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

Washed in Light

The sunlight that pours in, falling over the sash like crisp, clear water, washing the walls, spilling over the coverlet and floor, refreshes like no rain has in years. I acknowledge the need for, even the longing, sometimes, for rain, but nothing comes close in rain, at certain other times, to giving me the reviving strength I find in showers of sunlight.Photo + text: Nearing Heaven

Under the Arches

I walk into the room after the rehearsal has begun, and the men are working on a slow passage of Handel. Choirs I and II sing the same tenor, baritone and bass parts at this part of the piece, and they have unified their pitch and the round warmth of their Latin vowels so that despite having only ten of them singing a relatively soft phrase, the sonority is beautifully intense and sweeps me into the room on an almost ecstatic wave.photoI sit and finally have a look around. The doctoral student assistant is conducting, and one of the voices raised is my husband’s, from where he’s joined Choir II. I close my eyes for just a moment to listen to the lilt and roll of the men’s voices.

When the women rejoin and the full ensemble begins to move forward, picking up speed and volume as the text becomes more buoyant, I feel myself lifted further on the waves, transported far from this concrete box of a room and its cold fluorescent lights.photoSuddenly I am under the morning light pouring through a cathedral’s oculus, gazing up into the curves of the arched nave and dome. I am pacing sedately through the arcade of a cloister, the afternoon sun warming my heels as it peers into the intervals between the pillars. I am in the garden, watching the sun set on the curled canes of the roses climbing there,the bows of the water leaping in the fountain, the draped arms of the willow as it leans out to embrace the day’s last rays of light.

This is the sweetness of music, and in this wash of light and dark, cool and warmth, joy and meditation I can gladly lie for a thousand years.photo

Joy in the Morning

digital painting from a photoMorning, Waking

Starting anew with a fresh clean slate

I feel a sense of freedom, youth

A breathing moment where the truth

Is not unlikely, not too late

I have arisen and begun

Not just by law but for desire

Alit with unaccustomed fire

From some oft-hidden ray of sun

These days when age most often stings

The simple joys right out of me

I slake my thirst with ecstasy

When a rare morning-welcome singsphoto montage

A Beautiful Sun-Baked Land

photoBread for the morning came from five-o’clock ovens fired with passion and streaked with musky, pungent olive oil; the steam rolled out of those great clay caves and up the terraced resin scented hills of vineyards’ cool and shadowed kiss. Inside the chalk-white walls with their gauzy curtains strewn and the brick brown pavers all around worn by pacing wiry dogs and treading cats, the whole countryside slept, immobile, somewhat far retreated in their beds before the wavy rays of fourteen-karat sun-baked into turquoise heat our ceiling of sky.

photo

Naturally

Along with all of the other, perfectly legitimate and obvious, reasons that I celebrate every year when I am remembering the arrival of my next-younger sister on her birthday–the first one remembered mostly anecdotally given my tender years on the occasion, and all of the subsequent ones fitting days for delighting in the gifts with which her continued presence graces me and all of her circle of influence so consistently–I rejoice in the greater sense of appreciation for nature that she has given me.photoShe is something of a bouquet herself. Indeed, she is beautiful in the way of pretty things throughout nature, and also filled with liveliness and energy and purpose and growth that inspire me and amaze me regularly. I look on her as an enhancement of the world a little like a human bloom in its garden, unfolding each day and year with new surprises and joys that reinforce the very image of goodness in life.photoIn a more concrete way, with her love of the outdoors and its grand presents, pleasures and promises she has taught me and continues to teach me to appreciate the natural world as well. As much as our garden-genie mother shared her love of interacting with the created spaces in nature and even getting outdoors appreciatively on day hikes, in parks and on strolls wherever we could, the number-three sister in our quartet has given me yet greater love and sympathy for the breadth and depth of possibility in all those realms of nature and more. I will never keep up with my sister’s skill and prowess when it comes to being physically ‘outdoorsy’ as athlete, gardener or explorer, but every time I step out any door into the untrammeled world, I do and will see much of it as a living bouquet paying tribute in return to one of nature’s loveliest flowers.photoHappy birthday, my dear sister, and I send you these little pictures and words in token of my love that spans from your first blooming in the world to the end of my seasons.

Arachnophobe Alert!

I have, however belatedly, realized that I should probably come with a personal warning-label. Perhaps a flashing light on the top of my head, or a large Hazmat sort of logo emblazoned on my forehead in neon colors, or a nice blaring air horn that goes off intermittently and scares the socks off of everyone within a two-mile radius. Or some combination of these. In particular, it should ward off any unwary spider-haters from my vicinity, for their safety and sanity are of such importance to me.

You see, I have always recognized that my head is full of cobwebs. Dust bunnies, too, perhaps, but clearly those are less dangerous than cobwebs, which of course bespeak the presence of web makers, i.e., spiders. It never occurred to me before that I was putting the health and happiness of arachnophobes so at risk–in addition to any threats to vitality and salubrious sentience that might be inherent in my mere personality, that is. I am heartily sorry for this oversight. Now, consider yourselves warned. And yes, close your eyes as you skim past the photos.photo

As it is, the whole of the idea was brought bubbling to the surface from my murky depths by the difficulty I’m having waking up today. I could blame it on jet lag, on overcast skies, on increasing age and so many other possible causes. But if I am to be fully honest and transparent about this whole thing, I do have to admit that the cobwebs and spider-friendly environment existed long, long before any such influences were at work. The cavern of my skull may well have been arachnophilic to this extreme from sometime around when I spoke my first words–and indeed, that would explain a great many of my thoughts, blurts and actions in the ensuing years. It might also be instructive as to why I find actual spiders and their artistry rather charming and attractive, but that could simply reflect other aspects of my oddity and have arrived on its own.

In any case, here I sit, well after the noon hour on a day that ought by all rights to be a productive and purposeful one (and undoubtedly is, for saner and more useful persons), still trying to emerge from the glutinous bonds of cobwebbery and hoping that nothing catches fire until I do. I beg your patience. At least the spiders in the neighborhood will stick around to keep me company.photo