A Paragraph for the Beginning of November

I turned off my radio because I noticed the tips of the trees were already bare in many places. All across their tops the sunlight was catching them in a way that softened them like the bristles of a baby’s hairbrush, except wavier and stretched wide as the land–an earthwide undulation of soft, orange-pink bristles. And I turned the radio off because I wanted to listen to the trees, which is another way of saying I wanted to listen to nothing, because nature doesn’t talk to us: a leaf falls, and we call it an omen. We pick it up; turn it in our hands; roll our mind over its veins and across its papery flesh behind a dry fingertip, searching and searching for meaning, and when the meaning doesn’t come we create it: this is the sacred work of the artist. And aren’t those bristles lovely.

My Nerudian Ode

I wrote an ode in the style of Pablo Neruda–short lines, straightforward language, celebratory of something.  My ode celebrates the pre-dawn.

 

 

Ode to the Pre-dawn

 

Nightly mystery

and portent of dawn,

both are yours—

a residue of terror,

filtered down and

swirled with hope.

You wrap the back deck

in autumn’s first chill,

and fill the air with

the sharp whir of tree frogs,

thrumming in choral refrain.

You dabble in glows—

my studio lamps,

drawing me downstairs;

the inward glow of coffee’s

aroma and gift of heat;

soda-lit parking lots

silhouetting trunks;

blackish-purple horizon,

washing out toward town,

clouds absorbing city lights

in a sooty, diffuse orange—

backlighting the cedar spires

that rise from the waterway.

The deep, metallic buzz

of neighboring HVAC units

lends a bass rumble

to the pre-dawn chorus.

Stars flicker

in their final watches.

An unseen smoker

hijacks the air.

How can one little cigarette

supplant all other smells?

Back indoors, only I stir,

wrapped in caution,

muffling every sound

so that this fragile,

pre-dawn stillness

does not shatter.

 

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Finding Stillness

P1000894Many moments of stillness occur just before dawn.  When our son was born thirteen months ago, my wife and I became morning people.  It was necessary to prepare for the day at a quiet, dark hour, so that we could get the jump on Arthur whenever he saw fit to wake up at an equally early hour.  To be forthright, I had been falling out of bed before sunrise for months to paint or write before going to the lab.  Yet this was different.  Before, the early rising had been elective; now, it was a requirement.  Lest anyone think this a source of contention, though, it was quite the opposite.  In addition to the fulfillment concomitant with Arthur’s care, there often were–and still are–moments of rarefied and unanticipated stillness.

 

September provided several such occasions.  The seasonable coolness of this year’s fall lured me out onto our deck, which faces a thick row of trees and tree-topped hills beyond.  We live in Nashville, but the landscape as seen behind our townhouse is arranged and adorned so, that was it not for the whoosh of traffic on Edmondson Pike, one could be led to believe they were visiting an area well outside the city limits.  On those mornings, with my coffee perched on the railing, I stood staring into the chill blackness, listening to the night noises.  After a small while, the faintest shade of steely blue light would begin to color the eastern horizon.  We sometimes recognize fine moments while we are in them.

 

Stillness, as understood here, is about being alone with the self.  It is about shutting off the song that is dominating all passive thought, or the quotidian concerns that lend anxiety to routine, and rediscovering the simple joy of being.  It is not about reading or praying (though I encourage both) but about finding time to do nothing other than wallow in your own quality of awareness, attuning the senses to the present environment and drinking in whatever it has to offer, whether it be a twilight chorus of tree frogs or the apocalyptic rage of a rush hour interstate.

 

Stillness is not limited to dark, quiet hours while the world sleeps.  Nor is it the sole property of reverential settings like churches or libraries.  It lies in wait at sporting events, at concerts, at wedding receptions–even at December shopping malls.  As with any inward effort, it may be achieved with more or less difficulty amid the clamor of a churning crowd.  Author Silas House, in an article addressed to aspiring writers, states that the object is to “learn how to become still in our heads”, later adding that we “must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called “next” at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.”  There appears to be an art to this internal stillness of which House writes and of which I am attempting to write, something to be worked toward with a goal of mastery.  His article inspired me, but I do not believe the wisdom therein is limited to writers.  There is benefit to us all in moments of stillness, whenever and however we may capture them.

 

 

Work Cited:

 

House, Silas.  “The Art of Being Still.”  NYTimes.com.  The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2012.  Web.  1 Dec. 2012.