Sunday 18 March 2007
Oooo, that crackling spray, the saplings on Aurora. Their young green invigorates me. And to think you can look down from the bridge onto that green, that spray, that spring springing, pushing to life. And all those nubbles scraping the bridge, brown and red clusters of spring, wriggling their way up.
The sky is swirling a hurricane of grey and blue. It's been dry all morning. Cool with a tickle of sun and wind, then shadows. Spring is feathering through the treetops.
I spent all morning with Nancy Guppy and her crew from Seattle Channel's Art Zone. We met at PCC and they filmed me carrying my desk to the lake. "Just do your thing. Pretend we're not here." We walked to the lake together, the camera and I. When we got to my meadow, the camera asked, "What do you think? Have you stopped for poetry before?"
Then the camera talked to me. "Why are you doing this?" I had so much to say, I rambled on. They had to reel me in. "Can you say that again, in a nutshell." That depends. What kind of nut? A nut on a tree? A nut in the ground? Something in the peanut family? A hazelnut? I hope you aren't expecting a black walnut. They're not available. Not even to me. Don't even think about asking.
Mornings are slow, even moreso when it's overcast and cool. Few people stop before 11am, though the runners still spin round. The runners never stop. They own the lake at this hour, probably from an earlier hour than I am awake, they are spinnng, churning up a breeze. It is the afternoons that are reserved for strollers. The strollers don't even begin until 11. After 11, they break off from their worlds, fall into the whirlwind, drown down. They're like cherry snow on its way to the puddle.
Two girls approach my desk, eleven, maybe twelve years old. I read "The Passing of Thistle" by Peter Davison to them. I think as I am reading it-- Oh, I've picked the wrong poem. This poem is too mature. I should have chosen something more straightforward. But when I am finished, the girls begin to relate their own experiences. Megan tells me how her dog looked before it died. It too was going deaf and blind. Like Thistle, it stumbled through life on its nose and tongue. They were able to relate to the ways in which pets can offer a sense of time and connection, how pets measures life. Amazing, I thought. Amazing!
Four young adults stop by. I ask them to consider a new kind of greeting. Instead of "How are you?" or "What do you do?" let us ask, "What's your specialty?" In an effort to move past our idea of the self, I am seeking a new greeting, one which will get to the heart of a person. An introduction more honest and less fiscal than "What do you do?" What do you do!? Is that what that question asks? It seems rather to elicit "What have you compromised?" I'd prefer, What have you dreamt? I'd prefer, What have you sought in the world?
Knowing what a person wants defines them just as well as knowing what they've accomplished. This is not to suggest there aren't people who are living their dream. There are. These people exist. We know it the minute we meet them. They exude a calm confidence. We have the desire to sit with these people, find out where they come from, how they've managed, siphon some their blood and boldness.
Unfortunate, aye. Many a dreamer has set the dream aside. Many a dreamer has learned how not to dream in order to manage success, comfort, furniture. Yes, for fear of loneliness, many a dreamer has been gobbled up.
What's your specialty? It brings out the unbuffered person. Allows a person to comment on the simplest of selves. "I am a good eater." "I collect bits of information." It enables people to get past their valuable selves. People aren't shy of their character. They have a grasp on who they are. They're proud of their details. They simply haven't been asked to share them with the world.
The group of four gave it some thought, but not too much, and answered. "My specialty is organization." "My specialty is details." "My specialty is finding the silver lining." "My specialty is nothing." There you have it. I feel as if I know more about them than if they'd given me job titles.
May Yuan and her husband came for a visit. What bouyant, energetic people! At 70, May is learning to play the harp, learning to play four kinds of harps in fact, both American and Chinese. She is having a love affair with poetry. She carried a large tome of Chinese poetry. Her husband photographed May with me standing behind my desk, proudly holding up her book.
May was like a child, her face open, her eyes big. She had a surprised look everytime she spoke and let out long rising sighs, "Ooooooh!?" At times, she spoke so quickly, her husband touched her arm, hoping to remind her of the time, there were others who wanted to talk to the poet, perhaps they were asling too much. And then she took a step back and glanced from side to side. They spent about 20 minutes with me. Delightful people.
May lectures at Chinese Information and Services Center in Seattle's International District. She read about my project in the Seattle Times and came to ask if she would translate that article into Chinese for Asia Today, a local Chinese newpaper. We exchanged addresses and off she went.
All the while, standing beside me is a friend who arrived home this morning from his year-long travels through Asia. John has been in the air for 15 hours. He just touched down. He carriedwith him a backpack with patches from the places he'd been: Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, China, Nepal... He looked like a monk, weathered and tan, close-shaven. I asked if he felt Seattle was his home. "I can't think of any other place that feels like home."
WHAT RIDDLES ARE FOR
A young man on a bicycle. He's stopped before. I read "The Eleven Commandments" by Willis Barnstone to him. "11. I am a weary God, who has not been listened to. That may be just, since I have taken to long absences. My plate is empty. Do not quibble wtherher I have been good or bad, whether my commandments are good or bad, whether I am or am not. If you want a good life, I tell you to listen to my commandments. Or do not listen. And if you cannot listen, hear your soul. It is there, asking you to loaf. And when you have truly seen your soul and believed, and are comforted by its vastly intimate rain forest, enter her and forget me."
He told me about his religion teacher. I warned him about the seriousness of life. Sometimes we get too serious and fail to see the lighter side of things. There is beauty around. There's so much to inspire us. I've gone through stages where I saw only the negative and, not being able to change it or to put it down, I stood dark and alone, angry and lost. With a boyant chirp, he said, "That's what riddles are for." Riddles. Hah! I had fogotten about riddles. Oh, what the young do for us!
Tools to make us think. New thoughts. Sharp mind makers. Why don't adults exchange riddles? Why are there are no riddles in the NY Times? We have forgotten the challenge a riddle can pose? At what age do riddles lose their appeal?
POETRY ON BUSES
There's still time. You have until the end of April. Submit online. This is a paying gig. Poetry on buses in King County, Washington. Wahoo!
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