Memory Shards

In the land of exile.

Once upon a time, when the bodies of the residents of former villages were still warm, so many had lived in homes, among families. After the wars, there was more and more talk of melancholy retrospection, this chronic looking back, this impulse to exhume the buried once upon a time that had so abruptly gone.

The word nostalgia had been coined centuries earlier, to describe the pathological homesickness afflicting soldiers separated from family and village. One doctor wrote extensively to insist that the condition be treated seriously as “a pathological state” rather than “an imaginary malady.” He saw death of a broken heart in the land of exile as something more lethal than enemy fire.

Reading these words, I begin to wonder if I know anyone who isn’t separated from family, who has ever known a village. Surely, there must be someone, but what is the word to name this longing for a place you’ve never known?

***

The doctor mentioned above is Raoul Chenu in “De la Nostalgie” whose insights appear regularly in connection with this topic. I was intending to write about the work of French photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009), who was born on this day, but his work in post-war France naturally led me here. The word I was wondering about is hireath, of Welsch origin and not entirely translatable, which a student presented to me once as “longing for a place that never was.”

Lovers in Time

A triptych.

In the land where time is a circle, I meet you again and again, always with a rush of recognition–– the lilting wave that beckons hello, stranger. It seems I have known you before, and each time I lose you, it is with the shocking pain of the first cut.

In the land where time is water, a tiny rivulet of this becoming will sometimes turn backstream, and any creatures, debris, soil, falling branches, or conversations will find themselves suddenly in the past.  In this world, we know even after our most recent reunion, of the loss that comes next, because we learned this when we lived in the land where time was a circle.

In another world, two times exist concurrently. One is mechanical, its form a massive pendulum of iron, back and forth. The other is of the body, bodies, the body of the living planet and its teeming forms. It squirms, wiggles . . .  makes its mind up as it goes along. Most reject one or the other form of time. But the worlds have a way of colliding. The collision tends to create a desperate state, because everybody knows that you can make a world in one or another time but not both. This is because each time is true, but the truths are not the same.

***

This morning, while waiting for the coffee to brew, I was delighted to discover Einstein’s Dreams, a slim novel by Alan Lightman, hiding in plain sight on a bookshelf. Although I do not remember buying this book, it is easy for me to imagine why I would have wanted to, upon learning that the premise is based on a series of dreams that the young scientist had before arriving at his theories of relativity.  I wrote today’s post while reading the opening twenty pages of the book, using three of the worlds Lightman describes. Italicized phrases are Lightman’s.

Ask the Oracle

The weight of remembrance.

In the days of constant violence and plagues, when the crops are dead with drought and fire and even the shade trees are gone, the citizens gather. The cry is help, and the answer calls to mind a riddle and a mirror, and who is the most mysterious of all?

––And the mirror answered back with a reflection, the face of the king and all behind him. But what does it take to read a body’s history? 

Ask the oracle, she’ll tell you again: not until there is justice, will you know peace in your homes and shade for your children. The old questions return: whose death continues to echo within the city walls; whose blood stains the soil of these charred acres? What severances between life and the living continue to bleed.

Bring in the blind prophet to remind the assembly of the weight of this knowledge and what it means to have it, where no gain can come except through the death of a timeworn dream. 

Nevertheless, they resisted.

***

I am inspired by the work of Brian Doerries and Theatre of War in placing Greek tragedies at the center of community discussions around central challenges of the moment. I jotted these notes while reviewing his translation of the Oedipus Trilogy and related notes.

Aftermath

In the dark between destruction and rebirth.

After the promise, before the fallen fruit, love was so loud that what followed might be called nature’s reproach. We suspected it was. But our memories of watercolor flights stayed anyway between water and sky, and us gliding in wide-winged pelican formations­­––long after their welcome, ignoring the new signs warning against the trespass of our breath.

After the storm, our eyes fall into these empty hands and roll across the wreckage around us until they are soaked in the sludge of charred remains. 

Only this silent plea between us now, strong and invisible; and time no longer ours, and in the dark hours before dawn, it may echo an inquiring trinity, Love, will you make the world here again? and then Hear, again and Love, here.

Music to Wake the Dead

Orpheus to Eurydice, overheard.

You were tired of tired imitation, wanted something real. Only the unreasonable would do. Okay, I said, and tuned the strings at the joint in the forked paths, from which one would lead home and the other to a forever road. Let me play you a burning thornbush. Your mother floats halfway between the bed and the ceiling in your sleep. We love a riddle, and the ones we can’t solve tend to linger, like the notes of the last dance, like the earth ringing now in my ears.

***

Inspired by a comment that director Andrey Tarkovsky makes in Sculpting in Time. Paraphrasing Paul Valéry, he notes how “the real is expressed most immanently through the absurd.” The last line is adapted from images in Arseny Tarkovsky’s poem “Eurydice.”

Looking Up

With Dorothea Klumpke Roberts.

Since Cain slew Abel, she considered hers a threefold role: mother, priestess, aide. Faithful service to each has meant time spent gazing up to question the sun, moon, and stars in concert with the evolving hour at hand––not as objects or territories to be conquered or subdued, but with the reverence and awe she comes to hold as original truths. Her wish: to be a living torch, bearing these, that tomorrow’s children might see and be awed in turn. To look as she does, it will be impossible for them not to feel the moral impact of the moment and be awed by all that is and may yet be.

***

Today is the birthday of groundbreaking astronomer Dorothea Klumpke Roberts (1861-1942). This post is composed of ideas and images from a 1919 article she published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, “Woman’s Work in Astronomy.”

Rivers to the Sea

With Sara Teasdale.

Afterwards, amid the autumn dusk

I shall not care

Let it be forgotten by February twilight

these faults.

My heart is heavy with old love.

Love, this is not a word, but an epitaph.

What do I care, in the morning?

Says a voice around me now,

here in this spirit’s house.

***

Today is the birthday of American lyric poet Sara Teasdale (1884-1933). The lines above are composed with some of her poem titles. The title of this post references a collection she published in 1915.

Nets

To catch and release, in good company.

Imagination loves a circle, perhaps because these are hooped like fishing nets for catching the galaxies swimming ever wider, above and below us. 

Friend, help me remember to let whatever knowns I manage to forage keep company with the wildly proliferating abundance of unnamed and undiscovered worlds suspended like invisible solutes in this glass and scattered like weeds along the walkway and around the floor like loose socks and cat fur, and in the back of cabinets like forgotten condiments long past their moment, so that I might continue to discover that behind the bright surfaces of the best I have found, these underbellies still dark with silence. 

It will be good to walk together and return them, tossing wide arcs into the turbulent waters of these sacramental tides everlasting though ordinary time, that each temporary finding may rediscover it’s secret affinities in those depths. What a process, to bear a human heart from its bottomless nowhere to its forever paths, each crashing an infinity with the next wave––out, out, out.

Space Dragons

Findings in the field.

I’m telling you; it looks like a burned tree it’s so big. Taller than either of us. Tell me, what is something like this doing on a sheep farm? I’m calling all over, but you wouldn’t believe––

I know it. Had one on my land too, a few months back. Turns out it’s just part of a Dragon.

You know, you’ve been out here awhile. I know how things can get sometimes with no one to talk to. You sure you’re feeling alright? Maybe you should think about––

Space dragon. You know. One of those rich boy rockets.

Oh. He named it space dragon?

Just dragon. Space dragon is my distinction.

Well. How many more dragon parts do we suppose are going to be dropping out of the sky?

This makes three I know about, so far. So, it’s anybody’s guess.

So, are they coming to get it?

I don’t doubt they’ll want it. But seeing as it landed in my field, I said they can decide what its worth to them and make me an offer.

What did they say?

Said they’d get back to me. Next I heard, they were giving a press conference about the next launch.

More dragons?

We can only imagine.

***

Inspired by this New York Times article about debris from the Space X program landing on an Australian sheep farm. The debris is believed to be one of several Dragon spacecraft used during a mission to the International Space Station in May of last year.

Reef Bodies

Underwater museums.

See the reef people, bodies given over to coral, algae, seagrasses, sheltering conch, crustaceans: boy with a face in his hands, man with a head of branches; history’s dead and the severed heads of oracles, waiting rebukes to the next sales pitch that begins with a story of progress unlimited. 

See the men with manes of seagrass, the ships for swimming through, the work of a lifetime to be schooled by fish.

After twenty centuries of stony sleep, what rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches to the shore to be reborn?

***

Inspired by the underwater sculptures of Jason deCaires Taylor. The italicized phrase in the final lines comes from “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats.