It has taken forever and a day to get through this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. This is not because it was a bad issue but rather these factors:
Reading has just taken a back seat as all the great times for reading are usually taken by requests to play for the kids. I will surely miss their younger selves when they’re older but I will appreciate the time to actually read.
God is temperate. He is the lawyer of the humble. The poor are creatures of God. And money is a metal created and valued by man. – Carolina Maria de Jesus
In old age
to childhood pleasures.
A bowl in the ground
Just add water-
it’s a pool!
Throughout the night
till it dawned,
as they did
when I fished
as a child at Feng-K’ou.
you can’t make a pond
out of a bowl?
The lotus sprig
I planted not long ago
has already grown full-size.
if it rains
stop in for a visit.
Listen to raindrops splash
on all the green leaves.
the water brightens
as if by magic.
One moment alive
with thousands of bugs
too small to have names,
leaving no trace,
Only the small fish
this way and that
swim in formations.
Does the bowl
in the garden
when night after night
green frogs gather
to prove it’s a pool?
If you choose to come
and keep me company
need you fill
the dark with noise
and endless squabble
like husband and wife?
Say the bright pond
mirrors the sky
If I pour
water the pond
the moon go
how many stars
from the water!
- Han Yu, “The Pond in a Bowl, Five Poems.”
Pearl Diving in the Bahamas
- Bartolomé de Las Casas, from A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.
I didn’t include any particular quote on this as it was the entire article which had an effect on me. It was about how cruelly the Spanish treated the natives, making them pearl dive until they died. They’d surface, then get punched, or held under the water without any rest until blood came from their mouths.
I spent six months in Spain studying when I was a student and I fell in love with the country. It was quite another feeling when I read how awful the Spanish were when they were an empire. They were Catholic yet treated the natives in this way. Here in California I read how they would lock the native children away from their parents who were in forced labor so they wouldn’t run away. Junipero Serra has his name on so much here in California for starting the mission system. But as it comes to light how cruel the mission system was there is talk of taking his name down.
So Spain, the empire was a monster. It spread filth, disease and cruelty throughout the world. And you know what? I did the same as seemingly every other empire that has ever been.
The feeling of remoteness, of the profound solitude, added to the sentiment of beauty; it was nature in her first freshness and innocence, as she came from the hand of her Maker, and before she had been signed upon by humanity – defiled at once, and sanctified by the contact.
The sun had set in that cloudless splendor, and that peculiar blending of rose and amber light that belongs only to these climes and Italy; the lake lay weltering under the western sky like a bath of molten gold; the rocky islands which studded its surface were of a dense purple, except where their edges seemed fringed with fire.
- Anna Jameson, from Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada.
On the other side of Ceriso, where the black rock begins, about a mile from the spring, is the work of an older, forgotten people. The rock hereabout is all volcanic, fracturing with a crystalline whitish surface, but weathered outside to furnace blackness. Around the spring, where must have been a gathering place of the tribes, it is scored over with strange pictures and symbols that have no meaning to the Indians of the present day;
- Mary Austin, from The Land of Little Rain
I love this piece. I love learning about ancient civilizations or just the whispers about them. It amazes me to think that farmers still turn up arrow heads as they till the earth from a people that have been in this land from before recorded history. What a beautiful land it must have been too, out in nature with no pollution, or cities. The silence pierced by the wind or the cry of an eagle. I like to visit places this entry describes and turn all my thoughts to the people that had lived there for tens of thousands of years, people we’ll never know anything about. I try to hear their voices on the wind, see traces of them on the rocks. I feel a slight connection as though their spirits are calling out to me. A profound emotion wells up in my body but the whispers are too faint and I’m only left to wonder as the clouds pass overhead and the lizard scurries over the rock.
I hard the old, old men say,
And one by one we drop away.”
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say,
“All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.”
– Williams Butler Yeats, from In the Seven Woods
Everything changes. In the quiet of the early morning I wonder how it is that I’m 41. The old were young once and were like me, but now all I see is the gray hair and that we do not have much in common. Their experiences are not my experiences. We are born, we grow old, and we die. How I would love to speak with my ancestors when they were young. To hear their hopes, dreams and fears. But I cannot and so the closest I can come is by watching historical shows on Netflix. I want to know them and what they went through. But they are gone and I have work. And so the sun rises, tasks are done, another day ends. And one day my descendants will read these words and wish they could talk to me. That will not be possible so I leave them this writing to let them know I’m thinking of them.
I stayed two days in the Indian village, where women busied themselves with various tasks, while their infants slept suspended in large wicker nets hung from the arms of a purple beech. The grass was covered with dew, the wind carried with it the scent of the woods, and the native cotton plants, spilling over with white capsules, looked like white rosebushes. The breeze rocked the children’s aerial cradles almost imperceptibly. From time to time, the mothers glanced over their shoulders to see whether their children were still asleep or whether they had been woken by the birds.
- Francois-René de Chateaubriand from Memoirs from Beyond the Grave.
Again, I long to be among those that are long gone. I want to hear their stories, sing their songs and know them as much as possible. All that is left are stories of them in a magazine.
I simply think that water is the image of time, and every New Year’s Eve, in somewhat pagan fashion, I try to find myself near water, preferably near a sea or an ocean, to watch the emergence of a new helping, a new cupful of time from it. I am not looking for a naked maiden riding on a shell; I am looking for either a cloud or the crest of a wave hitting the shore at midnight.
- Joseph Brodsky from Watermark
This hits home. I too make a trip to the ocean on New Years Eve to take a picture of the last setting sun for the year. It is a marker of time for me, of time that is passing too quickly. I look out over the ocean and realize I’m getting older.
Maybe we shall never be really safe until we learn to feel, in an almost physical sense, that every nation is destined to have its day, and that there are not, in any absolute sense, greater or lesser civilizations but rather a succession of flowerings.
- Claudio Magris, from Danube.
There is no logical reason fro the existence of a snowflake any more than there is for evolution. It is an apparition from that mysterious shadow world beyond nature, that final world which contains – if anything contains – the explanation of men and catfish and green leaves.
- Loren Eiseley, from “The Flow of the River.”
A river passing through a landscape catches the world and gives it back redoubled: a shifting, glinting world more mysterious than the one we customarily inhabit.
Unlike a lake or sea, a river has a destination, and there is something about the certainty with which it travels that makes it very soothing, particularly for those who’ve lost faith with where they’re headed.
At times it feels as if the past is very near. On certain evenings, when the sun has dropped and the air is turning blue, when barn owls float about the meadow grass and a pared-down moon breaches the treeline, a mist will sometimes lift from the surface of the river.
- Olivia Laing, from To the River
“At times it feels as if the past is very near.” I feel this when in certain spots where ancient people lived, or in the very early morning. I feel as though there is a veil and if I could only step through would find myself in that time where it still exists. I call into question the very nature of reality and wonder that if there is a multiverse, the Native Americans are still there with their children on the hammock and songs being sung. The past is a thing of fascination for me.
What did seventeenth-century European artists know of the marshes? They modeled their arks on the merchant vessels that cruised the Pacific, not the craft of the marshes.
Noah would have dressed like a marshland boatman with a head scarf, not with the finery of a Renaissance Italian duke.
Nicholas Pelham – A New Ark
What did they know of the marshes? What do people today really know of Christianity? I find it to be a fantasy, one that has hold of a great part of humanity. They cling to this fantasy, otherwise intelligent people simply following tradition with no real investigation. The priests molest child after child and yet the population offer up more children still. I cannot understand this and there really is no one to talk to. Religion holds more power over people than friendship or family bonds.
We are forced to acknowledge, on a much larger stage, what human beings are: creatures of dust and ash, who, though made mostly of water, don’t flow esoterically but rather congeal in lumps under the rain. Prophets called for us to free ourselves of the tyranny of social strictures and ascend to the plane of pure thought.
Sarah Ruden – The God of Running Water
Great entry to end this post upon. I have freed myself from the tyranny of social strictures and have decided that meditation, pure thought is the way to understanding the something greater. Rambling priests annoy me. I sit in meditation in the early morning, emptying my mind of thoughts and trying to uncover what it is that I still do not see.