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Posts Tagged ‘impermanence’

[with two poems by Julie Suk]

Silence does not exist for me. I’ve had my tinnitus mapped by an audiologist: four different frequencies in each ear, one or two dominant (louder!). One tone (on the left) is pitched so low that the only time I’ve heard it was before sunrise in Shining Rock Wilderness (near Mt. Pisgah) – no wind, no birdsong, no people, no machines. The other tones are high pitched, constant whining needles of sound, minor chords that never resolve.

I’ve heard that some people are driven insane by tinnitus. Perhaps you’d better be extra vigilant when you’re around me. Somehow, though, I’ve been blessed with the gift of mostly ignoring it, not caring. I can’t remember a life before I heard this daily continuous ringing screech. Where did it come from? All that target practice earning Marksmanship Merit Badge in Boy Scouts? All those lawns mowed as a kid? All those Grateful Dead and J. Geils Band concerts?

Intrusive noise. Which of us in 2021 doesn’t suffer from such? Thank you, iPhone, for telling me my screen time increased 23% last week. Add to that I’m a terrible meditator. If I try to empty my mind what immediately creeps in to fill the vacuum is regret and guilt for every screwup I’ve ever committed in my entire life. What works better for me is poetry. Feet flat on floor. Deep breaths, in and out. Open the book. Read a page. Stare unfocused into space. What tinnitus?

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At first I’m tempted to apologize for introducing Julie Suk with an essay that endeavors to wring a smile, but no, the light touch is not inappropriate. The poems in Astonished to Wake, Julie Suk’s sixth book published in 2016 when she was 92, are often about loss and all of them are about her own impermanence – they are solemn but they are never grim. The poems are simply perfectly human.

We all share one thing on this earth – our own mortality. Admitting that, we may be open to discover that we share much more: grief that we must live through and live beyond; loves that are no longer present but which still warm us like the dying fire’s embers; moments of joy, however brief.

As I sit down for a couple of hours to re-read this book in its entirety I become thoughtful, reflective, connected, grave, but not sad. And the only ringing I hear is Julie’s words.

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Migrations

A stretto of rain on the windowpane,
a swirl of bees caught in the creek’s overflow,
the yard going under.

Remember how replete our lives once were,
brimming over, the future a muted thunder
drawing us close.

Hold me, hold me

meaning I was fearful the same as you.

Drowning in sweet addictions,
we paused in a childlike daze –

no way to foresee
how and when we’d be swept away,

our bones washed up long after –
perhaps a fragment carved into a flute,

breath,
once again, floating through the wilderness.

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Between Lives

And what if it’s true that the life we’ve lived
flashes by at the moment of death?

Not even for an instant would I want repeated
the boring drone of guilt,
nor the shabby aftermaths of desire.

The black tunnel lit with epiphanies
would be my take –

sighs of contentment, laughter, a wild calling out –

and at the end,
a brief flaring of the one we’d hoped to become
escorting us into the light.

Julie Suk, from Astonished to Wake, © 2016 Jacar Press

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Julie Suk (born Julie Madison Gaillard; 1924) is a prize-winning American poet and writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is the author of six volumes of poetry – The Medicine Woman (St. Andrews Press, 1980), Heartwood (Briarpatch Press, 1991), The Angel of Obsession (The University of Arkansas Press, 1992), The Dark Takes Aim (Autumn House Press, 2003), Lie Down With Me (Autumn House Press, 2011), and Astonished To Wake (Jacar Press, 2016), and co-editor of Bear Crossings: an Anthology of North American Poets. She is included in The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals including The Georgia Review, Great River Review, The Laurel Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Shenandoah, and TriQuarterly.

[Bio from Wikipedia]

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[with three poems by Wendell Berry]

Y’all sure do favor!

So folks say when they first see my father and me together. He’s 94. I can’t say I see it but others do so there you are.

On the bookshelf in his living room is a small framed photo of my father about age 3, the same age as our grandson Bert right now. Now those two do favor! Two peas in a pod, cut from the same cloth, much of a muchness. Look at them with that one smile between them, look at those eyes, little imps, look at the domes of those foreheads. Let me just scroll through all these photos Bert’s parents have texted us and you’ll surely see how Wilson and Bert favor.

But where are the photos of my father at 3 making a face, lining up his lead soldiers, stacking his rough-cut handmade blocks? Where dancing? I suspect that framed studio portrait was a Christmas present from Grandmother’s brother Sidney – the rest of the family was surviving the depression on grits and squirrel gravy, the occasional bartered hog shoulder, never two nickels to rub together. The rare snapshots we have of aunts and cousins are from Uncle Sidney’s camera, the only one in the family.

Another depression is upon us now. We are all doing without something. Photos abound but Bert is not free to stand beside his great-grandfather, to show us their one smile between them. When will the day return that may show us how much we all do favor?

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The poetry of Wendell Berry returns me to the center: the center of the fields and woods he walks; the center of time that stretches from long before me to long after; the center of meaning in a universe in which I am not the center but which nevertheless makes a place for me.

These three poems are from Mr. Berry’s book Sabbaths, published in 1987. A moment of stillness, of contemplation, of connection to the earth and all that fills it makes any place sacred and any day Sabbath. My dread, my grief, my struggle during these times are no different really from any times. These things don’t recede, they don’t disappear. They simply take their place in this moment: no before, no after, only now, and I and you and all of us connected in the journey to discover within them some promise of peace.

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VIII (1979)

I go from the woods into the cleared field:
A place no human made, a place unmade
by human greed, and to be made again.
Where centuries of leaves once built by dying
A deathless potency of light and stone
And mold of all that grew and fell, the timeless
Fell into time. The earth fled with the rain,
The growth of fifty thousand years undone
In a few careless seasons, stripped to rock
And clay – a “new land,” truly, that no race
Was ever native to, but hungry mice
And sparrows and the circling hawks, dry thorns
And thistles sent by generosity
Of new beginning. No Eden, this was
A garden once, a good and perfect gift;
Its possible abundance stood in it
As it then stood. But now what it might be
Must be foreseen, darkly, through many lives –
Thousands of years to make it what it was,
Beginning now, in our few troubled days.

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X (1982)

The dark around us, come,
Let us meet here together,
Members one of another,
Here in our holy room,

Here on our little floor,
Here in the daylit sky,
Rejoicing mind and eye,
Rejoining known and knower,

Light, leaf, foot, hand, and wing,
Such order as we know,
One household, high and low,
And all the earth shall sing.

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III (1982)

The pasture, bleached and cold two weeks ago,
Begins to grow in the spring light and rain;
The new grass trembles under the wind’s flow.
The flock, barn-weary, comes to it again,
New to the lambs, a place their mothers know,
Welcoming, bright, and savory in its green,
So fully does the time recover it.
Nibbles of pleasure go all over it.

all selections from Sabbaths, Wendell Berry, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1987
Thank you, Anne Gulley, who gave Linda and me this book many years ago.

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