Write On!

“They are unknown but they lie now in the rough basement,

For who else built the stubborn structure of language,

And rose against a silent melancholy and a dumb despair?”

— Peter Ackroyd

In the Archive

Write on 2012

In Light of Pee
by Nicola Metcalf

As a Quaker, we talk a lot about seeking “the light”, usually from within.  That can be within oneself or another person. When I went to India, my noticed my perception of light changing.  What I became aware of (in addition to dark poverty, dirt and garbage) was the light without.  When landing in Dubai en route to Chennai (not India but getting close) the lights sparkled with more brilliance than other airports I have visited.  I sat in the Matrimandir Temple in Auroville with its single beam of sunlight penetrating the space as a reminder to concentrate.   Warm inviting sunshine embraced me while swimming in the Bay of Bengal.  I delighted in the eye catching colors of saried women riding scooters sidesaddle.   We ogled necklaces layered thick in glittering gold in an upscale jewelry store.  The indian love of bright reflective things was in the atmosphere all around me.  One day stands out in this experience in particular.

It had been a long day of sightseeing in Tiravunamalai, southern India.  We had risen at 4:30 am to circumambulate 8 miles around the base of Aranuchala Mountain, visiting 8 small temples along the way.  We were tired and dusty with one more outing before dinner:  to visit the Annamalai temple.  Annamalai is a conglomeration of 9 temples in an enclosed area, some of them as large as tall city buildings.  It is a sort of city within a city, housing the Hall of a thousand Pillars, a large reservoir/reflecting pool of water, and big courtyards connecting everything.  

The approaching street was full of vendors selling souvenirs and more bustle of life in India.  There were scooters, cycles, people on foot, rickshaw, dogs, cows, dung, trash, voices, odor.  We had just checked our footwear in with the shoe minder on the street so we could go through security lines to enter the temple area.  I turned around and suddenly a cow right in front of me raised her tail and peed a large waterfall of absolutely clear, sunlit, pale gold urine, gushing onto the street with a splash.  An Indian woman, in sari and gold earrings, immediately and urgently thrust both of her hands into the flow washing them together, then splashed the urine with both hands in the direction of what may have been her daughters tending a souvenir table. I think she may even have grabbed a container to catch some of it.  The young women protested, and my trip companion and I were startled into the moment as we felt the spray of urine on us.  Liz admonished the woman with a, “Hey!  What are you doing?”.  I was stunned trying to gauge the woman’s intentions:  Aggression?  A prank?  Just plain crazy?   What was going on?  

Jolted by something deemed unclean and taboo by western standards, it slowly dawned on me that to Indians, cow urine is as sacred as the cow it comes from.  I was being pushed out of my cultural stance into understanding an aspect of the devotion that permeates India. In learning to live with minimal water while traveling compared to my western habit of excess, I reflected that if I had limited access to clean water, then I would wash my hands in the clear, bright fluid as well.  But the woman’s motivation was far bigger than hygiene and she understood something I did not.  Though cows are not a primary focus of the sacred in my life, what I will always remember is the light that shone from the cow’s pee – pure, shining and radiant, a gift of god.   And that is sacred, wherever you find it.

Grey Tower
by Phil Innes

The same guy was sitting on his plastic chair to the right of the main doors as he had done for 15 years. It cost him 35% to beg there, and all due to the dude in the big tower. It was worth it, since people going in and out didn’t nickel and dime, they dropped fives, sometimes fifties.

He saw some characters going in, Indians, he thought, one older guy in a so-so suit and the other in native dress, blue jeans, sneakers but beaded around the neck with couple tattoos too. He didn’t press the alert button.

Inside the guilt foyer this pair showed their papers and were directed to a guarded elevator where one other person waited — he in a suit, grey-to-white, and wearing a cotton tie also in shades of cream and grey, with prismatic tinges.

It took a moment, since this elevator was the big one, and went straight to the top, and they got in showing their passes to the attendant wearing sun-glasses indoors, and with hardly a jolt hurtled up into the Manhattan skyline.

The older Indian then said to his ‘minder’ in Arapahoe, ”remember, we are not subservient, we are independent, same as him — but we admire his greater lands and power. This is the careful attitude you will take with your body — do not speak.”

The minder then regarded the other person in the elevator and moved to challenge grey-suit and his stare. “Stay!” Said the older man, “it is he who sees”. 

The two quit the elevator at floor 57 and walked down a long carpeted corridor toward a desk-consol where a secretary sat, with security looking over her shoulder.

There was a brief sound behind them, and the minder turned to see the grey man there, bowing to their backs. He motioned to his older colleague, the chief, who did not turn, but asked what the minder was thinking? Looking back he saw the corridor now empty and the security folks unengaged.

They passed by security with even glossier passes, and proceeded to a waiting room along another corridor where prints were hung, including one of a great timber wolf.

Castle Dor

Here is a very unusual back cover of a novel with commentary by Daphne du Maurier.

“I was nineteen when we first came to live in Fowey and the great man of the district, indeed the whole of Cornwall, was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (“Q”), the famous novelist and essayist and professor of literature at Cambridge University. It was a great day for me when after some preliminary gestures of friendship on the part of his daughter, Foy, I was invited to Sunday supper.”

“His daughter told me in confidence that her father was working on a novel. I have a clear recollection of rowing with my father to Lantyan on the afternoon he made the discovery of Mark’s Gate inscribed on Mr. Santo’s map, she said years later. From that time on the fascination of uniting the legend of Tristan and Iseult with the Fowey River took its hold. But my father was a man who, though his ways feigned leisure, knew not what leisure was. There were the terms to be met at Cambridge when such romaticism had to be left aside…”

“The war came and in 1944, at the age of 81, Sir Arthur died. The novel CASTLE DOR, was still unfinished and no author’s notes to tell how the tale would continue. In the summer of 1959, “Q”’s daughter asked me, with charming diffidence, whether I would care to take on the novel where her father had left off, just as “Q” had done himself when he completed R. L. Stevenson’s St. Ives.”

Castle Dore is an Iron Age hill fort (ringfort) near Fowey in Cornwall, United Kingdom located at grid reference SX103548. It was probably occupied from the 5th or 4th centuries BC until the 1st century BC. It consists of two ditches surrounding a circular area 79 metres (259 ft) in diameter. Excavated in the 1930s, it was one of the most intensively investigated Iron Age hillforts in Cornwall.

Of historical note of the Fowey [pronounced “Foy”] estuary are:—

Tristan and Iseult is a tale made popular during the 12th century through French medieval poetry, inspired by Celtic legend. It has become an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the Cornish knight Tristan (Tristram) and the Irish princess Iseult (Isolde, Yseult, etc.). The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art, the idea of romantic love, and literature since it first appeared in the 12th century. While the details of the story differ from one author to another, the overall plot structure remains much the same.

There are two main traditions of the Tristan legend. The early tradition comprised the French romances of two poets from the second half of the twelfth century, Thomas of Britain and Béroul. Their sources could be traced back to the original, archetypal Celtic romance. Later traditions come from the Prose Tristan (c. 1240), which was markedly different from the earlier tales written by Thomas and Béroul. The Prose Tristan became the common medieval tale of Tristan and Iseult that would provide the background for the writings of Sir Thomas Malory, the English author, who wrote Le Morte d'Arthur (c. 1469).

Known as The Tristan Stone, or The Longstone (Cornish: Menhir, meaning long stone), is a 2.7 m tall granite pillar near Fowey in Cornwall. The stone has a mid 6th century AD two line inscription which has been interpreted as reading DRVSTANVS HIC IACIT CVNOWORI FILIVS (‘Drustan lies here, the son of Cunomorus’). A now missing third line was described by the 16th century antiquarian John Leland as reading CVM DOMINA OUSILLA (‘with the lady Ousilla’). Ousilla is a Latinisation of the Cornish female name Eselt, otherwise known as Isolde. The disappearance of this third line may be as a result of the stone being moved several times over the past three centuries.

The Saints' Way (Cornish: Forth an Syns) is a long-distance footpath in mid Cornwall, England, UK.

History and description

The footpath runs from Padstow parish church in the north via Luxulyan to Fowey parish church in the south, a distance of 28.5 miles (45.6 km); if the route via Lanlivery is followed the distance is 29 miles (46.6 km). The path is well marked and guide books are available. There are two main branches in the way. One starts at Fowey, runs west to Tywardreath, then north through St Blazey, and Luxulyan. The other runs north from Fowey to Golant and Lanlivery. The branches meet close to Helman Tor.

The Saints' Way follows the probable route of early Christian travellers making their way from Ireland to the Continent. Rather than risk the difficult passage around Land's End they would disembark their ships on the North Cornish coast and progress to ports such as Fowey on foot.

Between 55 - 50AD a Roman trading centre was constructed at Nanstallon (near Bodmin) and it is thought its purpose was to serve the main communication and trade route linking the north Cornish coast at the River Camel and the southern coast at the River Fowey, the 'transpeninsular route'. However the centre was abandoned after only 20-25 years and it was never used again. It is thought that the trading route served the Celtic peoples of Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany as Nanstallon was built close to major mineral bearing areas.

The establishment of the way followed the discovery of a section of abandoned pathway surfaced with cobbles and featuring a series of granite stiles near the village of Luxulyan by two villagers in 1984. The way was created as part of the Cooperative Retail Services Community Programme and opened in 1986.

Women of the mounds
by Charles Monette

Let me tell you of the “women of the mounds”, the ghost women of Irish mythology
In Old Irish, they were known as ban side… in the Modern bean si

They are the banshees of Irish folklore. Female spirits in Irish mythology, whose shrieking, or keening cry heralded the death of a member of one of the prominent Gaelic families  

The O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the O’Longs, the McCnaimhins, the O’Briens, the O Conchobhairs, the Caomhanachs and the Kavanaughs

Banshees are ‘women of the mounds’ connected to the mythological tumuli,
the hillocks, or ancient burial mounds that dot the Irish countryside

Gaelic lore describes a banshee as wearing red, or green … an ugly, frightful old hag disheveled with long stringy gray hair, rotten teeth, and fiery red eyes If she spies you looking at her, she’ll disappear in a cloud of mist

Disappear with a fluttering sound like a bird’s wings flapping that will whisk her out of sight leaving you wondering, questioning … I saw her, did I not? 
I heard the cry, a wail so morbid and frightening portending who would die

such a woman may appear in an unnerving variety of forms … just as readily, she might become visible with long red hair and pale skin,  a white young lady with great beauty

In Ireland, and parts of Scotland, the keening woman is known to mourn …
to weep a lament …tradition says she might be the ghost of murdered woman, or one who had died in childbirth

Having foresight, banshees wail a lament when a family member dies,
even if the dying were far away, and news of the death had not yet come

Wail banshee, wail a warning to a household of an imminent death
Come ye banshees appear at once for the dead is great or holy

Shriek fairy woman, screech to pierce and shatter glass …stand my hair on end … wash the battle armor in a river of blood

Daniel Berrigan
by Charles Monette

“The day after I’m embalmed; that’s when I’ll give up.”

an impish boy born with weak ankles
duly compensated with bravery, love of learning… integrity embraced holy orders, loved Jesus, believed in mankind’s decency

Daniel Berrigan found the rhythm, the rhyme in priest and peace
preaching protest with passion, his call to action fired unrest
his hands behind him handcuffed arrest

debunking mythologies, the morass of moral necessity
this Jesuit poet read Jeremiah, the prophet… found solidarity 
both knew no one would listen for all their soul searing years

how does one reconcile belief in God 
midst the violence, the chaos, the hatred of the Vietnam war?
practice ultra resistance, waken to conscious the American horde

a Catonsville raid would surely expose the charade
he and brother Philip conspired to burn a nation’s desire
opening the draft to homemade napalm, setting cards on fire

prayer fueled convictions for destroying government property
two Catholics sentenced… federal prison, 3 years in Danbury
to avoid serving time, they escaped to an underground priory 

soon Time’s cover fame turned to the FBI’s most wanted list 
uncovering Block Island’s anarchists, Christ’s holy terrorists were 
brought to justice they sat in prison, traitorous terms raising hell 

Father Berrigan’s firebrand burned too hot for Dorothy Day
too feverish for the Trappist intellectualism of Merton
his battle was in the streets beyond the breath of meditation

finding belief in God fraught with difficulty when observing man’s
racism, poverty, militarism, capitalist greed, unjust society
he knew no one listens still, our establishment silent with shrill

In 1980, Daniel Berrigan joined Plowshares in civil disobedience 
climbing atop a GE missile, he fearlessly pummeled a warhead 
“to hammer out danger, to hammer out warning, to hammer out 

   love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land”

Father Berrigan, prolific, wrote a book a year… 50 in all
and 15 volumes of poetry pondering the scheme of things
a teacher, a Jesuit, a rabble rouser… rebel with a cause

well Simon’s “radical priest” just won his release
no longer standing like fathers, “like fences of abandoned farms”
Berrigan brothers stood for something… may they rest in peace

I guess sweet Daniel has “given up” the flesh…
now filled with spirit sings beside Phillip and the Holy Ghost 
along with Prince and Merle and Bowie, one helluva eclectic band!

** the hammer quotes, song,  If I had a hammer by Pete Seger

** “radical priest”,  song Me and Julio down by the schoolyard 
 Paul Simon

** all other quotes: Daniel Berrigan

Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say

Fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast can be traced back thousands of years, according to researchers at universities in Durham and Lisbon. Using techniques normally employed by biologists, academics studied links between stories from around the world and found some had prehistoric roots.

They found some tales were older than the earliest literary records, with one dating back to the Bronze Age.
The stories had been thought to date back to the 16th and 17th Centuries.

In the 19th Century, authors the Brothers Grimm believed many of the fairy tales they popularised were rooted in a shared cultural history dating back to the birth of the Indo-European language family. Later thinkers challenged that view, saying some stories were much younger and had been passed into oral tradition having first been written down by writers from the 16th and 17th Centuries. Durham University anthropologist Dr Jamie Tehrani, who worked with folklorist Sara Graca Da Silva, from the New University of Lisbon, said: "We can come firmly down on the side of Wilhelm Grimm. "Some of these stories go back much further than the earliest literary record and indeed further back than Classical mythology - some versions of these stories appear in Latin and Greek texts - but our findings suggest they are much older than that."

The study, which was published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, employed phylogenetic analysis, which was developed to investigate evolutionary relationships between species. It also used a tree of Indo-European languages to trace the descent of shared tales to see how far they could be demonstrated to go back in time.

Dr Tehrani said Jack And The Beanstalk was rooted in a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre's Treasure, and could be traced back to when Eastern and Western Indo-European languages split more than 5,000 years ago.

Analysis showed Beauty And The Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old.
And a folk tale called The Smith And The Devil, about a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the Devil in order to gain supernatural abilities, was estimated to go back 6,000 years to the Bronze Age. Dr Tehrani said: "We find it pretty remarkable these stories have survived without being written.

"They have been told since before even English, French and Italian existed.
"They were probably told in an extinct Indo-European language."


Andrea Powell

The thoughts I don't want my mother to know:

I don't want my mother to know I would rather freeze her out of a conversation than face her selfish judgement.

I don't want my mother to know I cannot hold a candle to her personally exercised beliefs regarding relationships, and her rules of discounting herself within them.

I don't want my mother to know I can't meet her surmised expectations.

I don't want my mother to know I have failed to meet her eye to eye, that her fear is unaccountable by the nature of man without sacrificing her own will.

I don't want her to know this because I need her approval, and have seen her weep.

I don't  want her to know I need her approval because this may hurt her sense of purpose, and if she is weakened by her own beliefs she may not be strong enough to defy them herself, nor be of help. It is a sad existence to deny ones own freedom in knowing only she can free her own past disentangled from her children ...yet maybe this is my own fantasy to possibly not be able to do the same for my own.

To live sometimes means not sharing ones disappointment; the aching need to revel in release from bondage of someone else's making can be strong, defying it may also result in living with eyes wide open but...blindfolded to live.

Castle Freeman, Jr.  
The Devil in the Valley. 
Overlook Duckworth, 2015.

A review by Laura C. Stevenson

In the late middle of his life, Langdon Taft sits on the peeling porch of his Vermont house and reflects with dissatisfaction that he is a backpacker in the Dark Wood. An "ex-gentleman, ex-teacher, ex-scholar, ex-householder, ex-abstainer," he has money enough, friends – but he needs material, content, plot. A guide.

He gets one. Not Virgil (right location, wrong plot) but Dangerfield, a nattily dressed, twenty-first century Mephistopheles who offers him a contract: seven months of anything his heart desires, in return for his soul.  It's a good contract, Dangerfield adds suavely. Lasts through Columbus day -- "you won't have to miss the foliage." And it's for real: asked for proof that he can deliver on his offer, Dangerfield gives Taft what he asks for – four new tires on his truck so it can pass inspection. So begins the Faustian bargain, proceeding in chapters that alternate tales of Taft's use of his unlimited power with the shrewd, incisively humorous commentary of his friend Eli and the nonagenarian Calpurnia Lincoln, who is ending her life in the hospice rooms of the local clinic. 

The dust jacket of this wonderful book says it is a tale of "temptation and greed" set in "dark, moody rural Vermont."  Don't judge this book by its front flap; there's nothing dark or moody about it.  Temptation and greed appear, but in the context of wry humor. It is, for example, suggested that Taft is a second-generation Faust; either that, or his father's acquisition of all the real estate along the Route 91 corridor years before the highway's construction was a matter of amazing good luck. No, intricately woven into a landscape where everybody is related to everybody else and "if your tractor's paid off, you're rich," The Devil in the Valley changes Dante's Dark Wood into Thoreau's woods and turns the tragedy of Faustian over-reaching into a tale of Wants and Needs. Its humor is an unending delight; its dialogue, structure and characters open out with deceptive simplicity; and its conclusion (don't skip to the end!) is a piece of artistic mastery.

* Castle Freeman is the author of three other novels –  Judgment Hill (1995); Go With Me (2008 -- soon to be a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Julia Stiles); and All That I Have (2009). A fourth novel, the luminous My Life and Adventures (2003), doubles as a local history of Ambrose [aka, Newfane]. He has also published two collections of short stories: Bride of Ambrose (1987), and Round Mountain (2011).


Singing with Bobby Fischer

Patti Smith

…Yet I did stay on in Iceland, as a thoroughly robust Icelandic Grandmaster surprised me by asking me to preside in his stead over a highly anticipated local chess match….In exchange I was promised three nights in the Hotel Borg and permission to  photograph the table used in the 1972 chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, currently languishing in the basement of a local government facility.

….When I returned I received a call from a man identifying himself as Bobby Fischer’s bodyguard. He had been charged with arranging a midnight meeting between Mr. Fischer and myself in the closed dining room of the Hotel Borg. I was to bring my bodyguard, and would not be permitted to bring up the subject of chess. I consented to the meeting and then crossed the square to the Club NASA where I recruited their head technician, a trustworthy fellow called Skills, to stand as my so-called bodyguard.
     Bobby Fischer arrived at midnight in a dark hooded parka. Skills also wore a hooded parka. Bobby’s bodyguard towered over us all. He waited with Skills outside the dining room. Bobby chose a corner table and we sat face-to-face. He began testing me immediately by issuing a string of obscene and racially repellent references that morphed into paranoid conspiracy rants.
——Look, you’re wasting your time, I said. I can be just as repellent as you, only about different subjects.
       He sat staring at me in silence, when finally he dropped his hood.
——Do you know any Buddy Holly songs? he asked.
       For the next few hours we sat there singing songs. Sometimes separately, often together, remembering about half the lyrics. At one point he attempted a chorus of “Big Girls Don’t Cry” in a falsetto and his bodyguard burst in excitedly.
——Is everything all right, sir?
——Yes, Bobby said.
——I thought I heard something strange.
——I was singing.
——Yes, singing.

From M Train by Patti Smith

Take the Plunge

Rev. Roy Reynolds

He says, “Take the plunge! Enter life boldly and fully.
That’s the way of Natural Communion.” 
But I stop and wonder, and realize something worth pondering.
Plunge is but one view of what it takes to enter the flow. 
I should know.
I’ve been resisting that dive for decades. 
Free-fall, that is,…
Free-fall from all illusion of control.
Fear is what drives that hesitation; my fear. Of that I’m sure.
The fact is, well, I’m still resisting; even after diving many times.
I scamper back every time to the comforts of what I think I know.
It feels so good being closeted here in my head
With all of that familiar furniture surrounding me.
I can lounge on the couch of logic over there.
I can sit at this desk and reread favorite authors.
I can stand apart with the best.
This “balcony of about” feels good, powerful, and right;
This accumulated knowing that we can count on (I think, we think).
Basking,…ever in that illusion.

Then -- Thank goodness! -- I read a poem. It awakens my soul,
It evokes memories and feelings moistened by tears.
It calls me back to something forgotten, and something so precious.

Then I take a morning walk in silence,
Open to a Larger Life that is being offered to me.
Mother Nature, so generous. 
She never withholds Her wonders.
That mindful walk soothes my senses. 
It draws me to a Truth that surrounds and abounds. 
I feel held.

And later (back home) I look up at that beautiful print on the wall --
 A Cezanne painting of Mont Sainte-Victoire across the Arc River Valley.
I am reminded, yet again, that we are “each in the other.” 
And not just we people. 
I mean all of life’s animated presences here in dialogue.
We just need to notice. 
Those presences want us in dialogue.
They are companions; there everywhere.
They are here with me, and with you, if we just notice.
And I include myself in that “if.” 
It is so tempting -- the satisfying assurances of dwelling in knowing -- and 
that guarded feeling of rightness.

Oh, but it is not “being right” that matters;
It is being present. 
I’ve learned that the hard way: through decades-long tugs of 
resisting the bold plunge.

But what, in God’s name, is that all about? 
That “being present”?
Maybe now I am getting some place, just maybe.
Am I nearing an insight, an opening?
Could it be that “plunge” is not what’s actually needed?

Why would I – my grasping, knowing self – dive so willingly into a gaping 
Abyss of the unknown?
Why would anyone?
Isn’t there another way?
Maybe yes, like Mother Nature’s snakes. 
Consider the shedding of skin as the path of wisdom. 
Maybe it’s about death and rebirth:
Giving up what I know and cling to for support.
Let go. Just let go. That itself brings an opening.

What might the snakes offer in their example?
Shedding skin allows them to attain renewed vitality and growth.