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T(a leaf falls)ke Five

Autumn. Every autumn has always reminded me of every other autumn, probably because, for so long, my year began in September with the start of school. Crisp air, turning leaves, and I am there – everywhere I had been before (at yearly intervals), every classroom, every walk to the library, every Saturday passed in the beauty of the leaves. Apples: dipped in caramel, or as hot cider. And, as I moved into adolescence, The Poem, by e.e. cummings, of course, speaking the essence of my autumnal soul:

l(a
le
af
fa
ll
s)
one
l
iness.

That started in high school and returned to reunite with me every year since. By the time the new school year had moved from late summer days into fall, I had once again disappointed myself: all my plans and hopes for a new beginning, the childish dream of recreating myself as a new me, had failed. From the start, it was a slowly read/spoken/thought poem, brief as it is, but drawn out by me, full of all the wistfulness, longing, and inward travel that autumn evoked: an ending, as well as a beginning.

Autumn, like other times and other things, went through a faltering period after I left school and began the search for my grown self. My being was so attuned to the seasonal change, that I continued in the old atmosphere for years after the last paper was turned in, the last test taken. With no outer assignment, I unwittingly gave myself one: a yearly reading of my “autumn” novel, May Sarton’s “Kinds of Love.” A creature of habits, I have worn the same scarf – dark green and covered with colored leaves and mushrooms – from October till the end of November. An apple in any form still holds the magic.

But the poem, which hasn’t left me, has somehow managed to alter. Just when it happened, or how, I couldn’t say. It didn’t used to bring a tune with it, though it could have – “Autumn Leaves” would have worked. One day I was raking neighborhood leaves (the back yard, something of a downhill bowl, accumulates a botanist’s delight in the array of leaves which gather from who knows where, but are unrelated to the trees in this yard). Raking leaves, and including a bit of free form movement, unobserved as I believed myself to be, and I heard it. The Poem was in my mind, of course, but now it had an accompaniment: “Take Five!”

How could it be, and how could that work? Yet, it does. Embedded in The Poem I have always seen my autumnal accompanying mood: “loneliness.” Even when I’m not feeling lonely, the season itself can evoke it. After so many years, I finally saw the other word embedded: oneliness. Is it a word? It is at least a state of being, sometimes meaning, for me, that I am one person in the world, sometimes that I am one with the world, the season, the leaves, the raking dance. Suspend disbelief, and judgment, and try it. Just cautiously at first, slowly .. and listen.

What can this mean? For me, not a rejection of times remembered, nor the pleasant habits and associations I have with autumn. They don’t hurt me, and I enjoy them. And friends with a sense of occasion seem to appreciate them, as well. The music that arrived all unexpected seems to tell me, simply, take a break, a breath. Suspend the sense of world and being part of it, or not, and just dance your free form with the leaves. So I do. I take five and watch a leaf fall.

Dave Brubeck original video


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Open Season On Jabberwocks!

On July 4, 1862, a delightful part of our childhood took life. Charles Dodgson, better-known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, embarked on a boat trip with a party that included the real-life Alice Liddell, who inspired a story he told on the boat – the story that was published in 1865 as “Alice in Wonderland.” It was followed in 1869 by “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.” Carroll’s stories and characters have been part of childhood ever since, inspiring flights of fancy, and adding whimsy to our vocabulary.

On this anniversary of the inception, a celebratory entertainment: the imaginative rendering of “Jabberwocky” from “Through the Looking-Glass,” by actor-mime David Zucker! Enjoy, then don a mad hat, and invite a dormouse to tea!


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Poems (Layer) Garden (Layer) Woman

“Heaven’s Virginia when the year’s at its Spring,” Anne Spencer wrote in her poem on Browning. Reading the recent post, “Spring and All” (http://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/spring-and-all/) in Prufrock’s Dilemma, I thought about Spencer. Spring and gardens and flowers always bring her poems to mind, like the evocative phrase in “Lines to a Nasturtium”:

“Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty . . .”

I thought about Spencer, reading Susan Scheid’s post, because Susan provides thoughts and images about spring. She also features photography of Valerie Belin: “piled-up negatives made people’s faces into gardens.” And that took me right into Anne Spencer, through, and out the other side.

We know that she was many things – woman, wife, mother, poet, gardener, teacher and librarian, more. She wrote in a cottage built for her by her husband, where she could work in quiet, surrounded by her garden. I always thought of her like that, surrounded by the garden she planted. But contemplating the images created by Belin, and Susan’s description of them, has added dimension to my understanding of Spencer. My imagining had kept her, with her poetry, next to the many facets of her life. Now I have learned a deeper way of seeing her – she was a stack of transparencies: poems(layer)garden(layer)woman. She was no more separate from her garden than Belin’s women are separate from the flowers overlaid on them. So I can drink in a much better reading of this famous poem:

[Earth, I thank you]
Earth, I thank you
for the pleasure of your language
You’ve had a hard time
bringing it to me
from the ground
to grunt thru the noun
To all the way
Feeling seeing smelling touching
—awareness
I am here!


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Almost empty mind

Recently in Prufrock’s Dilemma (http://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/), Susan Scheid quoted A John Ashbery poem, “And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name.” (Do you remember your Latin? Ut pictura poesis, literally, “As is painting so is poetry.”) The first section is about the creative process and is interesting in itself. But the last part, which Susan quoted, caught my attention and has stayed with me all week:

“The extreme austerity of an almost empty mind
Colliding with the lush, Rousseau-like foliage of its desire to communicate
Something between breaths, if only for the sake
Of others and their desire to understand you and desert you
For other centers of communication, so that understanding
May begin, and in doing so be undone.”

Who could overlook the image of lush, Rousseau-like foliage? Of course you cannot! It rushes at you, enmeshes you. And so all those paintings, generous in their jungle greenery, start springing through one’s memory. And yet… the extreme austerity of an almost empty mind is, for me, an even stronger experience, stronger because it is felt within, not seen without. And so, the visual that won out has not been Rousseau’s, but an imagined pond’s edge, waves coming to it and then leaving it. And that image has been bringing me repeated moments of freedom.

Contemplating the peacefulness of the empty, even almost empty, mind, the “desertion for other centers of communication” brings such a sensation of relief, having found that the “others” with their desire to understand were not the right persons with whom to share one’s self, after all. And with their abandonment comes release. The fickle waves approach the shore, sample it, and move on to other shores. A near miss!