Friday, May 14, 2010

This Holy Life We're Living

Yesterday I dove into a wormhole after Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie* and wanted never to emerge. Great poetry pierces the heart of everything. 

Is this what church is supposed to do?

Jamie wrote, "When we were young, we were told that poetry is about voice, about finding a voice and speaking with this voice, but the older I get I think it's not about voice, it's about listening and the art of listening, listening with attention. I don't just mean with the ear, bringing the quality of attention to the world. The writers I like best are those who attend." 

I found this poem of hers, which I wanted to share with you, because it doesn't require too much parsing. It's a poem you don't have to think about, you just have to open yourself up to feel. Maybe poetry is like church — and hallucinogens.

The Way We Live
by Kathleen Jamie

Pass the tambourine, let me bash out praises
to the Lord God of movement, to Absolute
non-friction, flight, and the scarey side:
death by avalanche, birth by failed contraception.
Of chicken tandoori and reggae, loud, from tenements,
commitment, driving fast and unswerving
friendship. Of tee-shirts on pulleys, giros and Bombay,
barmen, dreaming waitresses with many fake-gold
bangles. Of airports, impulse, and waking to uncertainty,
to strip-lights, motorways, or that pantheon -
the mountains. To overdrafts and grafting
and the fit slow pulse of wipers as you're
creeping over Rannoch, while the God of moorland
walks abroad with his entourage of freezing fog,
his bodyguard of snow.
Of endless gloaming in the North, of Asiatic swelter,
to launderettes, anecdotes, passions and exhaustion,
Final Demands and dead men, the skeletal grip
of government. To misery and elation; mixed,
the sod and caprice of landlords.
To the way it fits, the way it is, the way it seems
to be: let me bash out praises - pass the tambourine.
From Mr. & Mrs. Scotland are Dead: Poems 1980-1994 (Bloodaxe Books).

The end reminded me of the poem/performance piece called "Shout Out," by Sekou Sundiata. Here's a snippet:
Here’s to the best words
In the right place
At the perfect time
To the human mind blown-up
And refined...
To the was you been to the is you in,
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.

Two different beasts, both walking the same path up the mountain — Cold Mountain?

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me amoung the white clouds?

Han Shan translated by Gary Snyder, from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems

This morning the Daily Dharma told me that even Buddhism — the put-it-in-quotation-marks religion — is based on faith, a profound faith in the enlightenment of the buddha, that "human nature, all existence, is intrinsically whole, flawless, omnipotent — in a word, perfect."

*It's been written about Kathleen Jamie that she is "somewhere between the Presbyterian and the Tao." An excellent place to be.


Peggy D. said...

Here's to the best words in the right place. Yours often are.

Pops said...

To the way it fits, the way it is, the way it seems to be ...

To The Way ...


How much room is there between a Presbyterian and the Tao? Not so much, I think. Then again, I'm a Presbyterian.

Abbey said...

I love this post!