Wednesday, October 07, 2015

leaf longing

Just before dusk, in the glade behind her house,Vasilisa stepped out into an awesome dream: leaf-longing, the whispers of a thousand covert tongues, a sky-ful of candles gleaming.

She paused between willows and the alders, the birchlings and the poplars, and leaned into the rough bark of a black spruce. Its stalwart spine rose reassuringly to her touch.

She had heard a tale that once in the land of Murom, near the town of Lazarevo, a woman had ground the bark of birch trees into flour, and baked bread from it in order to feed her neighbors during a famine.

If I were one of those birch-trees, Vasilisa thought, I would want to feed as many as possible.

Cavalier gusts of wind tossed the gilded ladies to and fro tirelessly, dancing their dresses to the ground in a patient and persistent tango.

Vasilisa lifted a leaf from the ground and traced the symmetry of its veins. It occurred to her that the outline of the leaf resembled the bright cupola of a village church.

Between the lines she envisioned the fractal shapes of braided rivers and branching twigs - tokens of the very Tree of Life itself.

She closed her eyes, and listened with unnamed senses for the flickering of her fiery heart - and so it was that she sank unseen roots deeply into the cool and rocky earth, and extended her hands upwards as branches until she was as kindled as the surrounding forest.

While thus enchanted and transfixed, behind closed eyelids she spied dancing forms akin to diatoms, showers of golden sparks, and a small glimmering porthole of light that came and went, rippling and changing colors as does the Aurora Borealis on a moonless evening in December.

The faces of men and women appeared and disappeared as holograms in her inner sight. She felt them pass through her, a flickering silent cinema. She began to doubt whether there were any real boundary between her and them.

When a troubling thought came knocking at her forehead, she sent it careening down in the direction of her chest to be swallowed in a whirling galaxy --

But then other forms appeared, and with them, her voice gave strange calls of accompaniment. She purred; she sang as the whales and dolphins do; she neighed with horses galloping far off; she crooned with the song of birds familiar and unfamiliar, and she was not sure, but it may have been that her last cry belonged to the lyre-bird, or the bird of paradise. And afterwards she flew or ran--she hardly knew which-- back to her hut, and lifted the latch.

When she laid herself down to sleep, she continued to feel the accompaniment of the presence of all the beings of the forest, the essence of the animals of the earth and sky, and of all those clothed in human form, until it settled upon her like a warm coverlet.

And settling a breath within her heart she rested there in thankfulness, "Ah--Beloved!" -- flame within flame.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Edvard Grieg's Ballade in G minor (Leif Ove Andsnes)

The mind creates division
And division is another name
For devastating pain.
The heart creates oneness,
And oneness is another name
For spontaneous joy.

--Sri Chinmoy

Saturday, September 19, 2015

leaves of gold

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold,
and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came
and in the branches blew.
Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon,
the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin
there grew a golden Tree.
Beneath the stars of Ever-eve
in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls
of Elven Tirion.
There long the golden leaves have grown
upon the branching years,
While here beyond the Sundering Seas
now fall the Elven-tears.
O Lorien! The Winter comes,
the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream,
the River flows away.
O Lorien! Too long I have dwelt
upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined
the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing,
what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back
across so wide a Sea?

--J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, September 18, 2015

the cherries

The other day, from the corner of my left eye, I saw a woman lift a glass jar from a shelf. I turned and walked away, so I would not see her place the object nonchalantly in her basket. Instead, I shuffled to the counter and ordered a pound of sunflower seed halvah.

Not a big deal. Except that, during that split second, while that jar hovered harmlessly in the air across the room from me, a Proustian revelation on the relativity of desire and need bloomed bizarrely in my brain. Why? Because it just happened to be a jar of Bulgarian pie-cherries.

Imagine, if you will, that, in an alternate version of the story, Don Quixote had quit fighting, and laid down his armor and sword in favor of a tamer profession. In the meantime, Dulcinea, not being content with this state of affairs, had donned his armor, and, elbows akimbo, began tilting alone at windmills, willy nilly.

During one long, rainy Autumn in Moscow, I spent a part of each day for weeks facing off against two pallets of cardboard boxes in a neighborhood store. The labels on the the boxes declared that they were filled with tart-sweet Bulgarian cherries, and they seemed to have popped up like toadstools at random in the center of the gray stone floor. I walked up to the register and inquired about them. The cherries, I was told, were not yet for sale. When would they be ready to sell? Later, I was told. 

I determined that, no matter what, I would get my hands on those cherries. It was only a matter of when. 

To understand the reasoning behind my obsession, one would need to know that this occurred during perestroika, after the effects of the food deficits had begun to be quite palpable. There was not much available on the shelves of stores. A few dusty potatoes and carrots. Large, grand icy-green heads of cabbage, if one were lucky. A few tins of canned peas.

At that time, I had entered into the embrace of a life in which my Choices had narrowed themselves into a very small peephole. I had the honor of sharing this circumstance with millions of other human beings. We had launched ourselves headfirst into this venture, lugging the baggage of a country-ful of pain. For the sake of this, we stood patiently in long lines to buy staples. We craved cheese, in vain. We yearned for anything but drab. We (mostly) survived. We changed. 

Day after day, I  strode out of the apartment, stringing a purple purse over my skinny left shoulder, and marched a few blocks to the store where I stopped and stared at the cherries. And day after day, I was told that they were not ready to sell them, yet. My craving grew, but I encouraged myself: it won't be long now. I became a cherry-stalker.

Between my hunting trips, I would return home to stare at the antique icon of St. Nikolai, partially covered by a silver riza, who had been shoved behind the glass of a bookshelf not far from titles such as Red Star Above Kabul, which I puzzled over.

It was pouring cats-and-dogs on the day I walked into the store, and saw that only a few cases of cherries remained on the old wooden pallet. They had been released! I rushed up to the register breathlessly, handed the sacred slip of paper to someone wearing a dingy white robe, and obtained the legal right to a case of cherries.

My subsequent mood of triumphant euphoria was only slightly dampened by the fact that I found it difficult to keep hold of the wet box, and that it grew heavy enough that I had to stop a few times and set it down on the sidewalk to rest. 

Thump, bump, thump up four flights of stairs, and then - what? I realized that the cherries would take their place somewhere under a cot, near the case of baking soda which Tatyana Mikhailovna had wisely stashed, or in front of the five kilos of sugar I had scored near the embassies downtown. 

I remember the flavor of those cherries. They tasted like sweetness and tartness, like sunshine and rain, memory and forgetfulness. Although they were a bit soggy, they tasted like kindness, like the contrast of a subdued splash of color against burlap. Like hope.

Those cherries were what I was able to bring to the table. They made it possible for me to exchange quiet, joy-filled glances with the birch tree that stood outside my window. They were -- my offering.

alpine blueberry

Listening to Alyona Sviridova's Pink Flamingo (Розовый Фламинго), which dates me rather concretely.

"Dumai o khoroshem..."

Думай о хорошем.....

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Lena Chamamyan - Oror (Yalla tnam)

Lena Chamamyan was born in Damascus and sees herself as a singer and songwriter focusing on unity, "with the Syrian people." "We should support each other," she said in an interview. She has also worked on a project, the goal of which was to make traditional Syrian folk songs more widely available.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Under Sirius (W.H. Auden)

How neglectful it was, to have forgotten

the maroon skies, and the purple seas,

the innocent ring of our laughter,

the radiant white stones of Sirius,

the great spiral-arms of Andromeda,

and the living cadence of your voice--

Under Sirius

Yes, these are the dog days, Fortunatus:

The heather lies limp and dead
On the mountain, the baltering torrent
Shrunk to a soodling thread;
Rusty the spears of the legion, unshaven its captain,
Vacant the scholar’s brain
Under his great hat,
Drug though She may, the Sybil utters
A gush of table-chat.
And you yourself with a head-cold and upset stomach,
Lying in bed till noon,
Your bills unpaid, your much advertised
Epic not yet begun,
Are a sufferer too. All day, you tell us, you wish
Some earthquake would astonish,
Or the wind of the Comforter’s wing
Unlock the prisons and translate
The slipshod gathering.
And last night, you say, you dreamed of that bright blue morning,
The hawthorn hedges in bloom,
When, serene in their ivory vessels,
The three wise Maries come,
Sossing through seamless waters, piloted in
By sea-horse and fluent dolphin:
Ah! how the cannons roar,
How jocular the bells as They
Indulge the peccant shore.
It is natural to hope and pious, of course, to believe
That all in the end shall be well,
But first of all, remember,
So the Sacred Books foretell,
The rotten fruit shall be shaken.
Would your hope make sense
If today were that moment of silence,
Before it break and drown,
When the insurrected eagre hangs
Over the sleeping town?
How will you look and what will you do when the basalt
Tombs of the sorcerers shatter
And their guardian megalopods
Come after you pitter-patter?
How will you answer when from their qualming spring
The immortal nymphs fly shrieking,
And out of the open sky
The pantocratic riddle breaks –
‘Who are you and why?’

For when in a carol under the apple-trees
The reborn featly dance,
There will also, Fortunatus,
Be those who refused their chance,
Now pottering shades, querulous beside the salt-pits,
And mawkish in their wits,
To whom these dull dog-days
Between event seemed crowned with olive
And golden with self-praise. 

-W.H. Auden

Monday, August 31, 2015