Storm: Two Voices – Corrected Version

Two of the verses were missing from the original version. This is the whole and complete guest poem by Karen Locke. Enjoy!

Storm: Two Voices

by Karen Locke

Sand beguiling,
curious roughness on our feet;
soft waves, the ocean plays against the sand.
We also play! We run, we laugh,
we build sandcastles that the gentle waves wash down.
The very best of places to be
is on the sand.

But skies grow dark,
a bit of rain, a bit of wind, ever more intense,
gentle waves are getting just a bit…
not really gentle anymore
and there’s a knock on the door; the message is
evacuate.

Oho! But the sand laughs,
I will dance!
I will wash to sea and wash to shore
and bounce and shift without a pattern.
Water is my partner in the dance;
oh joy to dance!

I am free;
free from human will for once, free to dance,
to come ashore, or
forget the shore and seek the greater sea.
The things you planted on me, humans
wood and concrete holding me,
I am now free from them and I can dance!
We wait.
The storm has passed, the days have passed,
and now we can go back
to our house, to our sand, our sandcastles on the shore.
But…

They are no more, our house, our sand.
They’ve gone elsewhere; the wind and rain
have taken them.
But we’ll rebuild;
the new house will be our house,
the new sand will be our sand,
we will run, we will laugh,
we will build sandcastles that the gentle waves will wash down.

I am tired, admits the sand.
I will sleep awhile,
until the water comes.
Then I will dance, dance again.

Sandy beach at Lincoln City, Oregon. Image courtesy Dana Hunter.

Sandy beach at Lincoln City, Oregon. Image courtesy Dana Hunter.

Storm: Two Voices

This is a guest post from Karen Locke, a geo-poem inspired by Hurricane Sandy that I adore. I’m grateful she let me publish it here.

Storm: Two Voices

by Karen Locke

Sand beguiling,
curious roughness on our feet;
soft waves, the ocean plays against the sand.
We also play! We run, we laugh,
we build sandcastles that the gentle waves wash down.
The very best of places to be
is on the sand.

But skies grow dark,
a bit of rain, a bit of wind, ever more intense,
gentle waves are getting just a bit…
not really gentle anymore
and there’s a knock on the door; the message is
evacuate.

Oho! But the sand laughs,
I will dance!
I will wash to sea and wash to shore
and bounce and shift without a pattern.
Water is my partner in the dance;
oh joy to dance!

I am free;
free from human will for once, free to dance,
to come ashore, or
forget the shore and seek the greater sea.
The things you planted on me, humans
wood and concrete holding me,
I am now free from them and I can dance!
We wait.
The storm has passed, the days have passed,
and now we can go back
to our house, to our sand, our sandcastles on the shore.
But…

Sandy beach at Lincoln City, Oregon. Image courtesy Dana Hunter.

Sandy beach at Lincoln City, Oregon. Image courtesy Dana Hunter.

A Remarkably Apt Poem

Francesco Sinibaldi left a lovely poem in reply to my own geopoem on Rosetta Stones. I know it’s lovely because it’s in French, and therefore by default is beautiful. I also speak just about enough French to be able to tell when the words sound good together, and these do.

Of course, I only speak enough French to translate one word out of three, so I had to turn to translation programs. Google Translate made a dog’s breakfast of it, but Bing did an adequate job, and I can sort of put in the articles it missed. Thus, the literal translation according to the least worst automated translator:

In the smile.
 
In the
smile [of] a
Flower I see
eternity, the
sound of the
snow and still
the harmony that
sings it [the]
morning…

That could very nearly have been written for our mystery flower, inspired by our latest Rivers installment, couldn’t it just? Love it!

Now, translation is an art, which the online translators don’t have. And my French is atrocious. Je parle un peu français, très mal. The only thing worse than my French is my Spanish, and the only thing worse than my Spanish is all the other languages I speak only a few words of. Point being, I’m not confident enough with those words to translate it beautifully. So someone who speaks reasonable French should head on over there and have a go at it. And if the original poet wants to translate, why, that would be most excellent.

This is one of the reasons I blog, people. So many of you surprise me with interesting and beautiful things. Thank you!

Geopoetry by Karen Locke

The following is a guest post from Karen Locke, one of my most cherished readers (although you know I love you all, right?). She’s submitting this for the Accretionary Wedge #51. I’m two days late posting it. Whoops. But do enjoy whilst I go off and beg Matt to slip this in anyway.

 

Vaughn Gulch: Devonian Limestone*

by Karen Locke

Up the bajada from Lone Pine, canyon mouths come ever closer;
we gun it to jump a gulch (the tallest students hit their heads) and then
we’re there.  Three dusty Suburbans disgorge a tired crew.

Pink granite boulders, ancient Volkswagens, scattered in the canyon mouth.
This isn’t what it’s supposed to be
but there are pink granite Volkswagens, or perhaps some giant child’s marbles
“come on that isn’t what we’re here to see.”

We pick our way through purple flowers, round the boulders, up the canyon,
fold seems to leap out of the wall.
Higher than any two of us, it is incongruous; soft or hard deformation? that’s the key
we listen to our leaders, who tell conflicting stories, and I understand suddenly
it doesn’t matter.  It’s a minor mystery in the Greater Story.

Farther up the canyon: corals!  Students race to get one of their own.
I do not have the right tool, nor the balance for the tricky rocks.
I watch and sigh as the resource dwindles down.

Back to the Suburbans; time to visit another canyon, learn another clue.
picking our way through purple flowers
and granite Volkswagens
off to a new view.
*Stevens, C.H., and Pelley, T., 2006. Development and dismemberment of a Middle Devonian continental-margin submarine fan system in east-central California. GSA Bulletin. 118(1/2):159-170.

“The Shovel is Brother to the Gun”

Iron

by Carl Sandburg

Guns,
Long, steel guns,
Pointed from the war ships
In the name of the war god.
Straight, shining, polished guns,
Clambered over with jackies in white blouses,
Glory of tan faces, tousled hair, white teeth,
Laughing lithe jackies in white blouses,
Sitting on the guns singing war songs, war chanties.

Shovels,
Broad, iron shovels,
Scooping out oblong vaults,
Loosening turf and leveling sod.

I ask you
To witness—
The shovel is brother to the gun.

War Memorial at The Park at Bothell Landing

“Don’t Think Your Life Didn’t Matter”

Ando Hiroshige, Evening Snow at Kanbara. Image credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leaving religion can be soul-crushing, at first. The memory of all that pain has faded for me, and it wasn’t as if I’d spent my life immersed in faith. I’d just been raised to believe God was out there, somewhere, and had a fleeting flirtation with Pentecostalism, before a years-long seeking after something. Something huge, something magical, something that would make this world have meaning. I did have the crisis: if there’s nothing but us, isn’t this all futile? Doesn’t that mean it’s meaningless?

I found no gods, no magic, no higher powers, nothing: in nothing, found everything I ever needed or wanted. Paradox? Perhaps. Truth is, I don’t miss the supernatural. I don’t yearn for it anymore. Nothing is full of everything. This universe, physicists think, may just possibly have come from “nothing.” Nothing’s really something! But it’s not really that sort of nothing I’m talking about, but the absence of supernatural somethings. Nothing supernatural exists turns out to be a fantastic universe to live in.

It’s just that when you’ve been taught to see the supernatural as the only thing that gives life meaning, that’s a hard nothing to swallow.

I was reminded of that reading Lisa’s blog, Broken Daughters, over the weekend. In October 2011, there’s this soul cry:

I really admire the way atheists can deal with life. Life is a journey, there is no judgement, enjoy it while you can cause once the light is out, it’s really out. Nothingness. Darkness. The end. And the audience gets up, wipes the last pieces of popcorn off their clothes and leaves. That was a nice movie, they’ll say. What was it about? Forgotten before we reach home. Who cares, there’s many other movies to watch.

If that is true then I have wasted my life. Or at least parts of it. There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow and that’s that.

Yup. Absolutely true. Hell, you don’t even have to leave the house: choke on a chicken bone, slip in the shower, and the curtain goes down on your life. Over and done. There was a time when that terrified me, back when I needed to believe. Utterly paralyzed me. To the point where I had a crisis every time I had to travel. There was me, going down the checklist as I packed: toothbrush, underwear, legacy? If I didn’t leave a legacy behind, what good was I? What good was my life? I’d be so upset if I died without finishing my books! So useless!

And then, one day after becoming an atheist, going into that panic mode, I stopped and laughed. Heartily laughed. What did it matter if I died? I wouldn’t know about it. There’s no me left to care. No soul up in Heaven, looking down (or, if you believe some, in Hell looking up) mourning all of those things I haven’t finished. So what am I doing here worrying about it when I could be enjoying the journey instead?

Some people may believe that’s nihilistic, that joy in nothing. But I don’t see it that way. It’s freed me. I no longer spend major portions of my day fretting over death. I don’t mourn my life before it’s over. I used to. Don’t now. I just plunge in to the things I love to do: my geology and my writing and movies and teevee and music and adventures with friends and cuddles with kitteh and, even, on occasion, quality time with family. I eat food I really like. I read books I enjoy. I don’t live each day as if it were my last, because that’s stupid advice: do you really think I’d be going to work in the morning if this were my last day on earth? But no matter how shitty the day is, I seek out a little joy in it. Every single day, there’s something wonderful, no matter how dismal everything else is. Every single day, I can say if I check out now, the people I leave behind don’t have to worry if I’d feel any regrets. For one thing, I can’t feel a damn thing. I’m dead. For another, it’s been a good ol’ life, on the whole, and I got to do quite a bit of what I wanted, and I did the best I could. Not everything. We’ve already established it’ll take immortality to achieve that, and even then, I doubt infinity will be quite long enough. But there’s very little I’d change. And don’t feel bad for me, dying with so much to look forward to, all those things I wanted to do and never got the chance. I got to look forward to them. That’s a joy all to itself, that anticipation.

I wasn’t so sanguine before I became an atheist. I always had shoulds and gonna regrets if I don’t dos hanging over my head. Now, I don’t. And that has made living all the sweeter. Especially since I’m determined to live, as fully and productively as possible.

But let me revisit this bit:

There is nobody who wants my best, who makes sure I do all the things I need to do before I die.

Oh, my dear. Oh, Lisa. I nearly cried right there, I did, because sweetheart, it’s not true.

No god wants your best. But you’ve got friends who love you, root for you, absolutely want your best. You’ve got readers. You’ve got family (your aunt, at the very least). Can we make sure you “do all the things” before you die? No. No one can. Even God, if one existed, couldn’t. All you can do is what everyone else does: enough. You’ll leave unfinished business behind. That’s inevitable. But you’ll have accomplished plenty, as long as you keep on keeping on. Keep doing stuff. Love and life and adventure and ordinary things and the occasional bit of extraordinary, if you’re able. In the end, no one needs to say you did it all. Just that you did. Just that you lived, as best you could, as fully as you could.

And Lisa: you can already say that. Trust me. I read your entire blog. I know you’ve touched lives. I know you’ve done extraordinary things. You’ll do more in the time you’ve got left. You’ll do all you can, and that’s enough.

And we, your friends, your readers, wanted your best. You know what? We got it.

That’s my criteria these days. When those moments come when I step out of the house and know I may never see it again, because shit happens – the Cascadia subduction zone could slip today, and the building at work may not be quite as earthquake-resistant as they believe it is. In those moments, I know I haven’t done all. My novels aren’t finished, my non-fiction books aren’t written, I haven’t seen Series 7 of Doctor Who or heard the new Epica album. I haven’t figured out New England’s bizarre geology, or learned how to cook chicken tikka masala. All of that’s okay. I wrote this blog, touched lives, sometimes changed them. I had a hell of a lot of fun. I did as much as I could without driving myself insane by driving myself too hard. People wanted my best: they got the best I could give, and they’ve appreciated it, will remember it. Hopefully, if the cat survives me, they will also remember to feed her, despite her evil disposition.

All that I have is a bunch of memories in my brain, and once my time is over they’ll rot away with the rest. Forgotten for eternity. Who will remember me? …. Vanishing as if they’d never been there. That is my fate, and yours too, if there is no God.

Oh, yes. that terrified me, too. That need for some sort of immortality drove me, nearly drove me insane, made me mourn every birthday because I hadn’t published my magnum opus yet and I’d be totes forgotten. I don’t know where that comes from. I don’t know why we need this eternal memory so very much. I don’t need it now. Oh, surely, it would be nice: have my name echo down through the ages like Sappho and Shakespeare. I’d very much love my words to matter that long. It’s a goal. But. But. This isn’t bad, this temporary immortality. A generation, perhaps two, friends and family who have fond living memories of me. Another generation or two, perhaps, that will hear of Dana Hunter, before she quietly fades away, and the world goes on without her. That’s not bad. That’s the least we can expect, and it’s not bad at all. Meanwhile, our molecules and atoms will go cheerfully on. Whether they know it or not, a little bit of Dana, which once was a little bit of a star and who knows what else on its way to being me, will be a little bit of someone or something else. Do I need a god to remember me, to validate my existence? Do I need a god to trace all those atoms that were once Dana? No. I’ve had friends and family and readers. I’ve had my cat. I’ve had strangers who never knew my name, but know a delightful new fact because of me. I’ve had enough. Not all, but enough. And part of me marches on, to become someone else, who perhaps will never be forgotten. Who knows?

I certainly won’t. Dead, remember? What’s fame to the no-longer-existent? No worries! So why waste time worrying about it now?

Speaking of waste:

I might seem like a calm person but I’m constantly afraid. Where’d I put my time? It’s running through my fingers like water, dripping on thirsty ground. There’s nothing I can do to get it back. Sometimes I want to scream, at my family, my friends, at my readers, at random people on the street: “DO SOMETHING! Time is short! Do something with it! You’re wasting!”

But every life has its “wasted” moments. Moments we could’ve spent doing something else, something “important,” something different. Every single life ever lived is full of wasted time. But every single one of those moments went in to making you who and what you are. Useful or useless, they’re all part of the package. So, you’re not rich, famous, a saint. You haven’t cured cancer, you haven’t written deathless prose (although you can’t know the prose you wrote is terminal, not until long after you’re gone, so the jury’s still out on that one). You haven’t done it all. What is this “all?” What is it compared to the things you have done? Those wasted moments and wasted opportunities are a necessary part of you. Without them, you wouldn’t be you.

And you have used them to touch the lives around you. Who says that’s a waste? By whose criteria? Certainly not by mine. I “wasted” a lot of time reading your blog when I should have been reading papers on Mount St. Helens and East Coast geology, or working on my books, or blogging. I “waste” my time with a lot of people that way. And you know what? I do not feel that time was wasted at all. You’ve become a part of me, part of my strength and understanding and love for this world. You’ve become an inspiration, and someone I’m rooting for, and someone who helps me become more compassionate.

Yes, our time is a finite resource. We do not have eternity. We can’t completely piss our time away. But those idle moments, those moments spent doing something other than what we’re “supposed” to, those moments headed in the “wrong” direction, they’re an important and necessary part of us. The only time I’d advise you to stop wasting is the time spent regretting them, although not altogether, because that regret isn’t always wasted either, now, is it? Every moment makes us who we are.

The point is this: your life matters, and matters intensely, with or without enduring memory. It matters now. It matters very much right now, to you and to those who love you. It will have mattered very much while there are still those alive who remember you. And it will have mattered just as much in a future you’re long forgotten in, because for this time, you mattered. That doesn’t go away. Not ever. Not just because a god isn’t there to remember. This universe might have been similar, but not exactly the same, without you. Just because, in some future you’re not even conscious of, someone doesn’t remember it was precisely you who existed and mattered intensely in that long-ago fragment of time, doesn’t make your life right now any less important.

There is a poem by Basho. It’s a poem that started running in a continuous loop through my mind as I read your post. Here is is:

An autumn night.
Don’t think your life
Didn’t matter.

How often has that poem floated through my mind! In moments when some small thing has happened that has made me delighted to be alive. I’ve thought of it when viewing ephemeral cherry blossoms, and hearing bird song, and reading words of interesting but not quite famous people. What a gift that little haiku is! What a centering, calming triplet of lines, those three, reminding me to slow down and breathe and exist and cease worrying about Meaning with a capital M, but enjoy the little-m meanings that fill a life.

Basho didn’t need a god to write those lines. We don’t need a god to appreciate them. We don’t need religion to give them impact. They are very human lines. They’ve survived for over three centuries now, and I will not be surprised if, should time travel be invented and I ever visit a far-flung future, they should be found thousands of years hence, reminding another generation of humans who stumble across them that a life matters.

By a human, for humans, inspired by a human. Basho wrote them for his niece-by-marriage, Jutei, a Buddhist nun. His nephew, her husband, died of tuberculosis; he began taking care of her and his grand-nieces and nephews; she herself died, not long after; he wrote those three lines for her.

An autumn night.
Don’t think your life
Didn’t matter.

Without Basho, his nephew, his nephew’s wife, all of the people who had existed before them who had made their birth possible, all of the people around them who had made these people who they were, those three lines wouldn’t exist. Without all of them, no simple yet profound little haiku. No three lines popping up all over the place, meaning something to people over three hundred years later, losing none of their beauty and poignancy even if you didn’t know their story (which I didn’t, until tonight).

Those lives mattered. Most of them had no idea just how much. We will never know just how much our lives matter. There are no gods who know. Perhaps people in the future will never know. But just because there’s this don’t-know, that doesn’t make us matter any less.

Don’t think your life didn’t matter.

Mount Unzen in Autumn. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Buffalo Bill’s

e.e. cummings's "Buffalo Bill's," published in The Dial, 1920. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Poem’s been running through my mind since I heard about Hitch. He was outsize to me, like Buffalo Bill. Perhaps someone will put him in a poem like this one. Perhaps, if the Muse is kind, I shall.

What I like about them is that, outsize as they were, legendary as they seemed, they were human. Fully, gloriously, infuriatingly and charmingly human.

Britain Gets It’s First Female Poet Laureate

Score one for my gender:

LONDON – The centuries-old post of British poet laureate, bard to kings and queens, has been held by William Wordsworth, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Ted Hughes — but never, until Friday, by a woman.

Carol Ann Duffy said she hesitated before accepting the job, which brings a high public profile and an expectation to rhapsodize about royal weddings, funerals and major state occasions.

In the end, she left the decision to her 13-year-old daughter, Ella: “She said, ‘Yes mummy, there’s never been a woman.'”

The job’s been around since Richard the Lionheart, at least. Pretty ancient shoes to fill, which I’m confident Carol will do with grace, style, and mad poetic skillz. There’s also the possibility of some additional compensation for her efforts:

The salary has varied, but traditionally includes some alcohol. Ben Jonson first received a pension of 100 marks, and later an annual “terse of Canary wine”. Dryden had a pension of £300 and a butt of Canary wine. Pye received £27 instead of the wine. Tennyson drew £72 a year from the Lord Chamberlain’s department, and £27 from the Lord Steward’s “in lieu of the butt of sack”.

Hmm. I wonder what I’d have to do in order to become a British citizen and then fill Carol’s shoes when she’s done with them? A wordsmithing job that includes alcohol as part of the salary sounds utterly perfect.

Kidding aside, I’m happy to see Britian install its first female Poet Laureate, and I think they’ve made a great choice. After all, she knows what talent is:

Talent by Carol Ann Duffy

This is the word tightrope. Now imagine
a man, inching across it in the space
between our thoughts. He holds our breath.

There is no word net.

You want him to fall, don’t you?
I guessed as much; he teeters but succeeds.
The word applause is written all over him.

Congratulations, Carol! I’d pour you a glass of the good stuff, but I imagine the stuff they supply as part of your salary’s far better.

Poem o’ the Day

A little hair of the dog? We can’t just come off of National Poetry Month cold turkey, and thanks to Chris, we don’t have to.

A NIGHT MOORING NEAR MAPLE BRIDGE

While I watch the moon go down, a crow caws through the frost;

Under the shadows of the maple-trees a fisherman moves with his torch;

And I hear, from beyond Su-chou, from the temple on Cold Mountain,

Ringing for me, here in my boat, the midnight bell.

-Chang Chi (Witter Bynner trans.)