Cannot See the Sky

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can

Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky
Is this the price for having learned how not to cry?
Jackson Browne

Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” seems as relevant and as poignant today as it did in the years right after I returned from Vietnam.

Although today’s attacks were hardly unexpected, I tried to avoid looking at the news any more than necessary. And when I did look at it, I tried to not look too directly at it to avoid seeing any more than I wanted to see, like looking at the traffic accident that has delayed you for several hours but not really wanting to see the results.

The awful thing about war is that even if you’re not directly affected, even if neither you nor someone you love has to fight in it, you can’t help but be involved in it. Unless you’re willing to hide behind slogans or symbols, war makes you examine yourself, your beliefs, and the world you live in more rigorously than at any other time.

And when you look too closely at the world you see all the poverty, misery, and hatred that seem to entrap the human race and to make us less than human. As a soldier in Vietnam, I was at first shocked by the poverty of the Vietnamese we were trying to protect. I wanted to give money to each of the young children that begged for money every time I got out of my jeep. After awhile, though, when I realized that there weren’t enough coins in my pockets to help them all, I simply chased them away as soon as they came running up, angered as much by my inability to help them as by the constant reminder of how little they had.

A real danger is that we will stop seeing the truth, that the constant exposure to human misery will make us unable, or unwilling, to see it. The misery becomes invisible either because we are avoid certain places or because we don’t recognize it when we do see it.
Even worse, if we do see the truth it will no longer be able to move us. We will have become too hardened to feel the pain any longer, blinded by our own experiences

The Power of Sports

For a few hours tonight all was right with the universe as the Seattle Mariners crushed the Texas Rangers 16-1, winning their 114th game this year.

The Mariner’s dream season seemed to be unraveling after the attack on the WTC. A team that hadn’t had a major injury all year suddenly seemed jinxed. The day after the attack, David Bell pulled an abdominal muscle in batting practice and has been out since. Al Martin strained a tendon in his throwing arm and hasnât played for weeks. The versatile Mark McLemore injured his knee and was out for nearly a week. Worst of all, shortstop Carlos Guillen contracted tuberculosis and is questionable for the rest of the season.

Right after the season resumed the Mariners lost three straight games to Oakland, the first time they had lost three games in a row all year and the first time they lost an away series this year.

Tonight, perhaps for the first time since the WTC disaster, the Mariners seemed to regain their form, and nothing could go wrong. Jay Buhner hit his first home run of the year since coming back from a major injury. In winning their 114th game, the Mariners tied the AL record of the 1998 Yankees for most wins in single year, with three more games to go.

How wonderful, and perhaps silly, that a game can raise your spirits so high for a brief moment and make time stand still.

Lookout

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

Gary Snyder from No Nature

Although Bill and I couldn’t avoid talking about the state of the nation on our long drive to our hike, we slowly put our priorities back in order as we spent the day hiking Lookout Mountain, an old fire lookout just east of Mt. Hood. Like most of our late-season hikes, it is virtually straight up and ten to eleven miles long.

The 30 to 40 degree temperature at the beginning of the hike made the sharp uphill easier than usual, but it was still a long climb up, particularly since we haven’t hiked in over a week. Luckily this left little room for talk, and I was able to sink into that kind of meditative rhythm that makes hiking so special to me. For a time, at least, I was able to simply be, without any thought for the day or for the future.

The views of Mt Rainer, Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson, and The Three Sisters from the top were breathtaking, more than justifying the peak’s name. A simple meal of an organic orange and a handful of granola mix somehow seemed appropriate in this zen-like setting.

Too soon, though, we were back on our way down to the flatlands and our daily concerns.

Tomatoes Everywhere

Gardening, particularly organic gardening, is one of my life-long passions, as is poetry, so it’s always delightful to find a poet who shares this passion.

None of them, in my opinion, match Theodore Roethke’s brilliant use of plant imagery in Words for the Wind.

But there are several other poets whose garden imagery I have enjoyed, and Marge Piercy often seems to me to be the best of these poets.

In describing her use of natural imagery in poetry, she says,

Some of my poems are rooted in the landscape, in a relationship to the soil and
the other living beings around me, such as the "Sand roads" sequence, "Kneeling
here I feel good" "Crows," "The first salad of March". These sometimes fuse what
I would define as political feelings with feelings of tenderness and union. As I write
this, three crows look at me from a distance of ten feet. Our communication is not a
matter of words on a page but it works. I am honored by their trust, which is shrewd
and canny. They aim to survive. So do I. None of us like men with guns.

Marge Piercy

Picking tomatoes this weekend I was reminded of her "The engulfing garden" from The Twelve-Spoked Wheel Flashing.In this poem she returns from a trip only to be buried under:

…ninety pounds
of luscious ripe tomatoes.
Eighteen quarts of tomato
juice on the evening of the
third day home, tomato seeds
in my hair, tomato skins
in my teeth, the surfaces
of the kitchen heaped with
tomatoes, tomatoes in buckets,
tomatoes lined up on the window
sills, my hands crisscrossed
with canning cuts, even
my dreams are acid,
running and red.

It would be hard to find a better literal description of nature’s abundance and our desperate attempts to come to terms with it.

And, yet, perhaps more importantly, there is a disturbing undertone in the last few lines that suggests our ambivalent feelings towards this over abundance and the resulting acidic dreams running red.

Perhaps they are even more relevant today as we watch pictures of starving refugees filling our television screens.