June 2017 Archives
I walked to the top of the driveway after sunset to see the bright color behind the silhouetted trees. The fireflies were bright spots in the wet, dark green of deep shade. The only problem with doing this project is that it makes me acutely aware of the longest day and so now the shortening days.Bounding wet dark
and the fields are wet too,
the grass, the questions
we press together to answer.
You are the last candle from the barn
I blow out. Sunday wish,
we are alive
only a short time. What is the purpose
of a field if not to lie in it
--Jacques J. Rancourt, from "Bounding Wet Dark," Novena (Pleiadas Press, 2017)
When I make my poem plates I root through the boxes of my mother's archives. She had a poetry group that met periodically and I find xeroxed versions of poems paper-clipped together. There are also hand scribbled versions and revisions. I transcribe her words through sifted ash or clay and print them so they end up reversed in the clay. I take the insubstantial words that came from my mother's mind and press them into the shape of a plate. Her life feeds mine. Her words create shadows of lines, direction, and song in clay.
A writer's work
is with the insubstantial word,
the image that can only find
its being in another's mind.
We work with water, with the wind,
we make and hold no thing at all.
All we can ever shape or sing
the tremor of an untouched string,
a shift of shadows on the wall.
-- Ursula K. Le Guin, from "Writers," Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 20012)
It's my birthday today and instead of doing anything special I have been doing mundane things like going to the dump. I also found a poem about apples that made me think of my mom. Images of her pregnant with my younger brother have been popping into my mind as I clean and organize. I have been thinking about how she makes my birthday possible; how when I was pregnant with Zoë my perspective on birthdays dramatically shifted.
So I moved a yellow daylily in my mom's honor. She had bought me various daylily varieties when we first bought our land and I am now slowly shifting a flowerbed. The lily in my mom's memory reminded me of spreading lilies when we spread her ashes. At that time she been losing her memory. She would lose the salad, new potatoes from the farmers' market, names and keys. Making drawings of apples and geraniums was her best connection to the moment. So much better than cleaning for the onset of family visitors. When we were in Maine the place and way we lived reminded her of her childhood memories of camp. She would tell us over and over about going to summer camp. I remember wanting to walk and write about all the stories she told me but that was the year that I realized her memory of recent activity was gone. Her memories of camp were more vibrant than the name of a friend. When we walked I had to let go of who she had been before. My way of relating to her was outdated. She taught me to be in the present moment. She taught me to look at the lilies, the sunset and the lit candles at dinner. She taught me to love children's books and to take time to put flowers in a cup on a table. Reading her poems now almost thirteen years after her death reminds me how outdated my thinking was when she was alive. I didn't understand how much she understood and how much she captured in her poems.Summer Apples
I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .
they're so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear--it is pie that she wants.
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core--
to that little cathedral to memory--where
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
--Cathryn Essinger. Her most recent book is What I Know About Innocence from Main Street Rag Press.
I ended the day by digging up my garlic. I remember four years ago standing on the edge of a trip while the kiln cooled. I was undecided, was it too soon to pull my garlic? In the end I decided it was better to be early rather than too late. The planned five day get-away turned into three weeks as I sat with my dad who had had a heart attack. He hung on for a bit and finally passed away. My dad always thought father's day was a corny Hallmark contrivance, but I am happy to honor all the Dads in our orbit. Twas lovely to have a surprise visit from our daughter and her fiance, to linger on the porch and to jump in the pond as if it is full-on summer.
What matters is precisely this; the unspoken at the edge of the spoken.
-- Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry, 21 July 1912
Today was the kind of humid Virginia day that makes you feel that you are parting the air when you walk. The day began with rain and wet grass then moved through puffy clouds into great breezes. But when you went to lift something or dig or walk the air moved in to fill the space behind you, a reminder that summer heat was at your back. Late in the day we moseyed to the pond with the intention of a dog walk. Yet the light was so perfect in its reflection and the breezes cooling with our feet in the water there was no reason to go anywhere else. Dinner on the porch with freshly dug new potatoes and a few other tasty bits was perfect punctuation for keeping our lives whole.In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body's been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
-Mark Strand, "Keeping Things Whole"
Paulus Berensohn died yesterday. I have been thinking a lot about my own path, cleaning the studio and gallery, seeing cycles of work, habits of thought and the cycle of seasons. I took some time to flip back through his book Finding One's Way with Clay. It reminds me that when I first read it I thought I had to make a choice in what to study, whether it was dance, painting or pottery. Paulus' book and his life experience gave me an inkling that it was possible to let each discipline inform the next. A kinetic understanding of the material thinking involved in making pottery (the dance) is combined with the visual expression of an image (the painting) which in turn is informed by the potter's intimacy with clay. This three part mix is enriching, each vantage point contributing to a dynamic interaction.
"There was no plan. What felt like stumbling as I lived it now appears to
have its own logic, its own thread. Dancing took me to an appreciation
for the movement of throwing clay. The exposure to clay's life story and
it's energy slowed me to the intimacy of pinching, to no selling or
exhibiting my work by giving it away or tithing it back to the earth"
--from an oral history interview by Mark Shapiro with Paulus Berensohn, March 20-21, 2009
On Sunday night we went to a party in Pittsboro, North Carolina at the potter Mark Hewitt's house. I had last been there twenty years ago. The intrusion of time made its presence known. I remember when we last visited Zoë was seven. She spent the night at her baby sitter's house here in Warrenton after school and it was fun for Warren and I to drive south instead of north. It was fun to have a night away from home and child and to imagine what if we had moved to North Carolina instead of Virginia. We made it in time
for a late lunch at a long table outside with apprentices and friends. It was situated
beautifully by his garden with big pitchers of water and a huge salad with hearty
bread. The chairs were of different shapes and sizes. The tablecloth was checkered
and soft as if it had been used many times. It seemed casual yet carefully
orchestrated. Mark was having a museum opening that night which we attended and then afterwards to a dinner. We stayed the night at a motel.
I had first met Mark when I was twenty and he was the apprentice to a famous potter in England. I had hitchhiked to Devon, England and walked the last few kilometers to Michael
Cardew's house. It was down a beautiful country lane and the first thing I encountered was this tall young man with curly brown hair carrying two big pitchers of water back to the house. He invited me in and we had a simple lunch with tea. He let me wander around the pottery while he went back to work. Michael was away and Mark let me know that as an apprentice it was not all potting. There was lots of garden chores and household up-keep. I think he was weeding that day as well as recycling clay. At the end of a lovely afternoon he drove me to a beautiful youth hostel on the coast where the sun was setting. The hostel was full, but they let me pull out my sleeping bag in a shed on an old mattress and use the bathroom to brush my teeth and the kitchen to make some tea to have with my cheese and bread. It was the time in my life when I was traveling with a backpack and a notebook looking for the way to my path in life. I had a dream of becoming an apprentice but after meeting Mark I decided that either your grandfather and the potter's grandfather had to be school chums or you just had to arrive on the day when someone had just quit. And so far neither had happened so I was heading home to NYC to make some money and go back to school.
At this Sunday night party there was a dinner with another beautiful salad, a huge loaf of
rough peasant bread, polenta, giant white beans with herbs and garlic and lots
of different styles of pickles and cheese. I sat back on a bench in the dark
and looked at the silhouette of Mark's barn, the kilns shed and a few giant
pots balanced in perfect placement against the mowed fields. The place was flawlessly
manicured, the roses trimmed, the boards weathered and dirt floor packed. Not a
thing out of place. All the choices we had each made to get to this point in
time seemed like a distant yet vibrant memory.
"Occasionally I lean forward and gaze into the water. The water of a pond is a mirror of roughness and honesty - it gives back not only my own gaze, but the nimbus of the world trailing into the picture on all sides. The swallows, singing a little as they fly back and forth across the pond, are flying therefore over my shoulders, and through my hair. A turtle passes slowly across the muddy bottom, touching my cheekbone. If at this moment I heard a clock ticking, would I remember what it was, what it signified?"
--Mary Oliver from her book of essays, Upstream
I am catching up in the garden, pulling out the bolted lettuce. It is as if the June heat gave every plant, weed and seed a boost of energy. The scattering of shade created poems of light and shadow in the long June day.
With shadows I draw worlds,
I scatter worlds with shadows.
I hear the light beat on the other side.
-- Octavio Paz, from "This Side," The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, trans. Eliot Weinberger (New Directions, 1987)
After driving beside the Blue Ridge Mountains--through rain, sun and humidity--rehashing the North Carolina woodfire conference, we returned to thirsty plants and piles of peas. I watered the garden in the last light with the company of fireflies.
"The cloud is free only to go with the wind. The rain is free only in falling."
― Wendell Berry
After being consumed by a conference in North Carolina we've been driving through the green hills of landscape and silence.
Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly.
-- Pablo Neruda, from "XL," 100 Love Sonnets (University of Texas Press, 1986)
With shadows I draw worlds,
I scatter worlds with shadows.
I hear the light beat on the other side.
Octavio Paz, from "This Side," The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, trans. Eliot Weinberger (New Directions, 1987)
"Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences."
In the word and in the void between words.
You are the pause, the synaptic skip.
You are the meaning between the syllables.
-- Louise Erdrich, from "The Seven Sleepers," Original Fire: Selected and New Poems
(Harper Perennial, 2004)
This first thing I did this morning was go out to the garden and cut all my garlic scapes. Last year a gardening friend told me he was not going to grow garlic as he could buy organic garlic that was better than what he could grow. I listened but realized that I don't just grow my garlic for the bulb but for these lovely lines. I cannot give up on the pulse of their looping nature.
"We can live any way we want. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse."
- Annie Dillard
The first lilies of June accompany the first blueberries of the month. A friend told me that one of her favorite spring moments was to go out in the morning with her cat and pick the first blueberries. I treasure my short morning walk with the dog and my small handful of first blueberries.
More Than Enough
The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.
The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly
new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.
Marge Piercy's latest book of poetry is Colors Passing Through Us (Knopf, 2003) Poem copyright © 2003 by Marge Piercy
I always feel like the first daylily is cause for celebration. It is my personal Mother's Day. I remember how my mother would pick just the flower off the long stem of a daylily. Sometimes they came from the side of the road or her sister's garden or, later in life, from her garden in Maine. The flowers went on the table sometimes in a Dixie cup, a glass jar or in one of my teacups.There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
-- Li-Young Lee, from "From Blossoms," Rose: Poems (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1986)
There is no perfect plate, no ideal flower, no flawless photograph. No words to capture the green of the maple leaves or the delicacy of the elderberry on my plate nor even the smell of wet grass on a June evening.The perfect poem is light as dust on a bat's wing, lonely as a single flea.
Like people and crows, the
perfect poem can remember faces and hold
grudges. It keeps its promises. The perfect
poem is not gold or lead or a garden gate
locked shut or a sail slapping in a storm.
The perfect poem is its own favorite toy.
It is not a state of mind or a kind of doubt
or a good or bad habit or a flower of any
color. It will not be available to answer
questions. The perfect poem is light as dust
on a bat's wing, lonely as a single flea.
~ Kaveh Akbar, from "The Perfect Poem" (Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets)
The enjoyment derived from doing this series is discovering new visions in the same place with a different series of pots. Yet themes reoccur, exciting similar emotional truths. I find repeating notes in my journals and on scraps of paper on my desk. Repetition not because I am forgetful or stubborn, but because each of these images integrating pots, meals and flower arrangements enrich our lives.The pleasure of recognizing that one may have to undergo the same realizations, write the same notes in the margin, return to the same themes in one's work, relearn the same emotional truths, write the same book over and over again--not because one is stupid or obstinate or incapable of change, but because such revisitations constitute a life.
-- Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
I love the family of allium in the landscape. Everything from wild onion grass to garlic, onions to the cultivated flowers. Each has its odor and growing habit. Sometimes it feels as if this natural anatomy has nudged my pots into a different vivid reality.
The highest level of expression is not to create something from nothing, but rather to nudge something that already exists so that the world shows up more vividly.
-- Lee Ufan
One of my fears is always that I am repeating myself but spring teaches me that lives are seasonal. We all make circles and come back to our beginnings, finding what we know and what we do not know. In the spring, we see the past and the future as weeds zoom off and planted seedlings thrive and wilt. As a potter I also foresee the future imagining what the current wet work will look like once fired.
But spring teaches us that our lives are seasonal, we go round and round, back to our beginnings, spiraling on to we know not what, into the past and into the future, round and round goes the wheel.
-- THE STORMING BOHEMIAN PUNKS THE MUSE #27: Spring Is Sprung
On June first I have found myself photographing images once again, paying attention to the light and the length of the day. Here is the first in the series leading up to the longest day of the year on June 21.