CONVERSATIONS

baloonsLittle drops of dew, like small gems, rest along the long blades of grass beneath the tall pine, its heavy limbs stretched out and holding aloft an umbrella of dark green above me. The dewy grass is still slightly drowsy with moon’s rays and not ready for a morning conversation. Just a few feet away the others of its kind lie basking in the morning sun, bellies up, arms wide, wombs open.

Across the field stands the pine who has been calling to me for days now, posing first this way and then the other. She invites me to sketch her and as I resist I note the illumination of her right profile, the dark depths of her core, the tips of her braches so delicately lit. Not tall enough to be a queen, the pine still reigns by virtue of her beauty and self-possession in the grove that is her kingdom.

From the creek a scissors of white arcs steeply upward, then swiftly down again; a snowy egret trailing a great silence in the wake of its shapely wings. Then two geese crest the trees that surround the pond, drop low and fly across the grass. Gliding past, their wings wave hello to me.

At the playground a young father holds a cell phone to his ear while the toddler scrambles in and out of the monkey bar then darts towards the woman with the large German Shepherd walking down the path. While she pulls the rearing dog back on the leash, the father hastily herds the boy back to the swings without missing a beat of his digital conversation.

Later, phone still to his ear, he runs in pursuit of the boy who is toddling after a man down the path that leads to the pond. The father scoops up the child with one arm and carries him, legs kicking, to the picnic table and while the child cries he turns his back and listens intently to the phone.

An elderly man and woman slowly totter by, the wheels of her walker squeak in counterpoint to the tapping of his cane as they debate the dangers and rewards of German sausages. The small dachshund that accompanies them barks to let me know he has noted my presence and is keeping a keen eye on me.

As I fold up my lawn chair and prepare to leave, the spring birds sing the praises of the morning while a young female in chartreuse runs by and hums to the music coming from her iPod.

TAGORE’S BIRD

Singing the World
Singing the World

Now that the nights are getting warmer, I sleep with my bedroom window open. In the last few days the sound of a bird chirping and singing has crept into my consciousness in the early hours. It was still dark at five o’clock this morning, the moon hanging low near the horizon, when its song began.

I lay in bed and listened, one part of me wanting to return to the amnesia of sleep, the other part ready, like the bird, for the new day. Then I remembered a quote by Rabindranath Tagore: “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

That, in turn, reminded me of the belief of the Australian aborigines that mankind sang the world into existence. How beautiful an image that is. All of creation, voices raised in song, the ringing vibration of which shakes the ethers into atoms and molecules until they jell into the incredible lattice-like formations of mass and space and energy we call life.

My thoughts return to the bird as its voice is joined by another and for a while the two participate in an oratory and response, echoing each other’s hymn to dawn while the moon silently slips below the horizon and a light pearl gray enters the sky. For a few seconds, in the background, they are joined by the honking of flying geese and the dim roar of a jet headed into the rose-tinted east.

While I make coffee I consider again Tagore and his definition of faith, comparing it to Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith belongs to that empty space in which all that is hangs suspended waiting for the Word to make it real.

What do I have faith in, I wonder. Faith is more than belief because beliefs are decisions of the mind and can change. In what do I have an unshakeable assurance? I must confess that like the bird, I always expect the sun to come up each morning, for every day I have been alive it has happened without exception. So there must be something in faith that is eternal which has nothing unexpected or unpredictable as its condition.

In fact, dawn is a constant feature of my existence which then leads me to wonder if dawn will still occur when I am gone. Is there dawn in heaven – or whatever that state might be called after death; or, is dawn a perpetual condition of this higher consciousness? Is that the much touted light at the end of the tunnel, the ever-spring of existence?

Faith abides in the Eternal, perhaps finds its origin there. When we lose faith, do we not also lose eternity? If we stop singing before the sun comes up, will the day dawn? Is the difference between faith and expectation the certainty of outcome? Does the bird ever sing an uncertain song?

Confidence: con fides – with faith. Faith, fidelity, truth. What do we really have faith in? What do we trust? We would like to think that there are a few select people we can trust, who are faithful. But what we are expect when we trust is that someone will put our interest before their own – and that doesn’t happen very often.

But trust is the bedrock of brotherhood and really, to my mind, the core of any group, from the family to the community to the country. What does serving in the armed forces really teach? The courage to be faithful to the unseen and to each other.

I consider who I trust and then consider if I even trust myself? What is unchanging within me? What is it that I can rely upon? Is there some deep root of truth within that is as certain in its song as Tagore’s bird? Today I will reflect on faith and discover what shores this current will lead me to. It is morning. What shall we sing into existence today?

Tagore
Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath who reshaped the literature and music of his native Bengal. He was the first non-European to with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

MUSIC

madame butterflyI have never been much of a musician myself but have often been a great ‘appreciator.’ I bought my first record, a 45 rpm, when I was about 13. It was “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. That was followed by “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. So you can see I was a rock ‘n’ roll kid.

In my teen years my bedroom walls were plastered with pictures of Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson – I couldn’t decide how bad I wanted to be; and as I slid from high school into college my friends and I listened to Peter, Paul and Mary and other folk singers.

When I was in college it was the Beach Boys, the early Beetles and singing groups like the Temptations. Nothing I had heard up to that time prepared me for what came next.

I had an English teacher who was a mentor to me. While not a feminist herself (that movement was a few years in the future) she was intelligent, independent, career-oriented and confident – everything I longed to be.

She was also very cultured; something I might aspire to be but could not claim. She was familiar with art, history, music, literature and had a cosmopolitan outlook. In fact, before making literature her career, she had studied opera at Julliard. The closest I had ever come to ‘serious’ music was the Latin hymns of Sunday mass and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” at Christmas.

Then one day she loaned me a few albums to listen to. I went home to my studio apartment (which was about 100 square feet) and put the first one on the phonograph (that was when we still used turntables).

A soprano voice, as sharp as a knife and tender as a bird … within a few seconds I was weeping. The words were Italian and I didn’t know what she was saying – but the beauty, the beauty was overwhelming. The song was the “Un bel di,” an aria from the opera Madame Butterfly by Puccini and the singer was Renata Tebaldi.

That was the day I lost my musical virginity and realized the true power of music. The words completely bypassed the thinking mind taking away rational meaning and instead the voice of the heart was heard and what I heard had the sound of Truth and the face of beauty.

Music has always had this capacity to enchant – not only to uplift the soul and soothe the heart but to set armies marching. Over the succeeding years, other musicians and genres and situations have reminded me of music’s power. I cannot listen to “America, the Beautiful and not have a lump in my throat; or Ave Maria sung at Midnight Mass and not feel blessed; or “Yellow Submarine” and not feel joyful.

But even today, when I listen to Un bel di tears come to my eyes because it is so filled with beauty.
Un bel dì: In this, the opera’s most famous aria, Butterfly says that, “one beautiful day”, they will see a puff of smoke on the far horizon. Then a ship will appear and enter the harbor. She will not go down to meet him but will wait on the hill for him to come. After a long time, she will see in the far distance a man beginning the walk out of the city and up the hill. When he arrives, he will call “Butterfly” from a distance, but she will not answer, partly for fun and partly not to die from the excitement of the first meeting. Then he will speak the names he used to call her: “Little one. Dear wife. Orange blossom.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCFi1P_KU5o

WATCHING SPRING

crowAbiding in stillness,
Watching, watching.

Trees and grasses
Eat their fill
Of Father Sun
While Mother Earth
Melts winter roots
In the mud.

Resting in stillness,
Watching, watching.

Large black leaf drops
To ground:
Crow.
Strutting;
Head cocks,
Breaks fast in the grass.

Being in stillness,
Watching, watching.

An old man with a white beard
Wears a bright orange turban;
A child points.
Cane ready,
The brown and gray woman
Sidles past geese.

Remembering in stillness,
Watching, watching,

A red ball with blue stars
Rolls by:
The no-more boy is remembered.
Sorrow;
It is as if it is
The first time.

Abiding in stillness,
Watching, watching
Eternal spring.

THE LION RETURNS

lionA high wind from the northeast barrels down the throat of the big valley,
tossing the oak’s heavy limbs like sheets on a line.
The wind is not gentle today, nor is its voice a whisper
but rather the muffled roar of a fast train in a morning’s light.
The lion of March has returned and blows young leaves off trees
and roughly presses flower heads back into their beds.
Cool and sharp and damp the lion’s breath stabs skin and bones
while the golden sun shines on in approval.
No clouds mar the smooth blue complexion of the sky,
no birds travel the currents of its highways.
Overhead a sharp silver thunderbird spreads its wings
and wrestles with headwinds on its journey north.
The surface of the creek trembles with nervous ripples
while green trash cans roll and cars rock gently at red lights.
Dogs with their walkers prance the pathways of the park,
tails plumed and waving, high noses drinking in spring aromas.
Holding my head in its windy roar, the lion catches my breath,
then flings it away.

TAKE YOUR MEDICINE

Laughing Buddha
Laughing Buddha

Earlier in the week the subject of laughter waded into my mind stream and I thought what a funny word it was all on its own. It should be spelled lafter which is like rafter only not as wet or high; or be pronounced altogether differently with a lot of huffing and gargling in the middle.

After chuckling an embarrassing amount of time at my own joke, I noticed that my headache had disappeared. I pondered on. Is it true that laughter is the best medicine? According to Norman Cousins who studied the biochemistry of human emotions it is.

When told he had a terminal illness, Cousins developed a recovery program that focused on love, faith, hope and laughter. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported.

Norman called laughter, inner jogging. Laughter is said to be the only activity that can exercise your liver, one of the most important organs of the body that charged with cleansing impurities. Not only that but the old complaint, feeling ‘liverish,’ meant to be bad tempered or unhappy. (Do I detect a link here?)

Perhaps laughter, in exercising the liver, jiggles it into a faster production rhythm and a more energetic cleaning cycle, kind of like speeding up the agitator in a washing machine, or setting the idle on high in a car. Maybe it’s a joke a day, rather than the apple, that keeps the doctor away.

Further proof of the efficacy of this treatment approach can be seen in the figurines of the laughing Buddhas where the typically enigmatic smile and meditative pose is replaced by a roly-poly fat guy laughing. It reinforces the position that one cannot be enlightened without understanding that absurdity of it all.

While I was pondering the more sober aspects of laughter I came across some great quotes. Here’s a few:

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. Voltaire

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. Kurt Vonnegut

When the highest type of men hear Tao,
They diligently practice it.
When the average type of men hear Tao,
They half believe in it.
When the lowest type of men hear Tao,
They laugh heartily at it.
Without the laugh, there is no Tao. Lao-tzu

So in closing my suggestion is, tell a joke and save a life.

(There’s a new post on the art site at http://MarieTaylorArt.wordpress.com)

ZEN SHOWCASE

Miles to Go
Miles to Go

A few pieces of my art were used in the Spring edition of THE ZEN SPACE, an online haiku journal edited by Marie Marshall. If you enjoy the minimalism of this genre of poetry, put on the tea kettle and mosey on down to … http://thezenspace.wordpress.com/experience/spring-2013-showcase/

Marie also has a blog of her own poetry at http://kvennarad.wordpress.com/author/kvennarad/. Drop by for a visit.