So much depends on finding some beginning, a way in––the next breath, the first word, the next right thing, the first step into it. The despair before the task is so looming, a body could easily be swallowed in its shadow. And will be, unless. There is the next breath, the next right thing, the next step, the first word. Say it.
Waiting, somebody asks, what will happen when the silence breaks? When the sirens come, so does this announcement: turn off the lights, gas, water. Take what you can. At the window of the train, a hundred Pietàs. Close up on camera, the most hunted among them is refusing his chance to escape. We are here, he says, both reminder and call. Here, Our weapon is truth. This is our land, our children, our country, he says, and we will defend. Civilians run to the wrecked tanks in twos and threes to pick up armor. The defenders are on the bridge. The attackers are coming soon. The living pass the dead, over the river. The bodies need collecting. The holes need repair. Certainty? A grandmother laughs. That’s only for the dead, she says. And then, as if remembering, she crosses herself, and says an inaudible prayer.
With love for all who are persecuted by greed, tyranny, and war, especially the people of Ukraine in this historic moment. A prayer for your safety, peace and continued courage. May every witness to your example take heart, and offer it to others in your name.
When it came time to hide in the cellars again, in that dark damp we all feared, some would not go. One of the grandmothers said, I’d rather die in my perfectly decorated flat. Whatever moves in the dirty basement she will not enter, it does not scamper like the mice in the attic. What moves here is slow like the drips from the faucet. There are candles, flashlights. Faces glow against the screens before them. Some close their eyes, try to sleep.
Do they dream? Fitfully. The cellar dreamer knows that the walls of the cellar are buried walls, with the entire earth behind them. Tell me, where is the fear that does not become exaggerated? The cellar becomes buried madness, walled-in tragedy. When they say take shelter, we wait.
The grandmother’s protest is a reference to Nika Melkozerova’s recent guest essay in the New York Times. Other italicized lines are from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space.
For shelter in the event of this now.
How do you enter?
What, you mean this? It can help to know that you are already here.
Parents have been sending the children to school with special stickers: names, telephone, blood type––in case, in the event––unmentionable, but. Some schools made these stickers mandatory. They have been practicing. In case of fire, one drill; bomb, another. The idea is not to panic.
It can help to know that––
Not to say too much. We want them to feel normal, say the mothers.
We pray, says one mother. We pray a lot, she says, for peace.
But how can––
Look. We are already here.
We hold the babies, hold the prayers. We hold on, and the windows are shaking.
Shhh, we say, shh. What else?
For the mothers and the babies, the brothers, fathers, the missing, and those holding in solidarity and love.
Sources referenced: Foreign Policy and Today.
With blasts on the horizon again, I want to know the woman who grew a forest around her to show the world its trees, offering a resistance. These ones are harder to kill, she said. She called them sacred and some jeered.
We don’t know, she explained, what we destroy.
What’s in them, anyway? someone asked.
Time, she answered. Time.
Inspired by the work of Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger, as discussed in this article.
And other enigmas of being.
You can try to name it with an austere smile or sprinkle it over the garden; count the universe in years, a galaxy in stars, a recognized species in projected numbers to a beginning or end; you can wave self-proclaimed insights with the strength of an eye pressed hot against an iron will, claiming the inconstant sun like a trophy in a body’s feeble attempt to make itself into a direction. But then comes this spinning and the compass will not hold, and all the fragile parts of a theory of everything collapse into the gap between the last exhalation and the next breath.
At every encounter, a mutual question, what is this something? and revelations between presences, of possibility. Here fire, here ice, here the light, heat, cool, drip––to be named, maybe, but still not known, and it matters to return often to this place, to remember the limits of language, to avoid equating naming with holding what won’t be captured or even grasped. At best, I can behold, be beholden to––at best, I can be held in my unknowing.
The idea is to liberate an artist’s power by saying, here are some patterns to work with. Here are some methods, and these can be learned. Sure, you can copy the old masters if you want, but this can be demoralizing, especially early on. Consider instead the play and placement of contrast, and the pictures of the floating world: eagle above dragon, forest among Atlantic cumulus. See them. Over time, an artist will better arrange lines and masses and it may become clear why the term “composition” is too limited. You can spend years studying the science of perspective, anatomy, history––and still manage to miss the essential element, Beauty. As in music, begin with simple exercises. Group a few lines harmoniously. Proceed step by step. This is how an artist’s power grows.
Inspired by (and using phrases from) Arthur Wesley Dow’s Composition (1905), as featured on Public Domain Review.
Dreaming forward and back.
If memory is the first fiction, then so is the history of a group. As a group evolves, so will its collective chronicle of becoming, but the process is as fraught as any reconstruction. If history is a cathedral and facts are the stones, then it’s worth considering that all somebody can do before a complete building with a single stone is throw it or sit on it. If all that happens in any reframing effort is the collection of a pile of new stones, you may end up with a whole lot of broken glass and all of us outside. But if people are challenged to build with them, to create new architecture, new gathering places, new halls of worship and dreaming, transcendence and offering, then what? Unless someone is feeding the dreamers from the same table as the builders, planners, architects, masons, and those tasked with moving each stone, a cohesive vision won’t emerge. Imagination is no luxury, but a life skill, and as critical in times of flux as any other preparation: for famine, attack, natural disaster, invasion. No group who makes outcasts of its dreamers can endure.
I first explored Tamin Ansary’s insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral,” in an earlier post, “Cathedral.”
To listen through soil is to be reminded of the inadequacy of words for sound, the curious choral cacophony of those out-of-sight creatures so easily out of mind, the soundtracks of springtail, of mellifluent moles mirroring the melodies of mice amid mesh of mycelium; these reverberating roots a revelation, calling a body back to unknowing. This is what the birds are turning their heads to listen for, plainchant of these porous depths, resounding.
Inspired by Ute Eberle’s recent Knowable Magazine article about the emerging field of soil bioacoustics, which some prefer to call biotremology or ecoacoustics.