Eden Park Meditation
How odd that the days lengthen; the hours
braced against a brittle sun that sears
the lip of ice at the base of the black oak.
The ice and the sun
are opaque and impenetrable,
a sealed world. This world. The days don’t dwindle
into twilight but linger so silently
we hardly notice the future
in these perplexed angles of
light. Later, at the feet
of the boxwood, night rustles anxiously, or is it
merely the wind. No, there are certain tensions.
The night wants what it is owed.
Mornings, I walk the circular pond and the pond stares back.
I won’t go near enough to see
the distorted reflection staring up at me
The sky is there;
clouds shunt past, rapid as recognition, the sky a blank
eye as is the sun. I stand at the edge, I am
a poor lot, my mind
useful. Not the world as it is, darkling
sense, dear winged plume of thought . . . the pond
and what is reflected–images of light
on a blinded eye. What makes us think the water
will tell us what it holds.
Year after year the same: winter rushing
towards us in a cool, blue cloak, pale and in a chilled clarity:
Through the trunks of the thickest oak
the day goes forward and that one
wood thrush, singing, the one who will never be seen.
As I walk in the snow, look closely
at the snow, I see it contains a certain lucidity
which does not resemble a chalice of red wine,
though there is the potential for reverent
sacrifice; there is no blood, no astonishing
purple laced with crimson above which hovers
a rim of clarity.
A clarity, now
that I study it, which may shoot off into an endless
universe. Much like the horizon at
sea, much like that. Just above the far
black water, and between the blue ripped
as if from the clothes of the Madonna. The snow
holds none of this, the snow holds a certain
terror. That is, not a particular terror, but one
that is precise, a terror of conviction.
As I speak, the words
slip invisibly into the cold, which is to say
there is an infinite distance within any one
word. Somewhere a woman hangs sheets in the wind,
her head tipped back in sunlight. Her oval face is full
of light, or the memory of light. Her eyes are two
wings, her hands make prayers the dead look
back upon with favor: Blessed are the forever
silent. The wind hovers, takes its fill.
That wind, which might finally make an end of speech.
The sky is black
dirt flecked with ice shards. I am told there is no
actual endpoint. Later, in the green, snow-filled
hedge I pass, the sound of
a sheet snapped taut
in the wind, then birds fly up.
In the field, somewhere
wheat is burning though the truth is
the sun merely sets. The wheat is burning and we are
listening to its humble
lament. This is the field. This is the foreign, empty
and burning field on the day the sun wishes
not to set. This field, this burning and the sun. The sun, then
the darkness. Such simple days, days burning
over and over. The day
then the night. To listen, but not to hear.
There must be a correspondence between the blue of the
sky and the robe of the Madonna. Chagall would
have it so. A man flying through air and that
nearly transparent blue against a pale rose
sky below which a world rolls, a world that exists
only in his mind—he gave us that world. So it is good
to live alone. The air is blue, the blue of the Madonna,
the blue of Chagall and of the sky is a purity we can
only know in solitude. Or perhaps this is not true
for you, only for me. Only alone is it possible to stand
before a painting of Chagall.
The horizon is a gap, a way out of the world,
there between a sky of substance and the blackened
water. At sea. But it is not clarity in the real
world, or more precisely, at the edge of the
world. Nothing is clear when you must travel out
to a vanishing horizon.
I suppose one way is to simply watch
the world, simple enough. The trees in winter,
for instance, this very day, the day after a night
when the wind was evil and tried to get in any
crevice, and did, so I bundled another layer on
and sat by the fire. Now the trees out the window
are very bare, as you might imagine, bare in the
wind which is persistent and evil and invisible. And
the trees sway in the wind, they are bare and tall, even
the largest of them sways first to the north, then to
the south, some may even moan as they bend, these
are the smallest, of course, the ones unused to this
assault. And to me there is suddenly, inescapably,
madness in the world. I would like to name these
trees—one is a buckeye, which, leafed out in spring
and summer, drops shining, burnished, miraculous
seeds, but of course their beauty comes only in
sunlight. In the warmth that coaxes another life
forth. And the oaks, the paradise trees, which are
the first to fall being brittle, being aptly named.
The oaks are not, as reported, capable of strength;
they, too, step from root to root as do madwomen,
who are also rooted to one spot, as incapable. Both
the trees and the women sway, holding their arms
up to the sky which is not blue. Holding them, swaying,
rooted, facing the wind which sometimes roars and
sometimes shrieks. Pleading, really, in a bitter wind.
The women’s arms float upward, effortless
are the arms of Chagall. The women can’t
contain their joy. Their gestures inhere
in still oils on a piece of woven cloth, a made
thing of pigment, a brush, a hand elsewhere having
seven fingers in which are held the colors of his
childhood in the town of Vitebsk always within him,
the smell of the goats, the fish, the burning dung the baba
tends in her kerchief while the gypsies whirl, which is why
in widening circles. And the man flying
over a rolling earth, is it towards a goat’s head, or a white
cow, or a woman arched over a vase filled with red roses, where
joy is as delicate as a blue morning? Where there is not one sound
in the dark in the night when no moon shone. Or perhaps it is better
not to look back, since memory is a hard thing, hard
like stone, or dawn which seems at first soft, even
a warm embrace,
warm as flesh or warm
as a heart held in the hand, a heart that beats and beats
and then is silent as ash on night.
No one can name the dead
with any certainty. I imagine I
stand on a bridge arched over running
water beside buildings stained
yellow by light. The light is yellow and blue.
Downstream the city blazes. I hear the water
murmuring and I think this is how the dead speak
softly, to comfort us.
Outside my one room, trees
part for a moment. The sun
filters through the window, swaying
across a picture framed on the sill.
Blessed is the darkness. Then the sun
goes behind a cloud and within the frame, a
quieting, a gentle weeping ceases, and
the shadow of beauty enters the world.
Earlier, in the park
I parted boughs of the common
pine so a measure of light reached the bark and saw
mottled in shadowed colors, the pink
in the cheek of a small child. There in the pine
bough dancing in the wind’s delicacy.
This is a bridge between two worlds, this actual bridge in winter
in Eden Park. And also I think, it is time now to be prudent,
to simply speak the names of things in the world:
Black Tupelo and Linden. Red Bud. Lacebark Oak. Bloodgood
Planetree. Autumn Purple White Ash and Paperbark.
Maple. Cadences of a silent life, rhythms of a world we can only
name. Here are the discontented
ducks on the pond, here the sight of a doe, thin
with winter just ahead of me, her small feet light on the earth.
Does it fill you
with joy, these things? What if you could bend with me
in the dark magnolia grove in the deep, loamy green beneath
glossy, bold leaves big as my hand, and lift up your head
with your eyes closed while the white blossoms swirl
like sweet gifts of light in the outer air of memory. And what if
the little birds, little arrows of brown, triangular perfection,
dipped on their stiff wires, quite suddenly, flying
past this, our meager wing of wind, our one, small life?
Virginia Slachman, Ph.D. is the author of three collections of poetry, a novel, and an award-winning chapbook in addition to her memoir, Many Brave Hearts, recounting her family’s struggles with PTSD. Former poetry editor of Aspen Anthology and associate director of the Aspen Writers Conference, Slachman’s work has received numerous fellowships and awards. A Pushcart-nominated poet, her work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, both in the U.S. and the U.K. She has served as a professor of writing and literature for over twenty years. website: http://www.virginiaslachman.com