Archive for July, 2011

Robin Robertson

Albatross in Co. Antrim

after Baudelaire

The men would sometimes try to catch one,
throwing a looped wire at the great white cross
that tracked their every turn, gliding over their deep
gulfs and bitter waves: the bright pacific albatross.

Now, with a cardboard sign around his neck, the king
of the winds stands there, hobbled: head shorn,
ashamed; his broken limbs hang down by his side,
those huge white wings like dragging oars.

Once beautiful and brave, now tarred, unfeathered,
this lost traveller is a bad joke; a lord cut down to size.
One pokes a muzzle in his mouth; another limps past,
mimicking the skliff, sclaff of a bird that cannot fly.

The poet is like this prince of the clouds
who rides the storm of war and scorns the archer;
exiled on the ground, in all this derision,
his giant wings prevent his marching.
by Robin Robertson (born 1955)

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The last few days I’ve questioned the value of freedom. What if it meant giving up the woman I wanted to spend my life with.

I had a Romanian student last semester who lived under the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu before he was executed in 1989. She said, “It was a diseased society, where the inmates had taken over the asylum. Neighbors were encouraged to spy and report each other. So were children about their parents.”

Growing up in that country, she realizes the value of freedom in ways some don’t in the U.S.

Perhaps something in our childhoods keeps us from moving beyond the dark part of ourselves that wants to sell our freedom short. The voice must be the same, we say, the voice of the person I come from must be the same voice of the person I become. My future rises out of my past, and I cannot empty myself of it.

I will be something else one day, but not now, not now. I must be the same thing I was born into, the empty room where I had no name and waited in corners for morning to come so that I could open the door and leave the room again.

Somewhere the lost tribes of the earth keep walking. Somewhere the lost tribes of our world live alone and die and wait to be born into a freedom they can only watch others have. What things, they ask, could I have if only I had freedom. This is the opposite of me, they say, but how can I change it.

From each of us this desire sets out in life. It is born in us and lost, and the lost tribes come. We look for them and they are gone. There is no tracing them. They have clung to promises that never come and now they have no way to recognize their dreams.

I lay in bed the last few nights wondering how I could keep my soul alive without freedom. I lay listening to people stand outside my window, wondering if they would leave or what I would do if they tried to enter my room. If they leave, will they come back, I asked myself. And if not tonight, what about tomorrow.

Even now as I write this, they are above me and beside me. They are home tonight.

I know the walls that listen. I know a place that listens and watches me walk out my door and across a parking lot and through the streets so there is no place I can walk without being seen.

This is something I thought I would always have, the freedom to stand in my own home without being heard. It’s difficult not to sit as still as possible so that no one hears me.

But tonight I type these words. Not even you tonight beyond those walls can keep me from typing, not you who stand on street corners and take photos of me from cars and ride past me on bikes.

You think you have my heart. You think you can walk beside me and fly out like birds from every bush, but even in the stillness of these rooms I grow. I grow and keep on growing. Freedom is the only image of me you can never take. It doesn’t come and go from rooms at regular hours, it doesn’t stand or sit in certain places on the street, it doesn’t open doors or close them at specific times. It lives inside me.

You have your own stories. You look around for someone else to become, but there is no one else. What we have inside is all we’ve been given. Freedom is a dream that’s born even in animal’s eyes, and there’s no use looking for it in someone else’s face.

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Daily Reading from the Rule of St. Benedict for July 11:

This vice especially
is to be cut out of the monastery by the roots.
Let no one presume to give or receive anything
without the Abbot’s leave,
or to have anything as his own —
anything whatever,
whether book or tablets or pen or whatever it may be —
since they are not permitted to have even their bodies or wills
at their own disposal;
but for all their necessities
let them look to the Father of the monastery.
And let it be unlawful to have anything
which the Abbot has not given or allowed.
Let all things be common to all,
as it is written (Acts 4:32),
and let no one say or assume that anything is his own.

But if anyone is caught indulging in this most wicked vice,
let him be admonished once and a second time.
If he fails to amend,
let him undergo punishment.

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Blue Dragonfly

 From Daily Reading with the Desert Fathers:

“Abba Marcarius said, ‘Walking one day in the desert, I found the skull of a dead man lying on the ground. As I was moving it with my stick, the skull spoke to me. I said to it, ‘Who are you?’ The skull replied, ‘I was the high priest of the idols and of the pagans who dwelt in this place; but you are Macarius, the Spirit-bearer. Whenever you take pity on those who are in torment and pray for them they feel a little respite.’

The old man said to him, ‘What is this alleviation and what is this torment?’ He said to him, ‘As far as the sky is removed from the earth, so great is the fire beneath us. We are standing in the midst of the fire from the feet up to the head. It is not possible to see anyone face to face, but the face of one is fixed to the back of another. Yet when you pray for us, each of us can see the others face a little; such is our respite.’”

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Beehive huts on Skellig Michael
where warrior monks lived in the
eighth century to protect mainland 
Ireland from Viking invasions.

From Daily Readings with The Desert Fathers:

It is clear to all who dwell in Egypt that it is through the monks that the world is kept in being and that through them also human life is preserved and honored by God . . . There is no town or village in Egypt that is not surrounded by hermitages as if by walls, and all the people depend on the prayers of the monks as if on God himself.

Palladius said, “One day when I was suffering from boredom I went to abba Macarius and said, ‘What shall I do? My thoughts afflict me, saying, you are not making any progress, go away from here.” He said to me, ‘Tell them, for Christ’s said, I am guarding the walls.'”

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Edna St. Vincent Millay, photo by
Alfred Eisenstaedt

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, (1892-1950)

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