The Last Poem on the Last Day of This Year

 A white gull circles the big field
Five, six, seven times, searching,
Perhaps, for the sea that lies
Ninety miles to the west
While two black crows sit
On bare black branches
Watching the gull fade into the light sky
As St. Philomene’s bell chimes twelve.

Snip snapping red clad legs
Crisscross like sharp scissors,
Arms flailing as she flounders,
One high heel sinking, then pulled up,
Another high heel sinking, then pulled up,
Smoking cigarette held in hand,
A swinging semaphore on her journey
Across the field.

Above a snow white egret rises
Like a giant kite and takes roost
Within a tall dark pine,
White feathers barely visible,
And watches the grey spotted Pointer
Down below, nose intent,
Tracking back and forth
Along the creek from which it rose
As the master follows, leash in hand,
Slapping thighs impatiently.

Cars and trucks arrive to disgorge
Small children with new bikes
With red reflector disks on wheels
That spin round and round,
And oldsters with sleek fishing poles
And shining tackle boxes
Filled with treacherous lures
Designed to beguile the unwary.

The playground seethes
With climbing children,
Swinging children,
Sliding chidren,
Crying children,
Soap bubble-blowing children
Whose arms swing in wide arcs
To release streams of iridescent orbs
That float around bushes
And drive dogs to a snapping frenzy.

Two children from the right,
Two from the left,
Cry out in great shouts
And rush at each other
Like mountain rams,
Bumping shoulders and stomachs,
Then fall down in laughter.

An SUV with high wheels and
Heavy bass booming
Bounces by
As two couples slog
Along the jogging path
Tight pursed mouths panting,
Determined to keep pace
With a long-haired blonde girl
Whose high lifting legs
Piston up and down effortlessly
As she glides past.

A slash of white swings downward,
Becomes wings, then settles
On the grass, small head twitching
Right, then left, then down,
Black rimmed, yellow eyes searching,
Finding, darting, piercing, swallowing,
Then to the sky and gull again
Winging seaward.

 

 

 

 

Where am I … and does it matter?

I read an article from the NY Times this morning about Google maps and ‘location-awareness.’ It’s not often that my brain engages at 7 a.m. but the following few sentences gave birth to many speculations.

“In the future such location-awareness will be built into more than just phones. All of our stuff will know where it is – and that awareness will imbue the real world with some of the power of the virtual. Your house keys will tell you that they’re still on your desk at work. Your tools will remind you that they were lent to a friend. And your car will be able to drive itself to an errand to retrieve both your keys and your tools.”

A frisson of alarm passed through me upon reading those lines. I have long been uneasy about GPS in general. Yes, I know it helps you find places you’ve never been before and keeps track of the car in case of emergencies, etc. And yet I admit to a suspicion about its other purposes.

What’s the matter with getting lost once in a while? What’s wrong about not knowing exactly where you are upon occasion? The background of both questions is fear. We fear not being in control, we fear not knowing where we are, we fear what might, or might not, happen in the next moment.

We’ve already projected that on to our pets. You cannot adopt an animal from the shelter who is not already ‘chipped’ with an ID embedded under the skin. This electronic identifier with its constant transmittal is suspected as a cause of cancer in animals – and it is very difficult and costly to have removed.

There is also talk about ‘chipping’ those with Alzheimer’s so that if/when they may wander away they can more easily be found. Fast on the heels of this idea is to chip children in the event they are ever lost or kidnapped. It will only be a few short steps to chipping everyone ‘for our own protection.’

Imagine a society in which all danger has been removed, all the unknowns eliminated. We certainly would be safe – but from who and what. There are other ramifications inherent in this GPS example. If we never have to worry about getting lost, we will never have to think about where we are. We will lose connection with present reality – maybe lose is too big a word – maybe it is more correct to say we will no longer need to maintain a connection with present reality.

It is just like the early calculators. Do people need to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide any more when a tiny machine will tell you? When was the last time you saw a cash register that didn’t tell the clerk the proper change?

When was the last time you memorized a phone number? Why bother when the phone has its own directory. Why try to remember a special moment in life when you have a camera to do it? Can you tell a story without reading it from a book?

I am not recommending we all go back to using slide rules, traveling by the stars or memorizing long passages of Shakespeare. All of the new tools of technology are useful. However, they are also making us dependent. The more civilized and complex we become, the more fearful we are.

Technology does so many things for us we no longer have to use our memories as much, we no longer have to be present and aware as much, we no longer are compelled to face ‘reality’ as much. This reminded me of a war documentary I watched the other day and the reviewer who complained that the film maker showed dead bodies.

It seems like there is this internal mental dialogue – or mental rationale – that goes something like this. “Now you don’t have to worry about anything anymore because I have it all under control. You don’t have to be afraid of the unknown because I will make you safe. You don’t have to remember because I will remember it for you.”

Who is the ‘you’ and the ‘I’ of this conversation? Is it not the mind speaking to itself? Does it sound a little like some of our politicians?  If our machines remove all reason to ponder, remember, be alert, etc. what will be left for the mind to do?

The brain is a superb and sophisticated defense and survival mechanism. When it is no longer needed for these activities will be become silent and allow an opening for the Higher Self to emerge? Or, in its fear of obsolescence, will the mind become even more paranoid and fearful.  Will an internal Homeland Security take charge?

I have no answers to these questions. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve presented a coherent enough argument to further speculation. All I know is that this desire to be safe, to avoid the unknown and unexpected, seems too much like being a cog in a giant mindless machine. What’s wrong with being a little lost at times, a little fearful and insecure? How can we discover our strength if it is never tested? How can we grow without challenge?

(here is the original article)

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/magazine/googles-plan-for-global-domination-dont-ask-why-ask-where.html?ref=magazine&_r=0

Winter Solstice

Each day
Slightly shorter,
Slightly dimmer,
Sliding toward the lip
That will be
The turning point
Back into the sun.

All fires out,
All light extinguished,
All eyes closed,
Waiting for the magic
To begin
While seed is planted
For a new year.

A blind time
When life gropes
In darkness
And burrows through
Earthworm tunnels
To nurseries
Where covers are pulled back

So fragrant seeds
Can rest in loaming beds.
Silent,
Still,
Dark,
Frozen,
The womb waits

While the star stirs,
Roils,
Rumbles,
Roars,
High howling flames,
An inferno
Blazing with light.

solar flare 3His heart detonates,
Shoots forth
An arcing arrow,
A space-spearing spark,
Light time
Light speed
Now.

One photon
Tips the scale
At the edge
Of the event horizon
Spilling,
Splashing,
Splintering

Cascades of star light.
Trailing in its wake
Dawn’s rosy fingers
Lift Nut’s heavy skirts,
Open the Gate
And invite the light
To ignite

The Sacred Hearth
The Sacred Heart
The Holy Place
That waits
While the Son’s sun
Is reborn
Again

And again
And again
In time
In tune
With the cosmic clock.
Tick,
Tock.


 

Gifts

giftsWhen I was a small girl we had an old-fashioned downtown area that measured about three square blocks in which traffic was controlled by one red light and several stop signs. Within this retail district was at least one of everything – a newspaper agent, a wallpaper store, a hardware store, two banks, two groceries stores, a luncheonette, ladies and children’s wear, a haberdashery, insurance, and last but not least a five and dime store.

At Christmas time the five and dime store, whose real name was I think Ben Frankin’s, was a favorite destination for me for that was where I bought most of my Christmas presents for the family. As an only child I had no brothers and sisters to buy for but I did have numerous aunts and uncles and cousins. Each year I would buy the uncles white pocket handkerchiefs and the aunts lacy ones with embroidery.

I don’t know that those lacy ones are around anymore except perhaps in an antique shop. These kinds of hankies were not really used to blow one’s nose except in emergencies. They were put in Sunday purses that were carried to church and accompanied by a small plastic comb, a change purse, lipstick if you were old enough or chap stick if you weren’t, the donation envelop for the collection and rosary beads.

Purchasing my Christmas hankies was an important time of decision for me. Each one had to have different embroidery designs and in a rainbow of colors so no aunt would be carrying an identical hanky. When it came to wrapping and assigning a particular one to a specific aunt I often struggled with impartiality, for, of course, there were a couple of the aunts for whom I had a special affinity and it was important that no hint of this bias be apparent by the assigning of a particularly lovely design.

This early exercise in fairness stood me in good stead years later when buying Christmas presents for my two sons. Each had to get an equal number of presents, and, hopefully, the money spent on each son was the same. This is a balancing act all parents need to master for children have a built-in radar for equality.

But I digress, although this particular post is a more rambling one than usual and digression is part of the woof and warp. This all started out this morning as I lay in bed while my mind traveled back to Christmas mornings forty, fifty, sixty years ago.

There would be an immaculate sheet of white snow on the ground that last night sparkled with starlight. The sky would be an intense blue setting off the dark green of the pines. The smell of the coal-fed fire wafting up through floor registers from the dark brooding furnace in the cellar would mix with the scent of cloves that studded the ham baking in the oven.

As a child nothing was more thrilling than to bound out of bed on Christmas morning and run down stairs to see what had been left overnight under the tree. Christmas morning was one of those magical times of the year when some, if not all, wishes could come true. In later years, as a parent, Christmas morning was the time when happiness came from being able to give presents and to make, if only for a little while, someone else happy.

After childhood, after parenthood, the excitement of the holidays seems to diminish. There is no one’s special gift I yearn to receive and there is no one’s special gift I can give. Years ago, days and days would be spent in Christmas shopping and cookie baking and tree trimming and turkey basting – but no more.

The Christmas traditions have been passed on to a younger generation to fulfill. Many things are too difficult to do and as an oldster and a grandparent there is less and less that is required, expected or needed. Without the attendant preparation and anticipation Christmas no longer has that heightened excitement for me – and in some ways I miss it.

So the Christmas season takes on a different coloration and rhythm. Time is spent writing Christmas cards and signing checks; trees are ready-made and packable; cookies are no longer permitted and 16-pound turkeys have been replaced by a ready-to-eat turkey breast with gravy included.

My preparations now consist of considerations of the passage of another year and the darkening of the shorter days. While waiting for the return of the light I count the blessings I have been given as my gifts and wonder how I could have given more and to whom. The presents I give and receive are not wrapped in colored paper and opened only on one special day but are scattered indiscriminately throughout the year.

When I open these invisible boxes I find the generosity of children, the smiles of friends, the assistance of strangers, the song of birds, blue skies and peaceful nights with purring cats. The gifts I give now are not bought in the five and dime nor sporting a gay embroidery but come disguised as poems and stories and pictures, as times shared and prayers spoken.

These gifts I have received and given are precious and one-of-a-kind. They are not put in one’s pocket but placed in one’s heart ready to be pulled out a moment’s notice.

FRIDAY IN DECEMBER

The scent of dry leaves overlays the aroma of frost-limp grass that has been heated in the sun of a December day. Leaves that just a few weeks ago shone like jewels in a saint’s reliquary now lay scattered across the stiff grass in brown husks that curl like an old woman’s fingers.

The stately pines and evergreens stand as backdrop to the bare limbs of other trees and the hard sunlight carves thick sharp shadows and flings them to the ground with finality. With their massive trunks the oaks hold up heavy black limbs that defy gravity, jutting horizontally then twisting upward.

From the pond, a crow’s insistent cry punctuates the morning air as fountains jet water ten, twenty, thirty feet skyward, the mist drifting east like snow. Three, four, five squirrels dig briskly and chew quickly, eyes darting side to side, tails twitching like long-haired metronomes, sixteen to the bar.

At the deserted playground the swings hang limply like broken arms from the shoulders of the cross bars. The sliding board gleams in the sun, polished by the seats a hundred corduroy pants. The missing mothers are now filling shopping carts at malls, ticking off items in a list made late at night while children slept.

In silent procession, a lone woman swiftly pushes a walker down the path accompanied by two small dogs with waving tails, one wearing a red Santa suit, the other with brown felt antlers over his floppy ears. A small Japanese lady leading a large German Shepherd that easily outweighs her follows close behind. Crossing her path a stout young man leads a Dalmatian, its polka dot coat a note of whimsy in the otherwise green brown landscape.

Meanwhile, cars drive slowly through the parking lot, then speed up and join traffic to other destinations on this cool bright day.