Wednesday, July 09, 2014

"the astonishing array of whites...

from “Thoreau” by Cole Swensen

In the essay “A Winter Walk,” which predated the more famous essay “Walking”
by a few years, Thoreau paid particular attention to the astonishing array of whites

from fog to snow to frost to the crystals growing outward on threads of light. The
fact that white is separately known. That it is its own wildness, entirely exterior,

like all weather you notice is a version of an open room coming through
the wind in prisms. White holds light in a suspended state, unleashing it later

across a field of snow or a sheet of water at just the right angle to make the surface
a solid, and on we go walking. Goethe’s Theory of Colors depicted each one

as an intense zone of human activity overflowing its object into feeling there is
a forest through which something white is flying through a wash of white, which is

the presence of all colors until red, for instance, is needed for a bird or green
for a world.

"Something is calling to me..."

"In the Corners of Fields" by Ted Kooser

Something is calling to me
from the corners of fields,
where the leftover fence wire
suns its loose coils, and stones
thrown out of the furrow
sleep in warm litters;
where the gray faces
of old No Hunting signs
mutter into the wind,
and dry horse tanks
spout fountains of sunflowers;
where a moth
flutters in from the pasture,
harried by sparrows,
and alights on a post,
so sure of its life
that it peacefully opens its wings.

"In the Corners of Fields" by Ted Kooser from Flying at Night. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985. From "The Writers Almanac." (buy now)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Ohio: "I know Ohio like the back of my hand..."

Hillsboro, OH 1978
I was at home for a little while last week.  Not the home where I live, but the home where a part of my heart still resides.  Though I have been gone from Ohio longer than I lived there, it is still my place.  When I crossed into Ohio under the arch at the Indiana border on Interstate 70 there was an immediate feeling of homecoming.

Weird, huh, considering that I crossed under that arch into Indiana in 1978 and never moved back.

On my journey across the Buckeye state, I saw historical sites.  Not the kind marked with plaques -- rather my own personal historical sites.  Vandalia where some of my cousins and friends lived.  London where I spent a hot Ohio summer landscaping the year my best friend Greg killed himself.  Columbus where I lived until I was 24.  Though I was zipping by all these on the interstate, their neighborhoods, houses I lived in, schools I attended, friends I had, girls I fell in love with, jobs I had all floated by.  Headed toward the eastern border, I spotted the place where Marlon Troyer once stopped the car to scrape up a raccoon carcass for a study he was doing in biology class in college.  Floods of memories washed over me.  The roads I travelled as a young man.  The family reunions.  Church softball games.  Sunday evenings spent in Quaker meeting.

Here past the edge of town,
this one as well as any other
in the Adirondacks, the trees lock arms
and lean into each other like
relatives at a family reunion.
This is some history; listen to the names,
Sugar Maple, Black Spruce, Wild Cherry,
Sweet Birch, the old White Oaks. On and
on into the hillsides until my tongue rolls
and I whisper Ohio, imagining this is what it was
one hundred years ago, imagining this is what
whispered in the ear of Tecumseh, who fought for it
for twenty years, knowing when he started he couldn't
win, but who fought and lost anyway, imagining
this is what whispered to my great grandfather
Marvin Peabody, when he dropped down out of the
Northeast. Who left when he heard his neighbors
unfolding the arms of trees with axes and bucksaws
and headed west, rubbing the fine dust from his eyes.
But came back when he saw that like Ohio, that too
was lost. He came back I suppose because he had
nowhere else to go. Or maybe he just liked the name
Ohio. And why not. Whisper it now, whisper
Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, and amid the miles of concrete,
under the culverts dumping waste, around the smokestacks
over by the river, a breeze picks up
sending a ripple, like a litany
through the family of tree.

("Reunion" by Robert Kinsley, from Endangered Species. © Orchises Press, 1989. (buy now))

...maybe he just liked the name
Ohio. And why not. Whisper it now, whisper
Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, ...

I do like that name.  I love that place.  It's still my home.  And I still cry when I hear Karin Berquist sing "Ohio"

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Father's Hats: A Poem


My Father’s Hats

Mark Irwin
    Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
    on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
    the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
    through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
    his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
    crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
    held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
    was that of a clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
    sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
    on water I’m not sure is there.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Your voice broke like a flower...

Out of the dark cup
Your voice broke like a flower.
It trembled, swaying on its taut stem.
The caress in its touch
Made my eyes close.

"From The Telephone"
by Florence Ripley Mastin

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"I envied his rapport with God..."


When the young professor folded
his hands at dinner and spoke to God
about my safe arrival
through the snow, thanking Him also
for the food we were about to eat,
it was in the tone of voice I use
to speak to friends when I call
and get their answering machines,
chatting about this and that
in a casual voice,
picturing them listening
but too busy to pick up the phone,
or out taking care of important
business somewhere else.
The next day, flying home
through a windy
and overwhelming sky, I knew
I envied his rapport with God
and hoped his prayers
would keep my plane aloft.

"Grace" by Linda Pastan from The Last Uncle. © W.W. Norton, 2002.  (buy now)

From "The Writer's Almanac"

Friday, May 23, 2014

Quakers Are Weird? Yepper!

My friend Jana Llewellyn recently wrote "The Bible says that the Jews are God’s chosen people. Author Anne Lamott says that the Presbyterians are God’s frozen people. I decided last week that the religious sect I’m a part of, Quakers (also called The Religious Society of Friends), are God’s weird people.

That means I’m weird, too."

That means I'm weird, too -- which is a badge I'll add to my "bad" badge.  Not bad as in "evil," but bad as in not being very good at being a good Quaker.

Jana offers seven tips to help us deal with the not so good weirdness we Quakers sometimes experience/demonstrate --

First and foremost, we need to live a life that focuses on a deep inward connection to God.

Second, each of us needs a personal and daily practice of communing with God.

Third, stop talking about being Quaker. Stop navel-gazing. Reach out.

Fourth, cut your beard.

Fifth, humbly minister to other Quakers.

Sixth. Get out of the past.

Seventh: Look for the best in everyone you meet.

This essay is warm, quirky, funny, biting, and helpful.   Every Quaker and every Friends meeting should read the whole thing -- which you can here: God's Weird People