Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

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.

 

beginner’s noösphere (and poetry) ~

I fall in love with words. And I’m pretty promiscuous about it — no single one holds my interest exclusively. I’m kind of a polygamous word lover, I guess. Much of my writing evolves out of word love affairs.

One that I love is noösphere. I love the idea of human knowledge changing the world — it’s pretty Buddhist, if you think about it. That what we know impacts the world around us, changes even the way things happen, how they evolve. Another reason for right action. :)

So today’s poem is an ode to a word, in its own odd way. I’m always hesitant to say what a poem is, because nothing is that simple. Like knowledge. Like Buddhism…

Noösphere ~

There is so little that I know for sure

The drawers in my head spill

Steampunk trivia, the welded artifacts

Of brassy surety and broken glass

Shards and diamante crystals

Of significance.

 

I could dress a storefront window

With the Thai silk I wore to a ball

My mother’s sequined shell, the scarlet

Feathers of a fan I never bought. No

Rhyme or reason, only the seasons

Of a curiousity.

 

If there is a boundary, a membrane

That surrounds the pulsing ectoplasm

Of the human heart, I have lived for years

On the other side of darkness. Sifting

With my greedy fingers through what

We cannot know or learn.

 

Loose pearls hide in the dark corners

Of a rosewood chest, remind me of daily pain

Someone told me would become

My strength. While the winter’s geese cut

The blue Oklahoma sky with their wings

nightmares, poetry, & beginner’s heart ~

I’m trying to see learning these days. Which means I’m looking for it in unlikely places. Like nightmares.

I’ve always been prone to nightmares. Today’s poem for National Poetry Writing Month is about that, a particular ongoing nightmare that reappears in my life sporadically. I have what are called ‘night terrors,’ although less frequently than when I was a child. I was an adult before I learned the name for them, or that others suffered them as well. It was a huge relief: I wasn’t crazy! Well, perhaps I am :). But not because of night terrors…

When they return, which they do now & then, I’m once again a child. And once again anything — particularly anything bad — is possible. Only now? I realise that ‘anything bad’ has a flip side: anything I can imagine. And that means I can shape dreams, if not night terrors. And believe me: my imagination is pretty active  ~

Here’s poem #2 for National Poetry Writing Month:

tell me anything you believe that isn’t a lie ~

I dreamed that I was all alone

still a young child

no one could hear me

no one would listen

it would come that no one

saw me – I was not really there

I wandered       like a ghost

 

I would try to fly

leave behind me   beneath me

the terror catching at my feet

the clutch of hands

the hungry hungry hands

 

but my wings would not carry

the weight of me

I was straining   struggling

fighting to fly

trying to climb a thermal

like a bird of prey

and all the time prey

silent

falling out of the sky

 

Buddhism for poets (and vice-versa…) ~

I’ve written about becoming a Buddhist elsewhere, but as with most of our memories, I may have that wrong. I may have been born w/ Buddhist longings, but I also may have found my Buddhist mind through poetry.

Poetry is air and water, food and sleep to me. It has saved my life, paid karmic debts, shown me truths, and generally just made me happy. My vanity plate for my little blue car says POETIC. Get it? :)

So poetry is a big deal to me. It always has been. I wrote poems very young — I remember rhyming when I began to learn French, 8 years old. So apparently I already knew how, then. (Note to self: you never found anything to rhyme w/fenêtre) I made tiny books, wrote poems in them, and ‘published’ by giving them to family ~ my grandmother, my mother, the great-aunt who lived around the corner from my other grandmother. Of course I received rave reviews…:)

Very quickly I began to play with language. Young poets love language: they swim in it as if was a warm blue-green ocean. I wanted alliteration, assonance, consonance. There was rhythm and metre and form.

But eventually, I wanted precision. I wanted to do with words what a composer or a violinist can do with sound: make a music that produced vivid feelings and pictures. Buddhist poetry, grounded in the warp & woof of everyday life, does that.

I came to Buddhist poetry slant, as Emily would say. My ‘project’ was simply to try to learn how the old poets — and the contemporary ones who continue to invoke them — made the everyday numinous. How they managed that in the poetic equivalent of spandex: haiku, tanka, renga. The stark simplicity of image, and the interior blossoming of that minimalist language….wow. How do they do that?

What happened is what often happens with Buddhism — it snuck up on me. I began to read more & more Buddhist poets (and find that many poets I already loved were Buddhist, and/or deeply influenced by Buddhism): Charles Johnson, William Carlos Williams, Jane Hirshfield, Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, W.S. Merwin, Chase Twichell. It’s a long & illustrious list.

I ended up doing my doctoral dissertation — a collection of poetry and a lengthy critical introduction that talked about poetics, and my own work — on the ways in which the poetic breath is like the Buddhist contemplation of breath. It was one of the most difficult — and life-altering — pieces of work I’ve done to date.

So it’s fitting that this month — National Poetry Month and National Poetry Writing Month — I begin the month my usual way: with an original poem (still in draft form!). And one that owes its form and inspiration to so many  Buddhist poets I have loved and admired.

I’ll be publishing an original poem daily during April — or at least trying to publish. I’ll certainly be writing a poem a day :). Enjoy!

 

if there were daymoths,

they would nest in dogwood trees

pretending to be blossoms

flickering like light

white winged dogwood flowers

poised for flight


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