Saint John and The Frog

I was thumbing through an old poetry notebook of mine from 25 years ago. In an unfinished poem, I found a reference to this passage from the texts of Saint John of the Ladder.

It wants to be shared. What am I gonna do, post it on Facebook?

When we draw water from a well, it can happen that we inadvertently also bring up a frog. When we acquire virtues we can sometimes find ourselves involved with the vices which are imperceptibly interwoven with them. What I mean is this. Gluttony can be caught up with hospitality; lust with love; cunning with discernment; malice with prudence; duplicity, procrastination, slovenliness, stubbornness, wilfulness, and disobedience with meekness; refusal to learn with silence; conceit with joy; laziness with hope; nasty condemnation with love again; despondency and indolence with tranquillity; sarcasm with chastity; familiarity with lowliness. And behind all the virtues follows vainglory as a salve, or rather a poison, for everything.

Saint John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26, “On Discernment”

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now thoroughly small and dry

It is a dry time. Good Friday comes and The Garden is behind us. Cast out and hunkered down in the dust, thirsty, in denial.

This scrap went into my notebook tonight:

The well is dry.
We have sat by it all night
wondering about the secret
answers far below
afraid to ask questions.

~-~-~

And this is from my long-ago book, Finding Oakland.

ALL CREEKS DRY

I went to find a creek
today   a stream   a ditch
any water moving
They gave up the habit
with the end of spring
No reason to cut earth
batter rock   carry mud
another year

Most died of boredom
In the trickle of summer
its not worth the trouble
Some went in glorious
illusions
any reason to live
is a reason to die

A few by their own hands
The act prepared
in the quiet heart
alone   with the sound
of flies only
Draining mostly through
small holes punched
in the dust

~-~-~

Here in the long, dry riverbed of Time, we need rain. We need kindness. We need to turn from the unreality of self interest in these unreal, indehiscent days.

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Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

– T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

A Terrible Thing

Bluffs_Tree_20140107-001 

The Angel

It is a terrible thing to run dry, to be a man
caught out in the open under the great arcs
of light and darkness. In such places,
nothing but thirst will remind you of human desire;
nothing but the thought of God will recall your name.
I don’t know it. I can’t say where you came from
or where you dreamed you might be tomorrow.
I know only this step and not another.
The next step and none after that. 
Turning back brings no more hope than pressing on.
There is no water here.
I don’t know why you came at all.

The Crow

I have a beautiful song for you, don’t you understand?
No. You hear only Caw and Caw Caw, but that’s because
you don’t have ears. No fault of mine!
I can sing, fly, hop on the ground in the sun,
and tear apart those who have died.
My kind keeps things cleared away, and the song we have
is lovely because it knows the secret moments of a day.
The song contains time, and you can’t even take that
in your hands. It skips away and flutters, then it soars.

The Tree

I have my ally: The wind comes to find me,
flying for a thousand miles. We are in love
but the wind cannot stay.
The rain when it comes feels wonderful to me.
There is so much to love in my world.
I believe I love the water most of all.
Everything wants to touch me, to hold and caress
and I feel strong. I reach up for God and He is there.

We die as we live, silently and in peace.
Even in death we do not fall, but wait for the wind
to circle round the world again and ease us down.
So I am not afraid of you. 

The Dog

My life is a dance of ten or fifteen years, and I love
to hear my voice ring out into the all-too-silent world.
You can say so much with your silence, like the wind,
but a dog is a turning leaf and a sound.

There is a long river of light when the day gets old
and I grow tired, thinking of my food and where I sleep.
I am not afraid because the pack is with me.
I do not rest alone.
But you will, Man, and it makes me sad.
I have seen our tracks in the dust up ahead,
where they go from many to few, to two then one.
Mine don’t go on very long, but I have no words to tell you this.

The Angel

I could bring you thunder and rain without warning,
to rise and rush high in the scarred earth
and sate the dying filigree of trees.
But you would never ask Heaven for that.

 

 

Kyle Kimberlin
2014.01.25

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Dread and Sympathy

… On writing into the unconscious.

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”  – Annie Dillard*

I chuckled effetely when I read this. I know about those visits, those bleak hours in the dim facility. You have to trudge far down the Formica-crusted hall, under flickering fluorescent, to Room 404: cohesion not found, please verify your path.

Get it? … Now that’s a little bit funny, right there.

Some of us write, not just to tell a story that we know and can tell, but to explore the unconscious, to give names and form to obscure emotions, to say the unsayable.

It’s not easy because it’s not fantasy, not entirely. We write ourselves so much, you know? And when the ink flows or the keys clack, we don’t always like what we find.

What can I tell you? Nobody confronts the pit and prune juice of his soul – and takes good notes – while watching puppies in a sunny park. It’s a night shift job, no way around it. So I should quote Cormac McCarthy, from The Crossing, because it happens to be the book on my desk right now.

It had ceased raining in the night and he walked out on the road and called for the dog. He called and called. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hands and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.

Keep the faith.

*Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989); Props to Poets & Writers .

What is Essential

Last night I was reading All The Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner. It’s an amazing novel, literate and deep.

So I was clicking my Kindle along contentedly, having a cup of tea, when I came upon this passage:

“I was beginning to comprehend it then, and I have not repudiated it now: that love, not sin, costs us Eden. Love is the carrier of death — the only thing, in fact, that makes death significant. Otherwise it is … a simple interchange of protein.”

Oh dear, I thought, a hit. A palpable hit. It’s going to cause a poem. What I wrote is not really on point, more tangential. But I wonder, if love gives death its meaning, then what gives love meaning? Isn’t it the soul alive, aware of itself with respect to life? And isn’t the soul on a restless journey? And where is it trying to go? 

To My Soul

I say to my soul child hush,
you have caused enough pain.
Be still and watch the birds.
See how they disappear
at sundown, looking for home.
Or maybe they carry it with them
in ways that we cannot even,
being human, comprehend.

Be still and know that God Is
so we are not, and if trees
can stand for a thousand years,
you can sit for a moment,
drinking water in the shade.

My soul will only misbelieve
and long for the rhythm of oceans,
how the storm comes bringing
the destruction of change.
Still, quietly, I sit here
and wait for forgiveness.

Kyle Kimberlin
October 2013

Tonight I found this quote on a friend’s poetry blog. I read it years ago and had forgotten it, but remembered somehow. I would have guessed the idea of “I say to my soul …” was from Rumi, or maybe Antonio Machado. Maybe so, but here it is in Eliot. The subconscious learns.

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

— T.S. Eliot

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