Good Friday

Cross

We shall try again this year
to turn the tethered cedars
into signposts for doctrine
we’ve made up, or into poles
for flying flags of conquest,
or into corner frames for sails
to billow gales of church talk.
We’ll let them be anything
but what they are: two limbs
lifted from the earth, joined
at right angles, in creative
friction, to fuel a sacrificial
fire that beckons far-off
exiles on their beaten road,
toward an unexpected answer.

John Prine 1946-2020

Missing John Prine tonight. I believe he lived off a dirt road, near the railroad tracks, not far from the river, in the small town of my mind. I did not think of him very often in these last years, except when my son Matt reminded me that he was out there.

Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons” fit John Prine’s Midwestern soul, inspired as it was by a restless life as a writer and performer, and by  dreams and nightmares that await riders on the unlit roads of rural America. I read that John Prine loved classic cars, and that he liked to drive around alone, with words of songs in his head.

This is an American song about starting again by riding through life with strangers, who can help you, if you need help, just by being themselves. Revise and rewrite, keep trying: “change the words to this song, and start singin’ again.” It’s a good, hopeful song on a night of self-isolation, ahead of another day of social distancing.

I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station
Gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids
And sit down by her side

Ride ’til the sun comes up and down around me
‘Bout two or three times
Smokin’ cigarettes in the last seat
Tryin’ to hide my sorrow from the people I meet
And get along with it all

Go down where the people say “Y’all”
Sing a song with a friend
Change the shape that I’m in
And get back in the game, start playin’ again

I’d like to stay
But I might have to go to start over again
Might go back down to Texas
Might go to somewhere that I’ve never been

And get up in the mornin’ and go out at night
And I won’t have to go home
Get used to bein’ alone
Change the words to this song, start singin’ again

I’m tired of runnin’ ’round lookin’
For answers to questions that I already know
I could build me a castle of memories
Just to have somewhere to go

Count the days and the nights that it takes
To get back in the saddle again
Feed the pigeons some clay, turn the night into day
Start talkin’ again, when I know what to say

I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station
Gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with two or three kids
And sit down by her side

Ride ’til the sun comes up and down around me
‘Bout two or three times
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talkin’ again when I know what to say

San Antonio Ruins

Mission Concepcion San Antonio.JPG

Mission Concepción

18th century Spanish Jesuits established missions to shelter and Christianize bands of native people whose ancient patterns of life were threatened by European colonization and Apache raids. The missions defined the beginning of San Antonio.

Ruins can be sublimely spiritual. They hold secrets with a coyness that keeps the scholars busy. Mix a bit of social, cultural and architectural history with slow observation, and a tourist’s imagination is fully occupied.

Curly Neal 1942-2020 Basketball as Jazz

Basketball transmogrified into athletic entertainment with Abe Saperstein’s Harlem Globetrotters. ABC’s Wide World of Sports brought Globetrotter basketball shows into American living rooms in the 70s and 80s. Curly Neal’s smile and dribbling exhibitions, Meadowlark Lemon’s hamming in the high post, and the half-choreographed, high-energy shows turned the athleticism and grace of basketball into stage comedy. Curly Neal was the prince of the court.

 

Ancient Nubia at the Museum of Fine Arts

Nubia is the name scholars have given to the dynasties that flourished in the Sudanese Nile Valley from 2400 BCE to 364 BCE.

The exhibition at the MFA was dramatic. The story unveiled a culture hidden under ancient and modern bias that placed civilizations of Egypt over the culture of neighboring Nubia. Early 20th century European and American archaeologists, uncovering biblical history, and narrating what they found through scriptural lenses, overlaid Egypt on the whole region, and underplayed Nubia.

As I stepped around the wall, into the first exhibition room, a blue ceramic lion, that in 1600 BCE adorned a temple entrance, took my breath away.

One room displays dozens of shawabties that surrounded the bodies of Nubian royalty, and guarded their sleep.

 

The Season of Phantasmal Peace by Derek Walcott 1930-2017

Image result for huge flock of birds

The Season of Phantasmal Peace

Then all the nations of birds lifted together
the huge net of the shadows of this earth
in multitudinous dialects, twittering tongues,
stitching and crossing it. They lifted up
the shadows of long pines down trackless slopes,
the shadows of glass-faced towers down evening streets,
the shadow of a frail plant on a city sill—
the net rising soundless as night, the birds’ cries soundless, until
there was no longer dusk, or season, decline, or weather,
only this passage of phantasmal light
that not the narrowest shadow dared to sever.

And men could not see, looking up, what the wild geese drew,
what the ospreys trailed behind them in silvery ropes
that flashed in the icy sunlight; they could not hear
battalions of starlings waging peaceful cries,
bearing the net higher, covering this world
like the vines of an orchard, or a mother drawing
the trembling gauze over the trembling eyes
of a child fluttering to sleep;
it was light
that you will see at evening on the side of a hill
in yellow October, and no one hearing knew
what change had brought into the raven’s cawing,
the killdeer’s screech, the ember-circling chough
such an immense, soundless, and high concern
for the fields and cities where the birds belong,
except it was their seasonal passing, Love,
made seasonless, or, from the high privilege of their birth,
something brighter than pity for the wingless ones
below them who shared dark holes in windows and in houses,
and higher they lifted the net with soundless voices
above all change, betrayals of falling suns,
and this season lasted one moment, like the pause
between dusk and darkness, between fury and peace,
but, for such as our earth is now, it lasted long.

See the source image

Derek Walcott, “The Season of Phantasmal Peace” from Collected Poems: 1948-1984. Copyright © 1987 by Derek Walcott. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, http://us.macmillan.com/fsg. All rights reserved.

The Burning Babe by Robert Southwell 1561-1595

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

Robert Southwell.JPG

Mistletoe by Walter de La Mare 1873-1956

Mistletoe

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Gratitude by Mary Oliver 1935-2019

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

What did you hear?

The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.

When did you admire?

The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.

What astonished you?

The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.
What would you like to see again?
My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue,
her recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness,
her strong legs, her curled black lip, her snap.

What was most tender?

Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.

What was most wonderful?

The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.

What did you think was happening?

The green beast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve of the first snow—

so the gods shake us from our sleep.

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A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807-1882

A Psalm of Life

What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Black and white photograph of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.