Poetry Friday: “Japanese Wall Hanging”

black and white image of a heron in midflight, wings floating above themI find myself reading this poem both literally and as a metaphor for our lives. On the literal level, Moira Linehan focuses with intensely loving detail on the Japanese brush painter. The first four lines list with tender concern all the things that might go wrong in the painting process. The next five lines move into the painter’s being: his years of training, his now “leaning back on his heels” picturing a heron that will soon return to his pond. Then the poem’s final sentence holds its breath, as the painter waits, patiently alert, for hours—waiting for the “floating line” of the heron’s descent to “take over.” In his integrity, the painter can’t draw this line until the heron’s descent first traces it. So, metaphorically, how does this poem suggest a way to live our lives? First, there are the risks inherent in just living. But, then, do we rush ahead, stumbling through each moment, inattentive to harm we might be doing to ourselves or others? Or do we train ourselves, like the Japanese painter, to pay intense attention to what comes to us each moment—and to wait? Of course, we must go about our daily business; but do we do so in an attitude of alertness to whatever perfection might float our way? And do we allow “that floating line” of perfection to “take [us] over”?

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

The Abandoned, Broken, and Burned

1950s DishwasherBy the time you read this, inshallah, we will have the new dishwasher purchased and installed in our kitchen.

I’m not holding my breath. It’s been this long, so it is easy to envision a horizon of expectations that continues to recede into the distance a few more weeks or months.

“Oh, come on,” my brother said to me a while back, “what is a dishwasher? $500? $1000? Just buy the thing.” It’s not that we didn’t have $500 lying around to spend—it’s just that there are so many other expenses— private school tuition, church donations, the remainder of our 2014 taxes—to cover, and it is always well to have a little cushion lying around in case of emergencies. (Our cushion is pretty little.)

We are well-paid, middle-class professionals (upper middle class if you look at the average household income for most Americans, though we actually feel pretty working class in our expensive coastal metropolitan area where two twenty-seven-year-old lawyers can easily clear $450,000 a year—First World, problems etc., etc).

So $500-1,000, in our house, is kind of a big deal. [Read more…]

Zeal for Thy House

It’s January 1 and the first Mass of the year finds me slouched onto the kneeler, sleepy-headed and negligent. It’s a Holy Day of obligation and I don’t want to start off on a bad foot. Never able to get to the vigil on New Year’s Eve, I always shuffle into the pew the next morning with the same disoriented outlook. I even say the same things to myself every year: I have to start things off right; I have to think about this hard; I wish I felt better.

My mind then drifts towards the football games that will be coming on, and the Hoppin’ John that will be served for good luck, before I rebuke myself and start over again.

The tough thing about it is that all about me I see a bunch of good Christian people. There’s a couple that has a passel of their own children who also take in a passel of foster children. Every service, they spend their time pacifying babies and taking toddlers out to the bathroom. The very sight of them exhausts me. The husband is also a lector and walks with a cane.

There’s a man in the back who has brought his wheelchair-bound mother every Sunday as long as I can remember. He is a farmer, I believe, and works long hours. Today, he is alone, and I don’t know what happened to his mother, though I suspect the worst. Still, there he is.

There’s a doctor up front who gave an entire sound system to the church because the people in the back couldn’t hear the priest. Just ponied up all that cash—and it was a lot of cash—so that folks would not strain so much for an understanding.

[Read more…]

I Hate Summer

We are on the lip of September. August has passed rapidly once again, predictably, dying with the moths buzzing around its flickering yellow bulb while the commentators and pundits cite their same old contradictory whines: Why do schools go back so early now? It used to be after Labor Day. That’s on one side, while on another: Summer’s just a relic of an agricultural economy. (Smartypants!) Now it’s why American students don’t know anything.

On the one hand: Wistful overworked professionals appealing to, yes, France, and its month-long vacations. “Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee / With a shower of rain, we stopped in the colonnade / And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten / And drank coffee, and talked for an hour…”

On the other: Angry overworked professionals carping about not being able to get anyone in New York or on Capitol Hill on the phone.

Texans, meanwhile, are happy to remind us that summer is not over down there until the start of November.

As far as I am concerned, begone with it all. Shut yer trap. I have realized, with the zeal of an unexpected convert, that I despise summer, anyway.

[Read more…]

The Peril of False Spring

It’s January, but the weatherman says the temperatures will creep up near seventy for the next day or two. In fact, things have been warmer than usual for a spell now. Tiny buds are popping out on some of the trees, and croci (yes, a bunch of crocuses) are spackling the earth in little paintbrushes of yellow and purple. The birds, from black starling to blue jay, are wild about it all.

This shouldn’t be happening, of course, because this is the mid-Atlantic, and the average temperature this time of year is in the low forties. The skies should stay dark and unruly for weeks to come. Windshields should be sheathed in icy skins that have to be chafed and busted off with barely-effective scrapers that send shivers of freezing pellets down your shirtsleeve.

The ride to work should be intolerable, the seat a glacier beneath your pant legs and too frost-bound to lean back against. The heater controls should take a merciless pounding as you demand more from them than they can possibly give in such tundral conditions.

But that’s not happening right now. Right now, the car windows are down a tad to let in a waft of fresh air, like an old friend finally come to call. Right now, you walk to places instead of drive, and find a way to get out during the noon break. There’s no need for a big coat pinning your arms down or a scratchy scarf rubbing your neck raw. Free of thick, globby Chapstick, lips can be used to whistle. [Read more…]