Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Suffering in Nepal

This is a tiny village in Nepal, Tenge, in the Mustang area where I trekked.  It is a couple hundred miles from the epicenter of the huge earthquake of Saturday. It looks idyllic, with those incredible mountains in the background (I'm not sure of the direction from which the photo was taken, but I think they are the Annapurnas) I was in many small villages like this which could only be reached on foot (or horseback). I have been in many, even smaller villages on the tourist trek-track toward Mt. Everest. They were nestled in the forested more southerly mountains. I have no idea if Tenge was badly damaged, I suspect it was. I am certain the villages on the track to Everest were destroyed as that was the epicenter of the quake and its almost as terrible after shocks. 

When I trekked there I greatly admired the young men who were "our" sherpas and the sidar (head Sherpa), Potasi. Totally professional, personable, very hard working. One of our small group, a woman of about 65 who probably weighted 165, had a mild stroke the morning we were to return from Thengboche Monastery to Namche Bazaar (a sizable tourist town  also probably now destroyed). Her condition was deemed not serious enough to need immediate med evac, so two young Sherpas (each probably no more than 110 pounds) carried her piggy-back (taking turns) all day to Namche from which she was helicoptered to Kathmandu (there was an Army encampment at Namche).  I can't even conceive the strength to carry such a load, let alone up and down rough mountain tracks.

I met so many people, and in the Mustang area, especially was deeply pained by their isolation and poverty.  In Lo Monthang, the capital, a walled city with a king whose lineage went back to 1230 -- a kingdom that had not been "at war" in nine centuries (can any Westerner imagine that?) three ancient temples were decorated inside with Newari painted mural from about 1300. They were being slowly restored as they were crumbling. But bigger problems: one of the three had a wide crack in its outer (plaster/adobe) wall from roof to ground and another had a roof about to cave in shored up with a maze of scaffolding. It is hard to imagine those ancient buildings withstanding the earthquake. 

In the Kathmandu Valley, I visited a third century shrine in Patan, dark, smoky, still in use; and in Bakhatapur saw several centuries old pagodas shaped shrines which I understand are now collapsed and that the ancient wood is being thrown willy-nilly into rubble piles. They will never be reconstructed. Such things are easy to grasp in the imagination.  The thousands and thousands of people who have died, the many more thousands who have lost families and homes and all forms of livelihood, who are sleeping in streets (it's cold that high up at night!) who have nothing to eat, where there is no electricity, where safe water is disappearing ... this is so heartbreaking one recoils from trying to imagine the suffering. 

I wrote on a social network site that this is filling my thoughts because I see faces and building and mountains in my memory.  I know that people who have not been there read it and file it in their  bits of current knowledge the way I have done with earthquakes in other parts of the world, Turkey, China, Peru, countries I have visited but not "on the ground" in the way one visits Nepal. The world is too big, there are too many people suffering in too many part of it for anyone other than a saint to begin to grasp, to have the stamina to care.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Happy Birthday, Will

It is the day scholars have agreed is Shakespeare's birthday.  Scholars agree on litte about him.  For the most part they are too stunned by the brilliance of his writings to admit a man with only a simple education, with a father who was a common tradesman, and who mostly made his money as an actor and theatre  producer could have written so gracefully and, what's more, so insightfully, about so many aspects of the human condition.  He covered everything from mythological kings to very real historical kings, from grand people to a fool so stupid he tells everyone to call him an ass.  

His poetry is magnificent and many phrases are a common part of our vocabulary. There's nothing I can write that is new or insightful that hasn't been said better by others.  I can only say, I'm always  astonished that one person could have been so brilliant.  I celebrate his birthday as I do Beethoven's, that of the birth of an individual who stands unsurpassed as a representative of what one man can accomplish.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring, according to the birds

This time of year you have to be totally self-involved not to notice the birds. I was walking to the lot where I parked my car the other day when I glanced up at a nearby roof that had two chimneys and saw an osprey on top of each.  Were they two who were going to build separate nests or a pair deciding which chimney would be the best for their nest? Of course, I don't know. I see and feel an imperative among the birds this time of year, they have important work to do and they are not slackers.  I wrote this little poem a couple of days ago.

At 3:30 – believe it! –
birds were raucous.
Not a hint of dawn
for a full hour, yet
they were full throat
into their mating calls.
I pushed myself up
onto an elbow to look
carefully at the red LED number.
So long and hard has the winter
been they must be desperate
to recoup and  preserve
their species.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

April is ...

What can I say about April on this drizzly, chilly day without seeing a flower or an expanse of green grass. I think of T.S. Eliot -- I don't know where he was when he wrote his famous opening  lines of The Wasteland and refers to lilacs.  I don't expect lilacs for another four or five weeks.  But I have been thinking of that bulls eye of a first line:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding 
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing 
Memory and desire, stirring 
Dull roots with spring rain. 
Winter kept us warm, covering         5
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding 
A little life with dried tubers.               

Piles of dirty snow long turned to ice, still hunker at the edges of parking lots. The wind and the rain are chilly, the sky sometimes turns sunny but mostly is gray.  It's a month to endure this year.  In the past it has been a month of promise and early flowers.  April is poety month and I have read some very fine poetry.  A ver nice thing indeed. I am not reading the remainder of TheWasteland, I need a warm and sunny day to counter the tone of it.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Our poetry pact

 Rachel and I are attempting to write a poem a day in April -- that means, probably, many not so hot poems, mostly on domestic topics, I think.  Here is mine for yesterday.

Aerial Invasion

Dark bodies in the air
--only two today,
sometimes six or eight –
wide spread wing gliding
they signal plans to land
honk! honk! honk! honk!
no stealth approach, they
drop fast, heads back
chests out braking
wide webbed feet
their landing gear, breaking
their fall, touch down
lightly, running a few steps
on the lawn’s runway,
their breakfast buffet.
they are simply hungry,
barely notice me
I might as well be a tree.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Spring moning poem

April morning

Wet gray pre-dawn
I step out past the slider
the air is like tepid, too cool
to be comfortable bath water
my cupped left hand holds
the diced heel of stale dry rye
bread, I toss it on the grass
for the geese that will come
or other birds if they come first
the trees across the street
are loudly alive with songs
and calls of many unseen birds.

(the photo is an autumn scene, I will have to go out with my camera, maybe I'll replace it)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Long remembered poem

A small writing group I belong to chose to write essays for yesterday's gathering about "home". The word immediately recalled a couple of lines by Robert Lewis Stevenson.  I don't know why I remember them or his name, I know I must have encountered the poem in high school and that was a very long time ago. Such is the power of poetry, I remembered the vivid vision of a returnee, I did not remember the first part of the poem, perhaps at that early age I couldn't quite conceive of someone writing his own epitaph. At this age, it is the third line that  is an amazement to me.


Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you 'grave for me:
Here he lies where he long'd to be:
Home is the sailor, home rom the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April is National Poetry Month

I am a bit of a proselytizer when it comes to poetry.  I don't think enough people read poetry while I think poetry is the finest mode of express that exists. So when National Poetry month rolls around, I become a nudge and foist poetry on all the people I come across, a poem-in-the-pocket gesture as I carry short ones on little squares of paper and pass them out like advertisements, and longer poems that I read to classes and groups I'm in. My daughter even suggested we challenge one another and write a poem a day to send each other. I just sent her a poem -- a bit of a cheat as I wrote it for yesterday's poetry class. But I will not cheat and send old poems for the rest of the month. I think it was seven years ago she and I and her husband -- at his suggestion  -- tried writing a poem a day in November when many people were doing NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). I did write one a day and Rachel wrote several but not every day. Patrick wrote one!  One of Rachel's was very fine and second was quite good. The others are forgotten. One of mine still pleases me and I've forgotten all the others.  Such are the percentages when writing every day. Nothing to be ashamed of, really not bad at all. A good poem usually takes a lot of time.

Here is a part of a poem that deserve to be totally quoted but I will just quote a bit less than the last half, it is the best known, I think, of Mary Oliver's many wonderful nature poems, and it is often quoted. I know people who use the last line as a  reminder or a meditation prompt.

from "The Summer Day"

I don't know exactly what prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?