Tunes for a Monday Morning
The borderlands we inhabit

The borders of language

In the video above, "Between Two Worlds," the wonderful Bill Moyers (whom you may remember from his program on Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth) interviews a friend of mine from back in my Tucson days: Luis Alberto Urrea, who now lives with his wife and children up north, in Illinois. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Luis writes about the U.S./Mexico border region better than just about anyone, forming that work into fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, all of it highly recommended. (You'll find a discussion of his luminous novel The Hummingbird's Daughter in this previous post.)

In featuring this interview, I don't want to veer our exploration of borders into the contentious realm of immigration politics -- an important topic in its own right, but one that falls beyond the purview of this blog. Rather, what I want to spotlight here are the ways that writers (and other artists) use their gifts in response to the world around them: whether it's Elif Shafak telling stories of  her Turkish childhood, or Miquel Angel Blanco preserving the old lore of Spain in his library of trees, or Rachel Taylor-Beales reinterpreting selkie myths to reflect on modern tales of exile and displacement, or Jackie Morris following a falcon's journey to the human world and back into the wild.

As writers and artists we use words and paint (among other materials) to witness and re-create the world -- whether we do this directly as journalists and creators of Realist works, or indirectly (but subtly and deeply) through the symbolism of Fantasy and Mythic Arts.

Grand Canyon Prayer Tower, Arizona by Stu Jenks

In his 1998 essay "Nobody's Son," Luis had this to say about the border-crossing nature of words themselves:

"Home isn't just a place, I have learned. It is also a language. My words not only shape and define my home. Words -- not only for writers -- are home. Still, where exactly is that?

"Jimmy Santiago Baca reminds us that 'Hispanics' are immigrants in our own land. By the time time Salem was founded on Massachusetts Bay, any number of Urreas had been prowling up and down the Pacific coast of our continent for several decades. Of course, the Indian mothers of these families had been here from the start.'

Miller's Spiral, Pima County, Arizona by Stu Jenks

"Forget about purifying the American landscape," Luis continues, "sending all those ethnic types back to their homelands. Those illegal humans. (A straw-hat fool in a pickup truck once told my Sioux brother Duane to go back where he came from. 'Where to?' Duane called. 'South Dakota?')

"The humanoids are pretty bad, but how will we get rid of all those pesky foreign words debilitating the United States?

"Those Turkish words (like coffee). Those French words (like maroon). Those Greek words (like cedar). Those Italian words (like marinate). Those African words (like marimba).

"English! It's made up of all these untidy words, man. Have you noticed?

"Native American (skunk), German (waltz), Danish (twerp), Latin (adolescent), Scottish (feckless), Dutch (waft), Caribbean (zombie), Nahuatl (ocelot), Norse (walrus), Eskimo (kayak), Tatar (horde) words! It's a glorious wreck (a good old Viking word, that).

The Folly Atop The Biscuit, the Mustang Mountains, Arizona by Stu Jenks

"Glorious, I say, in all its shambling mutable beauty. People daily speak a quilt of words, and continents and nations and tribes and even enemies dance all over your mouth when you speak. The tongue seems to know no race, no affiliation, no breed, no caste, no order, no genus, no lineage. The most dedicated Klansman spews the language of his adversaries while reviling them."

Without Bozette, Dripping Springs, Arizona by Stu Jenks

"I love words so much," Luis concludes. "Thank god so many people lent us theirs or we'd be forced to point and grunt. When I start to feel the pressure of the border on me, when I meet someone who won't shake my hand because she has suddenly discovered I am half Mexican (as happened with a landlady in Boulder), I comfort myself with these words. I know how much color and beauty we Others add to the American mix."

Wupatki Flame Spiral, Arizona by Stu Jenks

Over here in the old world of Europe, it's both easy and fashionable to look down one's nose at the crass racism of Little Sister America...and yet the immigration and refugee crisis unfolding on European borders is not so very different.

In Britain, as in America, there are those demanding that "they" be sent back where they came from (whoever "they" may be, Syrian children or Polish carpenters); and there are those reaching out a helping hand; and there are those going about their daily lives pretending none of it is happening...not necessarily due to hard-heartedness, but, sometimes, to sheer exhaustion from what their daily lives entail.

Gidleigh Church, Gidleigh, Devon by Stu Jenks

East of Merrivale, Dartmoor, Devon by Stu Jenks

A question that often arises in our various discussions on this blog is: What, as artists, can we do about _____ ? Whatever _____ may happen to be: displaced people fleeing war and poverty, hungry families in Foodbank queues here at home, vanishing animal habitats, oceans ailing...forests falling to the ax...and on and on and on. I have no simple answer, for it's a question I still ask myself, in one way or another, almost every damn day. But what I do know is this:

I believe that the ability to create (in any form, whether at the desk or easel -- or in the kitchen, the garden, the community hall) -- is a gift, and gifts are meant to be passed on. They are meant to be used, to be of use, and that's a geis, a wyrd, I do not take lightly.

Some of us use our gifts in the direct service of activism; others, in the indirect service of creating "beauty in a broken world" (to use Terry Tempest William's phrase), as a means of lifting hearts, mending spirits, and reminding us of what we're fighting for. Either way, it is important, I think, to be mindful of what we're putting out into the world. Art can envision, conjure, build, bind, heal, witness, dignify, and illuminate.  It can also destroy, distract, diminish, deflect, justify, obfuscate, and lie.

"I don't think writers are sacred," Tom Stoppard once said, "but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little..."

And so it bears thinking about just what direction we are nudging it in.

West Kennet Long Barrow by Stu Jenks

Scorhill Stone Circle, Dartmoor, Devon by Stu Jenks

Like Luis Urrea, Terry Tempest Williams is a writer skilled in placing "the right words in the right order," such as these, which are tacked above my desk:

"Bearing witness to both the beauty and pain of our world is a task that I want to be part of. As a writer, this is my work. By bearing witness, the story that is told can provide a healing ground. Through the art of language, the art of story, alchemy can occur. And if we choose to turn our backs, we've walked away from what it means to be human."

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall by Stu Jenks

The beautiful art here, as you may have recognized, is by the Tucson-based photographer Stu Jenks. The top five photographs were taken in northern and southern Arizona; the lower seven in Devon and Cornwall while he was visiting us in 2013. Please go to Stu's blog to learn more about his art, music, and books.

Moor Pony Foal, Dartmoor, Devon by Stu Jenks

Tilly Windling-Gayton with Daffodils, Nattadon Woods, Chagford, Devon by Stu JenksBetween Two Worlds appeared on American Public Television in 2012, and can be found online in the Moyers & Company archives. The passage by Luis Alberto Urrea comes from his essay collection Nobody's Son (The University of Arizona Press, 1998).  The quote by Tom Stoppard is from his play The Real Thing (1982). The quote from Terry Tempest Williams comes from an interview in Listening to the Land: Conversations About Nature Culture and Eros by Derrick Jensen (Chelsea Green, 2004); you can read a longer passage from the interview here.  All rights to the video, text, and imagery above are reserved by their creators.

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No Borders

Living in two countries,
I have no borders but those
drawn by my own heart.

I have clothing, shoes,books, music,
old friends in both places.
I sail through the crossings.

But two weeks before I leave,
I dream of the other country,
as if each is a man I long for.

As if each is a new affair, remembering
the intimacy of his legs across mine,
his hands earnest on my breasts,

his tongue speaking in my mouth.

©2015 Jane Yolen all right reserved

Here we stand just beyond the border of another new month and I’m afraid that I may seem to be going wildly off-piste; in which case I apologise. But just the other day something happened that made me think of another very negative aspect of borders, and that is when those political/geographical boundaries are violated and invaded in an act of war. The present refugee crisis is of course a direct consequence of that and people have been fleeing over borders looking for safety.

Just recently we’ve been commemorating the Battle of Britain, a time of defending threatened borders, when so many died in the blitz and in the classic ‘dogfights’ during the summer and Autumn of 1940. I sometimes wonder if it’s too easy to forget amongst all of the heroism and dogged determination that so many people lost their lives and so many historical treasures were destroyed in this desperate struggle.

The following poem was prompted by a genuine happening of just a couple of days ago when a buzzard amazingly found its way deep into the suburbs of this working industrial city. In fact it was a very welcome invader of my borders. Only a few short years ago if a city dweller wanted to see this beautiful bird of prey, they had to travel to the wilds of Wales. But such is the success of the conservation of this species, they are now to be seen even within the borders of a town in the English Midlands.

The source of some of the imagery in this poem is pretty obvious having, as it does, the Battle of Britain at its roots. Perhaps it was an attempt to find something positive and beautiful in what was, after all, a terrible conflict. The huge pity, of course, is that we never seem to learn from all of the wars that have been fought down the long, long years. If we really are here in this world to learn, we seem to be the most inept of students!

THE WIDE WATCHING SKY

Today I watched a buzzard swoop low over my garden,
chased by a tangle of magpies that tumbled and soared
and manoeuvred to fight, like a squadron of spitfires
attacking a bomber with a target in mind.

Their voices rattled and spat like machinegun-fire,
while the hawk unhurriedly climbed
the wide, winding stair of a thermal
that took it high into the blue.

Soon the buzzard angled its wings
And slid across the sky
In a long elegant sweep
That took it deep into distance.

But still the magpies swooped and rattled
and knitted a vestment of ire
against the wide watching sky
that presided over us all
as it always and ever has:

Impartially;

without thought;

without judgement.

Sorry I’ve waffled on again, but in my (meagre) defence, I can only say that I’ve been very quiet of late (by my garrulous standards) and I’m making up for lost time!

Beautifully assembled space, the words, pictures and voices leave me plenty of crossing places. I can fold my world with this one and laugh to know the bones of words, "feckless twerp"!

These posts feed my soul and my art, to write about the huaka'i (Hawaiian) as journey that happens over and over under and across oceans. I wonder how the woven words will find the Others who might find something to feed them, too. The way the words string together done like my mother gathering for the making of lei, and yet, the method such a patched affair.

You leave this, ""I don't think writers are sacred," Tom Stoppard once said, "but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little..." for an answer.

Terri

These postings on borders, all facets of the subject, have been fascinating and so hauntingly beautiful as well as unsettling. Yesterday, I heard the ballads and learned of the weeping lady or
la llorona. In the news, I heard of a Samaritan who had aided a wounded man on the street and left the scene before the police arrived, possibly out of fear because she was an illegal immigrant or frightened refugee. It seems there are many borders in both the physical and spiritual world that are traversed everyday. Languages offer different sounds and words for the things they represent but the feeling and concept of hope, desperation, mercy, death, refuge, faith and love are transcendent. They cross the borders of
speech and become a common bond between cultures and people. Somewhere out of myth, a news story and some thought, this poem arrived.

The Samaritan

The camera hung
from a street lamp.
She knew it was on
and still lingered to help
a man bleeding near the sidewalk.

After calling 911
she tore a bandage
from her blouse sleeve. Carefully
she wrapped the wound.

He was half-conscious
and barely heard her accent.
A borderline blend
of Spanish and Aztec.

She talked to him of her homeland,
confessing old secrets
while a few birds pecked at the sun.
+ + + + + + +

In her village,
natives crafted a flute
from the bone of buzzards
and summoned ancestors
to heal the afflicted.

In her house
songs were sung of planting
and weaving,

seeds that grew
into Castilian roses
and threads binding light with shadow.

And in her body
the soul became a cloak
of cactus cloth -- a maiden's image
bled into its natural fibers.
+ + + + + +

Soon sirens were heard
and she knew the police
were coming.

She took her phone
and moved across the street
into an alley.

A stone passage
muraled with shadows.

Her hand dropped
the wireless world;
and she wept in her white dress
listening for water,

the tears of her sisters,
her children
who had drowned in the crossing.

-----------------------------
Thanks so much for these wondrous photos, video and knowledge.

Take care
Wendy


Hi Jane

How beautifully you capture the personal and intimate feelings of belonging to two places, two identities and lives that transcend borders and time. I love how you compare the need and longing for each one as a lover.

"But two weeks before I leave,
I dream of the other country,
as if each is a man I long for.

As if each is a new affair, remembering
the intimacy..."

Thank you for sharing this!
So well done!
Wendy

Hi Stuart

I really like this poem and the use of the buzzards intruding on uncommon territory. It illustrates how the need to explore and survive overcomes territorial boundaries as well as those within them fight change and
unfamiliar visitors. I also love the ending that shows how the horizon is universal, belonging to all. If only, our own perspectives , meaning those of nations toward others, could be the same!
the wide watching sky
that presided over us all
as it always and ever has:


Impartially;

without thought;

without judgement.

Thank you for this!
Wendy

"And so it bears thinking about just what direction we are nudging it in."
Precisely why I so admire this blog, Terri. Your work perpetually nudges me in just the right way and I pick up the pen again. Thank you.

Powerful transitions here, Wendy. Space and time, light and sound.

"In her village,
natives crafted a flute
from the bone of buzzards
and summoned ancestors
to heal the afflicted."

Yes, Stuart. Well said. I'm also in awe of the vastness beyond. It's impartiality is comforting to me, somehow.

Those last four lines! Seduced by place. True, how it calls to us with passion.

Sharing

(returning to say "...... if we choose to turn our backs, we've walked away from what it means to be human." Your post faces straight forward into the fray, and once again it is both true and beautiful. thank you from my heart, which too often is overwhelmed by the struggle to remain human. Bless you and all who contribute here.

Without the lovely poetic emphasis by previous posters, I feel keenly the loss of home by those fleeing, as that which they have been rooted in for millenia is lost forever. And also, I feel the fear of those seeing them come, the irreversible change of home.

Beautifully written. The Donald Trumps of this world need to know this. Not that they would care, but still.....

Jane, I love this, of course. During the 18 years that I went back and forth between houses in Devon and Tucson, this was exactly my experience as well. I particularly love this:

"But two weeks before I leave,
I dream of the other country,
as if each is a man I long for."

Yes. Me too.

Stuart, what an impressive piece of alchemy you've performed here, turning your political frustration (which I share in full) into this elegant and extremely moving poem. Pure wizardry, sir.

I should mention to American readers: "Buzzards" in the UK are hawks -- not vultures, as they are in the US. The poem makes more sense if you know this!

Thank you, dear lady.

This is just plain stunning. And I love the way you've woven the old folktale into it. Another beauty, Wendy. Thank you.

The Teresa Mays and Nigel Farages of the world as well, for immigration is equally contentious in the UK these days, alas.

I share your compassion for both sides of the equation. There are no easy answers to complex situations. But compassion is always a good place to start.

Thank you kindly, Michelle.

Thanks so much Edith,

I deeply appreciate your lovely and keen comments!!

Take care,
Wendy

Thanks so much Terri
or your kind words! I am glad you enjoyed the poem and deeply appreciate your interest in my work!!

Take care,
Wendy

Such a sensual poem. Read with the thrill of how deeply passion can be, between lovers and being drawn between two, each precious.

Synchronicity. In San Francisco we have four days of the Blue Angel navy airplanes zooming over us, like predatory birds, that roar and take away our breath. I cannot stand it. So I
spend four days shopping in places where I can't hear them close up. I tried to get used to them but gave up. It's now a custom to begin Christmas shopping in Berkeley.

The fear and how to deal with it...clear and...wow.

Oh, how timely and also, the sorrow that has come to so many immigrants. Well done,
Wendy.

Travelers

I come from travelers who found a home.
From Luxemburg and now Lithuania,
To live in Walla Walla Washington,
While from Missouri and Iowa,
They came to Lewiston, Idaho,
Land of the Nez Perce tribe
Who were chased out of Oregon.

I lived in all thee places, but
Bend, Oregon and San Francisco,
With a leaning joy also in New York,
What a traveler's luck.

Not lost but never to live there
Any more, magical Oregon, forests,
High Desert, still there. The town
Now a kind of shadow of where
I wandered, from library to
Green park by the Deschutes river,
And unknown to others, fairylands.

But when I visit my old homes,
Take in the rare scent in the air,
All different, all a message in
The hidden meaning, the height
Of mountains, secrets of woods,
And it's opposite, the bright
Maze of New York City, where
I have dear friends, theatre,
Another place of immigrants
Who bring new secrets to
Scatter like seeds in a garden.

Passion for so many places.
But to see the Golden Gate Bridge
From the airplane, the rolling fog,
The feel of opening arms to hug me,
Oh I am at home here, love
Surrounds me with music and
Poets, my children, my bright
Friends, a circle of immigrants
Children long ago. Never
Sure we will stay, Do so, now.

Jane, reading your poems is rather like eating salted caramel; an experience that is deliciously satisfying, but which then refocuses the mind into a new way of looking, as the piquancy of phrase and image startles. Love it!

Our equivalent of the Blue Angels are the 'Red Arrows'. Brilliant and breath-taking, but incredibly noisy. There have been quite a few air displays here over the summer, some commemorating the Battle of Britain, unfortunately there have been a few accidents too. One veteran jet crashed onto a busy road killing several people. It looks like safety rules are changing as a result

Thank you, Terri. Your explanation about the buzzard/vulture confusion reminded me of that comment someone made about the UK and the US being 'two nations divided by a common language'. Don't know who said it.

Thank you, Edith.

Thank you, Wendy. Somehow I don't think nations will ever accept the universality of horizons. When all is said and done I think the human animal is trapped by a need to defend what it believes to be its territories.

Thanks all. I use my own poems (as I use other people's poems) to find out what I think and feel. Glad this one works for you. Honored you all like it.

Jane

That's exactly what they look like--Battle of Britain on a daily basis

Jane

Just wow.

Jane

Send to Trump!!!

Remind him how many immigrants died at work in NY in 9-11.

Jane

Thanks so much Phyllis

for your kind words toward this poem and your empathy. Immigration does incur much struggle and sorrow!

Take care
My Best
Wendy

Thanks so much Jane,

I deeply appreciate you stopping by to comment!


Take care
My Best
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

What a beautiful and timely poem. I love the voice, respect and spirit of this piece. These lines touched me deeply --

But when I visit my old homes,
Take in the rare scent in the air,
All different, all a message in
The hidden meaning, the height
Of mountains, secrets of woods,
And it's opposite, the bright
Maze of New York City, where
I have dear friends, theatre,
Another place of immigrants
Who bring new secrets to
Scatter like seeds in a garden.

Thank you so much for sharing this; it is also a timely poem for the change in our culture and the plight of those escaping tyranny and other terrible circumstances!

Again thank you!
Wendy

Oh, I'd love too, Jane. But at least he is a piñata in certain Spanish speaking immigrant grocery stores. I'm going to Mission Street tomorrow to see if they have any left.

I love the thought that any words of mine help you to "pick up the pen again." High praise indeed.

So many people need reminding of this. In America, we are almost all immigrants, First Nations peoples excepted.

Border-crossing tales recommended by the Fairy Tale Review: http://fairytalereview.com/fairy-tale-file-on-the-border/

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