Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Comparing Notes: Agnes Martin/CB

 Leaf - Agnes Martin - 1965 - Acrylic & graphite on Canvas, 72 1/16 x 72 1/8 inches

             from NOTES

                      The underside of the leaf
                      Cool in shadow
                      Sublimely unemphatic
                      Smiling of innocence

                      The frailest stems
                      Quivering in light
                      Bend and break
                      In silence

                      This poem, like the paintings, is not really about nature. It is not
                      what is seen. It is what is known forever in the mind.


                      The silence on the floor of my house
                      Is all the questions and all the answers that have been known in
                      the world
                      The sentimental furniture threatens the peace
                      The reflection of a sunset speaks loudly of days


                       In my best moments I think "Life has passed me by" and I am

                       Walking seems to cover time and space but in reality we are
                       always just where we started. I walk but in reality I am hand in
                       hand with contentment on my own doorstep.

                       The ocean is deathless
                       The islands rise and die
                       Quietly come, quietly come
                       A silent swaying breath

                       I wish the idea of time would drain out of my cells and leave me
                       quiet even on this shore.

                       Agnes Martin (b. Macklin, Canada 1912 - d. Taos, New Mexico 2004)
                                     from Writings

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Drift - CB - 2011 - preparatory sketch - Ink, pencil & whiteout on paper

              from NOTES

                  Not knowing where to start
                      I start with what I know; Time
                      Cannot thwart the determined scent
                      Of memory

                      On the tide line, red kelp -
                      The heart's vast garden.

                      A painting's been sloshing about in me for some time 
                      And wants out. Chances are it will be a messy business 
                      But - don't I know - sooner or later squalls make way 
                      For benevolent waters. Paintings are tidal; miraculously 
                      The things we need are brought to shore, offered up
                      For the making - visor, welding torch, life
                      Jacket, oars, orange, barnacles, boat.


                      Sometimes it helps to stand on sand                       And yelp to kelp. Everywhere we look
                      We see darkness and dazzle.

                      Small Points of Light.

                      Here. There. Elsewhere
                      Shadows settle on the shoulders of air.


                      Spirit level. Level spirit.


 I'd have liked you, Agnes M

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.
Sarah Jane Barnett is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. Sarah has posted an excerpt from a longer poem ("Wall-of-China' long!) by Yeager.  

Monday, May 28, 2012

Venus. Fly. Trap. (for Phil & Tor-tor)

Before farewell-ing my niece and nephew in South Africa earlier this year we made an outing to the nursery to hunt out a family of Venus Fly Traps. Philip had been keeping his bright observer's eye on the plant in his school library and expressed a wish to have a Trap of his own at home. Little sisters - don't I know - are easily lured by an older brother's interests. . . Victoria decided she would also like one and it didn't take the two of them long to persuade their Dad - my younger brother, John - to choose one, too. We took three home with us that day -  

After much earnest discussion, Philip named his plant Sunev - Venus, spelled backwards (my family has a penchant for speaking in spoonerisms. Sunev Nonyeb has an exotic ring to it, yes?). We talked about the implications of his chosen name; the fact it contains the word 'sun' - essential to and for all life on our planet. He understands that via the process of photosynthesis, chlorophyll (phyll/phil - his name's in there, too!) harnesses the sun's energy in order to fulfill certain metabolic functions. We also noted that the prefix '-ev' begins the words 'ever', 'eventually' and 'evolution'. Sunev was just right. 

In an email he sent me not long after I'd returned home to New Zealand, Philip brought me up to date with how he and his plant were doing. . . 

"Sunev drinks about 99 ml every 24 hours and seams to always have 4 or 5 shoots all the time. It takes  about  56 hours for the shoots to grow about 5 cm so I think he* likes his new spot. We have moved him to the main kitchen window because there wasn’t enough light where he was before. . . "

 (John took these pics)

I miss my sibs' children. There's an abiding sadness in me that circumstances are such that we see each other only rarely and that our children have grown up on opposite sides of the world from their cousins. There's more that could be written on this but this is neither the time nor the place. Suffice to say these children - Philip and Tor-tor in South Africa and my sister's three in the UK - are firmly ensconced in their distant aunt's heart. 

Phil and Tor-tor, here's a story I found for you on the internet - 
* Phil, after reading this, you may come to see your Trap as a 'she'?! x


"There was once a poor peasant and his wife who had a very beautiful daughter named Sunev. So beautiful was she that her hair rivaled the sun in its golden brightness. Her eyes were like the blue sky and her lips were so red that the roses beheld her with envy. Her skin was so white and fair that the winter snow was not whiter. Her teeth were like the pearls. And when an old witch named Zitna, who lived in the forest near by, saw Sunev one day she became enraged because she was more beautiful than her own daughter.

Witch Zitna had thought till then that her own daughter was the most beautiful creature in the world, for the witch child was as dark as Sunev was fair, and Witch Zitna wished the Prince of Esor, who was looking for a wife, to wed her.

She knew that the Prince had sent out his servants far and near to look for the most beautiful lady in the country for his wife, and if Sunev were brought before the Prince of Esor her daughter would never be chosen.

There was only one thing to do, and that was to entice the lovely Sunev into the forest and there change her into the shape of an animal and leave her to her fate.

The wicked Witch Zitna watched her chance, and one day, when Sunev was sent into the forest to gather wood, Witch Zitna slipped out from behind a tree and touched her with her magic stick, changing her into a tiger.

Poor little Sunev was so frightened when she beheld her paws she fell on the ground and began to moan and cry and all the birds and animals of the forest came running to see what had happened.

The witch, in her haste, forgot to deprive Sunev of her power to talk, so when the birds and animals wanted to know what was the matter she told them she did not know, but something dreadful had happened and she was no longer a girl, but a tiger, and was afraid to go home. The birds and animals can understand any language, and, being now part animal herself, Sunev had no trouble in understanding them.

“Do not cry,” they told her. “It must be the work of Witch Zitna, but we will protect you, and when the hunters come we will warn you so you may hide until they go. Eat the berries and nuts and we will find you a nice place to sleep, so dry your eyes and some way may be found to restore you to your own shape.”

You can read the rest of the story here. . . 

. . .  and when you're done, come back and watch these ridonkulous (your word, Phil) Fly Trap vids.

One more thing. . . Did you know that our sister planet Venus will be putting on a spectacular display for us next month?

A transit of Venus occurs when Venus passes directly between the sun and earth. On 5 or 6 June (depending where in the world we all are), we'll be able to see the distant planet as a small dot gliding slowly across the sun. Historically, this rare alignment was how we measured the size of our solar system.  It's a rare and special event that happens in pairs, eight years apart (and separated by over a century!) The last transit of Venus was in 2004. After the June 2012 alignment, the next event occurs in 2117. Exciting! We need to create special viewing shields in order to watch it so that we don't damage our eyes. You can read all about the 2012 Venus Transit here. 

~ ~  X O ~ ~

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Approaching Acheron Passage From The Open Sea

This is no trick of the light. 

The headlands are being carried away 
stone by rock by stone. Neither wind 
nor rain nor day nor night can deter 
these gulls; watch them soar
and plummet, pick clean
the coastlines' bones. It’s work 
and it’s a game, their winged insistence
their raucous reclamation. 

Urgent the bedrock, patient 
the firmament. A line is waiting
to be drawn; we are only 
and always a story 
in the making. 

This is no trick of the light. 

The headlands are being carried away 
stone by rock by stone.  


(detail from) Waters I Have Known - Oil on paper 2010

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.
                                This week's editor is  Emma McLeary with Kiss by Rachel Bush.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Poem - How Poetry Comes To Me by Gary Snyder

                                    How Poetry Comes to Me

                                    It comes blundering over the
                             Boulders at night, it stays
                             Frightened outside the
                             Range of my campfire
                             I go to meet it at the
                             Edge of the light

                                    Gary Snyder

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill. 

This week's editor is Helen Rickerby with a compelling sequence of poems by fellow Tuesday Poet, Helen Heath.  Helen H's debut collection Graft was recently published by Victoria University Press. and with its exploration of scientific concepts is one I particularly look forward to laying my hands on.   

And, to follow on from last week's post - Ruben Mowszowski's Karoo Moon - you might enjoy an article he wrote on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), published in the Cape Times this past weekend.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Karoo Moon by Ruben Mowszowski

karoo moon

You are in a train, dozing as the poles race past, the koppies
behind them moving more slowly, the mountains hardly at all.
You drift off. You wake. Deserted station platforms. Occasional
sheep. A car overtakes. You are in the car. The blur of bushes.
The sameness in your life. You slow down. You stop. Between
the bushes, red earth. Look deeper. The divisions between mind
and matter blur and then dissolve. You are here. You have always
been here. You are stone.
The warm heart sinks into the land
which rises to embrace you with your countless lives
demonstrated by the fossils in the rocks
that have led you to this present time.
How far back shall we go? To the ships with white sails that arrived
three or four hundred years ago from continents once joined? Or should
we go to the very first moment of cosmic expansion and what then?
Time here, if there is time, is all of time. Time space and form,
mantis hare and moon, are but different aspects of one face.
Earth and sky interpenetrate. Some people talk about a deeper
breath. There can be sadness not related to anything one knows.
Language fails.
Go to the veil. Here with eland blood in ancient sedimentation is
perhaps the greatest exploration of mind ever undertaken.

The clock on the church steeple has stopped at 11:30 am and no one
has noticed.  The woman walking down the dusty street has hardly moved.
In some invisible aspect of itself the town is hurtling away and
time is stopped or slowed down.
The dusty streets and unentered houses hold a strange silence. You wake
to the sound of an owl. Dogs bark. You sleep, you wake. The stones are
still stones but no longer dead or inert. They radiate an inner life,
the unseen spinning, the hills shimmering with an invisible light.
Time comes in waves. Sun sinks, moon rises, hare stops,becomes stone.
Moon dies, sun rises, sinks, moon is reborn. Does the lizard know that
to which we are blind, or do we too have a gland, atrophied now, which
feels time as a dimension of a rock or a tree?
To put the matter in time we tell it thus: four and a half billion
years ago the planet forms, a billion or so later is life. Now skip the
rest till we get to recent times: two hundred and fifty million years
ago a glacier melts and a basin is revealed. Africa is as yet undisclosed
but the basin we can see from the train, or out the window of the car
on the long black road.
But the koppies, you say. What are they? Ah, my friend,gather closer
round, for we are talking secrets of the land.To the dispossessed the
moon was male and so was the sun. This is the body of the earth and up
there – yes, turn your head – in that star-struck sky are the daughters
of the rain. Now reach down and touch her gently. You too she feeds.
The sun and moon were not always thus
whisper the rocks. Time’s motion is a recent thing.
Far from here in the south by candlelight
the dispossessed, taken chained and bound,
tell the secrets of the land to one who writes it down
and dies. These stories are still carried by the wind
that was once a man and then a bird
in the koppies, in the caves.
The sun comes, the darkness goes, the sun sets, the moon at night,
the sun comes out, the moon decays, goes painfully away and is reborn.
Yes, but there is death, you say. Time’s measure is the finite life.
Without death time does not exist. Where is its home? you ask.
In the pool the hamerkop whispers. In the pool wherein fall the stars.
Beneath the surface a death is falling into life at the same time as
the silver surface captures the shooting star.
Where there is death there is life.
Where the void is, there is time.

Copernicus was never here, nor Newton, nor Galileo. Never gone the
long history’s people, the space long known where the distance of a
star can be felt as easily as a mother’s waiting embrace. (It can be
ascertained with the naked eye from it’s fixity relative to a mountain
by a man who can run a buck to exhaustion.)
Long before Einstein, the people here, later dispossessed, were painting
relativity and space-time on the rocks. The paintings work like a holograph:
the observer provides the mental light for paradoxical journeys through
fistulas in time.
The projection of the stars, themselves projections of some other sort,
in the silence of the night animate tortoise, buck and hare. Descartes
divided mind and body but here sight faster than light penetrates the
hardest stone.
Once a deep compulsion drove springbok to trot
oblivious to obstacle and attack toward the west Atlantic shore
where they drank the water and died by the million
along thirty miles of coast. Some say it was overpopulation
or too little space that activated an ancient impulse ignoring
disasters on the way. If so, the desert might heal us of that affliction,
wake us out of the trance that sends us unswerving
toward the precipice in our own apocalyptic time.
The healing is not imagined. The chest expands, fills with breath.
Breath is thought, wind formerly a bird. One soars,
finds unity with the stars.
We can see it in the shimmering rock and eagle wing – they interpenetrate.
Go to the images. Stand close. Watch them separate.

The long straight road, the railway line, koppies, a cloudless sky,
pumpkins on the iron, emptiness. That’s one version of it.
Or, where there are sudden storms: a gentle cow with wisps of
breath, or if it is male, then hail, sometimes on a sunny day.
In the distance lightning fetching those, now stars, who pick the
flowers of the rain.
The movements of stones gripped by ice are recorded on the pavement slate,
each scratch a single act in time too large to comprehend with senses
geared to a single life. Sandstone tells of periodic floods,
giant reptiles dying into mud. Layers of slate suggest rivers of clay.
Magma bursts like a woman’s flood. All  of history leads to
where we are now, early mammal-like reptiles they were, we say
to avoid the embarrassment of us being they in one and the same moment of
unified time, immigrants from the north in the middle Permian.
We talk rather of what the farmer saw: a frozen buck wakes, shakes off
cracking ice, a lizard’s eye tells it when its warm enough, thick mud
walls and shutters keep out the heat, snakes, lions, strangers, the
There is another story told in wind
of wind that was once a man then bird
dropping bloodstained feather into a pool
among the daughters of the rain
ostrich becoming ostrich again
while sun thrown up into the sky
reshapes the moon that does not die
for ever, but reborn gathers souls,
and clouts the hare and splits its lip
for doubting resurrection of the dead.
Form and time, time and space, when we leave the car beside the road,
interpenetrate. Preserved in sediments of rock, and rock itself from
bacteria deep within, when we lose ourselves in the larger time,
we are the fleeting moment in its trancelike state. The dispossessed,
more than those who brought the sheep, know that wind was once man,
and birds living matter in flight.
A world at odds with what we learned at school, their images take us
into a world denied, and sadden us who have been made blind or who
blind our children to the realm.The interpenetration of our separated
things is the clue to what’s represented here.Behind the fixity of
form, an Eden, monstrous often, evokes longing for the exiled home.
But if rock and rain and plant and sheep are one and the same, where
is the structure that guides them to their form? Not DNA – in the
larger time it too is born and dies – but memory perhaps, the thoughts
and histories invisible to our senses that draw  us to our destinies.
The present moment, marooned, scars the stone,but thoughts leave no
apparent residue.Is that why the car goes past and doesn’t stop?
It’s the Karoo my dear. There’s nothing here.
Born as bacteria in the rocks we unable to grasp the picture
except with tears. The paintings tell it all. As long as you don’t
interpret them.

The church spire pinwheels the cosmos which spins around the
unmoving town built on shale of dinosaur bone and ancient
plants. The silence of the night is punctuated by the windmill’s
cry. Water from deep down is directed onto dust and great
landscapes rise and fall echoing an history embedded in the soil.
In the surrounding hills the owl and the jackal are about, and
the wind of the stars and the sleeping town speak to each other
in the enfolded night.
The wind pump turns, refracting light onto the stone wall of the
dam. Emptiness is not empty here but what fills it has no name.
Dry, the river but water speaks through mint, as does the owl
through perforated shell, the jackal through feathered carcass
and the farmer’s gun through the stuffed eagle in the town’s
It is speculated that the images on the stone
when the dispossessed were in their ecstasy
separated and took form in space
through which they passed into the death.
Not the death we say is at the end of life
but the ocean of light in which rocks now rest.
The same melt of space from the dying ice
is around the farmer’s house and the eagle in flight.
The eland are gone and we marooned among cars but here
where form becomes time, mind penetrates the hardest stone.
For the road and the railway are our lives, but for the veil the
two worlds would meet.
Here is a world of spirit in stone. The penetration of it in mind -
the dissipation not the passing through – is what I mean. Here is
the time of the early race played out in landscape unbounded by
form. Here, carved on pavements of stone, are the secrets
longest known.
According to modern physicists, we are constituted of dimensions
infinitely small for which we have no senses, or at least none
of which we are aware. Perhaps one day our parietal eye
stimulated by a reborn sun will allow space-time to bathe us
more apparently.
We are born in silence and reborn in silence. To become the
veil means to abandon road and railway, to empty time of time.
For the destination is the departure and not beyond. The rocks
are our teachers. The rocks, the windmills, the tracks of small
animals in dry river beds, the scent of mint.
Ruben Mowszowski

I spent time with Ruben Mowszowski when I returned to South Africa earlier this year. His crisp writing and hungry-yet-careful eyes on the world wake me up to new ways of seeing. Ruben lives in Kalk Bay, the same salt-licked fishing village as my dear friend, ceramic artist Katherine Glenday

One late afternoon in January, we sat in an enclosed courtyard garden in the shade of an old syringa tree, eating olives and almonds and talking about travel, children, desert spaces, esoteric philosophy and astronomy. . . I was thinking back to some of that conversation two weeks ago when I posted David Wagoner's poem The Silence Of The Stars with its images of the Kalahari Desert and the !Kung Bushmen, ears tuned to the not-so-distant songs of stars. 

I've long been drawn to desert spaces. We walk and listen differently in them. This past week I've been in New Mexico with two dear friends and - two nights ago - a  very full moon. We have wandered the high desert landscapes, from deep rift valley to mesa-tops. It's impossible not to feel connected to the stars out here. 

I used to say I found comfort in the knowledge that no matter where in the world we are, we all live under the same sky; I still feel this, though recently there's been a key change. . . I've replaced the word 'under' with 'in' which allows for a whole new experience. 

We live in the same sky. 

I invite you take a swing on a pendulum and visit Ruben's website where you can enjoy his penetrating and poetic essays. In Karoo Time Machine Ruben witnesses a project to build the largest telescope of its kind in the Southern hemisphere. . . 

(And thank you, Ruben, for permission to post Karoo Moon here)

Stephen Inggs - Terra Incognita I (from the Palimpsest series - 2005)
Handpainted gelatin silver emulsion on paper, Edition 2/20

For more Tuesday Poems, please click on the quill.
 Helen Lowe is this week's TP editor with an important and challenging poem - VA Hospital Confessional - by New Zealand poet Brian Turner

Saturday, May 05, 2012

This Land Does Not Give Easily

"Where are the ghosts? 

The people of Northern New Mexico call Ghost Ranch Rancho de los Brujos, meaning Ranch of the Witches. There are stories of six-foot tall 'earth babies' covered with red hair howling in the night, and a ghost cow with wings. . . " (guide brochure)

I spent much of today at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu -  Georgia O'Keeffe country. It's not difficult to see why she chose to live and paint here; the New Mexico mountains are as remote and as yielding as sleeping bodies. They seem part animal, part human and part something altogether 'other'; tough-skinned, hard-nosed, they glow and glower, heave and dream and breathe.

Amongst the clustered buildings at Abiquiu, I was surprised to come across a dim, blessedly cool adobe library. Four small rooms were lined from floor-to-ceiling with books; two fell into my hands from a shelf in what I imagine might be the least-frequented, Eastern corner of the room. Books find us. I opened Desert Notes - Reflections in the Eye of A Raven and began reading. . .
    "The land does not give easily. The desert is like a boulder: you expect to wait. You expect night to come. Morning. Winter to set in. But you expect sometime it will loosen into pieces to be examined. 
    When it doesn't you weary. You are no longer afraid of its secrets, cowed by its silence. You break away, angry, a little chagrined. You will tell anyone the story: so much time spent for nothing. In the retelling you sense another way inside; you return immediately to the desert. The opening evaporates, like a vision through a picket railing. 
    You can't get at it this way. You must come with no intentions of discovery, You must overhear things as though you've come into a small and desolate town and paused by an open window. . . "*

". . . When I first came into the desert I was arrested by the space, especially what hung in a layer just above the dust of the desert floor. The longer I regarded it, the clearer it became that its proportion had limits, that it had an identity, like the air around a stone. I suspected that everything I'd come here to find out was hidden inside that sheet of space. 
     I developed methods of inquiry, although I appeared to be doing nothing at all. I appeared to be completely detached. I appeared to be smelling my hands cupped full of rocks. I appeared to be asleep. But I was not. Even inspecting an abandoned building at some distance from the desert I would glance over in that direction, alert. I was almost successful. 
      Towards the end of my inquiry I moved with exquisite ease. But I could not disguise the waiting. 
    One morning as I stood watching the sun rise, washing out the blue black, watching the white crystalline stars fade, my bare legs quivering in the air, I noticed my hands had begun to crack and turn to dust. . . "** 

Before leaving, I walked this labyrinth ---