Purple Light in Sarajevo

Sarajevo MountainsMy fellowship liaison, Sevko, drove, and his gaze flicked across teenagers spilling over the sidewalks. The center of town spread within the cradle of the mountains, lit by the pink and blue haze of underground clubs. Gray office and apartment buildings faced the street, many of them gashed open, levels of exposed brick and wood open to view.

As we drove, it was hard not to notice that this place was beautiful and that the air tasted like all air that lives near mountains. It was hard not to notice that the mountains were built with cemeteries, ridges and floes of graves cupping the city.

I was in Sarajevo as part of a month-long fellowship to study environmental policy. I’d grown uncomfortable with the lack of humanism in environmental debates in the U.S., and I wanted love of people and love of nature in the same breath. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “In the Beginning Was the Word” by Jeanne Murray Walker

Sunlight on Beech leavesI can’t begin to count the number of poems which offer their language to re-imagining the Genesis creation story—maybe because poetry itself is an act of creation.  Jeanne Murray Walker’s creation narrative “In the Beginning Was the Word” (Image issue 85) plays exuberantly with language, as if in imitation of God’s exuberance in creating our world. Walker imagines a teasingly “tough” neighborhood that our planet settles into: all the elements enlivened by cosmic (and comic) emotions— “irate Mars,” “the kerfluff / of a moody moon.” Then Walker shifts her creative gaze to earth itself, as life sprouts in a wild disorder. Finally, human language itself “bursts” forth as “Creation thinking about itself”; and, yes, the creative force of our words is likened to God’s. One dark note clouds the poem’s closing line: all these words have the potential to be “dangerous.”

—Peggy Rosenthal


In the Beginning Was the Word by Jeanne Murray Walker

It was your hunch, this world. On the heyday
of creation, you called, Okay, go! and a ball
of white hot gasses spun its lonely way
for a million years, all spill and dangerous fall
until it settled into orbit. And a tough
neighborhood, it was, too. Irate Mars,
and sexually explicit Venus, the kerfluff
of a moody moon, and self-important stars.

And trees. Think of their endless rummaging
for light, their reckless greening, how flowering
is barely regulated damage. Then birds,
mice, sheep. Soon people, bursting into language.
Creation thinking about itself: our words soaring
like yours through time, dangerous, ordinary words.

 

Image above is by Miles Wolstenholme, licensed by Creative Commons.

Jeanne Murray Walker’s most recent books are Helping the Morning: New and Selected Poetry (Word Farm) and The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s (Hachette). She is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and teaches in the Seattle Pacific University MFA Program. Her website iswww.JeanneMurrayWalker.com.

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Thin Places, Part 2

Continued from yesterday. Read Part 1 here

Newgrange CaveIn the rocky cave-like interior at Newgrange, the air felt damp in my nostrils. It smelled of dirt. The passage was narrow, but it opened into a slightly wider room where a number of us could gather.

“We don’t know what they did here,” the guide told us. “All we know is that for seventeen minutes a year, at the winter solstice, the light shines in through that little opening above the door”—he pointed to a small rectangular opening—“and illuminates this little room.”

He told us you can enter a lottery to get tickets to be in there for those seventeen minutes per year, but so that we could see what it would be like, they’d shine a flashlight in through the hole, mimicking the sun’s movement.

“Ready?” he asked. [Read more…]

Thin Places, Part 1

DSC_0176A few summers ago, my husband Tom and I were in Dublin for a week, and one day, we took a tour bus to two ancient holy places—thin places, the Celts would have called them: spots where heaven and earth are very close to one another, where the ordinary distance between the two collapses.

When I was an evangelical teenager, I thought the idea of thin places was sort of cool, another way to describe that feeling I got when I sat on the beach during vacation and saw an especially vibrant sunset, or stood on top of a mountain and spun slowly to take in the vista. The world was transformed in a moment of extraordinary beauty, and so was I, for a little while.

I felt close to God, closer than I felt singing hymns or listening to sermons. Church, in its very weekly-ness, wasn’t extraordinary like that. I’d never been one of those “on fire for Jesus” types, like my friends who raised their hands in worship, but when I felt that spark, I thought maybe for a while I was like them. [Read more…]

Love in the Time of Bacteria

BacteriaLast week, I walked up Dale Street from the train station. It’s a perilous walk owing to the lack of shoulder and the speed at which people drive, a recklessness passed off to people living in poor neighborhoods. Shattered green glass, no trees to bar the bright spring sun, bits of fluttering paper garbage—anonymous love notes maybe—caught in the fence separating Interstate 94 from St. Paul’s steep hills. The Islamic Center sprawls in a field across from the freeway, looking nondescript and like a poorly advertised Walmart; sometimes you have to hide your love notes to live in peace.

In the past several years of walking almost everywhere I need to go, I’ve become accustomed to nearly being killed by drivers. Usually it’s mistake or distraction, but occasionally I see “Die, bitch” on someone’s face, and I’ve known what that looked like since I was a kid.

But, still, I take long ambling walks when I’m processing a project in which suffering from disease becomes apparent in the data.

People say you become what you study, but they rarely talk about falling in love with what you see, love from a habit acquired or a gradual taking in of information. Maybe it’s because we’re always deriding people for what they love, restricting love to direct object rather than pathway.

Someone recently told me it was terrible to love microbes when they cause so much suffering, but how can I study them or know anything about them without falling? [Read more…]


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