Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Horticultural Studies

Twice, already, the grim reaper has visited the meadow by the river path. On his first pass, he mowed down a stand of grape hyacinth, barely past their prime.

This week he came for this wild garlic before it could bloom.

He crushed, flattened and ripped everything in his path.

There was nothing elegant about his work,

nothing gentle or precise,

nothing loving or attentive or reverent.

He was preparing the earth for his compatriots, the despoilers, the thirsty ones.

He hated the unruly, wild, untamed, uprushing green. It was radical, dangerous. Subversive. It had to be quelled.

It was full of conspiracies -- erotic, artistic, religious, political. Consorts of troublemakers and rabblerousers, crosspollinating ecumenically and promiscuously.

You can trust a lawn. A nice, flat lawn.

You can play golf on a lawn.

And why would you want to take pictures of crummy old weeds, for goodness sakes, when you can take a picture of young lovers taking pictures of themselves ?

Friday, May 26, 2006


Work was over and I was stuck in traffic. Suddenly I noticed the sky. It was an ordinary spring afternoon sky -- bright blue, with a few small white clouds drifting about like not-too-compelling afterthoughts. I stared at it. I'd never quite noticed how odd it was, this "sky" thing. The only thing I could say about it with any certainty was "blue." I struggled with the geometry, no the topology, no not even that. No spatial category seemed to apply to that which was "blue." Dome ? Volume ? Ceiling ? Ghost ? Hallucination ? It was disconcerting. The frank, undeniable blue. "Up" there. Where ?

Well, what is "sky" then, a useful shorthand, or an act of liguistic bad faith ?

And what, for that matter, is "blue" ?

Or, more the the point (I glanced at the big Congregational Church to my left whose banner announced that it was "Still Speaking") "Christ" or even "God" ?

Don't speak, I muttered. Don't speak.

Luckily, at that moment, the traffic began to move. There is something about Easter's aftermath, coinciding as it does with the dizzying metamorphoses of spring, that addles me, and sends me on a mad dash down the rabbit hole of theology. What shall I call this besottedness ? Godlust ? Vertigo ?

I recalled another astronomical exercise I'd recently done. I'd been, I think, watching some tiny insects scurrying about. I felt massive, the size of a small god. I dwarfed the thing. As the earth dwarfed me, and as the universe dwarfed the earth. Now that was vertigo. Vertigo that even the psalmist felt -- who, after enumerating various celestial wonders, cries --

What are human beings that you are mindful of them ?

Parse that one. I dare you. What is this "you" and in what manner is this "you" "mindful" of us ?


You mind us.

Us you mind ?

Mind us. You !!

Us. (Mind you.)

Earlier in the week I'd listened to a talk on samadhi. A brain state one achieves only after strenuous meditational effort. A state prior to concepts, speech, distinctions. Where even the knower vanishes. So of course this state cannot truly be "known" or "experienced" in any usual sense. One emerges from it and, under the tutelege of a master, recognizes that, in retrospect, one has been "there." Therefore, you should --

engage yourself in zazen as though saving your head from fire !

Where have I heard that before ?

Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter -- and then, before you know it, there's fire shooting out of twelve heads which are babbling in some strange tongue that pre-dates Babel.

Don't speak ! Don't speak !


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Driving Home The Long Way

Driving home the long way

from the bird sanctuary

in order to avoid a parade in Wellesley,


in Newton,

I find myself


by Shriners.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Talking Head

The radio was on. There was no escaping it. I couldn't find the switch.

The programming was banal, predictable. I'd heard it all before.

I am this. This is what. I want. I hate. Yes, no. Goddamn !

Between stations, white noise sizzled and hissed.

I'd come to the woods to escape the noise of humans and their machines. Smalltalk, ringtones, gossip; sales pitches, sermons, weed whackers; opinions, pontifications, demurrals; jet skis, TVs, ATVs, SUVs; litanies, laundry lists and internal combustion engines. I was fleeing pure cacophony. I ran, fingers in my ears, pursued by the rabid, yapping sounds of hell.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah !

Vroom !

Ka-chink, ka-chink, ka-chink !

Deep in the woods, I stopped, uncorked my ears, and listened.

The radio was on.

It drowned out the wind. It drowned out the birds. It drowned out the brook at my feet and the creaking trees overhead.

The noise streamed through me like an endless file of disconsolate wraiths.

I stood and listened. The radio was pulling in signals from the northernmost reaches of Canada, from sunspots and alpha centauri, from the earth's molten core. I would have pulled the plug, but there was no plug to pull.

I knew what I had to do.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

one one thousand


This is a snapshot of the meadow by the highway.

A cluster of small trees stands waist deep in a sea of phragmites. The weeds undulate, gold in the afternoon light. Red buds stipple the tree limbs, which, not yet in leaf, are dark, practically black . The horizon is indistinct, a vague green-brown wall of thatch.

The highway is merciless. I cannot stop. There is no exit. My fingers stray from the wheel to the camera on the seat beside me. I glance west, and the scene -- the red, the gold, the afternoon light -- pierces my heart. A tractor trailer roars past; my rearview blooms with the blunt snout of an SUV.


This is a photograph of a bellwort.

Last year I happened upon a stand of them down a side trail off the river bike path. It was late May, and they were past their prime. This year I returned to catch them in full bloom.

I was just in time. Dozens of them bloomed in a shadowy little stand beside the path. It was windless, and the heavy, downturned bells -- a beautiful, pale green gold -- were still. Poverty I thought. Chastity. Obedience.

Meanwhile, 50 yards down the path, behind a large tree on the riverbank, there appeared to be a pastoral coupling in progress. An odd motion caught my eye. A young woman was bouncing on a young man's lap. She was vigorous, practically athletic; I tiptoed away. Add soundtrack:

There was a lover and his lass
With a hey and a ho and a hey nonny no.


Meanwhile, in the swamp,

baby ferns unfurl under the sheltering canopies of the skunk cabbage.

You look good in blue.



After rain, the world's colors deepen, intensify.


Hovever, this is how my camera prefers to see things.

It has a dry eye. On the thermostat of white balance, it chooses the cooler settings, picks the chilly, bluish 4300 degrees of barebulb incandescence over 6000 degrees of noontime gold.

Of course, I have the upper hand. I can set white balance of the camera, or, when shooting raw (hey, nonny nonny) I can adjust it in post-processing.

But, usually, I simply let the machine choose.

In the matter of temperature, we see eye to eye. But as to saturation, sometimes I need to throw on a few lacrimae rerum.


This is a trout lily.

What more can I say ?


Res ipse loquitur.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Read what Bay Windows has to say about Massachusetts Governator-in-Absentia and Presidential Wannabe Mitt "The Mitthead" Romney's
latest political acrobatics

How can one man cram so much homophobia, pandering, spinning, flip-flopping, mendacity and shamelessness into one political act ?

It's positively Olympic !!!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Guest House

Cette vie est un hôpital où chaque malade est possédé du désir de changer de lit. Celui-ci voudrait souffrir en face du poêle, et celui-là croit qu'il guérirait à côté de la fenêtre.

Charles Bauldelaire, "N'Importe Ou Hors Du Monde." *

It was the hospital where she'd been born over half a century ago. High on a hill, it overlooked the crowded streets and abandoned mills of the industrial city to which her grandparents had immigrated half a century before that. The view from the first window had been sublime. Even amidst of the anxious events and vocabularies of medicine -- infarction, catheterization, ejection fraction -- it had caught her eye: the piercing blue of earliest evening, the old clock tower, long brick facades cinctured with light.

She'd wished she had her camera.

The view from the current window was more pedestrian: streets, rooftops, a steepled horizon. Between the first window and this one there had been other windows and other events. She thought of the word hospital -- it meant guest house. A place of transients, of transit. It's where she herself had arrived, early, too small, in the dead of winter. 1952.

Sic transit, she supposed. At least she had her camera this time.

Downstairs in the hospital, between the coffee shop and the elevators, there was a long, bright yellow corridor. It was usually, peculiarly, empty. There were a few cheerful prints on the wall, reproductions of famous works of art, Van Gogh, Diego Rivera, and one, her favorite, that she suspected was by Edwin Hopper.

She stopped to look.

In the painting it is evening. There is light in the sky, the fleeting doomed kind. There is a bright stone facade, a boarding house perhaps; windows, some lit, some dark; a rooftop with long shadows. A streetlamp glows, and, beside it, a stone staircase leads upward toward black, shadowy woods. In one window a woman sits, gazing out. The woman is, she supposed, alone. Alone in the meager hospitality of the transient hotel. The sun has sunk below the horizon. There is pale, remnant light in the sky. Heaven will soon be as black as the earthly woods. Vespers, she thought. A time of day that cries out for prayers. Anything to posit against the terror of nightfall.

O phos hilaron.

She hadn't slept through the night until she was three. As a child, she couldn't fall asleep unless her mother were awake, keeping vigil in the living room, sitting in the big chair beneath the lamp, reading, eating oranges. She'd slept with a nightlight until she was fifteen. The light in the yellow corridor hurt her eyes.

She took a sip of her coffee and headed toward the elevator. She'd sit vigil for awhile longer, beside the bed of the woman who'd been here with her for her arrival half a century before. Things were, overall, improving. The vocabularies were moderating: convalescence, physical therapy, rehab. New windows were forthcoming, and then, soon enough, the windows of home.

As she gazed out at the darkening afternoon, a song began to run through her head, a setting of a psalm by Orlando Gibbons. As a young woman, she'd played Alfred Dellar's recording of the beautiful hymn over and over until it seemed to become part of her own tissue. Even now she could hear the poignant, imploring inflections, the half sob in sojourner before the melody thins and settles.

... for I am a stranger with thee
and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.
O spare me a little that I may recover my strength
before I go hence and be no more seen.

It was a perfect lullaby.

*This life is a hospital in which each patient desires to change beds. This one wants to suffer before the fire. That one wants to heal beside the window. C. Baudelaire, "Anywhere Out Of The World."