Yet there is also, perhaps, a form of concurrent time … a nagging sense that somewhere, all things are happening at once. Our child-selves race and climb, bruise and laugh. Our parents are whole and young; our first loves hold out their hands toward us. Summers stretch ahead, innocent and bright. The sea rolls cleaner and the leaves bear no scars. There are gleaming trout and salmon in those other rivers. Snow falls unmarked by grit and wood smoke hangs in the winter air. We stir the cream through our milk and eat fat molasses cookies without a second’s pause. Ours is the kingdom of anticipation.
In that strange framework where time runs parallel to itself, we are winding through an endless conga dance and every sorrow, every triumph, every delight or pain is woven into that line. They are all ours to know again. We dream ourselves into each well-remembered scene and suspended moment. Hours no longer stride across the world like booted enemies. The only borders are those we build in our sleep.
I know, I know! This is but the ramble of an aging mind. The longing of a heart no longer certain it is entitled to long for much of anything. Health, perhaps. Comfort enough, peace enough, coins for spending and a scatter of stars for feeling insignificant. Things that my brain is able to set out – here, and here, and over there too. A table where all the cutlery is neatly arranged, and nothing takes me unaware. I suppose there are worse prospects than organization but I’d rather have disorder and surprise. The feather dropped in my hair from something unseen. The cat that holds half my memories in her eyes.
Happy New Year to my family and friends, and a glass raised in salute to you all! May you move forward with optimism and courage, but bundle the older years around you like a worn and familiar coat.
For All the Broken Butterflies
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow. – Pavel Friedman, “The Butterfly”, June 4 1942
You are old now, torn by air and the too-sharp petals of every false flower
in the world. Nothing about you will stay any longer than your paths
through the wet grass. Hopeful to the final probe, you prickle your tongue
with sweet beads. Cobalt and ochre dust sifts through the morning’s thorns.
God writes your kind on parchment – haiku of a single hour. Early sun
burns through your dénouement. Foils turn to deltas of dry rivers.
Yet you fear no evil in the vacuum beyond this last garden.
Since you cannot hold memories, I would offer a few for each
of your journeys, my friend.
A woman grips her own innocence – round fruit on an open palm. Raised
hands, juice between fingers, sticky lure you must never try to drink.
Shake free: clouds and walls, slam of a gate below you.
Taste now Ishmael’s wrist. Lick the salt desert from his skin.
Feel Hagar’s laugh, its bubble like water rising. Her son opens a spring
with his heel, bends toward the wet stones. Tremble your heart
against his pulse, then blow away.
Settle as a leopard on Khadija’s robe, companion to the slow
sandglass of her breath. Your veins are stitching gold and shadow.
Habibti, she murmurs – My own beloved. But you have such a tiny voice,
not made for love. Eyes on your wings open to watch her leave.
Their bruised edges she has chosen not to see.
Rest on a Roman’s plume, bring a kiss from his daughter. He cannot kill
you this time – evader of flags, hooves, spears, fire. You, the stroke
of light beyond an old man’s window. First visitor at a rolled tomb,
even before the women.
Wisp caught on a barb at Terezin. A small boy points and cries,
Mameh … look! He calls you angel, pinned on unforgiving wire.
Not even the bravest of all malachim will fly to this place,
his mother answers.
When death arrives at last, it always belongs to someone else.
So it is best not to remember everything I tell you.
Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2013
~ posted in an exhibit at Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Western Branch ~
*The community of Terezin was the location of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where 12,000 children were kept prisoner during the Holocaust. 90% did not survive. Pavel Friedman, from whose poem I quote at the beginning, was one of those children. He later died at Auschwitz.
The Book of Genesis provides many opportunities for literary creation. As a poet, I keep returning to it for ideas and themes. I tend to view its events as part of a complex mythos that predates Christianity by millennia, yet also represents an interpretation of creation as viewed by the Old Testament/Torah authors – more intuitive than analytical, but still compelling. The Word figures prominently in this narrative, not to mention in the New Testament, and in Greek The Word is Λόγος or logos – Logic, Reason. I approach Genesis from a metaphorical and symbolical perspective rather than as a literal text, yet the process of creation itself appears to be vaguely parallel to what actually must have happened, albeit with certain artistic liberties. It does have its inherent logic. The primary issue is in the exact details and, of course, the time frame. There’s a certain progression from formless void to a coalescing planet, the appearance of water and an atmosphere, the rise of marine creatures, vascular plants, land animals with birds, then homo sapiens – appearing quite late in the sequence. The creatures of Eden that existed in this period were already there when Adam showed up. He was asked to name them, in fact. Needless to say, he did not have to identify the extinct ones since they were already gone. But I digress (as usual).
Being a woman, I have long resented the burdens placed upon my gender by those who see Eve as some sort of original sinner – regardless of Adam’s own role in this particular transgression. I, personally, understand why she reached for that pomegranate*. She was consumed by curiosity and a hunger to know things. As the verb sciare means “to know”, it is not a stretch to consider Eve as the first scientist on the planet. She was willing to overlook the serpent’s rather sinister appearance, although she may have instinctively distrusted it, in order to learn. The pursuit of learning often comes at a considerable price, after all. Many have since died for it. Discovery is often tied to great personal risk.
These intellectual qualities were part of Eve’s composition from the outset. Therefore, I have to assume that God fully expected her to go after enlightenment and orchestrated her “fall” to make it look like deliberate defiance on her part. He didn’t give Adam that kind of drive toward understanding. It seems rather clever of Him to force Eve’s hand by forbidding her to even think about that Tree of Knowledge. As He had made this pair as childlike beings in adult bodies, He probably anticipated the next step. A child will inevitably push the limits and grab whatever he or she has been told not to touch. Any parent is well aware of this fact. If this sounds like determinism as opposed to free will … yes, it probably is. Free will might not have been as important in the beginning as it has become in later ages. First, humanity had to evolve somehow and survive the process.
In the end, Eve’s actions quite conveniently resulted in the punishment of childbearing. The world needed to be populated, after all. God could simply have erased her and used another rib. But He chose not to do so. Eden was undoubtedly a glorious place but, as Robert Frost has noted in a poem by the same title, “Nothing gold can stay.” Maybe it was never designed to last forever. But coupled with Eve’s newly-assigned physical pain was an intense emotional bonding to her baby. Most mothers would probably view this as a fair exchange.
At any rate, I write a fair bit of “Eden Poetry”. I’m including two samples below, with accompanying photos. If you tend to hold the fundamentalist and literal view of Genesis or Biblical history in general, my blog will possibly not be to your liking. I tend to wrestle with metaphysical issues that make people uncomfortable – not always, but occasionally. No apologies, however. God and/or Goddess (I can’t associate either sex with such a remote and incomprehensible being) gave me an imagination and meant for me to use it.
On to the poems …
*Note – Since apples were unknown in the region where Eden is said to have existed, but pomegranates were native to that area, most historians now believe that “apple” is a faulty translation for a fruit that looks quite similar, in that both are red, round, juicy and seed-bearing.
He tightens himself into his branches,
rustles their leaves only a little –
yellow hearts, he notices. Jigging
lightly in a late-harvest shower.
But he cannot name the tree, although
he knows it has one. Everything
is named, but fading like himself.
Memories wrap around and around,
tendrils without the strength
to cling harder or vine wilder.
He has chosen carefully his lure,
red ripeness and high sweet notes
like a descant above the darker alto
of this abandoned garden.
Blemished, certainly, but some
imperfections grow their own hooks.
He has set himself above her,
runs his tongue over the last
of his teeth as she steps without
questioning this path made for her.
She scents the grass with musk –
resonant as these autumn apples –
and scans the hedges for spies
among their thorns. He looks down,
deeper than the already shadows.
She has been here forever.
Only the coyotes are evil, but
they hold music in their voices
so she accepts them as necessary.
Shrinking light limns her
with a brief aureole. Her gaze
lifts toward him, mandorla-eyes
centered with sun points.
The odour of their temptation
wreathes them – his locked arms,
her eagerness. She stretches
her neck; he remembers a swan
dropping from the blank sky
with arrows in its breast.
He slides out his instrument:
that weapon hidden in his head –
less merciful now, primed
with all the failed chases strung
from his neck. Beads shaped
like every sorrow in the world.
He understands he is not beautiful,
so cruelty must be sufficient.
He owns this forked seat
of both cunning and disaster.
When she finally eats, he blinks
with sudden regret. As if his vision
shows only part truth. As if her
innocence trumps everything
he believes about himself.
I am your God, he whispers then.
For once, I get to decide.
But no tremor shakes the quiet.
Because nobody cares what he says.
She is listening to the wind. He strains
toward her, so elastic now. So cocksure.
He will give her one chance. Yet she
stands unafraid, the juice of his sin
leaking from her mouth. No hand
out of the holy air will drag her
away from this place of atonement.
This lost orchard, where ruined fruit
offers her all its power. Where
nothing else wonders what its name is.
And everything depends on the fall.
He is quick as any striking asp, but
still winces at the recoil that rattles
trunk, earth, even the dusk itself.
A birdwing flurry rises above him.
He wishes he could take it all back.
But she is lost to him now,
vanished into her new awareness.
He stoops to stroke her, draws
away from the up-and-down saw
of her ribs dying under his touch.
She has put on mortality – lies
here in mud and damnation.
Night pools around her like blood
under an old and broken bough.
Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011 – all rights reserved
from Tipping the Sacred Cow, Fortunate Childe Publications, 2011; reprinted in Wingflash, Pink Petticoat Press, 2011
In the Beginning
Our mothers taught us too well
to fear the snake, bringer of a cry
under the knife, a cutting, the mangled
cord that loops us to a single loss,
one night when we forgot
to be wary. The rind stretches,
In this blackberry meadow
we gather – we women who hold
that same pomegranate
the serpent offers, month after month,
year upon bloody year, until its lure
gleams flat as a mirror, raised
for us to bear witness.
Here, then, are its red-jellied ova
in their five hundred cradles: this,
a sea-maid with war under her fists;
this, a dust orphan who believes
only that each road leads
to some new sorrow.
There, tumbling downriver,
a firstborn son grasps his own
ankles, jellyfishes on the current.
And there, a buttercup lass
without voice refuses to curse
her creator. She does not recognize
a bribe when it dangles in front
of her hand. The swollen skin is fruit –
nothing more. She wrinkles it
into the dirt.
We limp toward our dry age,
when every kernel is blown and gone.
I throw off my heavy scarf
dividing skull from spine. Thought
has become acceptable. I am
no longer forbidden to jackknife
questions for my enemy
in a round-bark trunk. Nothing
grows inside me any more.
The Garden temptress hums sweet
as a harp – she, who has tricked
us from the beginning. Her secret
teeth fill a gourd with droplets
of juice. Its neck juts firm,
the last man-thing in paradise.
The false adder hangs her trap
on a thorn. Insects jostle each other.
Come, you are not too late.
Flies’ wings click-zip together
like angel bones.
She could have bitten Eve
instead of feeding her. She has never
shared a bond with Adam, the lust
that urges every poor girl to damn
herself. Now she relives that choice,
over and over, having no legs
to walk away from it. We are all too late,
but she understands.
We watch her tend the tree, cultivate
its next crop – wisdom and illusion.
Apples for fools. Pomegranates for the rest,
who should know better. She lacks
interest in us now.
Then we leave her there and follow
the flowless rivers out of Eden,
where beheaded grasses shake and mourn.
She has taken our wombs before
letting us go. No rapture can ever enter us
by that path again. The gate rings
as it closes.
Brenda Levy Tate (c) 2011 – all rights reserved
First published on IBPC, Web del Sol (October 2011)
dawn on the river, June 6 2013
Crepuscular. When I was a child, that word suggested rather negative ideas; perhaps I associated it with corpuscles or the black crepe one drapes around a dead-room in Victorian melodrama. Its meaning has been transformed by the passage of years and many walks among shadows barely touched by light.
This morning, I awaken very early and decide that 5:30 is a perfectly fine hour to wander my little Eden. The grass is drenched, of course, and my sock-bound feed are constricted in cold. I should really remove them – the socks, that is, not the feet – clumsy though they can be sometimes. But I want to sit with my coffee and watch the morning unfold. I know this is an imperfect world, fraught with horror and chaos, riven with possibilities for evil and often interrupted by alarmist sirens. However, this fresh dawn, where I am right now, must surely be perfect. I would be false to myself if I were to ignore that.
Out on the Tusket River stillwater, which curves along the edge of my land, mist has cast its gauzy veil across the water. Cormorants, ever anxious for their catch-of-the-day and not bound by any clock, are poised in dense lines along the protruding rocks. Gulls skim the trees and current, more quietly than usual – perhaps out of respect for the general stillness of the hour. To the east of the river’s bend, a necklace of circles breaks the surface as fish, unaware of their audience, celebrate a return from spawning and their impending reunion with the sea. Some will not make it. The cormorants and gulls are good at what they do.
A great blue heron glides above me, too suddenly for my camera to catch. These birds rise later than the more common predators; they take flight toward the west, upriver – perhaps enjoying the air through their pinions and thinking of nothing much. What they lack in magnificent voices is more than offset by their elegance and adaptability. Herons, eagles and hummingbirds give my hours of photographic pleasure. I love all birds but these three, all different from each other, contribute the most material for my lens.
I think again of crepuscular as the sunlight explores with gentle fingers among my new-leaved trees. Its beams don’t yet touch the ground but they turn the mist to a warm drapery that blows and billows around the cormorants, the stones, and me. Dylan Thomas speaks of “the close and holy darkness” but for me, this half-shine is holy too. It reminds me that hope inevitably outlines the edges of trees and fences and buildings, and of us as well. We are the moving shades within the light. Behind us, it rays out and shifts as we move. We rise as the sun does, strengthened moment by moment, tentative at first – then brave and undeniable. My only concern is to illuminate without burning. Such light can be fierce if unguarded. I would rather be a candle than a flare.
And so the day hurries forward. In the maples and oaks, warblers raise their greetings. A veery begins his carol, hidden visually but not aurally. How can a mere physical body ever match such sound? It is astonishing, this cascade, a pitcher of melody poured over my head – the small singer’s blessing. No one can hear a veery or wood thrush and consider the day a loss.
Now the light has descended. It shatters and bends though dewdrops and webs and the translucence of opening flowers. I search for a spider’s midnight efforts, but there are no web artists alive yet. These are young creatures, learning the ways of their kind, looping their experimental strands from spruce boughs. The parents – such skilled weavers of autumn magic – have vanished forever. We learn, and create, and excel. Then all that awareness is consigned to the earth. Or is it?
The morning is fully bright now. A loon runs across the mirrored surface, takes off, calls back to me. The fish have stopped their dance and continued their journey home. Traffic begins to move on my country road, and dust replaces ground fog. The world of humanity intrudes; the world of water, silence and crepuscular light withdraws. Tonight it will return for another quick reminder that it still exists. I am content with that.