Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cranes at Dawn (M. Privshin)

At the pre-dawn hour, the scraps of dream spread out foggily; and then all rearranges itself into the world and from there back into itself, and it is clear by the sensation of shivering that the dawn will gradually appear, just as my body, my whole body, is like the house of the rising sun.

Everyone thinks that the sun rises with white light in the East, but this is not so: the white light appears later than the East begins to distinguish itself from the rest of the sky. It begins to blush a little, just as it happens upon the road on a dark night, when you notice a pinkish color, and ask if it is on that side or the other that a city with electricity is located. It is more vivid than the electric heaven, which always hangs over the city, due to the weakness of artificial light, because in the East during the pre-dawn hour the sky, lit up with the furthest rays of the sun, turns pink first of all. But in the forest no note is made of this change; there, everything until morning is counted as the deepest midnight. It was very amusing to me to think that I had caught the dawn earlier than all of the birds and beasts.

I put my palms to my ears, just as hunters do, when listening for the far-off beginning of the song of the grouse, and distinguished a trembling in the leaves. But everywhere there was silence. Following my example, Vyun also lifted his hands.

--Do you hear? he asked.

--I hear, I said quietly -- somewhere an aspen is trembling.

Suddenly the same bird peeped, by which in spring the hunters know the nearing of the hour of the grouse: in the spring she actually sings, but now she merely peeped. The trembling of the aspens was audible without the straining of the ears, and the pink area in the East began to quickly turn white. The stars went dark. The night undressed. The outlines of our aspen became clear. The night threw off all of its clothes, and then began to shiver; laying dew upon the world. Then the morning took it upon itself to dress us all in blue and red. The first crane on the first nest cried out, and the second answering him, then the third. I counted, as long as my hearing could distinguish them, the nests of all of the cranes in their homeland along the Dubna, and when the sun appeared, they all cried out at once together.

(An excerpt translated from Mikhail Privshin's Homeland of the Crane (Журавлиная родина.)

Cranes by Anton Lomaev

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Noor/Noir/Hidden LIght

"From the beginning, this divine light was hidden and concealed..." --the Zohar

" aim is to give a voice to the silent people, to show the hidden lights behind the curtain of the great game..."

--Monika Bulaj


If you can make it to the end of the above video without tears, you are a braver little toaster than I.

For those who become irritated by too much talk about light: their instincts may be correct. According to NASA, "normal" matter (that is not "dark", or otherwise acting rather mysteriously--68% dark energy, ~27% dark matter) makes up less than five percent of the universe.

Cameras with lenses and computer processors which can detect substances other than optical light, have begun to "illuminate" some of the hidden universe.

An x-ray photograph of a massive black hole at the center of our galaxy taken by NASA's x-ray observatory, Chandra.

But what if there were another sort of lens in our eyes, through which the hidden lights of Earth were able to be translated into the visible spectrum?

I speculate on the pulsing nebulae we might possibly espy in the shadows of those who might otherwise seem unremarkable:

  • a checker at the grocery store who knew the Kalevala (how I miss him though I only met him once!);
  • a teacher who has been grinning and bearing it with 30 pupils for six hours;
  • a maiden aunt who signs the 40th post card to young relatives during her vacation;
  • the White Birch Council of all of the widows and bearers of the world's pain;
  • and you, dear blog reader, who sit and muse in silence.

"The parable of His Light is a niche wherein is a lamp—
the lamp is in a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star—
lit from a blessed olive tree,
neither eastern nor western,
whose oil almost lights up,
though fire should not touch it.
Light upon light."

--Qur'an, Sura an-Nur

A painting by Daria Petrilli

"In this way, through an uncompromising, absolute, and pure detachment from yourself and from all things, transcending all things and released from all, you will be led upwards toward that radiance of the divine darkness that is beyond all being. Entering the darkness that surpasses understanding, we shall find ourselves brought, not just to brevity of speech, but to perfect silence and unknowing."


taken after dark - the orange glow is the clouds reflecting the snow

Come forward to childhood and do not despise it because it is little and small. 
And do not bring back some greatnesses in parts from smallnesses, 
for the smallnesses are known from the greatnesses. 

--Thunder, the Perfect Mind

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Winter Forest (Azam Ali)

Perhaps the whisper was born before lips,
And the leaves in treelessness circled and flew,
And those, to whom we impart our experience as bliss,
Acquire their forms before we do.

--Osip Mandelstam


Winter Forest is sung by Azam Ali, accompanied by Loga R Torkian, from Lamentation of Swans: A Journey Toward Silence.

This is what I most want
un-pursued, alone
to reach beyond the light
that I am furthest from.

And for you to shine there-
no other happiness-
and learn, from starlight,
what its fire might suggest.

--Osip Mandelstam

Friday, October 30, 2015

on chivalry

As a young girl, I had a habit of hiding waxen tapers within curls of birchbark, in the forests not far from my home. I later would fetch them and would light them and perform mysterious processions, marching up and down mossy rock staircases in an elven-fairy castle above a cliff with my sister.

Later, caught up in spells of wanderlust, I preferred to hike the hills alone. I would make my way up to a mountain spring, which I named, Tatiana's Stream, after Evgeny Onegin, because the name resembles "Tatiana's Dream," and listened to the trickling water with as much wistful wonder as could be conjured in those stanzas of Pushkin's. Most often, I wore long skirts, which would be sopping wet after I passed the meadow grasses, so that I would be forced to run quickly home in order to escape the chill.

Today, re-reading the portion of Evgeny Onegin containing Tatiana's dream, I am reminded of one of my own first recurring dreams. At around the age of four, I watched a stage performance of The Snow Queen. That night, I was rushing in the dark across the ice somewhere, being chased. I remember running, running, running from some unknown pursuers ....

However, I digress: I am glad to say that I have stopped running.

I had meant to write a post on chivalry, on what the word has come to mean to me.

The word, chivalry, conjures so many associations. A woman such as myself must use her imagination to understand the whole knight - sword - jousting - business. The idea of harming another human being for the sake of a duel - I cannot abide. And yet, of course, the Grail legend, and the idea of a grand Quest: that is another matter. Along my own path, I've played the role of Princess, Dragon, and St. George. I've yearned for unicorns, and have mightily coveted the Seige Perilous, although nowhere in the legend is it mentioned that a woman might qualify for such a seat.

By the way, who do we women have as avatars in Arthurian Legend? Elaine? Guinevere? Yes, I've tried on those roles for size. Oh, horrors. "The mirror crack'd from side to side--" No wonder the very thought now makes me want to find my copy of Wuthering Heights, and scream a passage of it into the winds of a wild moor. It is not easy to be incarnate as a female on this planet -- just ask Gaia -- please forgive us, dear Mother Earth!

Solving my own puzzle through the process of elimination, I've come to a place where I've realized that I am my own knight on a white horse, and my own - dare I say it - holy Grail.

And also the gradual epiphany has dawned on me that - although it may seem rather trite - chivalry, like charity, begins at home. Along my own winding Grail path, I have been introduced to my own inner male, and female.

Between one's inner selves, I have found, it is best to develop a deep and delicate courtesy in order to achieve peace and balance. "Please," "thank you," I'm sorry," and "I love you, dear" are not out of place among one's own thoughts.

To be chivalrous is, in my opinion -- to cherish the Holy Grail of one's own heart, where burns the eternal flame. I'll join you there.

The Meeting of the Family in Heaven (William Blake)

And to anyone who struggles with issues of identity, gender, or who is wondering which "team" they should belong to: please, remember to be on your own side. Always. Drink deeply from your own inner waters. And the rest will work itself out.

Ofra Haza was a Yemenite-Israeli singer who passed far too soon from this world.

My deepest condolences to the families of the passengers of Kogalymavia Flight 9268.

Alexander Scriabin, Symphony No. 2

Saturday, October 24, 2015


To the day belongs work and all of its clattering company of earthly cares.

The night is a sanctuary for starlight, moon-glow, and for dreams of flight.

Sing, Alkonost, and forget your sorrow, Sirin! Do you not know that Finist, Yasny Sokol, our Bright Falcon, is here?

Alkonost and Sirin (Anastasia Grigorieva)

On our pillows, we close our eyes, we each cling to a single feather. Only when we join together in the dreamworld, do we find our wings.

Falcon (Ivan Bilibin)

Hardly realizing it, we are aloft. We fly past mountains and woodlands, past the River of Tears and the Well of Forgetfulness.

Along the way, we meet Blessed Seraphim, who is conversing with a grand old bear. He waves us on, saying, "My joys, go on! I myself collected the feathers of the bright ones in my time! Our Lady gave me the first one as a gift when I was yet a boy."

When we have flown straight into the heart of the matter, we arrive at a place in the sky where geometry is born of light.

Just as soon as a word is spoken in this place, a shape appears. 

And each of the word-forms is so glad of the chance to be brought into being-- it spins, it dances in an endless ecstasy.

Raisa's Dream (Kandinsky)

Shawm (Kandinsky)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

in my Moscow

The walls of my Kremlin are not tall. Often, I even forget to latch the gate. 

In the evenings, I step out onto the road and make my way up the hill until an entire circle of mountains is visible, behind my back and before me, beyond a slivery slash of sea. 

The sunset is a fire that licks at the jagged lines of the hills, and burns into broad stripes of pastel from orange to light blue into indigo, until the first stars of evening begin to flicker and pulsate. 

When I stand just so on the crest of the hill, behind a great birch tree with a lamp hanging on it, the city is laid out before me, rows of glowing jewels more precious than all the treasure in the entire Almazny Fond. 

And when I turn to the moon--her silver swordlike rays pass through me till I am transfixed, speechless. I forget where and when I am standing. The lacquer box of memory opens, and the ruby stars of the Vodovzodnaya and Borovitsakaya towers appear through the fog of nostalgia. Yes, I am a bit of an odd bird.

Marina Tsvetaeva wrote these lines to Alexander Blok in 1916 - just a few years before he passed away (1921):

In my Moscow - cupolas gleam!
In my Moscow - bells ring!
And there in rows stand the graves -
Tsaritsas sleep in them, and tsars.

What you don't know, is in the Kremlin at dawn
Breathing is easier, than on the entire earth!
And you don't know, that in the Kremlin at dawn
I pray to you - until dusk.

At the same time you walk along your Neva
I am walking along Moskva-Reka;
I stand with my head bowed,
and the lamp-posts blur together.

With my whole insomnia I love you,
With my whole insomnia I listen for you,
At about the time as all around the Kremlin
The bell-ringers are awakening.

But my river -  yes, with your river
And my hand - yes, with your hand
Will not be joined, my joy, until
The dusk catches up to the dawn.*

May 7, 1916

*There is some difficulty in translating this, because the same word can be used for dusk or dawn.

I searched around online, and found that A.S. Kline made an attempt at a poetic translation of this pom. I include this link, because I don't consider mine to be entirely adequate.

У меня в Москве — купола горят!
У меня в Москве — колокола звонят!
И гробницы в ряд у меня стоят, —
В них царицы спят, и цари.

И не знаешь ты, что зарей в Кремле
Легче дышится — чем на всей земле!
И не знаешь ты, что зарей в Кремле
Я молюсь тебе — до зари.

И проходишь ты над своей Невой
О ту пору, как над рекой-Москвой
Я стою с опущенной головой,
И слипаются фонари.

Всей бессонницей я тебя люблю,
Всей бессонницей я тебе внемлю —
О ту пору, как по всему Кремлю
Просыпаются звонари.

Но моя река — да с твоей рекой,
Но моя рука — да с твоей рукой
Не сойдутся. Радость моя, доколь
Не догонит заря — зари.

7 мая 1916

Irina Bragina composed an enchanting sung version of this poem - which may help to convey some of the zaum - the essential sound - of it to a lover of poetry.



I curled myself up into a ball at the feet of the veiled one.

In the palm of my hand, I held a question.

The silence gathered itself to answer, and then burst into a dark momentum:

a sphere, spinning unseen and yet sensed viscerally, a condensed immensity, a spring-loaded spiral, which cascaded into a flash of fractal rainbows, visible to an inner black-light, and then evaporated from the field of my perception.

Thus leading to the birth of more questions.