From Greek para “beside, alongside” and eidolon, “image, form, shape,” pareidolia is the misperception of a stimulus as something familiar to the observer. The brain is, after all, a pattern-seeking device… surely that is why poetry speaks to us so…
Riding in the car, zipping past Sunlit dappling shadows cast Through trees, racing, racing fast A speeding journey to the last.
Above in the sky I see That you are following after me Swiftly sailing your airy sea Marking my passage, tree to tree.
There in your ethereal shroud Where silence reigns so blue, so loud Fleeting as life, warning the proud Face of mourning in the cloud.
In celebration of Poetry Friday … for more offerings visit Whispers on the Ridge – thanks for hosting, Kiesha.
Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go If you cling too tightly you’re gonna lose control.
—38 Special/D. Barnes, J. Carlisi, J. Peterik
The draft of this post has been sitting here a long time, gathering cobwebs, while I considered how to write it.The idea began with seeing connections between teaching, instructional coaching, parenting…with those cautionary lyrics, above, coming to mind: “If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”
That’s the problem with many relationships, isn’t it. Control. As in, who‘s trying to assert it? By holding too tightly? By force? What are the consequences? Why do I think of Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun trying to prove who was stronger by making the Traveler remove his cloak? What does this imply about human nature?
And not just human nature…that little green vine in the photo, above…it has goals, doesn’t it? To keep growing, climbing, gaining strength daily…soon the difference between “holding on loosely” and “clinging too tightly” will be evident in the absolute destruction it will wreak. It cannot know the cost to whatever tree, gate, house, other plants, anything it overtakes.
How did I land here, when I began with thinking on connective threads of teaching, coaching, parenting? Where will my metaphorical thinking take me next? What philosophical point am I trying to make?
Is this out of control now? How DO I write this persistent…thing?
When at a loss to say what can hardly be said, there’s always poetry. Maybe that’s what this idea wants to be…
Each poem is a metaphor, a philosophy, a journey of its own. This one, like life, goes fast. The form is designed for that. Sylvia Plath said that once a poem is written, interpretation belongs to the reader. Read it just to read, then maybe reread to decide for yourself if you see threads of teaching, coaching, parenting…and more.With poetry, there’s always more.
So here’s where the poem took me. I landed in a blitz: “Hold On Loosely.”
Have only today Have and to hold Hold my hand Hold it dear Dear one Dear children Children laughing Children leaving home Home is wherever YOU are Home place Place of remembering Place in the sun Sun rising in the east Sun dappling the grass Grass rippling in the breeze Grass withering, fading Fading light Fading fast Fast go the hours Fast and furious Furious argument Furious storms Storms wreaking havoc Storms passing Passing over Passing by By the way By getting to work Work it out Work hard Hard to handle Hard to reach Reach anyway Reach out Out of time Out of breath Breath of fresh air Breath of life Life is short Life is precious Precious moments Precious faces Faces in photographs Faces tugging at heartstrings Heartstrings reverberating at final words Heartstrings tied loosely Loosely hold on Loosely, not letting go. go… on…
—What threads did you see?
Oh, and writer-friends…maybe reread one last time to see how the blitz might describe a relationship with writing.
The recent blog series by Two Writing Teachers, Seen, Valued, Heard: Writing to Establish Community, brought to mind a piece I wrote on community two years ago—long before the current pandemic, the transition to remote learning, andour vastly-intensified struggle for social justice. We are all reminded, many times over, that for a community—ever how large, small, or microcosmic—to flourish, it is imperative that every member sees, values, and hears one another.
What IS community, really?So much more than we tend to think.Philosopher David Spangler wrote: “Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.”The words of priest Henri Nouwen: “Community is first of all a quality of the heart… the question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?’ but, ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?‘”And this line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who died in a concentration camp, strikes me deeply: “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them.”
As an educator, as a human being, I continue to reflect on “community.” Here’s my composition from 2018, followed by a double acrostic composed this morning.
When I think of the word community, I first envision a neighborhood where people are bound to one another by a sense of civic responsibility. A grouping of people or houses does not a community make; a true community develops from like-mindedness about the good of the whole. Protecting one another, helping one another in times of need, maybe beautifying the area . . . on a deeper level, think of these variations of community: Commune, communion. These words have a spiritual color to them. They imply an even greater like-mindedness and focus. Definitions of the verb commune include a passionate, intense, or intimate discussion, the exchange of thoughts and feelings; to commune, or for there to be communion, people gather together out of a desire to share, tap into, or celebrate something profoundly meaningful to all. Such a rapport implies that partakers are there not just to get but to give.
So it is for a community of writers. A grouping of people with pencils, papers, and laptops, within the classroom or without, does not a community of writers make. To write is to put pieces of one’s soul on a page; this, in the scheme of human undertakings, is an unparalleled act of courage. A writing community, then, is a gathering of the courageous in a place where it is safe to share the pieces of one’s soul on the collective pages, with the responsibility to hear, value, and honor one another, and even to help each other beautify the arrangement of words for greatest effect. The writing community is vital to the writer, for, ever how old or young, writers sharpen one another, encourage one another, celebrate one another, and grow together in an atmosphere of commitment, accountability, expectancy, sometimes breathless awe, and glorious release.
Above all, let us not fail to see that hidden word in “community”: unity.
Connected by the arc Of our humanity, we are more than able to Make one from Many, to create a vital spectrum Upholding both me and you. Numinous, luminous, an Iridescent inscribing of graffiti To us, from us, in ink of heart-bent light— You and I define our sky.
The view of my neighborhood, taken from my driveway last week, between thunderstorms.
Woke in the wee hours to total darkness, power loss, Hurricane Isaias smacking the house, tearing at the roof. Isaias is purely physical. He has no voice, unlike the ghost-wind that moaned and mourned for weeks under our eaves with the advent of spring and COVID-19.
Yet somewhere in the darkness, despite the raging gusts, little frogs kept up a cheery chorus.
Not much to do but stay in bed and wait it out.
And fall back asleep. And dream…
I am driving a car that belongs to my father, I think. Except that it doesn’t look like any car he ever owned. Nice little SUV, dark gray. I am coming home from visiting my grandparents in the country. I reach the quaint part of the city where they lived when I was little, before my grandfather retired. I’ve always loved this place… but I realize just now that I can’t turn the car. The steering wheel is gone. How have I managed to come so far without it? The car begins to spin and slide; I’ve lost control of it, I fear it’s going to be hit, but somehow I get it to a safe parking spot by a curb. I will have to backtrack and find that missing steering wheel—how could I have lost it? How is that even possible?
I go (on foot? in the same steerless car?) all the way back to my grandparents’ home. They’re out in the yard, very busy loading and unloading big objects (equipment? furniture?)on some kind of truck. Grandma’s face is serious. She doesn’t have time to talk to me [should have been a major clue that I was dreaming, as this never happened in reality]. When I tell her why I’m back she just says the steering wheel is over there (she points) in the road. Seems I lost it on the very start of my journey home…
I go to reclaim the steering wheel only discover two things: This is a rather large steering mechanism but the actual wheel isn’t there… and the little old road is freshly-tarred and paved. It’s never been paved. It’s supposed to be gravel. Sure, it looks nice, stretching out smooth and black, but why would anyone pave these tiny, meandering back roads where so few people live? This is a lot of work and expense that isn’t really ‘better’, I say to myself. With mounting sadness, I run a short dash on this new pavement to see that my grandmother’s home place—a small, white house with a porch and a tin roof, where Grandma and her seven siblings were born over a hundred years ago—is gone. An expanse of green grass is all there is to see…
And then I wake.
Loving symbolism as I do, I know the dream connects to having little or no control in life. We’re living through a pandemic. A hurricane rages. I work in a school and the return next week will be drastically different. Life plows on despite the loss of the familiar. Nothing looks or feels or works quite like it used to. We travel a strange road interspersed with shadows of the real and surreal. The world, and our existence, have been altered in myriad ways. But… to be without power is not the same as being powerless…
As I write, Isaias has moved on. There is no damage here, no trace of him whatsoever now. I could revel in this glorious day, the azure sky with occasional cottony clouds drifting by, the unidentifiable bird with long wings soaring high, cicadas resuming their buzzing in the still-standing trees from which they were not shaken…that sound being one that connects me more than anything to safety and my grandparents’ home in the eastern North Carolina countryside. I could employ here my one word for the year, reclamation… reclaiming the day, reclaiming life, even my strange dream-attempt at reclaiming that lost steering wheel in a vehicle that wasn’t mine…
But the power came back on and the TV is full of destruction in the northeastern regions of my state. Homes destroyed by tornadoes spawned by Isaias. People dead and missing (some were children, who’ve since been accounted for).
And I think instead that the road to reclamation is so hard, so strange, so littered with precious, scattered fragments of life, obstructed by such mountains to move. We can control so little.
When we find we are unable to steer, perhaps that is when we are being driven most toward one another. Reclamation, then, lies in our responsiveness. In our willingness.
So does, perhaps, our redemption.
Photo: The road back to Stevenage. Peter O’Connor. CCBY-SA
In an instant, life changes. Without warning, parameters close in. Existence is not what it was or ever will be again, for one can only endure each moment in the moment, with no sense of what lies beyond the shell, the shadowy vignette of Now, the eternity of it, the temporality of it. There is no turning of Earth, no movement of Time, no tortoise-crawl into tomorrow where Now could ever be snared in the net of memory…
Until all of a sudden, it is.
For five months Life As We Know It has been suspended by COVID-19. We’ve yet to crawl beyond its grasp.
For my family, however, today makes a year since the borders of our being were reduced, abruptly, to a sand-like speck floating in minutes as vast and endless as the sea.
One year since the Sunday afternoon that my youngest and I took our last routine walk around the church, talking about life and the future as he prepared for his final year of college.
One year since we came back home, hot and tired, and the dog went crazy barking at the patrol car pulling into our driveway. One year since the officer asked if this is where my husband lived, because he’s been in an accident, ma’am, and do you have a way to the hospital…
One year since my husband, coming home from the gym, suffered cardiac arrest while driving and his truck veered off the road, into the woods, stopping just short of a ravine.
One year since not knowing what our boys and I would learn when we walked into the ER entrance, where we were met by a nurse waiting for us, who took us into a side room…
One year since the attending physician told the boys and me it was a “big” heart attack, that their dad was alive because the EMTs were heroes, because he was not when they found him.
One year since we learned that EMS in this county happens to have the second-highest resuscitation rate in the nation.
One year since the night spent sleeping on chairs in the cardiac ICU waiting room as hypothermia was induced to give my husband’s brain time to recover.
One year of not knowing how much could be, or would be, recovered.
Time slowed to a crawl so infinitesimal that it could never really pass.
But it did, and it has, and it is.
Today makes one year, somehow. A compromised year, one in which I didn’t start or end the school year normally, a year of resuming life only to hit another prolonged pause, a year of no traveling beyond the necessary, first because of my husband’s mending heart and then the pandemic. A year of time outside of time, or time folding in on itself… I am not sure which. A year of near-implosion, of living and dying strangely, epically. A year of not knowing, globally or nationally, how much recovery there can be, or will be…
My husband has recovered remarkably well, in all ways except for a span of memory for the month or two prior to his cardiac arrest. The brain seeks to protect itself from trauma; it’s a survival mechanism. All my husband’s long-term memory, all his beloved sports trivia and history lore, remains intact for instant recall. But for a vague recollection of leaving the gym on that fateful day one year ago, my husband’s brain erased last July. He has no memory of our last family vacation to the beach, of long walks on the shore, of plunging into the bracing, beckoning ocean, of trying new restaurants, of the little Guatemalan shop he loved and visited several times, where he encouraged the rest of us to buy whatever handmade items we wanted because a portion of proceeds supports the native artisans. We ask him: Do you remember the putt-putt game? How you got beat by one point? How you demanded a rematch? Do you remember the storm blowing in on the 4th, when we ate at that new place in the enclosed deck by the marina and you said it was the best fish you ever had? Do you remember the music and dancing in the square? Don’t you remember buying this tapestry bookbagand the belt?
He looks as if we are speaking a different language, one we have created, one he has never heardand can’t grasp. No. No. Really? That happened?
One night last week he and I were watching a nature TV program. The camera zoomed in on a tortoise. Instantaneously, my husband said: ” I remember that.”
“The tortoise. We saw one like it on the beach trip last year.”
He is right. We did. We saw a giant tortoise on the side of the road while driving. We pulled off to encounter several tortoises owned by a man who had them out for visitors that day. Tortoises, we discovered, enjoy having their heads petted; they’ll stretch their necks out to you for more.
And I know, looking away from the tortoise on the screen to the intent expression on my husband’s face as he watches it, that the return of the tortoise in his memory means that what is good remains, even if hidden. It is never just gone. Despite the extent of trauma, pain, and suffering, endurance is possible, and healing more than possible.
Here’s to today. And the tortoise.
–Last July. I could not have imagined the significance of this moment, one year later.
Teacher-poet-friend Margaret Simon posts a weekly image on her blog along with an invitation to write: “This Photo Wants to Be a Poem.”
Yesterday’s photo, shot by Margaret’s friend Jen, featured a dew-studded spiderweb framing the sun. A compelling call to compose … leading to my first attempt at a non-rhyming loop poem:
Sunrise feels like hope Hope for a new day Day of repairing damage done Done to one another Another day to try Try starting afresh Afresh with distilling dew Dew droplets, sacred diamonds Diamonds glittering in the light Light illuminating the torn web Web of our intricate interconnectedness.
May we all be found working on our corner of the web—and in the corners of our own hearts.
Thank you, Margaret and Jen, for inspiration to weave.
New day. Opening window blinds to a flood of sunlight. Glimpse of pines, grass grown tall overnight (how??), weathered wooden deck railing, old white rocking chair, large cement pots draped in long ivy vines, new tendrils waving, geraniums blazing green and red, interspersed with spiky brown starbursts—oh, time to deadhead.
Within moments, scissors in hand, reaching for exposed bones of skeletal blooms, crisping, decaying, red petals shriveled, let loose, bled away, spent…
—Oh! Hello. Didn’t know you were here, Dragonfly.
Swapping the scissors for the phone-camera…
How close will you let me get?
You’re small. Maybe two-and-a-half inches. Not like the first dragonflies I ever encountered in my grandmother’s yard when I was a child. Enormous things, terrifying… “They won’t hurt you! They eat mosquitoes”… good thing I didn’t know the old Scandinavian folktales then, how dragonflies come to weigh people’s souls, doling punishment on the bad, stitching children’s eyes closed for telling lies. Instead I learned to see the beautiful in the strange. Living sticks of metallic blue, iridescent gleams against the sunlit grass, darting any which way, impossibly. Air acrobats. —You’re very still. Not blue but yellow with bold black stripes. Clinging to a deadhead. Wonder why. Can’t cut the dying bloom away, not while you’re on it, Dragonfly. Won’t disturb you.
Returning later: You’re still present, resting on a green leaf.
Why should this feel so reassuring?
Maybe because the symbolism of a dragonfly is usually positive. You’re said to be bringers of light, restoring joy when it’s waning. Just as those bright geranium blooms are waning. Many new buds are already evident. Growth from within. The ability to change, transform, adapt—that is what we humans say about you dragonflies, as you begin life submerged in water (most of your lives being lived there) yet you eventually take to the air and learn to fly. By then the time remaining to you is short. Seems you make the most of it. Maybe you are harbingers of the soul. Not in judgment, but in self-realization, mental and emotional maturity, acceptance. A call to wisdom. A recurring word for me, of late.
Whatever motif lies written in iridescent ink on dragonfly wings, my grandmother knew it was good: You eat mosquitoes. You will not hurt me. You’re helpers. Protectors.
Sitting so still, amid decay juxtaposed with new growth… an inexplicable stab of delight, vibrant little messenger from nature, oblivious of your mission, perhaps, of nudging, not judging, human souls toward our own betterment … oh, and do you know? Could you know? In human lore… geraniums represent unexpected meetings.
A friend who knows of my strange love for the loud, jarring buzz of cicadas presented me with this card for my birthday. Fashioned from repurposed material, these snippets, chosen with artistic precision and care, strike deep…
Sing loud & proud
your soul is joyful loving and wants to sing
The world’s loudest cicada is the Brevisana brevis, a cicada found in Africa that reaches 106.7 decibels
Earth itself has a sound, an incessant hum caused by pounding ocean waves measured at a frequency 10,000 times lower than what humans can hear
Speak up out
For now is the time of cicadas; some of them, sleeping underground for seventeen years, are due to rise.
Yesterday, when the sun was brightest, I walked and walked the path around the graveyard of a country church, listening for the first strains.
Seems they are late. I wonder why.
I thought about their wings, how the sectional lines running through the lower portion of these long, diaphanous structures form the letter W or P. It is said that these are omens for War or Peace.
Unless Nature is a prophet.
Whatever pattern lies in the veins of their wings, or however it’s perceived, the cicada’s song is always one of life. Of survival. It is individual. It is collective. It is precious.
Most people call it cacophony, a harsh, deafening, discordant noise … not hearing the song for what it is. Not recognizing it the way cicadas do. We are not cicadas.
Yet there’s something of us, of all living things, in the sound. A song not heard with ears but with the heart, that ceaseless hum of our own brief journey from the womb to the ground. A song of earth, ocean, dust of the stars, for we are repurposed atoms of these; we carry them all, and each other, within us. Can we even hear our own song, any more than we can know our own heart, for what it really is? How can we even think we know someone else’s?
Until it becomes a collective cry of the heart.
Speak up out
your soul is joyful loving and wants to sing
even in sorrow, loss, grief, despair
even in fear, rage, hurt
especially in overcoming, healing,
rising, at long last
to greet the season of change.
Today, Two Writing Teachers shared words from Toni Morrison: This is precisely the time when artists go to work.There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore the pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.
Like that of Jordan Kim, who created this cicada collage. Her mission: To inspire others to honor our connection to the natural world and to each other.
Let it be our repurposed song, fashioned from the fragments of our hearts. Let it be positive. Let the Earth ring with it.
More of it each day. Driving the darkness away with its gentle appearing, rousing bright-eyed birds earlier and earlier, which respond in uninhibited chirps, songs, chatter. New day new day new day day day …
It’s a beautiful time to be alive. To be reborn. To mark having been born.
“What do you want for your birthday?” asked my husband.
“New rocking chairs.”
I’d been thinking on it.
The old chairs on the front porch are cracked, broken, portions held in place with wood glue. Time for them to go. Time for new ones. I want to sit outside in the light, in the breeze, even though it remains oddly chilly, to hear the birds, to see Papa Finch alight on the roof. I hear him before I see him; I wonder what his loud twitter means but I always answer, “Hi Finch!” Then there he is, tiny brown creature with his chest faintly dusted red, sitting high above the garage against the cloudless blue sky, looking directly at me. The porch is part of his domain. Sometimes from inside the house I hear his loud chirp; looking through the window, I find him sitting on the white porch rail. I suspect he’s eyeing the front door wreath for his bride’s nest. Although I took the wreath down for the winter, I’d left the old nest from last year attached. With the coming of March, and with great care, I put the faded, bird-loved wreath back in hopes that the nest would be reused. It hasn’t. So I removed it to make way for new.
Like my rocking chairs.
When my granddaughter visits now, it’s only on the front steps for a while, until the coronavirus social distancing expires. She comes with eyes full of spring light, as blue as the sky above my finch, who never fails to join our gathering and to add his voice to the conversation.
“That’s a loud bird!” says my granddaughter, age four.
“He is. Look, there he is, on the roof. Hi, Finch!”
And in these bright little moments, I revel in the poetry of life, that this bird (I wonder if he was one of the previous hatchlings from my wreath? ) should be a mainstay. Especially as my granddaughter’s name is Scout. Yes, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Whose last name was … Finch.
I want sturdy chairs on the porch, for resting. As a place to quiet my mind with the greenness of the grass in the yard and over where the path leads round the pond through greener trees. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul … To share with my granddaughter as she grows, to have coffee with my husband who almost didn’t live to see another spring. To celebrate living, being, enduring. To converse with generations of finches who’ve chosen to make my home theirs. To know, as evening falls, and I must go in, that I savored the gifts of that day to their fullest, their deepest.
My husband bought the chairs.
“We’ll put the old ones on the back deck,” he told me.
I wanted to say Why, they’re held together with glue, they’ll last maybe three days out there with no shelter, let’s just throw them away. But I didn’t. He wants to keep them, for some reason …
Truth is, the old chairs look kind of nice on the back deck by the flowerpots. For ever how long they last out there.
It was the rocker nearest the kitchen that made me realize.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
Dennis the dachshund woke from his sleep in a patch of sun-stripes at the back door. Ears perked.
“What is that?” I asked him from my chair at the kitchen table, where I was typing on the laptop.
Rising, looking through the window.
The rocker, rocking all by itself.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
The other rocker opposite sat motionless.
The wind, I thought.
Second thought: Why this rocker and not the other?
Third thought: Is the wind — or something — IN that chair?
It reminded me that I’ve always wanted to write a collection of ghost stories. An incongruous thought on such a bright, gold-green day.
How have I missed it?
For all the weeks—months—of the wind’s extended gusting and moaning under the eaves, unlike I’ve ever heard it before, I failed to notice it had stopped. All through the COVID crisis it’s been a grieved entity, swirling around my house in desperation, haunting my spirit with its voice, agitating the tall pines.
It’s still here, as my rocking chair can attest. But subdued.
Perhaps the wind has decided to sit a spell and rest. Perhaps the rocker was an invitation.
I am not sure we are friendly, yet, the wind and I, but I will offer it hospitality as long as it’s a benevolent guest. Is it taking up residence here, like the finches?
Perhaps I will take my coffee out there one afternoon and ask—begging the wind’s pardon, of course—why it cried so long and so hard.
But as I have no wish to stir anything up, maybe I’ll just let the wind rock to its heart’s content, in peace.