Breath for “Autumn at Tahoe”

Poets redeem words and the things they describe by breathing them into being. “Spirit,” after all, derives from “breath.” Think of “aspire,”which shares the root, and how we aspire through art to express a truth, often of beauty.
In The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, shaman Davi Kopenawa explains that spoken words, transmitted person to person, endure and revive. They are infused with xapiri spirits. Quoted in a review, he says, “I do not possess old books in which my ancestors’ words have been drawn. The xapiri’s words are set in my thought, in the deepest part of me….They are very old, yet the shamans constantly renew them….They can neither be watered down or burned. They will not get old like those that stay stuck to image skins made from the dead trees. When I am long gone, they will still be as new and strong as they are now.”

This is a poem to read aloud, give breath to.

Autumn at Tahoe

Paradise Valley, among naive Firs and Pines
	I watch Brother Sun, stout as Eliot’s Jellicle moon,
scatter his rays; dew diamonds gleam
	on flimsy floating filaments: these gossamer ships
their Spider sailors wafting high on Juniper seas.
	Eggshell blue, Sister Sky wears clouds
quilted by evergreens’ tips.
	Beyond, Cousin Mountain rises orange
this hottest part of the day,
	I see him crowned pink in sunrise,
gold in sunset’s decline,
	shadowed in dark’s demise.
One then another soaring Robin
	descends to peck at scattered seed
on browning ground, then
	gather one by one in the shade
‘til they are five or six
	as if to Terce or Nones; a silent consistory;
Red Robins, with breasts of Cardinal virtue
	perch on the edge of a clay water dish,
ignoring my unseen eye and the screeching
	Starr’s Blue Jay telling them they can’t park there.
One by one, these Robins ritually dip their beaks,
	nodding and bobbing in consent
to inaudible comments of one or the other
	participant. Tiny Songbird buddies arrive, loudly
performing a variety of songs ‘til the Robins,
	one by one, fly away. Too late I pounce,
my paws in nap, or doubt, delay.
	Tomorrow is another day.

- Sarah Lagomarsino
Note: Poem posted with poet's permission.

Donna Farhi: Goodness

“No matter who we are or how long we have been entrenched in self-defeating behaviors, through daily Yoga practice we can become present to our own fundamental goodness and the goodness of others. Rediscovering who we really are at our core opens the way to experiencing our most basic level of connection with others. This connection lies at the heart of the practice called Yoga.

Photo by Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan
Photo by Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan

Living in a unitive state is not an esoteric concept, and it is not an elusive higher realm that only a few clever people can aspire to. It is the opening of the heart so that we have the capacity to feel tenderness, joy, and sorrow without shutting down. It is the opening of the mind to an awareness that encompasses rather than excludes. It is the startling and immediate recognition of our basic sameness. It is the practice of observing clearly, listening acutely, and skillfully responding to the moment with all the compassion we can muster. And it is a homecoming with and in the body for it is only here that we can do all these things.”  – Donna Farhi

Wildlife not on earth

I’m trying to wrap my mind around the recently released report informing us that half of all wildlife on earth has been lost in the last 40 years. “Lost” isn’t an adequate euphemism. They are animals gone, dead, no more. The study analyzed trends in 10,380 populations of 3,038 vertebrate species.

“The decline was seen everywhere—in rivers, on land and in the seas—and is mainly the result of increased habitat destruction, commercial fishing and hunting, the report said. Climate change also is believed to be a factor, though its consequences are harder to measure.”

We humans are stealing life from all the other creatures in the world.

I read this report within hours of coming across this lovely analogy: “Three things are necessary for a bird to fly–the two wings and a tail as a rudder for steering.” Knowledge is the one wing, Love is the other, and Yoga is the tail that keeps up the balance. Yoga here does not define physical exercises or mantras. Yoga simply means living with an awareness that both love and knowledge are necessary to individual and community bodies.

In The Wump World by Bill Peet, Wumps hide out while their world is destroyed by carelessness, greed and haste. When the selfish invaders have paved over the ground, cut down trees, filled skies and creeks with pollution, they move on in search of another place to wreck. On Wump World, resilient plants regenerate and the Wumps emerge from hiding to a changed planet.

Sometimes an hour gathered around a table sharing poems or making shapes and breathing together in a yoga studio feels like being a Wump in hiding.

An effective poem calls on heart and head and touches a reader.  More than once, I’ve stood in front of a mic and said, “All poems are a call to action” or “All poems are love poems” and meant it.  I’ve concluded Yoga classes with a suggestion that after we roll up the mats we re-enter daily life with gentleness. And meant it. After asana practice, the body can feel more whole, the mind more receptive.

Like so many, I read newspapers, philosophical texts, how-to pamphlets on conservation, non-fiction on science and economics, novels that offer models of how people cope with being human. I watch TV. I attend lectures and readings. And, like so many, I am “getting and spending.”

And I need to try harder. We need to try harder. Our current approach as a species isn’t working.

One hundred red wolves roam native habitat. Two hundred live in captive breeding facilities.

“The WWF report also tries to measure the state of humanity’s ability to live in a sustainable way. With the planet’s population expected to swell by 2.4 billion people by 2050, the challenge of providing enough food, water and energy will be difficult.

The report calculates a global “ecological footprint,” which measures the area required to supply the ecological goods and services humans use. It concludes that humanity currently needs the regenerative capacity of 1.5 Earths to supply these goods and services each year.

This ‘overshoot’ is possible because—for now—we can cut trees faster than they mature, harvest more fish than the oceans can replenish, or emit more carbon into the atmosphere than the forests and oceans can absorb,” the report said. Since the 1990s, humans have reached that overshoot by the ninth month of each year, it adds.”

What I do as a Yoga and poetry teacher, writing guide, editor, recitation coach, advocate for animals, daughter, wife, sister, neighbor, friend–what have you–is alleviation. I offer a little light, a little lift. Moments of quiet. Respite. A chance to remember who we are and what we know intuitively, intuition as the synchronization of experience, knowledge and perception. Poetry and Yoga offer opportunities to connect. I am hopeful by nature; I encourage.

Encourage my students to have courage, to foster hearts that choose actions that mend. I am not a chemist, physicist, policy maker, attorney, farmer, physician, nurse, mechanic, economist, biologist, journalist, executive or a member of any other profession that deals in data. My job is to make your job possible by helping you find ease in your body, clarity in your mind, love in your heart, freedom in your imagination and will, pure powerful will to do what you do.

We need to try harder. We must find ways for all all beings to be happy, for all to live in safety and joy. We’ve no choice.

 

 

 

Gone to Gone Girl

A friend and I walked into a rain-cleansed evening after sitting through the gut-churning portrayals of sociopaths in the movie Gone Girl–plural on “sociopaths” because the protagonist, Amy, ropes narcissistic Nick into sacrificing his twin sister and unborn child to conspire in a lifetime of lies.

My friend teaches literature to teenagers. They’re reading The Sound and the Fury and Beloved. Both books deal in universal truths of human existence calling on readers’ hearts and minds to give them something worth discussing. My friend pointed out that disturbing as the novels are, they contain hopefulness. What hope? The hope (a faith actually) that drives those of us trained in the humanities, that we can study the past and learn from it and thereby try to be kinder; that big ideals, like love, compassion and forgiveness–which are human inventions along with enmity, cruelty and resentment–give significance  to the often brutal tale of mankind.

It’s disturbing to consume stories like “Gone Girl” with story-lines bleaker than detrital scraps from an exploded tire and characters more horrible than the vain, ink-drinking, animal-killing Hell Hall-dwelling Cruella de Vil of Dodie Smith’s original novel. They are hopeless stories. Hope implies an acknowledgement of a crisis whereas characters like Amy and Nick normalize the abominable. Don’t get me wrong. It’s okay. I obviously read and watch this stuff, too. It’s where we’re at in popular culture and there are lots of theories as to how and why. Believe me, a self-respecting English major cannot ignore everything written after 1995. (I tried it from 2011-2013.) I just want to call this as I see it, my puzzled Gen-x-er self flipping the seat cushion of despair into a buoyant flotation device I can cling to.

I think of us earth-dwellers as billions of Hamlets holding Yoricks’ skulls.  We are drifting like those driverless cars tech companies want us to buy from a world of complex human agency to one of sullen resignation. The dregs of humor are caustic. Tales lack resolution. Screens depict boinking as hasty, harried and hateful. There’s not a lot of love-making going on in 21st-century plots in any sense of the term. Nice guys aren’t finishing last–they don’t make it to the game board.

Back in that fresh evening, post-film, where scantlings of light from the setting sun measured the Monday and what we’d city-dwellers made of it, a street roots vendor pitched his newspapers and showed me a laminated photo of his three cats, cluing me in on each one’s personality. I’m sure glad I forked over the buck leftover from the tenspot I earlier gave the Regal ticker taker. The September 12 street roots includes this poem credited to a G.B.  Naive? Maybe. Lovely? Yes. All we need is this line: Open eyes or shut make a difference on this earth. Thanks, G.B., whoever you are.

Lessons

What can a bird teach of hope?

What can a sunflower teach of being?

Where can the heartbeat of the world reside?

Can children teach us to love without hate or rage?

Can falling leaves teach us the passing of time?

Where do the lessons of the world hide?

Each season has its lessons

Each seed a hidden story

Dirt can be more than just the stuff of the ground

And the wind more than just a bowing thing

Open eyes or shut make a difference on this earth

Ancient wisdom, tribal songs, stories beyond stories

I stand at the edge eager to learn

“Tell me your stories. Teach me your ways.”

The eagle flies by with the tree standing straight

The wind gently blows while the world awaits

 

 

 

 

Communion and Communication

“The philosopher and the poet-yogin both have standing not too far behind them the shaman, with his or her pelt and antlers and other various guises, and with songs going back to the Pleistocene and before,” Gary Snyder writes. He says the poet, shaman and yogini are at ease in the wilderness and the unconscious.

Reading, writing, speaking and listening to poetry taught me to listen. It’s as if each written word is a portal into meanings beyond meanings. Many poets collect dictionaries and relish falling into a rabbit hole of etymology. But it’s more than the meaning. We know that metaphor is an attempt to carry over meaning, and that like all bridges it can fail. But looking at text can be like reading music, each letter of a word functioning like a note, together the letters making phrases of sound that are words and words with words, harmonizing. When I listen to spoken words they transport to another realm like music can.

The thing is, though, words can be pursued. One leads to another and another until they’re rounded up like wild mustangs by the helicopter of the mind.

It’s being with animals, sitting beside a stream in a patch of wilderness or on a city park bench, watching and listening to birds, in particular–because they are the animals most at ease with humans (we cannot follow them when they want to escape)–that showed me how true listening is not about tracking after clues but biding right here with what is. This true waiting requires both time and space, literal and figurative, real and imagined, in an expansive state of credulousness and incredulousness that, paradoxically, has no-thing to do with time and space as we measure them.

Yoga can be an exploration of that unmeasurable time and space within the laboratory of the body. It’s a surprise to find the nose reaches the knees today or the breath seems to seep more deeply into an area of the body that was holding. An hour-long class seems mere minutes. A challenging pose makes one minute feel like one hour.

That’s why if we meld Yoga and poetry with an awareness of the non-human world magic can happen. One definition of magic is changing consciousness at will. Sitting among animals requires us to welcome non-human awareness; poems lead us to see the familiar anew; Yoga braids through movement the three strands of body, mind and feeling (spirit, emotion, soul, self…call it what you will).  One example of this process is Meditation, Movement and Verse. A beautiful poem visits the group. And another. And beauty matters because it makes us pause whether we find it on the published page, the nourishing plate, the sun-covered plain. Beauty stills us in time and in space. We are for a moment animals purely alive.

Snyder continues, “The evidence of anthropology is that countless men and women, through history and prehistory, have experienced a deep sense of communion and communication with nature and with specific nonhuman beings….People of goodwill who cannot see a reasonable mode of either listening to, or speaking for, nature except by analytical and scientific means must surely learn to take this complex, profound, moving, and in many ways highly appropriate worldview of yogis, shamans, and ultimately all our ancestors into account. One of the few modes of speech that give us access to that other yogic or shamanistic  view (in which all are one and all are many, and the many are precious) is poetry and song.”

I hope to see you in a poetry or Yoga class or one that combines the two.

 

Nowhere and everywhere

Autumn is the season of wonderfully named full moons: October’s Harvest Moon, November’s Beaver Moon, December’s Long Nights Moon. I heard Ann read this poem last summer at Tough Old Broads  and it stayed with me. Here’s to round and roundish things: marbles, moons, pumpkins, persimmons, the exclamation “oh”!

Marble

Imagine the curve of light
in space     or
the rim of the sun
in the orange line of sunset.

 

Look  at the moon
to see the full
range of its borrowed
whiteness.

 

Watch the glass blower
shaping the roundness
of his art.

 

Your eyes are the shape
of the earth and the size
of walnuts.

 

Hold a marble in your hand.
Something about
being round deserves
touching,

 

as if its shape
could go in all directions
but actually goes nowhere
and everywhere.

 

Put the marble
in your mouth.    It will
kiss you.
    
Note: Poem published with permission of the poet.

Of summer

Releasing the body in movement to allow the mind to recall the then, to breathe into the now, and picking up a pen to make something beautiful to share in the next: Meditation, Movement and Verse.

Robin’s poem holds within it paradoxes of time, as do the best. Before writing, we read  Invitation by Carl Dennis.

On “Invitation”

I have kept the green lace-wing on the kitchen wall
It is a remembrance.
A time of summer
A pale green & yellow
A flicker of gauze & fairies

Why is it still here?
A stamp of the past
or is it a stamp for traveling?
Going to other places
It may just take you too.

Just a jot
A remembrance
of pale yellow hair,
& freckled skin,
the smell of summer.

The wings of summer,
    just in case we forget.
Veining & musculature so slight
imperceptible scales   the skin   holding it together
on the kitchen wall.

– Robin Netzer

Note: poem published with permission of the poet

Poem to print to post

Today in the mail came news that the Redwood Coast Review is ceasing publication.

The newspaper accepted the poem below in 2006. “Rock Dove” was the fifth of my poems to make it into print. The kind letter from the editor, Stephen Kessler, encouraged me to treat writing as a craft, something to value, appreciate and improve. Since then, 72 additional poems have appeared in other journals with more, I hope, to follow.

Kessler rejected four more of my poems and then I submitted an essay that surprised him. It was a collage-like meditation on how childhood visits to the Library of Congress instilled in me a love of words. He and his staff carefully retained the shape of the piece which had blank space to conjure the cool hallways of the marble and granite building.

In the eight subsequent years, Kessler accepted five essays–one of which I withdrew–and he rejected two. He communicated by postal mail, writing letters detailing what worked and what didn’t, typed neatly in black and white. Through our correspondences, I learned to embrace my ability to see parts and the whole and not to be confused by this. I saw that prose and poetry are one corridor, like a road that changes from dirt to macadam to asphalt. With strong feet and the right shoes, I can traverse the different surfaces. Kessler encouraged me in translation when I discovered a little book of Blas de Otero’s poems in the Cleveland Park Library book sale room and heard in the pages the voice of an old friend I never knew. In a phone call, when I expressed feeling daunted by the task of moving Otero’s poem from Spanish to English, Kessler reminded me how fortunate we are to be able to do the work. I remember standing in the living room window holding the receiver to my ear, looking out at the finches in the bird bath and thinking, “I can at least try.”

When Kessler came to read in Sacramento in 2010, he asked the Poetry Center to include me. It was my third public reading and where I found out I like (okay, love!) to perform, to make people laugh and provide an opportunity for them to feel.

Without “Rock Dove” …who knows?

Recalling these experiences is a gesture of thanks to Stephen Kessler who has been an extraordinary editor for me, and a gesture of farewell to RCR which I looked forward to unfolding then reading accompanied by a cup of coffee or tea.

If you’re reading this and have worked long and hard on a poem, essay or story and wonder whether to send it out, do. “Rock Dove” went through several revisions over the course of four years before I stuck it in a stamped envelope addressed to RCR.

I’m a lucky person. “Rock Dove” came out of nowhere, I only had to open my palms to catch the words as they fell from the cloudy sky and string them in a glistening order. The poem’s story is not autobiographical. It’s not even a dream. It came to me when I was much younger, living in a beat-down town of oil derricks, farms too large to walk across and dry river beds where birds landed in desperation. I met generous, wise people who thrived in the bleakness like blue chicory. I moved away from that place with true promises to remain friends with those with whom I’d exchanged poems; I took “Rock Dove” with me.

At a small bookstore in the new town I picked up a free newspaper called Redwood Coast Review. The mix of poetry, translation, essays and news appealed to me and I sent the poem to the editor. The newspaper accepted the poem below in 2006….

 

Rock Dove

The undersides of birds tell stories

sweeps of wings won’t reveal. See them,

soft vessels of heart and blood above

where you rest on your back in the hammock

beneath the walnut tree. Remember

holding a pigeon when you were small.

White mites crawled among gray feathers

as you stroked the bird with first and second

fingers together, digits forming a paddle

dipping into the dark lake of  the bird’s breast,

holding with your other hand its heart, beating

faster than your own, sluggish with afternoon

heat, sweat dripping down the backs

of your knees as you looked around the field

behind the leased cottage for someone

to take the bird and save it.

You saw into the bird’s red eye,

the wrinkled membrane of its lid

closed, and opened. You ran back

to the white house with the slapping

screen door, the bird held in front of you

gently as a tray of china, to find a shoe box

and a jar lid of water. The ground feels

rougher when you’re running barefoot

across a field to the fence-line of a summer house

bearing a life in need of saving.

Cranes, Bees and Evensong

Sandhill cranes in California’s Central Valley -> Autumn

Jeanine Stevens offers a perspective on the birds in the poem “Evensong.”

As for yoga, the birds’ seven-foot wing span (in the greater sandhill cranes) provide inspiration for flowing arms as we move through poses. The crane has a four-foot-long trachea coiled behind its breastbone through which traveling air makes the distinct sound; you often hear a crane before you see it. In our human bodies, the humming of a bee breath, brahmari, can brighten the heart (it’s fun!) and soothe the mind, especially in relation to others, in a group. Communicating, gathering, being. Drifting, lifting, flowing and still.

Evensong

~near the levee west of Lodi

Late afternoon, I wait

for this holy herd.

God has pledged beauty.

I haven’t asked, but have hope

this Sunday. Out day-feeding,

Sandhill Cranes appear

in the distance

like random fence posts.

Some resemble flocks of grazing sheep.

Suddenly airborne, they appear,

sounding like a thousand

loping horses. Long gray necks

haul bustles awash in bright ochre,

gallop along the flyway,

a private corridor invisible

to my naked eye.

You don’t have to sit

in cathedrals, listen to sermons,

or place offerings in the till.

Simply wait, look for the vast,

watery beds, a feathered sanctuary

waiting for the moon

to open her pewter eye,

scan their still silhouettes

and call them her own.

 

Jeanine Stevens 

Note: Poem posted with permission of the poet.