Thursday, November 17, 2011

Consider the Hummingbird

In his essay Joyas Voladoras, Brian Doyle instructs his readers to consider the hummingbird for a long moment. Four days ago, I spent the morning following his direction as I photographed these smallest of birds with the stoutest of hearts. 

If you have a moment today, consider the hummingbird. If you have more than a moment, consider Doyle's essay. The pictures are mine, but the words are all his.

A hummingbird's heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird's heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird's heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. 

Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmetcrests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant's fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures more than any other living creature. It's expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise, and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old. 

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end -- not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. 

Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall.

You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman's second glance, a child's apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother's papery ancient hand in a thicket of your hair, the memory of your father's voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Waxing Crescent

Hey diddle diddle, the cow ran away with the spoon. As the cow deserted, the dish lamented not for the lost spoon, but for a lost answer. Who will now jump over the moon?

The Little Prince knew the importance of such a question. “Look up at the sky,” he said, “Ask yourself, 'has the sheep eaten the flower or not?' And you will see how everything changes..."

I’ve been waxing crescent for years, partially illuminated,
 a slender fraction of what could be.
Gripped by a phase in perpetual orbit, circling a
 point in space that really isn't mine anymore. 
 Full illumination hangs visible; a watery light that attracts moths and me.

Courage is needed, the moths say patiently and repeatedly until one night it’s understood. One night, the daring that has built in your belly and strengthened in your diaphragm demands release. One night, uncontrollably, your hands funnel your mouth no longer able to muzzle what must be surrendered. One night, a mournful, untamed cry fills the air. Mockingbirds on dead branches call for you; crickets rub their wings in your honor. Octaves your ears no longer believed possible are heard. An aria so courageous the ground shakes. This is a cry the night knows. From the earth, a new moon rises illuminated. Illuminating. Slowly, eventually, quietly, the crickets still their wings; the mockingbirds leave for fresh perches. And finally, you know.
Did the sheep eat the flower?

No gravity on the moon? Ha. I’m pulled toward it every night.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No Comment

Photo by Jason Chen

Bite your tongue, silence is golden, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all...  Each a cliché, a worn out adage, that has no life on this blog. I appreciate every time somebody somewhere takes a moment out of their world to add something to mine.

This is a post, a quick tutorial on commenting, for those of you who have emailed or texted asking how.

Begin with the writer's words. If it's winter, do they heat your rooms slowly like a potbelly stove with adjectives simmering on top? Overspilling when they get too hot, requiring an oven mitt to touch? Do the icy adverbs grip you with their strength? Tease you with their slickness? If it's spring, do the words walk with you down a dirt road, no more or less traveled than any other, as difference already surrounds you? Are you stopped cold by perfect phrasing in the sweat of summer? Cooled more by a syntax only you and the tall trees understand? Is there a paragraph in autumn, written by someone unknown, that makes you wonder how that is? How someone unfamiliar knocks you on your ass with their words, takes your breath away, and leaves you to wonder when you'll get it back... question if you want it back?
                        Guess what? These aren't the writer's words anymore; they're yours. 

Between stimulus and response there is a space, wrote Viktor Frankl. Within this space, we exist. Within this gap, live our experience, knowledge, purpose, and promise... except it's not a gap at all, is it? These are the very things that connect us to all matter and energy if we dare show what lies in our breast pocket, the one internal to our heart. 

Click on the two cent section, the peanut gallery, the comment section at the end of the post. As if our thoughts are worth only two cents. Pull out what hides in your heart’s pocket. Lay it down with things others have said, or be the first. Choose an identity, even if it’s anonymous. The most beautiful words have been written by the anonymous. If you want to include your name, know an address in space isn't needed. Be published. 

In other words:

1.      1. Click on the comment section at the end of the post
2.      2. Write a comment in the box
3.      3. Select an identity (don’t be dissuaded by the Name/URL choice; a URL is not needed)
4.      4. Click on ‘Publish Your Comment.’
don't keep your comments to yourself                                               even if your voice shakes