Monday, June 27, 2016

the charms of the ordinary

By the Peonies

by Czeslaw Milosz

The peonies bloom, white and pink.
And inside each, as in a fragrant bowl,
A swarm of tiny beetles have their conversation,
For the flower is given to them as their home.

Mother stands by the peony bed,
Reaches for one bloom, opens its petals,
And looks for a long time into peony lands,
Where one short instant equals a whole year.

Then lets the flower go. And what she thinks
She repeats aloud to the children and herself.
The wind sways the green leaves gently
And speckles of light flick across their faces.

The charms of the ordinariness soothe the threat of anxiety.

And so let us indulge in the charms of the ordinary, let's resist the threat of anxiety with flowers, let's lose ourselves in peonies where one instant equals a whole year.

“It's so curious: one can resist tears and 'behave' very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer... and everything collapses. ”

- Colette

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” 

- Iris Murdoch

The book I've been reading all this week, Cooling Time, by C.D. Wright. (On my recommended shelf above).

And honestly, I really think it's staggering how many people do live without the poetry of their time. I suppose without reading anything at all literary.

“Nobody reads poetry, we are told at every inopportune moment. I read poetry. I am somebody. I am the people, too. It can be allowed that an industrious quantity of contemporary American poetry is consciously written for a hermetic constituency; the bulk is written for the bourgeoisie, leaving a lean cut for labor. Only the hermetically aimed has a snowball's chance in hell of reaching its intended ears. One proceeds from this realization. A staggering figure of vibrant, intelligent people can and do live without poetry, especially without the poetry of their time. This figure includes the unemployed, the rank and file, the union brass, banker, scientist, lawyer, doctor, architect, pilot, and priest. It also includes most academics, most of the faculty of the humanities, most allegedly literary editors and most allegedly literary critics. They do so--go forward in their lives, toward their great reward, in an engulfing absence of poetry--without being perceived or perceiving themselves as hobbled or deficient in any significant way. It is nearly true, though I am often reminded of a Transtromer broadside I saw in a crummy office building in San Francisco:

We got dressed and showed the house
You live well the visitor said
The slum must be inside you.

If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance, and if I thought such an understanding were the basis for a lifelong inquiry, I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most 'stunned by existence,' the most determined to redeem the world in words...” 

- C.D. Wright, Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil

This next photo, as I've mentioned elsewhere, is of the bluebells in my front bed - which disappeared a few years back to my great disappointment. So when I saw them, I let out quite the whoop of glee.

We have several kinds of peonies, and they're now arriving, one type at a time...

"Some of us do not read or write particularly for pleasure or instruction, but to be changed, healed, charged."

- C.D. Wright

"I believe in a hardheaded art, an unremitting, unrepentant practice of one's own faith in the word in one's own obstinate terms."

- C.D. Wright


So you know, enjoy what you enjoy, pursue the art that you have to make, and once and for all, lose the doubt. Persist, be obstinate, be unremitting. For me, I will follow the flowers, persist on my pollen path. I will watch the sun move around my kitchen, illuminating this and then that. It will land on this petal at that time. It will rise at this time now, and that time later. It will be morning and then it will be evening. I'll keep a sharp eye out for the golden hour.

This Morning

by Esther Morgan

I watched the sun moving round the kitchen,
an early spring sun that strengthened and weakened,
coming and going like an old mind.

I watched like one bedridden for a long time
on their first journey back into the world
who finds it enough to be going on with:

the way the sunlight brought each possession in turn
to its attention and made of it a small still life:

the iron frying pan gleaming on its hook like an ancient find,
the powdery green cheek of a bruised clementine.

Though more beautiful still was how the light moved on,
letting go each chair and coffee cup without regret

the way my grandmother, in her final year, received me:
neither surprised by my presence, nor distressed by my leaving,
content, though, while I was there.


"it is not that the language is exhausted, it is that we run down;
it's not that the edge won't cut anymore, it is that the cuts are
getting thinner;

it's not that art is artificial, it is that the artists get outright
seditty: it's not that literary reputations are not inevitable,
it's that they are invented

not that theories are not beautiful, but that they are feeble"

- C. D. Wright

It's not, I often think, that language is exhausted, but I am.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day - like writing a poem or saying a prayer.”

- Anne Morrow Lindbergh


By Naomi Shihab Nye

To move
Needing to be
Nowhere else.
Wanting nothing
From any store.
To lift something
You already had
And set it down in
A new place.
Awakened eye
Seeing freshly.
What does that do to
The old blood moving through
Its channels?

I'm trying to do this - my summer goal. To move cleanly. To just re-examine what I do have, and see freshly. To take away those things that I don't need, so that I may see what remains anew.

But no wonder the peonies speak to us so directly. They bloom but with such heaviness. They let us know how difficult it is, but still: that refusal to be quiet, to go quietly.

At the end of the Wright book:

"And at the end of nearly everything, poetry, the old rose, by its very avowal, refuses to shut its merlot mouth."


But maybe some days poetry is an old peony, that refusal. Let poetry be whatever flower you like, I say.

"There is a Tibetan saying: 'When things are difficult, then let yourself be happy.' Otherwise, if happiness is relying on others or the environment or your surroundings, it's not possible. Like an ocean, the waves always go like that but underneath, it always remains calm. So we have that ability as well. On an intellectual level, we may see things as desperate, difficult. But underneath, at the emotional level, you can keep calm."

- Tenzin Gyatso
The 14th Dalai Lama

via WhiskeyRivers

This might be a new mantra.
When things are difficult, then let yourself be happy. 

When I see people going through really difficult things and they're actually cheerful - this is a great inspiration. I see this all the time in my job. Those who are homeless and who have gone through various kinds of hell - and they're the ones wishing me a good day or telling me to enjoy my weekend off....I think to myself if they can be cheerful and well-wishing, then I sure as heck better be, too.

When things are grim or uncertain or painful or exhausting, it's okay to let yourself be happy. Which sounds a bit perverse, but that's the thing.

So yes, one morning I arranged these flowers from my garden and I thought of them as a poem.

I love arrangements that you'd be unlikely to find in a flower shop. The vivid and short-lived poppies, the mock orange blossoms, and some thyme sprigs.

Much mileage made from a few blooms...thanks for the indulgence.

I've been sending Chloe to the internet to find us recipes lately and she's ended up on Jamie Oliver's site a fair bit. We made a variation of his Spring Chicken Pie with phyllo pastry one night. Really good. 

Last Summer

by Esther Morgan

I want to come back as sunlight
to steal over everything I own

with the warmth of skin
that isn't there.

I want to concentrate:
to fill each room for an hour

as if the house were a kind of clock
without hands or a face.

I want to shine with a disinterest
approaching love

on the life laid aside
so hastily this morning:

the flowered dress discarded
as too last-summer

this book I've been reading
to get me to sleep.

- from Grace by Esther Morgan

So let's head back outdoors. The week was like that. A day of rain, a day of sun. The flowers indoor, then out.

Revisiting a favourite old subject - book and sunlight.

My front garden is full of perennials, but I find it hard to photograph. There's part of me that wants to edit out things like: neighbours, their vehicles, driveways, etc. 

Last things.

A groovy video of The Museum of Bags and Purses. If you read Rumi and the Red Handbag and were wondering what the museum looks like.

This is what I'm worried about lately. Distractions.

A favourite post from a friend on Facebook this past week:

In other news: our daughter turned 18 this past week. Still dying over that one. We've been eating a ton of cake though, which seems to help. A lot. She has her grad ceremony and fancy dinner (over two nights because the class is so large.....gods help us.....) this coming week. I've told myself I can start officially freaking out about her going away to school in the fall when this is all over. Denial, I tell you, can be a great thing. Luckily, there are plenty of articles to help me figure this whole thing out. Of course there's always the tried and true wine therapy.

Wishing you all a calm week, full of the charms of the ordinary....

- Shawna



  1. Beautiful collection. I love that poem Last Summer. I had not read it before.

  2. Wow, those peonies are heavenly! I've been playing with them all week, I think I filled an entire memory card. They come and go so fast. I know I've said this before but I can't get over how gorgeous your gardens are...and I love that arrangement. I prefer my arrangements wild and messy :) So many wonderful poems today, I've copied them all down. Thank you for this wonderful start to my week. Sounds like Chloe had a lovely birthday and congrats to her on her graduation. Hope you enjoy the ceremony :) Denial and wine in combination is the best.

  3. The peony photos are stunning!

  4. Thank you, dear Shawna, for finding that new mantra and sharing it with us... I needed that. And the flowers, such beauty. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for the words, friends! Lovely.

  6. is hard when a daughter leaves for school. I went through this last summer and fall. I had my first ever panic attacks. Thankfully, they were pretty minor and I knew what was bothering me. It felt like a part of me was being ripped out. BUT, I did a lot of soul searching...a LOT of writing and I found a new version of that had always been there, but re-emerged. I let go, I grew...then, she started having a rough time and wanted to come home every weekend. So much for letting go and personal growth. Actually, it was really, really good for me. You can do it!

    1. This is going to be me.....thank you so much for sharing it. It really helps to hear what other people have gone through and how they got through. There is so much of the unknown ahead...which is hard. xo S.


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