Counter-clockwise

It was always unclear to me, as a child, what was “clockwise” and what was “counterclockwise”. What did kitchen counters have to do with clocks? And what made them so wise? Was the face of the clock looking at us looking at it? Watching a movie about tornadoes once, my dad said that the twister was chasing the storm-chasers. Was the twister alive? Was it thinking and moving with a spirit of its own? Was it spinning clockwise or counterclockwise? What happened to linear clock-time inside a circular tornado? If you are looking down on a circle from above, like God, the clock-hands move clockwise. But what if you were just a tiny being like a child, an ant on the face of earth, flat to the ground, looking up through the surface of the clock? The whole sky above. The sky grows dark with tornadoes as the clock spins in the opposite direction. Widdershins. Counter-clockwise.

Time was always doing these things; it was “up” –up where? “Running out” –out where? “Of the essence” –the scent of time. I lay beneath that clock of mystery, not understanding how adults could not understand that if you stand under the clock, looking up, the hands of time move the other way. The perception of time was literally dependent on how you were looking at it. Where you stand. When you are very small you are not sure where you stand. You may find yourself standing underneath a great circle, looking up through a hole in the heavens out of which opens great storms of tornadoes, rescued only by God’s hands moving in both directions at once. They were trying to teach me how to tell time. I wanted to tell time what I thought of it.

 

image source

Sienna Acorn Luminance

A journal from 7.18.2016

Sixteen years ago I was here. In summertime in Fresno, California, there is River Camp on the San Joaquin River. The air heats up quickly here, but by the river it is not so bad. The water and the trees make it cooler. This way you can go down to the river at Woodward Park some extremely hot dry valley day –try it in the afternoon, sometime– because you will find water there. You will find beauty you didn’t see before. When you go, be yourself caught in the river’s sienna acorn luminance with cheerful pale green leaves, where living water flows from the Sierra Nevadas. It was on a day like this I was ten years old and Grandma was driving me to this our beautiful river. There would be wonderings I could never forget, owl pellets and river rocks and the feel of the golden silt-sand underneath my bare feet in the shallows of the shimmer-green river. Now I am here visiting without a car, this day as an adult, and it is difficult to get around these parts without a car. Without a car you have to walk to the river because the places where the people live aren’t built like they used to be, how people used to be able to expect to get to the rivers on their own two feet.

This morning I walk the streets of my desert city and I meet an abundance of purple wine grapes planted for the joy of the public on the side of the road, at Blackstone and Shaw. In handfuls, they give themselves to me. The energy of this climate is condensed into these tiny clusters of grapes, a land and air so akin to the Mediterranean, and so the climate is called. These grapes are care-taken by some kind human who comes by to see that they are robust, but mostly the sun does his work and the valley soil does hers, even in the middle of the city. Firm and gleaming, a pale dust settles pleasingly on the ripe curve of each grape, making the backs of my jaws water by the look of them.

Margaret Hudson is a famous sculpture artist from here in Fresno. I went to visit her studio in the month of June earlier this year. It’s very hot in June in Fresno. Margaret wasn’t home because she is very old now and living elsewhere, but her art is still lively and all her sculpted creatures are still smiling who are created by day, by kiln, by the work of her hands. They are formed out of mud and earth and some deep joyful material. It must be the same joy that knows about making a desert a paradise, because the bringer of good words, the great one who forms faces from clay, is in all places in need of good water.

Every time I come back here I love this land more and more. When I was a teenager dreaming of other places, it wasn’t from a lack of love for this place. I wanted to take the pink blossoms of The Blossom Trail with me so they, too, could live in cleaner air by the sea in San Francisco. But that city didn’t really open to me, and I was never at home there, a traveller there for two years. But I always feel at home in Fresno, close to my Sierras, especially in the north by the San Joaquin River, or in the east near Clovis where in spring the Blossom Trail blooms.

 

8.13.2017

I think again of this poem I wrote, Heat Time Dawn

Heat time sunrise Fresno California
roses hum cricket’s continuous singing–
mourning dove’s soft hoot on the terrace
is perched at the edge of the sky

My desert is alive with the spirits of pine needle,
cottontail bounding in sage, to San Joaquin river
white live oak offering incense,
a hanging pot floats magic carpet to red roof

In the lush breeze of July dawn in the valley
listen for Worldmaker sauntering in the garden,
with Coyote and prickly pear he goes in the garden–
run out to meet him in dew drops on adobe

 

Photography Copyright © Amber MV. All rights reserved.

The Words that Matter

I haven’t wanted to call myself a “writer”. It sounds like another big-deal identity label with all sorts of implications. The sound of it brings to mind people way more disciplined than myself, who are way more at peace than I am with sitting in a chair for long hours on end. They’re more organized than I am, and more determined to advertise themselves, and they use desks (I prefer the floor). Writing is just one thing I do as an act of devotion to remembering God.

I can be meditatively content indoors, like a writer, especially on a stormy or smoggy, hot day. It is delightful to be in a beautiful monastic place, like my house or a church or the library. But sitting in a chair? Feet down on the floor, my butt falling asleep? No. I need to sit criss-cross, then lay on my stomach, then my back, then stretch, then squat, then sit back in the chair with my feet up on the table like I don’t have no manners, all while getting up to walk around every 30 minutes or so. There’s a reason most of my pieces are brief. I agree with the sentiment of Thomas Mann: “I would rather live life than write a hundred stories.”

I’ve felt leery about the pantsuit of “writer” as an identity because I sense an attitudinal trend of self-absorption, cynicism and lack of heart-centered joy among the current writing scene, dating back a solid three-quarters of a century or so. People get stuck in their heads, something I’ve certainly been prone to but which I’m getting further away from, and happily.

Back in college, in one of my writing classes, I was engaged in a discussion about the responsibility writers have to real people on whom fictional characters are based. To what extent must we care to disguise their identity and protect their privacy? What gratitude do we owe this great source material that is reality? We covered the moral and legal implications to this, but a number of my classmates insisted they have no obligation to tread carefully with characters who are nearly synonymous with real, identifiable people.

It’s been said that writers don’t participate fully in the magic of imminent life, because they’re too busy writing about it from a distance. I think there’s some disturbing truth in this. The temptation is there for writers to long for the experiential magic of the beautiful world, then find it but not know what to do with it except take notes from the sidelines, where it is lonely. Then they become embittered that they feel shy and self-conscious and depressed and why aren’t they happy being stuck in their head all day? This has become the case of the modern writer.

Again, I say this because I’ve certainly had my own moments like these, but then I figured out it was ridiculous and not good for the human heart. The page is not the world. The vitality of the lifeworld comes first because that is where the sensual life of the world breathes and moves and it is where God is found looking out through the eyes of all creatures. That is the image of God I most love, the Beautiful One who looks out through the eyes of all creatures, feeling as we creatures feel, but larger than our individualism, our stupid notion of segregation from each other. How can life be worth the energy spent on anything else? To be a good writer and a worshipful human is to remember God always and play affectionately with the rambunctious Creator in the off-leash dog park, to look for the mysterious Lord, the Beloved, in all creatures and places, unto the shadows of moments. To worship is to stand in the presence of this deep and powerful Beauty, for you get the privilege to live in the Beloved’s breathing world of natural and ancient enchantment that hasn’t ceased to be in search of us even in modern, cranky cities. (How’s that for a paradigm shift?)

To get into the practice of this state of mind as a writer, it may require not writing for a time, if the result is to come out of self-absorption in your head to live more immediately in the lifeworld. You will finally not think so much about what you are pissed off about, but will revel more in the great Beauty that includes you but is more than you and outlives all our petty problems. Yes, then to write about it, to catch those images with words that strike the heart tenderly –that is to be a good writer. To practice, as devotion, the act of worship in writing. To do anything else with the gift of writing is to waste precious mortal time.

I don’t get the sense that the current “writer” identity has much awareness of any of this. There is not the act of standing in the presence of great Beauty: there is a sour attitude of nihilism. That isn’t to say that the occasional heated bit of written constructive criticism of injustice isn’t good medicine sometimes (the prophets of old knew this well). But now our words are sold for anger, for clicks, for the divisive poisoning of my beloved species.

Back in that classroom discussion, I said we have a responsibility to respect the lives of the real people who inspire fictional characters –and the lands that inspire fictional places–, for this marvelous reality is the world upon which all others are based. We can give praise from our hearts for that gem of inspiration, grateful that we get to live in such an enchanted world as this. We are not to abuse the source of the inspiration itself. This same principle should apply to all who would call themselves “writers” but use words of anger not for healing real and serious injustice, not for shining truth unto evil, but for instigating squalid fights over trivial political pickings that cause not healing for the people. Such poison words you sew are an infestation of resent among your countrypeople, among your own humankind, ye mobbing horseshoe extremists of any and every party.

Words have consequences; writing is a moral act,” writes Philip Zaleski, editor of The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. “To recognize this pays a triple dividend, for it inoculates us against the three daily literary devices of pandering to popular taste, creative laziness, and didacticism. The last item may surprise those who fear that any talk of moral writing will unleash an army of bluenoses ready to censor at will or of apparatchiks who will demand a political subtext to every sentence. But such worries stem from misunderstanding the obligations placed upon us by the nature of the craft. To write ugly prose, or to cripple one’s language to meet the standards of the day, or to warp one’s creation into a political placard –all this is to write immorally. The task of the spiritual writer is to uphold truth and beauty at whatever cost, in whatever way his art demands.”

To be a good writer is to accept that writing is limited. It is not a living body, it is not the indescribably glimmering image about which a thousand words must be called upon to cumbersomely begin to describe it. It is not eternal, for language changes constantly and may persist in one intelligible form only a few hundred years, then be lost to the winds of change or forgetting. A thousand thousand languages have already gone this way, for as long as our ancestors had the vocal chords and brains to speak. Writing is not sound or light or touch, but a hopeful second-hand account of these. Writing is young in the age of the earth, and it is brash. Writing thinks itself to be authoritative and know a whole lot, like a teenager.

 

 

To be a good writer is to form words with loving joy and reverence, to stand in the presence of great Beauty. The human duty to live with such a heart is more important than getting a book deal or social media followers. Social media shall all someday be ground into dust by the shifting of continents. So, too, may the human heart, but its affect has more serious consequences, and underpins any value our media technologies may lay claim to. This temporality puts our priorities into perspective. Now, when I think about my own self in writing, I worry the most about choosing the right words with the right heart, because life is short, and I have the strange and rare privilege of being born a Homo sapiens with a species-specific power so rare among the eons. That is my identity, Homo sapiens, inheritor of the Phylum Chordata, called to know and love God. The call of the good writer is exuberantly subservient to this.

I don’t want to put anything into the world that I wouldn’t want to eat with my own heart’s hunger in another lifetime to come. I may be a Blue Whale someday, and I may find myself hungry for good krill and the love of my pod and a deep black motherly ocean, so may my words be as good as these. I may be a little worm hungry for comforting good soil to build a little house in the ground; so may my words be as good, as whole and right as these. I may be a cheerful speck of dust or a beam of golden sunlight who rides the space between the sun and sweet Earth; so may my words be as good as these. For God saw fit to make these friends of hers, and to put voices into our hominid throats, but it is we who sculpt our own words. May they remember her, these brief words of humanity. If I am to be remembered myself, I want to be remembered as the one who remembered God amidst my contented, hilarious, peaceful insignificance. Don’t write words that don’t matter, that you wouldn’t want a future intelligent alien civilization to discover five billion years from now and the words you wrote, providing their ability to decrypt your long dead language, are the only account of life on earth they find. There are so many words that don’t matter. Choose the ones that do.

Sources

Zaleski, Philip. “Introduction by Philip Zaleski.” Introduction. The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Print.

 

image sources: here and here

How to Remember Math

The + sign means “together with”.

Together with God, with each other,

with the strings

                of the atom.

Sacred geometry,

                crosses and circles.

Adding a negative

                is the same

                as subtracting

                               a positive.”

Adding evil

                is the same

                as subtracting

                               good.

To subtract

                a negative,

add

                a positive.

 

 

 

image source: Creative Commons CC0

Life Without Oil -The Normal Life for Humans

Format Video

This piece is written in response to the video below.

“Can you imagine life without oil?” asks the video by GWI “Ground Wealth Incorporated”, an oil company.

Well, “Ground Wealth Incorporated”, let me tell you about what the concept of the wealth of the ground below us used to mean to humankind.

People have “imagined” life without oil for tens of thousands of years. They lived that life deeply and soundly, and they were just fine with what they had –and they had a hell of a lot more resources in their original lives than you are even aware we are now lacking.

Yes, a sudden change would be disruptive and traumatic to our current way of living, and the plenty of good this lifestyle surely provides us. Yes, there is empathy and affirmation for this concern. The anxiety is understandable, especially when people become, by no fault of their own circumstance, dependent on this industrial way of life. I, too, appreciate the abundance of readily available food and materials. I hope that any change would not have to happen traumatically.

But to ignorantly think that most humans alive haven’t imagined a world without oil is stupid, unacceptable and malignant. Many people alive right now are not directly dependent on oil-based products, and their lives and cultures might recover greatly if our extremely recent (roughly century-old) oil-based way of life changed to leave more space and resources for theirs.

In addition, there is no reason to think our own Western cultures (in plural) will not eventually change to be either newly agrarian or even hunter-gatherer once more, with whatever mix of good and ill accompanies that. Or, we may harness the sun and continue to “advance” technologically. But the oil will not last. It is finite. You must understand this.

And I say “advance” in mock quotes – how advanced are you? How very unaware are you? Can you, with your own hands, create fire by friction with a bow-drill or hand-drill? Can you identify a single medicinal plant in your neighborhood? Can you find your way by the sun or the stars? No? What a shame. Can you imagine –if only you could imagine– the life of humanity grotesquely mutilated by the lack of these.

 

 

 

 

image: Mesa Verde, Colorado, Pueblo Nation. source: Creative Commons CC0

Del Valle

 

 

Looking through old notes I had saved from my time in Anake Outdoor School (September 2012-May 2013), I found a half-finished poem I scribbled at the campfire when our tribe stopped in Del Valle, California, in early February 2013 on our way further south to the Transverse Mountains and the Los Padres forest region of Quail Springs. Here’s the polished poem to better convey that sense of joy.

 

Del Valle

 

Night over the fire, coming down from

the Great North far now

from the land of Sitka and Birch

into Del Valle, hills green and brown

in the early spring evening.

Circle fire somewhere in the latitudes of

big open stars. Song of the clicking insects,

their language. Brother Coyote has arrived

and Sister Crow sets the table,

plates made for the ancestors,

communion of food chains all the way back.

Circle round for stories and songs.

Some are anointed with new names.

Others that were old are new-born.

Skin smells of bow-drill smoke, says

“I will tell you someday”.

Bright color is the work of the sun,

but everything is spilled into

shimmering darkness there

in the Milky Way overhead.

 

 

 

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

Kitten Intervention from Motley Crew Animal Rescue

Format Video

Here’s a bit of extraordinary cuteness found at Motley Crew Animal Rescue in Redmond, WA back in 2015 thereabouts. These little boys are all grown up now, out there somewhere in somebody’s warm lap! You can hear my “baby-talk” voice, ha! I revisit this little show when I need emergency kitten intervention. Snozz.

Anne’s Diary Ends Here (August 1, 1944)

 

 

It is strange that I edited and completed this poem today, on August 1st, 2017. A while ago when I was inspired to begin writing this poem, I wondered what actual date it was that Anne made her final diary entry. Then I discovered it was exactly this day, August 1st, 1944. …wow. That’s some coincidence.

 

“Anne’s diary ends here”

when I read the words I wondered

where you had gone:

into a cloud, through a dark place

where I could not follow.

I try not to think

of the prison camps,

not the pit where your body lay.

Nor were you to be found now

in the house of safety,

the small window of childhood.

You live beyond that now.

I listen backwards

through decades

to your life.

Anne, born the same year

as my own grandmother,

Anne, a young girl like me,

I imagine you grown old

in the happiness of humanity

with grandchildren around you.

And now we who have loved you

will be your grandchildren,

we the progeny of your faith.

Anne, give us strength.

 

 

image source: Public Domain

Night in the Kitchen: Poetry Fragments

 

 

Blessed are you,

Lord God of creation,

who does not guard us

from the work of your hands.

It is good that we are supple

It is good that we are fragile

adaptable and strange

among beasts

that we may continue

to be always remade.

For You have forged in white fire

the red of eyelids,

the cave of the earthquake;

You have set hominid-kind

among the vastness,

stoneground in waters

in alluvium loam

 

 

The body capable

like a canyon–

arms open

 

 

Night in the kitchen,

me sitting on a stool by the sink

while you wash up the last dust

of the light

Miles later, end of spring,

remembering the bed we have shared

and the air is warm and damp with rain

a pre-waking flood,

rising steam

 

 

Turn in toward

the path of the arrow

that you, with shields of

protection, will let

open, splitting,

the old wounds

of the warrior’s sting,

the nettle’s good venom

letting medicine in

 

 

the wingbeats of Sophia

whisper to the ground;

Her wisdom in the Aves’ taxa

knows no vertigo,

Her course unbound

 

 

Every small moment in worship

through some willing element of matter,

a word, a stolen kiss, a skirt of gold,

a bird diving or falling

from the vault of the firmament.

You could not have learned

any other way

the road between

here and another.

 

 

the eyes of the telescope

the mirror of the wonderer

the bowl of celestial milk spilling–

whatever comes out of my wondering

is the same as the prophets’ own.

Pristine spilt milk is so light,

let it fall like a flood

every ten thousand years

the great void percolating

into my living room,

to coalesce with a big bang

this second, somewhere

 

 

Holy fire settles

the continents in magma–

shifting nerves of Hades

 

 

Rosehips of the Nootka Rose,

the names of creatures, created order–

stars on the forest floor

 

 

Now it is time

to go from here

to leave and leave behind

the bundle, setting down the weight

of your years, time to put away graves

who are at peace in the ground

and what the long road

behind you

remembers.

 

 

Squall line,

white bark pine,

I go visit in my time,

long time

skipping out

 

 

 

 

poetry by Amber MV compiled 7/31/2017. Written all over the place 2012–2017.

image source: Creative Commons CC0. Please support the Public Domain and related freedoms.