look; listen –

O give me before I die
The grace to see
With eternal, ultimate eye
The Bird and the Tree.

The song in the living green,
The Tree and the Bird —
O have they ever been seen,
Ever been heard?

-Ruth Pitter


Psalm 84

Blessed is the human who finds his strength in you:

highways are in his heart. {← I like to read, ‘in his heart, he knows the way home.’}

This is a large land

spread underneath the placid oars of light, outrowing –

the furthest range is faint and almost bodiless,

just the remote condensed,

half-lit, half showing

through sharper desert near at hand,

a sawed off blueness on a mist-edge.

My eyes grope for the interval of a car’s headlamp:

lone motes of light wind through the dusty, pallid nebulae

of gorge and ridge,

a way I know by heart.

The map that I could draw by hand

thrusts hidden through this haze –

and I look out from hidden logic,

answering with all I am.

My lamps are small.

And every day, I change.

But in my heart, I hold that way

through what is changeless and gargantuan.

old news

Can I not everywhere gaze upon the mirror of the sun and stars? Can I not everywhere under heaven mirror forth the most precious truths …? -Dante

‘Dante Alighieri and four other[s] … were summoned to appear before the Podesta, on charges of fraud and corruption while in office, and of conspiracy against the Pope, Charles, and the Guelf party, and the peace of Florence. … On 27 January 1302, sentence was passed: a fine of 5,000 florins … exile for two years; perpetual deprivation of office. On 10 March, a second and severer decree was proclaimed against the original five and ten others; it ended with the ominous words: “and if any of the aforesaid should come into the hands of the said commonwealth, such an one shall be burned with fire till he be dead.”

‘. . . To gaze upon the mirror of the sun and stars and in himself to mirror forth the truth. This was the task which Dante had set himself – as Milton was to do some three hundred years later – in the wreck of all his earthly hopes. He had lost love and youth and earthly goods and household peace and citizenship and active political usefulness and the dream of a decent world and a reign of justice. He was stripped bare. He looked outwards upon the corruption of the Church and Empire, and he looked inwards into the corruption of the human heart; and what he saw was the vision of Hell. And, having seen it, he set himself down to write the great Comedy of Redemption and of the return of all things by the way of Self-Knowledge and Purification, to the beatitude of the Presence of God.’

-Dorothy Sayers, Introduction to The Divine Comedy

( We are all exiles here, really.  But that doesn’t preclude the possibility of doing something meaningful or even lasting.)

because, truth (ii)

‘I think it it’s so awful that we have not spoken up and said that this is absolutely unacceptable. There are things worse than death. I think we’ve forgotten. They’re absolutely much worse than death, and loss of who we are as, as human beings is worse than death.’

Dr. Vinay Prasad, associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, from ‘They Make Patients Die Alone. And We Let Them.’ here

“We have contact info, have texted, emailed, called, and even visited their last known address, and we can’t find them,” said Earl Pike, executive director of University Settlement, a Cleveland social service organization. “That’s so troubling.” …

… two efforts by California and Connecticut to aggressively track and report enrollment and attendance issues during the pandemic are highlighting how poor, disabled and minority students are disconnecting from school more than white and affluent students.

“These are the same students who lack the resources to help make up for learning time lost in the classroom.”

from ‘The Concerning Case of Cleveland’s No-Show Students: More than 8,000 Kids Are Missing From City’s Online Classes …’, here

Viktor Frankl, and the life of a forest

[T]here is no form of progress on which we can trustingly rely … inner progress is only actually possible for each individual, while mass progress at most consists of technical progress, which only impresses us because we live in a technical age. … How unconditionally do we have to believe in the meaning and value of human existence, if this belief is able to take up and bear this skepticism and pessimism?

-Viktor Frankl

I have been watching a documentary on the life of a forest. A forest is a good place to go with disillusionment about the many excruciating turns of technical ‘progress’ — a powertool that bores through every age to clamp people’s mouths shut while stripping their rights and starving their children, that drives human experiments on an increasingly global scale, to enrich and empower a few. Yes it brings us incalculable relief from disease and hard labor. And I am grateful for that. But …. Frankl cites a myth that the world is upheld by a mere 36 hidden righteous people: technical progress is too often owned by a handful of folks who are not righteous. ‘They bring ruin, and they practice abominable deviancy’ -Psalm 53.

Yet Frankl says that in the worst outward circumstances, inner progress is possible — he says that it is the only kind of progress we ever can make. And the forest reminds me that one individual’s progress is a rich life for many others.

A huge tree is not just there for itself: it shelters thousands of smaller lives, and rains down seeds. How did it begin this immense giving? — A fragile spiral of cells broke through a tiny hull.

Only one in thousands of these spirals will tower up into a shelter — but no seed goes to waste. They fuel the whole organism of the forest: they feed countless animals and enrich the floor that nourishes flowers, and the huge trees.

This documentary pointed out that fires are necessary for the health of a forest. A charred landscape can look like the end, but it isn’t. Intense heat kills parasites on the bark of old trees, and cracks some hulls that lie dormant until catastrophe forces them open.

‘… everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.’ -Frankl

In a forest, nothing self-giving is wasted. Even catastrophe isn’t wasted.

love that lasts

I’ve been reading Loren Eiseley (anthropologist, author) this evening and trying to organise some impressions from this year’s upheavals. Eiseley’s writing is like fingerprints on glass. His thoughts are so distinctly, uniquely ridged, and so misty-invisible.

At one point he describes a junkman with a ‘broken old horse’ and a cart of discarded things. Then-sixteen-year-old Eiseley saw him on the corner of ‘R’ and ‘Fourteenth’ street in 1923, slipping away with a cartload of incidental scraps – the symbol of all of us, and our memories. So an observant teenage boy fastened on this incidental scrap of another person’s passing, and sealed it up in his mind. He held the junkman and the donkey suspended at an intersection of time until he wrote them down in this essay.

‘I have seen a tree root burst a rock face on a mountain or slowly wrench aside the gateway of a forgotten city. … Life, unlike the inanimate, will take the long way round to circumvent barrenness. A kind of desperate will resides even in a root. It will perform the evasive tactics of an army, slowly inching its way through crevices and hoarding energy until someday it swells and a living tree upheaves the heaviest mausoleum.’

(from ‘The Last Neanderthal’)

Eiseley died in 1977, fifty-four years after 1923, and one year before I was born – but this junkman, symbol of the vanishing past, has still not slipped across ‘R’ street into oblivion. Because the sensitive feelers of Eiseley’s awareness inched through the crevices in words, and burst into witness and meaning again in my mind. And now you (if you read this) see the junkman and the broken horse, too.

What does it mean? I read a few paragraphs this morning about how the future, as unknown, is a place of chaos. But so is the past. The connective strands of meaning have dissolved and only the incidental scraps show here and there – even as memory. We know it Meant and Means something: something worth keeping: how can I forget the junkman now? My mind will cling to him like precious currency – like the silver dollar a child can’t spend because it feels so much more valuable than a dollar, in ways that defy market valuations.

The few paragraphs I read this morning referenced dreams as one way we spin chaos into order. Dreams are a borderland where we interpret all these jutting artifacts and make guesses at their significance.

But I wonder how many silver dollars this year will leave anyone to dream over, if we live shut away from one another. If our older people who are slipping away from their own and other’s memories are sealed up behind impenetrable walls. Memory even as a largely dissolved tissue, as unexplained objects here and there, is ineffably precious. Worthy of dreams, and of planting in crevices of time, till those objects burst into bloom in someone else’s mind. But are we making memories?

Shouldn’t we have learned from our proximity to death that life is meaningful – far too meaningful to value by state-regulated markets? Far too fraught with significance in everyday gestures to allow those we love, and their incalculable jumble of habits and memories, to slip through our intersections forever?

Death is compulsory. Loren Eiseley in his quest for bones is never unconscious of that. But his words witness – with the jutting figures of a broken horse and a junkman in my mind – that our awareness of another tenuous life is a seed with stubborn roots. I see the junkman because Eiseley saw him. I remember him because Eiseley did. That is at least partly what he means.

I have learned from these that love which endures the night

May smolder in outward death while the colors blaze,

But trust my love – it is small, burr-coated, and tight.

It will stick to the bone. It will last through the autumn days.’

(Loren Eiseley, ‘Winter Sign’)