Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Songkran, or Buddhist New Year in Thailand ~

Sawatdee pi Maï! Happy New Year! Well, almost — it’s Thursday, April 12th this year. In Thailand, this greeting is accompanied by joyful gouts of water — splashed on you, at you, over you. And while the New Year’s festival of Songkran falls in the spring (sometimes, like this year, in the same week as Passover & Easter), it’s no less a celebration of beginning.

Having lived in Thailand during my adolescence, I still remember the soaking we received one Spring Break as we traveled down country from Bangkok to Phuket. The journey involved two LandRovers full of 7 kids, the cook and the housekeeper, my mother and my father’s driver. And sometimes even a birdcage full of birds to release for good luck.

It also meant buckets of water each time we stopped to eat, use our makeshift facilities (a blanket held by four girls so a fifth could go to the bathroom in relative ‘privacy’), or get gas. By the time we completed our 12-hour drive, the LandRovers would be sloshing water in the floorboards, we’d be sloppy wet, as well as exhausted from laughing. And that was before the advent of super soakers!

But there’s a more serious side to Songkran, as well. Like Mahayana Buddhists, Theravadin Buddhists (those in Thailand and most of Southeast Asia) perform the kinds of rituals of belief familiar to Christians, Hindus, Muslims and other people of faith.

Household Buddha images are gently cleansed with water, usually fragranced — sometimes with jasmine. Buddha images from neighbourhood temples are paraded on beautiful flower-laden floats, ‘cleansed’ by the laughing crowds, as they throw water from the streets.Trips to temples, visits to honoured elders — all are part of the original intention of Thai New Year, as are a thorough house cleaning and New Year’s resolutions.

So although it wears a different costume, it’s much like what happened at our house January 1st. And who wouldn’t like to wash away all the mistakes of the past year? :) Maybe next year I should buy that Super Soaker…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frost, ambiguity, & grading ~

I like Robert Frost. He’s not in vogue w/ much of the ‘Academy,’ those members of the ruling university class who decide which books/ writers/ thinkers/ ideas are in or out these days. Right now, Frost isn’t ‘in.’

I think it’s because he’s misunderstood. And popular — the Academy doesn’t care much for popularity. But most people who like Frost haven’t read much of his work. They know 2, possibly 3 poems: Stopping by Woods, The Road Not Taken, and maybe Fire and Ice. I have the dubious distinction of having read all Frost’s work, including his work on writing poetry. And let me tell you — that man is DARK. Poet of the American daydream he is not.

So I loved finding the poem of the day (from the Writer’s Almanac) was one titled ‘Robert Frost,’ by George Bilgere. It has far less to do w/ Frost than it does w/ my other passion, teaching.  And of course it reminds me of some Buddhist something — in this case, it reminds me that everything passes. Frost, grading, but especially the weekend. During which I should have graded (instead of it all looming over me still!), but instead managed to have a perfectly in-the-moment two days.

I’m not repentant. Not to mention I got the following poem out of it, for National Poetry Writing Month:

Dear George Bilgere[1] ~

and is there an accent grave over the first é

George? Shouldn’t poets bear names

that channel craft & music…?

 

You’re looking for insight, George ~

I’m seeking music. I’m hungering

for something there is that doesn’t like

a grade

something that resists articulation.

The evocation of a darkness in delight

of roads that end in empty swings

or doors that open only into absence.

 

I’m grading too, George. And I wish

that we were reading Frost.

That ambiguity

and language rustled impatiently

on the dented surface of my desk.

 

I wish just once that even echoes

of the darkness shimmering beneath his lyrics

filled the silence of my study.

Instead, the asthmatic wheezing

of a dog whose days brim with dreams

of material poetry

the fragrance of smoke

the bob & weave of nestlings

                                                the scuttle

of possible lives

spirals from the floor beneath my feet.

 

No evaluation is occurring, George.

Assessment still clouds the horizon.

Sunday

and the weekend curls behind me

like the ribbon of a road trip

almost finished            Kerouac not Frost

While folders bloom like spring within

the confines of my backpack

and ambiguity

feathers across paper like smeared ink.


birds, Buddhism, & beginner’s heart (and poetry, of course) ~

It’s cold today. And the light is watery — rain-drenched. The birds huddle by the feeder, their wings flicking water. And I celebrate central heat, sweaters (especially cashmere!) and a roof that doesn’t leak…

Mostly? I celebrate a life where I can write about rain dispassionately — where its lack or plentitude either one is not a life-breaker. And where my beginner’s heart can just feel watered…:)

Rain fugue~

 

I am grateful for the wings of birds.

For the cold light that seems to fall

away from the climb of geese,

who leave us to fly where light

nests in green grass, and does not catch

in seed heads bent beneath this morning’s

rime of dew.

 

I celebrate the greedy wren.

Who labours at a seed & suet bell

silenced by the weight of brown wings

and the jagged music of crows circling.

In the grey sky their silhouettes open

into darkness.

 

I am grateful for the way time slows,

its rhythmic minute hand tracing

a fluid arc, as if now was the centre point

in a compass, and migratory birds

drew a circle around this moment.

As if you and I were inside, safe.

As if nothing will ever change.

just a tree like any other ~

I’ve been looking at poetry through a different lens lately. I write the poem — which is always the best first step, when you look at poetry… :) — and then wondering how it reflects my practice. It’s a fascinating process.

I’m one of those people who are more than a little tree crazy. My husband has warned every neighbour we’ve lived by in the past many years NOT to cut trees on our property line, or I may well go nuts. And it’s true — I do NOT prune lightly. Or badly. :) Some of our trees even have names. I mean in addition to genus and species.

So it was no surprise to have a poem about trees materialise on paper (or screen — this is one of those that I think came from a journal scribble, but who remembers…?). What was a bit unsettling was to realise that I can do a timeline of my life, and recognise what date it was by the trees that were important to me.

There’s the apricot my grandmother planted when I was born, the mimosas that used to hang over  Grandma & Aunt Bonnie’s curb, the frangipani in Dr. & Mrs. McIntyre’s yard… all the way to Ramses the fancy pine in our front yard, or the two holly trees in the back.

Buddhism says all things have Buddha nature. Certainly trees must. On my door at work  I have a picture of the tallest tree in the world, a redwood in California. The tiny red specks are people, in the tree’s branches. I can’t fathom such a being — this enormous, centuries-old tree — not having Buddha nature. Or consciousness, for that matter. You’re talking  to someone who took Tolkien’s Ents seriously…

So the Buddhism in today’s poem may seem  more latent than apparent. But believe me ~ it’s there.

A Lexicon of Trees
The apricot my grandmother planted the day

that I was born. She made me fried pies

in her mother’s skillet. I have it still.

The frangipani down the street from the villa

plumeria its real name. White and rose

and yellow flowers. Climbing with the ants

up its twisted trunk, I thought I was invisible.

The mimosa on 8th Street. Into late fall she

offered me feather flowers that desperate year

Perhaps she saved me.

And henna – white flowers in that barren

desert where I made a home, pruning twigs

that also did not fit. So much of love

is like this.

Japanese maple: scarlet against white dogwood

break of bloom. Shallow-rooted, it holds

earth together.

Crape myrtle, cherry red and toddler pink

lace-edged corsage on the front

of a house where love

solved its first puzzles.

It is the way trees mark the verges

of this journey, their own dendritic

timeline

blossomspill ​      leaffall        ​barebranch.

 

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