Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sadness by Donald Justice

Dear ghosts, dear presences, O my dear parents,
Why were you so sad on porches, whispering?
What great melancholies were loosed among our swings!
As before a storm one hears the leaves whispering
         And marks each small change in the atmosphere,
         So was it then to overhear and to fear.

But all things then were oracle and secret.
Remember the night when, lost, returning, we turned back
Confused, and our headlights singled out the fox?
Our thoughts went with it then, turning and turning back
         With the same terror, into the deep thicket
         Beside the highway, at home in the dark thicket.

I say the wood within is the dark wood,
Or wound no torn shirt can entirely bandage,
But the sad hand returns to it in secret
Repeatedly, encouraging the bandage
         To speak of that other world we might have borne,
         The lost world buried before it could be born.

Burchfield describes the pinched white souls of violets
Frothing the mouth of a derelict old mine
Just as an evil August night comes down,
All umber, but for one smudge of dusky carmine.
         It is the sky of a peculiar sadness—
         The other side perhaps of some rare gladness.

What is it to be happy, after all? Think
Of the first small joys. Think of how our parents
Would whistle as they packed for the long summers,
Or, busy about the usual tasks of parents,
         Smile down at us suddenly for some secret reason,
         Or simply smile, not needing any reason.

But even in the summers we remember
The forest had its eyes, the sea its voices,
And there were roads no map would ever master,
Lost roads and moonless nights and ancient voices—
         And night crept down with an awful slowness toward the water;
         And there were lanterns once, doubled in the water.

Sadness has its own beauty, of course. Toward dusk,
Let us say, the river darkens and look bruised,
And we stand looking out at it through rain.
It is as if life itself were somehow bruised
         And tender at this hour; and a few tears commence.
         Not that they are but that they feel immense.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Lifetime with Smudge

"All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." -Saint Francis of Assisi

     The first time I visited Lucinda's home at Park La Brea I was taken aback by the austerity of the decorations. She had suffered two recent profound losses in her life and the place was pretty sedate. There were no wall decorations and the furniture was utilitarian but without great color which sort of matched the bruised heart she carried. The grayness vanished however, when I was greeted by the ebullient Smudge and eventually by his cat sister Macska. He strode majestically into the front room from a nap somewhere with his dark plume of a tail wafting like the great sail of a feline frigate. He was massive and ebony handsome beyond description but what amazed me the most was the confidence he displayed as he walked up to me seeming to shake paws and sniffed my shoes as if to give me a security check before allowing me to speak to his human. Smudge was ALWAYS in charge and was extremely careful about who got near his Lucinda. His face was impish and he seemed to have some cat secret that puny humans could never understand but he was a young man in love and that lit up the room. Suddenly, the gray brightened to blues and greens and reds that blended into a sable richness. Macska eventually, carefully entered and glanced my way, then lept up onto the window sill where she could pass judgement on my worthiness. Together, they were enough ornamentation to decorate the finest gallery in Soho. That is the greatest thing about sharing our lives with animals that they bring a healing light into our days while sweetly softening the edges of this sometimes rough old world. Smudge and Macska were the candles in Lucinda's life that made the darkness tolerable.
       I have loved and been devoted to animals since I was too young to walk but I have never seen such a powerful bond as Lucinda had with her Smudge. He seemed to fit perfectly next to her as she read one of the countless books that were the bridge in our human friendship. When I visited Park La Brea or Camino de las Rosas and finally Evergreen he was the number one attraction along with his striped beauty queen sister. They were passionately worshipped  by the resident human with her kind eyes and opposable thumbs and the feeling was most certainly mutual. One of the wonderful moments in any day was the question from Lucinda "quieres comer?" which was always greeted by surprisingly piping mews from hisseowf and the ladycat who sometimes stood upon her back legs and gently touched the legs of the server. The perfect night for Smudge was to just sit near his human and purr, he needed little else after his sizable belly was full. Even when his days became numbered the reports came that he could still clean that china plate and motorboat purr.
     Smudge finished his adoration of his Mumma this morning by simply stopping his breaths and stepping into another cat dimension where he undoubtedly will charm everyone in sight. Paradise for this inky emperor of impudence was by his lady's side but let us hope fervently that there is a rainbow bridge where he can continue his devotion once again. Of the hundreds of felines I have known and admired over the many decades Smudge would be in my hall of fame. He was the extraordinarily colorful Prince of Cats and the world is a little grayer this morning for all of us who knew him.