Morning clouds

Morning clouds


Morning clouds over Green Lake, Seattle

Morning clouds over Green Lake, Seattle

“The clouds, the clouds, she thought.  Piled and beautiful, they were both indifferent and inviting.  They had that paradox of nature you saw also in the sea, a thing appearing eternal even as it changed every second.”
— Susan Minot, from Thirty Girls

by Wendell Berry

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforseen debilities.  Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse.  And the clouds
— no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new — who has known it
before? — and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man.  And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.


“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toenails twinkle, makes you want to do this or do that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.”
— Dylan Thomas, from the Huffington Post U.K.‘s “The 50 Greatest Quotes about Poetry from Poets”

Sean's toes

Sean’s toes

I can appreciate twinkling toenails anytime, but it’s good to know that they are one of the indicators of poetry in life.  I don’t feel called to write poems, but I do read them with appreciation, albeit limited understanding.  Should you be encouraged to try your hand at writing a poems this month, you might find Wendell Berry’s words instructive:

How to Be a Poet
By Wendell Berry, from Wendell Berry: New Collected Poems

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
My work table, a mix of high and low tech

My work table, a mix of high and low tech

The Real Work
by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I get a bit anxious with the year-end reviews and resolutions, the tug between looking back (and feeling discouraged about lack of accomplishments and growth) and looking forward (and feeling hopeful about doing better this year).  Progress, if any, feels so slow, and I tell myself to be patient.  After all, it’s the journey that counts, and not so much the destination.  All of my little musings, struggles to draw and paint, wishes to take better photographs and to write better, flaws in my roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend . . . everything all the time.  Yes, my mind is often baffled.

And that is why I find so much solace in today’s poem.  “The mind that is not baffled is not employed.”  Thank you, Wendell Berry.  Finding my purpose, figuring out what is important in my days — this is my real work — even when I don’t know what I’m doing or which way to go.

“The impeded stream is the one that sings.”


“It is in the doldrums that our talents are most needed.  The best training for desperation is to know early the feeling of no guidance.  In photography the squeak of intention destroys serendipity.”
— Dan Torop, Draw It with Your Eyes Closed:  The Art of the Art Assignment

“Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things.”
— Edgar Degas

“Sometimes confidence is overrated!  Questions and uncertainty are the stuff of artists! . . .  You need enough confidence to hold your paintbrushes, and to show up in the studio, knowing that you are not wasting your time — but after that, I would say uncertainty should prevail.  We can never be too sure.”
— Anna Deavere Smith, Letters to a Young Artist