Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

COMMITMENT TO LIBERTY

I didn't ask the name of the reenactor, lower right. He was proud of his unit, and now stands representing all of them.

I didn’t ask the name of the reenactor, lower right. He was proud of his unit, and now stands representing all of them.

Public sculpture typically celebrates famed men or mythological figures, but the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, which sits across from the State House, is in a league of its own.

Within its unified design, the focus turns to each of the enlisted black soldiers as they resolutely march to battle to free slaves. Every face is unique, sympathetic, tragic, and each body moves with muscle, even anger and justice. If August Saint-Gaudens had created no other work, this masterpiece would have sealed his reputation.

Each face is unique and distinctive.

Each face is unique and distinctive.

 

The ugency and motion compressed into the relatively narrow sculpture is amazing. By the way, as the reenactor pointed out, the artist knew he was placing the canteens on the wrong side of the soldiers. It was a matter of artistic license.

The urgency and motion compressed into the relatively narrow sculpture is amazing. By the way, as the reenactor pointed out, the artist knew he was placing the canteens on the wrong side of the soldiers. It was a matter of artistic license.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

 

 

 

MONUMENTAL ERRORS

As I would have said at the time: Note to folks living below the Mason-Dixon Line: It’s time to remove the Confederate monuments. They look too much like a sore loser.

Let’s remember, those shafts (at least the ones I’ve seen) have to be offensive to every descendant of every slave in America.

Think of all the German-Americans who never erected Kaiser monuments in honor of their dead kin. Japanese-Americans who could have placed Hiroshima/Nagasaki reminders. Italian-Americans, with Mussolini railroad efficiency. Vietnamese, Native-Americans, French?

It’s one thing to respect the dead, but this has felt defiant. From my view of history, it was a rich man’s war fought by the poor who continued to suffer poverty long after. Including many of my ancestors.

Now, what do I make of the statues of Civil War soldiers found on every town green in New England?

The wounds linger, don’t they.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE ‘ANIMAL’?

The attraction to powerful animals is universal, a response to the mystery of who we are, as humans, as well. To perceive and honor their presence – in the wild, especially – places us within an ecological harmony and health.

But what characteristics essentially define animal life, as distinct from plants? The reliance on oxygen, rather than carbon dioxide, for one, and self-locomotion, for another. At our core existence, each of us may proclaim: “I breathe; therefore, I am.” Thought and emotion come only later. To inhale, moreover, sparks an associative leap – from air to spirit, with its dimensions of inspiration, literally, “breathing in.” Or God, breathing into the muddy nostrils of the first human in Eden.

In general, the animals in these poems move through places where I’ve lived or visited repeatedly – sometimes surfacing through Native stories, sometimes as chance encounters, sometimes by evidence they’ve left behind. (Once, while handling what I thought was a large, striated rock on a friend’s fireplace mantel, I was told it was a mastodon tooth he’d found on a mountain many years earlier.) Who will regard these creatures intently and not marvel at their distinct intelligence and grace? (Let me confess some others, not included here, defy any admiration I can muster; who has heard wondrous tales of garden slugs, for instance?)

Bears and whales – giants of the forest and ocean – appear early in this sequence, along with the sense of awe they instill. In her book, Fishcamp: Life on an Alaskan Shore, Nancy Lord argues, based on her own neighbors, “The bear is like us yet is not us. Perhaps the bear is our connection back to something lost and still treasured, another way of knowing. The bear is nature and culture, together.” The whale, on the other hand, reminds us of deep mysteries we may never penetrate and places we cannot venture unassisted.

We cross over from a commonplace understanding of animal – “pertaining to the physical rather than the spiritual nature of man; carnal; sensual; animal appetites” – and move instead into meetings in which the other creatures sometimes enlighten humans. Here, then, nature fits both the heart and fundamental qualities of each sentient mobile organism. Observe their movement closely, and periods of play and even unrestrained exuberance, as well as caring, become evident. The word nature itself arises in the concept of “giving birth” or “being born,” and easily extends to the working of natural law as well.

We will recognize that animal nature is always complex, and always holds more to discover – around and within us.

~*~

Bright Sweet Crude

Bright Sweet Crude

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

THE ISLES

1

the cluster of eight small rugged islands
(or more, depending on the tide
and how one’s counting)
ten miles out from New Hampshire
and Maine

Appledore, Star, White, Smuttynose
among them – the landing at Gosport
ornithological laboratory, conference hotel
lighthouse and keeper’s housing

2

distinctly hot, hazy ashore
a threat of afternoon fogging
obstructing the islands

board the M/V Thomas Laighton, named
for Celia’s brother, HARBOR CRUISE & TOUR
and it’s twenty degrees cooler offshore
windy, nine-foot tide normal

far from anything, a kite flies, wagging a long tail
gulls flock a fishing boat
“whistlebones, cricket sticks”
a young woman sings

approaching the unfamiliar light of an afternoon squall

“everyone on the deck, down under – now!”

quickly enwrapped

in a darker fog, a gray luminescence
viewed from the inside
of a pearl
all passing in minutes

3

you could volunteer for the trip
to thin hop vines overrunning her garden

bring home rootlets
for a memorial planting

to stabilize and flavor
your own bottles

fermented in late fall and deep winter

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.

VENTURING INTO NEW GROUND

As I related at the time:

Our Meeting has been undergoing some fascinating growth, both spiritually and in numbers. At the moment, the meetinghouse (1768) is about ten feet in the air, jacked up for another two or three weeks while a new foundation is excavated and poured, to make room for religious education classes and to permit us to use both sides of upstairs for worship. (It’s been getting crowded.)

The resistance I originally encountered to Biblically-based messages has vanished, and these days it’s not uncommon to find two or three members reading quietly from their Bibles at some point during the Meeting, while references to Christ or to Scripture are now heard in a third to half of the vocal messages. That’s encouraging. And now a committee has been appointed to arrange for regular Bible study; though I would prefer we simply work our way through a book at a time (starting with Jonah, then the Gospel of John, one of Paul’s epistles, and the opening chapters of Genesis), there’s some interest in using Mary Morrison’s Pendle Hill pamphlet as the base, while others are leaning toward Sondra Cronk’s Tract Assn. peace booklet. Will be interesting to see what emerges.

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

ROLLING IN CLOVER, AS IT WERE

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. Time to start checking on the ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, courtesy of the NOAA buoys reported on the website. I no longer bother to venture into real surf until the readings hit 60 Fahrenheit. Below that it’s blue-toe water.
  2. There’s an irony in performing sun-salutation postures but none, say, for the new moon or full moon. Om, my. Inhale and exhale, with incense.
  3. On our apron by the back door, a small snake, whip motion, ever so slowly.
  4. Here I’d been intending to write leaner, tighter, shorter, clearer – a lacework of Light. Wind up with dense blocks of prose-poems instead.
  5. It’s hard to imagine my native Buckeye State was created, in essence, by eleven Connecticut veterans of the American Revolution who met at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern in Boston on March 1, 1786, to form the Ohio Company. The tavern was a gathering place for wealthy merchants sympathetic to the patriot cause. At least it wasn’t Manhattan. Who knows what we would have wound up with.
  6. Sometimes you feel a new beginning – not just renewal but turning a corner.
  7. My own pathway unfolds as its own guide.
  8. Sometimes I read this place as CLOVER NH. Better, of course, than the unintentionally comic EFFINGHAM.
  9. I’ve resolved to spend more time in the mountains to our north this summer. In recent years, even getting to the beaches nearby has been elusive.
  10. So that’s it! Blah-blah-blah.

~*~

Preserving a touch of history in downtown Boston, while the rest of the building's been razed. Something similar just happened to the oldest residence in Maine.

Preserving a touch of history in downtown Boston, while the rest of the building’s been razed. Something similar just happened to the oldest residence in Maine.

 

 

BRIDGE FROM MAY TO JUNE

clapping dragon – prayer banner
blessing the northern wind:
Indra, Vayu, and Varuna
conspiring
with brooding swirls
to drum our roofs and nurse
our earth.
gather us
in logs
beneath
thundering rain
– with Handel and Bach
we speak of broad leaves
and our friends:
opposites
within jagged walls
brushed white –
this reassembled skin,
its rice paper sphere
and we take tea. minor elegance
rough wood improves –
the drenching opens
unnamed doors
in Monday’s clover
and Tuesday’s spruce –
drowns the shrew-mouse
on Wednesday’s trail –
awakens sleeping polychromes.
makes pokeberry tall
beyond our yard.
shakes tulips from twigs
and fattens swamps.
urges telegrams of morning birds
to break our sleep –
rumbles within our karst –

as current
entering swallow holes
will rise where mills
once twirled
soft wheat.

Poem copyright 2015 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full Green Repose collection,
click here.

 

 

OVERLOOKING THE REMAINING MILLS

In the heart of downtown ...

In the heart of downtown …

The Cocheco Millworks stretch through downtown Dover.

The Cocheco Millworks stretch through downtown Dover.

The Washington Mill complex picks up on the other side of the Cocheco River.

The Washington Mill complex picks up on the other side of the Cocheco River.

Hard as it is to imagine, Dover once had twice as many mills along the river, plus tanneries and other supporting enterprises.

My fondness for old mills, by the way, did prompt a novel, Big Inca.

HOT TUB ORACLE

I never intended to live there as long as I did, in the rented townhouse in what I sometimes called Yuppieville on the Mountain. But it must have suited me during that decade of waiting and searching, my anticipating true love and a long-desired relocation into permanence. Besides, it was convenient to the office. Admittedly, I enjoyed using the whirlpool in the clubhouse, soaking in the hot water while watching snowflakes drift down on the other side of the display windows; besides, at that time, the complex was still surrounded by woodlands. Lest it sound too idyllic, let me also acknowledge the dumpster parked beside my unit was frequently overflowing.

The poems in the resulting collection arise in that experience of transient proximity, which has become so much a part of the American landscape. The poems themselves are a kind of side street from other works I was drafting and revising during this time. Still, they make me examine what was right in front of me, all the same.

The series closes my collection, Rust and the Wound. To read the free ebook, click here.

SEE, HERE

as the answer to all his problems
of course, what he really desires
is the oracle

not the old farm widow, either
but the young virgin
who speaks in iambic pentameter

the one who is refined
and perfect
reserved

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To continue the series, click here.