The purpose of Sassistas!TM is to dole out sassy and stimulating perspectives on the weird and wonderful incongruities of life . . . or what we prefer to call our social soup. From the ridiculous to the sublime, from the stupid to the miraculous — we’re all swimming in it. Let’s make it easier to swallow.
The following poem is posted in honor of Flannista's oldest sister, who celebrates a birthday today. Thank you, dear sister, for teaching me how to "sing". Also in exactly one month, Flann turns "the page from fifty-nine to sixty."
You beak-chattering blaze of blue,
patch of sky squatting on a power line,
teach me to cock my head, too.
Together, we'll watch -- what is there to see
in Tennessee? July can only shrug,
after a night's caterwaul of katydids.
Now, into the deserted street, a fawn tiptoes
from the woods toward well-tamed lawn.
A dead branch moves, doe rustling to life.
You keep singing, bird, and no one minds,
but I have drawn breath too noisily --
toward me, eyes carved of obsidian turn.
Into mossy ears as big as a man's cupped hand
a clamor pours: somewhere beneath us,
a mole shoves earth from one dark to another.
Blood blunders through the chambers of my heart.
My life waits to turn the page from fifty-nine to sixty.
A feather too blue to be real -- how long does it last?
Brachest, she called it, gentling grease over blanching yolks with an expertise hone from three decades of dawns at the Longhorn Diner in Loraine, where even the oldest in the men’s booth swore as if it were scripture truth they’d never had a breakfast better, rapping a glass sharply to get her attention when it went sorrowing so far into some simple thing– the jangly door or a crusted pan, the wall clock’s black, hitchy hands– that she would startle, blink, then grin as if discovering them all again. Who remembers now when one died the space that he had occupied went unfilled for a day, then two, three, until she unceremoniously plunked plates down in the wrong places and stared their wronged faces back to banter she could hardly follow. Unmarried, childless, homely, “slow,” she knew coffee cut with chamomile kept the grocer Paul’s ulcer cool, yarrow in gravy eased the islands of lesions in Larry Borwick’s hands, and when some nightlong nameless urgency sent him seeking human company Brother Tom needed hash browns with cheese. She knew to nod at the litany of cities the big-rig long-haulers bragged her past, to laugh when the hunters asked if she’d pray for them or for the quail they went laughing off to kill, and then–envisioning one rising so fast it seemed the sun tugged at it–to do exactly that. Who remembers where they all sat: crook-backed builders, drought-faced framers, VF’ers muttering through their wars, night-shift roughnecks so caked in black it seemed they made their way back every morning from the dead. Who remembers one word they said? The Longhorn Diner’s long torn down, the gin and feedlots gone, the town itself now nothing but a name at which some bored boy has taken aim, every letter light-pierced and partial. Sister, Aunt Sissy, Bera Thrailkill, I picture you one dime-bright dawn grown even brighter now for being gone bustling amid the formica and chrome of that small house we both called home during the spring that was your last. All stories stop: once more you’re lost in something I can merely see: stream spiriting out of black coffee, the scorched pores of toast, a bowl of apple butter like edible soil, bald cloth, knifelight, the lip of a glass, my plate’s gleaming, teeming emptiness.
-- "Sitting Down to Breakfast Alone" by Christian Wiman
At first, attending to the anxiety of existence can seem like a zero-sum game. Any attention turned toward spiritual truth is attention turned away from all we have come to think of as "life." Thus we parcel out our moments of devotion -- a church service here and there, a walk in the woods, a couple of hours of meditation a week -- all the while maintaining the frenzy of our usual existence outside of those moments. This is inevitable, for the initial demands of any coherent spiritual life are intense, but it is not sustainable, for the soul is not piecemeal. We are left with this paradox: only by hearing the farthest call of consciousness can we hear the call of ordinary life, but only by claiming the most mundane and jangling details of our lives can that rare and ulterior music of the soul merge with what Seamus Heaney calls "the music of what happens."
Yesterday, the Sassistas! posted some of the poetry of 15th century Zen master Ikkyu Sojun from Crow with No Mouth. In this late seventies, Ikkyu scandalized the Buddhist community when he fell in love with a blind singer forty years younger and celebrated their love in verse. Following are four of Ikkyu's love poems:
night plum blossoms spreading under a branch
between her thighs narcissus revolves smell it?
she'd play with it almost anywhere day and night
touch it with the deepest part of herself
a beautiful woman's hot vagina's full of love
I've given up trying to put out the fire of my body
Ikkyu's poetry is published in Crow with No Mouth, translated by Stephen Berg. Flannista had forgotten that Gwendolyn had given it to her in 1996. This week, Flann once again read the book. Today, the Sassistas! are posting four different Ikkyu poems/haiku about life. Tomorrow, a few more that Ikkyu wrote about love.