Archive for March, 2010

“… winter slumbering in the open air,
wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
from “Work without Hope”
… quoted in the movie “Groundhog Day”

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I rearranged my bedroom furniture in the past few days, and I am newly enjoying everything about my private space. Spring inspired me to change, I think. I’ve been listening to music and playing flute in my room, too, and maybe it’s because the birds outside are now singing every morning. They make me want to sing. I’m awake, and the world is awake.

“Wake up, my dearest friend!”

Wake up, my dearest friend!
Life is waiting for you now.
You’ve been sleeping all too long.
Wake up! Wake up!
Take a look around yourself.
The energy of love is everywhere.
Choose to see it now.
Wake up! Wake up!

from Ginnungagap, a musical from Denmark,
drawing inspiration from Norse Mythology
and printed in Cathy Daub’s book, Birthing in the Spirit (2007)

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Winter does not like to give up her power here in Wheaton, Illinois. It’s snowing again this morning after a week of bright sunlight and singing birds. The leaves of the soon-to-be-born daffodils are pressing up from the earth into the air. In the afternoons, I’ve been sitting in the sunlight, reading, and watching to see how soon the flowers will come. The birds have already returned, but this morning, they must be shivering! I have the perfect poem for a day like today:

“The Darkling Thrush”

I leant upon a coppice gate
when Frost was spectre-gray,
and Winter’s dregs made desolate
the weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
like strings of broken lyres,
and all mankind that haunted nigh
had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
the Century’s corpse outleant,
his crypt the cloudy canopy,
the wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
was shrunken hard and dry,
and every spirit upon the earth
seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
the bleak twigs overhead
in a full-hearted evensong
of joy illimited;
an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
in blast-beruffled plume,
had chosen thus to fling his soul
upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
of such ecstatic sound
was written on terrestrial things
afar and nigh around,
that I could think there trembled through
his happy good-night air
some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
and I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy
(19th c.)

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May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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“Darkling I listen … while thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad in such an ecstacy!” ~ John Keats from “Ode to the Nightingale”

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i hide my eyes
i turn my back
i tremble inside

the sparrow in my heart sings
for the sparrow in your heart

you seek out my eyes
you walk toward me
you seem unafraid

the sparrows take flight,
wings almost touching in sunlight!

Jane Beal, PhD

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I’ve been reading a little collection of poems about birds called On the Wings of Song and edited by J.D. McClatchy. The range of poems is admirable, and the number of well-known poets who have written about birds practically limitless. Poets, it appears, do write about birds!

McClatchy’s poetry collection is divided into sections: the Backyard, the Barnyard, the Realm of Air, Field and Forest, At Water’s Edge, Birds of Prey, Flightless Birds, the Nightingale, the Peacock, the Owl, the Hawk, the Swan, Nests and Cages, Bird-Song, Flights of Fancy, and Legendary and Emblematic Birds. Each reveals a specific aspect of avian life.

Many poems from the collection caught my attention, lingered in my memory, and spoke to my heart. Some made me laugh! (Ah, turkeys and vultures, ostriches and flamingoes!) Here are three poems, in reverse chronological order, that made me meditate on deeper meaning:

“The Mockingbird” by Randall Jarrell (1914-65)

Look one way and the sun is going down,
look the other, and the moon is rising.
The sparrow’s shadow’s longer than the lawn.
The bats squeak: “Night is here”; the birds cheep: “Day is gone.”
On the willow’s highest branch, monopolizing
day and night, cheeping, squeaking, soaring,
the mockingbird is imitating life.

All day the mockingbird has owned the yard.
As light first woke the world, the sparrows trooped
onto the seedy lawn: the mockingbird
chased them off shrieking. Hour by hour, fighting hard
to make the world his own, he swooped
on thrushes, thrashers, jays, and chickadees–
at noon he drove away a big black cat.

Now, in the moonlight, he sits here and sings.
A thrush is singing, then a thrasher, then a jay–
then, all at once, a cat begins meowing.
A mockingbird can sound like anything.
He imitates the world he drove away
so well for a minute, in the moonlight,
which one’s the mockingbird? which one’s the world?

“The Eagle” by Alfred Tennyson (19th c.)

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
close to the sun in lonely lands,
ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
he watches from his mountain walls,
and like a thunderbolt he falls.

“The Cranes” by Po Chu-i (772-846) and translated by Arthur Waley

The western wind has blown but a few days;
yes, the first leaf already flies from the bough.
On the drying paths I walk in my thin shoes;
in the first cold I have donned my quilted coat.
Through shallow ditches the floods are clearing away;
through sparse bamboo trickles a slanting light.
In the early dusk, down an alley of green moss,
the garden-boy is leading the cranes home.

For different reasons, I loved Galway Kinnell’s “The Gray Heron,” Rainer Maria Rilke’s “The Flamingoes: Jardin des Plantes, Paris,” David Wagoner’s “Peacock Display,” Ted Hughes’ “Hawk Roosting” … and on and on. These poems make me see the birds vividly in my mind’s eye and connect the secret life of birds to the experiences of human hearts.

You can pick up a copy of On Wings of Song at Amazon, but if you can’t do it right away, I encourage you to visit Cool Bird Poems: An E-Anthology of Bird Poetry. There’s quite a selection of fine poems about birds there, too. Enjoy!

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“The Accidental Husband” is a romantic comedy about a radio talk show host, Dr. Emma Lloyd (played by Uma Thurman), who insists that women find “real love” with a suitable man: a Responsible, Equal, Adult, Loving (REAL) man. However, it becomes clear in the course of the movie that her advice is motivated by fear of sparks that might turn into fires in the house of her heart. That’s because Emma grew up with a father, aptly named Wilder, whose parenting made her long for stability and security.

So, when she meets a man whom she finds powerfully attractive, she’s not ready for him–and she’s engaged to someone else anyway! It turns out that she’s also been “accidentally” married to him by a teenage hacker messing with New York City’s marriage license data base. Thus the stage is set, and the romantic comedy unfolds.

I like this film because it respects the humanity and fragility of each major character in it. No one is demonized. Real motivations for the actions each one takes–their impulses, their desires, their mistakes–have clear roots in what we learn about their personal histories. I think Emma’s relationship to her father, her desire to be safe, her intelligence and creativity, her usually hidden ability to tell stories and cut loose, and the real beauty of her unique face and personality all make this film better than most romantic comedies.

But it is not only Emma’s character who brings life to this movie. I enjoy the cast of Indian characters from New York who are the close friends of Emma’s husband, Patrick Thomas Sullivan (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The authentic representation of a Hindu ceremony, the interweaving of multiple languages, and the music –the music!– is rich and beautiful. The music is beautiful all the way through, and Rahman’s “Swasame” at the film’s ending will awaken any sleeping heart. That song is a poem. It begins at the end of the story.

The ending of the film is my favorite part. All the troubles Emma and Patrick face, especially the ones they themselves put between them, get resolved. (This is a romantic comedy afterall!) But instead of ending the film with a kiss or a wedding ceremony or a romantic, honeymoon-like get-away, as most films in this genre do, “The Accidental Husband” ends … with Patrick adoring his wife’s nine-months’ pregnant body. The joy of the faces of these two people at this moment is wonderful!

Why don’t all romantic comedies end this way?

To see the ending of the movie, check out YouTube: The Happy Ending

To listen to “Swasame” in its entirety, check out: Tamil Song

To read a translation into English of “Swasame,” see: Translation

… and enjoy the poetry of a love-song sung in Tamil.

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Poetry is everywhere. It comes to me unexpectedly — like birdsong. It’s so easy to ignore birdsong, but it’s equally easy to tune my ears and begin to distinguish one song from another.

Today, my friend Charity came over, and she had a book (that I immediately started snooping through, of course, and lost track of our conversation and had to apologize). The book is The Geography of Love, a memoir about a marriage, by Glenda Burgess. It begins with this poem, “The Human Heart,” by Campbell McGrath.

We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay,
ochre, graph paper, a funnel
of ghosts, whirlpool
in a downspout full of midsummer rain.

It is, for all its freedom and obstinence,
an artifact of human agency
in its maverick intricacy
its chaos reflected in earthly circumstance,

its appetites mirrored by a hungry world
like the lights of the casino
in the coyote’s eye. Old
as the odor of almonds in the hills around Solano,

filigreed and chancelled with the flavor of blood oranges,
fashioned from moonlight,
yarn, nacre, cordite,
shaped and assembled valve by valve, flange by flange,

and finished with the carnal fire of interstellar dust.
We build the human heart
and lock it in its chest
and hope that what we have made can save us.

I love the words in this song, especially the ones I didn’t recognize immediately: ambergris (an opaque, ash-colored secretion of the sperm whale intestine, usually found floating on the ocean or cast ashore: used in perfumery) and nacre (the pearly internal layer of certain mollusk shells, used to make decorative objects) and cordite (a smokeless explosive powder consisting of nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, and petrolatum that has been dissolved in acetone, dried, and extruded in cords). These aren’t merely words for color–they are words with implications for the experiences of the human heart.

But my heart isn’t ambergris, nacre or cordite. It’s sunlit azure, shining. And there is a sparrow in it, singing, especially today.

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Here in Wheaton, Illinois, the snow is melting, and the birds are returning. I’ve been hearing them sing since Valentine’s Day. As March begins, I’ve been noticing red cardinals and chickadees. It’s wonderful! I know from listening to them that life and light are coming back into the world. The naked trees outside are going to bud with leaves and flowers soon. The whole landscape will change! Every year, it’s like magic. It’s so beautiful and amazing: the rebirth of the world.

I’ve been reading an Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Book called On Wings of Song: Poems about Birds edited by J.D. McClatchy. The first poem in the collection is lovely:

“Short Circuit”

For no reason,
all at once,

a dove and a jay
swerve and land

at opposite ends
of the clothesline,

and the clothes–mine,
all mine!–commence

to dance with reckless
love and joy.

Daniel Hall

The poem is delicate and spare, as if influenced by the Imagists, and it immediately evokes delight in my heart!

Even as I’m writing this, I look up, and two separate flocks of geese go flying into the blue depths of the sky in their V-formations. Geese and sparrows I’ve enjoyed all winter, but now, even more birds will return. I love the sights and sounds of wild birds returning!

I hope everyone I know can open their eyes and ears and enjoy them, too, wherever they may be, whatever kind they may be. In California, where I go will go soon, I will look for hummingbirds. What will you look for?

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Original Fire is a collection of poems by Louise Erdrich. Louise Erdrich is not only a widely admired and accomplished poet but a novelist as well. I greatly enjoyed her book, The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No Horse, when I read it a while back (and mentioned in my July 16, 2008 post!). Her poetry and stories interweave characters, plots, symbols, and landscapes from her native heritage as a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, which includes distinct Catholic influences. The result is language that incarnates lyrical beauty and births ideas as strong as stone.

Four lines struck me from the final poem in the collection:

“When we break ourselves open–
that is when the healing starts.
When you break yourselves open–
that is how the healing continues.”

from “Asiniig” (Part III “The Sweat Lodge”)

Another poem, “Morning Fire,” called my name, too. It particularly struck me since I am currently creating a childbirth education class for expectant parents in my role as a childbirth doula and educator. It made me remember times when I have watched a little baby waking up to sunlight streaming through a window to her crib.

“Morning Fire”

My baby, eating rainbows of sun
focused through a prism in my bedroom window,
puts her mouth to the transparent fire,
and licks up the candy colors
that tremble on the white sheets.
The stain spreads across her face.
She has only one tooth,
a grain of white rice
that keeps flashing.
She keeps eating as the day begins
until the rainbows are all inside of her.
And then she smiles
and such a light pours over me.
It is not that white blaze
that strikes the earth all around you
when you learn of the death
of one you love. Or the next light
that strips away your skin.
Not the radiance
that unwraps you to the bone.
Soft and original fire,
allow me to curl arund you in the white sheets
and keep feeding you the light
from my own body
until we drift into the deep
of our being.
Air, fire, golden earth.

Louise Erdrich
Original Fire (2003)

To learn more about Louise Erdrich, check out her author’s homepage housed at the website for her independent bookstore in Minneapolis, MN: Birchbark Books. Enjoy!

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