Burn

There are books I read every few years. Do you have such books? I circle slowly back around to them like the orbit of Neptune because I’ve noticed interesting change between the first and second, and subsequent, readings.

Some books, read again, reflected back a new (older) reader with different responses. That helped me know my mind and sense of language better, as well as opening the vista a good piece of Art is.

Sometimes I return to writing of my own with the changed perspective of time. I understand them differently. Even the way I want specific words to communicate has changed

This poem started with a round burn on my hand got not long after noticing a small, dark rose in falling snow; it bloomed late, into a tight knot of petals, ready to face winter. The poem slid around on those two images, sort of a narrative about my own observations.

Buddhism likes to say…well, Buddha said….the world is burning. Our senses are burning. This simple, complex statement has to do with the nature of the world and our attachments to things. It’s a wake-up call about how easily we make ourselves suffer. It’s also now a new layer of the word “burn” for me, and there it is.

So what happens when I go back to this poem? The actual hand burn once got lifted into something higher through the image of the rose. Now my hand provides the poem with the metaphorical Buddhist burning the real rose can’t escape. Once the burn “bloomed” like the rose, and now the rose is burning. (If I’m not careful, I will justify the false impression that exists in the world that Buddhism is a real downer.)

The poem before was imagining connections, and I feel as if now it’s reporting a real connection I finally paid attention to. I have another “thinky” poem that is struggling to go in exactly the opposite direction and soak its reporting in imagination, to revel in imagined connections. My smile at this knowledge of my own tangled Creativity is both wry and satisfied.

 
 Burn
  
 The stove’s sharp blue heat
 invaded the pot handle
 you grasped without attention.
  
 The burn asserts itself
 like the red fist of a rose
 opened late, defying snowfall.
  
 Take note. The earth insists.
 The undulation of your palm
 has always resembled a drift,
  
 snow crept upon by claws
 of sunset, bloody hue under bare branches.
 There have always been things on fire.
  
 The body burns to say it. So
 your same grasping hand sets
 it down, sears white paper darker.
  
  
   

Word Play and Fungus

 

Sometimes, another artist’s work opens up a Creative breathing space in a brimming-over world. Art can be like walking into a wooded place in a city park, or glimpsing the ocean between dunes. I recently read a memoir by poet Maxine Kumin, and one sentence just randomly became that little pool you might come across in a mountain stream, a place to dip your feet and splash. I’m not sure why this sentence, but this sentence about being the mushroom expert at a writers’ retreat:

I know enough to…never pick any mushroom with white gills—the underpart of the cap—for fear of unknowingly gathering the destroying angel…

Her descriptions of fungi and this foraging hike are wonderful, but this sentence woke up great pleasure in ordinary language, and in the complexity of language, as pictures suddenly tumbled around my mind.

Gills. Once I found a plastic bag of fish on the beach. Someone on a boat had let the day’s catch fall into the water and float away. I tore it open to keep the plastic menace away from the gulls and met six pairs of eyes hard as glass and sharp-looking fins. But the gills’ white skin looked vulnerable and helpless in the dry air. That was where death pointed itself out to me, as it did for Kumin, in the gills. Alas. Walk on, though, and let the birds laugh and feast.

Fish have gills, and so do the small fungal shelves and umbrellas on collapsing logs. They appear in the living sea and on decaying parts of the earth, these open fans of gills. It’s only in working through my draft of this post that I remember a poem by Sharon Olds, “The Winter After Your Death.” She uses the image of a closing fan to describe sunset, and a starkly bright fish in a pond to embody many things. I think my own use of “fan” pulled up this poem, the unconscious source of my word choice here. Of course, being obsessed with the 18th century, I’m likely to throw a fan image in wherever possible, so maybe that was it. I don’t know. My feet are just splashing and enjoying the stream.

The word cap turns the mushroom into a little figure wearing one to shade its eyes, and then the circle of gills becomes an old-fashioned neck ruff. It morphs into a bottle of spores with its cap on. How capital! Oh, that satisfying little pop when you decapitate a mushroom by breaking off the stalk. And the aroma of them, cooking in oil on a chilly winter night. Still playing.

If you’ve faithfully watched any British mystery series with a countryside setting, I bet you’ve seen the Murder by Destroying Angel plot. I can remember two without even putting on my thinking…cap. That basket of foraged mushrooms on the table in the inn kitchen that no one thought to guard from interference. Who would notice a couple of extra ones? Sneaky poison that, eh, Inspector?

Despite its being National Literature and Poetry Month (HUZZAH), I won’t even get into Paradise Lost, which is full of angels as violent warriors attacking and defending Heaven. The would-be Destroying Angel is seemingly destroyed, falling and falling. But later, that whole snake and apple thing.

Kumin just used the Words for Things when she had something to say about these simple lives in the woods. She was also writing about a relationship between the body/mind and nature, about Paying Attention in the world, and about harvesting, both as a forager and as an artist. I enjoyed foraging in these words of hers I came upon and hope I used the harvest well.

My copy of Maxine Kumin’s The Pawnbroker’s Daughter was published by Norton in 2015.