seasons

The Myth of Permanence

The Myth of Permanence

"Contemplating impermanence can be a liberating experience, one that brings both sobriety and joy."

~ Sakyong Mipham

Your Story Was This

Baxter, June 7, 2014

It Was Like This: You Were Happy
by Jane Hirshfield [listen]

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you 
or your days: they will be wrong, 
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Unable to Decide, While We Trudge

Fernand Toussaint (Belgian artist, 1873-1955) Lady in the Green Dress with MirrorDear Spring
by Charles Simic

Will you please hurry with your preparations?
We are freezing up north as you procrastinate
Like a rich lady with too many gorgeous outfits
To choose from, spending hours in front of
A mirror, trying them on and unable to decide,

While we trudge to the mailbox through wind
And snow, extract our unwilling fingers
From a glove to check if there’s a letter
From you, or just a bitty postcard, saying:
I’m leaving Carolina today, hurrying your way
With my new wardrobe of flowers and birds.

The tease! I bet she starts and forgets one of her
Hand-painted silk fans and has to go back,
While we stamp our feet and wipe our noses here,
Worrying the wood for the stove is running out,
The snow on the roof will bring the house down.

How Little it Takes

Weeping European Beech, Topiary Park, February 9, 2014

Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry, from Given 

Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowlyfalling, and is pleased.

Limitations and Richness of Experience

Sunny Autumn Day, 1892 George Inness (American, 1825-1894)

"I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colors, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death."

~ Lin Yutang, from My Country and My People

Invited to Forget Ourselves

Topiary Park, March 2, 2013

Excerpt from New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

What is serious to [humans] is often very trivial in the sight of God [aka Nature, Time, Source, Mystery of Life].  What in God might appear to us as "play" is perhaps what God takes the most seriously.  At any rate the Lord plays in the garden of creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear God's call and follow in the mysterious, cosmic dance.  We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing.  When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash -- at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the "newness," the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the [Source] in emptiness.  The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast.  The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair.  But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there.  Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.

To Behold and Not To Think

Topiary Park, January 26, 2013

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Part of the Earth

December 26, 2012

Storm
by James Tate 

The snow visits us,
taking little bits of us with it,
to become part of the earth,
an early death and an early return— 

like the filing of tax forms.
And all you can say after adding up
column after column: “I’m not myself.”

And all you can say after the long night
of searching for one certain scrap of paper:
“It never existed.”

And when all the lamps are lit
and the smell of the stew
has followed you upstairs
and slipped under the door of your study:
“The lute is telling the story
of the life I might have lived,
had I not—” 

In my study, which is without heat,
in mid-January, in the hills
of a northern province—only
the thin white-haired volumes
of poetry speak, quietly, like
unfed birds on a night visit 

to a cat farm. And an airplane is lost
in a storm of fitting pins.
The snow falls, far into the interior.

More than Enough

Satan in his Original Glory: 'Thou wast Perfect till Iniquity was Found in Thee', William Blake, circa 1805

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.<
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
...

Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

~ William Blake, from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Proverbs of Hell)

Little Scraps

West Second Avenue, October 2010

October
by Don Thompson, from American Life in Poetry: Column 341

I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.

Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.

Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.

This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps.

This Everything Dance

Rocky Mountain National Park, 2007

"I like to live in the sound of water, in the feel of the mountain air. A sharp reminder hits me: this world still is alive; it stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I'm part of it. Even my breathing enters into this elaborate give-and-take, this bowing to sun and moon, day and night, winter, summer, storm, still—this tranquil chaos that seems to be going somewhere. This wilderness with a great peacefulness in it. This motionless turmoil, this everything dance."

~ William Stafford

 

[@WhiskeyRiver]

 

Suddenly the Whole House Made Sense

Zero
by George Bilgere, from The White Museum

Photo by Lisa Ann Robertson, used without permission.

First it was five above, then two,
then one morning just plain zero.
There was a strange thrill in saying it.
It's zero, I said,
when you got up.

I was pouring your coffee
and suddenly the whole house made sense:
the roof, the walls, the little heat registers
rattling on the floor. Even the mortgage. Zero,
you said, still in your robe.

And you walked to the window and looked out
at the blanket of snow on the garden
where last summer you planted carrots
and radishes, sweet peas and onions,
and a tiny rainforest of tomatoes
in the hot delirium of June.

Yes, I said, with a certain grim finality,
staring at the white cap of snow on the barbecue grill
I'd neglected to put in the garage for winter.
And the radio says it could go lower.

I like that robe. It's white and shimmery,
and has a habit of falling open
unless you tie it just right.

This wasn't the barbarians at the gate.
It wasn't Carthage in flames, or even
the Donner Party. But it was zero, by God,
and the robe fell open.

[Follow George Bilgere on Facebook]

 

Like a Flame

La vista desde nuestra palapa. (San Augustinillo, Oaxaca, noviembre de 2010)

The Dream of Now
by William Stafford

When you wake to the dream of now
from night and its other dream,
you carry day out of the dark
like a flame.

When spring comes north, and flowers
unfold from earth and its even sleep,
you lift summer on with your breath
lest it be lost ever so deep.

Your life you live by the light you find
and follow it on as well as you can,
carrying through darkness wherever you go
your one little fire that will start again.

 

Backcountry of the Beyond

Hogback Hill (Kit Spahr)

Beyond Even This     
by Maggie Anderson

Who would have thought the afterlife would
look so much like Ohio? A small town place,
thickly settled among deciduous trees.
I lived for what seemed a very short time.
Several things did not work out.
Casually almost, I became another one
of the departed, but I had never imagined
the tunnel of hot wind that pulls
the newly dead into the dry Midwest
and plants us like corn. I am
not alone, but I am restless.
There is such sorrow in these geese
flying over, trying to find a place to land
in the miles and miles of parking lots
that once were soft wetlands. They seem
as puzzled as I am about where to be.
Often they glide, in what I guess is
a consultation with each other,
getting their bearings, as I do when
I stare out my window and count up
what I see. It's not much really:
one buckeye tree, three white frame houses,
one evergreen, five piles of yellow leaves.
This is not enough for any heaven I had
dreamed, but I am taking the long view.
There must be a backcountry of the beyond,
beyond even this and farther out,
past the dark smoky city on the shore
of Lake Erie, through the landlocked passages
to the Great Sweetwater Seas.

Kit Spahr

[Thanks for the poem, Linda, and the photos, Kit!]