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’)


O mortals, how long will you be heavy-hearted? Life has come down to you, and are you reluctant to ascend and live?
-Augustine of Hippo

the rare virtue of interior spaciousness

‘It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

‘But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter’s! of creatures, how few are vast as the whale!’

-Herman Melville, Moby Dick

(I made this into a bookmark, if you’d like one, too {<–being a link to a special bookmark file}. It’s about 7×3 inches cut out: I printed on cardstock with my printer set to high resolution paper. The image above links to the bigger file without the whole quote, if you prefer a screensaver. This is really not pride about my whale, who turned out a little odd, I think: just my assumption that everyone else loves Moby Dick, too.)

a book is born

Today an old friend sent me a photos of Autumn leaves through microlenses.  The red and green cells were shattered with so many anfractuous veins of light.  It reminded of Psalm 84, and how in our hearts we know the way home (‘Blessed is the human who finds strength in you — highways are in his heart’, v. 5).  I think our heart-maps must be a tangle of shattered colors and tortuous light-lines.

But this post is meant to announce that I have suddenly finished work on the Six Swans!  I wanted it be done in time for the release of the fairy tale retelling that is coming out with Propertius Press, but I enjoyed working with a more typical picture book size so much that the publisher kindly let me have another few months to put West of Moonlight, East of Dawn into a more traditional picture book format.  I wound up making this story as a free flipbook to ‘show my work’, instead of trying to push people to buy something.  I’d rather let words speak for themselves to whoever wants to hear them. We write for someone, and we write in faith that someone will hear — or I don’t see what we have to say to one another. 

The flipbook will eventually be featured on Story Warren when West of Moonlight is available for pre-order.  Meanwhile, here is a poem about coming out West.  (I feel honored to have a poem in this issue — I copied quite a maze of light-lines into my notebook to try to keep.)

old words

I’ve been reading Barlaam and Josaphat, translated by Peggy McCracken.  Strangely, it keeps reminding me of The Little Prince — something about all the dialogues in this poignant parabolic light, the brightly colored simplicity of the words, and the sudden touching candor — where here and there, it says just what it means.

I don’t think our world outgrows old words.  A really eternal life, I read elsewhere this evening, is not only a quantity in length but a quality in depth.  It is easy to lose this understanding and grasp at every scant elongation along a {radically & inescapably} curtailed plane as the essence of ‘life’ — at the cost of life’s depth. Perhaps this is even easier in a technologically advanced age, where extension of self is possible along all sorts of undimensioned surfaces.  Barlaam and Josaphat is about life as a ‘quality in depth’.

This particular candid statement (set in the ‘featured image’) struck me, centuries later — true, if I can receive it.  But it was difficult to receive centuries ago.