Colors From Miller’s Fork

Green:    The sheen persimmons leave on teeth.
Red:        The stripe when rhubarb’s ripe.
White:    When heifer pails her milk.
Red:        Her teats when city cousins try.
Black:     The snake who spooks the dogs.
Red:         The largest crawdad’s claws.
Silver:     A boy should own a knife.  And keep it sharp.
Red:         The yard where chickens died.
Violet:     Porch, and whispers. Night.
Red:         The coals that pink our dark.

What I Saw When We Passed In The Hall At Church

To Barbara

I see you’ll teach pre-Raphaelite to me
with words long cosseted away, such words
I’d thought were shot along the Somme.
I see  your hair and think of “tress” and how
the poses those old painters loved are full of you
and how that curl along your back is why that dress.

I cannot picture what your softness could be for
But only for to warm my touch
which is no preface to another’s touch.

I picture how I’ll stop you on a stair
with all the others either up or down:
the party noises up, the kitchen noises down,
and on the landing in the moon-stare there
we’ll spiral inward, secret, secret.

I learn “boudoir”, the room without a use
except the mirror, there to turn your gaze inside
and while you sit, “rondure” is how I name your back
against the dark of all that’s less important.

I see that we will make a son
and name him “laughter in the night”.
I’ll learn how woman is the sabbath of the world,
she has no use beyond her contemplations
of her gestures in the mirrored light.

Do take this woman as your wife;
her yoke is easy, and burden, slight.

Like father, Like Father.

The devaluation of father and the death of God are the same thing.  Or, at least, they comfort each other.  They share an elective affinity.

I’m not arguing causality here, in either direction.   I don’t know that devaluing father causes the ideology of God’s death.   Nor do I know that atheism leads to a feeling that dads are optional.   I suspect neither relation is direct.  I suspect both of these arise out of a third thing, which seeks to destroy all father symbols, concrete and invisible.

Is it any more complicated than a “no” to father’s rules?   Milton’s Satan, the famous sympathetic figure at the fountainhead of rebellion for its own value, just prefers to rule in hell than serve in heaven.   And we’re still intended to think (I think) with Milton that this is a stupid choice, but the stupidity is only clear when the joys of friendship with the father are felt, so that the loss of choosing autonomy can be weighed.   And that loss Milton fails to show, rather than tell, for all his genius.   Ever since, “no” to father’s rules has not meant “no” to fathers eventual friendship, which is the only reason for the rules.

All this has been forgotten by the race.

Louise Erdrich and my prayers

`Louise Erdrich constantly indicts the Lord for His “silence”.   As if the expected next sound, after her line, would be God talking back.   And I agree.  Repeatedly expecting and then missing His approval is the ache in the core.   This hunger is not chosen.  It afflicts.

She would be happier if she could walk in the woods or see the daisies and not move instantly to dialogue with their maker.  But that would be weird:  you can’t have intact retinae and not want to talk with the maker of colors.  Our affection toward God happens prior to thought until it is forcibly suppressed, by the cruelty of parents, the horrors of history, or years of practiced numbness in the service of certain sophistications.

I sympathize.  And in Erdrich I’m thrilled to have another psalmist complaining that God is silent.  It’s useful employment for the poetic craft.  My complaints need better words.

If biblical psalms are anything they are complaints.  And we pray better as we let ourselves hear the expert unpracticed complainers.  Not complaints about other people (we lack standing), or toward “nature” or “life” (we lack jurisdiction), but complaints toward the Judge of all the earth.

Our complaint is not that He is unjust (we lack knowledge), but that He is not here, with me.   Here, complain; complain where complaint is valid, from the lonely heart.   That’s a complaint that holds standing, jurisdiction and knowledge and worth taking up into a chant at matins, with directions for the choirs-master.

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I accept that complaining to You is an insult and sometimes angers You.  But I have nowhere else to go, and Your angry voice would be meat for starvation.  The creeds I believe.  The story makes sense, I buy it all: creation, fall, and how You came back from heaven to find us and take us home.

But I still feel like the child whose father read him a sweet story from the other end of the house but never came to say goodnight and kiss my forehead.

 

Mockingbird

For Barbara.

“I wonder where the mockingbird is from, and where it went.”  You said.

You’re Job, I said, when Yahweh sphinxes him for fun.

You said “It came a second night but then last night was gone.”

Job blanked, I said, on when the mountain-goats give birth,
He blanked on where Leviathans cross seas,
He blanked on why the wind both woos and kills.

You said:  “It sang beside our bed two nights, not three. Not three.”

I said I can’t explain antiphony,
it seems its own reward
and when the bird has said “amen”
another sound insults the word.

The Boundered Lip

My father, from his hospice bed, looked off into the distance and led a church service for an unseen congregation.  I scribbled down his words and phrases as he moved in and out of coherence.   After this,  no more words.  He died a day later. 

So son, now come on up and sing, we’ll wait.
My breathing spell is cracked.  We run the show
and not the angels, though.  I love your songs.
Did I misuse the privilege to call on you?
In disregard, in deadly disregard?

Are all the speakers working?  And the tapes?
My son will lead our dedication of this space
with such an instrument.  Just take your place
and bring the love of God because we’re wicked,
wholly wicked, wicked tongued and wicked faced.

I’d run a nail through two-by-fours
along your butts to hear you praise the Lord.
A deadly disregard I fear I’ve used
and now my breathing spell is cracked
and I do fear the blindfold.  My son will come.

God’s angel is the lip that dares to bounder
here.  To bounder, did I say?  Did I say hate?
I hate the blindfold.  Son, don’t wait, you come
on up and play the love of him who walked
embodiment.   My breathing spell is cracked.

Did I misuse the privilege to call on you?
My deadly disregard is what I fear.
You hear the spirit and the bride say come?
The boundered lip, the  breathing spell that’s cracked
breathes ‘come’, breathes “son”, breathes “last”.

Could we with ink the oceans fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor would the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

 

Walter Isaacson on Leonardo’s “sharpness of eye”

His curiosity was aided by the sharpness of his eye, which focused
on things that the rest of us glance over.   One night he saw lightning
flash behind some buildings, and for that instant they looked smaller,
so he launched a series of experiments and controlled observations to
verify that objects look smaller when surrounded by light and look
larger in the mist or dark.”  When he looked at things with one eye
closed, he noticed that they appeared less round than when seen with
both eyes, so he went on to explore the reasons why.

Kenneth Clark referred to Leonardo’s “inhumanly sharp eye.” It’s
a nice phrase, but misleading.  Leonardo was human.  The acuteness
of his observational skill was not some superpower he possessed. In-
stead, it was a product of his own effort.  That’s important, because it
means that we can, if we wish, not just marvel at him but try to learn
from him by pushing ourselves to look at things more curiously and
intensely.

In his notebook, he described his method almost like a trick
for closely observing a scene or object: look carefully and separately at
each detail.  He compared it to looking at the page of a book, which is
meaningless when taken in as a whole and instead needs to be looked
at word by word. Deep observation must be done in steps: “If you
wish to have a sound knowledge of the forms of objects, begin with
the details of them, and do not go on to the second step until you
have the first well Fixed in memory.”

Another gambit he recommended for “giving your eye good practice” at observations was to play this game with friends: one person draws a line on a wall, and the others stand a distance away and try to cut a blade of straw to the exact length of the line. “He who has come nearest with his measure to the length of the pattern is the winner.” 

Leonardo’s eye was especially sharp when it came to observing motion. “‘the dragonfly flies with four wings, and when those in front are raised those behind are lowered,” he found. Imagine the effort it took to watch a dragonfly carefully enough to notice this.

–    Walter Isaacson. Leonardo DaVinci. Simon and Schuster, 2017. Page 179.

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Spend a few hours trying to draw something accurately from life and Leonardo’s comments about seeing the details will ring true to you.   Sketching used to be one of the practices of a well-rounded education.  That seems a century ago; it isn’t any longer.   So when you walk by someone in the park who is sitting with a sketchbook, looking intently at a tree or a stream, your modern sensibility interprets that as an effort to render an exact likeness…your thoughts might be “oh, I could never do that, to get something on the page to look like something in life, I so admire that effort.”  Then you pass by.

But the sketcher knows that a realistic image is not the point.  (Though accuracy matters.)  The point, what is actually happening when a sketcher is working in his book, is he is trying to see.   Drawing is a mode of seeing.  You actually see more because of the need to reproduce what you see, and the experience of seeing more and more and more feels like an awakening.

“More and more and more…” – again, the modern sensibility, reading these words, interprets them as an experience of finer and finer analysis.   ‘More” means more granular, more information about smaller and smaller parts.   This is partly true (and no doubt some of what Leonardo was saying), but the experience we have while sketching is an awakening vision in multiple directions at once, not just toward the smaller detail, but also color, angles, large shapes of light and dark (“value”), and the unique gesture of the object as a whole.   And more.  It is an experience of analytical honing and of wholistic expansion, together.

All this is what I mean by:  “Drawing is a mode of seeing.”

Barbara, Christmas 2013

If you put all my joy over all our pots together,
It would not touch how I feel about this cast-iron pot.

Let all my joy from all our pots be plopped together
and it slops around, with room, inside this iron pot.

I never thought I’d find a black utensil packed together
with a lid and poke inside and thrill to feel a pot.

When old we’ll need to lift it’s weight together
or I’ll bend beneath the iron.  But today I waltz this pot.

 

Daniel

We ate our people’s roots but no-one’s meat
or wine, and hung our harps on willow wands
unplayed by winds.  I read our people’s book
and found the number there of years we must
be slaved.  From sorrow we’d forgot to look.

I turned toward the wall and would not play.
I told Yahweh it must be His to count
the years, I said “We are your portion
in the earth.  You’re poor.  We’re all you’ve got.”

The instant when our sins should slash a vein,
when lambs are hushed their crying by a blade,
the legate Gabriel enpierced my room.

A word went out.  He said.  An actual word,
resuscitating sentences, germ cells of books,
as books are matrices for nations.  Words
went out at dusk and I have fought celestial
orcs to bring them home.   Get up, get out,
go virgin to a virgin couch and and kiss a virgin
mouth, plant stories in your fields, fire
pots for wines, and sing new wedding psalms
beneath your virgin vines.   Go home.

Maundy Drinking Songs

Fragments overheard before the police came.
I jotted down what I could, then I hid in the cupboard.

Chugging song

Come now, sing now, happy tunes
and drink, drink, drink — we’re in our youth.
“Fool, fool, deliberate fool:
can you drink the cup?
Or will it drown you?
Down, down, three times down,
take the triple-bath, play the triple-tool.
Fool, fool, deliberate fool…”   (repeat)

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