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Showing posts from August, 2017

Aphrodite

You are all honest love freely given,
Fully physical and true,
And you spurned Zeus for Ares.

 I have been wondering about this
All day.

Ares: the god of war
All physical passion and power:
Bloodlust,

 Irrationally responsive,
Unthinking in his body,
Doing war
They way you do love.

You create.
He destroys.

What are you without him?
What is he without you?

And your husband
Who exposed your tryst
With this warrior god?

Nobody can say his name.

The other Olympians laughed
When they discovered your passion.

Homer says you both fled
In humiliation,

But I really doubt that.
I think you were happy to be outed.

You had thumbed your nose to Zeus.
You betrayed your husband.
You sided with Hector, a man of honor, in the Trojan War.

You have a poet’s heart:
You, with Ares, feel the pulse of everything.
You know life.

Who can touch that?

All day,
I have been wondering.

Engine of Survival

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"...love's the only engine of survival..."  (Leonard Cohen)

Sagitarrius

Imagine the love:
Zeus constelating heaven
With your stars:
Mentor, healer, solitary wanderer
Born of a nymph,
Born of shape-shifting Kronos
Whose boundless passion
He would not, could not,
Ultimately did not
Explain to the daughter of Gaia.
And here you are:
Solitary wanderer, healer, mentor
Wise in the ways of love
Because, student of Apollo,
 You feel the music
Of the soul.
Peleus won Thetis with your help.
They gave us Achilles
And you taught him to play the lyre.
You have the gift of prophecy and healing,
But you cannot stop time.
You could not stop Heracles,
Whose poisoned arrow slew you
Quite by accident.
You surrendered your immortality,
So deep was your agony,
So true was your passion.
Nor would Zeus stop time
Though he could constelate the universe
With his brother’s story.
Imagine the love.

Narcissus and Echo

Echo had the last word
And it was your word.
She said, “Caress me,”
After you said death would be better
Than that she should caress you.

She loved you, but you had your thing
Even after all that “avoid me not.”
You, child of the ever-moving river, kept on,
While she, child of the mountain,
Grieved in her cave.

Such was her love,
Such was your beauty.

She got it.
You did not.

You moved on.
She stuck around, and Pan taught her
His songs,
Freeing her
From Hera’s curse of voicelessness.

You can’t always know who will deliver you.
But you can know better than to resist
When deliverance comes.

You came to love yourself,
And that was great,
But you never quite kicked open your doors
To the fullness of love.

But Echo waited.
Despite you, she sang your song.

Through her,
You outlive death.
To those wonders about you that you never named
She gave voice
That your love might go beyond yourself.

This is everything.
Call it love.

Excavation

Our stories are born in sand In fragments of clay On scrolls in clay jars Scratches on rocks Alongside vanished oceans Deep, deep inland. We search for We read these stories to find our place On this earth.
But in the soft place Between mysteries and answers There is your story Written in this scallop shell Becoming stone by yielding What it is to emptiness Letting in the sand That will settle And take form Not forever But for this eternity We hold right now.
It is a fragile shell. And it is a rock Somewhere between forever
And now.

Caduceus

Your day is all surf and sunshine
Salt spray and soft sand
You walk on and feel yourself tan
But then
 Clouds move in
And lean into the warm air
A darkening moment
And there is Hermes
Whispering in your ear
An invitation through
Your deepest artery to the pain
You cannot honor with a name
 In daylight.
You paid for the pain.
Now you pay for the ride.
You cross into your darkness
The dog barks and nips and tears
But you move on, no Virgil to guide you
No Beatrice to warm your heart
Until you are at the center
Of your heart
And there is Hermes
Playing on his turtle shell lyre
An ancient theme for your naked, bleeding truth
And you bless it with a name
And then Hermes tells you
You cannot stay
So swim out of this darkness
And in your innocent nakedness you do
And there is Zeus straight ahead
With thunderbolts bearing the name
You gave suffering
When you found the courage to face it alone.
He gives your sorrow to Earth
In life-giving energy that pulses with joy.
And there it is:
A vibran…

The Heron Priested Shore

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My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
    Above the farms and the white horses
         And I rose
      In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
     Over the border
         And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

(from "Poem in October" by Dylan Thomas)

Atlas

At night he lets his arms down
Wraps them around his love
And the stars slip into the sea
Until they come again
In the spindrift
And the breeze like a warm breath
Gives form to the sand
As the dunes rise to the sky
Becoming new stars
That fall again and again
Into the sea
In the chaos of his dreams
He swallows the moon
And glows in its borrowed fire
Until he lets her go
To give her the sun.

Hermes: Delivering Love Letters from the Universe

The Romans called the Greek god Hermes by the name of Mercury. From him we have inherited the adjective mercurial, meaning subject to unpredictable changes of mind. A review of the messenger god’s resume suggests how his name acquired this meaning. This Olympian is the god of astrology, astronomy, athletic competitions, cunning, diplomacy, gymnasiums, herds, hospitality, roads, trade, thievery. He guides the dead to the underworld. He is the god of language and writing. That is to say, he is the sum of all things. Child of Zeus and Maia, he is a window through which we might experience eternity; he is every one of us. Mercury reminds us of the urgency of life.

In Odysseus’s story, there are two key moments that speak to that urgency: when Odysseus needs to take responsibility for his next move, to vote himself off the island at whatever the cost. In these instances he is with the goddess Circe and then with the goddess Calypso. This powerful women quite like this hero and…

The Light Gets In

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Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything) That's how the light gets in (Leonard Cohen)

Demeter and Persephone: Throwing Out Your Playbook

Thinking about the underworld and who’s in charge down there took me back to the myth of Demeter and Persephone and the idea that this is a myth explaining the seasons, a form of early science. Maybe it is on the level of story, but how does it rise above the sum of its parts to say something about the mystery that informs--or should inform--our lives? Reading it right now, this myth speaks of eternity and how to live in it now. To find, as mythologist Joseph Campbell says, “an experience of being alive.”

So what happens in Hades?

The Greek underworld is Hades, and it is ruled by the Olympian of the same name, brother of Zeus. He’s not alone down there because he takes for his bride Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. The taking is literal; he kidnaps her on a rare walk above ground when he sees her picking flowers in Sicily. She’s pretty and he wants her and that’s it. Persephone has nothing to say about becoming the queen of that dark, unknow…

Secret Sky

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This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. (Rumi)

You Are Prometheus

As I prepare for a new school year by revisiting mythologist Joseph Campbell’s works along with Greek myths, I find my mind frequently turning to current events and thinking about what our world will need from my students when they finish their classroom time. Teaching is a political act; teaching English is an intensely political act because English teachers challenge young people to come to a greater understanding of the world and their place in it through texts we choose for specific reasons. Will you place Ayn Rand or Thoreau before a young mind? Baldwin or Fitzgerald? Homer or Hinton?  Will you ask your students to hand back the received wisdom of last year’s lecture? Will you guide your students to find their own voices, articulate their understandings, identify truths as old as Earth? That’s politics. For me, teaching is also an act of patriotism; those discoveries I help my students to make are discoveries about themselves in a specific, remarkable, beautiful place: the…

Our Perfect World

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"For peace comes dropping slow...."

In The Odyssey, Odysseus returns to Ithaca only after he has faced his worst fears and drawn strength from the growth he makes.  Along the way, Odysseus has itchy feet; he never wants to stay where he is as he makes his way back to Ithaca. He never settles.  In this story, there is a message for all of us. The only way we can make any contribution to this amazing nation is to face our fears and deny Trump. That's what the business leaders who had sought to foster manufacturing and growth did when they resigned from Trump's business advisory councils.  In doing this, they erased the headlines about how these business leaders had a lot to fear in Trump.  Artists have done the same--and they should have been the first to never get there, never mind go. Trump is living his dream of destroying our government and our planet and every ethical norm we cherish. As a nation, we are in crash-and-burn mode.  Republicans are wimps, and Democra…

Ariadne: Light of the World

Theseus would lack a name
If it weren't for Ariadne
And her honor roll ways.

Ariadne,
Daughter of Minos,
Granddaughter of Helios,
Ultimately the wife of Dionysus,

Give Theseus a single string,
A linen thread,
That Theseus might find his way
Through the dark labyrinth
To stunning light

After defeating the Minotaur.

Ariadne gives Theseus
A place
In the human story,
A tapestry woven from beautiful souls,
Magical threads.

She gives him life.
He gives her strength.

Swimming

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Beyond the blindingly hot sand
Beyond the crush and curl of the wave
Beyond the foaming blend of air, water, earth
Beyond the pull of stones and shells and God knows what
Beyond the imbalancing tug of the current

Pelicans float on the water

That tugs gently
On every part of my body,
Accepts the strokes of my arms,
The thrust of my legs,
Holds me in place
Propels or holds me back as it pleases.

It is what it is.
I am what I am.

I think only of the water
When I am in the water,
And I move as I must.

Psyche Is the Cave

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Our psyche is the cave with all the jewels in it, and it's the fact that we're not letting their energies move us that brings us up short.  The world is a match for us, and we are a match for the world.  And where it seems most challenging lies the greatest invitation to find deeper and greater powers in ourselves. (Joseph Campbell in An Open Life)

Cupid:  What up, dude?
Psyche is beautiful, accomplished,
Right there in front of you,
Loves you.
You love her,
And you damned well know it.

But mother says, "Mess her up;
She dares to know
She is beautiful--
And perhaps more so than I."

And there is Cupid,
Caught between his women.

You know the story:
Beauty and the Beast,
Phantom of the Opera,
Your damned evil mother in law.

You know the story:
The one you love,
The one to whom you give every gift you have

Punishes you for the unmasking
For that vulnerable moment
When you occupy that sacred space
And know eternity.

You wait
Because waiting is your gift.
So is the lonelin…

Facing the Bear

Always the neighbors
Are sighting bears
And chasing me inside:
"Be careful!"
"He's huge!"
"She'll be ferocious with her cubs!"
On and on.

I have not seen the bears.

In fact,
I have doubted their existence
Until tonight:

I found myself within feet of  a black bear
Meandering around a neighbor's garden.

He was as big as his legend.

I stepped forward a few paces,
The better to see him without my glasses.

He stood still.
I stood still.

He stepped backward,
Turned,
And was gone.

That's how it is with bears.
No need to panic. No need to run.

Just take a step forward,
And they vanish.

And you keep on.


Odysseus and the Women

Ninth-graders think Odysseus is a jerk and the mess he has made of his life undeserving of their sympathy.  Odysseus tours the Mediterranean to fight at Troy, to do some pirating, and then finds himself in some serious trouble with Poseidon for robbing, blinding, and mocking his kid Polyphemus the Cyclops.  Poseidon settles the score by stretching Odysseus’s 10 years away from home to 20.  During that second decade, Odysseus has some serious goddess trouble--and that’s what puts off my students.  He is unfaithful to Penelope.  The Cyclops stuff doesn’t sit well with them, either, but the dalliances with Circe and Calypso put him beyond the pale of redemption.  On the level of story, the kids have it right:  he is a jerk.  On the mythic level, though, there’s something else going on.  So it’s fun to tell a young feminist she is Odysseus.  We are all Odysseus.  We are all sailing that wine dark sea day after day after year  in search of home--the archetypal place of pure and true belong…

Arachne Was a Suicide

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Arachne was a suicide.
Then, she was a spider.
Because Athena took pity
On the shepherd's daughter
She slapped around
After the child showed
She was every bit the weaver
Athena was
And dared to know it.

Arrogance?
Self-awareness?
The act of daring to dream?

Arachne's tapestry told a different story
From Athena's.
The girl celebrated mortals
While the goddess celebrated immortals.

Arachne didn't ask permission.
She didn't need it.

Athena destroyed her work.
Arachne destroyed herself.

And then Athena
Brought her back to life
To spin and spin and spin

For eternity.

So she does.

And she has woven the veil
Through which I glimpse paradise
This morning
In the form of a swamp
That does not invite me in

Though I am free to watch
And imagine the life of a pond lily.

His Queen

Following my return,
We slept back to back for a few nights,
His presence a light and comforting touch.
He faced the wall; I faced the door.

Last night,
He took the chair
Opposite my door.

He stayed there all night.

When I opened my eyes at three,
I watched him watching me,
His terrier nose
Assessing everything.

His eyes were on me
The whole time.

This is love,
I thought,
And here is my fortune:
Twelve wiry pounds of it, all mine.

In my sleep, he made me his queen.

Poseidon's My Guy Because He Hurts

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I have been thinking about Poseidon and how he comes across as the petulant brother of Zeus out to get Odysseus because he can in The Odyssey.  He is an outlier on Olympus when The Odyssey opens.  He’s the god who has it in for the mortal who beat up his kid, Polyphemus the Cyclops, and then laughed in his face.  What’s noble about a guy acting out a grudge?  

Answering that requires knowing something about Polyphemus, the Cyclops.  He’s on his own little island with his sheep and rams and feta cheese all stored for his private use in his cave.  When Odysseus and his crew arrive on the Cyclops’s unexploited island, they basically raid the guy’s refrigerator.  This is a gross violation of the celebrated virtue of hospitality.  Once the Cyclops understands that he has been invaded by these mortals, he eats a few and then a few more and holds them hostage.  Odysseus finds a way to outwit the guy--he blinds him--and get the rest of his men out, but the Greeks are guilty of taking advantage…

Lejeune Memorial Gardens

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When we were in Jacksonville, North Carolina, we stopped at the LeJeune Memorial Gardens to pay our respects to those who have served this country in uniform.  We don't have a personal connection to anyone who is memorialized there--beyond living in the nation they served.  That's something.
 The kids are standing in front of the Vietnam Memorial, where the names are inscribed in glass.  The effect is that you see yourself and everyone else and the beautiful world beyond as you look at and through the names.  It's a powerful experience.

 This memorial to the Marines of Montfort Point was new.  This recalls the days when the Marine Corps was segregated at the same time it honors the African-American men who served during those years.  An uphill battle.


The Beirut Memorial honors the 273 Marines who died in Beirut and Grenada in 1983.
 Then, there is this memorial to the fallen of September 11, 2001.  My daughter and nephew Alex were babies then.  Adam wasn't here yet…

Here Is the Universe

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Steep Rock Preserve, Washington, Connecticut

Thinking about Helen

I have spent the summer studying The Iliad and The Odyssey as I prepare for a new year of teaching English to high school freshmen.  These ancient Greek epics are known as the cornerstones of Western literature and culture, works that define our culture and reveal to us the source of our values--specifically, hospitality and valor.  Culturally, that’s why we keep them around and why we have English classes in which kids are expected to wrestle with the ideas of these books.  On the surface, that cornerstone-of-Western-culture stuff sounds like the mission of English class is to confirm established prejudices about how cool the West is and why we are write to impose ourselves on the world.  In fact, taxpayers underwrite the exploration of the big questions of who we are and what we are doing here--individually and in relation to each other.  In this materialistic, money-grubbing, screw-nature-if-there’s-a-dollar-to-be-made age, we put money down on the big questions and expect our kids…

Perspective: Wilmington

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I love these Venus fly trap sculptures at Market and Water streets in Wilmington, North Carolina. These plants are indigenous to the region and found nowhere else.  This work by Wilmington artist Paul Hill is titled, "Southern Hospitality."

Wilmington has acquired a lot of public art over the years.  I would argue that the Battleship USS North Carolina stands among those works. A marvel of engineering, it weighs 2,633 tons and in its time had the power of 60,000 horses.  BB-55 made significant contributions to the US campaigns in the Pacific theater during World War II.
I don't know anything about the provenance of this piece, but I like it for the grace it captures in the owl.
Here is a man sleeping while he waits for someone to buy a rose he has spun from palm fronds.

The Garden

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The Garden: Light, water, earth, cutting, waiting Cutting, cutting, cutting


Love and Your Dog

Your dog does not know you by your name.
Neither does love when it finds you.
It's the timbre of your voice, your smell,
The fragrance of your breath and how you move.
What you give and how.

What else impresses your dog?

Your gait.
The kindness in your heart and hands.
Possibly, what you eat.

Your dog loves you as stripped-down animal you,
And you love that--
Or you'd have a cat.

Loved dogs walk with nobility.
They have no concern for their size.
They feel the beat of the universe
Pulsing inside them.

In fact, they are the universe.

It goes like that with love, too.

Answering the Call

Exiled from the safe places,
Where are you?

Freed from others' demands,
What do you do?

Cut off from your words,
How do you feel?

Catapulted from the past,
Who are you?

Washed up naked on the shore,
What do you want?
How will you get it?

Listen

You don’t have to ask questions, Mom says. People will tell you What they want You to know.
Let it flow: Listen.
This is old advice from mom. I don’t even remember the context In which she gave it to me.
But it has stuck, and that’s what I do: Let it flow: Listen.
It’s likely she said it more than once.
I don’t ask questions.
In listening, I have learned to hear How you feel Who you are What is true.
It takes time, But I learn.  
Speak to me, and you can be sure of this:
I know you.