Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

JUST HOW BIG IS THAT TOWN WITH THE MILLS?

When I began drafting Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I was coming off a two-year stint that had me traveling across the Northeast, including the Atlantic Seaboard from Maine through Virginia. I hunkered down in Baltimore to concentrate on a handful of major writing projects in a very intense year of self-imposed sabbatical. (No university support, if you were wondering.)

While Big Inca marked a sharp departure from my other works, moving into dark subconscious realms and mysterious meanderings, it did incorporate castoffs from some of the other projects. The prompt, though, was a vague dream of restoring landmark mills beside a river, a project that could have happened just about anywhere in the region I’d been traveling.

We think of them as textile mills, and many of them were. But the water power could be employed for just about any kind of manufacturing, as I’ve since learned, from machine-making itself to shoes to clothespins to locomotives, as well as the grain and sawmill operations I’d been introduced to on our trips to historic sites in my childhood, starting with the overshot wheel and grindstones in Carillon Park in Dayton and the reconstructed Spring Mill village in Indiana.

As a youth, I’d also owned a gorgeous volume the duPont company had published to celebrate its history, and my favorite parts were the illustrations of its early mills and supporting waterways and lands in Delaware.

So there was already a degree of romance in my thinking about the use of old-fashioned waterpower.

Then, in my first job after college, I was introduced to the ruins of cigar factories beside a dam in the Susquehanna River, a tangled patch I returned to frequently, as I describe in my set of poems, Susquehanna. Just how would the mills have looked, anyway? And how would they have shaped the adjacent neighborhood, a setting reflected in Riverside, another of my poetry collections?

My more recent employment had me calling on places like Fall River, Massachusetts, with its array of vacant stone mills, as well as towns incorporating the more common red brick versions, large and small.

Add to that mention of the entrepreneurial impact of the many mills that once stood along the Jones Falls in Baltimore itself, before the freeway wound through the sites, and I was quickly writing.

Since releasing the novel, though, I’ve been wondering about scale. Just how big a town are we dealing with? And, for that matter, how big a mill yard?

In the back of my head I’d imagined something along the lines of Binghamton, New York, a city of roughly 50,000 – large enough to move about in inconspicuously but not too big to be, well, anywhere in the corporate radar these days. Or, more accurately, the recent past when the action takes place.

That’s had me looking more closely at old mill towns, of course, and asking if this one or that could be the right setting. Security, by the way, adds another consideration – I wouldn’t want the novel’s mills sitting right downtown, as they do where I now live or in several of the neighboring towns. Somersworth, to the north, has train tracks separating its old mills from the rest of the town, and Binghamton had a freeway.

A smaller town, in contrast, might simply have too many nosy neighbors who would insist on knowing everything about a newcomer like Bill, and that wouldn’t do. Still, there are some beautiful sites for imagining as you move about.

WHATEVER THE NEXT STAGE

the Late Quartets
meaning, always, Beethoven
always attended most intensely
late at night
alone

something here liberated from audience
or sound itself
or even emotion or intellect, solely
some pure essence
released within four players’ labor

~*~

the labor has me thinking
of Stephen Foster, his two strands of work
the minstrel songs that provided
his income and reputation
but his parlor art songs from his depth

yes, I’m far more compartmentalized

journalism, poetry, fiction, religion, et al

~*~

imagining my own funeral
a performance of Schubert’s string quintet
or a hymn-sing
if not my Quaker silence with vocal
messages therein
whatever the next stage

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

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

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

LEVIATHAN, AS AN EMBLEM

1

now to see
North Atlantic
in my sphere

landlocked
till twenty-eight

that week, camping tide-to-tide
beside North Pacific

and you speak of turning to Christ?

2

who found the eagle in the desert canyon
and high mountains
before the Upper Mississippi
or Great Falls of the Potomac?

still, moose fail to inspire me
as elk did

3

whales, then
rather than moose
in contrast to elk of the Yakima Valley

this mirror of historic economy

besides, moose and whales do not leave tracks
everywhere we trek here,
unlike the elk out west

to say nothing of ticks

4

water, defining land
defining water
and the overlap

I want to know what the ocean voices
in its repetition
addressing the absent moon
or distance, even in the erasure

bank of fog
curtain of resounding
fog horn or bell

or vast silence
before

the hundred thousand variations of nor’easter
just off this point

no need to circle the planet

we have our fill of floundering
agents of change

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

TRAPPED IN THE SCHEDULING

Thinking, too, of Bill Taber’s observation that Quakerism is filled with “strong women and tender men.” Think that describes us?

Which reminds me of a story Sondra Cronk was telling at Tract Association; she was back stateside between semesters at Woodbrooke (the English Pendle Hill center). Friends Meetings there (so she said) are in a very decrepit and lowly state, although as thee may imagine, some of the most powerful worship occurs in the very small Meetings that appear physically most ghostly. In any case, at one of the Quarterly or Yearly Meeting sessions, someone raised the question of whether we were letting the scheduling get in the way of Divine Leading – that is, whether our sessions are too busy to allow the Lord to do His work. Without seeing the irony that followed, the clerk replied: “I don’t see how we can possibly discuss that before 1988!” To which he was challenged: “We can’t wait that long!” “Well, then, maybe we can work it in later in 1986.” No wonder I’m so frustrated with committees! What I’m realizing is that in responding to the call not to serve on committees, I’ve been liberated to perform much needed intervisitation, as the Lord leads me. If I were to do this as part of a committee – and I may still have notes from the gatherings Ohio Yearly Meeting extended when the Lake Erie Association of Friends was not yet a YM – there would be so much effort involved in simply getting everyone together, establishing schedules, packing lunches, carpooling, and writing and duplicating reports, that the visitation would never get off the ground. Well, a committee of two, perhaps: thee and me, or Charles and me. Or even three or four in close combinations such as thee, Charles, Paula, and me. Which seems to be how early Friends did it! How enlightening!

~*~

For more Seasons of the Spirit, click here.

A FEW MORE NOTES IN THE SCORE

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. Even before she argues I’m regressing to adolescence, she has many reasons to ask: Am I still emotionally … 15? Maybe this time I’ll get it right. Or just FINALLY.
  2. How is it so many people see me as masked, restrained, even inhibited? All these years. Will the real me please stand up?
  3. Like a pack of cards, “shuffle the deck,” the way of the Red Barn – or my all too rambling life with all of its competing interests! Don’t we need a job or children as focus? Or God?
  4. A jazz guitarist asks me between sets, “Are you a musician? You listen like one.” I take it as a compliment. As for my choir?
  5. Too easily I find myself retreating for too much of the day (and night) in my attic studio, apart from the rest of the house. Call me a third-floor hermit. That’s where I think I write best.
  6. I’d dreamed of having Molly Ringwald join in a movie I’d scripted: 61 Candles. We’d all grown up. Or something like that. Even I was younger then.
  7. It’s a familiar goal in revising a piece of writing and, as I’m finding, in making music. Think of the visual arts, too, and any number of places in daily life. Gain lightness in what had been blocks of density.
  8. Inscribed on the tower: “Maybe he was the love of my life … but I wasn’t his.” (Which interpretation do you prefer?)
  9. How is it I got so old? Even within an old soul?
  10. My overcoat, still tinged with city grime, needs cleaning.

~*~

This is it, indeed.

This is it, indeed.

LIVELIHOOD

Ants swarm over a sugar maple’s
spigot and sap bucket.

In earth and in air, green spirals
uncoil.

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

INDUSTRIAL AGE BIRTHPLACE

This is where it began.

This is where it began, starting with the Slater Mill on the left and building into the Wilkinson Mill, center.

The modest Slater Mill complex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is honored as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.

The operation originated when apprentice Samuel Slater slipped through British security with secrets for textiles manufacturing and was hired by Moses Brown to replicate them in America, with the mill opening in 1793.

The fact that Brown, a Quaker, and his partners advertised for what was essentially stolen information troubles me – I do wonder how they justified their actions when questioned by their Friends meetings. The English, meanwhile, had long before enacted barriers that penalized fellow citizens in Ireland and America. Perhaps that was sufficient inspiration, even before the American Revolutionary War. Perhaps one action apologized for the other.

I was resting my finguers on this waterpowered lathe when I realized it was the origin of mass-production.

I was resting my fingers on this water-powered lathe when I realized it was the origin of mass-production. Without uniform parts, each item would have to be handcrafted from scratch.

 

There were differences between the Quaker Work Ethic and the Puritan Work Ethic, but they would have agreed on this sign.

There were differences between the Quaker Work Ethic and the Puritan Work Ethic, but they would have agreed on this sign.

More remarkably, though, Slater’s assistant, David Wilkinson, then provided the next leap – a lathe that produced large screws that were far more uniform than those painstakingly made by hand. Whether he or Henry Maudslay in England was the first to produce such precise work can be argued, but the results were the foundation for the innovative precision toolmakers who would transform industry. This was, in effect, the foundation for mass production. The thinking behind Wilkinson’s model inspired a league of New Englanders to advance the technology in applications across the region.

I doubt this was the origin of the phrase “Yankee ingenuity,” though it certainly fits.

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

KARMA LAW OFFICE

she was pregnant
but which of the three
brothers was the father

she was all heartbreak
and sorrow

~*~

an acid-tripping Lutheran seminarian
argued “religion is for today”
as he walked in on his roommate
still atop Pia

~*~

the long-haired blonde with the deep voice
had already been had twice

To continue, click here.
Copyright 2015

SCRIBBLING OF THE UNIVERSE, IN A PERSONAL SENSE

In my novel Promise, especially, Jaya aspires to a form of literary creativity that’s not exactly poetry and not exactly prose as we know it, either. It’s part of her spiritual practice, arising in yoga, and reflects her intimate relationships with her husband and friends as well as their place in their sequence of landscapes.

In the years since publishing that novel and its sequels, Peel (as in apple) and St. Helens in the Mix, I’ve encountered something close to what she may have envisioned – the Gift Letters or Gift Songs of the American Shakers, a marvelous elixir of messages channeled from earlier leaders of the religious sect that the medium embellished with drawings and often an alien languageand alphabet. The handdrawn pages I’ve seen in art museums and online are arrestingly innocent in their purity and intent, meant to be given to a friend as encouragement and comfort, heart-to-heart, with the giver as the intermediary connecting past, present, and future. In each page, hope rings with sunlight and gentleness.

In these weekly Personal Journey entries on the Red Barn, I’ve begun presenting excerpts from a related book, Kokopelli’s Hornpipe. Like the three novels based on Jaya and her legacy, this volume has its root in the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest, this time examined with a more mythopoetical focus through the legendary character known as Kokopelli.

Like Jaya’s desire to express her deepest experiences in an entirely original art form, Kokopelli tries to elude classification. Is it fiction? I call it a novel, even if it’s only novella length. And I’d argue it’s more complex than a novella allows. Are its chapters essentially essays or memoir? The fictional characters must be taken into account as well as the underlying mythologies. I could point to some of Barry Holstun Lopez’ wondrous works and ask the same. Add to that the questions of identity, especially as a place assumes importance, even before we get to New Zion or New Jerusalem, so crucial in the American experience.

At the heart of all this is the basic matter of just who we love, and why. The matter of just where we are in the universe.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.