Scale

Ragged cuticles rim blunt fingers familiar
with soil dug up in clinkers and clumps;
was it turned over to bury tree stumps, posts
from railroad iron serving as clothesline poles
strung end to end with necessary garments
scrubbed on a board, set in crude concrete
mixed by shaky brown hands creased
with good red dirt fused into long sheaves
of sugar cane cut by men with knives
still sold on these islands, melting pot
of workers brought from far away, promise
of a better life, only heaven knew the scale
upon which such an upgrade was tallied;

Hard times, yet still we walk
that same ocean path trod by families
with picnic baskets, headed for
cliffs fringing rocky shoreline, music
of voices glad for the end of day,
simple pleasures, family, friends, life
in and out of the moment;

Fast forward fifty years and a massive
backhoe guts the ground, revealing broken
bottle necks, china made in occupied Japan,
gaming marbles mottled in swirly hues
languishing now in a small handcrafted vessel
nested betwixt composite granite kitchen sink
and fiberglass screening, pitiful buffer
between possessions and provisions greening
and growing in an enclosure of earth
one claims as home in this hair’s breadth
of eternity.

Walking the Perimeters

But I don’t want to go among mad people, said Alice.
Oh, you can’t help that, said the cat. We’re all mad here.

~ Lewis Carroll

There are days and there are days. Today is one in which I awaken with the insight that all of us are mad. All. Some seem to revel in it; just look at the cartoon debacle in the US political arena any day of the week. Others appear to hold it together extremely well until something jolts us into our most vulnerable of places (the death of a loved one, a terminal illness). Even birth itself can inaugurate the unraveling. The cosmic egg is cracked. Brilliance emerges; the artist, the ballplayer, the botanist, the lama. The ecstasy, the suffering. Who wouldn’t go mad in the face of it?

What form, our pleasure? The madness of the composer, the scientist, the athlete, the saint? Are we hard wired to push boundaries, frontiers of justice, mercy, of knowledge or compassion? The fleeting forms of beauty or fame, of times in forest or studio, do we seek the expansive ocean or the surging tide of faces? Knowing the challenges one encounters in courting excellence, do we instead select the cloak of invisibility, of mute complicity, of service so selfless that we dare not ask another to share our burdens?

We do the best we can in managing life; enjoying it, even rejoicing. And the further we deplete that expressive bank account, the more surges forth to be revealed; the greater the challenge in ushering or stemming the flow, as dollop by gush it seeps from our pores onto the page, the canvas, into opulent anterooms or out onto the squalor of the streets. Drip, drip, dropping into the core of our humanity, dislodging the veils until we stand shivering and naked, the mime unmasked, the orphan turned out into the cold; is it possible, we wonder, to contain the truth of what lies revealed? Who are we, and to what purpose on this green and growing earth have humans been fashioned like gods and demons? Surely it is not simply to consume everything in sight, Pac-Man-like until, exhausted, we mulch back into soil from whence these formerly fecund bodies were contrived by a hand both delicate and careless, in turn?

Relics

We all die. Relics left behind for others,
once culturally defined, a slurry now
of overcooked vegetables in the melting pot
of what humanity has become;

For better, we are more homogenous,
conferring fewer reasons to hate
that which is and ever was kindred.
Knowing this, do we truly taste the apple
sweetness of experience, or drum up
further excuses to postpone joy?

At worst, we forget our ancestors,
those from whom we inherit genetically,
even behaviorally, perhaps to our peril;
for history, devoid of lessons learned,
proves a hollow saga sucked dry of juice;
a dessicated plum placed primly
alongside a backdrop of ripe peaches,
fruit of our potential
.

What traces will linger
in this adolescent nation whose excesses
are counterpart to senseless severity,
an artistic strangulation where
even the Rubenesque among us
yearn to be thin and dry as wraiths?

A society threatened by hips and thighs
is doomed to infertility of the imagination.

 

Survivors

On this wet Sunday afternoon, quiet beckons
with slender tendrils and we head out, dogless
and solitary, seeking only a spit of dry ground
to wander the rock-encrusted coastline
just down the road from our little town;

Recently returned from half a world away
heads full of urban din, the endless thrum
that redefines silence as simply a lack
of jackhammers and belching traffic,
the background buzz of commuting hordes
tromping ceaselessly along sidewalks rimmed
with unearthed asphalt overturning business
as usual long enough to enhance the means
by which one might traverse one end
of concrete jungle to the other, tracks
not yet laid onto ground before being
seamlessly pressed into blacktop,
correcting grey stone walkways
and the polished granite foyers
of high-end hotels inconvenienced just now
by this perpetual digging;

We are survivors, my husband and I, who
between us possess knowledge of the sort
it takes to fashion a living from soil
and surroundings, though I’ve said it
countless times before, those skills
would languish in a place built
on broken stone and steel;

Give us rich volcanic earth and blue breath,
the howl of wind and rain driven sideways
or straight down and penetrating, turquoise
ocean troughs tempered by amber fields
of scrub and twists of prickly kiawe rising
to knobs of verdant velvet and ironwood
clad cinder cones punctuated only by flocks
of paper-white egrets seeking shelter
in the paint brush hues of evening,
and we are home.

Embracing the Sky

Just because it’s all they’ve ever known doesn’t mean it’s all they know.

This was a thought, post grief, after observing for myself creatures my child self deemed mystical: kookaburra, wombat, wallaby, koala; none in a feral state, of course. Which brought up those old feelings around zoos. Part of me loved resting eyes on these amazing critters, discovering the wombat’s scratchy spots and loving her up until helpless, she rolled onto her back, delightfully digging in the dirt and forgetting for a split second that she had to protect, disengage, go back to pacing back and forth so hundreds upon thousands of hands could stroke her moist back and she could keep on moving away, away. The other part of me returned to our hotel where tears would not stop flowing, a silent protest at caging and now having to sequester what once roamed freely and would still, were it not for those of our species who simply will not respect and love what is wild in our world. What of wonder? What is left to wonder about?

Then like streamers released from a barnstormer, we spotted them, hundreds of flying foxes soaring over Sydney harbor as the sun fanned out and swiveled its flaming bald head away from the first chilly crisp of fall day. Out they surged in scattered flocks, an occasional stray, to bash their heads into foliage and suck nectar where they might claim it in towering fruiting figs amidst high rises and yacht-ringed shorelines. There are still cultures that claim their meat a delicacy.

We must take care in our assumptions of the wild ones, we cannot tame the world simply because being in the world, we have chosen to cull our own sense of wildness. I am not alone in suspecting it is this disconnection that fuels all sorts of ills that plague humankind. Yet there is ever a way back, a means to reclaim a life that nourishes and supports us as it sustains all living beings and the planet, herself.

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.

~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

[Photo of where we went to see the flying foxes on our last night in Sydney. They came streaming into the trees here, but to capture them on camera was impossible. So we just watched and listened.]