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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

I didn’t mean to take the rest of the year off.  June through December 2014 had much to tell, but much of it difficult and best left untold. Mostly though, all are well and ready to tackle 2015.

There were joys however: there was a wedding in September, the highlight of the year, and that deserved a blog post. But photos are up on Jeri’s Facebook page at least, and maybe I’ll post a few here someday.

For a New Year prayer, here’s what I found on a friend’s blog: it’s attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, but may be more contemporary. No matter, it’s here, and very un-American.st-francis1 reversed

Most of the versions on the web omit the final verse but I include it as a benediction. St. Francis would approve.

Is it a blessing or a curse?

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for
justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may
reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you
and remain with you, this day and forevermore.

Amen.

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Young doctor goes to Alaska to find himself, also to pay off his medical school debt. There’s a story in there somewhere.

In the case of Northern Exposure, the TV series back in the early ’90s, the youngNorthern Exposure - Joel and moose doc was Joel Fleischman, who clearly found himself out of his east-coast element and refused to conform to his new environment.

In another story, currently in progress, the doc is a young woman from an island off the coast of Maine, who finds Alaska somewhat her element, only more so. Bigger. Farther. Colder, and darker. She was too little back in the early ’90s to stay up with Mom and Dad and watch the TV show, and she has no idea what I’m talking about.

Darkness. Yes, that’s partly what it’s about this time of year, especially nearer to the Arctic Circle. Stay indoors under the fluorescent lights of the hospital and you’ll never know the difference, but your brain will burn out. Get out under the stars, under the moon, light a bonfire, a Swedish torch, make a snow lantern and email a photo of it to Sarah and Dick. Do something out in the cold and feel alive. After tonight Spring is on the way.

Light. That’s what it’s really about. Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. The menorah gets lit, the Advent candles too. Jesus is the light of the world, we remind ourselves at Christmas. God said, “Let there be light!” And there was light.

The earlier years of Northern Exposure gave us some of the best TV around, and no doubt the series aided Alaska’s tourism. Great character development, great story lines, great scenery, fun-loving Tlingit people.

Here in the video Chris, the part-time philosopher and full-time disc-jockey at KBHR Radio, hosts the turning of the season from darkness into light. It’s makeshift, it’s a fire warden’s nightmare, but it’s a party.

Plug in the Christmas tree lights and have an eggnog. Spring is on the way.

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“A painter first, and a musician second.”  This is how Joni has described herself, but what a musician!  SheJoni Mitchell 2 has also said that her music  was meant at first to pay her way through art school and to buy cigarettes.  Her voice has lowered over the years, possibly from smoking, although she might say it was from age.  Her incredible vocal range has narrowed, but she still dazzles in torch singing and jazz.

My first awareness of Joni’s music was in 1971 while lobster fishing as a teenager with my father.  That summer, the coolest song that ever came over that boring old AM radio station (I think Dad kept it on only so he wouldn’t miss Paul Harvey News) began with the lyrics, “The wind is in from Africa; last night I couldn’t sleep” and it turned out to be Joni’s song “Carey”.  I re-discovered it a few years ago with her “Blue” CD, and recently I’ve burned a copy and listen in the car.  It’s new every time I hear it.

Joni Mitchell - olderLobstering on my own now, I’ve since made a fan out of at least one crew member, a friend from Switzerland—there was a folk program that used to come on every week (different radio station, and sadly no more Paul Harvey) and the host would open each time with a Joni Mitchell song.  I’d shove the poor guy out of my way and scramble for the volume knob and crank it up.  He got the hint and bought me her “Travelogue” CD for Christmas, just released that year and featuring her artwork and music about the September 11 tragedy.

Joni Mitchell painting - window

Self-portrait

Joni’s  lyrics really grab my attention.  She writes about life—joys and sorrows, broken relationships, and having fun (“Come on down to the Mermaid Café and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down”).  Growing up conservative, the smashing of wine glasses didn’t make sense, but by now I can appreciate the act in the song at least (still, who is supposed to clean that up?).  Like good literature, she says more with fewer words, painting a picture in the mind (if not on canvas), whether writing about giving her baby up for adoption (“Little Green”) or breaking up with a man, possibly Leonard Cohen (“Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine; you taste so bitter and so sweet.  Oh, I could drink a case of you darling, and I would still be on my feet”), or worrying about a friend mixed up in the occult (“I think of rain, I think of roses blue; I think of Rose, my heart begins to tremble, to see the place she’s lately gotten to, gotten to, gotten to”).

I’m less conservative now, or perhaps more so; and I see grace in more places than I used to because God’s in charge of it and he’s not as stingy as we are.  Joni’s music points me to the joy and caring and truth that only comes from grace, whether she is aware of it or not.  Oh, there are other musicians that do that for me too, some of Joni Mitchell - at easelthem unfit to mention (some might think) in a conversation about grace; but this is Joni’s three-score and ten and I thank God she’s made it this far.

The video was recorded in 1970.  She describes her role in Woodstock the year before:  she didn’t make it there,  but wrote this song that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young made famous.

  

 

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Waiting for the Barbarians

by Constantine Petrou Cavafy, 1864-1933

 

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

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This folk song by Sydney Carter (1915-2004) has been making its way around the web lately, thanks in part to that ‘Sixties rebel N.T. Wright (see my post of May 12th).

I won’t play the video of Bishop Wright singing it (there comes a time when, as one realizes that YouTube is half one’s act, one should lighten up on the videos).

Andrea Mantegna, Calvary 1457-59

These lyrics to “Friday Morning” by Sydney Carter tell the story from Luke 23 of one of the thieves on the cross, the one who didn’t insult Jesus for getting strung up there with them. Maybe next year on Good Friday I’ll post the video. It does work better with music.

 

It was on a Friday morning that they took me from the cell
and I saw they had a carpenter to crucify as well.
You can blame it on to Pilate; you can blame it on the Jews.
You can blame it on the Devil, but it’s God that I accuse.
“It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

You can blame it on to Adam; you can blame it on to Eve.
You can blame it on the apple, but that I can’t believe.
It was God that made the Devil, and the woman and the man.
And there wouldn’t be an apple if it wasn’t in the plan.
“It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

Now Barabbas was a killer, and they let Barabbas go.
But you are being crucified for nothing that I know.
And your God is up in Heaven and He doesn’t do a thing
With a million angels watching, and they never move a wing.
”It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

“To hell with Jehovah,” to the carpenter I said;
“I wish that a carpenter had made the world instead.
Goodbye and good luck to you; our ways will soon divide.
Remember me in heaven, the man you hung beside.
”It’s God they ought to crucify instead of you and me,”
I said to the carpenter, a-hanging on the tree.

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self-portrait from Both Sides Now

In the “any excuse for Joni Mitchell” category, Canada Day will do nicely.  

Here are the lyrics to “A Case of You” followed by a black-and-white slide show of my favorite Canadian singing this classic from her “Blue” album.

It’s not clear whom she wrote this song about, who it was that got into her blood like holy wine.  Graham Nash?  Leonard Cohen?

O Joni;  so bitter and so sweet. 

A Case of You

by Joni Mitchell

Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid

I remember that time you told me you said
“Love is touching souls”
Surely you touched mine
‘Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
“Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”

Oh but you are in my blood
You’re my holy wine
You’re so bitter, bitter and so sweet

Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

© 1970; Joni Mitchell 

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While I was growing up The Bomb hung over our heads like the Sword of Damocles.  Or like that Pendulum in a story by Poe (it’s still hanging over us, but by now we’re used to it).  And Khrushchev said that he’d bury us, but I know he meant it affectionately.  It was a cheerful time for parents to raise little kids.   

And if those metaphors weren’t enough, we had Tom Lehrer to make up some more:

Oh we will all fry together when we fry.
We’ll be french fried potatoes by and by.
There will be no more misery
When the world is our rotisserie,
Yes, we will all fry together when we fry. 

This post, of course, is to cheer us on through The End on Saturday the 21st.  If you missed out on Tom Lehrer in the ‘Sixties, you still have a few hours left.

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