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Archive for January, 2009

Hummingbird

Someday I will be the hummingbird from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

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When we stumbled on the abandoned mine
it was far better than coming on silver or gold.
Mica, glittering like small mirrors
sewn into cloth from India or stacked
in thick decks protruding from the cliffs,
or strewn among the lumps of littered quartz,
iridescent as fish. We took as much
as we could carry down the mountain
and spread now on the kitchen table
is a vast treasure of shine. We sit
over coffee catching up with friends.
What new events have pressed our old
strata down. We peel layers away
absentmindedly. Imagine a rock that bends,
that slides away from itself, that’s
transparent as glass. The mica
takes up half the table, but we
do not pack it away. It is one thing
changing into another: flakes of moonlight
into scales upon the lake we have just left,
summer silver into the brittleness of fall.
This is a time of transition. We may
actually stabilize, become dull. But all
winter the mica will gleam, becoming,
possibly, the first snowfall.

Judith W. Steinbergh
A Living Anytime {Troubadour Press, 1988}

Commentary: When I was an undergraduate student, I took geology for my gen ed science requirement. I went to rock lab every week, and when I was there, I loved to work with mica. It was beautiful to me.

Sometimes, mica is known as “false gold.” This is so unfair – to compare mica to gold and call it false. Miners from my home state of California were looking for gold in 1849, and mica in the rivers was just a frustration to them. They wanted to be rich.

But there are many kinds of riches.

Steinbergh sees a wealth of beauty in mica: its potential for being a symbol of the layers of our souls … a sign of hope in winter … glittering like a snowfall. It’s especially like the first snowfall, which is important: by the time we’ve seen several snowfalls in winter, we’re tired of snow and longing for spring. But in the first fall, there is a great sense of wonder … when the landscape is transformed and everything is suddenly white and shining.

This poem makes me think of one friend, a geologist of the soul … but there is a newspaper clipping in the book where I found it that makes me think of another friend, my best friend, Jennifer. The clipping is a little perspectives piece by Jamie Stiehm that appeared on Friday, December 1, 1989 in the San Jose Mercury News. She writes:

“As I grow older, I find I rely on my best friend more, not less. As we add layers to our lives, it becomes even more important to have that one person who knows all the pieces to the puzzle, of how your past and present fit together.”

There are layers to mica … to our souls … and to our friendships. Since my best friend recently died, I know how true this is. As Steinbergh herself says,”This is a time of transition … but all winter the mica will gleam.”

let us gleam,
let her soul and mine
shine:
let the Spirit-geologist dig in our bodies
and find our mica hearts

jb

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For two gray birds we are
soft feathers glimmering
gray on gray by star
gypsy heartwings dusty
from traveling too far …

Come away with me

… for my sword is flaming,
and your blue eyes are so bright.

Jennifer Eve Franet
December 20, 1998

“The HOLIEST of HOLIDAYS are those
kept by ourselves in silence and apart:
the secret anniversaries of the HEART.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats
1899

Commentary: Two days ago, I was watching the film, “Equilibrium,” when I heard one of the characters say the last three lines from this poem by Yeats. The film itself is a science fiction commentary on our culture. It imagines a post-World War III, post-nuclear society intent upon eradicating all human emotion that might lead to violence, so everyone takes a daily dose of “prozium,” which essentially neutralizes the emotions. A police force is responsible for destroying all cultural artifacts of the prewar era that might provoke emotion: works of art, literature, even colorful home furnishings. At the beginning of the film, it is one of the strangest things to watch this force set the Mona Lisa on fire.

Of course, the film isn’t about endorsing censorship or violence against art. It’s about a character who discovers how important his emotions are. He begins to grieve the death of his wife, to regret the work he has done as a grammaton cleric on the police force to destroy old world art and literature, to pity and fear his son who is walking in his footsteps, to see the need to rescue a puppy dog, to appreciate all of the senses and to use them … to smell perfume, to touch a hand railing, to look at a red ribbon, to listen to a Beethoven symphony …

At one point, this man has a conversation with a woman who has been arrested for “sense offense,” that is, for failing to take her daily dose of prozium and for creating a room of old world treasures clearly meant to engage all of her senses. This woman, Mary O’Brian, asks him why he exists, and he answers that he exists to perpetuate and protect their society. He asks her why she exists, and she says, “to feel.”

It seems to me that an existence primarily about feelings is incomplete. But in a world where emotions are denied and repressed, I can see how it could become one woman’s mission to feel intensely, deeply, and meaningfully all that there might be in her heart to feel. The gift of empathy is not only powerful in science fiction but necessary in real life.

But more than that, a life without feelings is incomplete. It is impossible, as the main character of this film finds out. When attempted, it is likely to destroy the wholeness that God intends for our souls.

What must Yeats have felt to write about wishing to give the sky to the one he addresses in his poem? What must he have felt admitting to his own poverty? Why did he lay his dreams at another’s feet knowing those feet would walk on his dreams?

Only if our hearts are open can we guess.

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For those of you who recently obtained a copy of my new poetry collection, Sanctuary, I have uploaded a PowerPoint slide show of images alluded to in the book. Even if you have not read the poems, I believe you’ll enjoy these. To download the presentation, just click on the link below:

Images of Sanctuary

p.s. And if you haven’t purchased a copy of sanctuary yet, it’s available from finishinglinepress.com and amazon.com.

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Today my spirit is in Tibet.
The monks’ smiles give me self-knowledge
like never before.

I can hear myself again.

Their eyes signal
“Friend, friend, friend”
as though to make a gift
of joy.

Andrew Christ
Philip and the Poet
Mayapple Press, 2008

Commentary: Today is the funeral of my best friend, Jennifer Eve Franet. I wanted to remember the life of one friend in the poem of another.

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