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Axe Handles

I mentioned in The Wild Rose I am reading Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry. I read this poem several times over the last few months trying to make sense of it. At first, I thought it was a personal and it begins that way. Gary Snyder describes his work teaching his son to throw an axe and shaping the axe handle to fit the work.

As I reflected on the poem, I realized it is about important traditions passed from parents to children. We hone and polish what we wish to retain forming the axe handle. It is a handle for us and our children which provides security as we polish and remove the unwanted.

Most of the time, we are unaware of the work we do without taking time and reflecting. In those moments, we realize what changes, what remains, and what is added knowing each generation makes its own adjustments.

To do it well, we mindfully and attentively approach the work remaining fully present.

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with-“
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wen Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-in the
Preface: “In making the handle Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.-
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Make the Earth Your Companion

Nature teaches and is always present for us to learn. When we pause and are present with the universe, we can learn. J. Patrick Lewis wrote this poem as a reminder of lessons available when we take time and make the Earth our companion.

We do not live separate from the Earth and its inhabitants, sentient and non-sentient. We live in relationship with the Earth. This suggests the companionship is direct and active, dynamic and energetic. Companionship is about breaking bread with another. When we journey as companions, we are in communion calls on us to be stewards and serving the Earth and the relationships we live in. Communion is  fellowship and mutual participation, an exchange of energy which is life-giving and affirming.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

Let the Sky paint her beauty- she is always

           watching over you.

Learn from the Sea how to face harsh forces.

Let the River remind you that everything will pass.

Let the Lake instruct you in stillness.

Let the Mountain teach you grandeur.

Make the Woodland your house of peace.

Make the Rainforest your house of hope.

Meet the Wetland on twilight ground.

Save some small piece of Grassland for a red kite

on a windy day.

Watch the Icecaps glisten with crystal majesty.

Hear the Desert whisper hush to eternity.

Let the Town weave a small basket of togetherness,.

Make the Earth your companion.

Walk lightly on it, as other creatures do.

Expect Nothing

Alice Walker is well-known for her novel The Color Purple. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but I her writing is an exception. I did not realize she wrote poetry and found this wonderful poem.

Living frugally on surprise is a wonderful suggestion. The universe is a place of wonder and awe which invites us to look again at its beauty, depth, and wisdom. We often look past the ordinary where the wonder and awe are hidden in plain sight. Being attentive allows us to encounter the universe and all its phenomena, sentient and non-sentient, fully.

By taking available compassion sparingly, is itself an act of compassion. We care for our self and leave for others who will be in need. In taking it, we stop short of feeling sorry for ourselves and understand disappointment is fleeting as are other emotions.

 

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.

why I feed the birds

Richard Vargas’ poem reminded me of one I posted sometime ago called Birdfoot’s Grandpa. We each have those idiosyncratic things that make us who we are. We might save frogs, feed birds, serve meals in a shelter, etc. It is in those moments which are largely unexplainable, but clearly visible that we become who we are.

Something that stood out for me in both poems was the role elders played in the lives of others. Our grandparents and parents do things that we do not understand in the given moment. It is only years later as we experience our roles as parents, grandparents, and pedagogues that we come to understand what it might have meant.

When we take time and make the world a better place, we add something no one else can. In that addition, the world does become better. It is rarely in the large and overtly obvious things, but in the small, less obvious contributions that the world shifts from ordinary to extraordinary. It is giving without any certainty and hope of a return. We do it because it is who we are in our particular humanness which is always being and becoming in relationship with the universe.

And, it make a difference to birds, to frogs, and people in need when we add to the world without expecting return. In those moments, they are small gods in our lives. Those offerings make a difference in our lives without awareness of their importance. They add to our lives enriching them and making them fuller.

i saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water every day

she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character

he jumped into her hand
began to eat
she smiled

a woman holding
a small god

An Observation

We live in paradox in the world. Parker Palmer uses May Sarton‘s poetry in his writing to bring this point to life. It is hard to be sensitive and being gentle requires a certain toughness.

Since I arrived home, I have read more than I have written. In part, I am exploring the aesthetic qualities that life shares with us. There are qualities that allow us to live in the world in ways that we do not bruise or wound the hidden fruit. Yet, we are left with scars in that work  forever making us stronger when we are not wearing gloves. The paradox of life is gives us strength and sureness and, at the same, we are tender and vulnerable.

Teaching, and for that matter any pedagogic work, requires that sensitivity. It is always rough as there is no how-to-manual. We learn this work through the tact and sensitivity of the work itself, reflecting more on what goes well as opposed to what goes well in pedagogic forming. We come to be observant, patient, and see the particular of each situation revealed in the universal.

True gardeners cannot bear a glove
Between the sure touch and the tender root,
Must let their hands grow knotted as they move
With a rough sensitivity about
Under the earth, between the rock and shoot,
Never to bruise or wound the hidden fruit.
And so I watched my mother’s hands grow scarred,
She who could heal the wounded plant or friend
With the same vulnerable yet rigorous love;
I minded once to see her beauty gnarled,
But now her truth is given me to live,
As I learn for myself we must be hard
To move among the tender with an open hand,
And to stay sensitive up to the end
Pay with some toughness for a gentle world.

Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge

I did not realize Ursula LeGuin wrote poetry I knew she wrote prose and the poetry was a pleasant surprise.

Besides the last line about always coming home, two other lines stood out. The first was letting my fingertips be my maps. This suggested being in touch with the world I live in; feeling it in a visceral way. When I close my eyes, the world reaches into me through my body. In there, the world lives in my soul which is house which is not a house. That feels Zen-like.

Ted Aoki wrote about bridges which were not bridges. Teachers invite students into learning. In those spaces, anything happens and teachers intuit their way around.

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well-loved one,
walk mindfully, well-loved one,
walk fearlessly, well-loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

Lie Down

Nancy Paddock wrote this wonderful poem about letting go and just being in the world and not separate from it. I loved her imagery created in getting me down to ground level where we can live differently.

When I am at ground level, I am in the world and not outside and over it. I spend time in sabbatical wandering uncharted territory. This theme is emerging in my dissertation where I compare teaching to a hermeneutic exploration of the classroom, it participants, and living topics like a rich, textured landscape we navigate relationally. At ground level, teachers encounter, interpret, and understand a particular world that is their teaching and no one else’s teaching.

Parker Palmer has a quote about teachers using technique until the real teacher shows up. It takes time and patience; togetherness and solitude to bring this about. As I write and read, I think about what that meant and means to me as a particular teacher who is still coming to be in new ways particular to me.

Lie down with your belly to the ground,
like an old dog in the sun. Smell
the greenness of the cloverleaf, feel the damp
earth through your clothes, let an ant
wander the uncharted territory
of your skin. Lie down
with your belly to the ground. Melt into
the earth’s contours like a harmless snake.
All else is mere bravado.
Let your mind resolve itself
in a tangle of grass.
Lie down with your belly
to the ground, flat out, on ground level.
Prostrate yourself before the soil
you will someday enter.
Stop doing.
Stop judging, fearing, trying.
This is not dying, but the way to live
in a world of change and gravity.
Let go. Let your burdens drop.
Let your grief-charge bleed off
into the ground.
Lie down with your belly to the ground
and then rise up
with the earth still in you.

The Low Road

I had to read this whole poem as the first stanza is scary, but Marge Piercy provides a message about the way we our Self.  We are never alone in this work even when we are separate in time and space. Humans connect in ways that make the person stronger.

When we care and act, the world becomes a different place. It is one act, one word, one smile at a time. It is a moment of mindful gratitude at a time. It happens when we are attentive, mindful, and present in the world and not as detached observers.

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Coyote

As I read this weekend, I found Peter Blue Cloud poem. Blue Cloud subtly describes an interconnectedness quite, often overlooked in daily life, that exists in the universe. When we step away from life’s busyness and impersonality and move slowly, gracefully and intimately we explore and connect in the world instead of being outside it.

Indigenous cultures, through tricksters, understand the world as a space humans live in. Coyote is a trickster in many North American aboriginal stories. Through coyote, Peter Blue Cloud reminded me I live in the world and not outside it or beside it. I made whole in this relationship.

Ecologically and ideally, classrooms, students, and teachers are nodes on vast interconnected webs across time and space. Seen this way, education is a reverent, holy space binding us together as it holds stories across cultures and generations. We hear the voices of all, particularly those who live on the margins.

by starlight hush of wind the owl’s voice,

the campfire embers glowing inner universe

by firelight smoke curls weaving faint the voices,

coyote voices faint the pain and smell the pitch,

fire, I sing you stars,

fire, I breath obsidian

& again the owl’s shadow voice leans back

into times past

slinging firs fire,

brittle spine bent bowed toward the fire,

voices low to murmur a child whimper,

deer fat sucked upon to gentle dreaming,

the mother her song the night cradles,

child, the owl, too, has young,

tiny hears and warmth of down,

& old man coughing guttural spit to fire,

young people giggle beneath hide fondlings,

soon to sleep,

again coyote voices drown the mind in a loneliness

of deep respect in love of those who camp

just up the hill,

& tiny crystals of tears spatter the dust,

my people,

legs cannot every carry me back to you,

soul that holds you

forever.

This is what you shall do

This is not a poem, but Walt Whitman used poetic language and deep meditative thought it qualifies. He used  language in ways that are politically incorrect today, but provided considerable insight into what it might mean to be a servant-leader and live in the world that way.

I become part of the world and it is embodied in me in such remarkable ways as I learn from the world. I think that is the counsel that this passage provides for me and asks of me.

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and the sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons with the young and the mother of families, read these leaves in the open air every season in every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…”

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