The Sword Swallower

Shepherded by museum guards

we wait in a zig-zag clump

to be allowed into the inner sanctum.

Like eager travelers at airport security,

we quietly hope to be transported somewhere else.

This time, our vehicles are squiggly shapes

of colored paper gathered in

rectangular arrangements on the wall.

Our captain and water-lily Hallmark card

luminary: uber-artist Henri Matisse.

 

images-3We wait impatiently, then are allowed

to file through as supplicants,

paying homage to the relentless

production of his fecund scissors.

Horses and sword swallowers,

endless repeating and precisely

carefree seaweed shapes –

silly blobs of color and women’s bodies

that had taken up residence in his mind,

now cut in colored paper –

floating in multitudinous relationship –

Technicolor windows into worlds of wonder.

 

A walking-through teenager,

whose first choice for his day in New York City

certainly did not include this MoMa Matisse show,

pronounced to his mother who only had

his best interests at heart: ‘I could make

these things in my sleep.’

He’s right, but the hard part

is to be awake enough when you are asleep

to function clearly and then to care

enough to continue following

something you can never fully understand.

 

It’s Matisse’s wild stubbornness I most admire –images-2

his fierce attention expressed again and again.

Caring for a lifetime whether the blue blob

tilts to the left or the right –

is cut from medium or light blue –

devotedly tending these brilliant shapes

that now illuminate the walls of these crowded halls.

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In Praise of Matisse at MoMa

With grand scissors,

he labored in old age

to cut the slender woman

out of the blue sky of his mind.

images-2

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Confessions of a Mug-aholic

One would have been enough,1022140828a

but I bought three—

white diner mugs

from the antique dealer

in the big barn that

we hoped had a bathroom

along the long road to

Downeast Maine.

 

We didn’t intend to

buy anything

but these were a bargain.

Lovely lessons in early industrial design

for only ten dollars each

(and one on sale for eight.)

I loved their sloping sides and chubby handles—

the fat lips that promised to meet mine

with unapologetic thickness.

The grace of unrestrained function.

Designed for demanding conditions—

big hands and thoughtless treatment

from men more natural than me

sitting on stools nourished

with greasy eggs, sausage links and

coffee without self-consciousness.

 

But this morning, back at home,1022140811a

three mugs seem like too many.

They vie for space in the crowded cupboard

with others equally worthy—

one on top of the next

like tumbling ceramic acrobats

caught in dangerous moments of balance.

 

I must stop

bringing home stray mugs

from every roadside attraction.

Someone’s bound to get hurt

in the jumble of everyday use

unless I sort through them sometime

but I’ll probably just find

another shelf somewhere so

I don’t have to decide—

don’t have to let go

of any fat or skinny handles

yet.

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That Morning We Threw Acorns

That morning
we threw acorns
into the lake of my childhood—
my mother and I.
Both of us old enough
to know
not to be persuaded
by propriety.
 
I had come to help,
but we paused from the packing
at her insistence
to launch
the small round missiles
from the blue bucket
into arc and splash.
 
We laughed
at our shared silliness,
then turned from the
lapping shore
back toward our now separate journeys
without knowing
when we might be together
again throwing acorns
into their perfect circles—
radiating and diminishing like us,
surprised
that we have gown old
in this place
where once we were young.

1014141702b (1)

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Three Assumptions

1005141107Going through some old files, I came upon a newsletter article I wrote for Dynamy in 1997.  (Dynamy is the experiential education school where I was Executive Director from 1991 to 2003.)  In the article, I introduced ‘three assumptions that underlie experiential education,’ but in re-reading them this morning, I see they are also three assumptions about being human.  They are not principles to be obeyed, but rather potential starting points to help us live our lives with as much grace and ease as possible.

Reading the words of my former self, I was surprised and inspired by what I used to know and thought I would share it here.  I’m also a sucker for these lists that boil down the wisdom of life to just three or four things, somehow they make me feel like life is actually quite simple and perhaps even manageable.

So, in case you didn’t read your newsletter in 1997:

1.  We can only be who we are.  Most of us feel like we should be smarter or more talented or more attractive or more something than we are.  But, from one perspective, we have everything we need already.  Our real challenge is not to live up to some set of external (or internal) expectations but to find out who we really are.  We each have unique gifts and a purpose that only we can fulfill.  True success comes from uncovering the valuable internal treasure we already posses and using it to enrich the world and ourselves.

2. The present moment is our best teacher.  The art of paying close attention  to what is happening in our lives is essential if we are to learn and grow through our experience.  Too often we respond more to our hopes and fears of what should be rather than to what is actually occurring.  A friend who is a Fortune 500 corporate trainer claims that 90% of all our problems would be solved if we learn to listen more deeply to others and to the situation in which we find ourselves.

3. There is no way to avoid discomfort.   We all spend a lot of our time seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.  There is actually a much more interesting way to live in which we dive deeply into each experience to learn what it has to teach us.  Authentic growth comes only when we are willing to leave behind the safety of what we think we know.  Learning and engaged living require that we venture into unknown waters where the outcome is uncertain.

PS – the photo is from a walk I took on Sunday on the Asnebumskit Ridge Trail here in Worcester.  It doesn’t really pertain to this post, but the glowing ferns in the morning sunlight were so beautiful I wanted to share them with you.

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