Movements of the Lord

I got up very early this morning to clean up dog diarrhea, and my husband was finally home from a week of travel for work, so I slipped out for a walk to what used to be the brick house. The brick house was a house just like ours, perched on a higher hill with orange poppies lining the driveway. It had a scenic barn and a windmill, until last week sometime, when I walked there, and discovered that the whole place had been bulldozed and pushed into a hole in the ground.

It made me feel sad, not only because there are so few of these ancient houses left in the county—but because the brick house has been my turning point for so long. I go for a walk, often feeling pent up, and at the brick house, I turn 180 degrees and come home. This exercise makes me feel better. [Read more…]

Praying for a Hurricane on an Ordinary Wednesday Afternoon

painting in mostly light pink cream muted tones of a paddel0steamer in a storm on the water. the water is rimmed with blue paint, the clouds are bluish gray and purple. “It is easier to survive a category five hurricane than it is to get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon.”

That paraphrase of Walker Percy (from his essay, “Diagnosing the Modern Malaise”) was suggested to me by my friend Caroline Langston Jarboe. I was wondering out loud why I would give anything to have back a very difficult, but purpose-filled, time of my life in exchange for the quotidian restlessness of the exile that followed it.

Percy’s point, which I found so insightful, was that while in the midst of an onslaught that takes all of our wits and energy to survive, we are freed from the unrest, aimlessness, and fretful questioning that plagues us during most of our existence. A typical day can be careworn and sometimes unendurable because we are unsure of our direction. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Hive Boxes” by Megan Snyder-Camp

The sounds in this poem! I love its compactness and humming—its slender shape on the page, just like a tower of hive boxes. Bookended by two phrases that particularly sing—“lit hum” and “known oak”—this poem concentrates its gaze on the compelling paradoxes alive in our world, visible and audible in those very phrases. The hive box hums with an otherworldly aliveness that the speaker registers as light—it is simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. The oak tree is clearly familiar to the speaker, and yet its proximity to the wonder and novelty of the bee hives exposes its transcendent nature, too. In the light of the hive, the tree is “risen / from its place.” In between these two arresting images, the speaker seems to receive a vision of her place in this mystery, this suspension between the divine and the daily—a division that finally turns out to be illusion. In this place, the “split panic” of a mother’s mind is no different from the intense purpose of the bees. Here, the “wild distance / folding” reveals that human work is not separate from the beauty of the natural world, whether we are walking the “vacation road” or back in the city. [Read more…]

Richard Wilbur’s Poetry Captures Our Days

Minolta x-370

Last night I read a poem that showed me in a flash why I save evening-time for listening to classical music while I knit, or browsing through an art book, or reading fine poems like this one.

I’ve said in a previous post that I keep a volume of poems by my bed for evening reading. But I hadn’t known why until, with Richard Wilbur’s New and Collected Poems the current volume, I opened last night to his poem “C Minor.”

The poem begins with Wilbur and (presumably) his wife having breakfast while the radio plays something of Beethoven’s. Something passionate and angst-ridden; something typical of the C minor tonality which was Beethoven’s favorite for expressing dark, turbulent moods.

The poet’s wife turns off the radio. He writes: “You are right to switch it off and let the day / Begin at hazard…”

What follows for most of the poem is an account of some typical “hazards”—that is, chance happenings of a day.

The morning’s newspaper will present “sad / Or fortunate news.” Then:

The day’s work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)
[Read more…]

Against Gratitude

The other day a Facebook friend linked to a blog post on fifteen ways to raise happier, more grateful children. Just that morning I’d been complaining about how ungrateful our kids are for all the comforts they have and all the sacrifices we make for them—all the writing and living my husband and I don’t do so they can have nutritious food and a good education and lots of playtime in the open air. And what thanks do we get?

Though I know better, I clicked on the link. The blogger approached the whiny, sullen child as a spiritual problem that could be remedied with a combination of crafts and mindfulness exercises. Her advice included passing around a pad of tulip-shaped sticky notes at dinner so your kids can write down what they’re grateful for and then sticking the notes to the window to make a gratitude garden.

My first thought was, if I gave my kids Post-its with instructions to write down what they were grateful for they’d write “butts” on every single page and I’d end up yelling. Then I felt guilty that I haven’t raised kids who would be able to engage in such a wholesome activity without referencing body parts or excrement (which, I assure you, makes them deliriously happy).

[Read more…]