Monday, April 30, 2018

Ariels’ Song When Books are Door Shaped, Failure, and other existential pursuits


Last night I sat reading The Tempest with number two before bed. She sat drawing, wondering about things.  This is my favorite of the Shakespeare plays, as it was my fathers.  In the second scene of the first act, Ariel sings to Ferdinand, whose father has apparently drowned.

Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,.
But doth suffer a sea-change.
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell.
Hark, Now I hear them…

Reading this, I thought of my dad and his attempts to rehabilitate his academic career, trying to give a Jungian reading of the metamorphosis, stumbling over a talk about the work, the sea change into something, “rich and strange….”   There was magic there, but it was not easy to grasp.  Was it Prospero’s magic or the readers or the mortal body transformed by the ocean?  Reading Shakespeare, I always think of Dad and his struggles to make sense of it all, our joys and failures, attempts to do our best and sometimes stumble, as we all do from time to time, despite the inevitable let downs and petty humiliations of growing older.

We blotch readings and talks, sometimes making the best of things, others not quite so well. Its humbling.

The little one had just found out about not making to the next round of her school’s poetry reading competition.  She’d made it beyond the first round, a first for the Shepards.  All week, we practiced the poem.  She recited it out loud to us over and over again:

Tula [“Books are door-shaped”]
By Margarita Engle.
Books are door-shaped
carrying me
across oceans
and centuries,
helping me feel
less alone.

But my mother believes
that girls who read too much
are unladylike
and ugly,
so my father's books are locked
in a clear glass cabinet. I gaze
at enticing covers
and mysterious titles,
but I am rarely permitted
to touch
the enchantment
of words.

All are forbidden.
Girls are not supposed to think,
but as soon as my eager mind
begins to race, free thoughts
rush in
to replace
the trapped ones.

I imagine distant times
and faraway places.
Ancient warriors.
Fantasy moves into
the tangled maze
of lonely confusion.

Secretly, I open
an invisible book in my mind,
and I step
through its magical door-shape
into a universe
of dangerous villains
and breathtaking heroes.

Many of the heroes are men
and boys, but some are girls
so tall
and clever
that they rescue other children
from monsters.

I loved to see the look in her eye as she imagined those “distant times.”
She did not make it past the second round of the competition. But she did not seem to care. Getting there was great.  

On other days, she does.

The audition does not go as planned.  We disappoint ourselves.  We ask too much.
It all falls apart.

This had been that kind of a week.

On Monday, we went to Albany for the bigclimate action, hoping to compel the governor to act.  Hopefully New York can lead.  Hopefully we can fully commit to renewables.  But for us to get there the Governor has to walk the talk on climate.  I wasn’t sure the media or the governor’s office cared or even noticed that 55 of were arrested there, trying to get the state to move. 

Image may contain: 3 people, text

It felt like that at Reverent Billy Bikes against deportation a week earlier.
“I don’t know what to do,” bemoaned Savitri, as we blocked the van deporting someone.

The feeling continued throughout the week, gripping and ripping at me.

The kids and I bickered.
The dinner didn’t work as planned.

The teacher did not show up at our class on Capital.

Lets read it ourselves without the teacher, I suggested.

Others concurred. If we can’t organize a book group, how can we organize a revolution?

In between it all, the day started to shift.

The flowers started to bloom.

This has been a great year for flowers, noted Mom, showing me one of her Sacré-Cœur Daffodils in Princeton.

Caroline showed me a Peter Weir film about a mystery, called Picnic at Hanging Rock.  I thought all night about the specter of the lost hikers, wandering off in a trance, moved by something inside themselves, to elude location or control, disappearing into the mountains, lost.

Scenes from a Picnic at Hanging Rock

The feeling continued.  We rode through the park and it was splendid.  Caroline dug through her research and Greg and I walked, between book groups and discussions about socialists and Nazis and old movies.

Sunday, the kids played baseball with me in the morning and went off to do their own things.  I missed a meeting and kept on riding.

I joined friends for the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Sakura Matsuri at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

Flowers were blooming, kids out playing, dressing up, cosplay, imagining, cultures colliding and intersecting, everyone a samurai or manga character for the day, all Brooklyn out.

I found myself mesmerized by some of the performers – the Botsai Lab Dancers, the colors of their dresses rippling against the vibrant blue in the sky in the Urban Tea Terrarium.

We are in a weird moment in history.

But for a moment colors ripped across the sky reminding us of sea changes.

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