Thursday, 16 August 2007

Something gentle, something wild

I. something gentle

Below is a poem written in 1927 by Kadya Molodowsky.
I don't know who she is, but I have loved this poem for years now.

Songs of Women

For poor brides who were servant girls,
Mother Sara draws forth from dim barrels
And pitchers sparkling wine.
Mother Sara carries with both hands
A full pitcher to whom it is decreed.
And for streetwalkers
Dreaming of white wedding shoes,
Mother Sara bears clear honey
In small saucers
To their tired mouths.
For high-born brides now poor,
Who blush to bring their patched wash
Before their mother-in-law,
Mother Rebecca leads camels
Laden with white linen.
And when darkness spreads before their feet,
And all the camels kneel on the ground to rest,
Mother Rebecca measures linen ell by ell
From her rings to her golden bracelet.
For those whose eyes are tired
From watching the neighborhood children,
And whose hands are thin from yearning
For a small soft body
And for the rocking of a cradle,
Mother Rachel brings healing leaves
Discovered on distant mountains,
And comforts them with a quiet word:
At any hour God may open the sealed womb.
For those who cry at night in lonely beds,
And have no one to share their sorrow,
Who talk to themselves with parched lips,
To them, Mother Leah comes quietly,
Her eyes covered with her pale hands.

II. something wild

This isn’t my picture. I’m not in the plane or lying with the lions. It was sent to my friend Paul by someone named Noel--but it’s a pretty damn fine picture nonetheless.

Monday, 13 August 2007


I have been reading books
by other footloose expatriates.
This is, in retrospect,
a mistake.
As of late, I find myself half mad
with boredom--
with the academic life,
with this everyday of small
pleasures in a good city
that holds few dangers and
fewer challenges to my heart
and my soul.

I suffer, like so many others of my ilk,
from restlessness, like malaria
in the blood, the type that subsides
and then reoccurs time and
again, in dark waves of longing.
I wish I could say I fight off its fevers,
but I usually succumb.

I have been here nearly a year.
Maybe the problem is that simple.
My life here is simple and good--
and maybe the problem is that simple.

I have grown accustomed to being in over my head,
to treading waters of rougher seas,
of my work mattering more than it ought to have,
of facing a harsh world
every day
and struggling to be honest with myself,
to keep seeing and not turn away,
to resist my own darkness and that of others.

Here we take ghost tours and talk of Old Edinburgh's
torture and violence as if it were entertaining,
which is the luxury
history affords us.
Here we joke about hell, about going there,
as if a great portion of our world were not there already.
Here I walk past the homeless people on the street
and I do not know their story
and I feel little pity,
because they're better off than a lot of Cambodians.
This is a heartless way to feel.

I am not being of any use to the poor and the vulnerable here.
Yet why should I constantly have to be of use?
Why am I not content with this time of rest and preparation?
Merton wrote once of the violence of activism, of doing and
doing and doing and never feeding the soul until we are
hollow shells of our former selves, spirit-starved.
I worry that I have something different--
an addiction for activism,
the need to be doing something for someone else
to feel life worthwhile and myself of worth--
or, perhaps, to not feel guilty
for being wealthy
and safe and fat
for not sleeping under the trees
in the mountains
without blankets,
like those my brother works among in Darfour.

I need to find the ways to feed my soul
when I cannot be an activist,
or an adventurer.
I need to find the way to be present here,
open-eyed and open-hearted here,
in this city that I,
for the time being,
call home.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Holidays and other journeys

It feels like years since I’ve attended to the piece of my life this blog represents. I am sorry for that. Things have been mad, if that’s any excuse. My thesis is due in TEN DAYS. Eek. At this very moment, I’m supposed to be reading a cheery article called Agents of Death, about genocide. But fie on that!

I went on holiday, you will remember. A lovely lovely thing, holidays. I went to Italy. This is the main reason I went to Italy:

That’s Victoria and little Sofia. We’re eating gelato by the duomo in Florence. It was deliciously roastingly hot in Italy. We wandered around sweating drinking coffee and eating gelatos, looking briefly at architectural wonders. Sofia is at the what’s-there-to-eat-and-can-I-finally-run-around-rather than-being-restrained-by-various-strait-jacketing-straps stage of life. I did see Michelangelo’s last Pieta, though, where he roughly chiselled himself as Nicodemus, holding Christ in his arms. I found it a little audacious, to be honest. I’d be more likely to cast myself as Judas or Zaccheus or the dazed disciples on the road to Emmaus.

I was meditating one night and fell asleep—which happens to everyone, I tell myself—and I ended up riding along next to Christ on a pair of white horses across a coastal plain in Cambodia towards the mountains, which was clearly the end of all things. We were merry companions, and there was even a dog running along behind us, and I distinctly remember teasing Jesus about it. TEASING JESUS! And he didn’t mind.

And then I had this absolutely terrible moment, heart sinking, when I realized that I hadn’t told anyone I was leaving on this journey, this journey from which I would not return. All I could think of were those harsh verses about not turning back from the plough and the dead burying the dead, and I just knew Jesus was going to be angry or worse, send me packing, but I just had to go back and see if my friends in Phnom Penh would come with us and so I mentioned it, throat tight with misery, and he acquiesced. Just like that. He said he’d wait for me and that I could go and try to bring the others with us. None of the people I went to would come, as the dream would have it, but that’s another story. What mattered most in the dream was just how perfect a companion Christ made. I honestly think I understand the heart of God better when I’m sleeping. That’s about enough of that.

This is me and Sofia getting into taking pictures of ourselves. She was wild about the flash in her eyes, crazy girl. The next morning I got on a plane bound for Bristol and she will have forgotten me utterly by now. Good for her. Reaching an age at which you become aware that you are forever saying farewell to people you love is nothing to look forwards to.

And in Bristol I met this little wonder, my wee namesake:
Baby Lisa!!! She is a much nicer baby than I was, I think. My mother says I used to just sit and stare intensely at everybody, taking their measure.
That's the sweet lamb getting into the pasta eating thing.

Now, ahem, here’s the bad birding news from my chapter of Bad Birders of Cambodia & Friends: in all my travels to Norway, Italy, and Bristol, I saw, wait for it,
4 (4) (four) new species of birds.
Yep, that’s it.

Lots of cheerful fallen-fruit eating fieldfares
A solitary great crested grebe on Lake Maggorio (Big Lake, I believe would be the translation)
A hovering diving common tern
Goldeneyes with hysterical diving ducklings. Apparently these young ducklings are born in trees, throw themselves out of their nests, and bounce along the forest floor.

Here’s the reason why, which I’ve decided to turn into spiritual currency. The much loved people I was with weren’t into birds. So there was much mention of reservoirs and wetlands and whatnot where the birds where, and we actually shot past a knot of vest-wearing binocular-slinging English folk watching peregrine falcons nest--but no interest on my companions' part to actually get out there.

I need a community to be a birder—other wacky dedicated people willing to go on long and possibly fruitless quests, in chance of kingfishers…

I went back to church on Sunday after at least a month’s absence and realized that I need a community to be a Christian too, at least an attentive one. I’d been away so long I felt like I was watching a church go about its business rather than actually a member of its community. Like I didn’t belong anymore.
But I do.