Among the mundane tasks of everyday living, there is magic. It comes in many forms and speaks to the human spirit through our senses, lifting us to that transcendent plane beyond mere existence.
We all struggle to make a living, pay the mortgage, make ends meet. The trick is to stop and sniff the metaphorical roses, which for me is the vision of land and water from the Boulevard, the arrows of trees on the hillsides punching toward the sky, the skittering birds at my feeder.
Late at night, sometimes I'll hear the "Hoo, Hoo, Hoo,"
of a nearby owl, and in the fall, I'll cock my ear to hear the
honks of geese flying overhead. What are those honks but goose
laughter at us earthbound humans?
Good music is magical too. It gives pause, makes you want to
hum or sing along.
For me, one of the most hauntingly beautiful tunes ever written
starts with a fiddle. Then the fiddle is joined by a guitar, softly
at first, like grass blades kissing the mist. Gradually, they
come together as equal partners caught in a dance of the quintessential
American lament. Then the two instruments exchange prominence
with the guitar notes resonating and the fiddle fading. A borning
and a dying.
The song is Ashokan Farewell, composed by Jay Ungar, and made
popular by Ken Burns in his Civil War series on PBS. Though it
was composed in 1982, Ken Burns says of it, "It has all of
the bittersweet tragedy and uplift that I think is contained in
the Civil War . . . . It speaks directly to the heart."
And so we come to poetry--that other invention of the human spirit that speaks to the heart. Good poetry identifies and defines the human experience with the strength of its images.
"At the stillpoint of the turning world
there the dance is.
And without the point
there would be no dance
and there is only the dance."
And once, stumbling around downtown Portland, Oregon, at S.W. 3rd and Yamhill, we ran across sidewalk poetry. I was smitten by the following, which captures the essence of life for us over-40 folks:
"The days run away
like wild horses, over the hills."
Then there is "How Could You Not--for Jane Kenyon"
by Galway Kinnell, which I read in the July/August 1995 issue of Poets & Writers. It is a touching ode to fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, who died at age 47 or 48. Buy the magazine and read it!
Also, "The Language of Life with Bill Moyers" on
public television is great. Not that I like all of the poetry
that is read on the program, but Carolyn Forch's "The
Colonel," knocked my socks off. She was a young woman poet
in El Salvador and was invited to a dinner party at a colonel's
house. The colonel spilled more than food or drink across the
dinner table that night. Read the poem! It's in Moyer's book,
now in local bookstore.
Oh, there is one more thing that is magical in life. That is children. I love kids. But as an adult male, with the climate as it is and parents having to warn children not to talk to strangers (with which I agree wholeheartedly), I don't feel comfortable being too friendly with kids.
Once, though, I was jogging alone and I came up on a father
and his 9-year-old daughter just getting on their mountain bikes.
The father had turned away to straddle his bike. The girl saw
me coming and smiled and waved. I don't know if she mistook me
for someone else or she was just friendly. I smiled and waved
back, gladdened in heart.
Which brings me to my feeble attempt at poetry and my farewell to all the readers of this column.
Because I can hear,
I bow down to Music.
Because I can see,
I bow down to Art.
Because I can feel,
I bow down to Family
and to Peace,
And, especially, do
I bow down to Children--
the torchbearers of Innocence.
This essay first appeared in the Bellingham (Washington) Herald, August 8, 1995, thanks to the late Dick Beardsley, Editorial Page Editor.