Friday, December 21, 2012


         So many words have already been written about 12/21/2012, what can I add? The need to bring light into a dark time - both because this is the season of diminishing light, and because, for our country, it is a dark time. We have been celebrating, fearing, mythologizing the shortest day of the year for who knows how long! Before Christ, before Chanukah. Millennia ago humans believed the light would disappear and the world would end, and that view still prevails among many. How do we hold the light? How to keep it with us?

         And how do we hold the opposites? This season we have experienced a joyful time with family, and terrible diagnoses and physical deterioration among friends. There was the nightly beauty of the Chanukah menorah, the holy meditation on the candles, and the magic of rediscovering cherished ornaments as we decorated the tree.  The beauty of Renaissance concert music, and the echo of guns and grief. Balance. What an effort to keep a balance!

       There are still a few days before Christmas, so I can still list my wishes: A ban on assault rifles and an end, or at least a lessening, of the alienation and  rage in our society.

       I wish us all peace, renewed compassion and empathy - the true and necessary qualities of this season. And I offer this poem, and a candle in memory.

Concert After Sandy Hook
    December 14, 2012

Above the dais
snowflakes  fairy lights
illuminated organ pipes
But no digital magic
not even Bach 
or grandkids trilling carols
can ease your anguish

You call up angels 
to enfold these children
Maybe that wingwhir
only occurs
in your oldlady ears
and maybe it's a seraph
Just keep these

Sing along:
Ten lords a-leaping
eleven pipers piping
twelve drummers drumming
Twenty mothers mourning



Friday, November 23, 2012

Grand Kids

       I usually find that between the beginning and the end of what I write, I have learned something that I didn’t know when I started - but this time I learned something before I wrote the first word:  how protective I am of our family. So - no photos, no names - just the understanding that I, who love learning, and seek it in so many ways, have learned as much from these dear ones as I have anywhere else.

      Take the one we worried about throughout high school, sometimes wondering if he would survive his teens -  now in a very creative professional program at the top of his class.  As my grandfather would say, “That such a thing can happen!” That someone can fall in love with their own abilities and find their path. Something inside you shifts with that shift, that change. All the sad experience that age must assimilate moves over and makes room for joy.

     But he is not the only one. There is the one who struggled with being in this world, in this body, the one who presented such difficulties, and received such love. And now? Straight A’s, captain of the football team - and so considerate! And the one who had tutors from an early grade, had problems with subjects and strategies, who is now in his first year at university. Each feels like a victory over those who say that it is all there, all given, all wired - that change is a myth we hold on to.

       Oh, and speaking of change. There is the adult so motivated by the desire, the need for change, who emerged as a loving father and husband. The three brothers, all “singularly skilled” (the new phrase I just learned), all successful by any criteria - and all Fathers. One who helps others become successful parents, one who learned to be a father, and one special individual who learned to father - less.

       And oh those mothers! The one who retained humor and pleasure while struggling with and holding her boys. The one whose daughter wants to grow up to be just like her, and the one who raised her child alone while teaching full time - and could open to the man she created a new family with.

        I learn by watching, and the emergence is so powerful. The one who discovered cooking, who spent a month on a farm in Scandinavia, who will major in history - all those dimensions! And the one whose talents and abilities cross the boundaries of arts and ideas, waiting to see what synthesis he will make of it all. And there is the so-very-sweet, lovely-souled and smart boy who excels on  land and snow and water, able-bodied on any surface.  And next year the girl will begin high-school, and the restrictions of middle-school will disappear, and she will be able to thrive in all the ways I know she can. And the one who plays two instruments, is very bright - and knew how to be his own person at a much earlier age than I did.

       I certainly don't want to imply perfection, or ease, or total compatibility, or humans free from issues and problems. I am so aware of what a difficult world the young ones have been born into, and what they will have to face.  
      But how fortunate I am to be a part of this ancient process called family  - not through biology or lineage, but through marriage. It has not always been easy. In fact it has often been my biggest challenge. 

I wrote the following poem a year ago - it is the last two lines that retain the most truth:

Grandchildren of my husband
a watch   a book   a custom is what I leave you
I used to hide candied creatures so your visits began with treasure
how well I know some of your worlds   how fidgety I became in others

Step   is the word in front of my role
it means one step at a time  it means stop after each step 
and step to the side

It’s a dance   like the rumba   
imagine the men in ruffled shirts   the congos  the bembe drum 
imagine the dancer in flounced skirt
She steps forward   stops 
steps to the side
she is what the music makes
as love makes step
                              into stairway

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Do Goats & Gratitude Have in Common?

              Have I really never written about being at The Ranch? 
Its real name is Harms Vineyard and Lavender Fields, and its a biodynamic farm where two of our favorite people, Patricia & Donald, live, and where we get to stay when they go away.
      Apart from the healthy abundance of grapes and lavender, plus fruit, olives and vegetables that are grown for their own table, there is also the magic. There is some combination of deep silence and marvelous energy that this land exudes - and the views! The curvaceous hillsides in their evergreen gowns, the far side of the valley with its sunset rose mountains, the steep trail down the hillside with its seasons of mud, weed, dry and leafquilt, the view across the vines,  the vines, and the pillows of lavender.

Donald Harms designed the house with its Mediterranean courtyard and Greek columns, built to coincide with the hillsides, size tempered by its soul-satisfying proportions - based on the Golden Mean and ancient ratios.

We feed the goats at night. That is if we can get the herd in the door of the barn and they haven't started a goat rodeo in the corral. It is warm and close and smelly in the small barn as it gets dark. Outside the moon shines, and the llama paces and waits for them to give up their goatly antics so he can be fed without having his feed gulped down by the goat brigade.
Not a Harms ranch machine!
      It is always quiet. The quiet is a presence and an absence. The presence of some magical power that is larger than mere visibility, and the absence of traffic, sirens, air traffic - all the things I usually live with. 

      This is the peace that all Americans outside cities lived in before the 20th century, in what was then a farming and ranching country. It is the machine that brought in noise and distraction, and it is the machine that eased a load of labor that could wear out or break a man or woman.
        A vacation means a rest from labor, and when I think of machines and labor, I think of the whole history of humankind gnarled with the problem of labor. The daily work of food and water and shelter, the forced labor when hierarchies formed and created grandiose structures, the forced labor of Great Walls and canals and roads and railroads, the slave labor of Greeks and Romans and Hebrews and Arabs and Mayans,  the forced brigades of empire, and the shameful plantations. And there is still the deadly labor of soldiering, where those without a clear future enlist to fight the wars of the Guaranteed.
      I know that Donald spends patient time distilling oil from lavender, and I have accompanied Patricia when she browses the goats, and those are blessed, fortunate tasks, as gardening is for me. These are the labors we choose, they are not foisted on us - not forced. And the labors I choose allow me to once again embrace gratitude, that goatish emotion that gets away from me, and doesn't always appear when I chase it, even when I'm at this beloved place.
     Gratitude, you are not in my control anymore than Lily, Petunia, Boey, and the rest of the Capra clan - you will just keep jumping out of nowhere, startling me with my sweet, relatively easy life.





Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Book of Now and The Shy One

Copywrite Bill Fulton & Fisher King Press

      A few days ago I sent the completed manuscript of The Book 

of Now: Poetry for the Rising Tide, to Mel Mathews, my publisher at Fisher King Press. It will be published in the next month.

The Fisher King - how that title resonates: The wounded king who keeps the Grail, and only one person can succeed him, Parsival, whose first sight of the grail castle leaves him at a loss for the words he must have, the question he must ask. It will be a long journey before he learns what he will need to know to complete his task.

Alright Leah, you may say, but what does the fisher king have to do with editing an anthology? It’s like life - you don’t know what you will have to learn, or overcome, in order to complete a task - even if it is a task you have chosen.

I took a long time, or so it seemed, for the book to become what it is supposed to be. It began by Mel asking if I would like to write an anthology. Yes, I said. I imagined a book full of poems by many authors, and my image was a dance hall - a magician’s dance hall, and dance as a metaphor for life. We discussed a web site where poets could submit poems, and maybe a submission fee, and then Mel thought about permissions, and fees, and we both had doubts. Mel said, “The right approach will come to you.” What he always says when I’m stuck. Or when he thinks there is a better title, or approach. So far he’s been right.

Bill & I went to Yucatan & Chiapas, and the great trees of the rain forest, what remained of them, took over my voice when I came back. I began writing poems about extinction, the harm to the earth, a new Noah, poems of praise to What Remains - and the dance hall became the earth, but I still wanted poems that danced, and poems that unified beauty and terror.

I begin to let what I found, what I read, what I saw take over,  let go of having A Theme, A Concept, and what I found! I searched books and websites. My dear friend Naomi Lowinsky’s wonderful poems about the environment fit with my own, but then I saw the video of Crystal Good reading BOOM BOOM in a quantum hip-hop Mountain Mama wild style unlike ours, and thought Yes! Inclusion. 

And I found Dunya Mikhail, an award-winning poet, who wrote remarkable poems about war and exile,  and I cried with relief that those poems had been written. But could I just write her without knowing her and ask to use her poems? The Shy One emerged and suggested we go watch butterflies. But the Book spoke and said Write to her. Write what you feel. She may say no, but you may get the poems!  And I did, and felt such gratitude. 

Some poets did not respond. But Anita Endrezze said Yes, she who writes of the wild, and the deep and her people. And I knew that Jane Downs’ The Minotaur, which I had read years ago, had to be in the book. The other poems she sent opened up another perspective.

I asked Frances Hatfield for poems, not knowing how they would fit, but loving her beautifully crafted work. I realized that of course the Underworld, The Soul’s Geometry, had to be in this anthology. The tide is indeed rising!

Each poet would have a portrait, an essay about their work - and I hadn’t written an essay for years. Mel wanted my writing as well as poems, so it would be more than just an anthology. (Just an anthology?!) But I sat with their poems for hours, and their words and worlds told me what to say. I felt the pressure of a deadline,  wrote seven essays in two weeks, then fell asleep in my garden, on the grass with the cat mounted on my chest. Meanwhile Bill, always magically in tune with my work, created the beautiful cover, and Mel approved.

Perhaps one of the hardest thing was asking a well-known and highly-respected author, who I at least knew personally, for a cover blurb. It took two months to send the email.  Shy One was about to run out the door before I sent the email, taking me with her. The author said Yes. I was so touched and pleased.
The Shy One is still with me. We will probably finish our lives together. A part of her is the humility I was raised in, which I value as an antidote to whatever inflation or arrogance a girl with an almost photographic memory might have had.

      The Book is done, and the last thing I wrote was a back cover description:
       Seven lyrical women poets, each accompanied by a study of their work, navigate our contemporary world. They travel to the depths of the psyche, experience exile, rhapsodize on the beauty 
of our planet, lament loss and celebrate renewal. These poets write courageously on what threatens us: climate change, war, 
mountain-top removal, loss of species, environmental damage, 
the scourge of cancer. They are witnesses, ‘Couriers’, who bring 
us their visions. As the tide rises they reach out to us in deeply personal and clear voices, each providing a unique experience in contemporary poetry.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pt. Reyes: Sky Trail!

          At Pt. Reyes National Seashore we go up Sky Trail into deep fog, oaks, and Bishop pine covered with moss and lichen,  boughs like some great shaggy beasts. The path turns terra-cotta and winds through the intense alwaysgreen of a temperate rain forest. Then the march of the magnificent Douglas Firs, trunks upright and straight as Bill's Presbyterian ancestors.

     Fog is mystery as sun is clarity? Or so you think. SOMETHING could loom up out of the swirl, couldn’t it?  There are so many gray mornings where I live. An iron lid of cloud clamped down and soundless, not mythfog but overcast, and not a word from the faithful dawn chorus of birds.  And if fog is more menacing, why have I only seen bear and bobcat in bright light, and that bull charged on a sparkling morning.    

      Out here it is always remembrance vs pioneer. Shall we take a new trail or one we know?  I remember when we took the Ostero trail at midnight with Wally & Julie, to see the owls, Bill refusing to hoot at bare pines. And the time we crossed a bridge over a pond filled with croaking, mating frogs. And the time we walked out the Pierce Point trail with Stan & Nancy. Where it narrows Ocean is on one side, Bay on the other, both visible at once  - one wave-strewn, the other wind-whipped to white cap - but the fog was so deep both were hidden. The visitors had to be told - Bay is there, Ocean there, eyes on trail to keep direction - and it wasn't a dream - though if life were a film this is where the director would have done it - elk emerged, crossed the trail, antlers pierced our recognition. When Stan & Nancy returned to their eastern city, would they tell that tale as if Northern California were the Serengeti? Might the elk become rhinos? Or elegant loping giraffes so close you could see the Sally Rand fans of their eyelashes?    
But this is a new trail. Would it ever stop climbing? How high does it go ?Should we take a side path to Mt. Wittenberg? A swath of fogsilk slinks in from deep in the Pacific and where the hell is Mt. Wittenberg? North? South? 

      It's actually dripping, dropping, drizzling, hair wet, then it swiftly lifts - and the green, the intense green. Chartreuse and lime and jade and pine, especially fine because the California hills have turned to summer-drought straw, beige and tan. I am not Rapunzel, and I have given up trying to spin straw into gold; those hills are not golden, just beige and tan. 

      I grew up in the thunderstruck summer-downpour-greenness of the Midwest, and I stand here in sudden sunlight, at home among the ferns, Bishop pines, bay laurel and Douglas fir that once appeared in a child's dreams of an unknown future.




Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Called! A Women's Congress for Future Generations

                 A Women’s Congress for Future Generations
      Moab, Utah  September 26th-30th

     When I was still teaching college I was usually unwilling to go to conferences or congresses. I’m rather introverted outside of the classroom and poetry readings, and I am a bit anxious about large groups and runaway egos, but the women on the steering committee of this Congress are such competent, committed, developed souls, that my fears are alleviated by the humanistic rules of conduct they have asked us to agree to.

And I am called to A Women’s Congress for Future Generations

      What is the Congress about? “At the Moab Congress, we will map possibilities and pathways toward achieving whole health and justice in this generation to come. Inspired by our environmental foremothers, our hope is to craft a dynamic articulation of the pressing rights future generations have to a livable world and the responsibilities of present generations to uphold those rights. Our labors will yield a living affirmation of these rights and responsibilities in word, art, music and story." (from website)                                             

And I am called to this action, this involvement, these tasks.
      I have written poems, letters, essays to our grandchildren bemoaning the fact that my possibility-filled world may not be theirs - and I have lamented that my generation has failed in providing them a safe, sane, sustainable future. 

I am called to A Women’s Congress for Future Generations on behalf of our own lovelies, and the children yet unborn.

       Among other things, I taught environmental ethics for years. 
I have been an activist  most of my life. My solace and pleasure comes from what Gaia provides me in my garden and in the wild. 
I have spoken to trees on four continents. I have cried for the elephants, visited the tigers, and laughed with giraffes. I cannot bear it that future generations may only know these magnificent creatures from books and photos - and I have dreamed that I must name all the animals of the sixth extinction.

And the animals, the trees, the mountains and the seas 
call me to A Women’s Congress for Future Generations.

      I am a poet, and I am working on The Book of Now, an anthology of seven women poets who write for the time of rising waters. On her website, the poet Annie Finch writes:
   “The poetess uses poetry to do the work of a witch, calling up 

  and shaping energies to heal and transform society. The poetess,
 in other words, is a witch and a poet in one.”

I am called as a poet and a witch, willing to shape energies and heal and transform society, to A Women’s Congress for Future Generations.

Here is a poem written for The Book of Now, after I was invited to the Congress. Perhaps I will share it there also.

               Praise Song

I want to sing the life of the earth
an egg    a nest   a hive   the herd
uncountable wings in the wet forest  
microbes thriving in the heat of a geyser
the unknown swimming the canyons of the sea
what the cat scans as she stalks the savannah 
what the hunter sees as he moves through the veldt 
the invisible in a bead of water

I want to sing the profusion of peoples
Camel-riding desert Tuareg draped in blue  
Balinese balancing edible towers
The last Hadza drilling fire
Inuit curving snow blocks into dome
     the stunning variety of indigenous homes
         the bo-sa  a house of bamboo    adobe   hogan   igloo
I want to sing the children on their way to the temple
          mosque    pagoda    kiva   jinja 

          I want tribes to sing
              before they’re unspoken
                    I want us to sing for the sake of sound
                          birdsong  croak and cricket-creak 
                 Praise  all I have named 
                       this  relic 
I am called to A Woman’s Congress for Future Generations to speak for the relic, the residue, the remnant, the remainder


Monday, July 9, 2012


          I am hungry today. Every few years I have a medical procedure that means clear liquids for a couple of days in preparation, and today is one of those days. I am so aware of how rarely I am truly hungry - the cupboard and the fridge are filled with things I like to eat. Since it is summer there are bowls of plums and cherries and peaches and apricots. A small watermelon sits on the counter, and its rippled rind reminds me of fabrics I’ve seen in Africa. If I leave the house I have a protein bar or two in my purse, and unless we are hiking The Mountain or the paths of Pt. Reyes there is always food nearby - or a couple of backpacks filled with trail faves. 

       Michelle Obama has rightly focused on child obesity, with its attendant danger of type 2 diabetes, plus heart disease likely in the future. When Bill & I travel through the West we leave the farm-to-kitchen food culture of the Bay Area, and we have to rely on what we bring and whatever restaurants we find - and we are always astonished by the proportions people are served.

      But is anyone besides a few large organizations still concerned about hunger in America? The War on Poverty is simply a lost phrase from the Sixties. What summer means in some communities in this country is not bowls of ripe fruit and fresh vegetables from farmer’s markets, but no school lunches. 22 million children are estimated to be in “food insecure” households in the United States. 
       When climate change results in freakish weather in many parts of the country - abnormally high winds, flooding, hurricanes, wildfire - there is a sudden desperate need for food and shelter, and Food Banks provide it.  There is no problem obtaining it - there’s 200 billion pounds of food that go to waste every year in America! We have all the food necessary to feed our hungry, it is just a matter of access, equity, and distribution.  Equity? Ha! A House Agricultural Committee just came up with a Farm Bill that would cut 16 billion dollars from Food Stamp allocations over the next decade, which impacts 43 million people. 
This is a recent photo though it looks like a Dorothea Lange portrait from the 1930s

 Just think. We’ve gone from a War on Poverty to a war on the poor - and I thought it was just women who were being targeted! 


Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Weave the Tree of Life!"

Photo by Bill Fulton

In 2009, at the temple of Wat Xieng Thong in Laos, I wrote
Tiered roof 
like the sweeping boughs
of a great pine
Inside grace ever green
A voice whispers
"Weave the Tree of Life"

In a Luang Namtha village. my photo
I had been looking for weavers and finding such extraordinary craft woven by women  in remote Laotian villages, women weaving sacred symbols & sacred animals and small Buddhist spirits into Rothko-like hangings.  The weaving school we visited had handspun hand-dyed silk in colors I didn't know  you could get from plants, and the work had patterns that involved the skill of masters.

Living Crafts Weaving Center Luang Prabang Laos - Photo by Bill Fulton
     Wait. I forgot to mention that I am a weaver - even when I'm not actually weaving. I have a remarkable Dutch loom that I bought after I retired from teaching, thinking now Now! I will be able to continue what began in 1965, when I studied weaving  with Kay Sekimachi, (who would be a National Treasure if we had such a title.) I bought a small loom, and then I became a grad student and later a full-time prof, and I said "When I retire I will return to weaving. And I will write poetry." 
My Lou√ęt loom
      But I haven't been weaving. I set up and threaded the complex loom and began an experiment to weave tapestries using different size yarns without a rough line between colors and shapes - but the Muse stepped in. "Poetry" she whispered while I was reading the manual that came with the loom. "Poetry" she said aloud as I was threading it. "Poetry" she yelled perched on my laptop when I went to check my email. Hadn't I retired to write? she demanded. Portrait of the Inner Voice as a Nag! Finally she used her heaviest weapon - she sent me first lines and last lines in my dreams and during my morning walk. 
      The Muse accompanied me to Africa & India. She was perfectly willing to lend her voice to the goddesses and spirits I encountered. When I returned I was Writing Writing sending out poems for publication and Writing. I became a mentor at a high school (weave what you know into a new setting) but still Writing Writing. Seeing friends and arranging events. Always an activist. Always connecting to family. But mainly? Poetry.
     Write. Join a Writing Group of wonderful talented women.  Collaborate with Bill - his art/my words. Present our work. Weave our families together.  Write Write. Prepare a manuscript published by Fisher King Press & Read Read in public. Start writing a blog. Read Jung’s Red Book and write poems in response.  Write about a friend’s art.  Connect with a spiritual community. Join a Facebook community and learn an Amazing Amount. 
      Now I plan to go to the Congress of Women for Future Generation where a weaving of women will write a Bill of Rights for our descendants. I work on a book of poems by poets who write about Change write about Now about Connection. Write my own poems for this book and the Muse becomes Gaia  - Gaia becomes Muse.   
     Oh I know this may not be enough of an excuse. I know the voice said "Weave the Tree of Life" - but you know? I have been.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

The New Land

         Our friend Mark emailed me old photos of Detroit.  I could figure out exactly what year it was in one of the photos by recognizing the model year of the cars in the parking lot, which I can do because I'm from Motor City. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that the photo that most resonated with me was the menu of F.W Woolworth's soda fountain.  I think I ate everything on that menu that didn't have ham in or on it, at these low prices: 
BACON and TOMATO…………… 50c
  Toasted Three Decker Sandwich
(I had an agreement with God that bacon was OK outside the home if there was lettuce and tomato and toast with it. Alone it would be traif - unkosher).

That photo of the menu brought back this memory:
Deep winter, my friend Karen & I walk all the way from Greenlawn and Curtis to the State Fair Grounds on Eight Mile and Woodward to ice skate. Coming home at 4:30, it's getting dark, and even our layers of clothes won't protect us, it is so cold.  We are a little more than half-way, and there, finally,  is the Woolworth's on Seven Mile & Livernois.  We come in pulling off gloves, rubbing our hands, galoshes stomping the wooden floor.  

Renovated Woolworth Soda Fountain Asheville, N.C.
      We sit down on a red stool and take a little spin - just to make sure we have a good one. ( We will change if we don't.) We look out the window at snowflakes falling through the colored light from the neon sign. We watch the waitress make our order. And there it is in the photo of the menu

   It is remarkably strange to have grown up in a vital “city of the future”, characterized by dynamism and industry, and know it is now a post-industrial wasteland.   

William Livingstone house photo by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
   Have you seen the photos of the ruins of Detroit? Empty high- rises, the ghost of the  Beaux Arts Michigan Central Station, decaying mansions, and the population halved since I left. There is a general atmosphere of despair -
but a strange and rather wonderful thing has been  happening there.  

Let me tell you about it with a poem.
 The New Land

You’ve heard of that city
It had an affair
with concrete and steel 
the machine was their lovechild
they named it Advance
and how could it not
be the future?
That city was my first home

     Have you heard it’s in ruins?

Next to 40 stories of abandoned smashed-glass skyscraper
and the startled remains of a Beaux-Arts station where
the 20th Century Limited pulled in and men and women
in hats and suits hired porters in perfectly shined shoes
Next to that  
                     long blocks of empty lots   
I’ve been gone too long to know how the day-to-day goes  
But it’s a Black city now   no supermarkets settle in 
and nothing fresh comes from a liquor store
So the women go to the vacant spaces   clean up the shards  
the bullets    the needles
hoe   plow  weed  seed and feed the ground that belongs
to no one   put in tomatoes  corn   greens   potatoes   
And the earth knows they are listening
says “Barter”   says “Seed exchange”     says “Saturday market”

Outside of the churches   among the early sprouts
they say prayers for the crop   grandaddy’s hymn and Gaia hip-hop
arms reaching  not skyward
but down 
toward the rich  reconsecrated land
of Detroit




Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Plane Tree & the Woman Born of a Doe

Plane Tree in Winter  Bill Fulton Photos
       Every year the Plane tree across the street re-leafs later. It's May and there is just a bare hint of that new early chartreuse. Every year I ask myself "What if there were no new leaves, if the tree couldn’t do the labor of creating buds any longer?" I love the Plane tree's canopy. It spreads across the street where I have lived for 20 years, and gives such an abundance of green. It reminds me of the street where I grew up in Detroit, the elms forming a long meet-in-the-middle tunnel the length of the block.  Here in California lush greenness is spring-brief, then the rains stop and the hills slowly turn brown.

       Yesterday a neighbor said Peter-the-Tree-Man wants to take the tree out, it’s sick, it’s old, it’s dying - and I am close to tears. The neighbor says “So things die, trees die, they’ll plant another one”, and I give him my try-smile, say “See you later” and walk away.  I’ve learned that trying to get this neighbor, who loves all art that tribes create, to care deeply for these plane trees, or take in what they mean to me, is a poor use of my time.  

     Bill & I have dealt with diseased plants. We were able to save our pear tree. When the blackened leaves that give the disease its name, ‘fire-blight’, appeared, we knew we would not give the tree up easily, and we treated and pruned and special-fed - and yes, talked to it (sang actually) and it lived. It seems to be hard for me to remember that plants, as living things, have life cycles and illness - they are not forever, as art can be, though even art is subject to decay.
A few years ago, at the temples of Angkor Wat I wrote:
Tree Growing out of  Temple  Bill Fulton Photos
 The silent struggle of rock and root.
Huge trees growing out of temple stones.
What doesn’t grow cannot free itself.
What cannot die will outlast roots.
     And speaking of art, I’ve been working on a poem based on Kiki Smith’s art. Again. I hadn’t looked at the book of her work for a while and felt that it still held another poem. Ah the bronze of those sculptures, the endurance of metal. One sculpture is a woman stepping out of the body of a wolf,  the other is a woman born of a doe, her feet still held in the deer's birth passage.
Kiki Smith, Rapture, property of the artist/Pace Wildenstein Gallery
Kiki Smith, 2002,  Born, Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund
They are preserved for as long as what-cannot-die doesn’t succomb to rust. Perhaps that is a part of my love of art - its endurance. The ability to conserve, to preserve, to restore, to renovate. Unlike the tree, there is no given limit to its time. But then I look again, and I see that the woman stepping out of the wolf is just on the brink, but can never be fully free, and a woman has been born of a doe, but that silent, fleet beauty will hold her feet forever.

      The visual arts are caught at the moment, in the metaphor, as a symbol. The beautiful butterfly Smith has created in one sculpture will remain - but the butterfly's power for us includes the stages it went through on the way to becoming. And of course all art is not beautiful. I am reading David Grossman’s novel To the End of the Land. It is an anguished tale that gathers you into itself and takes you on a journey that is fraught, and one doubts the possibility of redemption before the journey ends - and should the journey/book even be completed?

     I cannot abandon the natural world for art, though I know many have done it, and I taught alongside them.  I cannot abandon art, cannot stop reading what I need to know, because it may cause anguish. I must live in both worlds, and suffer the pain I will feel when Peter tears down that tree limb from limb. When I’m walking I will not see that canopy from a distance, not see the winter sunset between its bare branches, when the sky is stained glass and the tree is the black leading.

    Just as I must both suffer what is happening to the earth and still enjoy the beauty of the planet. I must hold the opposites.  Over and over life gives me more possibilities to learn that. To practice it. Who knows what the next challenge will be.

  Metamorph  ising

                           for the artist Kiki Smith

Metamorphosis means more than once
as it is with egg  larva  pupa  butterfly
as it is with some lives when larval stripes
and slow ripple are shed again and again
then comes the mimicry of dead leaf
till finally chrysalis splits  and out flutters
wet-winged splendor

I saw a woman born of a doe
I saw a woman step out of the body of a wolf
There is return

Gaia I know you are wounded
it is hard for you to breathe
I dreamed you shed your scarred
strip mined surface
and underneath was skin
the pink of healing

Now you must rest
and all of us   wolf  doe
woman  man  become pupa 
In our silk cocoons
we wait


Monday, April 9, 2012

Lynn & Leah: A Dialogue in Art & Poetry

John Lund  photo ©2009 JLW Images
        I had the pleasure last month of spending an afternoon in the gallery of Lynn Alicia Franco's home, among her multimedia sculptures.  I wrote about her art, which had captured the heart of my sometimes finicky muse. We decided that I would do a blog of her art and my poems. 
              Lynn Alicia is a Jungian psychoanalyst, and besides her private analytic practice, 
              she teaches, supervises and consults for The Psychotherapy Institute in Berkeley, 
              and for candidates and interns at the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco.                                                                       

Bill Fulton Photos

What if you could sculpt whatever you dreamed?                        
What if your voice spoke in clay
the way some speak in numbers  
the way I siphon ink from tears and the sea?                                
What if all that you dreamed
couldn’t be shaped in clay 
couldn’t be fired?
What if it needed grain
needed the density of a growing thing?
What if you could also carve wood  
and join wood to clay 
as earth is joined to tree   
and still keep the fire?

John Lund  photo ©2009 JLW Image

                A Good Catch

     Of course you sculpted the pelican
     with a fish in its mouth
     golden fish   treasurefish
     Of course I must write
     about hunger
     about the skimming flight   the dive
     the misses  

     His fishline arcs  goes taut  
           tight pull of lifestruggle
                golden fish   treasurefish
                     bringing it home



John Lund  photo ©2009 JLW Images




             You travel among tribes
             where weavers star
             in the play of identity
             and O those intricate designs!
             You sculpt a man with a ceramic belt
             patterned in a hieroglyph of clay bits
             Is this a code? Is there a key
             to your language?


 Naked  not nude 
    What is the difference?
         A man paints  sculpts   gazes
               at nudes
A woman makes herself
                 To make a self
And here you are
                      a bare Medusa-headed
                         surf rider on a drift of wood
                            with seashell pink
                                 ceramic wings 
                                    Or are they fins?
                                         Either way
                                               you fly!
John Lund  photo ©2009 JLW Images


John Lund  photo ©2009 JLW Image
A Pair of Ravens
Medievals believed 
the pelican                         
pecked her own breast
to feed her children

Bird as symbol   bird as Christ
Here one raven pecks 
the chest of another 
till the heart is exposed
And we humans know who does that

don't we?

John Lund  photo ©2009 JLW Images
                                                 Death & the BuddhaBabe

                                                           The clay hand
                                                       large enough to hold
                                                      a cracked human skull
                                                         has soiled knuckles
                                                             dirt under nails
                                                            as if it dug   hard
                                                              and gloveless
                                                             into the grave
                                                             hand and skull
                                                              a roselipped
                                                             and on his cheek
                                                                a crystal tear

                                                            Oh  I almost forgot
                                                          the BuddhaBabe’s arms
                                                            are raised in surrender                               

Bill Fulton Photos


Part goat  part man
Lynn’s Pan                 
relaxes on the mantle                                                   
one leg crossed over the other
shaggychested  shaggyhoofed
and yes the lower arms  the hands
are hairy   but what about the….
I get up and
look between his legs
and he’s all man
Pan  pandemonium  panic
I  call it
wildhearted glee



Saturday, March 17, 2012

Edgewalkers* and the Wild Heart

 Many years ago I wrote:
“We walk upright and apart
 divorced from our wild heart”
and though it says “we” it was my own wild heart I was lamenting.

     Recently, in the rain forest of Chiapas, I rediscovered my ‘wild heart’. I called it ‘alegria’, and experienced it as a sweetness and joy and freedom and presence in the moment. And fearlessness.

     I will be 70 next year. I want to live the rest of my life open to my wild heart. I ask myself what I have to change, what I have to give up, and what does wildness really mean?                                                                

The cultural ecologist David Abram says that
“Wildness is the earthy, untamed undomes-ticated state of things - open-ended, improvisational, moving according to its own boisterous logic. That which is wild is not really out of control, it is simply out of our control. Wildness is not a state of disorder, but a condition whose order is not imposed from the outside. Wild land follows its own order, its own Tao, its own inherent way in the world.”    

     That last line strikes me. Couldn’t it be rewritten to apply to ourselves? The wild heart follows its own order, its own Tao, its own inherent way in the world. Isn’t that what Jung meant by individuation?

     And what does it mean to write from a wild heart? Does it mean you are free from the collective, free of influence?  I never want to be free of empathy. 

'Figure with Black Torso'

     Recently we saw an exhibit of the ceramic sculpture of Stephen de Staebler. When he was young, he was guided by a love of ancient art - Egyptian sarcophagi, Mayan temples, medieval funerary art.  He discarded these influences as he began to explore his own personal imagery and history. His work fuses rock and remnants of sculpture with the human body. His art became freer - it soared! He was creating from his own wild heart.             

     Must we begin creating from the Outside? I think of our friend Lynn Franco, who, from the beginning of her work in ceramic sculpture, created spontaneously from her dreams and psyche. It isn’t all ‘alegria’.  When the wild heart suffers, the inner world opens.        
'Broken Lady'
     Inside. Outside. Some of us are at the center of our fields, our art form, our social and political work, and some bring change in from the edge. I learned a great deal about the role of Outsiders from Linda Schele.  
  In a taped interview she talked about how her contributions to our knowledge of the Maya came about.  When she first visited the temples of Palenque in Mexico, she was an artist who taught studio art. She fell in love with Palenque, with the Mayan world - and changed her life to study and
understand it.

     At that time the central figures in Mayan archeology and epigraphy, academics from Yale & Harvard, were unable to move forward. There was no real progress in deciphering Mayan writing,  history or mythology, because their Standard Model couldn’t be challenged.

     It was Linda Schele, along with a few others, who broke the Mayan code, interpreted the history of the rulers of Palenque, and discovered the astonishing fact that Mayan myth is a mirror of the constellations in the  night sky.
     Linda called herself an Edgewalker. Edgewalkers push the box, and change its shape. They may do their work in more than one field, or straddle two cultures. They are the ChangeBringers, who force people to ask different questions, and provide answers that were never considered. Their lack of Traditional Expertise is the very qualification that allows them to break through to new territory.

     Linda Schele had a wild heart. She had a passion for the Maya, and the fearlessness of an outsider unafraid to trespass on the center’s accepted truths.

      I have always been an Edgewalker, and I think of the Edgewalkers I know or know of: David Abrams,  Carolyn Raffensperger, an attorney and founder of SEHN, whose Precautionary Principle is influencing the center,  Mel Mathews of Fisher King Press, my visionary publisher, Terry Tempest Williams, writer, poet and environmentalist, and so many others in the arts, science, politics……..

     I worry less that Yeats “Center does not hold.” I am counting on the wild-hearted Edgewalkers to take us forward.

Sha Sha Higby Artist/Performer

 * The term Edgewalker is the title of a video interview of Linda Schele made in 1998, and released in 2010. A book with that title was published by Judi Neal in 2006.