ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

LOVE + LUST, and Other Profound Desires

Once, I listened to a man tell of how he bandaged a topless dancer’s bleeding finger after she cut it while stroking the edge of a mirror during a performance.  Listening, I felt sick to my stomach.  I had that same feeling once when walking down the sidewalk in Las Vegas, trying to avoid stepping on the dozens of tossed-aside postcards that littered the streets, lascivious photographs of young women staring up at me. For a good time call.

I didn't want to walk on their faces. She’s someone’s daughter, I thought. Someone’s niece. Someone’s mother. I found a restaurant with an outdoor bar shaded by palm trees, green ferns and flowers.  I sat on a stool and ordered a ginger ale.  The land beneath the city felt dead, suffocated by cement, devoid of spirit, even as fountains sprayed a river of water a hundred feet into the desert air and glittering neon lights dwarfed the sun.  I took deep breaths and focused my attention on two birds flittering among the branches. 

Later, I wrote a poem about the young topless dancer, and her bleeding finger, and the man who bandaged it.  When OPEN TO INTERPRETATION sent out a call for submissions to writers and photographers for their upcoming issue, LOVE+LUST, I sent in the poem.*

Editor Claire O’Neill writes in the book’s Introduction, “More than 2,500 photographs were submitted. Of the 31 images chosen, only one is devoid of a person. Why?” she asks us. “Maybe because love and lust relate to our very core as humans.”  She goes on to quote Paulo Coelho: “Profound desire, true desire is the desire to be close to someone.”

I thought of Jennie Field’s novel The Age of Desire, about the author Edith Wharton and her scandalous, 1908 love affair with a dashing young journalist.  Twelve years later, in 1920, Wharton would write her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence.  “Is it—in this world—vulgar to ask for more?” asked Katherine Mansfield after reading The Age of Innocence. “To entreat a little wildness, a dark place or two in the soul?”

When my contributor’s copy of LOVE+LUST arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, I shied away from browsing through the beautifully designed book. Uneasy, I glanced only at my poem and the photo it had been paired with before closing the cover—a stripper in a glass booth.  But last night, I took the book to bed with me and began reading.  Across from each of the photographs, presented individually on the left, were two companion poems on the facing page.  I paused when I got to the cover photo of the snake, and these opening lines by poet Melanie Richards:  Her version of the story/remains untold: forked/tongue whispering to her/from the branches….

And so it is that we are still trying to tell our version of the story.  Let us never stop.  Let us seek the wildness in our souls, in our human cores, but let us also stoop to pick up the photos of the discarded women. Let us reach out to staunch the bleeding, to strive for closeness of the most profound and yes, most godly nature. 

*NOTE: Wharton’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Age of Innocence was recently listed in The Guardian/The Observer as #45 in a list of the 100 Best Novels.   My sincere thanks to Carol  Muske-Dukes for her poem, "To The Muse: New Year's Eve, 1990," which inspired my poem, "For Carol Muske's Light-Eyed Drunken Girl."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Small Heart of Things

I love what the title and subtitle of Julian Hoffman's collection of essays, being at home in a beckoning world, imply: 

It is the small heart of nature’s wonders as much as the grand vistas that we should seek. 

In his chapter on Karst country, Julian Hoffman writes, “No streams silver the valleys, no pools or ponds collect snapshots of the sky…I’m alone, and waiting for birds. When they come – singing in the near dark of fledging from the meadows – I record their names and details … The songs always reach me before their forms darken the sky.” 

We humans talk too much and listen too seldom.  I remember standing in a crowd at the edge of Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii in a drenching mist that obscured the glowing red embers spewing into the sky.  Loud, complaining voices made it impossible to hear the volcano. We moved to a far corner of the observation deck and straining, could hear the deep and powerful rumbling.  I closed my eyes and listened – Kilauea was speaking.  Every cell in my body felt the eruption, even though my eyes could not see the fiery glow.  I could feel and hear Kilauea’s labored contractions as this new, fertile soil flowed from her womb.

In The Small Heartof Things, Hoffman asks us to be attentive to details, to still our busyness and wait, to tune into the heart of things with patient senses - smelling, touching, tasting, hearing, watching.  But perhaps the most important sense, and the one we humans too often ignore, is our sense of wonder and awe. 
Note:  Watch Julian's 5-minute, inspiring book trailer

Friday, June 20, 2014

All Fishermen Are Liars: John Gierach and the Soul of Simplicity

“We seem to have a real affection for a beautiful insect that only lives for a single day," John Gierach writes about the mayfly in the opening of his book Sex, Death and Fly-fishing, "and whose only mission is to make love just once.”  My father, a romantic and a fisherman, would have applauded the mayfly's life mission (except for the just once part). 

When Gierach’s new book All Fishermen Are Liars brought him to Denver’s Tattered Cover Bookstore, I wanted to meet him.  I tucked my worn copy of Sex, Death and Fly-fishing into my purse and we headed down the mountain.  Listening to Gierach’s stories would no doubt rekindle memories of fishing the channels of Montana’s Madison River with my father.  One of my father’s greatest thrills was the day he snagged three trout in a single cast after tying on three flies.  No lie.  

Usually, though, my father fished like he wrote—with simple equipment.  A Big Chief yellow pad and a pencil, an old bamboo rod, an old fishing vest with the same set of clippers hanging from it, maybe a few nymphs and wooly worms (or whatever was hatching), the same old creel, same old green net.  But as far as I know, my father had never fished tenkara style, at least not since a boy fishing with stick and string. 

Gierach describes this traditional Japanese method as “the soul of simplicity.”  A light rod, a fixed line attached at the end, a single fly with a simple pattern.  The tenkara purist doesn’t ask in the way of tackle, “How much do I need?” but “How little can I get away with?”

As a writer, I should be asking myself the same thing:  How little can I get away with? How few words? How simple a story? Murky, turbulent water is hard to fish—trout aren’t tempted by what they can’t see.  
Several years ago, in a four-day juried workshop, Tom Jenks, editor of Narrative Magazine, gave us this directive:  “Aim for the absolute version.  Write the story so that anyone can understand it.” Do we really need more than a stick and string?  Can simple yearning be enough?  “I can teach your granddaughter to fish with a tenkara in two minutes,” Gierach quotes a well-known fisherman, “and she’ll catch more than you.”

My father will never be able to fish the Madison with his grandchildren, though I know my new granddaughter Carly will learn to love the wilds of Montana just like I did, and just like her mother and father already do.  After Gierach autographed his new book for me, I pulled the worn copy of Sex, Death and Fly-fishing out of my purse and handed it to him.  “Sign it to my father please,” I asked, “to Loren.

Someday, I’ll give both books to my son, and perhaps someday he’ll pass them on to Carly.  When she reads the inscription she might ask, “Did Grandpa Loren know the man who wrote these?”  I hope Matt tells her that all fishermen know each other - in the ways that matter, at least.  Through the simple feel of river rocks beneath the felt soles of your waders.  Through the tug on the fly at the end of your line forty feet downstream.  Through the stories we tell.  True or not.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Growing Paradise and the Process of Life

Remnants of May 12, 2014 storm
Today, paradise lost seems suddenly found—not so much a place as a process.  Green blades of spring grass thrust themselves through a foot of mountain snow and I fall back in love, all over again, with the process of life.

Matt Lambert with 4-day old Carly Rose
Only a few days ago I held my first grandchild in my arms.  Later, I watched my son cradle her in his arms for hours, enraptured, lost in the fleeting twitch of each newly found and endearing expression. Carly's newborn sleep seemed ripe with discovery.  What’s this? A smile? How pleasurable!  Newborns, the breath of heaven.

Paradise—not a place but a process—the intricate regeneration of hope and desire.  How carefully Carly’s mother grew her, each morsel eaten nourishing the soil in which Carly’s life took root, one eyelash at a time.  Nature makes this growing seem effortless.  Green grass sprouts beneath a blanket of snow and we hurry past, rarely awed. We read a poem so fine it takes our breath away, yet we rarely contemplate the effort expended for each word to find its way onto the page.

Growing Paradise by Ann Filemyr
What an anachronism, in this digital age, to find a hand-bound book of poems like Ann Filemyr's GROWING PARADISE  (LaNana Creek Press, Texas) —each stitch pulled taut by human hand, each illustration painted in vibrant color, each word a seed, each seed a poem, each poem the pulsing poet, laid bare. 
LaNana Creek Press director Charles D. Jones

Books such as these become literal works of art yet how easy it is to forget that the process itself is an art form.  Easy to forget, also, that no matter how lonely and frightening the process of creating is, we never ever create alone. There is sunshine and rain and the grand turning of the seasons, all in cahoots, all dipping their sticky fingers into the great cauldron of creation.

Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming
Driving home to Colorado from Montana after welcoming Carly into the world, we passed herd after herd of cows grazing the spring pastures with their calves.  On the ranch, I used to love watching the older cows take turns babysitting the calves.  When the calves tired of their playful bucking and chasing, they would settle down forming an impromptu nursery, lanky legs curled under them as they napped under the watchful eyes of a few older cows.  The rest of the herd wandered away, grazing far afield until intuition (and full milk bags) drew them back to the fold.  The calves would awaken and leap to their feet, ravenous, alive, eager. 

Fine press tradition of LaNana Creek Press
To be engaged in life is to be a part of this ongoing, never ending process.  It is to see ourselves, and our works of art, in relationship to the world around us—not isolated, not solely the product of our own creative efforts but intricate parts of the greater whole. 

Each of the 19 poems in Ann Filemyr's collection Growing Paradise begins with the image of a fruit and then ventures out into the larger world.  “Peach" begins with these lines...

Near the cliff dwellings in Frijoles Canyon
where the Cochiti lived before Spaniards brought peaches
in the time before she knew what she wanted
she changes
                        water to blood to milk
for the fertile moon has already touched her



The poem ends, asking this question... 

What is this incredible sweet flesh
This tenderness? This delight?
                        We make it ours
in the verb and tongue
of that doing, for she is now
                        bent to birth
breathing every shade of light
                        pulling
from the heart’s dark passage
                        as peach trees
flowering all around her
                        push life

Daughter-in-law Anna Lambert with Carly
And so it is that while we labor with our own private endeavors, the peach trees flower and the grasses grow and paradise is both lost and found.  Inspiration comes to us in our dreams and we tell our stories and in so doing, life regenerates itself.  Sons become fathers and daughters become mothers, and somewhere in between there is the artful coming together of heaven and earth. 

Poet Ann Filemyr
NOTE:  Ann Filemyr, author of GROWING PARADISE (LaNana Creek Press, Nacogdoches,Texas) is currently the Academic Dean at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The poems featured in Growing Paradise are available in Ann's collection The Healer’s DiaryAnn's most recent book Love Enough is available from Red Mountain Press in Santa Fe.