The Magic of Books

Photo montage: The Magical BookIlluminations

A leather-covered volume with its pages edged in gilt

Slipped from the deck into the sea but, cradled in the silt

Where oxygen could not intrude, nor prying eyes descry

Its ancient glimmer in the mud, a century did lie;

One century—another—no, nine centuries of dark

It passed in sleeping silence after falling from that bark.

And then one day, a ray of light passed through the waves above

Just at the perfect moment for a mermaid, as she dove,

To catch a glimpse of gilded pages in that sea-deep sun

And swim down to investigate this treasure—only one

Quick sparkle of that golden edge brought her so close to look,

To brush aside the lazy silt and so, reveal the book.

Nine hundred years in darkness had it lain in quiet wait

For just this passing moment to wake up, illuminate,

And catch the passing fancy of an unsuspecting maid

Who’d bring it to her grotto in the deepest ocean’s shade.

In dappled dark, her opal eyes lit up the page, and next,

She read it, eager, mesmerized, the calligraphic text

Transforming, leaping from the book, becoming swiftly wild

And glorious, and telling tales that moved the mermaid child

To bend with sorrow, weep with joy; to palpitate with fear;

To live the story as her own; and, as the end drew near,

To grieve that such a magic fable had to end at all,

For it had seemed so rich and real, had held her in such thrall

That she’d begun to think it true, this tale of mythic men

And women wondrous wise and brave—she turned to read again—

Thrice through, in fact, she read the tome, and every time the more

Believed its great, compelling tale of life beyond her shore.

Full hearted, then, she closed the book, but never ceased to wish

That other mermaids, other seas, and other sorts of fish

Than those she knew in her own place were, as the story’s, real,

And though once happy, now she longed to see and hear and feel

What was beyond her native coast. One day she must return

To where she’d found that magic book, and see what she could learn.

One day, indeed, an older lass, but nonetheless enthralled

By the old book (she’d read again six times, if she recalled),

She caught the rolling afternoon’s most fearsome wave and rode

Under its lashing, crashing crest to where the book was stowed

Within its silken, silty bed so long, so long ago,

And knelt down on the ocean’s floor, and watched the water’s flow,

And saw the ripples up above, a thousand fathoms high,

And wished a little inward wish that something from the sky

Up higher still would pierce the waves, would light for her one ray

Of visionary hope the way it had upon that day.

Out of the darkness streaked with kelp, the passing sea life came

To look at her, this pearly lass, but swam off just the same,

For curious though she appeared, they’d naught to give or tell

That would assuage her longing or relieve her of her spell.

For days she hovered in that place, to gaze with fading hope

And heave a soft and bubbling sigh, and comb the gentle slope

To see if some small, overlooked companion to her find

Would rise to hand and help explain; but none was left behind.

At last she turned, quite woebegone, to drift for home, undone,

Her childhood fantasies all dashed—but wait! A ray of sun,

One faded spear, had pierced the deep; it beckoned her to draw

Back to the place her book had lain, and in its light she saw,

But faintly, now, another book, this one yet older still,

And as she took it in her hand, she felt a silent thrill

Race up her spine. She sailed for home as swift as mantas fly,

Gripping her treasure to her heart, this book dropped from the sky.

There in the grotto, as before, she read with trembling care

The prologue to her favored tale, the key unlocking there

The meaning of that history and mystery so grand,

The explication of her longed for never-ever-land.

Page One of this tremendous tome opened the secret wide

And startled her to drop the book, for there she saw inside

The preface to her deepest loved tale of that mystic place

Began with an engraving of her own familiar face!

Around her portrait, mirror-like, the title read, in part,

“The Story of Our Lady-Queen, the Owner of My Heart.”

Her own heart skipped a beat or two ere she once more to read

Took up the opus in her hand, to see where it might lead—

There in the shell-lined grotto sweet, she pored over the lines

Telling her life from this day forth, as writ by kingly hand:

Who authored this spoke of his love, and how she ruled his land

Long years to come, and how, in sum, her people throve as well,

And in the book, she met her love, who had such tales to tell,

And read them through with eager joy, to see what else she’d learn,

‘Til by the end-page she loved too, and had begun to yearn

To know this King and how it came that time had backward spun

So that these books of things yet dreamed fell from the present sun.

The end-page held, as she had hoped, engraved once more, two eyes

Whose gaze made her young, beating heart in recognition rise!

She dashed outside into the swell, and ne’er looked back again,

To find that place the boat was moored, to greet the sailing men,

To follow them to distant seas where they in their bark would roam,

And find the heart that from its start had known she would come home.Digital illustration from a photo: The Mermaid's Tale

Water Babies Athirst

There was a whopper of a rainstorm in Dallas recently. We were at our friends’ home, enjoying a little birthday party, and heard a few low growls of thunder in pauses between the chatting and laughter but had no great confidence rain would follow. It’s been overcast or cloudy often enough lately without granting so much of the hoped-for watering as it seems to promise, so we never take it as a given that we’ll be watered nicely. Not, in this instance at least, until the front door smashed open under the force of sideways gales and blasts of firehose rain. Bashed open once, and closed; then, a second time. And latched tight; the neighborhood was pelted well and truly until just a little before we left for home.
Photo: Drinking-Fountain Fountain

At home, it appears, no rain had come at all. Our gardens and spirits remained thirsty. I’m quite certain that a coastal-born person of my Washington upbringing and Scandinavian roots is a little more water-conscious, if not obsessed, than average. But the hints of rain that do arrive here, whether in sky-splitting gouts that last but an afternoon or in a steady series of lightly sprinkling days as we are sometimes blessed to see, are a fairly universally admired gift. And I find that north Texas is hardly alone in this.
Photo: Swan Like

The traveling we did this summer in Europe had very few rainy days among the many sun-soaked ones, and while we neither regretted the warmth and light of the sunshine nor bemoaned the drizzling times, we saw plenty of people in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Port Angeles and Seattle who relished their rain-baths and their waterfront or fountain-side relaxation every bit as much as we did. Even the swans, geese, ducks and waterfowl seemed all the more pleased with their daily peregrinations on the days of and after the rains.
Digital illustration from a photo: Falling, Falling

I think that there might be in all of us a certain kind of thirst that mere water only reinforces and reminds us is different from the sense of desire and hope that can fill our spirits. River or fountain, a strong and cleansing rain, ocean or streaming tears of joy, the only water that can quite slake our longing for wholeness and growth and hope is the remembrance that we are primarily made of water ourselves, and as such, will always seek a way to the well or the shore that reassures us we belong.

Unbalanced

Love always makes us a little nutty, and that’s not a complaint.

Digital Illustration: A Little Off Kilter

After all, it’s the only explanation for how I’ve managed to be so loved all of my life!Digital Illustration from a Photo: Longing Ladies

One could do a whole lot worse than beginning and ending with love.

The Longed-for Sound

digital illustrationAwakening

Whose is the voice that speaks my name, Aloud or silently, the same,

In gentle speech or radiant song, Unspoken care, forgiving wrong?

Whose is the loving, laughing voice That makes my waiting heart rejoice,

That wakes my hope and lights the sky With stars, to which my sole reply

Is humble gratitude, delight That such a voice breaks through the night

To search me out, my heart in two, And make it whole?

Your voice. Yes, you.

Equilibrium

photo montageOne of the things I enjoy most as an artist–as those of you who frequent this joint know–is playing with all of the commonalities I find in the visual world. I am very much an analogous thinker; what I see is tested, examined, recognized and theorized on the basis of what it reminds me of at first glance. I suppose it’s the virtual equivalent of judging a book by its cover, but what it allows me when I’m thinking in strictly visual terms is the opportunity to fiddle with the ideas of what I imagine to be the links between one subject and another and as patterns emerge from it, use that for creative fodder, learn something about these pet subjects of mine, build images based on them, and in turn, learn something about myself along the way if I make even a little effort.

It’s very easy to become a collector. We all have our idiosyncratic passions and interests, to the degree that when we’re not actively gathering objects and concrete stuff that reflects them we are still busy building our internal storage of ideas and images related to them, and we end up with personalities shaped by, and like, them. People associate us with our sets of tastes and ways of thinking. Me, I am addicted to patterns and repetition and all of those other characteristics that seem to me to express the wholeness of the world. I like the unique iterations that make each part of the larger network have its own personality or meaning yet remain subservient in one way or another to the more visible and outspoken qualities that are held in common.

I strongly suspect that this simply showcases my longing for a wider world wherein the beauty of each individual is respected and nurtured yet the things we know we have in common are celebrated above all else because we treasure our place in a bigger picture. That’s a work of art that we shouldn’t have to take art classes to appreciate.

Back from the Brink

photoBurnout. Tension. Stress. Exhaustion. Doesn’t matter what I call it, the unfriendly truth of that state of being is the same. Distraction. Aching and malaise. Irritability, withdrawal, collapse. The dramatic drops in life participation and wholeness all come together in equally unpleasant responses.

What are the causes, catalysts and triggers? As many and varied as the moments of any lifetime, of a million lifetimes, can allow. How is it that I–or anyone else on this madly spinning globe–can survive such stuff assailing us, let alone prevail against it and win?

Why, in a number of ways, we all do it pretty much all of the time. That’s how our species can even continue to exist; if we didn’t have a whole arsenal of defenses and strategies for the cosmic battle, it would’ve taken little more than a moment’s stray breeze to blow us all to oblivion. But vulnerable and weak as we are, we do have our ways, and we survive.

Faith. Whether it’s the belief in something as grand and benevolent as a Supreme Being that will rescue me or in something as small and ephemeral as the offer of a stranger’s hand to grasp mine and pull me up, faith can overcome many an obstacle.

Hope, too. If not utterly confident of it, as long as I can summon a sense that there’s some probability or even possibility of better things ahead, I have a chance of mustering just enough strength, patience and will to wait for the good to come to me. I may not be able to reach for it myself any longer, but I can hang on, however thinly, to a promise of change and renewal. For the return of the light.

And love. When all other resources are at their lowest ebb, even faith and hope having withdrawn in the impenetrable distance, love can carry me through. I have a greater store than most, being surrounded as I am by not only the encouraging affection and support of spouse, family and friends but also the remarkably kind uplift I’ve received at the hands and words of a wide array of acquaintances and strangers buoying me in my life over every would-be catastrophic wave. Beyond even this, there is another love that serves me well, when I can remember it: the love inside me that, however pale and faint it’s grown in my weakened state, recognizes a need to care for and comfort others in their time of need. The moment I can step outside of my own need, my hunger, despair, anger, longing or sorrow, just enough to recollect the existence of anyone else, I tend to draw back, however slowly, from the brink myself.

I can look around again with eyes less inward-focused and with a heart more willing to keep living, hard as it may seem at the time, and crawl back toward more gracious and sanguine days. My fellow survivors show me how to do it all the time. In this, I am once again truly at peace.digitally enhanced photo

Home and Deranged

photoA Particular Kind of Homesickness

The road we ride is an old back road, a highway that goes nowhere fast,

and as we drive and drift and dream, we see the present meet the past,

the way that it has always done from cities to the countryside,

the way we know that history recycles us, and far and wide,

we all return to what we’ve known and circle back to home and hearth

whether together or alone, to best-loved places on the earth.

Is it just crazy, that we long to find ourselves in Mama’s arms,

in childhood’s safety, in our fondest corner of our homes, our farms,

our gardens, houses, classrooms, fields? Is this insanity, or just

finding our life and hope and heart in best-loved places, as we must?

Return to rooted, distant loves, become simplicity and grace,

and find the fields of gold we seek in each his own familiar place.photo