On the 17th of July, coming up fast, I will have been on this earth 91 years. On that date in the West Texas town of Stephenville a star danced and I made my entrance into this world in 1922. That city is known today as ‘the cowboy capital of the world.’” Those lazy, hazy days of summer for me will be filled with the pleasure of poetry and my two four legged soul mates who share my home with me… I named them TAI and CHI. Brown and white Shih-Tzu’s, litter mates, brothers. Abundant joy and the celebration of life is constant in their presence.
They will compliment my other hours relishing good poetry and poets who, to me, are the language and breath of life. It is as Octavio Paz has written “there is more truth to be found in poetry than in all the philosophy ever written” …and again “when you say ‘life is marvelous, you are saying a banality.’ But to make life a marvel, that is the role of poetry.” That opinion from a Nobel Prize winner in Literature and Poetry, from a poet called “the soul of Mexico” touches my mind and heart and receives from me a solid YES in affirmation.
Or my being totally absorbed in almost everything written by United States Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz, who was twice appointed to that distinguished position. When he died a few years ago, at age 100, he was given full page treatment in both the LA Times and the NY Times.
His poetry is breath-taking and his essays on life and writing and meaning and reality are as stimulating as anything I have read in years. When I read his poem on “The Layers” to my Sunday Symposium the response was without precedent. Everyone wanted a copy and we printed about 200 copies to pass out the next week. When I started reading to them “The Wellfleet Whale” about a 63 foot finback whale foundered on the beach, gasping for life, I could not finish the poem I was so choked up. Kunitz received the Pulitzer and the Bollingen Prizes, the National Medal of the Arts, Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and where would the listing of honors end?
What puts my brain into overdrive are his insights into life and words, language and meaning. Listen to this: “poetry is language surprised in the act of changing into meaning.” Kunitz wrote much about animals, nature, plants and his beloved garden. In my study is an extensive library. My favorite section is my shelves of heroes and role models of brilliant poets and their equally brilliant writing. Emerson, Whitman, Sandburg, Frost, e.e.cummings, Mary Oliver, Neruda, Neihardt, Paz. Rumi, Merwin, Gary Snyder, Marquez, Jim Harrison, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove… and where would it end?…the monumental influence on my life of the vision, thoughts, and ideas of writers of the language of the soul and life.
They will be filling my lazy and hazy days of my birthday summer, along with the sensational new poet, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane Indian born on the Spokane Indian Reservation. I suggest “Blasphemy” and “The Business of Fancydancing”
And always around to remind me to live in the NOW, and enjoy the moments as they come to me, one by one, are my two bouncing and joyful four legged puppies, Tai and Chi, offering me their “unconditional love” even if I am late on feeding them. Science today is confirming what many of us have long known. The relationship between animals and the human animal is psychic, mystical, and mind boggling. Mark Twain said it well: “man is the only animal that blushes, or needs too.” Think of this and weep: other than humans, no other animal runs torture experiments on other animals. There is a spiritual and protoplasmic relationship between all living organisms. Nobel Prize scientists are writing today using that kind of language. Of course, the American Indian has known that for thousands of years.
Remember, the little chipmunk is of the same dust as we, He drinks the same waters, breathes the same air, needs the same oxygen, is warmed by the same sun and was created by the same first source. “A human is ethical only when he considers every living cell, plant or animal, sacred and divine” wrote that giant scholar and humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
What a beautiful 91st summer I will have this year, filled with fairly good health, joy, love, writing, my Sunday Symposium, surrounded in my library study by profound and brilliant poets… with two little four-legged bouncing Shih-Tzu’s filling every room with the message “this moment… NOW… is all we have… this is IT …now enjoy…”
Meister Eckhart gives me my final word for this column and this day and this life. “IF THE ONLY PRAYER YOU SAY IN YOUR LIFETIME IS ‘THANK YOU’… THAT WILL SUFFICE.”
So to the cosmic Mystery… THANK YOU.