today, a poem

14 November 2011 § Leave a comment

on my way, croatia

“Dried Figs” is written by the Croatian poet Andriana Škunca. I’ve only been able to find a handful of her poems that have been translated into English, and that handful makes me want to take up Croatian again, so that I can translate more of her work.

She lives on the island Pag and the poems I found all seem to be made out of the fabric of her life there. They have this quiet intensity to them that draws me, like a moth to light.

            Grains of light in a dried fig, and beebread for autumn’s bitter mouth. An empty cup chimes to a close on the table. Beside it, mint and lemon. A bee snatched at a ray of sun, covered by a cold shadow like a butterfly.

            The wall grows dark. The wine is bottled, taste of over-ripened grapes. The figs, plucked long ago, dry on the board. Late summer clings to the moistened fruits. Sweetness glistens.

            In the box, between the stems, blackness. Now to add two or three bay leaves to separate the thick clumped fibres, press them in silence.

          By Christmas, crystals on the skin. A dusting of sugar. Frost stalks the hands of the clock. It seems that hoarfrost has fallen from the lid, blanched the room, figs and our fingers.

– Andriana Škunca, translated from Croatian by Kim Burton


11 November 2011 § Leave a comment

one day in autumn, 2006

Early nights, November. Windswept leaves, clarity. Rain. Sun streaming through my windows in the morning, blue skies, that slant of light.

Emily Dickinson said: “So I found / that hunger was a way / of persons outside windows / that entering takes away.”

I think November is the month of ‘outside windows.’ The feeling of worlds within worlds, a hunger for places and persons and things, a hunger filled best with wonder, poetry, imagination, conversation.

This month, my favorite.

* * *

Sometimes poetry lets me stand outside windows. The hunger is good. It makes me write.

* * *

I had a dream the other night.

I was writing poems about houses, dwelling places. And the person in my dream was giving me advice: first, she said, start with the interior, the small spaces. Then move outward into the in-between spaces. Then even farther, into the beyond, the far spaces. Then bring someone with you, and walk through these spaces again.

I woke up and I was writing all of this down onto a piece of paper.

I think I will actually write these poems. The advice seems sound: a movement, inner to outer, a journey started alone but ended with someone else beside you. It reminded me of being inside Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, if that book were translated into a dream.

Translation. Life to words, words to life. Hunger.

“An enlarged ability for missing is perhaps a part of our better growth, as the strange Membranes of the Tree broaden out of sight.” (Emily Dickinson)

6 November 2011 § Leave a comment

Snippets: Bon Iver’s gorgeous cover of Sharon Van Etten’s “Love More.”

‘bright and vivid’

28 October 2011 § Leave a comment

This fall has seen the arrival of some excellent albums. Loney Dear’s Hall Music. Lisa Hannigan’s Passenger. Feist’s Metals. Kathryn Calder’s Bright and Vivid. Radical Face’s The Family Tree: Roots. Katie Herzig’s The Waking Sleep. My Brightest Diamond’s All Things Will Unwind.

Just to name those that come straight to mind.

For the music-loving fiend in me, this has been a delight. Not only do I love these musicians, I really love these new albums. A lot.

(Coldplay will not be named among these. How did we get from “Amsterdam” to “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”? That is all I have to say.)

I digress. What I mean to say is, out of all these aforementioned musicians, I’ve been most happily surprised with Kathryn Calder’s Bright and Vivid. She released her first album just last year, but there’s a world of difference between that album and this. Not to say her first album was less than stellar–it has a brighter sound to it, more Laura Veirs, less Wye Oak. And it is delightful, channeling both playfulness and seriousness to good effect.

This new album, though, is truly a mature statement. From the atmospheric beginnings of “One Two Three” to the heartbeat thrum of “New Frame of Mind,” it’s a darker-toned and haunting enchantment whilst retaining her first album’s lighter touch at certain points (“Five More Years” or “Who Are You?”). Calder’s voice is lilting and lacy, but it never fades into the background. What I love most? There’s an urgency to this record, a pulse that pulls me through it start to finish. Then I can’t help but begin again.

So I must say: Kathryn Calder, Bright and Vivid is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

this element, water

24 October 2011 § 1 Comment

standing beside the Irish Sea

Now there are times I put water in a jar and look at it, clear, beautiful, and moon-loved element that it is. I think of it, an element that amazing, one that moves aside for us. Sometimes there is a wellspring or a river of something beautiful and possible in the tenderest sense that comes to and from the most broken of children, and I was one of these, and whatever it was, I can’t name, I can only thank. Perhaps it is the water of life that saves us, after all.

(from The Woman Who Watches Over the World, Linda Hogan)

“won’t let go”

21 October 2011 § Leave a comment

looking up in Venice

David Bazan’s song “Won’t Let Go” has been on repeat of late. The song is written for his wife, but when I first heard it, I was in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, like he is in the song, waiting for my connecting flight to Cincinnati. And I was thinking of how, just fourteen days before, I was about to let go of Christ, ready to slip outside of the skin of that faith. But then I went away, and now I was coming back. And this chorus kept ringing: “I will not let go, I will not let go, I will not let go of you.”

Was that me singing to Christ? Was that Christ singing to me?

I was broken, but hopeful. I was on my way home from two weeks of intense community with people dear to me. There were the days spent with one of my best friends, walking in the rain, driving through the mountains, talking, being. There was the residency time, with the joy of learning and ideas, with pockets of conversation everywhere with beautiful people, people increasingly dear to me, people with whom I feel at Home. And God. God haunting my steps every day, showing up, a presence I couldn’t explain away.

Two weeks. Two weeks away from my normal routine, and God saying: I will not let go. And my reply: I will not let go of you.

My plane landed. I drove home at midnight. I cried all the way.

How do I hold this? I kept asking myself. How do I hold?

Two and a half months later, I keep asking that question. I will not let go. I will not let go. But sometimes I don’t know what I am holding. I just hold. I keep holding.

The struggle for faith folds us within our questions, all of us wondering if God exists with us where we are, if God even sees who we are––and loves. I feel folded right now, as you may feel today, or tomorrow, or someday.

Somewhere in the middle of the mystery: that’s where you’ll find me. And somewhere in the middle? God, not letting go.


17 October 2011 § 2 Comments

“But we have only begun
To love the earth.

I’ve had those lines from Denise Levertov’s poem “Beginners” ringing in my head of late. In fact, a lot of words have been ringing in my head. A few weeks ago, I did some research for a poem on the trash gyres in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and came away from that with a sick stomach, a heavy heart.

It sort of astounds me, when I read about gyres of plastic and trash in the oceans, or when I hear about the plans for the Tar Sands pipeline, that we, including myself, still don’t understand what we’re doing to this earth by living the way that we do. It still feels far enough away that we can pretend it’s not happening to the extent that it is, and that all of this blindness won’t come back to haunt us in the end.

And I worry that I still can’t fully fathom it, though I try to, every day. I worry that none of us can fathom it, and so most of us live in chosen ignorance.

“How could we tire of hope?

I want so many others, thousands of others, hundreds of thousands, to hope with me–an active hope, a hope that is speaking out, acting, saying that tikkun olam is possible. I want this, but I let myself become discouraged, focused on all those that aren’t hoping, thinking I am the only one hugging hope to her chest in a dark corner. Not so. You’re out there. I see you.

I’m as guilty as anyone else. That’s why this post feels more like a confession for me than a rallying cry. I want to come clean. I want to say: this is my problem, too. I need to own up to my complicity in the environmental crisis. I do what I can to ameliorate the problem, from past volunteer work to the small tasks I undertake everyday: washing cans and bottles, putting them in the recycling bin, upcycling clothes, eating locally. But still. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough. Not that I will stop, nor should anyone stop: these small things are good, necessary. But I think the problem is that I’ve let them make me feel comfortable, complacent. I haven’t been charged with urgency, and I need to be. We all need to be. I’m realizing I need to do more, whether taking on more of an activist’s role, or writing more about this, or educating myself and anyone else who will listen with me.

“So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

So much is alive, still. This earth is resilient. But I need to pay attention. I need new ways to “imagine justice and mercy” and “envision / how it might be / to live as siblings with beast and flower, / not as oppressors.” And I need to do this now.

Will you join me?

My heart is heavy with these things. I feel the weight of our collective oversights, greed, and push to take what is not ours to take. I confess I have missed the mark. I have not always done what should have been done; I have done what should not have been done. Forgive me.

“So much is in bud.

May I see it, may we all see it–and hope toward it, working to “complete its gesture” here on this earth. Here, now.

(All quotes in italics are from “Beginners” by Denise Levertov.)