Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Hopkins' Hymn to Diversity

               PIED BEAUTY
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him

This is one of my favorite poems because it celebrates the unmatchable abundance of Creation.  Often I have been struck by the sheer excessiveness of the world's beauty --it seems almost gratuitous. This poem tackles that fact  head on.  What it seems to do  for me is to clear the way for each and everyone of us  to be loved in the eyes of God.  God made so much  difference in the world--each snowflake, each blade of grass, each DNA,--he made all that difference because he likes difference. HE  is all one and that means that he contains  multitudes. He contains all the possibilities, and he wants to see each and every one of them flourish. HE does not play favorites He created everything and  He pronounced everything that HE  made as GOOD.
I  watched a news show of  Pope Francis slowly ride through a crowd  of people many of them special needs children at the Madison Square Garden.  How great  god is to have sent a leader that  shows such receptivity  and inclusiveness to all that  humanity.  It is overwhelming and so obviously right once   we see it.  Why is it so rare?  How can we bring that love and acceptance into our daily lives?


Words, Words, Words

WORDS, Words Words I am beginning this narrative as my personal counterpoint to the narrative that a good friend of mine that I knew in Cincinnati has created about her life. I will attempt to tackle in my way the questions that she raises about meaning and life myths especially as they seem to be more urgent questions as we get older. Certainly I have been a person who has thought and explored questions of meaning. My push in my own reading and writing has been spurred by my desire to know and my delight in all the books that are in the world and the wonders that they contain.I would say that for me books have been the tools of my search into self knowing. Books have been a central focus of my life and love since I was young. my mother says that my first word was "book." That was the word she used for the magazines that I loved to sit with and turn the pages and look at the pictures from the time that I was 6 months old. Always I have loved the world of words and story. I found refuge there. That is what I have discovered that since my mother was an avid reader herself, she understood and praised my reading. She never yelled at me for reading—in fact if any one said I read too much, she would answer—let her read more and learn more because education and learning can never be taken from you. Early on in life I understood also that my middle birth position between two sisters with Down Syndrome meant that I was to be their protector and defender. My mother did not encourage violence or fights but where my sisters were concerned—if they were under attack from teasing or taunting children, I was expected to take action and to fight back. So there were two basic rules-- 1.Reading was never wrong 2.Defending my sisters was always right These were the often announced absolutes of my young life. The household that I lived in was intrinsically matriarchal—my mother, her younger sister, my two sisters and me. My father lived with us until I was nine years old. He was genial, joking man who often countered my mother's cautions and warnings. He was a compulsive gambler and had all of the suppressed energy and excitement of gamblers who are themselves daily running towards the big win that they know will be theirs tomorrow. My mother loved my father and enjoyed his jokes and easy going charm but she had discovered that she could not depend on him and that betting on a horse would always trump buying groceries. I saw my mother begin and complete difficult tasks on a daily basis. She was energetic and cheerful. She taught herself to paper and paint and would transform our tenement with her bright color combinations and creative use of wallpaper. She constantly improved our environment. So I saw that women could and often must take on big jobs. I did not yet feel any limitations in being a girl.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Something Gained in Translation

My husband turned 82 years old  two months  ago. I had told him that we wpuld celebrate this big birthday for the entire month of October. October is a special month--there is a change in the light : the air seems molten gold that floods the world with some hidden meaning. I got him two CDs of the ghazals of Ghalib set to music. He likes to listen to them and sometimes he translates the Urdu phrases as they are sung and repeated. One he noticed today "One desire can eat up an entire life; desires come by the thousands/I 've received what I asked for many times; but it was not enough."

 I once would have thought that this insatiability is one of the proofs of human failure, now I see it more as a sign that yearning is our default position--our glory. There is something that we want that cannot be satisfied by mortal things. 
Shakespeare has one of his characters say "I have immortal longings." 
Augustine said that our souls are made for God and we will be "restless until we rest in Thee." 
Shelly, another poet, wrote about "the desire of the moth for the star, the day for the morrow"
 Is this restlessness the best thing about us?  Could it be that we know that we were meant for something more than this mortal coil--that we are hungry to be reunited with the spirit that made us?  
Writing about the endless, hopeful human activity -- when there is no cause to hope,
 Ghalib writes "The efforts I make in my life resemble a bird in a cage/ Who can't stop gathering straws for her nest." 
One funny line from Ghalib " God sent an angel to drive Adam from Eden, we've all heard that story,/But when you threw me out I felt something much worse had happened.


Reading a poem by George Herbert who has become my new favorite poet, I come upon these lines that startle me so much I make one of those involuntary sounds Is it a chortle or a snort or a little stifled shout? The poem is titled AFFLICTION I--and here are the lines that shook me:
Now I am here, what thou wilt do with me
None of my books will show
I read. and sigh, and wish I were a tree;
For sure I then should grow
To fruit or shade: at least some bird would trust
Her household to me; and I should be just.
I have often had the exact thought and could never share it. I wanted to be a tree so that I would not be free to choose, I would just be what I was supposed to be. If I were an acorn I would be an oak-- not change to a cherry or long to be a maple. My freedom messes me up-- it makes me anxious. What if I make the wrong choice? What if I miss the point and choose the wrong job or the wrong husband?

 Then I saw that God requires freedom. That is what makes us great and worthy--that we choose to love God and to follow Him--we could and do choose otherwise. Divinity has no interest in coerced love. We must invite him into our lives. He will knock and knock but he will not enter unless he is invited. There is something magical and miraculous about that fact of freedom. He gave freedom to the angels and they revolted. He gave freedom to Adam and Eve and they ate of the forbidden fruit. But not the horses or elephants or the lions or cows--they simply follow their natures and instincts and cannot be faulted.
We are free to choose  and that freedom  defines our humanity.  God loves all of  His creation -- but we must will to love Him back.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent Thoughts

It seems I am  often  starting this blog over. Like me it is flailing trying to figure out what  I should or can be in a  circumstance where my choices are coming up against my physical limitations.
I just re-read Tennyson's poem abour  Odysseus  setting out again in old age I will post a portion it here:
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. 
He says that though much is taken much abides.  This emphasis on  what we have left in life is important to me.  It is the attitude I am trying to take to  consider  again the great value of my husband who has dementia.  Much has been taken from him,  but there is still something wonderful left and that seems to be the core of his goodness and simplicity and  fidelity.
That does not mean that I am  not still  annoyed with his repetitive questions and  lack of memory, but I  stop myself and  admire the ways he still tries to contribute. He is always trying to make things better. This trait has been in the forefront for 47 years of marriage.  When I focus on all that we still have, I feel a steadying  hand in mine and  a deep sense that all will be well.


In the past two years  I have tried to pursue with more urgency my  desire to write poetry.  It is a strange  vocation and one I have  feelt was central to my identity  since my childhood---but  never trusted that I could  make a living  with poetry.  Poetry is my private and secret  pleasure.  It feels like an indulgence.  Even though when I read poems as a child from teh age of 4 to the presnt day  I was  moved and consoled to think that other  people had felt   so badly anad made a poem for  me and others to find and comfort ourselves with .
The  phrase that   labelled  poetry  "a mug's game" is from the poet TS Eliot. What do you think?.

"[Poetry] may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves." "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality." "As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing. "

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Trying to Recover in the Bucket



Carl Sandburg