Thursday, July 31, 2014

Luminesce: For the feast of Ignatius of Loyola

Ite, omnia incendite, et inflammate! 
Go, and set the world on fire!  
— St. Ignatius of Loyola to St. Francis Xavier, upon missioning him to India

A few weeks ago, at the end of an evening gathering of writers I was at, a priest/writer closed the night with a poetic blessing.  One word in particular wove its way through her benediction, "luminous..." which my brain insisted on rewriting as the imperative "luminesce!"

Luminescence is light that comes from within a material, photons shed as atoms and molecules change state.  It's not reflected, it does not consume like a flame. It's kenotic, releasing what has been hidden within.  

The usual translation of Ignatius' words to Francis Xavier is, "Go, set the world on fire!" (Or the looser translation I found here:  "Go kick some butt!") But like the archetype eats/shoots/leaves meme - without certain knowledge of the punctuation, it's ambiguous. Does inflammate go with omnia or with ite?

I might be willing to translate it as "Go, set everything alight, and be aflame!" Pour forth the light that has been poured forth into you.  Luminesce.

Happy feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

Warning on the video. I found the music to be grating, mute it and play something lilting and classical.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The effects of plastic spectacles on the condition and behaviour of pheasants

"Blinders (poultry)".  Via Wikipedia 
Since I've come back from my stint in Collegeville, I've been trying to start each day with a short warm-up writing exercise.  I've been avoiding fussing over prompts (or at least avoiding link diving through the interwebs in search of a "good" prompt) and using ones I've used while teaching or that we used at the workshop.  I pick, set the timer for 10 minutes and write.

I remain mystified that I can write 300 words (that with some editing could be just fine) in 10 minutes, but can struggle to produce that many in a morning "on topic"?  I may try some quick writing with the essay I'm working on now.

Today's prompt was to write the beginning of the essay with the title The effects of plastic spectacles on the condition and behaviour of pheasants.  A paper with that title appeared in a literature search I ran yesterday (which I assure you had nothing to do with spectacles, pheasants or plastic -- so I'm at a loss to tell what keyword made it pop up, and I was too disciplined to actually look at the paper).  As I know nothing of avian eyeglasses, I was free to make it up, and did...
We offer a choice of frames, lively and colorful for the male of the species, that won’t fall off during particularly high-spirited mating displays.  For the ladies, something genteel, as befitting the decision maker.  Both anti-glare, and polarized lenses are available upon request.  As many find lenses fog up when they are flushed by the dogs, ask about our anti-fog lens cloths.  Young pheasants can be fitted for their first set of spectacles when they fledge...
I spent some time working through how you might keep spectacles on a pheasant.  Do they wear monocles, the lenses held in by pure muscle power?  Do they go over the head with a strap, like WW I aviator googles? Over lunch I looked up pheasant spectacles.  They are a thing, it turns out, used to prevent caged birds from pecking out their own feathers or cannibalizing their eggs.  They are also considered cruel, as the bridge is inserted through the bird's nose to keep them from sliding off. While I am frequently annoyed by glasses that slip down on my nose, this is not a solution I would be pleased with, either!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Time present and time past

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
The Boy wrote a couple of weeks ago about what happens behind the scenes when seven shows share one stage over eight weeks.  Some weeks they have have one show or two shows running and one or two more in final rehearsals, and need to be able to change up the sets in under 12 hours.  Whew.

The time-lapse is of an entire season (in fact the first one The Boy spent at Summer Stage). I've tried over and over to catch the few frames in which that show is rehearsing or running, but can never quite manage to stop it at the right spot.  I catch one glimpse of lights in the upper left, where the show's narrator stood, but the images and the time slip through my fingers like silk.

The Boy leaves for his California College in less than three weeks.  Today he asked me to look for a photo from a show he did in 7th grade.  I swept through photos on my computer, watching him race his hamster in a ball to putting on a tux to sing in his first high school concert to grinning as he sits with his brother on the 4th of July in DC.  I try to freeze the frames, remembering when he had to stretch to reach the mixer and how he calmly climbed up the Beehive trail in Acadia National Park.  I see all 70-plus inches of him stride down the aisle of the local Presbyterian Church to sing his solo in Carmina Burana.  The frames move so fast, my eyes blur.  And I can hold on to none of it.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dust of Kyoto

Kyoto's dust is still on my bag.

I was at a lecture last week about the porous boundaries between prose and poetry.  Poet and prose writer Susan Sink spoke about the practice of haikai no renga, the communal writing of linked short linked verses (haiku).  The honored guest poet began with a single prompt verse (the hokku), and each poet in turn added a verse in response.

There were arcane rules (if there is a verse on love, a second in the same theme must follow and perhaps a third, but never a fourth), and runs of 36 and 100, versions played by mail, and collections that were edited after the fact (my favorite collection title:  Scrap Paper Coverlet, edited by Yosa Buson, an 18th century Japanese poet).  The original game favored humor, often ribald humor (think sake-fueled poetry slam), and was wildly popular but grew more staid with time.

Matsuo Bashō (furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto // The ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the sound of water) was not only the acknowledged master of the art of haiku, but a master teacher, as well. Susan shared some of Bashō's haiku including this one:
Even in Kyoto
hearing the cuckoo's cry
I long for Kyoto.
I was in Kyoto last fall, and would return in a heartbeat.  The verse made me realize that I still have Kyoto to hand, for my trusty waxed canvas bag surely has the dust of Kyoto on it, as well as a hearty dose of incense from Koya, a dash of Minnesota moss, and a flick of Philadelphia's grime.

Thirty different translations of Bashō's famous frog haiku into English, in case you don't like the one I selected from Donald Keene.

You can read more about haiku no renga here or in Earl Miner's book Japanese Linked Poetry (the fifth chapter - I found it in Bryn Mawr's library).

Sunday, July 20, 2014


I learned to wash myself with incense in Japan. 

How to douse the tiny fires with a firm blast of air from my hand, freeing the smoke to rise and dance.  How to pour it over my head, letting humility settle gently on my shoulders.  How to slowly breathe it in, purifying me from the inside out.  How to twirl it around my hand like a wisp of hair, that what ails it, too, might be made whole.

I went to Mass at the Abbey today.  Incense poured down the aisle like a carpet rolled out before the Gospel,  breaking over the monks processing in statio, urging them onward, onward, pushing them two by two over the edge into the depths.

We sang, we prayed, we proclaimed, we preached, we sacre-ed the gifts. I slid down the pew to join the procession to receive, stepping off the edge to find myself bathed in incense that had hovered patiently all this time in the aisle.  Pouring over my head, like baptism.  ...and my soul shall be healed.

This is grace that clings. Not like the water splashed on forehead, dashed onto to my shoulders, awkwardly left dripping from my hands, its molecules making a mad dash into the atmosphere. I am enveloped, infiltrated. I imagine it resting in pools in my lungs, swirling out each time I speak, seeping onto my pillow with each breath, surrounding me as I sleep. I am an indwelling of the Spirit.

Hours later I  can still smell it on my hands, reminded again and again that I am forgiven, I am healed, I am sacre-ed. Each time I raise my cup of tea, or set my glasses more firmly on my nose, its scent gathers my frayed prayers together, and sends them aloft.