Puzzling Reflections

 

 

 

 

 

Inside Out



Modern translations of St Paul said 'puzzling reflections'
in describing perception, with a taunting, haunting interplay
of light and shadow, never the same for two minutes together,
which made better sense to him than the King James image

To see 'through glass, darkly' was like tilting with a shroud
You couldn't tell what was on the other side of cloak and gesture,
whose storyline it was, and whose the wider plot, when to engage,
and how to abstract meaning from a colloquy already begun

He liked landscape art that shimmered through a summer haze,
nothing clearly defined, merely suggested, sketched and stippled
Precision was death, the vanity of nailing flesh to a cross,
hoping the spirit would not escape to recite its lore elsewhere

Whereas hyperrealism, all diehard hues, stirred menace by osmosis,
Magritte, Chagall, Picasso, hit the spot, dredging themes and schemes
from where it mattered most. Those artists knew a thing or two
about immanence, hypnagogic dreams and shapeshifting metaphor

Such designs granted form to feeling, which delivered its own relief
without any rationale, the need to decode, or the knife-twisting alarm
at having been jumped from behind into action that didn't fit the fable,
Hamlet and Hedda Gabler a Disney parody, the diapason trashed

Putting a foot in the wrong camp was a hazard of moving and breathing
There was seldom signage to say where you were, no cue as to what
came next in the pantomime of human exchange. You had to hang around
until the swirling atmospheres kindled a vision you knew meant business

One dusk, passing the Stage Door, he turned into the Square to confront
a revelation of community. There, in the foyer, under constellations of lamps,
theatre-goers were sipping and laughing and gesticulating behind glass,
no script, no hard and fast plot; the miracle of doors parting on proximity

Next thing he knew was a stifling warmth and billows of babbling energy
He’d thought to be among long-lost friends, in limelight, the jester at the party,
but the baffling palaver made him feel like a spectre, an outsider on the inside,
so that he fled into night’s embrace, all lacerating noise and winking alarms

 

 

 

from Mysteries of Light (collection in preparation)

 

#AutismAwarenessWeek

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The Architecture of Trees

The architecture of trees fascinates me.

How do the branches know how to grow?

Complexity theory?

Fibonacci Sequences?

Artificial intelligence?

A complex algorithm it must be.

In searching for its own light, the branch serves the tree.

What does the branch know of the tree?

The result seems always the same:

Spare beauty against the blue.

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Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey

Taking yearly pilgrimages started after my serendipitous journey to Sedona.  What made that such a pivotal point, was the juxtaposition of entrapment with freedom.  During the preceding eight months of cancer treatment, I’d been closely monitored; by the clinical trials research company I worked for to see if I was able to do my job; by my family and friends to see how I was physically and emotionally holding up.  While my employer was difficult and my family and friends well-meaning, both made me want to escape to a place where I was free to move about, unnoticed. Between two business meetings out West, I took my trip to Sedona, Arizona.  If it had been up to me, I would have returned to North Carolina between those meetings, to see my husband and teenage sons so I wouldn't be away for so long.  But the company business manager suggested I stay in the area and travel.  After considering her idea, I thought she was right.  My mother had visited a friend in Sedona and said it was one of the prettiest places she'd ever seen.  Since it was within two hours of my first meeting, the business manager and I agreed that it would work. Unlike all the negative things that happened during my employment there, the support for me traveling to Sedona was serendipitous.  It was something good, beneficial that happened by accident at a time where I was seeing no other ‘happy accidents.’ Because it was not something I’d planned at length, like other things in my life, I was in a state of receptivity to what that new experience would offer.  I didn’t have a list of ‘must see’ places or companion travelers to work out the details of where to eat, or “What’s next?”  It was just me moving as I felt led, following that still small voice of God within me instead of a schedule. How freeing for a mother of teenagers, used to balancing work and family.  What a wonderful change from going to the countless appointments of those intensive months of cancer treatment. Instead, I drove around the red-rock-splendor and absorbed the beauty of each moment.  How nice it was to take a quiet hike at Oak Creek on a weekday, sitting in the grounding presence of the shadow of those rock formations. I lit a candle in The Chapel of the Holy Cross and thanked God for my life and for the unexpected time in Sedona.  It wasn’t something that I’d asked for; It wasn’t something that I knew I needed.  My heart was full of gratitude for the abundance God had provided. Throughout my toxic job and cancer ordeal, my go-to scripture was Psalm 40: 1-2 (NIV): "I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."  Remembering that day when I drove into Sedona, I had a feeling that I had come home, like God my Rock was leaping off the page.  Of all the places I could go for that serendipitous trip, my 'happy accident' led me to a place of rocks-- and later I would learn, of energy and healing. Sedona opened my eyes to other ‘happy accidents.'  I see how good things have shown up in my path-- things I haven't asked for, things I didn't know I needed.  Now, when I see images of that special place, it reminds me that God my Rock is still leaping off the page. How About You? How have you experienced serendipitous events in your life? What impact have they had on your journey? 
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A Thief In The Night

The first of two passages from Next Year In Jerusalem

 

 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

Snow fell unexpectedly in my hopeful seventh spring. It made shadows of the bare boughs. It sent shivers down the spindly spine of young birch. It found out the eroded pointing in the brickwork. With a gentle insistence it gathered along the window-ledges, made portholes of the panes and silenced the astonished birds. Flake by flake, it settled upon the lawns Simms had already mown twice that season, and obliterated the paths as though it meant business. Soon it had created a ghostly monochrome world. A child’s world.

No one guessed it was coming. The weather forecast had been promising. It came without warning, this taste of winter in May; a thief in the night.

Mrs Simms, housekeeper at St. Mary’s declared: “Well, well, I never! That’s put paid to the picnic, then. Nipped our plans right in the bud, that has, dear.” She liked things to be orderly, predictable.

“Never mind, I suspect the children won’t be too disappointed,” Sister Joseph said in a pleasant rallying tone. “They’ll be just as happy making snowmen as picking cowslips. You can’t order the weather, I’m afraid.”

She was right. We whooped with delight and scrambled on to the sills to watch the sky come tumbling down to earth at last. We had longed for snow and felt cheated. Unlike its predecessor, the winter had been a sequence of lethargic days, of damp pavements and mild winds that never got off the ground. There was no cutting edge to it. No blade-bright December or January to sting colour into your cheeks and pinch your toes. Spring came unheralded, robbed of its magic. Even the snowdrops flowered unremarked.

But the advent of snow put a new complexion on things. It lent poignancy to the frail evidence of rebirth.

Throughout lunch that day, which included mortifying wads of bread-and-butter pudding I shall never forget, we agitated to be let loose on the sugar-frosted landscape and, as soon as it was over, crowded the exit noisily. We rolled in the snow, scooped it up and stuffed it by the fistful into our mouths, tobogganed in the dell where the oaks were strung with rubber tyres. Long earthen scars appeared upon its slopes. The air was thick with shrieks of glee and icy missiles exploding on ducked backs. Some built a fortress in the shrubbery, irrigating its mote with a length of hose burgled from Simms’ shed, until the brindled snow had turned to slush, the towers sank in ruins and the ramparts were no more.

“I know,” cried someone, “let’s dig for buried treasure!”

And as enthusiasm quickened among us, we fell to seeking our fortune in the swede patch Simms had painstakingly prepared for the new crop. The primary colours of our spades struck a contrast with the snow and with the cheerless garments thrust upon us in those years of rationing after another fullscale war. The world had not entirely awakened to its own survival.

Fortunately, Simms had gone into town on an errand for Matron, and was not around to see his beloved domain turned inside out, soil and snow and clods of clay flying from the trench. The going was tough. The purposeful were soon singled out from those in search of aimless distraction.

“The ground is hard,” complained the whey-faced Polish boy Matron fed with iron pills and spoons of loathsome fish-oil he spat out at her. “I try somewhere else.”
A groan went up from the rest of us. We knew him of old.

“Novak’s chickened out before we’ve started,” sniffed Thomas in disgust, a good-natured elderly boy of eleven who took command of all our enterprises.

“It’s all right for you, my spade’s too blunt,” the quarrelsome Lucy told him.

“Mine’s broken,” wailed little Humphrey, and the corners of his mouth curved down and the beads of moisture in the corners of his eyes filled out.

“Have mine, then,” I said. I was dizzy and my chest felt sore.

“You’re my best friend,” he beamed up at me. “You can have my pudding tomorrow. Unless it’s treacle tart!”

"Old Beaky says she's got a dicky ticker," Thomas informed them, mopping his overheated brow upon his sleeve. "Reckon he could be right. She's always out of breath."

 

 

 

Next Year In Jerusalem was originally published by Robert Hale Limited (now The Crowood Press) in 1980

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