Tag Archive for Lucinda Marshall

People, Without Borders

My mother lives in Arizona where the reality of children streaming into the country looms large. “What’s to be done?” she asked when we spoke the other day, as horrified by border vigilantes as I am but recognizing that we are indeed faced with a mounting humanitarian crisis. I suggested that any real solution required addressing the causes of the situation. “You should run for President,” she said. I pointed out that logic and reason are losing characteristics when it comes to politics in this country and we left it at that.

Sean Hannity and Gov. Rick Perry on the Texas border.

The awful thing is that as the U.S. copes with the immediate crisis along our southern border, it is unlikely to do much to address the root causes, let alone acknowledge our complicity in their creation. And if history is any guide, whatever action we do take will probably make things worse, particularly if we don’t immediately reign in the citizen militias who are the equivalent of a match in a dry forest.

Israelis watching bombing of Gaza.

Israelis watching bombing of Gaza.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, the defense of borders, which are usually drawn at the whim of defeating forces, exacts a terrible toll. Not only are we seeing that in this country but also in Israel and Gaza, where Israeli forces, when they are feeling charitable, give Gazan civilians minutes to flee before bombing their homes, while Israeli citizens sit in lawn chairs on the bluff and cheer as bombs go off, as if they were watching an action film instead of children, real live children, being killed.

While ruminating in despair about this and the long list of other seriously awful things that are happening in the world, I was reminded of a story that Terry Tempest Williams tells in, Finding Beauty In A Broken World where she writes about learning to make mosaics.  A mosaic, she learns, “is a conversation between what is broken.”

To say that we have a lot of broken pieces in this world would be an understatement.  But they will not be made whole at the point of a gun, or by arrogance, greed and power.

When you are faced with a shattered mess, it is not possible to put the pieces back together as they were before. Just ask Humpty Dumpty–the King’s horses and men couldn’t fix the broken egg (and the back story probably involved the horses trampling on his shell and making matters worse).  Which, in an eggshell, is a pretty apt parable for where we are in this world at this moment.

What is required in this broken world is to have the necessary conversations in order to figure out how we can put things together, not as they were before because that neither can or should happen, but in a way that what was broken becomes part of a new whole that, just like Williams’ mosaics, recognizes the beauty of each broken piece.

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Memorial Day

I am not a big fan of patriotism or the holidays that glorify it (although admittedly I’m a sucker for marching band music).  I’ve never quite understood the sense of arbitrary national boundaries which then seem to need to be defended just because they are there.  Neither am I a fan of wars fought in the name of those boundaries because when you strip away the rhetoric, they essentially boil down to exercises in asserting dominion and power over a perceived adversary that cost a lot of money, do a lot of damage, and ruin a lot of lives.

But yet we insist on glorifying war and honoring those that fight while at the same time doing everything we can to minimize the carnage of those battles in our histories and memories.

A few months ago, I started taking a Tai Chi class which is taught by a nice woman named Nancy. For those of you not familiar with Tai Chi, it involves moving through a series of movements in a very prescribed manner.  It is both an exercise and a meditation.  Nancy tells us during class that if we practice enough, we will develop what she calls muscle memory, that the time will come when we will not need to be told how to move through the movements, at some point, we will just remember.

Unfortunately, the same can be said for war–we’ve gone there so many times that it has become politically reflexive.  When it comes to peace, however, we’ve had far too little practice.

In my Tai Chi class, we are learning what is called 24 form Tai Chi, which means that there are 24 movements to learn.  There are other versions of Tai Chi that have more than 100 movements, obviously it takes a great deal longer to learn and develop the muscle memory of the longer form.

When it comes to talking about war, our politicians and media are quite adept at simplifying the talking points they want us to remember.  They would never think of pitching 100 talking points, we would never learn that.  But their simplified narrative is all too easy to remember and accept.  Unlike Tai Chi however, where a simplified version of the practice can be done without sacrificing the benefit, when we talk about war and leave out a significant part of the story, it is very damaging.  And if we are ever to practice peace, we need to tell the full narrative of war.

Memorial Day

In memory,

not of the soldiers of war
who bear the false flag of patriotism,
the defenders of empire’s entitlement,

but of the ones
our narrative wants to forget,

the collateral damage of battle
for whom there is no holiday,
no brass band,
no wreaths solemnly laid,

these are the ones we must remember.
Only then will we understand
that we must not to go to war.
 
 
–Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

 

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Night Storm

Window at Sunset 3

Window At Sunset, photo by Lucinda Marshall

My muse to paper connection speed is not quite fast enough to participate in the #NaPoMo poem per day challenge during National Poetry Month.

However, I was rather pleased to realize this morning that in my efforts to be more sparse with my words (not so easy for someone who has spent most of her life writing complete sentences that grow up to become paragraphs), I have finally succeeded to the extent that one of my poems is so short I can tweet it. So here, in honor of National Poetry Month is my first official twitterverse, hopefully its brevity will leave you wanting more and if not that then gratitude that you only had to suffer through it for a brief moment:

 

———-

Night Storm

 

(interior

conversation,

singular

voice)

 

outside:

wind

howls,

unseen,

 

darkness,

through

window/

eyes

 

–Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

 

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My Newly Published Poem

I’m so pleased to have my poem, Prose Poem For After A Hurricane  included in the Spring issue of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, which is published by Oxford University Press. The poem was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, so in it’s specifics it is a tad dated, but such are the rigors of academic publishing, it is just being published now. Regardless, the sentiment of the poem is one that I suspect could/should be written about every climate disaster. The full spring issue is  devoted to creative responses to the issue of climate change.

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The Spirit of Trees

After weeks of subfreezing weather, the temperature finally climbed into the mid-30′s and the sun was shining. Knowing more bad weather was on the way, I  jumped at the chance to get out for a bit of air and headed down the trail to our neighborhood pond, which had partially frozen over weeks ago.

I stood for a few minutes and watched the ducks and geese as they came down the bank and skittered onto the ice, doing hilarious web-footed slide maneuvers across the ice until finally plunging into the bit of water that had not frozen over.  Smiling at their antics, I continued on my walk.

It wasn’t until I rounded the last turn on the trail around the pond that I saw her–a tall woman with short, white hair, and like me, bundled up against the blustery January wind.  She was looking up at the stand of trees at the end of the pond and when she saw me, she held up a hand in greeting.  As I arrived at the spot where she stood, she lowered her gaze and looked at me with bright eyes.  Her hand reached up to wipe away a tear.

The pond last spring.

The pond last spring.
Photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2013

“I forget how beautiful they are,” she said, and then apologized for being so emotional. I murmured that no apology was needed and looked up at the trees swaying below the vast canvas of the bright blue sky.  Just trees, lovely in spring and fall, but in their bare, winter state, they seemed rather ordinary to me.

A beautiful tree trunk that I saw last year in Arizona.

A beautiful tree trunk that I saw last year in Arizona.
Photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2013

There are many trees that are spectacular beauties even without their leaves, trees that have a particularly attractive shape, or trees that have interesting patterns in their bark.  So often we don’t see that beauty until the trees lose their leaves in the fall, leaving branches and trunks exposed.  But these trees seemed to me to just be trees, their winter selves unspectacular until spring once again adorned them with their leafy finery.

I stood with her for a few minutes looking up at the bare branches.  She took a deep breath and nodded a farewell to them and to me. Her last words stunned me, “At least I’ll have one more year with them.”  And then she turned and continued down the trail.

Spirit Tree at Sunset Crater, AZ   photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2012

Spirit Tree at Sunset Crater, AZ
Photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2012

As I watched her walk away I pondered the meaning of her startling words.  She had seemed quite healthy, but perhaps she was sick.  Or maybe just getting ready to move to another neighborhood.  I looked back at the trees again, still just trees, but somehow now majestic and a talisman to remind us to let even that which is ordinary take our breath away.

Walking home, I thought about other trees I have encountered in my wanderings, the ones that I have called Spirit Trees, that somehow manage to stay proudly upright, long after they are supposedly “dead”.

Later that evening, I curled up in front of the fire with Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Invention of Wings, in which one of the main characters, Handful, and her mother Charlotte continue a tradition of keeping their spirits in a tree. Fascinated, I stayed up reading, finishing as the morning light began to tiptoe around the edges of the blinds.

There is much that has been written about the spirit of trees, Mary OliverHermann Hesse, Wendell Berry, to name a few of the more famous scribes who have visited this place in their own worlds.  (For more wonderful writing about trees, click here, and for a fascinating compendium of writing about the spirit of trees, consider visiting this site).

Clearly, for the woman that I met at the pond, the little stand of trees holds deep spiritual meaning and I hope that she has many more opportunities to visit with them.  But even when the day comes that she can no longer walk down that particular trail,  they will always be with her.

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The Extraordinary Ordinary: Red Amaryllis In Winter

Last week I was feeling a little sorry for myself–bad enough that it was bitter cold and grey outside, I was stuck inside gulping tea and antibiotics courtesy of a bad case of strep throat.  But in a stroke of fortuitous timing, just as the gloom was beginning to feel never-ending, the red amaryllis bulb that I had forced into bloom began to show its beautiful petals.

Red Amaryllis, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

Red Amaryllis, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

In the height of summer, one red flower is not terribly notable as the world is filled with bright, colorful flora.  But in the dead of winter, all by itself, it is dazzling against the background of oppressive grey cold.

Red Amaryllis Closeup, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

Red Amaryllis Closeup, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

The other day, a friend shared a quote from the Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel that speaks to the experience of delight that I found in this singular red flower,

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

As we go through our days, every now and again we will see something out of the ordinary that evokes such amazement, but perhaps what is really amazing is when we find that appreciation of the extraordinary in that which, in a different context, would seem quite ordinary.

 

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Downstream

The recent assault on West Virginia’s Elk River that left hundreds of thousands of people without usable water should give us all pause. We need to not only address the immediate disaster but also to examine the context in which it happened and the ways in which it is part of the global environmental crisis. As awful as this situation has been and continues to be, it should come as no surprise–the plundering of West Virginia for coal has been exacting an enormous environmental and human cost for many, many years.

And around the world, there are many places that have to cope with unsafe or scarce water supplies on an ongoing basis. As the impact of global warming continues to grow, this will only get worse.  A lot worse.

We know this, but we continue to allow chemical companies, energy  companies, agricultural companies, development companies and yes, military actions as well, to continue to endanger this most precious resource with far too little oversight and regulation.

When this story first broke, I saw a picture of water bottles being distributed to those in need, and I was struck by the irony that when you go through airport security, a water bottle is considered a possible weapon of terrorism, but tanks of toxins are allowed to sit upstream of our water supply with little or no regulation:

Downstream (for West Virginia)

What deep delusion

the body politic

that searches luggage

at airport checkpoints

looking for water bottles

that could become

weapons of terror

yet does not inspect the

tanks of toxic chemicals

that leak poison

into the rivers on which

so many lives depend–

incognizant that, in the end,

we all live downstream.

–Lucinda Marshall, © 2014

 

 

Will the West Virginia disaster be a wake-up call?  Maybe for the next ten minutes, but then something else will happen to distract us and we will go along our merry, delusional way until another inevitable result of our folly comes back at us.

The 24 hour news spin cycle is dependent on moving us on to the next big thing, time to absorb and react is truncated if not obliterated.  Water crisis today, burst pipeline tomorrow, a military crisis somewhere, budget talks break down–sorry something else just came up and we have to move on, no time to think about why this happened or how these things are connected, let alone how to change this destructive paradigm.

We would do ourselves (and the planet) a lot of good if we just stopped for a moment and insisted on being with what has transpired, refusing to allow ourselves to be push me pull you’ed on to the next crisis without the chance to absorb the implications of what has happened into our experience and understanding of the world and our very lives.

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A Year Of Poetry

Sedona in the Fog, late fall, 2013

Sedona in the Fog, late fall, 2013
Photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2013

It has been a year since I decided to re-enter the world of poetry writing.  Changing genres has been an eye-opening experience.  Giving myself permission to abandon complete sentences and paragraphs in favor of singular words and short phrases to convey my thoughts (and I don’t mean that in a Facebook status/Twitter sort of way) has been an exciting challenge, albeit involving far more frequent trips to the thesaurus in search of well-chosen words.  The relative brevity of poetry where less is often more challenges the writer to be deeply intentional in the choice of words.

One of the things that I like best about this genre jump is that it is far less frenzied than the 24/7 world of blogging/writing about current events.  Poetry allows the luxury of time to contemplate and consider that you often don’t have when addressing fast moving news items.  And there is space for fine-tuning and revision that you don’t have when your publishing turn around time is 10 minutes.  It has also radically enlarged the subject matter that I consider to be grist for the pen (or keyboard).  I’ve spent far more time writing about what I see in my immediate universe and am much more prone to personal observation and the sharing of emotion than in my longer form writing.

In this time I’ve been only minimally involved in political work although I am still a junkie when it comes to reading about issues.  And you know what?  I don’t miss it.  Well maybe a little.  I am ecstatic that sexual violence in the military (a topic I have written about countless times over the years) is finally getting the way overdue attention it needs and I am glad to see the health impact of military pollution (something I wrote about almost 10 years ago) getting attention too, and ongoing coverage of numerous other issues that I’ve touched upon over the years as well.  But I am also okay not continuing to write about these topics, at least not with every new twist and turn of an issue and I am much more cognizant of the wear and tear that comes with writing about such things year in and year out.

I am also enjoying (and learning from) opportunities to read my work out loud (thank you to The Writer’s Center for the always supportive atmosphere of their open mic readings).  It is interesting to explore the ways words work when spoken aloud rather than only silently read. For years, I used to tell my kids that the best way to proof-read their school work was to read it aloud.  But this goes beyond that and becomes an additional way of developing a poem’s cadence and flow.  And of course being a visual artist as well, I don’t hesitate to explore the visual presentation of the poem on the page.

The publishing side of the poetry world is still a conundrum to me.  With the advent of the internet, turn around time for publishing pieces about current news topics is sometimes almost instant, certainly in blogging and more than a few times, I’ve had editors at various publications post my work within minutes of my submitting it.

Not so the poetry world where some publications still demand that you send your work with a self-addressed stamped envelope so that it can be returned within the 6 months they demand to consider its worthiness for their august publication.  And they will not consider work that has been published elsewhere.  And bloggers, if you think you are underpaid, believe me, compared to poetry, you are sitting pretty.  There are numerous publications that charge fees to read work.  IMHO, the poetry business model needs some serious updating, it is self-defeating and limiting to the detriment of us all.

And while Creative Commons is often used in the world of internet publishing, it is almost invisible in the poetry world.  As a writer I have sometimes thought Creative Commons is overused and often abused, but it does have its place; in the poetry world however, most copyright discussion is as old-school as the snail mail submission policies.

That said, I am cautiously submitting work to various publications and am very pleased that the first piece that got accepted was a meditation about how we react to environmental disasters that will appear in the winter issue of Isle.

I wrote a poem recently about going on a hike and then coming home to the stillness of the night where there was space to create and conclude as needed.  And indeed, observing and honoring the path and dwelling in the spaces that we find leads us to the poetry of life.

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A Reflection On Reflections

Over the years I have had something of a love/hate relationship with reflections.  When I was young, I always wanted, just once, for the person I saw reflected in the mirror to be a movie star, and not the awkward girl that I perceived myself to be.  As I grew older, I began to understand that our expectations of what we wanted to see in the mirror were based on the deliberate marketing of false expectations that fed our insecurities.  I also began to realize that much of what women were expected to look like was informed by the male gaze.  Wall upon wall in museums were (and still are) filled with images of how men see women and television and the movies are, even today, dominated by male perceptions of what women should look like.

Some years ago, those realizations led to my doing a series of artistic explorations about how women see themselves including several pieces on mirror glass that are impossible to view without one’s own reflection becoming part of what is seen, as mine is in this photo of Venus Deconstructed.  By definition, this work looks different to each person as they become reflected in the mirrored surface as they view it.

With Venus 1 Copyright

My reflection in “Venus Deconstructed”, photo and mixed media collage by Lucinda Marshall, ©2013.

More recently, I’ve worked with some photographic reflections that by virtue of technique completely change the nature of what is reflected, using duplicating lenses and shooting images in multi-dimensional surfaces (think disco balls).  When the subject of the photo is a person, it is usually me because I’m not comfortable asking others to subject themselves to my reflected distortions.

Duplicated Self Portrait in Mirror with Pottery Copyright

Duplicated Self Portrait in Mirror with Pottery, photo by Lucinda Marshall, © 2013

Some of the most breathtaking reflections are of course found in nature, something I was reminded of a few weeks ago when walking at a nearby lake which contains a stunning field of water lotuses.  Growing as they do in the water, on a sunny day it is almost as if the field is of double density because you see not only the lotuses but also their reflections.  But what is particularly breathtaking is the subtle difference between the flowers and their reflections in the water.  To my eye, the image of the flower and its reflection is beautiful and each taken separately is also beautiful.  But perhaps if I was the flower, I would hate that my petals look so dark and that the image in the water seems so flat.

Lotus Reflection in Water 5 Copyright

Water Lotus Reflection in Water, photo by Lucinda Marshall, ©2013

So why do I tell you all this?  Because much of what we see, whether it is in a mirror, or in an advertisement for the latest shade of lipstick or the idealized images on a museum wall, are distortions of reality, whether due to optical effect or the subjective gaze of the image’s creator.  Yet these distortions so often become the reality of what we see that, to borrow from my favorite Lily Tomlin monologue, it becomes quite difficult to explain the difference between a can of soup and an Warhol painting of the same.

I show’em this can of Campbell’s tomato soup.
I say,
“This is soup”.
Then I show’em a picture of Andy Warhol’s painting
of a can of Campbell’s tomato soup. I say,
“This is art.”

“This is soup.”

“And this is art.”

Then I shuffle the two behind my back.

Now what is this?

No.
this is soup and this is art!

I dread having to explain tartar sauce!

Whatever you may think of the reflected lotus in the photo above, it isn’t the same as the lotus and our reflection in the mirror is not who we are or even what we look like. And airbrushed advertisements are not what the models we think we are seeing look like and the people in a Picasso painting most definitely aren’t the distortions that he painted. Maybe that is obvious, but I know that I spend way too much time in front of mirrors trying to make myself look a little better than I think I look and perhaps it is useful to reflect on the fact that we aren’t our reflections, nor are we how others view us.

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Sunday Morning Talk Show Fantasy Guest Lineup, Women Talking About Syria Edition

Some people have fantasy football teams.  I have fantasy Sunday morning talk show guest panels that are made up entirely of women.  These are my picks for my fantasy panel, Syria edition.

As U.S. posturing on Syria has escalated, the media has trotted out old white guy after old white guy as “experts”, never mind many of them are the same men who lied to us about chemical weapons in Iraq and then commenced to bomb the Iraqis with all manner of chemical weapons which left a horrifying epidemic of cancer, birth defects and death in that country and have backed U.S. policies that have contributed to the current situation in Syria and Middle East unrest in general.

I think most of us are supremely tired of listening to these guys and of a media that simply parrots the  talking points of U.S. military domination.

Imagine if instead they presented a balanced view that brought in people who articulate alternative visions and oh what the heck, how about we just kick all the men out and listen to women for a change.

So for the benefit of the media,  here are some voices you ought to be including as commentators in your coverage of Syria:

1.  Sarah Van Gelder writes in Yes! Magazine that, “there are at least six strategies that could hold wrongdoers to account, deter war crimes of all sorts, and build peace”:

  1. Bring those guilty of atrocities to justice
  2. Call for a United Nations embargo on arms, military supplies, and logistical support for both Damascus and opposition forces
  3. The U.N. Security Council should hold an international peace conference
  4. Offer aid and support to the nonviolent movements within Syria
  5. Provide the humanitarian aid desperately needed by the millions of displaced people
  6. Force the hand of Russia and China in the Security Council

2.  The women’s human rights organization MADRE similarly calls for the Obama Administration to:

  1. Stop the flow of weapons into Syria
  2. Renew focus on diplomacy to end the conflict
  3. Increase humanitarian aid to the region

3.  The Nobel Women’s Initiative (who unlike President Obama, are using their status as Nobel Peace Prize winners  to promote peaceful solutions) has put out a statement that reads:

The use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime that cannot be ignored but bombing Syria is not the answer. Military intervention in Syria can only lead to more death and destruction, and further fuel the volatile situation in the region.

We applaud the vote of the UK’s Parliament against endorsing British involvement in attacks on Syria, and call upon the United States to step back from the brink of attacking yet another country in the Middle East/North Africa region. Such a move can only result in more hatred, more violence and more retaliation.

We call upon the UN Security Council to accept its responsibility to act in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria instead of the ongoing posturing of its members based on their own self-interest instead of concern about the people of Syria.

We urge the Security Council to ensure the nonviolent resolution of this crisis within the ongoing crisis of the civil war in Syria. We call upon the Security Council to refer the matter to the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

We also call on the International Community to urgently convene the Syria Peace Conference, known as Geneva II, and to ensure women meaningfully participate. (emphasis mine)

4.  Sonali Kolhatkar of KPKF’s Uprising radio program and Co-Director of the Afghan Women’s Mission writes,

Students of American imperial history do not have to look too far back to see the disastrous consequences of bombing dictatorial governments. As the debate over a US military strike on Syria heats up in Congress, American antiwar activists are clear in their opposition to the push for war. And they are correct to oppose any sort of military strikes if the long arc of destructive US foreign policy is to be trusted to remain the same.

5.  Medea Benjamin points out that most Americans do not support the idea of bombing Syria.

6. Amnesty International looks at the problems of sexual harassment and forced marriages faced by Syrian women refugees.

7.  The Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege has run a number of pieces about women in Syria.

The U.S. media owes its audience a fair and balanced representation of the issues, not just pro-war talking points and they need to include women’s voices and concerns as part of that discussion.

———-

Postscript–As several readers have pointed out, I left out the crucial voice of Phyllis Benis.

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