Thursday, May 29

Sitting at the Computer, Shaking my Head

These things have happened in the last 10 hours:

A teenager fell asleep at the wheel, drove off the road, took out our sign, part of the fence and garbage can stand. Other than bumps and bruises, he wasn't hurt. Now rebuilding begins and will take a heaping dose of good will and faith because the parents don't want to have a claim against their insurance. I can imagine insuring a teenager is bad enough without adding this to his "record". Someone was kind to me once and did the same. I think this is what's referred to as "paying it forward."

This morning at 5:15 I heard a tentative voice calling my name. A retreatant woke me to report the presence of a bat in the toilet. Once my sleeping brain processed this, it was time for action. With fishing net and gloves in hand, the extraction began, which wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. I gently took him/her (?) outside and found a safe place for it to rest and recuperate. That was five hours ago and it's still hanging upside down sleeping. I'm adding "bat wrangler" to my resume.

That's the little buddy hanging upside down on the tree trunk. Cute toes huh?

Monday, May 26

Memorial Day 2008

Middle Tennessee Veterans Cemetery is near Penuel Ridge. I've driven past it many times and never stopped. Today, it was my intended destination.

The sterile precise placement of headstones, their uniform shape, size and color were no different for a private than for a general. Set along the Harpeth, the gentle rolling hills of the cemetery stretched out before me a river of fallen soldiers.

Many families marked the day with artificial red, white and blue flowers, others stood vigil over graves, heads bent low. Waves of intense emotion rolled across the hills and welled up in me.

A blanket of straw and toppled flowers mark fresh grief, a burial from two days ago.

Sunday, May 25

Mourning Light

The day puddles at my feet,
a soft robe sliding down my skin
as the last rays of sun
drop to the floor

the lawn is littered with the delicate feathers
and down of a dove,
pink and gray confetti
scattered after a predator’s parade

from the shelter of a walnut tree
a single voice chants low
its mourning song
the peony bows its head

crying creamy petals of sorrow
on an emerald carpet
where only moments ago
two rabbits played chase, unaware

I cradle myself, knees to chest
in the tattered chair,
the caramel-colored shawl
drawn around my bare shoulders

here I’ll sit
at the sentinel’s post,
gazing out as the shapes of Creation
fold into each other
to be rekindled
at morning's first light

Friday, May 23

The Psyche of a Writer

Here I sit in front of a blank piece of paper with pen in hand and I'm plugged up.

For the last month, I've been spending my creative time reading, editing and marshaling past poetry into tidy little e-piles and leaving little, if no time for actually writing poetry. Not a single word, passage or tone popped into my brain as a seed for something new, only old poems rattling their cages, demanding to be released into the waiting arms of the reading public.

The 1,700 mile trip to Texas did give space, quiet and time for things to bubble up to the surface. An image here, a line there, a feeling would flit in and out of my brain. Driving through three states in five days, those took shape on the backs of envelopes, scribbled in indecipherable haste so as not to drift into oncoming traffic.

So, here I am with this 3 day weekend stretched out in front of me with not a single responsibility! No retreatants, no singing, no errand running, nothing but time to myself. This is a perfect chance to pull those ratty envelopes out and turn out some quality poetry.

Today, with journal, favorite pen, dog, snacks and notes from the road, we pile in the car and head to a remote spot (yes, more so than Penuel Ridge) where I can usually summon the Muse.

Perfect day, perfect weather, I pull into the parking lot, only two other cars and no one in sight...perfect.

I head to my favorite picnic table overlooking Cheatham Lake, unleash the dog and sit myself down to do some serious writing.

Perfect...I'm sitting here, journal is open, I take a deep breath, pick up my pen and nothing. Okay, no need to panic, I'll just turn the page where the next prompt awaits my attention. I read it, take it in, take a deep breath and nothing. Okay, really, there's no need to panic, I say out loud to myself. I'll just flip through the prompts I'd written on the road that held some promise and away we'll go...and nothing. I close my journal.

Perfect...I'll eat my lunch. How could I create poetry on an empty stomach? Finish my lunch, check in with the dog, take a cleansing walk by the water and head back to my journal. Okay, I remind myself of what Beth Nielsen Chapman said about opening up the top of your head, letting go of the ego and allowing the words to drop from heaven into your brain.

Perfect...I visualize this, open my eyes and what comes, but a completely different poem. So I start writing feverishly until...nothing. I ran into a mental brick wall. The poem wouldn't finish itself or didn't want to be finished, so disgusted, I packed up my stuff, called the dog and headed back to Penuel Ridge, now with six unfinished poems, instead of five new poems...perfect.

So here I sit, in front of a blank piece of paper with pen in hand plugged up.

Is this it? Is my career as a poet over? Has the Muse left with no intention of returning?

All I know is that I do my best work alone, in silence and unencumbered. Maybe this three day weekend will produce something, anything that resembles a poem and my former poet self.

Real and False Selves excerpt from Seeds by Thomas Merton

At the heart of Merton's spirituality is his distinction between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self, ignores the real one, and therein lies the great irony of human existence: the more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist.

"The more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist." Kinda rubs up against manifest destiny and the American way wouldn't you say?

Saturday, May 17

Sacred Space

Beyond this window

dissected by this stream

lies one of Houston's most sacred spaces,

The Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum

Again and again, I return. Within the cool, dim, quiet walls I listen for my own still voice. No matter how burdened, the breath of peace enters me and I am restored.

How thirteenth century frescoes housed within these walls travelled from Lysi, Cyprus to Houston, Texas is fascinating. If your travels take you to Space City, include the Byzantine Chapel on your itinerary. It's a treasure tucked away in a city known more for soaring skyscrapers than intimate sacred spaces.


Interior Photography Copyright ©Paul Warchol

Friday, May 16

Hardware Heaven

Inside Settlers Hardware
Houston, TX

We are in the midst of renovations at Penuel Ridge. One of the bedroom doors is missing its hardware. All that's left is a weathered faceplate with a lot of doorknobs, no box lock. Retreatants were reduced to poking their finger in the hole where the knob used to be to open and close the door. Also the rock to keep it from swinging open and shut at will was charming. I rattled around the Nashville area for a while looking for suitable hardware, but no luck.

Knowing I was making a trip to Houston and it being the home of one of the most magnificent antique hardware stores on the planet, I packed the faceplate in my luggage with full confidence the holy grail awaited me at Settlers Hardware.

I walked in the front door and was promptly greeted by a 100 pound Black Lab, which in my book beats the hell out of being spritzed by the department store perfume girl. Two hours of sifting through baskets of doorknobs and trays of set screws left their mark on me...hands covered in dirt, dust and hinge oil from a by-gone era and an ear-to-ear grin.

Back at the Retreat Center, the hardware has been successfully installed. I doubt if future sojourners will give a second thought to the hardware as they reach for the doorknob, but they may ask me why there's a rock in the corner of the room. I'll tell them it's a reminder that sometimes you've got to take a long journey to restore what's missing.

Thursday, May 15

1,700 Miles

Word prompts of sights, sounds and feelings from the road:

Driving in torrential rain makes the world feel smaller

Arkansas rice fields are beautiful. The naked earth shaped into gently curving levees, newly planted fields a whisper of green, other fields with plants nearly a foot high, uniform as a crew cut.

You don't need a roadside marker to know when you've crossed the state line into Texas. The sky greeted me with its arms stretched wide, speaking first to my eyes, then to my heart that I was home.

Witnessing a 360 degree sunset near Nacogdoches

The spectacular downtown skyline of Houston hidden behind a veil of pollution

Welcoming arms of old and new friends

Honoring and celebrating Larry and John's 25 years of living and loving...together

Cool, dim rooms inside, searing heat and humidity outside

A friendship born out of chaos

Answering the question again and again...what feels good?

Lemon meringue pie

The grace of an aging mother, a list of chores, a good day's work

Binoculars and a great blue heron

A tightness in the chest from having to say goodbye too soon

The jubilation of a little brown dog upon my return

A 1,700 mile journey ending between the sheets of the most wonderful bed in the world

Tuesday, May 6

The Void

The void called to her for as long as she could remember.

Bookends of each day found her
at the kitchen sink; subordinate,
standing to the left of Big Sister.

She needed a stool to reach the drainer.
Big Sister washed and rinsed,
she dried with a white cotton towel,
worn soft from the scalloped edges of dime-store dishes,
their pink roses in perpetual bloom.

Sometimes, she would say, ‘slow down Big Sister’,
her small hands not as fast, not as sure
as she stretched on tiptoe to reach the shelves
of the tall white cupboard.

In the morning,
they looked through the window in silence,
watching the light shift, the world come alive.
In the evening,
as the murky water swirled down the drain,
they looked up from their labor
into the black void and whispered,
‘slow down’.

Sunday, May 4

Checking In

The project continues...slower progress than I anticipated, but worth the effort. The ultimate goal is to have a collection of poetry to submit to publishers and competitions. This requires reading every poem I've written over the past 5 years, finding common themes, editing, choosing photos and assembling them into a collection, hoping all the while that once in the hands of publishers and judges, it won't end up at the bottom of a pile.

Not much time for writing anything new, but here's a great poem from Wendell Berry that spoke to me:

How To Be A Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill - more of each
than you have - inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensional life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.