beauty and strength, she sails into the distance diminishing in size, until she hangs like a speck of white cloud where the sea and sky mingle.

 Then someone says, “There!  She’s gone.” Gone where?  Gone from my sight—that’s all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination.

 But her diminished size is in me, not in her; and just at the moment when that someone at my side says, “There!  She’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

Henry Van Dyke

Photo by SSH

Endings

In literature, we have a chance for closure. We can put the punctuation mark wherever we like, whether it marks the end of grief, the beginning of a relationship, the birth of a child, the end of a life, or the decision to live again. . . . Writers are not seers. Armed with the “knowledge of what has gone before,” we mold events, truths, into narrative, and hope and know that the last punctuation mark is not the end, but the invitation to begin again.

http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/author/evdecleyre

Photo by SSH

Silence

Once again, I have run across a fragment that long ago I stashed in a dark corner of my computer for future use, and I failed to attribute it. I like this piece because it fits so well with my focus on the natural world, both in Evelio’s Garden, and in my daily life. If anyone recognizes this piece or its writer, please let me know so I can attribute it properly. Thanks. SSH

Hello chatter, my old friend.

The sounds of silence are a dim recollection now, like mystery, privacy and paying attention to one thing — or one person — at a time.

As far back as half-a-century ago, the Swiss philosopher Max Picard warned: “Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence,” once as natural as the sky and air.

As fiendish little gadgets conspire to track our movements and record our activities wherever we go, producing a barrage of pictures of everything we’re doing and saying, our lives will unroll as one long instant replay.

There will be fewer and fewer of what Virginia Woolf called “moments of being,” intense sensations that stand apart from the “cotton wool of daily life.”

“In the future, not getting any imagery or story line or content is going to be the equivalent of silence because people are so filled up now with streaming video,” said Ed Schlossberg, the artist, author and designer who runs ESI Design. “Paying attention to anything will be the missing commodity in future life. You think you’ll miss nothing, but you’ll probably miss everything.”

Schlossberg said that, for a long time, art provided the boundary for silence, “but now art, in some cases, is so distracting and intense and faceted, it’s hard to step into a moment. Especially when you’re always carrying a microcamera and a screen all the time, both recording and playing back constantly rather than allowing moments of composition and stillness when your brain can go into a reverie.”

Creativity Needs Silence

I’m sorry I’ve lost the attribution for this quote — if anyone can help me here, I’d be grateful.  Meanwhile, I thank the nameless writer for some important thoughts about what we need to start paying attention to.

Hello chatter, my old friend.

The sounds of silence are a dim recollection now, like mystery, privacy and paying attention to one thing — or one person — at a time.

As far back as half-a-century ago, the Swiss philosopher Max Picard warned: “Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence,” once as natural as the sky and air.

As fiendish little gadgets conspire to track our movements and record our activities wherever we go, producing a barrage of pictures of everything we’re doing and saying, our lives will unroll as one long instant replay.

There will be fewer and fewer of what Virginia Woolf called “moments of being,” intense sensations that stand apart from the “cotton wool of daily life.”

“In the future, not getting any imagery or story line or content is going to be the equivalent of silence because people are so filled up now with streaming video,” said Ed Schlossberg, the artist, author and designer who runs ESI Design. “Paying attention to anything will be the missing commodity in future life. You think you’ll miss nothing, but you’ll probably miss everything.”

Photo by Coral Jewell

 

 

Poetry is a Presence

From John Berger’s And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos:

Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat. Everything moves towards the end, when the outcome will be known.

Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that what has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. (Who, still on a battlefield, wants monuments?) The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out. Poems are nearer to prayers than stories, but in poetry there is no one behind the language being prayed to. It is the language itself which has to hear and acknowledge. For the religious poet, the Word is the first attribute of God. In all poetry words are presence before they are a means of communication.

Yet poetry uses the same words, and more or less the same syntax as, say, the Annual General Report of a multinational corporation. (Corporations that prepare for their profit some of the most terrible battlefields of the modern world.) How then can poetry so transform language that, instead of simply communicating information, it listens and promises and fulfills the role of God?

That a poem may use the same words as a Company Report means no more than the fact that a lighthouse and a prison cell may be built with stones from the same quarry, joined by the same mortar. Everything depends upon the relation between the words. And the sum total of all these possible relations depends upon how the writer relates to language, not as vocabulary, not as syntax, not even as structure, but as a principal and a presence.

The poet places language beyond the reach of time: or, more accurately, the poet approaches language as if it were a place, an assembly point, where time has no finality, where time itself is encompassed and contained.

If poetry sometimes speaks of its own immortality, the claim is more far-reaching than that of the genius of a particular poet in a particular cultural history. Immortality here should be distinguished from posthumous fame. Poetry can speak of mortality because it abandons itself to language, in the belief that language embraces all experience, past, present, and future.

To speak of the promise of poetry would be misleading, for a promise projects into the future, and it is precisely the coexistence of future, present, and past that poetry proposes. A promise that applies to the present and past as well as to the future can better be called an assurance.

During the 18th and 19th centuries most direct protests against social injustice were in prose. They were reasoned arguments written in the belief that, given time, people would come to see reason, and that, finally, history was on the side of reason. Today this is by no means clear. The outcome is by no means guaranteed. The suffering of the present and the past is unlikely to be redeemed by a future era of universal happiness. And evil is a constant ineradicable reality. All this means that the resolution – the coming to terms with the sense to be given to life – cannot be deferred. The future cannot be trusted. The moment of truth is now. And more and more it will be poetry, rather than prose, that receives this truth. Prose is far more trusting than poetry; poetry speaks to the immediate wound.

The boon of language is not tenderness. All that it holds, it holds with exactitude and without pity, even a term of endearment; the word is impartial: the usage is all. The boon of language is that potentially it is complete, it has the potentiality of holding with words the totality of human experience – everything that has occurred and everything that may occur. It even allows space for the unspeakable. In this sense one can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannot be hostile to man. For prose this home is a vast territory, a country which it crosses through a network of tracks, paths, highways; for poetry this home is concentrated on a single center, a single voice, and this voice is simultaneously that of an announcement and the response to it.

One can say anything to language. This is why it is a listener, closer to us than any silence or any god. Yet it’s very openness can signify indifference (the indifference of language is continually solicited and employed in bulletins, legal records, communiques, files.) Poetry addresses language in such a way as to close this indifference and to incite this caring. How does poetry incite this caring? What is the labor of poetry?

By this I do not mean the work involved in writing a poem, but the work of the written poem itself. Every authentic poem contributes to the labor of poetry. And the task of this unceasing labor is to bring together what life has separated or violence has torn apart. Physical pain can usually be lessened or stopped only by action. All other human pain, however, is caused by one form or another of separation. And here the act of asuagement is less direct. Poetry can repair no loss but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered. Three thousand five hundred years ago an Egyptian poet was writing:

O my beloved

how sweet it is

to go down

and bathe in the pool

before your eyes

letting you see how

my drenched linen dress

marries

the beauty of my body

Come look at me.

Poetry’s impulse to use metaphor, to discover resemblance, is not to make comparisons (all comparisons as such are hierarchical) or to diminish the particularity of any event; it is to discover those correspondences of which the sum total would be proof of the individual totality of existence. To this totality poetry appeals, and its appeal is the opposite of a sentimental one; sentimentality always pleads for an exemption, for something which is divisible.

Apart from reassembling by metaphor, poetry reunites by its reach. It equates the reach of a feeling with the reach of the universe; after a certain point the type of extremity involved becomes unimportant and all that matters is its degree; by their degree alone extremities are joined. Anna Akhmatova:

I bear equally with you

the black permanent separation.

Why are you crying? Rather give me your hand,

promise to come again in a dream.

You and I are a mountain of grief.

You and I will never meet on this earth.

If only you could send me at midnight

a greeting through the stars.

To argue here that the subjective and objective are confused is to return to an empirical view which the extent of present suffering challenges; strangely enough it is to claim an unjustified privilege.

Poetry makes language care because it renders everything intimate. This intimacy is the result of the poem’s labor, the result of the bringing-together-into-intimacy of every act and noun and event and perspective to which the poem refers. There is often nothing more substantial to place against the cruelty and indifference of the world than this caring.

From where does Pain come to us?

From where does he come?

He has been the brother of our visions

From time immemorial

And the guide of our rhymes.

. . . writes the poet Nazuj ak Nak’-ika.

To break the silence of events, to speak of experience however bitter or lacerating, to put into words, is to discover the hope that these words may be heard, and that when heard, the events will be judged. This hope is of course at the origin of prayer, and prayer – as well as labor – was probably at the origin of speech itself. Of all uses of language, it is poetry that preserves most purely the memory of this origin.

Every poem that works as a poem is original and original has two meanings: it means a return to the origin, the first which engendered everything that followed; and it means that which has never occurred before. In poetry, and in poetry alone, the two senses are united in such a way that they are no longer contradictory.

Nevertheless poems are not simple prayers. Even a religious poem is not exclusively and uniquely addressed to God. Poetry is addressed to language itself. In a lamentation, words lament loss to their language. Poetry is addressed to language in a comparable but wider way.

To put into words is to find the hope that the words will be heard and the events they describe judged. Judged by God or judged by history. Either way the judgment is distant yet the language, which is immediate and which is sometimes wrongly thought of as being only a means, the language offers obstinately and mysteriously, its own judgment when it is addressed as poetry. This judgment is distinct from that of any moral code, yet it promises, within its acknowledgment of what it has heard, a distinction between good and evil – as though language itself had been created to preserve just that distinction!

Photo by SSH

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Stephen Hawking . . .

From The Universe in Verse

SINGULARITY
by Marie Howe

(after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money —

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.
   Remember?

There was no   Nature.    No
them.   No tests

to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that

to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

This Hubble image gives the most detailed view of the entire Crab Nebula ever. The Crab is among the most interesting and well studied objects in astronomy. This image is the largest image ever taken with Hubble’s WFPC2 camera. It was assembled from 24 individual exposures taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and is the highest resolution image of the entire Crab Nebula ever made.

All Writers Are Vain . . .

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality.”  – George Orwell, “Why I Write”

Photo by SSH

 

The Power of Memoir

A faraway relative wrote me at Christmas to say she had read Letters from the Pacific and liked it, and that she had keyed particularly to things relating to family. “We have more in common than I thought,” she wrote, and it struck me forcefully that she and I – who haven’t seen each other in 30 years and who write only at Christmas – were able to connect across time and space through the telling of a very small part of my personal journey.

It also struck me that she and I, while experiencing such similar feelings, have arrived at such different places. I had written:

Day Three, at Sea: I am remembering, as I look out at an almost full tropical moon and smell the sweet night as the sky begins to pale over the Pacific, that my father was in these waters at the end of the war. It was from a ship somewhere out here that he wrote that horrified letter to his Admiral after the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the letter, he sounds like an outraged, disillusioned youth – almost as if he hadn’t yet seen Omaha Beach, with the bodies rolling in the surf and the shells screaming overhead. Maybe with Hiroshima, he finally had enough of killing and death. When I was growing up, he never talked about the war. Being here reminds me of this Pacific connection to him – pacific connection, after all the rage at his abuses – and it occurs to me that I would like to go through his papers once more. After he died, I could only skim them, didn’t even want to touch them. Now, here, another notch in my ability to forgive him seems to have clicked into place. I go up to watch the sunrise from the observation deck. All alone out here, with nothing but the balm of a peaceful sea.

Writing this was the first moment on that amazing journey when I was able to look back with calm, past the anger, and realize that forgiveness was what I was really searching for. It’s taken me a long time to find it, but feeling the faint tectonic shift on that peaceful dawn established me on the path. Out there on that wide ocean, I was beginning to discover the healing power of memoir.

And now I see that the power of memoir to touch the hearts of others is a testament to the commonality of human experience; that each of us, however, has a special “take” on that experience that, in the expression, can draw us closer; and, finally, that none of us is as unique as we think we are.

Photo by SSH

Photo by SSH

 

© Sandra Shaw Homer