coterie

(The Mindy Project says

that psycho people can make friends. That I

can make friends that stick. I will run up stairs

to find them. Gamble for it. Dance in the dark.)

The girl who did my nails had bright blonde bangs

and we talked about “down the shore”. Maybe

I am actually from somewhere. Maybe I have a tribe.

My Delaware valley accent is back. Outside smells

like the Easter baskets Nana Wagar gave us that one year.

I’m under the gun again, but with so much home stored up here

I can get back on that motorcycle and cruise over these buttery roads.

Someday he will sing “Sha-la-la-la-in love with a Jersey girl!” and I

will be that girl. We will stack rocks at the Cape May sunset.

The band will play again. I will get splinters on the boardwalk,

hell, maybe even a spray tan. No one would judge me for it.

My wanderlust has been beaten, frozen out of my heart.

I just want to sleep till noon and wake up somewhere

safe. I want to give my kids

this sandy soil, as it pours through my manicured fingernails

and (no one called me “weird”.) they will pluck tulips

and yell,”tractor!” The old folks church will smile

and take them out to breakfast. (as they loved me.)

gator ride through the orchard (easter)

the tractor growled, and we flew down the hill,

twisting, turning through the trees

steering handle spinning as we snuck past the fence

“This is illegal, by the way”

the grandkids are screaming, half fear, half delight

that grandpa would do something so reckless.

mentally, I am careening back across that Arcade highway

the snowplow shatters us again! I snap back to reality

jolting, the grass is high and the road is rubble

the steep hill we are climbing, fast

like the road to Kidepo, soaring over the stony hills

swerving, sliding around in the loose shale

even the dirt matches, it is orange dust

and I am 12 years old again, home and free

after burning season, the grass comes back this green

and the ash leaves charcoal traces all over your white skin.

fair son (fort portal, summer 2013)

upon leaving, the last a terrible tirade

I wandered home, a great explorer from Europe

skin glowing without light, hair dark from too many shadows.

We slept on tinder, a great tree-built tradition

high in the elephant-grass hills.

the walk down to the lake beneath us was long,

and I burned my soles, arriving dusty to the enveloping tree shade

where I fell, over the rocks and into the murky greeny-brown

ka-splash silence

everything suspended for a moment

and break the surface to air again

still aching from a year of misunderstanding, my form

my frame, my body

just really wanted to win something, do it right for once

so I began kicking, arms pulling,

working every muscle till it burned

I slowly swam, the far shore my focus

rocky, looming, dramatic grey cliffs

it seemed hours, but I used the last bit of my strength

to heave myself out of the unknowable darkness

tearing skin from my arms and legs, I collapsed

heaving air into my diaphragm as I lay beneath swaying palm trees

bleeding onto the rocks, water and sweat diluting each drop

running from me in rivulets, soaking the fallen reeds

(I conquered fear of the unknown)

and I couldn’t see the far shore.

Ólafur Arnalds (song of the week)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cOr7JmcOas

Exquisite. One of my favourite composers. Take just five minutes to still yourself and soak in this song, in its simplicity. Dwell on it. Contemplate it. Stop yourself from switching tabs or checking your phone again, just settle and be quiet in this piece of artwork. Notice the details of the girl’s hair and eyes, the color of the flowers, the light on her hand. Focus on the beauty, let yourself encounter the sublime.

to my future kids.

There are a few things that I want my children to understand.

Now, I don’t have any children of my own. I don’t have any plans to have any in the foreseeable future. But kids have always been a significant part of my life, and I believe that one day I will have a house that is full of loud, crazy people and pets, since I have always gravitated towards such chaos. I really really want to raise children to love things that I have come to love – not force their interest or anything, just sometimes I get really excited when I think about the possibility that one day I could share these amazing pieces of my life with them.

I want these kids to understand why swimming in the river out back of Natedewai village is amazing. The river is not always there, since it’s dependent on the seasonal rainfall, but when it is it is full of mudfishes and bugs and sand. Swimming in it this past summer was unbelievable. Floating along in the current clinging to a capped jerrycan, with eddies of latte-coloured water twisting about my limbs, the thought struck me in an almost desperate way, as thoughts sometimes do when I’m afraid I’ll forget the meaning behind them: My children need to understand this.

I want my children to understand the feeling of free air, open windows, and why riding in the back of the pickup or motorcycle is the best place to be. In the western world, climate control always has freaked me out. You move from bubble to bubble, where everything is perfectly adjusted and culture whispers that you are the center of the universe. At home, my favourite place to be was always in the way back of the pickup, with my hands to the sun and my hair being thrashed about my face in the breeze – NOT perfectly straightened and sculpted to look a certain way, free to just be. They have a saying in Uganda: “be free”. Not just “feel free”, the way Americans say, BE free. That really makes me happy, for I think it says a lot about the place. I want my kids to be free within and without, to understand the love of warm and cold weather, and to value the untamed in nature and in themselves.

I want to teach my children the love of music. Not in an academic, theoretical way, necessarily, just the warm comfort that I now feel when I listen to my “parent’s music”. Now, it’s not the typical mom-and-dad kind of music. No cheesy love ballads or awkward annoying pop songs. Rich traditional Irish music that never ever ever grows old, that I listen to when I’m feeling sad. My parents taught me a real love for that music – even though I don’t understand it completely, I absolutely love listening to the dusky voices of Dick Gaughan and Paul Brady, the violins of Altan and Kevin Burke, and so on. There are some things that should never grow old, and this is one of them. Irish music is just a tiny facet of the world of art they introduced me to in a way that encouraged me to explore it for myself, though I am a paltry musician at best. I want my children to understand a love for the artistic creations of humankind – not in a fluffy pop sense, but a real deep love that will never leave them even if I do someday.

I want to love my children with the love of God. I want them to understand that love and be filled with it. I wish with all my heart that I could meet them now and just hang out and talk about life, but that’s not how the system works, so I will love them all the way from the beginning of our relationship to the end. I will pour the spirit over them in every way I can and work ceaselessly to build for them a foundation of family love that is rooted in the Lord first and foremost. For nothing is more important to me than this.

I cannot wait to meet them.

yesterday’s biology lab

Our professor walked us out to the forest trails on the edge of our campus and hands us each this:

IMG_2303This lab was all about appreciating and respecting that which surrounded us as much as it was about learning the names and technical terms of everything. This poem is rather long, but I would ask you to have patience with it and take a few minutes to meditate upon this ancient, beautiful work which so aptly characterizes my personal feelings about the woods.

IMG_2296

The groves were God’s first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them,—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,

IMG_2418

Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influences,

IMG_2379Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once

IMG_2367

All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world’s riper years, neglect
God’s ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs,

IMG_2361

That our frail hands have raised? Let me, at least,
Here, in the shadow of this aged wood,
Offer one hymn—thrice happy, if it find
Acceptance in His ear.
Father, thy hand
Hath reared these venerable columns, thou
Didst weave this verdant roof. Thou didst look down

IMG_2317
Upon the naked earth, and, forthwith, rose
All these fair ranks of trees. They, in thy sun,
Budded, and shook their green leaves in the breeze,
And shot towards heaven. The century-living crow,
Whose birth was in their tops, grew old and died
Among their branches, till, at last, they stood,
As now they stand, massy, and tall, and dark,
Fit shrine for humble worshipper to hold
Communion with his Maker. These dim vaults,

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These winding aisles, of human pomp and pride
Report not. No fantastic carvings show
The boast of our vain race to change the form
Of thy fair works. But thou art here—thou fill’st
The solitude. Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
In music; thou art in the cooler breath

IMG_2460

IMG_2527
That from the inmost darkness of the place
Comes, scarcely felt; the barky trunks, the ground,
The fresh moist ground, are all instinct with thee.
Here is continual worship;—Nature, here,
In the tranquility that thou dost love,
Enjoys thy presence. Noiselessly, around,

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From perch to perch, the solitary bird
Passes; and yon clear spring, that, midst its herbs,
Wells softly forth and wandering steeps the roots
Of half the mighty forest, tells no tale
Of all the good it does. Thou hast not left
Thyself without a witness, in these shades,

IMG_2418
Of thy perfections. Grandeur, strength, and grace
Are here to speak of thee. This mighty oak—
By whose immovable stem I stand and seem
Almost annihilated—not a prince,
In all that proud old world beyond the deep,

IMG_2448
E’er wore his crown as lofty as he
Wears the green coronal of leaves with which
Thy hand has graced him. Nestled at his root
Is beauty, such as blooms not in the glare
Of the broad sun. That delicate forest flower
With scented breath, and look so like a smile,
Seems, as it issues from the shapeless mould,
An emanation of the indwelling Life,
A visible token of the upholding Love,
That are the soul of this wide universe.

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My heart is awed within me when I think
Of the great miracle that still goes on,
In silence, round me—the perpetual work
Of thy creation, finished, yet renewed
Forever. Written on thy works I read
The lesson of thy own eternity.

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Lo! all grow old and die—but see again,
How on the faltering footsteps of decay
Youth presses—-ever gay and beautiful youth
In all its beautiful forms. These lofty trees
Wave not less proudly that their ancestors
Moulder beneath them. Oh, there is not lost
One of earth’s charms: upon her bosom yet,

IMG_2399
After the flight of untold centuries,
The freshness of her far beginning lies
And yet shall lie. Life mocks the idle hate
Of his arch enemy Death—yea, seats himself
Upon the tyrant’s throne—the sepulchre,
And of the triumphs of his ghastly foe
Makes his own nourishment. For he came forth
From thine own bosom, and shall have no end.

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There have been holy men who hid themselves
Deep in the woody wilderness, and gave
Their lives to thought and prayer, till they outlived
The generation born with them, nor seemed
Less aged than the hoary trees and rocks
Around them;—and there have been holy men
Who deemed it were not well to pass life thus.

IMG_2359But let me often to these solitudes
Retire, and in thy presence reassure
My feeble virtue. Here its enemies,
The passions, at thy plainer footsteps shrink
And tremble and are still. Oh, God! when thou
Dost scare the world with falling thunderbolts, or fill,
With all the waters of the firmament,

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The swift dark whirlwind that uproots the woods
And drowns the village; when, at thy call,
Uprises the great deep and throws himself
Upon the continent, and overwhelms
Its cities—who forgets not, at the sight
Of these tremendous tokens of thy power,
His pride, and lays his strifes and follies by?

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Oh, from these sterner aspects of thy face
Spare me and mine, nor let us need the wrath
Of the mad unchained elements to teach
Who rules them. Be it ours to meditate,
In these calm shades, thy milder majesty,
And to the beautiful order of the works
Learn to conform the order of our lives.

IMG_2616

– William Cullen Bryant, 1824

phone call home

the dead air lightens

with familiar voice,

“hello?”

 –

eyes glaze, I am

sitting on the cracked countertop

chai in hand,

– their intonation, so well-known,

takes me straight into that warm Sunday night, believing after Bible study.

as they speak, i see

the way she tosses her hair when she laughs

his crooked, Han Solo smile

Mom’s ticking steps through the halls

her upper lip curled under in her wide smile, the way it always does

when she’s really laughing – the way that I am now,

as they know just what to say.

 –

Mid-joke, mid-laugh, the line cuts.

 I am holding an empty shell of metal and plastic to my face

straining, yearning

as the memories fade

and I am alone again in this icy silence, so much

colder after a breath of warm air.

Blindness/Modern Art

Last night, as some friends and I sat at dinner, the conversation turned to the various paintings that hung on the walls nearby. I was surprised by the deep degree of loathing that was expressed towards these works of art, primarily from individuals that had little to no knowledge or interest in any kind of painting. Finally, one of them leaned back and said, “I just HATE modern art.”

What.

I stared at him in shock. My disbelief mistaken for offense, he apologized and tried to explain.

This is like a colorblind person saying they hate the color red. They don’t see it or understand it and aren’t trying to do so. They can’t see the various shades – magenta is red, ochre is red. There may be something within that huge category that they do not find appealing, but that doesn’t encompass all within it.

The whole purpose of modern art is throwing aside all traditions and presuppositions for the sake of experimentation. And some of those experiments are amazing. It’s taking control over the elements of art and creating absolutely whatever the artist has in mind. It is total and complete freedom of expression.

This is modern art:

3871299424_32f006b910

This is modern art:

https://i0.wp.com/www.chictip.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/STORM____LEONID_AFREMOV_by_Leonidafremov.jpg

This is modern art:

https://i0.wp.com/www.kaemmerart.com/fap_broadband_2005/images/05_dc_duchamp.jpg

This is modern art:

https://i0.wp.com/www.paintinghere.com/UploadPic/Salvador%20Dali/big/Ascension.jpg

This is modern art:

https://i0.wp.com/www.students.sbc.edu/kitchin04/artandexpression/Pollock1948%5B1%5D.jpg

This is modern art:

File:Paul Cézanne, Pyramid of Skulls, c. 1901.jpg

I’m not saying it’s all amazing. I’m not saying it’s all perfect. But it is BEAUTY, and the idea behind the works is freedom.

So please don’t write off modern art.

Carl Sandburg – Mask

FLING your red scarf faster and faster, dancer.
It is summer and the sun loves a million green leaves,
masses of green.
Your red scarf flashes across them calling and a-calling.
The silk and flare of it is a great soprano leading a
chorus
Carried along in a rouse of voices reaching for the heart
of the world.
Your toes are singing to meet the song of your arms:

Let the red scarf go swifter.
Summer and the sun command you.