Archive for December, 2013
I plan to read this poem at tonight’s Solstice event at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. Obviously it was written in a year other than 2013. We’ve had no rain all month, and none in the extended forecast, so face the likelihood of a drought year. I think of this piece as a kind of prayer.
Canticle for the Winter Solstice
I honor the rain that plummets from a leaden sky
on this day when the dying sun returns to life.
I honor the wet earth where fungi lift
the smells and secrets of their darkness
into forms potent with wildness
and fallen leaves grow slimy with decay.
I honor the sudden green suffusing
the face of the sun-scorched hill,
like the blush of knowledge in a woman’s face
after her first coupling.
I honor the flame of candle and hearth
that draws to itself the breaths
of all whose lives have sometime crossed,
mingles and transmutes them into warmth
and sends them out into the rain
where they caress the tender growing tips of trees.
Searoad, a story collection by Ursula K. LeGuin, has a permanent place on my bedside table. It’s there because every now and then I need to reread a certain story. A very short story, less than three pages, it is titled “Texts,” and tells of an older woman who, bombarded by messages and calls to action, retreats to the coastal Oregon village of Klatsand for a month-long winter break. As she walks on the deserted beach, she notices that the waves have left messages in the lines of foam, messages she can almost decipher. The laciness of the foam leads her to speculate that crochet work and lace might also be legible. In a handmade lace collar she reads a message that seems directed to her: “my soul must go, my soul must go … sister, sister, light the light.” There the story ends, with the woman not knowing “what she was to do, or how she was to do it.”
I think of this oddly moving little story every time I walk on Ten Mile Beach, as I did last Sunday. The receding waves left undulating lines of bubbles, iridescent in the hazy sunlight, that popped to form patterns of foam. Scattered across the beach were strands of bull kelp, dried into coils and loops that lay like a cursive script on the sand.
Yesterday, when the wind was brisk and the sea streaked with white caps, I remembered an interview I did for the Mendocino Art Center magazine. It was part of a series I wrote on artists who helped found the art center in the 1960s. By the time I met Jim Bertram in the early 2000s, he was senile and nonverbal, so I had to rely on material in the art center archives for information about his background and artistic vision. Nevertheless, Jim and I spent a wonderful afternoon together. I think a poem I wrote at the time sums it up:
“Line expresses the inner thought. It is a narrative of what we really want to tell each other but somehow can’t seem to verbalize.”
– Jim Bertram
These bright spring days, when the wind
scribbles its white calligraphy
on a wash of aquamarine,
I think of the artist in his studio
upstairs of a weathered storefront
overlooking Mendocino Bay.
Sheet after curling sheet he showed me, canvas
after canvas, covered with calligraphic forms
that could have been words, but were not.
In our shared silence I understood his drift:
how sometimes what matters most is inarticulate:
like the line of spray from a lifting wave,
the hand of an old man painting messages of love.
On my way downstairs from Jim’s studio, I fell in love with one of his paintings, which now has a place of honor in my house. I smile when I read its message.