Wednesday, February 29, 2012

brought back from the black beach

brought back from the black beach,
laid out on the bale bed,
blue scarf around his neck

Two days after the double suicide of the young couple, Robin and I attend the boy's funeral. Robin stops at a little store to buy coffee and sugar in bags and a small plastic plate to carry the offerings, including R 100,000. We arrive late, after they've bathed the body and placed it on the bed of the main bale in the family compound. I sit and wait while Robin goes inside to talk to the boy's mother. A woman who speaks English finally comes over to find out who I am and offers me tea with sugar. She says to come sit in the shade on the funeral bale, and then, come eat, but I want to wait for Robin. She finally comes out with the mother, a short, round-faced woman, and I give her a hug. I can't imagine anything worse than losing a child, especially one so young.
          We go to pay our respects to the father, who is sitting on the dirt floor in the dark kitchen, his face blank. Then we sit on the kitchen bale to eat. The wood stove is an empty oil can with a hole cut near the bottom, just big enough for one stick of wood. They also use bamboo and coconut husks for fuel. The mother offers us water to wash our hands and then serves our food on plasticized brown paper, a modern substitute for banana leaves -- rice, crispy fried onions, duck and some kind of meat that Robin doesn't recognize. When Robin tells her that I don't eat meat, she fries two eggs for me, so I have to eat the eggs. Ducks, chickens and dogs prowl around the compound scavenging leftovers and offerings.
          After we finish eating, the mother takes us to view the body, pulling back the curtain and the white sheet over his face. A scarf covers his throat, but otherwise he looks normal. Robin tells me that his throat exploded from drinking bleach and moth ball poison. Robin starts crying and hugging the mother, and another woman puts my arms around both of them. They will wash his body again before burying him around 5. Some men leave to make offerings at the beach where they died.
          As we're walking back to Ponkok Frog, Robin tells me more details. In the suicide note, the boy said he loved his family, but he loved his wife more. Still, they will not be buried together. Both families took the bodies back for burial, but no cremation. 
          "How could this happen to young people from a good family?" Robin wants to know. "It must be the witch's black magic." 
          "I don't know why it happened," I say, "but stop focusing on black magic. Just ignore her. Don't giver her more power by buying into her trip."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

on a black sand beach

on a black sand beach
two lovers lie together
in their last embrace

Robin woke up in the middle of the night, calling out. Turned on the light and tried to answer her cell phone. She thought someone was trying to reach her.
          This afternoon, as we are returning from Ubud to Nyuh Kuning, Kadek stops on his motorcycle. He says something to Robin and I catch the word "suicide." Robin is teary as he takes off. She says a young couple committed suicide on the beach. The young man, 26, shy, sensitive, is from the family compound we stopped at after the wedding. The girl was 18 and they were engaged. In the Balinese tradition, she had been living with his family for three years, waiting to finish high school before the wedding ceremony.
          Two days ago there had been a big rainstorm, untimely in this season. The girl is waiting for her fiance to pick her up after school, but he hasn't shown up and she's getting soaked. Another boy offers her a ride on his motorcycle, but instead of taking her home, he takes her to his house to watch TV. A friend tells the fiance that his girl is with another guy. He goes to the house, sees them sitting on the couch together and jumps to the conclusion that they're having an affair. He tells his parents and her parents and both sets of parents kick her out. She has nowhere to go. When he realizes he's destroyed her with his false accusations, they go to the beach, lie down in a final embrace and drink insecticide together, a horrible death.
          Some relatives from Nyuh Kuning were among the crowd who found them. They left a note asking to be buried together. Not possible, since they weren't married, though they did have legal papers to get married. No one wants the bodies. They probably won't be cremated, ever, a terrible fate for the Balinese soul.
          The whole village is now "dirty" for 42 days. The odalan for the founding of the village temple, scheduled to take place in four days, has been called off. We will not see anymore ceremonies -- no weddings allowed. Robin says it's the witch's black magic.

Monday, February 27, 2012

White Track

White Track

Snow paved paths white as deer tails
curve between Queen Anne skeletons
blooming with frost in February.

Cloven prints like pointed hearts cut
from sugar dough mince along the cryptic aisle,
immaculate impression until the melt.

I stay on paths beaten by deer
to protect my skin from thorns --
black locust, wild blackberry, multiflora rose.

Rime transforms every weed into etched
crystal candelabra, intricate lace on the altar 
of limbs, yet thorns beneath lace still pierce.

A doe, delicate legs tucked under,
a heart's beat off the path
lifts her head but does not bolt.

Through veils of breath we regard each other --
her lambent eyes, mine
awed by grace.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

New Moon behind a veil

New Moon behind a veil
of pale blue edged in pink
flirts with Jupiter

After bidding adieu to Venus, the New Moon is flirting with Jupiter tonight, peeking coyly through a pale blue veil edged in pink. The beautiful corona is caused by moonlight diffracting as it passes around the small particles of a thin layer of cirrocumulus clouds. The three celestial companions are still engaged in English Country dancing, but now the Moon is turning contra corners, first with Venus on her right, then with Jupiter on her left.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

the mottled blue Moon

the mottled blue Moon
in a silver cup dances
round Jupiter and Venus

Just after sunset the mottled blue Moon sitting in a silver cup swings between Jupiter and Venus, like English Country dancers doing a hey for three. On the other side of the canopy of stars, red Mars hurries to catch up with the trio. The eyes perceive three bright orbs in close proximity and the imagination endows this image with meaning.
          An Earthling, holding up a small appendage, measures the apparent distance between the Moon and her two companions: a hand span separates Moon from Jupiter, while Moon and Venus are a mere thumb's width apart. To the eyes, the Moon looks like a huge celestial ball and socket joint, while Venus seems as big as a six carat diamond and Jupiter just a diamond chip. Yet the mind knows that this difference in apparent size is only an appearance: Jupiter is actually a giant planet and Venus is far larger than the Earth's satellite.
         Appearance means "to bring forth," and this ability to bring forth relationships between disparate things is one of the greatest procreative acts of being human.

Friday, February 24, 2012

in dawn's snow blue light

in dawn's snow blue light
bare branches flocked with last night's
crystal offering

How quickly the weather changes in the Midwest. Day before yesterday, short sleeve shirts, yesterday, raincoat, today, snow. In the dawn's early light, the star magnolia is bundled in soft blue blankets, the trunk of a shagbark hickory is plastered on the north side with a whitewash of fresh snow, and a white dome hydrangea looks like a cupcake on a lace doily. By midday, the sun melts the snow on the south sides of trees and bushes, and the wind sends clumps of snow hurtling down to pit the white ground. At Bonneville Lake, ice free, but frosted around the edges, a girl wearing black and white plaid pants and a furry gray hat with ears smiles as we cross paths.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

rain -- too warm for snow

rain -- too warm for snow,
too cold to go out -- orchid
blooming in the window

Late winter, a line of snow hauling across the state takes a turn north, missing us by a few miles. I wake to the sound of hard rain on the roof. Snow or rain, I welcome any form of precipitation for the sake of the plants and animals. But I'm not inclined to go for a walk on a cold, gray rainy day. Down the road in my neighbor's kitchen window, an orchid opens its butterfly wings to the light.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

changing cloudscape at dawn

changing cloudscape at dawn --
pink wisps above purple puffballs
above indigo shoals

How quickly the cloudscape changes, layers shifting with the wind at different altitudes. While the Sun is still below the horizon, long red rays touch the clouds, tinging them pink. Above the fields of corn stubble and grain silos, a wispy pink fringe of rain, blown by a high wind, curves down above a phalanx of purple puffballs. By the time the Sun lifts above a grove of trees, its pink and gold beams shoot out through indigo shoals. "Red in the morning, farmer (or sailor) take warning." But the promised and much-needed rain does not fall on the thirsty soil. By midday all that remains of the cloudscape is a lacy tracery of cirrus in an azure sky, mirroring the fractal branches of a shagbark hickory.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

white smoke billowing

white smoke billowing
from the crown of Fujisan --
fan of cotton ball clouds

Looking like puffs of white smoke rising from the still-active volcano, a swath of altocumulus cloudlets curves up from the top of Fujisan's cone.

Monday, February 20, 2012

to the deep silence

to the deep silence
offerings to Shiva Lingam,
more devotion than rice

Mahashivaratri, the night of Lord Shiva, considered the most auspicious day of the year for invoking the quality of pure, unbounded silence -- whether the ceremony takes place in Trivandrum, Kerala, India, or half a globe away in Fairfield, Iowa, USA, it goes on all night.
          The evening begins with Rudrabishek, offerings to the Shiva Lingam, an elliptical stone that is a sacred sign of the formless nature of God. The ballroom at Morningstar Studio is filled with a dozen Shiva Lingams, ranging in size from kumquat to watermelon, each sitting on a stand called a peetham, which is placed in a receptacle for catching the offerings. 
          I am sitting on a navy wool blanket facing a beautiful black Lingam with a natural red "eye" perched on a simple white peetham inside a stainless steel bowl. The reflection of light from the bowl on the polished black stone looks like a celestial dragonfly. 
          The man to my right, L.B., has just returned from two and half years in China, where he taught English and "hit the jackpot" with a Tai Chi master. While we wait for the ceremony to begin he tells me about some of his experiences. He liked his students but says he's glad to be back home. L.B. takes out his rudraksha mālā and drapes it around the Lingam for a blessing. The dried brown berries represent the eyes of Rudra, one of the names of Shiva. Strung together in a garland of 108 beads, the mālā is used for prayer. 
          The woman to my left, an American who goes by the name Shiva Ma, is dressed in a saffron shirt covered with the Sanskrit symbol for Aum in red. She is draping herself with dozens of mālās of all kinds, rudraksha, rock crystal, pearl. While she sets up a tiny gray Shiva Lingam in a white marble peetham, she tells me she's visited all twelve Jyotir Linga shrines in India. Each of these sites is dedicated to the "pillar of light" in which Lord Shiva is said to have first manifested.
          Pandit Sharma has just returned from India to his home in Chicago, and has come to this small Midwestern town to conduct the ceremonies. Before he begins he says, "In India, people have the opportunity to participate in these ceremonies, but they say they are too busy. In America, people are interested in participating but they don't have the opportunity. Here in Fairfield, we have both. The most important thing in making the offerings is your devotion. Less rice, more devotion!" 
          We light the ghee lamp and incense. Pandit Sharma chants the appropriate slokas and leads us in making the Rudrabishek offerings, which are poured over the Shiva Lingam. Each offering is symbolic: milk for piety, yogurt for prosperity, honey for sweet speech, ghee for victory, sugar for happiness and water for purity. Flowers, fruit, sweets, rice, camphor, red thread, vermilion and sandal paste are also offered, a veritable feast for the senses and the heart.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

long tailed, black footed

long tailed, black footed
frugivore climbs the canopy 
of her shoulder

A friend of Robin's stops by Pondok Frog with his adorable pet, which he bought at the exotic animal market in Denpesar. It looks like some kind of civet, but no one knows what it is for sure. The mysterious creature with dark eyes, small ears, black paws and bushy tail is an instant hit with all the girls. It sits in Katy's lap while she feeds it a banana, curls up in Deja's arms with its long tail hanging straight down, and climbs on Roe's shoulders as if she is just another palm tree.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Diabutsu has eyes

Diabutsu has eyes
in the back of his heart where
memories fly away

At Kamakura we stop to read the sign at the entrance to the grounds of Kōtoku-in: "Stranger, whoesoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Buddha and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence."
         We join a crowd of Japanese walking along the flagstone promenade leading to Diabutsu Amida Nyorai, a National Treasure and one of the most famous icons of Japan. As we approach, the giant bronze Buddha grows larger and larger, dwarfing the people standing around the granite pedestal. The Buddha sits in serene meditation, eyes closed, undisturbed by all the comings and goings.
          Goto-sensei poses for a photograph next to the base, which she says was destroyed by the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. Although Hiroko was only a toddler at the time, she vividly remembers her family fleeing to a nearby hill where they watched for three days as fire destroyed all of Tokyo, though it spared their home. The base of the Kamakura Diabutsu was later repaired, though only four of the original 32 bronze lotuses remain.
          When I walk around the statue, I notice a faint gleam around the ears, the remains of gilding. Goto-sensei says the bronze statue, built around 1252, was originally protected from the elements by a hall. But the last of several halls was destroyed by a tsunami in 1498 and since then the Buddha has sat in the open air. 
          On the far side I am surprised to see a pair of windows on the back of the Buddha. The bronze panels of the statue open like shutters, revealing grilled squares with no glass panes. Goto-sensei says you can go up inside the statue and look out, but she is not interested in an ascent inside a hollow metal shell with years of graffiti on the walls. Above our heads, rolls of grey and white altocumulus clouds stretch away into the unbounded firmament.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sabina has no mother

Sabina has no mother, 
two sisters, father very poor --
still she keeps smiling

I received this email from my friend Pam Whitworth, Director of Shanti Children's Foundation, regarding a young girl who needs a sponsorship as a boarding student in Kathmandu, Nepal. We have been sponsoring a student through this nonprofit foundation for 12 years and find it very rewarding. I hope that someone who reads this will also feel moved to help Sabina.

Dear Friends,

This little girl is Sabina Gubaju. She is approximately 7-8 years old. (many families, being illiterate, do not keep track of the age of their children). Sabina’s original home is Sindhupalchowk, which is one of the least developed districts in Nepal (and where there is quite a lot of trafficking of girls and women). Her parents migrated to Kathmandu many years ago to try to get work. They have had a hard time. Sabina's mother died about a year and a half ago. Sabina’s father is a manual day-laborer (they are very poor) and this is only when he can get the work. This is the lowest menial work and pays next to nothing. 
          Sabina has two sisters. Without the mother, the father cannot look after the girls on his own since he does not have enough income to manage. When he works, he is also away from home, leaving the girls alone and this is a very unsafe situation. Sabina's two sisters have now been sponsored (one by us and one by another organzation). We still need help for Sabina.
          Sabina is very much in need of our support.  She needs education to raise above the extreme poverty her family has experienced. This is the only way she might have a chance to have a future other than hard labor at a young age or an early marriage and a life of hardship. 
          With sponsorship she would get an education, which is something her father cannot afford for her. In addition, she would board in the hostel where she would be safe, fed and have a stable existence and new possibilities.
          Let's help this young girl have a better life. She needs only $800 total for her annual school fees, room and board, books and uniform, bedding, etc. This can be paid $400 twice a year. Another option is to co-sponsor with another person. That would be a commitment of only $400 annually (each, for two people ). Let me know if you have any questions and/or you think you can perhaps sponsor this little girl. I am crossing my fingers. She is very much in need and it would be wonderful to get her into a more stable situation as quickly as possible.
          Thank you, each and every one of you, for your very kind consideration! You have been a good friend to Shanti Children's Foundation and that means the world to us.

Pam Whitworth
Shanti Children's Foundation
2331 Broadway, #2B
Boulder, CO 80304

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

grey ice on the pond

grey ice on the pond
still firm enough for two dogs
to take a shortcut

Light rain all day, dissolving the remnants of snow, softening the ice on the ponds. Coming home, I'm surprised to see two black and white farm dogs out for a jaunt across Osage Pond, taking a shortcut from the barn to the road. 
          Reminds me of the time in my youth when I walked all the way across Lake Harriet, a lake in the middle of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We lived right by the lake and I'd walked or biked around it many times, swam and even ice skated along the edge. I'd seen ice boats and ice fishermen out on the frozen lake and one day I decided to see what it was like out there. Of course, it was foolish to venture that far out all alone.
          In the middle of the lake, the wind had swept the snow off the ice, which gleamed like obsidian. When I got to the other side, my face was so windburned that I decided to walk the long way around to get back home. 
          Later that day my father remarked that the lake must be melting because you could see open water out in the middle. I started to say, no, that's just bare ice, but I didn't dare let him know how I knew. That's one of the few times I've ever done anything really risky, and it gave me just a tiny glimpse of what it feels like to be a daredevil.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

heart of melted ice

heart of melted ice,
deer hoof heart, grass through snow heart,
snirt heart of sand on snow

On Valentine's Day, ice and snow melting, four hearts created by Mother Nature's hand. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

down on hands and knees

down on hands and knees 
packing snow onto the form
of a valentine

When I come out of the student center dining hall after lunch, it's still snowing lightly. On the slope east of the building a young man is busily scraping up snow and packing it into what looks like the beginning of a snowman. I walk over for a better look. Clearly, it's not the base of a snowman. It's a snow sculpture, a kind of Modigliani marble bas relief of a supine woman, just her head and torso, no arms or legs. The sculptor looks up with a grin when I approach.
          "I've never seen a horizontal snow-woman before," I say.
          "Yeah, I just thought of it," he replies, hands busily packing snow onto the narrow hips.
          We shake hands as I introduce myself and he tells me his name his Ray.
          "I'm from Florida," he says. "I love snow!"
          "I'm from the Midwest and I love snow too. Are you an art major?"
          "I haven't declared a major yet, but I love putting weird things together. You know, like human hair and Legos."
          "I like to put together weird things, too," I reply, thinking about this photograph of a young man in a pinstrip parka with a red plaid hood, a tweed bucket hat, striped mittens, green plaid scarf, lace-up boots and a white dhoti, down on his knees patting snow onto the form of a woman as cold as alabaster.
          The next day is Valentine's Day and the snow is melting. On my way to the dining hall I look for the snow sculpture, wondering whether it survived. From a distance I see what looks like a white moat and something blue inside. What on earth? When I get close enough to see the finished sculpture I start laughing. The artist has dyed the snow woman blue with red lips and a red heart. She now has legs, though no feet and still no arms. Around her head is a crown made of sticks and on either side of her figure there's a message spelled out in sticks: FOR YOU and I LOVE YOU.

snow on red umbrella

snow on red umbrella,
striding up the street, bare legs
above high-heel boots

What women will do for fashion -- a red umbrella to grab attention and protect her hair, but bare legs and high-heel boots in the snow.

black horse in the snow

black horse in the snow
eating dry grass from my hand --
where are you going?

Ever since the two young bulls disappeared, the little black horse has been staying close to the little red barn. On a snowy day I stop to see how she's faring. Her nose is buried in freshly fallen snow, seeking tender grass among the brittle weeds. Her black coat stands out against the whiteness. When she sees me approach, she looks up and walks towards me, which surprises me. When she kept company with the bulls, they usually moved away when I appeared. 
          Now she stops and surveys me for a moment. I'm wearing a furry brown hat, brown coat, brown gloves, brown boots, and the black camera I'm holding up to my face might look like a black nose. Perhaps she thinks I'm one of her lost companions. But maybe I'm not giving her enough credit for knowing the difference between a four-legged and a two-legged animal. In any case, she pushes on through the snow to the fence where I'm standing. 
          Her mane is still matted with burrs and her back is a little wet from the snow, but her thick coat must keep her warm. She sticks her head over the low fence and I scratch behind her ears. She nuzzles my hand. What, no apples? Tangerine, yuck! She pushes my hand away, so I pull some long grass and feed it to her. Some of it gets caught in her mane and some of it drops on the ground, but she manages to swallow a little of my offering. The grass on this side of the fence is about as scarce as on her side, so I quickly run out. While she's rummaging around on the ground for the bits she dropped, I start to walk away. She looks up, a stalk of grass dangling from her mouth. What, you're leaving? Where are you going? Are you coming back?
          Maybe I'm reading too much into those pleading eyes, but I feel sad leaving her alone again. Horses do form lasting friendships, usually with other horses, but in her case I believe she misses those two brown bulls. Next time, I tell her, I'll bring apples.