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Archive for May, 2011

Robinson Jeffers built Tor House for his wife and family
in 1914 on the coast of California’s Monterey peninsula.

The Answer

Then what is the answer? — Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know the great civilizations have broken down into violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful. A severed hand
Is an ugly thing, and man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history…for contemplation or in fact…
Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man’s pitiful confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken.
……………………..
by Robinson Jeffers (1887–1962)

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Albert Herbert, Elijah fed by ravens
in the desert, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Elijah has been considered the model of Christian monasticism since the first monks and nuns lived in the desert, either alone or in communities. In the old testament story, God orders Elijah to live in the desert and be fed by ravens.

God is angry with Ahab, king of the Israelites, for killing his priests. He sends Elijah to tell Ahab that Israel will have no dew or rainfall for three and a half years. Then the Lord says to Elijah:

“Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan river. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.

So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after awhile the brook dried up and there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.

Elijah fed by ravens, artist unknown.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.’ So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, ‘Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?’ As she was going to get it, he called to her, ‘Bring me a bite of bread, too.’

But she said, ‘I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.’

But Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!’

So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” — 1 Kings 17:1-15

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Naomi Shihab Nye (born 1952)

The Words Under the Words

for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother’s days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send — our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words —
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.”
……………………………………………..
by Naomi Shihab Nye (born 1952)

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True Learning

“Abba Anthony said, ‘Fear not this goodness as a thing impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien, set a great way off; it hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas . . . But the city of God has its foundations in every seat of human habitation . . . The kingdom of God is within. The goodness that is in us asks only the human mind.'” — Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same spirit; to another faith by the same spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the same spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same spirit works all these things.” — 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

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Anne Michaels

There is No City that Does Not Dream

There is no city that does not dream
from its foundations. The lost lake
crumbling in the hands of the brickmakers,
the floor of the ravine where light lies broken
with the memory of rivers. All the winters
stored in that geologic
garden. Dinosaurs sleep in the subway
at Bloor and Shaw, a bed of bones
under the rumbling track. The storm
that lit the city with the voltage
of spring, when we were eighteen
on the clean earth. The ferry ride in the rain,
wind wet with wedding music and everything that
sings in the carbon of stone and bone
like a page of love, wind-lost from a hand, unread.
…………………………….
by Anne Michaels (born 1958)

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Anyone can whistle,
That’s what they say-
Easy.
Anyone can whistle
Any old day-
Easy.
It’s all so simple:
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me why
Can’t I?
I can dance a tango,
I can read Greek-
Easy.
I can slay a dragon
Any old week-
Easy.
What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.
………………..
Words and music by Stephen Sondheim (born 1930)

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Martín Espada (born 1957)

The Trouble Ball [excerpt]

for my father, Frank Espada

In 1941, my father saw his first big league ballgame at Ebbets Field
in Brooklyn: the Dodgers and the Cardinals. My father took his father’s hand.
When the umpires lumbered on the field, the band in the stands
with a bass drum and trombone struck up a chorus of Three Blind Mice.
The peanut vendor shook a cowbell and hollered. The home team
raced across the diamond, and thirty thousand people shouted
all at once, as if an army of liberation rolled down Bedford Avenue.
My father shouted, too. He wanted to see The Trouble Ball.

On my father’s island, there were hurricanes and tuberculosis, dissidents in jail
and baseball. The loudspeakers boomed: Satchel Paige pitching for the Brujos
of Guayama. From the Negro Leagues he brought the gifts of Baltasar the King;
from a bench on the plaza he told the secrets of a thousand pitches: The
Trouble Ball,
The Triple Curve, The Bat Dodger, The Midnight Creeper, The Slow Gin Fizz,
The Thoughtful Stuff. Pancho Coímbre hit rainmakers for the Leones of Ponce;
Satchel sat the outfielders in the grass to play poker, windmilled three pitches
to the plate, and Pancho spun around three times. He couldn’t hit The Trouble
Ball.

At Ebbets Field, the first pitch echoed in the mitt of Mickey Owen,
the catcher for the Dodgers who never let the ball escape his glove.
A boy off the boat, my father shelled peanuts, waiting for Satchel Paige
to steer his gold Cadillac from the bullpen to the mound, just as he would
navigate the streets of Guayama. Yet Satchel never tipped his cap that day.
¿Dónde están los negros? asked the boy. Where are the Negro players?
No los dejan, his father softly said. They don’t let them play here.
Mickey Owen would never have to dive for The Trouble Ball.

It was then that the only brown boy at Ebbets Field felt himself
levitate above the grandstand and the diamond, another banner
at the ballgame. From up high he could see that everyone was white,
and their whiteness was impossible, like snow in Puerto Rico,
and just as silent, so he could not hear the cowbell, or the trombone,
or the Dodger fans howling with glee at the bases-loaded double.
He understood why his father whispered in Spanish: everybody
in the stands might overhear the secret of The Trouble Ball.

At Ebbets Field in 1941, the Dodgers met the Yankees in the World Series.
Mickey Owen dropped the third strike with two outs in the ninth inning
of Game Four, flailing like a lobster in the grip of a laughing fisherman,
and the Yankees stamped their spikes across the plate to win. Brooklyn,
the borough of churches, prayed for his fumbling soul. This was the reason
statues of the Virgin leaked tears and the fathers of Brooklyn drank,
not the banishment of Satchel Paige to doubleheaders in Bismarck,
North Dakota. There were no rosaries or boilermakers for The Trouble Ball.

My father would return to baseball on 108th Street. He pitched for the
Crusaders,
kicking high like Satchel, riding the team bus painted with four-leaf clovers,
seasick
all the way to Hackensack or the Brooklyn Parade Grounds. One day he
jammed
his wrist sliding into second, threw three more innings anyway, and never
pitched again.
He would return to Ebbets Field to court my mother. The same year they were
married
a waiter refused to serve them, a mixed couple sitting all night in the corner,
till my father hoisted him by his lapels and the waiter’s feet dangled in the air,
a puppet and his furious puppeteer. My father was familiar with The Trouble
Ball.
I was born in Brooklyn in 1957, when the Dodgers packed their duffle bags
and left the city. A wrecking ball swung an uppercut into the face
of Ebbets Field. I heard the stories: how my mother, lost in the circles
and diamonds of her scorecard, never saw Jackie Robinson accelerate
down the line to steal home. I wore my father’s glove until the day
I laid it down to lap the water from the fountain in the park. By the time
I raised my head, it was gone like Ebbets Field. I walked slowly home.
I had to tell my father I would never learn to catch The Trouble Ball.

There was a sign below the scoreboard at Ebbets Field: Abe Stark, Brooklyn’s
Leading Clothier. Hit Sign, Win Suit. Some people see that sign in dreams.
They speak of ballparks as cathedrals, frame the pennants from the game
where it began, Dodger blue and Cardinal red, and gaze upon the wall.
My father, who remembers everything, remembers nothing of that dazzling day
but this: ¿Dónde están los negros? No los dejan. His hair is white, and still
the words are there, like the ghostly imprint of stitches on the forehead
from a pitch that got away. It is forever 1941. It was The Trouble Ball.
………………
by Martín Espada

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