Archive for January, 2010

TIDEPOOLS is my new book of haiku illustrated with original nature photographs in a lovely, hard-bound volume. Inspired in part by the beautiful landscapes of California and the midwest, in part by visionary prayer experiences, my new poems provide images for spiritual reflection. In the first haiku sequence in the book, “Seasons,” I wrote about summertime:

ordinary time

green-leafed stalks, yellow corn cobs —

then, the tornado

The contrast between the peacefulness of the growing season and the destructiveness of the tornado, nature’s furious wind unleashed, provides a moment for meditation not only about nature but about the spiritual life.

I invite you to explore TIDEPOOLS.

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i will die in havana in a hurricane
it will be morning, i’ll be facing southwest
away from the gulf, away from the storm
away from home, looking to the virid hills
of matanzas where the orisha rise, lifted
by congueros in masks of iron, bongoseros
in masks of water, timbaleros in masks of fire
by all the clave that binds the rhythms of this world

i’ll be writing when i go, revising another
hopeful survey of my life. i will die of nothing
that i did but of all that i did not do
i promised myself a better self
than i could make & i will not forgive

you will be there, complaining
that i never saved you, that i left you
where you live, stranded
in your own green dream

when you come for me come singing
no dirge, but scat my eulogy in bebop
code. sing that i died among gods
but lived with no god & did not suffer
for it. find one true poem that i made
& sing it to my shade as it fades
into the wind. sing it presto, in 4/4 time
in the universal ghetto key of b flat

i will die in havana in rhythm. tumbao
montuno, guaguanco, dense strata
of rhythm pulsing me away
& the mother of waters
will say to the saint of crossroads
well, damn. he danced his way out after all

A.B. Spellman

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Sleep little baby, clean as a nut,
Your fingers uncurl and your eyes are shut.
Your life was ours, which is with you.
Go on your journey. We go too.

The bat is flying round the house
Like an umbrella turned into a mouse.
The moon is astonished and so are the sheep:
Their bells have come to send you to sleep.

Oh be our rest, our hopeful start.
Turn your head to my beating heart.
Sleep little baby, clean as a nut,
Your fingers uncurl and your eyes are shut.

John Fuller

Commentary: The first birth I ever witnessed was that of my brother, David. I was in complete awe. Shortly thereafter, I got to be my best friend’s doula when she delivered her first child, my godson, Zachary. It was an honor and a joy, some of the most fulfilling work I have ever done, and a complete miracle: the miracle of new life coming into the world through a woman’s labor and childbirth.

In the seventeen years since, I’ve had the chance to attend many other labors and deliveries, and I have never lost my sense of wonder … about pregnancy, fetal development, the powerful design of women’s bodies and their ability to give birth … about the miracle of secret communication between the baby’s body and the mother’s body during labor and delivery … about the pure joy of holding a new baby!

These days, I am thinking a lot about these things because I am serving a new mother as a doula once again. John Fuller’s poem is a perfect witness to my experience. Thank you, John, for sharing this intimate poem describing your experience as a father with your new baby … with all of us.

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I’m sitting with my brother, professional saxophonist Andrew Beal, in the County Clare Irish Inn & Pub in Milwaukee. We’ve got Irish saints watchin’ over us from stained glass windows: Ita, Malachy, Patrick (who was English originally, but nevermind, he’s Irish now as we Irish all well know), Colman, Kevin, and darling Brigid. Love that. While listening to the happy Irish fiddles through the speakers, you can read sayings written on the walls like these:

“There are no strangers here – only friends you haven’t met yet.”

“May the roof above us never fall in, and the friends below it never fall out!”

“It is impossible to be unhappy if you have a grateful heart.”

Then there are these two, which I like quite a bit: “Profanity makes ignorance audible” and “The pub’s the poor man’s university.” Well, amen. Even I might be able to learn a little Irish if someone will translate the Gaelic phrases on the wall … like this one: “céad míle fáilte!” It means “a hundred thousand welcomes!” It’s apparently a common greeting in the home country of my mother’s ancestors.

W.B. Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is inscribed upon the walls, too. I know it, love it, and share it with all of you who can’t be with me now on this splendid adventure:

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, 5
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; 10
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

W.B. Yeats

The blessings of the Irish on everyone today!

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The other day, I watched the film, “Finding Forrester.” The reclusive novelist featured in the film and played by Sean Connery happens to be a bird-watcher. At one point, he quotes the poet Robert Lowell, saying:

“Thy duty, winged flame of Spring,
is but to love and fly and sing.”

The lovely couplet occurs in two versions of the poem by Lowell and refers to the scarlet tanager, a brilliant red bird with a lovely voice. To hear the scarlet tanager’s song, visit the scarlet tanager page of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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