Friday, March 30, 2012

Before the Storm

Wildflowers #4 + fauna

The elk herd is back!

Glacier lilly, Dogtooth violet 
Erythronium grandiflorum 

Wasatch bluebells with petals open

And here come the Death camas

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich Died Today

Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century, died on Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 82. (New York Times)

While thinking constantly about the death of my brother John of AIDS, I heard Adrienne Rich read at the Woman's Place Bookstore in Salt Lake.

11 November 1993

            I don’t want to know how he tracked them
            along the Appalachian Trail, hid close
            by their tent, pitched as they thought in seclusion
            killing one woman, the other
            dragging herself into town his defense they had teased his loathing
            of what they were
            Adrienne Rich, from An Atlas of the Difficult World
I heard Rich read from her new book of essays last night at the Women’s Place Bookstore in Salt Lake. A small woman with short grey hair and a stiff leg. She walks with a thick, rubber-footed plexiglass cane. Her power resides in her voice, controlled and set free by thin lips.
While she spoke about the drive to connect and about the dream of a common language, I watched a man in a baseball cap push along the side of the crowd until he was right up front. He had a small tape recorder in his right hand, in his left a manila envelope. He stood there, quivered there, his eyes wild and his elbows twitching. It felt dangerous to me, awkward that he would invade Rich’s space. A red light blinked on his tape recorder. He took off his coat and sat on the floor.
A small white spider clambered through the black-and-grey hair of the woman in front of me, returning to the topmost hairs after every downward foray. Instinctively upward. Up to where a web can be useful, up to where it won’t be crushed on the ground. But what good the instinct when the spider is climbing on an upright human, an erect, movable island?
I braced myself to jump on the man if he rushed Rich.
“We must use what we have to invent what we desire.”
Yellow post-it notes marked her book.
“--To track your own desire, in your own language, is not an isolated task. You yourself are marked by family, gender, caste, landscape, the struggle to make a living, or the absence of such a struggle. The rich and the poor are equally marked. Poetry is never free of these markings even when it appears to be. Look into the images.”
            To track my own desire, my brother’s desire. To read familial marks of gender and landscape. To look into the images.

The rubrics on the bookshelves read like a poem with a couple of tragic turns, some humor, and final pragmatism:
Women’s Studies
Lesbian Fiction

Wildflowers #3 and Morning Light

"Sunlight came softly through my window today. . . ." — a line from Donovan that flits through my mind on mornings like this.

Mertensia brevistyla

Allium brandegeei ???

And outside, Blue and I discovered the first Wasatch bluebells poking their heads through the leaves.

Crouching down to be close to the flowers, we're suddenly awash in the scent of wild onions!

And just because they are so delicate and pretty and even hopeful in the dry grasses and leaves, another photo of spring beauties.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Die schönen Tage von Aranjuez

The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez. That's the most direct translation.

The Vienna Festival site that announces Luc Bondy's production of the play renders the title as The Pleasing Hours in Aranjuez.

Peter Handke adds a subtitle to his new play: "A Summer Dialogue."

And I'm immediately captivated by the conversation between the man and the woman:

Who begins?

You. That was the plan.

Yes, that was the plan. — The first time, you with a man, how was that?

. . . I was still a child, hardly ten. . . . But it was so fast on the swing. Faster and faster. And then, at a certain moment, at a highpoint, or a tipping point, a precipitous slowing. While the swing, with me on it, continued to swing at the same speed as before, at least for long, long moments, there was an awakening within me. Thanks to that slowing down something bloomed in the me, broke open, came to — a boil, a boiling as sudden as the slowing down. Something within me and simultaneously outside of me — overpowered me and — how should I say it — created me — created me over. I became it, and it became me. Still: It was a story like the best of them, but, oh, how to tell it.

The jump from the question that seems to asking about a first sexual experience to an answer that describes a ten-year-old's experience with ecstasy is jarring. So is the unexpected and unusual "created me over" (erschuf mich um; "recreated me" is close, but seems to miss the surprising construction. I wonder how Zarko would translate this?). The surprises in the text produce a slowing in me as a reader, taking me outside the flow of the sentences.

Ecstasy means "to stand outside of." Not, in this case, to stand outside of herself, rather to stand outside the motion of the swing, outside of time, outside of the person she was before the slowing — all of which means to stand so powerfully within herself that everything outside disappears.

And this experience, she says, changes everything in her subsequent life.

It feels like this play could change my life as well. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

wee moon

just above the clouds in the center

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wildflowers #2

These just showing their flowers today:

not sure what this little flower is; Lomatium ??? Cymopterous???
With help from my friends Sam Rushforth and Jim Harris, both botanists of some note, I have concluded that this is either Lomatium or Cymopterous. Thanks a lot you guys! But how is it that a botanist can only say it's either this or that? Ask me if a sentence is Russian or German and I'll tell you. Unambiguously. Unless, of course, it's Serbian and I mistake it for Russian.

I looked for both of the names in question on the internet and found this beauty:

    Intermountain Flora observes that "the taxonomic definition of Cymopterus is a vexed question....  Even the distinction between Cymopterus and Lomatium is subject to failure.  Ordinarily one or more of the dorsal ribs [of the seeds have wings in] Cymopterus, but not in Lomatium.  Cymopterus newberryi completely bridges the difference.  In this species the dorsal wings vary from nearly or fully as large as the lateral ones to poorly developed or even obsolete".

a glacier lilly, also called a dogtooth violet, ready to open—Erythronium grandiflorum

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild

Gerhard Richter, Abstraktes Bild

On a slow Saturday, inspired by flowerville's post on slowness and form, I turned to a poem by Robert Hass we discussed in our "Standing as Metaphor" class Thursday:

Time and Materials

Gerhard Richter: Abstrakt Bilden


To make layers,
As if they were a steadiness of days:

It snowed; I did errands at a desk;
A white flurry out the window thickening; my tongue
Tasted of the glue on envelopes.

On this day sunlight on red brick, bare trees,
Nothing stirring in the icy air.

On this day a blur of color moving at the gym
Where the heat from bodies
Meets the watery, cold surface of the glass.

Made love, made curry, talked on the phone
To friends, the one whose brother died
Was crying and thinking alternately,
Like someone falling down and getting up
And running and falling and getting up.


The object of this poem is not to annihila

To not annih

The object of this poem is to report a theft,
     In progress, of everything
That is not these words
     And their disposition on the page.

The object o     f this poem is to report a theft,
     In progre          ss of everything that exists
That is not th          ese words
     And their d           isposition on the page.

The object     of    his poe     is t     epro     a theft
     In     rogres     f  ever     hing     at     xists
Th     is no     ese     w rds
     And their disp sit on o     the pag


To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.

“Action paint,” i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.


The typo would be “paining.”

(To abrade.)


Or to render time and stand outside
The horizontal rush of it, for a moment
To have the sensation of standing outside
The greenish rush of it.


Some vertical gesture then, the way that anger
Or desire can rip a life apart,

Some wound of color.

In class we talked about the mundanity of the layers with which our days are steadied. Richter paints layers on layers as he "creates abstractly" (abstract bilden). The poet pulls us out of the meanings of the sentences to the form of the words on the page by abstracting. His abstraction in words, like Richter's abstraction in layers of scored and smeared and painfully abraded paint, renders time.

We talked about the word "render," which means both to create and to break down. The painter and poet who render time create a nunc stans, standing outside the greenish rush of time. Hass's sentences are broken out of time. They cease to flow. They stand there, in part 2, with a vertical slash cutting through the one quatrain.

Anger or desire. Some wound of color or of print. And wounded, we fall down and get up and run and fall and get up.

We order it, it falls apart,
We order it again, and fall apart ourselves.
Rilke, 8th Duino Elegy

Or this morning, on the cusp of Spring, Winter still present but fading quickly, walking easily with cat and dog, pulling out my little camera to take pictures of the last snow, of the mats of plants the snow left, of the very first wildflowers, it felt like I was standing outside—poised just before—the greenish rush of time and of the plants that will vault us into the chirping and buzzing and sap-rising Spring.

And as my mind moves, as it will, from thought to thought, I remember Zarko's email about his friend in Cologne, the artist Norbert Arns, who was in Corinna Belz's fine film of Gerhard Richter painting, and who himself had a recent show in Cologne with the title (Quit Hitting Me With My Handke): HÖR AUF, MICH MIT MEINEM HANDKE ZU SCHLAGEN

[for more of Gerhard Richter's work and information about him, click HERE]

Friday, March 23, 2012


spring beauties hours before they straighten up and open their petals
 The seasons change, winter to spring, and as they do the snow melts and reveals what has been matted and pressed beneath it.

There are surprises and there is a predictable sequence of plants poking up through the duff.

My plan is to photograph flowers as they appear, creating a record of the sequence. I'm interested primarily in the flowers from our acre. At 5500 feet altitude, we're on a mostly north facing slope.

First (this is the case year after year) come the spring beauties, Claytonia lanceolata. And yesterday the first delicate little spring beauty shouldered aside the leaves.

Nous sommes embarqués.

Blue knows what the last snow is for

fall leavings

another spring beauty

Calico and Blue—What's the holdup?

last fall's seedpod

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Equinoctial Celebration

Six months now ahead of us with sufficient light!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fraternal Geotheobiosociopersonal Musings

The other night, up Provo Canyon, at Steve Peck's reading from his The Scholar of Moab, I met George Handley.

This weekend I have read his book, a dense and thoughtful and poetic and troubled and deeply Mormon text that has done what a good book ought to do: awaken thoughts and feelings in a reader.

I'm aware of the ironies involved when a reader responds positively to a deeply Mormon book while drinking a bottle of Squatters' hoppy IPA (last night) or while drinking an invigorating cup of Cafe Ibis' Guatemalan Organic Shade Grown coffee (this morning). But I'm going to enjoy the barrel-aged irony and note that it has hints of sego lily and sage, notes of trout, and an aftertaste of youth.

Handley writes about flyfishing the Provo, about his family's history in the region, about Mormon history and theology, about taxing adventures in canyons and mountains, about his marriage and children, about his brother's suicide and his own continuing complex responses to that tragedy, about depression and exhilaration, about relationships between humans and the environment, about living liminally between heaven and earth, body and spirit, about the stories we tell and about how they determine how we live.

I might quote any number of memorable sentences, retell any number of memorable stories. But I'm going to quote this passage to stand for the rest:

"No one is responsible for my imagination except me, and while institutions are often guilty of historical distortion and intentional error, and while historical inquiry is always valuable, I can only blame myself for failing to understand that I am always in time's flow and that historical memory is always rhetorical. I don't need fewer myths, only better ones, spawned under the conditions fate has allotted me. The only potent thing is imagination" (84).

It's true, I think, that we're responsible for our own imagination and true that we need better myths.

Handley's book is full of better myths and I'm better now for having woven them into my own stories. As a result, however, Handley has become responsible for my own imagination. And the churches and political institutions around us in Utah Valley, especially as we are young and without alternate stories, are also responsible for our imaginations. And then (this is eternally circular), I'm responsible again for my own. And for Handley's.

I'll add a footnote to the story he tells of the battle between Utes and Mormons that ended with Utes taking temporary refuge up Rock Canyon, under the guns of snipers on canyon walls. An Indian woman climbed one wall and then jumped to her death (a suicide that, in this book, echoes that of Handley's brother). The peak above where she jumped was subsequently named Squaw Peak.

"Squaw" has a whole set of hateful meanings. In the 1970's there were even (linguistically questionable) claims that the word meant vagina and was the ultimate insult. Several states have since renamed locations bearing that name.

That our peak still bears this name indicates that we continue to need new myths.

A couple of final thoughts.

I understand what it means for Handley to be obsessed with the early and tragic death of his brother. I am still, twenty years later, thinking and writing and dreaming and agonizing and wishing and wondering about the death of my own brother, at the age of 40, of AIDS.

I won't tell any story, ever again, without flavoring from that story.

I gave up my job at BYU, one year after Handley arrived there, in part because of solidarity with John. To work for an institution that hates him and his kind felt like treason—fraternal treason.

the Provo River painting in the UVU library
My other thought is tied to the previous post about Terrance Malick's film The Tree of Life. Some of the most powerful moments of the film stem from the loss of a son and the cosmic questions that arise. As I watched the images from volcanoes and nebulae and waterfalls and all the rest, listening to the characters wrestling with god, questioning god, haranguing god, and as I read Handley's own heartfelt responses to tragedy in the context of religious belief, I had the sense that god is what we sink to or rise to when there's no other place to go. God is our metaphor (and yes, we believe profoundly in our metaphors) for what is groundless yet has meaning, for what is inexplicable but comforting, for what is achingly beautiful and thus profoundly challenging. "Every angel is terrible," Rilke's Duino Elegy tells us. And yet we need them, I need them, as metaphors, as better myths.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Terence Malick's The Tree of Life

We saw Terrence Malick's film The Tree of Life last night.

If you want real psychological wrestling with life and the universe and the anxieties of being a parent along with fantastic photography of the cosmos and if you don't tend to fall asleep during long still scenes, it's the film for you.

If you're the parent of 7 children and the author of 1 divorce the film will awaken 7 X 7 fears in you (although they are surely already awake somewhere in your seething psyche).

This still, for instance. The main conflicts in the film are between the father and his oldest son. There are conflicts because they are both conflicted. The boy loves his father and fears him. The father loves his son and also controls him.

The hand on the boy's neck, for instance. Is it a controlling hand or a loving hand? That depends entirely on what has just happened in the film. And sometimes the answer is that it is both. Like the answer to a host of questions about my own fathering. I recognized, in the film father's gestures, my own loving and controlling gestures.

The story is seen backwards through the memory of the second-oldest brother long after his older brother dies (in war?).

Here he is wandering through the Goblin Valley of his mind.

As I once did:

5 April 1992, Highway 6, Utah
We’re on the way home from Goblin Valley, a wild place dotted with hoodoos – wind-and-rain-carved Entrada sandstone curiosities balanced on softer, crumbling pedestals.
            I didn’t sleep well. Stars burned apocalyptically in the moonless night. Rips in the universe. Time materialized as Orion slipped beyond the horizon. Turning on its axis, the Big Dipper rotated across the sky. Always constant. Always changing.
Night wind sifted soft red sand into my sleeping bag. By morning I was part of a small dune. Beside me, not stirring yet, the seven children were an uneven row of smaller dunes, my wife a larger dune at the far end.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Read Joanna Brooks' new book yesterday, and in the evening followed Stirling Adams' invitation to meet "The Scholar of Moab" at a cabin up the south fork of the Provo River.

The big gibbous moon just past its prime winked in and out from behind the mountains as I drove home in the dark. My thoughts were gibbous as well.

Brooks writes about growing up Mormon, fiercely and tenderly Mormon. There's a chapter about her awakening as a feminist while at BYU, years I was there as well, exciting but ultimately disappointing years during which a good university lost its nerve.

Proposition 8 invades California at the precise moment when Brooks is trying to introduce her daughters to the religion of her grandmothers. She recreates the pioneer day celebration she knew as the girl in the book's cover photo and volunteers for the No-on-8 campaign.

Mormon, so Mormon that it hurts to be Mormon. That's her dilemma.

It's my dilemma too. The password I chose when I got a new computer five years ago, MONOMO, was a declaration of independence from the religion that shaped me. There are a host of reasons for officially leaving the church, including disgust at the campaign against people like my brother John. If they officially attack homosexuals, if they elbow good people out of the church because they speak their minds, if there's a single mold for being a Mormon, then count me out.


But it's not that easy. The photo of me with four siblings and a cousin takes me back to a childhood like the one Brooks describes, a couple of decades earlier, to be sure, but likewise marked by racism and fear of the communist civil rights movement and a generous determination to build the Kingdom of God and the wonder of BYU with its concentration of other Mormons and the erotically spiritual uplift of youth conferences and a two-year mission in Germany and on and on and on. Beliefs and practices and ideas (the glory of God is intelligence, there should be no poor among you, the natural man is an enemy to god, shall the youth of Zion falter?, keep the Sabbath day holy, come unto Christ and be perfected in him, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them, and by the power of the Holy Ghost you may know the truth of all things) work in me still, leavened (that too!) by Nietzsche and Thomas Merton and Goethe and Adrienne Rich and all the rest, but still fermenting, for better and worse, in my subterranean self.

And then the evening, dozens of people gathered in the canyon to hear Steve Peck read from his fine satire of Mormons. Old friends from BYU, lively younger BYU people, just the kind of gathering of earnest and smart and curious and talented Mormon human beings I left Vanderbilt for. (Why are you leaving? the Dean of Arts and Sciences asked me, we just awarded you tenure. I miss the scent of sage, I told him, and I'm going back to the university that educates my fellow Mormons.)

Here they were again, my fellow Mormons, in a cabin next door to Gene and Charlotte England's cabin where I spent many such thoughtful evenings in similar groups. But even given the liveliness of the good book and the good food and the good company, I was conflicted—oddly and gratefully conflicted.

Conversations felt constricted. And there were conversations I could have nowhere else.

Friends talked of the church retirement system that kept them from leaving. They lamented that their schools and departments could not hire non-Mormons. They mentioned restrictions on inviting speakers. They spoke of battles they chose not to fight so they could fight others. They lamented conservative politics. They feared a growing fundamentalism among Mormon leaders. They mentioned Gene England and Sam Rushforth and Steven Epperson and Dan Fairbanks and Joanna Brooks.

I couldn't help thinking that a few bottles of good wine would have loosened things up. And they needed loosening up.

Leaving the constraints of BYU, leaving a church that demanded unhealthy sacrifices and imposed immoral beliefs, was, in retrospect, lifesaving for me.

And yesterday, in Brooks' book and in Stirling's and Kiff's cabin, I understood again the pleasures of being inside while outside.