Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Mark Jarman

The Flight into Egypt by Luc-Olivier Merson 1846-1920

Rest on the Flight into Egypt

How can they sleep? Joseph awkwardly
pillows his head on a ledge in the sand,
and Mary between the Sphinx’s stone paws
leans back with the child aglow in her lap.

Yet they are sleeping. The smoke of their fire
pays out a vanishing thread to heaven.
Their donkey grazes on bones of grasses,
his saddle a shelter for darkened sand.

There are no stars. Perhaps they have fallen,
increasing the grains of drifted sand.
But, no. It is dawn. The statue has seen it,
and so has the child – high in the east.

The donkey goes on breaking its fast.
The exhausted parents continue to sleep.
And two pairs of eyes, a child’s and a monster’s,
keep their watch on a world of sand.

After the painting by Luc-Olivier Merson

Life Magazine, Still Lifes and Frank Bowling at the MFA

With photographs that arrested white middle class Americans, Life Magazine was delivered to the mailboxes of millions until television replaced it.

The photographer frames a familiar thing and freezes our attention for a moment.

Sir Frank Bowling’s series of washes on continents of the earth and “Mother’s House” test our eyes with shifting, evolving, fading memories and perceptions of place.

Objects, places and shapes disappear in the power of color, the indomitable flow of paint, the undeniable emotion of composition.

There’s no place like home.

December Morning in the Desert by Albert Rios

The morning is clouded and the birds are hunched,
More cold than hungry, more numb than loud,

This crisp, Arizona shore, where desert meets
The coming edge of the winter world.

It is a cold news in stark announcement,
The myriad stars making bright the black,

As if the sky itself had been snowed upon.
But the stars—all those stars,

Where does the sure noise of their hard work go?
These plugs sparking the motor of an otherwise quiet sky,

Their flickering work everywhere in a white vastness:
We should hear the stars as a great roar

Gathered from the moving of their billion parts, this great
Hot rod skid of the Milky Way across the asphalt night,

The assembled, moving glints and far-floating embers
Risen from the hearth-fires of so many other worlds.

Where does the noise of it all go
If not into the ears, then hearts of the birds all around us,

Their hearts beating so fast and their equally fast
Wings and high songs,

And the bees, too, with their lumbering hum,
And the wasps and moths, the bats, the dragonflies—

None of them sure if any of this is going to work,
This universe—we humans oblivious,

Drinking coffee, not quite awake, calm and moving
Into the slippers of our Monday mornings,

Shivering because, we think,
It’s a little cold out there.

Everyman’s Pocket Classics

These solid little volumes on undeniable themes like love, the sea, golf, Christmas and gardening are as compact and balanced in the hand as the stories inside the covers are compact and balanced pieces. I now have the volume on gardening to add to my collection. In it Thoreau tells about hoeing beans in Concord, and there is this line from Vermont gardener Jamaica Kincaid’s essay “The Garden I Have in Mind”

I shall never have the garden I have in mind, but that for me is the joy of it; certain things can never be realized and so all the more reason to attempt them. -Jamaica Kincaid

State Fair Fireworks, Labor Day by Maryann Corbett

Look up: blazing chrysanthemums in rose
shriek into bloom above the Tilt-a-Whirls,
hang for a blink, then die in smoky swirls
They scream revolt at what the body knows:
all revels end. We clap and sigh. Then, no—
another rose! another peony! break,
flame, roar, as though by roaring they might make
the rides whirl in perpetuum. As though
we need not finally, wearily turn, to plow
back through the crush of bodies, the lank air,
to buses that inch us, sweating, across town.
As though we were not dropped in silence there
to trudge the last blocks home, the streetlamps low,
the crickets counting summer’s seconds down.

Prairie Midden: Poems by Athena Kildegaard

Over time the refuse of human activity, thoughts and material, laid aside locally, may amount to a mound of detritus. A midden is a dump ground, a trash heap. From time-to-time middens of solid castoffs are excavated by archeologists and historians. Middens of cultural or metaphysical accumulation wait for imaginative writers to sort through them then to tell some of what has been forgotten, ignored or never valued in the midden’s location.

Prairie sunset

Middens are piles of mistakes, wrong approaches, unused, overused and outdated debris collected over misspent human years. Athena Kildegaard’s historical sequence of poems capture women’s voices from mid-nineteenth century immigrants to yet unheard mid-twenty-first century residents of the North American prairie. The poems echo the characteristic loneliness of human beings living on grasslands. Some of them lament the loss of prairie ecosystems, most of which were never even noticed in the rush to plow and to plant row beside row of cash crops-corn and soybeans.

The melancholy that washes through some human hearts in the light of a prairie sunset colors these fine poems. The experience of spreading space that seems to master human perspectives, even the sense of time, weighs down nearly every page, casting a prairie spell of dignity, regret and strange beauty on the reader.

Athena Kildegaard

Mass Museum of Contemporary Art

Broken pieces of the world are picked up, rearranged, and shown to us as textures and patterns that turn our eyes and quiet our thoughts. Protests, and riffs on the shards of the world’s persistent trouble, are laid out to delight us and quiet our news-bruised souls. The museum’s shows wander through the chambers of the old mill building in North Adams, Massachusetts, making healing noise. What survival and science have shattered, art tries to gather, hold, and reshape.

Inscriptions in the Berkshires: Petrarch and Edith Wharton

So many years ago, I had forgotten, I wrote a college honors paper on Petrarch’s poems. These words from one of Petrarch’s letters appear on a plaque in a room of the wonderful Williams College Museum of Art, an epigraph to the exhibit Embodied Words: Reading in Medieval Christian Visual Culture.

A stone in a corner of a garden at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Rain Light by W. S. Merwin

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning

— W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius, Cooper Canyon Press, 2008

Eloquence of the Sardine: Extraordinary Encounters Beneath the Sea by Bill François and Antony Shuggar

My review of this delightful book appeared in the Christian Century last month. With the wonder of a child the author pursues scientific understanding of the ocean and its creatures.