Saturday, August 02, 2014

Sans Seraph.

This is the Wild West, young man
The down and under
The lone and dreary. 
It is what it seems,
Says what it means:
B and R
C and L
The blunt and barren babble
That it tells

The Deuteronomic exactitudes
The flat and tearless platitudes
The hissing in Sinai
The slick and flightless words

Nail them to 
That nailless tree
On that treeless peak 
That smooth Babel
Then return and report:

The hornless ram will not be caught
Or cut
The hornless altar will not bleed
Or blossom

And when you are weary
Of walking in sand
Stand on the road
Thumb extended
And pray for the tumbleweeds

Stand on the road
Thumb extended
And pray for faith and friction
To snag an Arial Courier
Flying to the smoothless sun
Rayed with flame

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
********************************

To crack your heart and line your face
And tear your eyes and melt your fist
Into a cupping curve of grace
To hold the dirt, to catch the rain
To grow a tree,
A sure place for a jutting anchor--
A strong and seraphed T
With an excess of wings--
Four to hide you from the heat and
Two to fly you to the fire

That you may shout 
Jagged words on ragged lips
That the coal burns through
That the light shines through

Oh! and why?
See and El!
The bright and blistered beauties
That they spell



Genesis 22:12-13
Leviticus 4:18
1 Samuel 1:24-28, 2:1-10 
Psalms 75:10
Psalms 112:9
Psalms 132:17
Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah 11:1
Isaiah 22:23-24
Isaiah 30:10
Jeremiah 17:1
Ezekiel 29:21
Daniel 7:7-8
Luke 1:68-69

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pioneer Day: putting down roots, pulling up roots.

Varmint-proofed, but not virus-proofed.
I forgot to put together a Pioneer Day posting about a notable dead person, and now it's 10:30 pm and my bedtime. Did pioneers have bedtimes? Are bedtimes for sissies? If the cows busted through the fence or the blog needed updating, I bet a pioneer would have just pushed on through, with pluck and candlelight.

But I digress. Today I visited my community garden plot, as I do most days. This community garden is brand new this year, newly carved from the parched, weedy wilderness of the Salt Lake foothills. We founding gardeners were in charge of removing the cement-like never-tilled dirt, pulling out the rocks (which were many), putting down gopher barriers if we so chose, refilling our plots with amended soil, all before we could plant. Even when that was done, we had to worry about deer nibbling on our plants, because it took until early June for the deer-proof fence to go up. I worked so hard on my garden plot--only one other gardener out of the total of 37 worked as hard as I did to do everything right. I put in about 20 hours total getting the plot ready: first digging--sometimes hacking with a pickaxe--the plot out extra deep*, lining the trench with expensive metal hardware cloth that cut my hands, and then putting back in just the best of the native soil, well amended with compost I had purchased, and hauling away the rejected rocks and soil--about a dozen wheelbarrow loads. Backbreaking, blistering work, much of it in the baking sun. I finally planted my garden halfway through June, and though I knew that my harvest would not be great due to the late planting, I was ecstatic. I had hacked a safe and nourishing little garden bed out of the wilderness for my vegetables and flowers--the desert would blossom as the rose, because of my diligence! My fellow gardeners who had taken far less care in preparation would envy my plants!

Well, my garden has grown quickly in the good soil, and I have laughed as the gopher burrows appear  around it and without fail stop with amusing abruptness where my gopher-proof wall begins. The basil and zinnia seedlings I'd sprouted in March in my apartment and that had languished for a month and a half past their ideal planting time, waiting for a place to be planted, slowly revived from the transplant shock and now are lush and full. The giant zinnias are beginning to bloom, and are beautiful.

But the prize of my garden was the tomatoes--eight heirloom tomatoes selected with care at a plant sale on Mother's Day weekend and given the best spots in the garden plot. I constructed a bamboo trellis for them, anticipating their quick growth. They grew quick and lush, like the rest of the plants, but.... in the last couple weeks most of them have developed leaf curl. At first I thought that it was just stress from the high heat--that sort of leaf curl is not a big problem. But three of the tomatoes stopped growing, which I knew was a sign not of stress, but of a disease. Today as I re-examined the leaves yet again, I saw some purple veins--a sure sign of beet curly top virus. At least three, and maybe more, of my tomato plants have an untreatable tomato virus that is contracted from bites by bugs who have previously fed on infected weeds in the Utah wilderness--the Utah wilderness that immediately surrounds my little garden. I've grown tomatoes for many years and never had this problem--and never seen such vigorous, healthy tomato plants turn withered and stunted so quickly. Three others show early signs of perhaps having the same virus, which would leave me with just two tomato plants. As I read up on the virus today I learned that it tends to target the very most lush, healthy plants in an area, and is more likely to hit plants that are spaced far apart. Apparently the very things that pointed to the health of the plants and the care that I'd taken in trying to give them the best chance at thriving, had likely been their downfall. I've examined the tomato plants of the many other gardeners around me, plants that in general are packed in much more tightly, and that are less green and full because of their poorer soil and shallower beds--and only a couple of their plants show the same virus symptoms. Though a few of their plants have been lost to gophers because of poor plot preparation, in general those who planted on time and without the extensive precautions I took likely will have a much better harvest than I will.**

So on Pioneer Day, as I stood in the sweltering heat and imagined the July 1847 pioneers plowing the soil two and a half months late in a desperate attempt to get enough crops grown to keep their families alive through the winter, I took a deep breath and ripped out three of my beloved tomato plants, including my favorite variety, which had always grown beautifully in my prior gardens. Their roots were long and deep in the rich soil. I had done everything right, but the wilderness didn't want to give up its wildness so easily. I didn't need any of those plants in order to survive--it's just a hobby. I have enough delicious food stored in my house to feed me well for months, and enough money to buy enough food to last me for years. My dismay was nothing to what the 1847 settlers must have felt as they struggled against the elements and the plant diseases and the crickets just to survive. But it felt fitting that the painful uprooting happened on Pioneer Day. Because I'd never worked so hard to clear a space for my plants to grow I'd never cared so much about their success or been so surprised at their failure. And because I've inherited my life in this desert civilization fully fenced and furnished and ready to plant my comfortable life in, it is easy for me to just love the nature around me as a beautiful, if severe, backdrop for my adventures. But today I felt, just a little bit, what it must be like to be at war with nature for the necessities of life. To look at the mountains as foes and the native plants as noxious. To feel that hard work is necessary and good, but success is still a game of chance. With, if you pray, enough God-sent gulls and friendly Native Americans to keep you (barely) alive until spring.

I honor those who planted their faith and their beans in this hostile place and cleared a space for my happy and abundant life here. May my halting attempts at goodness and my care of this fiercely beautiful desert do them honor.





* I dug it out 18 inches deep in a plot four feet wide and 20 feet long. My dad even hired a day laborer to do an hour's worth of hacking while I was at work because he felt so sorry for me when he saw how hard the soil was--thanks, Dad!

** Let's call their plots California 1847, and my plot Utah 1847.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Angles of remorse.

I've been trying to find information on the story behind Joanna Newsom's song "Baby Birch" because it sounds too vivid to not be drawn from her own experience--specifically it sounds like a song of remorse over agreeing to an abortion. Lyrics from another song on the same record, "On a Good Day," also suggest she was pregnant with a baby girl at one point, a product of a relationship that ended in spite of her wishes to stay together. Others posting online have wondered about these raw and pain-filled lyrics and noted that Joanna and singer/songwriter Bill Callahan dated for a few years. "Baby Birch" was released in 2010, a couple of years after they split. His song "Baby's Breath," apparently a response to hers, was released in 2011, and also sounds like a song about aborting a baby girl. The likely story that emerges is devastating, especially given how often and warmly Joanna sings about children and motherhood.


Joanna Newsom, "Baby Birch"


This is the song for Baby Birch
I will never know you
And at the back of what we've done
There is that knowledge of you

I wish we could take every path
I could spend a hundred years adoring you
Yes, I wish we could take every path,
Because I hated to close the door on you

Do you remember staring up at the stars
So far away in their bulletproof cars
We heard the rushing, slow intake
Of the dark, dark water
And the engine breaks

And I said
How about them engine breaks
And, if I should die before I wake
Will you keep an eye on Baby Birch
Because I'd hate to see her
Make the same mistakes

When it was dark I called and you came
When it was dark I saw shapes
When I see stars I feel in your hand,
And I see stars and I reel, again

Well mercy me, I'll be goddamned
It's been a long long time since I last saw you
And I have never known the plan
It's been a long, long time, how are you

Your eyes are green, your hair is gold
Your hair is black, your eyes are blue
I closed the ranks and I doubled back
But you know, I hated to close the door on you

We take a walk along the dirty lake
Hear the goose cussing at me over her eggs
You poor little cousin
I don't want your dregs
A little baby fussing all over my legs

There is a blacksmith and there is a shepherd and there is a butcher-boy
And there is a barber who's cutting and cutting away at my only joy
I saw a rabbit as slick as a knife and as pale as a candlestick
And I had thought it'd be harder to do but I caught her and skinned her quick
Held her there kicking and mewling, upended, unspooling, unsung and blue
Told her "wherever you go, little runaway bunny I will find you"
And then she ran
As they're liable to do

Be at peace, baby, and begone




Bill Callahan, "Baby's Breath"


There grows a weed, looks like a flower
Looks like baby's breath on a mirror
My girl and I rushed atop the altar
The sacrifice was made
It was not easy undertaking
The roots gripped soft like a living grave

Oh young girl at the wedding
Baby's breath in her hair
A crowning lace above her face
That will last a day before it turns to hay

And good plans are made by hand
I'd cut a clearing in the land
And for a little bed
For her to cry comfortable in

And each day I looked out on the lawn
And I wondered what all was gone
Until I saw it was lucky old me
How could I run without losing anything?
How could I run without becoming lean?
It was agreed, it was agreed
It was me tearing out the baby's breath

Oh I am a helpless man, so help me
I'm on my knees gardening
It was not a weed, it was a flower
My baby's gone, oh where has my baby gone?
And she was not a weed, she was a flower

And now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing
Yes now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Death of a family man.

Grandpa launches son Greg
My sweet grandpa is in his last days, at home on hospice care. He's not eating much anymore, and the nurse has explained that that is normal--when a person is ready to die, feeding the body no longer makes sense.

He's started hearing a lot of phantom music and seeing phantom people--but mostly babies. Not his dead mother or father or wife or adult son or any of his 13 dead siblings.....but unidentified little babies. I've never heard accounts of dying people seeing mostly babies, and I find it curious. It could of course just be a hallucination--a figment of his imagination, but even if it is, it probably speaks to the unique workings of his mind. Maybe a conscious or subconscious awareness of how his current struggle is nothing more than being born into a strange new world, just as he was 91 years ago? Or maybe thinking back on his life and the most important moments, his imagination is drawn to the little ones he has cherished and the expansion of his beloved family?

On the other hand, my religious faith suggests that there's a very real possibility he's seeing something that's actually there, albeit in a different dimension. Could the babies be those of his great-grandchildren that he will meet in the next world rather than in this one? Maybe including the little one who was born just a few days ago here in Utah? Could some of those be ones I've left stranded by my long spinsterhood?
Grandpa rocking granddaughter Kelly

I have full confidence in the ability of Grandpa to help the babies get sorted out, whatever they want from him. And if he has to advise some of them to just give up on me and sign on for the next Jolie-Pitt delivery, they should take his advice. He's a good man who has his head on straight, even if he's seeing phantom babies. BECAUSE he's seeing phantom babies. Babies are the future, the new cool thing--and heaven is not just restoring the lost past, but adding upon the present. My grandpa gets that, even as he fades away, because he's the ultimate family man.  Kiss the babies for me, Grandpa!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The world is many and is mad, but we are sane and we are one.

I've been down the last three months, and my good dead friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton has allowed me to prop my chin up on his big warm heart through the emotionally dreary winter. I've been after his prose only--he was no great poet--but I've come across some deeply felt poems for his wife that have warmed me. I posted one here (in the comments) three years ago--here are two others I just found:


Love's Trappist

There is a place where lute and lyre are broken.
Where scrolls are torn and on a wild wind go,
Where tablets stand wiped naked for a token,
Where laurels wither and the daisies grow.

Lo: I too join the brotherhood of silence,
I am Love's Trappist and you ask in vain,
For man through Love's gate, even as through Death's gate,
Goeth alone and comes not back again.

Yet here I pause, look back across the threshold.
Cry to my brethren, though the world be old,
Prophets and sages, questioners and doubters,
O world, old world, the best hath ne'er been told!



Creation Day

Between the perfect marriage day
  And that fierce future proud, and furled,
I only stole six days--six days
  Enough for God to make the world.

For us is a creation made
  New moon by night, new sun by day,
That ancient elm that holds the heavens
  Sprang to its stature yesterday--

Dearest and first of all things free,
  Alone as bride and queen and friend,
Brute facts may come and bitter truths,
  But here all doubts shall have an end.

Never again with cloudy talk
  Shall life be tricked or faith undone,
The world is many and is mad,
  But we are sane and we are one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tribute.

It was a suicide. The man who swept exuberantly into my life ten years ago and helped restore my faith is gone--by his own hand--because he felt he had not made a difference in the world. I was in the Bountiful Temple a few days ago, thinking about him, remembering when he took our student group to the Winter Quarters and Nauvoo Temples. Praying for his family, and asking for forgiveness for not sending him a Christmas card this year. I didn't send anyone a Christmas card this year. Christmas cards are sort of goofy, right? Especially when you're Facebook friends with someone and they can see everything you do all year and can easily interact with you. But I will always wonder if a renewed expression of my gratitude to him could have made him feel a little better about the worth of his life--enough better to erase this awful ending. As I sat in the temple I asked God to let him know what I was thinking, and to comfort his wife and children.

I was in a hurry to get to the temple, so I forgot to remember that in the dark I was passing Holbrook Canyon right as I arrived--but I noticed it as I was leaving, and a flood of emotion hit me. Four months ago I got lost alone, far off trail, in the Sessions Mountains. I wandered for eight hours, five of those in the dark, pushing through branches, climbing over boulders, wading through streams, and finally stumbled back to the Holbrook trailhead scratched, bruised, wet, and relieved. As I emerged from the gully, the brightly lit spire of the Bountiful Temple, with its trumpeting Moroni, rose out of the dark and silent ground to greet me--the first evidence of civilization. I was so delighted that I called out in the dark, "Hello, beautiful temple!"  I was no longer alone and afraid. God had led me safely through a scary and solitary time and was restoring me to life and community--many of the same feelings of elation I had when God put Rulon in my path and used him to lead me out of a time of doubt, fear, and private suffering. As I passed Holbrook Canyon my brain instantly made the connection between the two events and the tears returned. He had killed himself in the mountains. On a hike, alone. Removed from the world he felt he'd failed.

I have no doubt that he was an answer to my prayers, and one of the most clear and dramatic answers I've ever received to a prayer, in the way he, without knowing my concerns, addressed each of them.  Most importantly, though, he was proof to me that God had been listening and caring that I was alone and afraid and put me in the path of someone who knew those feelings and was able to help, even if unwittingly. That he succeeded in helping with my particular problems and questions was secondary to the fact that God's hand was revealed by putting me in the path of this incredibly generous stranger.

My dead blog is a pathetic place for a tribute to someone who felt his life was for naught. But I think if he'd really understood just how important--how pivotal--a figure he was in my life, he would not have been able to believe he'd made no difference. I'm just one person, but I promised God I'd try to do good with my restored faith, and now I promise Rulon as well. Rest in peace, friend. Your spiritual lineage continues in those you loved and served.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Filial obligation post.

My dad told me he wants me to blog more. As an eldest child, I'm compelled to comply, so here we go:

Hi, Dad! It's past my bedtime, but I'm still going to say my prayers and brush my teeth, because my dad didn't raise no smelly-breathed heathen babies.

xoxo
Marie