Today’s the 6th day of one of my favorite months — National Poetry Month. Which is also National Poetry WRITING Month, NaPoWriMo. AND…my birthday month! How filled w/ great stuff can a month get?
The NaPoWriMo prompt for today is about the line — about changing it up, about playing with it. But since I didn’t write yesterday, or do yesterday’s prompt, I’m combining them. A word in a language not my own — riffing on what it looks & sounds like it means — and line change-ups. You can let me know how that works for you. Here you go:
how our frantic panic
burned like a torch
incinerated any good
whatever we once knew
of any middle path
how lust too was a torch
an incandescent inferno
in which both our bodies
burned to cinders
the cooling of lava
the way the embers bank
how they glow
beneath the black ash
of what we lost
 Torschlusspanik is a combination of three German words, and literally translated means “gate-shut-panic.” Apparently the term dates back to the Middle Ages in reference to the panic medieval peasants might have experienced as they rushed to make it back inside the city gates before they closed at nightfall.
I also want to offer another poem I love, one I read at my first public reading (where I was asked to choose a poem to read). It’s by one of my favourite mentor poets — Denise Levertov. An anti-war poem, it looks at the people of my childhood home, ViệtNam. And the ways in which we forget that the real victims of real wars are real people.
I hope that’s not too much food for poetic thought!
A few years ago, for Christmas gifts I got bees. Two, to be precise: a small, dainty gold one from my husband (banded in white & black diamonds, just to be decadent 🙂 ), and a similarly dainty sterling bee pin from my younger son, with antennae crooked so lifelike it looks as if it were a victim of a silver Midas touch. In other words, not real bees. Those would follow, a couple of years later.
I often write about bees. I’d like to work up a collection — use them as metaphor, possibly, but mostly just observe them, writing down what they do, look like, are. Haiku, tanka and renga are good for that. Perhaps it’s the Zen influence: watch, reflect, learn. Kind of the Zen mantra, that.
I’m not good at mindfulness. But I do like watching bees. They ground me, ironically — their tiny wings, their fuzzy bodies. How they make work into honey. Even their short life spans, spent working — it’s almost mystical, to me. In the past few years, I’ve read more than 20 books on bees. I don’t really even know how many — 20 is how many I have on the book shelf w/ the gardening books, and I know I checked out several from the library. And there are still a few on my wish list!
I love reading about bees. There’s something so soothing about the idea of the hive, the soft hum that fills my head even as I read, so that I have to go in and get a teaspoon of honey. I used to buy my local honey at my local bakery, but the beekeeper ‘aged out’: he gave his bees to a new keeper. I wished at the time I was ready to keep honey bees, but I wasn’t. Now, I buy my local honey at the farmer’s market, or the supermarket.
Recently, a friend’s brother was giving away a hive. I wanted it like I sometimes want a new book — desperately, as if it might somehow impart magic and wisdom and order to my crazy life. In my city you have to go through a bee-keeping seminar (several weeks long, put on the by City-County health dept) to get a license to keep ‘urban bees.’ I even took it — well, most of it. Life got in the way, as I recall (it was a few years ago), and I didn’t quite finish. But I still have the notes — a notebook of info from local beekeeps about bees.
Ironically — but so like real life — what I found as I talked to local beekeepers is that I’m not going to keep honey bees. They require FAR more work than the beautiful books detail. I’d always thought of keeping bees as a symbol of the coming quiet, the time when there would actually be time. To read, to write, to learn to speak to bees. Endless Saturdays … to walk outside, to sit in the sun, to watch the bees… What I learned is that bees have their needs — think of bees as livestock, in a way: they need things done according to their schedule, not necessarily yours. Kind of like kids.
When I was a young child, I would follow bees. The way I would stick my nose in the grass to follow ants (really). I would try to find the hive. I didn’t know then that bees could fly a two-mile radius from the hive. Or maybe I did — I read omniverously, Fabre on bees & moths when I was 10, for instance. Insects and birds and animals fascinated me. I was horse crazy, dog crazy, fish and bird and outside crazy. A goofy, leggy, elbow-y girl who believed what the servants told her — that everything had a spirit. That the very bees could speak to you, if you would listen.
Just last fall, sitting at a café in the warm autumn light, I watched as a bee flew over the table. I sat out a small drop of sugar dissolved in water for her. She touched her body to it, and then turned to land on my arm, as light as dust. I could feel her tiny feet crawling over my arm, see her antennae feeling her way. It was as if she was saying thank you. I am learning to speak bee, even if I don’t keep honey bees. I do keep native bees. More on that next post ~
The tea came! A big box, full of possibility. I don’t have the budget for ‘teas of renown,’ but I do splurge on good tea. And I don’t rebrew it. Well, hardly ever :). Maybe if there’s company and I double-splurged on Sunday’s tea (Hao Ya A, for anyone interested).
Most times I order tea, I’m just replenishing the house tea (Panyang Congo), or buying everyday tea. Occasionally I buy a couple of samples (one of the great things about Harney’s) ~ a nice way to try a new tea. And every so often (especially if a tea I liked in sample is available on sale) I buy a new tea. This most recent package has two adventure teas ~Pu-erh and Temi Sikkim. I confess: I was sucked in by the fact that Temi Sikkim was on sale (and it’s a great full-bodied Darjeeling, w/ that lovely floral aftertaste I find so seductive in a good Darjeeling) and the Pu-erh is billed as an ‘ancient’ tea.
The other day I made the pu-erh, a dark, ruby-red brown tea. A China black tea tasting of chocolate, almost sweet. I added my usual lump of Demerara, and then stirred in my usual milk. No change in colour ~ this is seriously dark tea. Still, it’s lovely: lightly astringent but smooth. A great breakfast tea. Makes me wonder: just how old is ‘ancient’ …?
When I make tea, it is always ~ even at the most hectic of times, like early in the morning as I rush to some appointment ~ a moment of quiet. Often it becomes, almost accidentally, an evocation of other days, when my children were small, when I was a young mother dependent on my expat family. Even now, with those two small boys (and early on, there was only one…) grown to manhood, fragrant steam curling from a curved spout takes me back 20 years. Or more.
Tea is an ordinary magic. Like coffee (which I also love dearly), it provides an enforced STOP. Halts my thoughts, distracts me from the hectic mania of contemporary life. Puts a gentle finger to my lips and reminds me to sssshhh…
So why write about tea, in the months running up to something as important as elections? Why take time for something so small, so intimate, when the world seems to be collapsing around my ears? Why take the time to celebrate these fragile, ephemeral moments that fall to the bottom of a china cup wreathed w/ flowers? Moments that curl in the heart of a summer rose, or hover on the wings of a drowsy bee.
We live in such a frenetic, frantic world. At least most of us do. There is never enough time… Right now I should be working up a course for September. Constructing a class schedule for another. I should be reading books for two presentations next month, and figuring out what I’m going to need in the way of help during my beloved’s upcoming surgery. I should be should be should be…
Instead, I be. Trying to not try tooo hard to breathe, as the pebble in the garden says. Just resting in the moment, sipping tea from that thin-handled china cup. Sitting in the early morning sun and remembering big sky mind…
I don’t know that tea, or coffee, or the quiet music of bees working the blue bells of the caryopteris can solve the world’s larger problems. But I wonder if we took the time to listen to them, to watch and pay attention, what we might learn… Who knows what we could do?