In My Hunger

I made for grief a leaden bowl
and drank it, every drop.
And though I thought I’d downed it all
the hurting didn’t stop.

I made of hope a golden sieve
to drain my world of pain.
Though I was sure I’d bled it dry
the void filled up again.

I made of words a silver fork
and stabbed love in the heart,
and when I found the sweetness gone
I chewed it into art.
~Luci Shaw “What I Needed to Do”

How can I stow away our hurt and grief
when it keeps refilling, leaking everywhere?
Where can hope be found when all feels hopeless?
When I have been loved beyond all measure,
with bleeding hands and feet and side;
why not turn to the Word,
its sweetness never exhausted
no matter how often I chew through it
in my hunger.

A book of art in words and photography, available to order here:

Wired With Alertness

Edmund Darch Lewis – Susquehanna
Agnes Wallace by Robert Sivell

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.


Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure — if it is a pleasure —
of fishing on the Susquehanna.


I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one —
a painting of a woman on the wall,


a bowl of tangerines on the table —
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.


There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,


rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.


But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,


when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend


under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana


sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.


That is something I am unlikely

ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.


Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,


even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame. 
~Billy Collins Fishing On The Susquehanna In July

A Hare in the Forest by Hans Hoffman (Getty Museum)
Susquehanna by Jasper Francis Cropsey
Hayfield–oil painting by Scott Prior http://www.scottpriorart.com

I live a quiet life in a quiet place. There are many experiences not on my bucket list that I’m content to simply imagine.

I’m not a rock climber or a zip liner or willing to jump out of an airplane. I won’t ride a horse over a four foot jump or race one around a track. Not for me waterskis or unicycles or motorcycles.

I’m grateful there are those who are eagerly wired with alertness for the next experience: adventurers who seek out the extremes of life so the rest of us can sit back and admire their courage and applaud their explorations and achievement.

My mind’s eye and imagination is powerful enough, thanks to the words and pictures of others. I find I’m content to explore the corners of my quiet places, both inside and outside, to see what I can build from what I find right here under my nose.

When the light is right, and I’m open enough to it, what I see is ready to spring right out of the frame.

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur—

….and August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

You become a self that fills the four corners of
night.
~Wallace Stevens, from “A Rabbit As King of the Ghosts”

More of my images along with Lois Edstrom’s ekphrastic poetry can be found in this book, available for order here:

To Live in the Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon

How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?


Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:

“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.

I am not done with my changes.
~Stanley Kunitz from “The Layers”

A child is asleep. Her private life unwinds inside skin and skull; only as she sheds childhood, first one decade and then another, can she locate the actual, historical stream, see the setting of her dreaming private life—the nation, the city, the neighborhood, the house where the family lives—as an actual project under way, a project living people willed, and made well or failed, and are still making, herself among them.

I breathed the air of history all unaware, and walked oblivious through its littered layers.
~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood

photo of Wiser Lake and Mt. Baker by Joel de Waard

…we become whole by having the courage to revisit and embrace all the layers of our lives, denying none of them, so that we’re finally able to say, “Yes, all of this is me, and all of this has helped make me who I am.”

When we get to that point, amazingly, we can look at all the layers together and see the beauty of the whole.
~Parker Palmer from “Embracing All the Layers of Your Life” in On Being

My favorite scenes are ones where there are several “layers” to study, whether it is a still life of petals or a deep landscape with a foreground, middle and backdrop. The challenge is to decide where to look first, what to draw into sharp focus, and how to absorb it all as a whole. In fact, if I only see one aspect, I miss the entire point of the composition. It is wonderfully multi-faceted and multi-layered because that is how my own life is – complex with so much diverse and subtle shading.

If I try to suppress some darker part of my own life I wish to forget and blur out, I ignore the beauty of the contrast with the light that illuminates the rest.

The layers reflect who I was created to be as an image-bearer – complex, nuanced, illuminated in the presence of dark.

Beautifully composed and ultimately transformed.

Enjoying Barnstorming posts like this? You can order this book from Barnstorming here:

Imagining

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure — if it is a pleasure —
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one —
a painting of a woman on the wall,


a bowl of tangerines on the table —
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,

sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame. 
~Billy Collins Fishing On The Susquehanna In July

Edmund Darch Lewis – Susquehanna
Hayfield–oil painting by Scott Prior http://www.scottpriorart.com

I live a quiet life in a quiet place. There are many experiences not on my bucket list that I’m simply content to just imagine.

I’m not a rock climber or a zip liner or willing to jump out of an airplane. I won’t ride a horse over a four foot jump or race one around a track. Not for me waterskis or unicycles or motorcycles.

I’m grateful there are adventurers who seek out the extremes of life so the rest of us can admire their courage and applaud their explorations.

My imagination is powerful enough, thanks to the words and pictures of others – sometimes too vivid. I contentedly explore the corners of my quiet places, both inside and outside, to see what I can build from what’s here.

When the light is right, what I see in my mind is ready to spring right out of the frame.

The Love of Tasks Gone Past

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quilt1617

 

quilt1417

 

quilt717

 

quilt817

 

Like a fading piece of cloth
I am a failure

No longer do I cover tables filled with food and laughter
My seams are frayed my hems falling my strength no longer able
To hold the hot and cold

I wish for those first days
When just woven I could keep water
From seeping through
Repelled stains with the tightness of my weave
Dazzled the sunlight with my
Reflection

I grow old though pleased with my memories
The tasks I can no longer complete
Are balanced by the love of the tasks gone past

I offer no apology only
this plea:

When I am frayed and strained and drizzle at the end
Please someone cut a square and put me in a quilt
That I might keep some child warm

And some old person with no one else to talk to
Will hear my whispers

And cuddle
near
~Nikki Giovanni “Quilts”

 

quilt2117

 

quilt1117

 

quilt2017

 

quilt1817

 

quilt217

 

When I no longer have strength or the usefulness to perform my daily tasks,
piece me up and sew me into a greater whole along with pieces of others who are fading.
We are so much better together,
so much more colorful and bold,
becoming art and function in our fraying state.

Full of warmth and fun
covering all who are sick and sleep and love and cuddle,
and drift off to heaven as the last breath is breathed.

 

 

quilt1717

 

quilt1217

 

quilt1317

 

quilt617

 

quilt117

 

quilt917

 

quilt317

 

~~click each quilt to enlarge and admire the handiwork~~

(thank you again to the quilters displaying their art at the NW Washington Fair in Lynden
(see previous years’ work here and here)

 

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You Must Change Your Life

mejierhorse6

mejierhorse2

mejierhorse5

 

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
~Rainer Maria Rilke “Archaic Torso of Apollo”

(these photos were taken at Meijer Sculpture Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan last month of The American Horse modeled after da Vinci’s drawings of his unfulfilled plan to build a huge bronze horse as the bronze collected for the sculpture was instead used to build cannons to unsuccessfully defend Milan, Italy from French invaders)

Of the horse I will say nothing because I know the times. ~  da Vinci

 

mejierhorse4

horsemane

A work of art,
whether human-made or heaven-sent,
should call us to reflect
on our own creation,
what we bring to this existence.
It should awe us
to praise,
to grace,
to respond,
to change
who we are
and who we will become.

 

IMG_8982

mejierhorse1

mejierhorse3

The Obstruction of Light

summershadow

Shadow is the obstruction of light.
Shadows appear to me to be of supreme importance in perspective,
because without them
opaque and solid bodies will be ill defined;
that which is contained within their outlines and their boundaries themselves
will be ill-understood
unless they are shown against a background
of a different tone from themselves.

~Leonardo da Vinci

myohmy

Stable Harmony

dandydrizzle

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photo of snow storm in Tokyo by Nate Gibson

…the artist has merely to be more keenly aware than others
of the harmony of the world,
of the beauty and ugliness of the human contribution to it,
and to communicate this acutely to his fellow-men.
And in misfortune,
and even at the depths of existence –
in destitution, in prison, in sickness –
his sense of stable harmony never deserts him.

~Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel Speech contemplating Dostoevsky’s statement “Beauty will save the World”

treesteps
armedangerous

bench2

The Tree of Lights

“[M]any newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision.  To one patient, a human hand, unrecognized, is “something bright and then holes.”  Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy calls out “It is dark, blue and shiny….It isn’t smooth, it has bumps and hollows.”  A little girl visits a garden.  “She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names by taking hold of it, and then as “the tree with the lights in it.”

When the doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw “the tree with the lights in it.”  It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years.  Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.  Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.  I have since only rarely seen the tree with the lights in it.  The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.” Annie Dillard 1974, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Ever since reading about the “The Tree of Lights” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1975, I’ve been keeping a look-out  for it. Like Dillard, I want to be “lifted and struck”, to resonate in a new awareness, no longer be blinded,  to see everything in a sharper focus.

It can happen unexpectedly.  The first time was in an art class in 1980.  My artistic ability was limited to stick figures so a doctor friend and I decided to take her art teacher husband’s evening “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain” class.  Robert Fulghum was an unorthodox teacher—not just an artist, but a Unitarian pastor, a story teller, and a musician.  He was, in his entertaining and inimitable way,  able to teach us how to look at the world in terms of shadow and light, solid and air, space and density, patterns and plain.  He put a drawing of an old cowboy boot, hung upside down in front of the class, and asked us to draw it that way.  We were not to think “boot”, but to think of it as lines and shadow, empty space and full shape,  dark against light.

I drew what I “saw”, focusing on the small detail rather than my expectation of the “whole”.  At the end of class, Fulghum asked us to turn our drawing right side up, and as I turned the paper around, I was astonished that I had a distinctly recognizable cowboy boot, my first real drawing.  It stayed on my refrigerator for four years.  I was so proud that I had been taught a new way to “see”.

It was a much less dramatic moment than Dillard’s story of the girl whose cataract removal changed her perception of familiar objects to unfamiliar.  But I did feel that distinct sense of being “lifted and struck” like a bell.

Not long after, Fulghum wrote a little meditation on what he had learned in kindergarten for his church’s weekly Sunday bulletin.  That bulletin somehow found its way to the desk of Washington State Senator Dan Evans, who read it into the Congressional Record.  From there it was reprinted, passed around and eventually made it home in the school backpack of an editor’s son.  That mother, going over the school papers, sat down to read “All I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum and set out to track down the author.  He soon received a call from her, and the first thing she asked was “do you have anything else like this you’ve written?”   The answer was an emphatic “yes” from a pastor with years of sermons and church bulletins in his files.  His first book of collected essays was published a year later.   His life was never to be the same.

I keep looking for the “tree of lights” but it is elusive because I’m blinded most of the time.  Maybe, just maybe,  I’ll find it if I can only turn the world upside down…