Monday, February 24, 2014

The Bold White Beneath

Today winter, I walk with all that’s left after the thaw of the austere pearl world…snow is gone.  Rigid hands crack and bend.  I am audacity who goes amid naked branches, who braves stiff paralysis of digits   This gravel road, once used for service, now a muddy trench eating my feet.  On one side all forest, the other rolling field.   Hiking, solitude.
I hunt in quiet hours for image born as epiphany from the painted scenery.   Photography.  But in the deep ice of winter, I avoid it.  Connective tissue shivers to keep muscles alive, my patience for waiting drains because my cortex freezes first.  But when I layer my pants over long johns, over leg warmers over socks and wrap my head in a hat under a hood….. I emerge.  Slow at first.  I wonder if the earth is still real, the ground, still there.  My confidence is rebuilt with every test step- no slip…no slip…no hole, no surprise lake.  I forgot things were brown and green under there.

Today winter, I walk among the sticks and balance my black boots on any solid ground.   Lens, sense my way.  Not far in, I meet the bare rib cage of a deer eaten clean.  Hold my breath to steady the shot, lean in…. snap – spatters of frozen blood jewels the canvas.  I love it.  I’m a special kind of hunter, collecting the life in death.  The face has no eyes, but the teeth are well.  Portrait of a being who’s not made it.  And here is the foot, but only one.  And here is the spine, nearby.    

I’ve thought about my hobby of carcass photography, like I’ve thought about my love for abandoned buildings.  There’s just something not in them that I like.  Space holds my interest because it gives my imagination wings.  I’ve come to the awareness that I’m not interested in killing, but in this type of intimacy.  I’m curious of the intimacy that emerges when a life meets with vast nothing and is willing to stand and look at it, willing to be moved.  Emptiness….death….mystery….not knowing.  It is this intimacy that reminds me there is no time for anything else but love.
Entering the carcass, winter reveals pristine vertebrae – the bold white beneath.  I pause, hearing steps, stand and turn to see a farmer herding cattle in the field behind me.  A “Certified Angus” truck beeps, pulls in towards the barn, the little black cows are alive for now.  I turn back, continue the portrait thinking how I will love the next meat I eat, in honor of to the life it feeds into me.  I hope my life does the same.  I do not care anymore that someone sees me, knows me, as intimate with death staring into its perfect teeth.   Our secret affair is no longer hidden.  Winter makes us obvious lovers.  
Allison Distler

Monday, February 17, 2014

Till Heaven Rings the Dinner Bell

(Happy Birthday and Happy New Year
             December 31st, 2013
A Song for My Dear Friend Phillip Stroud

Here it is, another year’s end
Farewell, hello, begin again
You’ve got mountains to climb
Though you’ve climbed a few
Lots more valleys to cross
Than the ones you’ve come through
Storms that might press you
Down to the ground
But you always come round
Can’t stay down for long
There are songs that need to happen
Need your soulful steady rappin’
Slappin’ down staccato rhythms
Layin’ down tongue twistin’ lines
Squeezing sweetness from prison lemons
Turning water into wine
Making music shake the walls of hell
Till heaven rings the dinner bell
And all our hurting, hungry kin
Eat the bread of hope again
Drinking deep the cup of freedom
Inside, outside, drunk on freedom
Light the candles on the table
Burn the flame till all are able
You and me and all those brothers
Sisters, children, daddies, mothers
Able to begin again
Wrap arms around another year
Another chance to make it clear
That love can conquer all the fear
Fear that makes us hate the other
Different god, different color
Different customs, different lover
Fear of equal rights for all
Fear that builds the prison wall
Buys the guns and fights the wars
Kills the hope of peace on earth goodwill to all
Unless the songs of love and light
Can find their wings, escape the night
Make music shake the walls of hell
Till heaven rings the dinner bell
And all our hurting, hungry kin
Eat the bread of hope again
And, you, dear friend, at this year’s end
Farewell, hello, begin again
Light the candles on the table
Burn the flame till all are able
You and me and all those brothers
Sisters, children, daddies, mothers
Able to begin again
To sing the song of love and light,
To be the wings that scale the night
Drinking deep the cup of freedom
Inside, outside, drunk on freedom

Glenda for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, February 3, 2014

Explorations in Poetry

My oldest daughter is deep into a unit on poetry in her senior English class, and loving it. However, as accomplished as she may be in the toughest classes her school offers, she was initially daunted by writing about poetry.  Not having done it for an assignment for some time, feeling generally uncertain about how to approach an area of experience whose “rules” are so difficult to discern on first glance (and sometimes on second or third), anxious about wading into a discipline whose reputation for difficulty and distance is somehow wordlessly conveyed before we know we have internalized it, she was understandably apprehensive.

I was honored and delighted when she asked me to talk to her about poetry. I was an undergraduate writing major with rigorous training in prosody and a humane, constructive brand of literary analysis (aimed at understanding, appreciation, and emulation—thank you Mary Kinzie, a welcome contrast to the critical dissection and reduction to nihilistic nothingness I encountered in graduate school—no thanks to you, Yale school of Deconstruction). I love poetry, and find that there is really nothing that raises my consciousness and my expectations for daily delight in my life more reliably than the regular reading of it. Having her read poems aloud to me in the car on a long drive to a track meet, and our ensuing discussion, has brought this delight to new levels (as has reading the poetry and prose written by my younger daughter in and out of Young Women Writing for a Change offerings).

My recent poetry explorations with my firstborn have been such fun. She has introduced me to amazing   poems by I authors I thought I knew (how could I never have read Sharon Olds’ 1987 Summer Solstice, New York City?), and allowed me to rediscover the soul-opening loss of equilibrium of first approaching poems from poets whose worlds of experience I had not known. Figuring out the new, self-defining universe of a poem from the inside out with a growing sense of exploration and assurance provides a microcosm of gaining understanding and appreciation in life. I love to hear the sly observations and different perspectives she brings to poems I love, which make them new for me. Most of all, I love witnessing the blossoming confidence and enjoyment of my own beloved child in entering an artistic world that has brought me such pleasure, comfort and enjoyment.

Incidentally, we learned with mutual delight the other night that she is reading The Aeneid in the same edition I used in fourth year Latin in my high school a million years ago. In a difficult year in my life where my parents had moved to a new city and left me behind, I was completely immersed in the tragic ancient world of this gorgeous epic poem. We were both giddy and elated, sharing our favorite set pieces and rhapsodizing about the beauty and sorrows of the destruction of Troy and of Dido, the capriciousness of the gods in waging their envious battles through the characters of the poem.

Now, sharing a love of poetry with my children would seem to be an achievable thing to hope for.  Sharing a love of reading the Aeneid in the original Latin, not so much.  My life is complete.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse