cell phone self-portrait

cell phone self-portrait
things are looking up

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The River is Famous

I love this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to the silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it,
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men,
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it did.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


I've been sighing a lot today --- I think it's just a little Spring fever, a little restlessness, a little too much Mexican food at lunch.
That little frog to my left: he looks like Spring, I thought. So today's theme is frogs. I don't know why. Check out the cartoon. Hee hee. Whew; that brings back memories of slimy afternoons in biology lab and the smell of formaldehyde and trying to figure out what all those frog innards were. I've provided a frog skeletal view for anyone who is interested.

And now a conservationist poem from a Mississippi writer, Luke Wallin (sorry I couldn't keep the poem's original structure):

A Few Words From the Frog Highway

If I could leave you just two words, then you would know your simian soul the way I know my older one, reptilian-fine, sensitivo-so.These are the last hot days of Earth, with all life bathed in the light of death, with your skin foul, so thick and dry, yielding up To the dermo knife, to the laser gun. My tribe lives in the deep green shade, in moisture breath of ground and leaves, our delicate membranes pass the word --from swamp to heart, from breeze to mind; We knew the ancient balance well, from the bedrock’s cold to the sun’s red fire. We know when to Leap a toad, or float so still in the lily lake, its yellow flowers drinking moon, the air abuzz with gifts for lightning tongues. We see air conditioned walls, your speeding cars, your bodies wrapped. We understand that the time grows shortand the water’s gas, and the land is paved--We know how much shade is lost.But I’m not here to bring you down, my mission calls forjust two words, two lovely words with a vision thing, and it’scheap and easy, you’ll admit, make it part of yourPolitics, all that reverb lipsinc feedback. Here’s the deal, if you like our songs, ourSunglasses, our bug control. If you want to see uson the scene, here’s the way you want to go:Just cover Earth with wide green trails,Shady and wet in a Worldwide Web. Tie the net together in a round round map, Outfit the planet for Slideby travel.Think you’ve got it? You greedy-eyed mammals. Reachyour reptile’s underbrain, down in your Heartshade, down in your music. Inside you lives an old old bullfrog, a billion years of Memories and a feeling for the stars. It wouldn’t cost you very much, each could add a little,Frogways up the countryside from pond to shining pond. Two words, Apefolk, try to remember. Focus all your body heat onFrog Highway.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Dreaming I'm a Butterfly

"Am I a man dreaming I am a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?"
Lao-Tzu, Chinese Philosopher

Today I'm thinking about dreams for more than one reason. First of all, I dreamed last night that I ate a bird --- a small bird, live. I began to spit out blood and feathers, and finally a small beak. It was quite disturbing. I wonder what it means.

Secondly, I'm thinking about how to make dreams come true. Some people say its all about visualization. You make it happen in your mind first, and then the reality will follow. So for the next hour, I'm going to visualize something positive happening today, and see how it turns out: for instance, I'm thinking: today I won't bite my nails or my cuticles, I'll feel confident and capable, I'll finish my faculty performance management document, and my visit with P. will go extremely well. Is that too much to visualize at once, though? And would these actually qualify as dreams? Let's consult the dictionary.

dream: 1) a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep 2) an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream 3) a visionary creation of the imagination: daydream 4) a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality: reverie 5) an object seen in a dreamlike state: vision 6) something notable for its beauty, excellence, or enjoyable quality 7) a strongly desired goal or purpose 8) something that fully satisfies a wish: ideal 9) to appear tranquil 10) to consider as a possibility: imagine 11) to pass time in inaction 12) to consider possible or fitting.

Well, my goodness --- with that many definitions, I suppose my list fits in there somewhere. Going back to my dream about eating a bird, I am wondering if it has to do with the fact that one of my cats is missing, and by now she hasn't had any cat food (at least any of my cat food) for several days, so I imagine if she's lost she's eating birds. Which makes me feel bad. I miss her and want her to come back. So I'm going to envision her coming back, being at home when I get there today.

Do cats eat butterflies? That would lend a whole new interpretation to Lao's concern and my own. :>)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

My Latest Poem, a Sestina

For those who are interested, a sestina is "a poem with six stanzas of six lines each and a concluding stanza of three lines. The last word of each line in the first stanza appears as the last word of a line in each of the next five stanzas but in a different order. In the final (three-line) stanza, each line ends with one of these six words, and each line includes in the middle of the line one of the other three words." This is my first effort, so what I have produced is probably just a version of a sestina, not completely true to form --- but it was fun. I encourage anyone who reads this to try writing one. The cool thing is that you discover you have more connections to the chosen words than you might think, and that images and ideas begin to emerge once you focus on the words. I was surprised by what came out of my subconscious as I fashioned this poem, and what I learned about myself.

Sestina from the new Garden of Eden

Today I have set my feet upon a rock
Where things are solid and I can see the sun glisten
And I ask, if I was taken from Adam’s rib
What, then, is the proper food for my soul to eat,
Considering I am carved like wood
Into this womanhood, and I want to run

Like a long-distance runner in a marathon, I want to run
Until my body becomes my own, strong as a rock,
No danger from emotional termites eating into my body’s wood
Until I shine, until I glisten
Until they offer me food and I don’t want to eat
Until I say to Adam I want to be formed from my own rib

Or from the rib of a higher being, not from a man’s rib
As if I emerged from masculinity, as if from that comes my energy to run
Or my impulses, drives, compulsions, hungers, choices about what to eat
Are based on something other than my own deepest needs, my own inner rock
Which is becoming jewelized, a petrified forest log that will glisten
And carry its memories of a former time when it was less glorious wood

When it was primeval, raw, with few rings and it echoed, hollow wood
And its center was all scent and fiber and texture and fastened to the earth like a rib
And there was no light there in its middle earth, no place where the light would glisten
And animals played around it, climbed it, tunneled into it, a safe place to run
There was nothing human for miles, no conversation, no mental rock
No desire, no eruptions, no precipitation, no plans for meals to eat

Before my soul grew and stretched and changed my desire to eat
Before my heart grew stubborn like wood
Before night fell and sun rose and water came from the rock
And the spine of my being needed no rib
Because it was weightless and could slide or fly or run
And angels carried it, carried me, and my soul heart spine began to glisten

Oh and it was glorious, this being-in-nothingness, this one to glisten
This one with an appetite for meaning, for words to eat
For miles to travel, for people to touch, for distance to run
For lakes to ride across, effortlessly, like a hollow wood
For sounds to break free from my spirit’s throat like whistling through a broken rib
Like Sisyphus pushing to the top, without the unbearable struggle, the rock

And I became free to fully understand, to breathe, to run,
Glisten like a rock, seat myself in a ceremonial position to eat
at the wood altar, upon which lies Adam’s rib.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Unicorns, Fire Escapes, and Candles

I'm planning to teach my favorite play, The Glass Menagerie, this week, and so I am re-thinking the symbols featured in the play: the unicorn, for instance. That magical, ethereal, remote beast we would all like to discover wandering around in our backyards. Its coiled horn, which is called an "alicorn," contains a remedy for poison. Its tears are supposed to heal a broken heart. I think of Kenny Loggins' version of "The Last Unicorn" and the song's haunting lyrics:


When the last eagle flies Over the last crumbling mountain And the last lion roars At the last dusty fountain In the shadow of the forest Though she may be old and worn They will stare unbelieving At the Last Unicorn When the first breath of winter Throughout the flowers is icing And you look to the north And a pale moon is rising And it seems like all is dying And would leave the world to mourn In the distance hear her laughter It's the Last Unicorn I'm alive... I'm alive When the last moon is cast Over the last star of morning And the future is past Without even a last desparate warning Then look into the sky where through The clouds a path is formed Look and see her how she sparkles It's the Last Unicorn I'm alive... I'm alive.

The song seems relevant when I think about the character of Laura Wingfield, who collects little glass figurines, her favorite of which is a unicorn, and who lives largely in a world of her own. She is like the unicorn, also, because she has a distinguising characteristic --- a limp that she feels separates her from the other girls and classifies her as a "cripple." At the same time, Laura is ethereal and lovely and full of grace --- and mysterious, like the unicorn. Once the horn on her glass unicorn is broken, however, he becomes like all the other horses, and the magic is broken. Laura's heart will not be healed. Since I'm not very likely to come across a unicorn today who will let me hop on her back and take me away from my heartache and troubles, a second metaphor to examine is the fire escape, which serves as a porch for the Wingfield family in The Glass Menagerie. One of my favorite scenes from the 1987 film version features Tom (John Malkovitch) and Amanda (Joanne Woodard) on the fire escape. Malkovitch is so sexy in this scene. When he first steps out on the fire escape, he says to the audience,

"Across the alley from us was the Paradise Dance Hall. On evenings in spring the windows and doors were open and the music came outdoors. Sometimes the lights were turned out except for a large glass sphere that hung from the ceiling. It would turn slowly about and filter the dusk with delicate rainbow colors. Then the orchestra played a waltz or a tango, something that had a slow and sensuous rhythm. Couples would come outside, to the relative privacy of the alley. You could see them kissing behind ashpits and telephone poles. This was the compensation for lives that passed like mine, without any change or adventure."

I can't say that mine has been a life without change or adventure. I've had plenty of both. I also can't say, however, that these bring happiness. Still, it's a romantic idea --- a fire escape. I'd like to have a mental fire escape. Perhaps I do: meditation.

Finally, there is the symbol of the candle in the Glass Menagerie. That painful scene in which Tom tells Laura to blow her candles out --- in other worlds, to live in the real, vivid world, which is the only world we have --- to abandon illusion. But also he seems to say please blow out your candles so that I cannot see you and keep searching for you everywhere:

"I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches my shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes ... Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I meant to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger ---anything that can blow your candles out! --- for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! blow out your candles, Laura --- and so, goodbye ..."

I love candles. They do give the room an illusory glow --- and scented ones of course add ambience of a different kind. They can invite romance or stillness of the spirit. They can indicate a memorial or a prayer offering or a sort of mini-lighthouse.

Each of these symbols is complex and offers intellectual study and emotional impact. I'll be lingering over them today.