A Late Night in Pittsburgh: Compare/ Contrast

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Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.”

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Assata Shakur 

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.
I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.
I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if i know any thing at all,
it’s that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
And i believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
can still be guided home
to port.
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Waiting

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder – A Winter Scene, 1562

What do I think of when I am lying there?: on my stomach, propped up on my elbows, leafing through art books on Toulouse Lautrec and Pieter Bruegel and Peter Beard; gazing upon the paintings in the collection of the Mauritshuis Museum.

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Dulle Griet by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Pressed into the floor, feeling the coarse plastic fibers of commercial carpet dig into my elbows, through the fabric of my light shirt, I catch myself looking around. Behind me is a pool table, under which stand two polar bears, staring out at me. Above me are deeply pocked marks of pool cues’ chalk, all over the ceiling. To my left are giraffes and hyenas, and up above the window, the skeleton of a sea turtle, many years gone from this world. To my right is my dearest friend here, lost in his own thoughts.

Before me is an off-white enameled Jotul wood stove, with a front window already stained with soot. Through the soot shadow, one can depict the licking of bright orange flames made amber as they filter through the dirty shade. The flames grow and gather, spewing up and across the ceiling of the stove, recirculating.

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I am thinking about birds’ wings and the lips of Nepenthes plants. I am thinking about patches of snow on the surface of Little Long Pond, and of playing Pac Man on the table consoles at Pizza Hut in the ’80s. I am thinking about the tea that I am drinking, about artificial, non-dairy creamer: the stuff you can light on fire if you sprinkle it onto a candle’s flame. I am thinking about scent, about wood shavings, about ice melting, about the songs of the birds that just recently reappeared.

I am thinking about change.

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We all know that birds’ bones are hollow so that their bodies and wings are lighter than ours: this is one of the reasons that they can fly and we are glued to the Earth. Each morning I watch five crows flit around from tree to tree along my street. They break into peoples’ garbage seeking treasure. They yammer at the the doves and the blue jays yammer back at them. They swoop and dive, and turn their heads to look at each other, and to me, as I stare at them. They pretend to be scared of me, when I know better. They were here before me.

Yesterday I went skating, maybe for the last time, and played an age-old game on ice skates. Pretending that the patches of snow were obstacles, were pools of lava, my friend and I skated round and round them, ever tightening our circles in between and through them, forming curly-cues and slashes and ellipses and circles in skate marks between the snow patches. The snow patches, large and small, close together and far apart, became deadly territory that would turn you into a ghost if you touched them, and provided fodder for chasing each other, not too quickly, between them in a game of ghost tag. Ghost tag, so much like Pac Man, making me think of the way the crust crunched at Pizza Hut when I was a child: how greasy it was, and how all the windows were made of diamond shaped stained glass in clear and red. How we sat at booths together but snuck off to play video games at those strangely stalwart video game tables.

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These are the thoughts that cross my mind in mid-winter, in February, as the ice and snow melt outside, again. I learned my lesson last week, when a short February thaw had me convinced I’d be in sundresses in no time, only to be blasted by a fierce winter storm once more.

After the snow came roaring through, again, a few days ago, my friend and I drove down to Jordan Pond to assess the likelihood of skating. As we clambered over a snowbank, carrying skates down the path to the water, we crossed another, larger snowbank and were hit, full force, full frontal with 55 mph gusts of blowing snow. Wind so fierce that it blew ice crystals into your eyes. Wind so strong you couldn’t even look into it. Wind so loud it howled around and through your ears. Wind so tough that we both laughed and walked back to the truck; recognizing when to go home is a skill one learns during winter in Maine.

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Winter is drawing to a close: you can feel it in the air. There is a lightness to the sky, as if the sun is coming back. The birds are calling. The days are full of sunshine, when for so long, they have been so dark. There is a sadness in this: a loss. The darker times when all that is before you is you and your work, you and the tiny world that surrounds you, when the sun sets before 4 and all you can think to do is create; well that time is shifting and going away. The light is returning, flooding us with the recognition that soon, buds will burst open on tree limbs, grass will grow, crocus will appear in front of our eyes. Soon, the light will return and the sunsets will change, the water colour will, too, and people will return to this place that has been so quiet and lovely for so long. Flowers will grow, shoulders will be bared, times will change. People will change.

People already are changing: a nervousness is invading every cell of every person, causing each of us angst and anxiety, expressed in unique ways. Peoples’ eyes flit back and forth, as if they are watching for something. Some people draw back, into themselves, away from those that they have held dear during the darker months. Some people are planning, some people are counting down the days, some people are thankful for the retreat of the ice and snow.

Some people are waiting; listening for the ice to crack.

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How to Not Get Lost

schooner headSchooner Head, Acadia National Park – February 1st

“When we come back down from the north it’s like coming down from a mountain. We descend through layers of clarity, of coolness and uncluttered light, down past the last granite outcrop, the last small raggedy-edged lake, into the thicker air, the dampness and warm heaviness, the cricket noises and weedy meadow smells of the south.

We reach our house in the afternoon. It looks strange, different, as if enchanted. Thistles and goldenrod have grown up around it, like a thorny hedge, out of the mud. The huge hole and the mountain of earth next door have vanished, and in their place is a new house. How has this happened? I wasn’t expecting such changes.”

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye

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If tomorrow morning the sky falls…

have clouds for breakfast.

If night falls…

use stars for streetlights.

If the moon gets stuck in a tree…

cover the hole in the sky with a strawberry.

If you have butterflies in your stomach…

ask them into your heart.

tumblr_l7istdozha1qbmt20If your heart catches in your throat…

ask a bird how she sings.

If the birds forget their songs…

listen to a pebble instead.

If you lose a memory…

embroider a new one in its place.

yardSale3If you lose the key…

throw away the house.

If the clock stops…

use your own hands to tell time.

If the light goes out…

wear it around your neck and go dancing.

If the bus doesn’t come…

catch a fast cloud.

If it’s the last dance…

dance backwards.

If you find your socks don’t match…

stand in a flowerbed.

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If your shoes don’t fit…

give them to the fish in the pond.

If your horse needs shoes…

let him use his wings.

If the sun never shines again…

hold fireflies in your hands to keep warm.

If you’re afraid of the dark…

remember the night rainbow.

If there is no happy ending…

make one out of cookie dough.

tumblr_l7issc0Qlm1qbmt20“I believe that man has three basic qualities: a sensitive and intuitive perception that can exercise itself in the world of the senses, an analytical capability that expresses itself in the abstract world of concepts and thought, and finally a prophetic capability that belongs to the artists, the poets, the creators, the inventors.

These three always integrated qualities exist in all human creatures and they are always directed toward the intelligent consciousness of others and of the world that surrounds us. That is why the most natural response to the question “Why are we here?” becomes: to know.”

– Gae Aulenti, Italian Architect, designed the Musee d’Orsay in Paris

“Be gentle on yourself. You have a right to be here.” If you find yourself lost, in the dark, take some time, take a deep breath, and keep moving forward.

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All pictures and poetic text is from the wonderful book “If You’re Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow” by Cooper Edens.