Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Les Alyscamps

(two paintings of Les Alyscamps by Vincent Van Gogh and a photo by Beth Leonard))

walking the shaded Alyscamps where
Van Gogh painted the tree trunks blue
old sarcophagi, empty now -
sent down the river
alone in the breeze,
below blue trees
lichen now, enjoying
the sun,
tombs, forgotten
now Dante
"their covers were all raised up in our view
and out of them such harsh lamenting rose
as from a wretched and a wounded crew"

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Barcelona and southern France

In October Beth and I will travel to the southern coast of France for what I am calling our "poets, painters and heretics tour".
First we will spend a few days in Barcelona visiting Gaudi, Joan Miro, Picasso, Dali, and learning about the poets and prose writers of the Catalan language.
From there we will travel to the land of the langue d'oc, the land of the Provencal, language of the troubadors. We will stay at a small farm in the town of Euzet les Bains, and explore outward from there.
To prepare, I have been assembling a collection of books, perhaps too many, but a wonderful way to begin to try and understand these new places, and the cultures, languages and poetics that have developed there. I want to put up a list of the resources that I am using, in hopes that readers will have suggestions of other books and authors, places to go, things to see...
For Barcelona, I start with the Robert Hughes history, just called Barcelona. From there I branch out to read about Gaudi, Miro, Picasso, and Dali. I read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, and start to read translations of Catalan language poets and prose writers. I read the mystery novels of Manuel Vasquez Montalban and Zafon's In the Shadow of the Wind.
For Provence, for the Langudoc, the reading is wide. I read Petrarch and hope to visit the location, in Avignon, where he first saw Laura, or to climb Mount Ventoux, ( both Petrarch and Mistral write about their climbs.) I read the troubador poems collected and translated in Proensa, and follow that with the poems and prose of Paul Blackburn, a translator of Troubador poems and also El Cid. I read the poems and memoir of Frederic Mistral, called "the Dante of Provence" - the champion of the Provencal language and culture, and winner of the Nobel Prize for poetry. (He used the money from the Nobel prize to create a museum of Provencal in Arles - another spot to visit) Mistral who says:" and no one knows/through what wild countries/this wandering rose returns". I read about the horses of the Camargue and hope to see them. I read A Walking Tour in Southern France - Ezra Pound among the Troubadors (as Pound walks Provence he speaks of "seeing in a way how many persons may flow through us or flow past us while we are alive."), and also his Spirit of Romance, with its essays on Troubadors, Provencal and more.I read the poems of Rene Char, and then of his American poetic heir Gustaf Sobin, as well as Sobin's three collections of Essays about the Languedoc region (Luminous Debris, Ladder of Shadows, Aura) I read Lawrence Durrell's Caesar's Vast Ghost - Aspects of Provence (Durrell says that in Provence "days come and sigh and disappear") and the travel essays on Arles and Albigensians by Zbigniew Herbert. I read about Van Gogh, Cezanne, Toulouse Lautrec.
For the heretics I dream of visiting Albi, to say hello to the Albigensians, and of visiting various Cathar strongholds.
There is too much, too much. Will I ever know enough in this life. The urge to go on learning, to stay constantly in the role of student of the world -
Pound says
"Fools, readers of books,
go south & live

layers of wind, shadows, voices,
horses on cave walls,
lichen struck limestone hello
Rhone, hello Camargue
the marys floating before the moon
cusp we call to you
in voices of loons, light
across the water to
join you, soon.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ruth and Jake Lawless

On Sunday, July 24, Beth and I took our kayak, and my parents' ashes, and drove to Belfast, my home town. I had been saving my father's ashes since his death in 2002, as my parents had told me that they would like me to mix their ashes together and spread them on the strip of Belfast Bay that you could see from their house. They do have a gravesite in the cemetery in Belfast, in a plot with my father's sister Lisabeth, his mother and father, and his Aunt Mary. We went first to the gravesite, where Beth dug a small trench and I mixed their ashes together - with any spillage going into the plot. We left a third of the ashes there, and then drove to the edge of the bay at the steamboat wharf.
We paddled out, using the Baptist church and Young's lobster pound as our reckoning points. It was late afternoon, the tide and the wind both coming in, a sunny, beautiful day to be on the water.
We spread another third of their ashes on the water, in sight of their house. I wanted to do it just before high tide, so that their ashes would move upstream, take a tour of the harbor, and then head out to sea.
We paddled upstream, under the old bridge, under the new bridge, and all the way up to the head of the tide, under the railroad bridge and under the road bridge.There are not many houses along this stretch of the river, between Route One and the head of the tide. A lot of cedar, hemlock, cormorants and railroad tracks.
Just above the last bridge, at the head of the tide, the tide was stalling and turning. We were in a quiet green paradise ruled by ospreys and kingfishers. It was here, above the final bridge, that we emptied the last of the ashes, as the tide turned, and the water carried them out through the bay that they loved so much, carrying us as well. Another journey, together. Travel well, sweet ones. We love you.

We drove to Rockland to eat supper along the waterfront boardwalk, on the deck at Amalfi, drinking kir royales, eating paella, and celebrating my parents. We wondered how the shore of the river near the head of the tide, where we had just been, could still be so green, so lovely and without humans.
A little research, and contact with my poet friend Kristen Lindquist, found that one side of the river there is protected by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, as a part of their Green Passy initiative, which is still looking for funding. I gave a donation in my parents' names, to help protect that part of the river forever. Kristen, who works for the land trust, sent me some maps and directions, including a map of the Stover Preserve, which includes a trail from the Doak Road down to the river.
On Sunday, July 31, Beth and I went back to walk down to the river. It was another lovely day, another timeless spot on the river. I urge you all to support the work of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust to preserve this lovely spot, and to support the work of your own local land trusts, to save the many special places still needing protection, for ourselves and for those we love, now, before us, and those to follow.
Here is a draft of my notes from that walk in the Stover Preserve:

What is happening here?
Here where the gentle stream
murmers its song,
on and on.
Here where sunlit leaves
turn in the breeze,
where stone walls and apple trees
look to the past and
the water, the water,
all the way to the Bay.
Everything happens here.
Here where the mosses come
to tell their stories
resting on rock on
granite outcrop.
Here where the kingfishers fly home
where hemlock breathes
where ferns and iris rest
along the river.
Everything happens here.