"Phasleus aureus" - 2007
(This is a piece of unfinished art trying to convey the essence the soul made by the garden--read on.)
I am surprised over and over by the differences between us, usually delighted, yet sometimes puzzled. One of the more delightful, (and more puzzling) issues I'm thinking on is gardening. Here in "garden central" gardening is more relaxed, yet I've managed to stumble into gardening for politics. I've been vehement about grass and obsessed with permaculture, urging, cajoling, lecturing people to no avail mostly. Even in places where it's so costly to keep a lawn, people seem determined to do it. I've met gardeners and gardeners. Mostly gardeners are a great bunch, veggie gardeners that is, and of the most generous of people. I've taken in bushels of produce to work and been met with meat and potatoes people who look at me like I'm from the moon: "I'm supposed to eat that!" Which brings me to my puzzlement. Even political gardeners seemed to often be removed from food. For the most diligent, a garden provides maybe ten percent of their caloric intake. Sure, it's an important ten percent, but it's still puzzling.
When confronted with someone who wants a garden, my first question is: what do you want from it? Most people don't know. This is utterly baffling to me. This entire blog, entitled "Apasionada" is a thought on what I might should say when confronted with questions of politics or use or such.
Life is breath. When confronted with meditation, or sitting at it is sometimes called, my question was "is not every moment sitting?" I'm not trying to be obtuse here, it's just that every moment is breath, every moment is life and there is no larger time unit than the moment, the now, just as there is no other place than the here. Why should this be profound? If each moment is what there is, each moment can be until it is all. When I was twenty I knew this; I never thought it any great revelation:
I am enraptured
by the terror of life.
Each terrible moment
is possessed by me so utterly,
that it is transformed
into strange beauty.
Each moment is created, consumed, lived, breathed. The challenge of living seems merely to be to keep close to life itself. My own solution to this challenge is to be involved in each moment. Part of this is awareness, part of it is untangling the line of consumption. I have found that in making my own clothes I am forced to untangle the cycle of consumption. The act of making a piece of clothing becomes an opportunity to pick and chose in a non-consumptive way, but in a creative way. It is no longer a matter of going down the racks and hoping that something appealing fits; it is a decision to cut or to not cut, to make a sleeve straight or make a sleeve gathered, to drape, to fit, to build up, to cut down. Practical can become creative and also beautiful. Over and over I hear of people who have made things for themselves to use and talk about putting beauty into functionality and of finding that they suddenly own the thing made in a way that is not possession but transformation. Yet it is not the thing that is transformed, but the person--the soul, if you will.
Gardening has many, many layers to it, like many human endeavors. People talk about beauty about flowers and foliage and slug-free patches of ground, of healthy plants and birds and butterflies. Vegetable gardeners talk about the way things taste or what has bug resistance or of the weather. However, gardening begins with food. There is a stream of the gardening spirit that craves the wilderness, but the main gist of growing plants is food. Beginning there is one of the most appalling stories on the planet. I'm not speaking of the politics or economics or who has what banana pile, but of the nature of food, the roots of food. Gardeners happily speak of seed saving and breeding varieties, of technology to "push the season" and slugs, yet these are superficial issues. It's as if were all on this large field and people talk about the rules of the game without ever talking about the object of the game, or why we're playing a game at all.
In a garden, the creator is let loose. Many people build structures and walls and beds and put in all kinds of textures and colors. Traditionally, vegetables have been grown in places optimized for functionality, but now there are movements to integrate vegetables into the creation of the yard itself. Permaculture takes this one step further, demanding that people think of their yards in terms of food. Yet rarely have I found that people think this. While people seem to appreciate strawberries from the garden or that first tomato or the lettuce, they're not thinking of food. It's as if they all wear jewelry and rave about jewelry and ignore the fact of clothing, running around in rags and tatters, shivering in the cold, all thinking that jewelry has some power to keep them warm and covered from the elements. This is where I stand, silent, puzzled, wondering if I'm crazy.
May be. But I could also just be involved in the apasionada or the breath. Each second of eating must be a moment of truth. If one gardens for food, one must be connected to those seconds of eating. And now, here's the rub. Most people are utterly and helplessly pathological about food. Why? I think the answer lies in the fact that we, as an entire world just about, have been starving for so long that people have forgotten what it is to eat. Before I lose you in total disgust, read on a little. In any population of living beings, the goal is to eat as much as possible, grow as much as possible, and breed as much as possible. This is not a conscious thing. Every animal, every plant, every microbe does this. And humans are no exception. They take up great amounts of time growing things to eat and are utterly unconsious about it.
I went to one of Lane County's gardens for feeding people--a wonderful mission, don't get me wrong--and one thought loomed up foremost in my mind so strongly that I must apologize to Max for only half hearing some of what he was saying. They have a beautiful acreage, organically farmed, full of produce, and glaring, blaring under the sky, was the obvious: they can only grow food that people recogize and will eat. They have an uphill climb, so I don't expect otherwise, but I found it profoundly sad that of all their work is so bound up in consumerism and economics and politics that the breath is gone. Yet the tragedy is not that they are doing this, but that most gardeners are doing this. They have learned that potatoes and beans are good to eat. Both these foods are slave foods, poverty foods, starvation foods. We are completely and utterly surrounded by the fact that we are starving. We're eating foods bred and passed on by starving people under such extreme conditions of survival that they were enslaved to grow this food. People somewhere reverted to animals in that they ate to stay alive, ate to be full, ate what was there, interpreted adequate calories as good and excessive calories as wonderful. People started killing each other for the desire to always be full, to fill the maw of starvation, to fill the maw of fear, to fill the maw of mortality. People garden for jewelry, for decoration, and then they go to the store to buy potatoes, beans or hamburgers to fill the maw. The jewelry food becomes more and more desireable: sweeter, creamier, exaggerated like make-up on a woman, shinier baubles of feel-good, pleasure so overwhelming that food is a secret sin and wars are fought over sugar and chocolate.
To be human means that we can be in the breath in a conscious way. We can break the chain of consumerism and starvation. Only then can the economic and political chains be broken. A beginning is in the garden or at a good store or farmer's market. It begins with one of the more profound traits in higher mammals: curiosity. For hundreds of thousands of years people looked at a plant or animal and said, "what is it? Is it good to eat?" Babies taste anything they can get their hands on. Somewhere in childhood starvation set in and curiosity took a way out. Some people recover curiosity in trying out new cuisines, usually at a restaurant. Yet where is this in a gardener? In the push for a better brassica for the Northwest, is there not another question: why brassicas? Why of all the brassicas only Brassica oleracea or Brassica rapa? Of all the brassicas in these two closely tied families, why broccoli, cabbage, mustard and radishes? Why only the famine or commericial foods? Not why the famine and commerical foods, but why ONLY the famine or commerical foods? Of all places a garden is a chance to explore every different edible plant possible to eat and THEN to find out what agrees with you, makes you healthy, tastes good, cures your ills, etc., etc., etc.
I guess I'm puzzled about why people grow food thinking half that it's a jewel and feeling somewhat guilty and trying to grow enough cabbage to have some kraut to eat all winter. "I'll have a bit of kraut to eat that's going to be only 1 percent of what I eat." There is a huge disconnect here, folks. Huge. If macaroni and cheese is the main part of your diet (as it is for many kids) and the vegetables are there to push at junior or to eat with a feeling that you'll live longer or some other crap, why pretend that the garden is feeding anyone at all? Why fight the slugs? Yet a garden fulfills other desires, like the desire to create, to enjoy the beauty of nature, and to get one's hands in the dirt.
Every bite of food, if it is transformed, is part of the transformation of the soul. There is the old adage: "you are what you eat", yet my contention is that our souls are what we eat, not our bodies. Our bodies exist DESPITE what we eat. But our souls don't. A soul can be homemade chocolate deserts. A soul can be barbeque with a special marinade. Cooking is such a part of the soul that it's an incredible crime that it's tied up so horribly with starvation. Each seed that is put into the ground to be grown into food must and has to be a part of consciousness or it is lost. A beginning is to grow sprouts from every seed that is available and is edible. Another beginning is to grow calories. Another beginning is to only eat what you grow and see how hard that is! Another beginning is to decide that the disconnect is there and grow only for the gem, grow only for those moments of delight when you eat that first strawberry or tomato and quit pretending that it's good for you or saves you money or somehow alieviates the guilt of buying stuff in styrofoam.
Yes, I'm on a passionate mission in gardening: to grow as many different plants as possible to eat. To grow plants that are nourshing
without being cooked to kill the poisons. To grow plants that can support me on a small sliver of land. But food is only the beginning. A
garden is the soul transformed. A garden is like seeing into a person, seeing what their soul is, as much as art or writing or anything other
creative endeavor. If I am made by the moment, made by the soil, the seed, the sun and the water, my soul is determined by the cut of
the sleeve, or whether the garden is full of potatoes or 700 different plants of 700 different species. Yes, there is a choice to use rayon
or cotton, to use insecticides or manure, but the other choices are more basic: what do I want to eat and why?
Poetry and Art
Yes, poetry is much like the problem above, especially poetry in translation. Two of my favorite poets, I don't read in translation. I'm going to try to set out explaining why. Here is a verse from one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke:
Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, dass er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäbe keine Welt.
A wonderful image of Rilke's most of his work, showing clearly the apasionada (which I'll explain). Here are some translations:
His gaze has been so worn by the procession
Of bars that it no longer makes a bond.
Around, a thousand bars seem to be flashing
And in their flashing show no world beyond.
His gaze those bars keep passing is so misted
with tiredness, it can take in nothing more.
He feels as though a thousand bars existed
an no more world beyond them than before.
(J. B. Leishman)
His vision from the passing of the bars
is grown so weary that it holds no more.
To him it seems there are a thousand bars
and BEhind A thousSAND bard, uh, no world.
(M. D. Herter Norton)
His sight from ever gazing through the bars
has grown so blunt that it sees nothing more.
It seems to him that thousands of bars are
before him, and behind him nothing merely.
(C. F. Macintyre)
His weary glance, from passing by the bars,
Has grown into a dazed and vacant stare;
It seems to him there are a thousand bars
And out beyond those bars the empty air.
His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bards, and behind the bars, no world.
Yeah, I heard you swear "holy moly!" under your breath, I did out loud. Actually I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. For those of you scratching your heads, bear with me. Okie dokie. This is like the gardening issue because in all of these translations, the poets thought to try to rhyme. (big loud noise) Lets look at Rilke's beautiful, wonderful writing again:
Sein Blick ist vom Vorübergehn der Stäbe
so müd geworden, dass er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäbe keine Welt.
Poety is meant to be heard. It bears repeating: Poetry is meant to be heard. What do we hear? Why is there no breath, no consciousness, no love, but only self-consciousness and hubris in the translations? They seek to possess, to own, to make the poem their's. Rilke is Rilke. To know Rilke is to love Rilke, to be passionate about Rilke, so much so that the German words resound in the breath like a moment without a moment before or after. Rilke, Paz and Houseman are all poets who are THERE. Let's go there. It's a conscious journey, so take the plunge.
tye TE te toe toe TU tay te te TAH te
to TEU te TOE te TAH te TE tay TE
te te tah toe te TAH te TE te TE te
tu TE te TAH te TE te TE te TE
Here is the scan. If you try to say it, ignoring the consonants, you hear the rythmn. Unamerican. Yah, you betcha. No iambic pentameter nothing. What's repeated? Look at the poem. What consonates? (tin, tin or tan, tun). Which are slender vowels, which are thick? Are they set off by slender or thick consonants? German, like English, is a breath language, so what is hissed and spat and coughed and what is sung? Let's look:
zz ayn k sst ff om ff ee ayn sst ayb (with some uhs in there)
zz oe ee oer ss k tss ay el tt
eem sst all zz oeb sst ow sst sst ayb ayb
oon thh een tt tt au sst sst ayb kk ayn eel tt
If you're like me, you suddenly see a sound picture of that hissing panther rubbing the bars that hem him in with that abrupt "tt" sound. Sibilants and fricatives and the long vowels cut off over and over. hiissserrryyowllhiisclankclunkshut. Arndt is the only one who shuts off the panther in the first translation and some let him free. But the trochee battle cry of that last line is what makes this verse work which Arndt completely loses, and thus loses the poignancy of the image.
What is obvious here is the lack of what I call apasionada or acting completely so in love that the self is lost, the self that holds back, that can hold back. We are so used to holding back--HOLDING BACK!!! Some of it is necessary for civilization, but in poetry? In a garden? In a painting? In music? You hear it immediately in sung music where the singer is singing, aware that he is singing to someone. What I mean by apasionada is something done in god. Let me explain a little. I lack the capacity for belief in god. For me, there can never be any god. But I firmly swear that my every living breath is practiced, is lived in god, or apasionada, in love. The word apasionada is Spanish. It shows up in dances like the flamenco, which is not a dance of sex, but a dance of death, of grief. Apasionada may be too Catholic for most of the West, too, well, grief-striken. But we are human. The feeling is grief, but though the consciousness of the moment it is joy, it becomes joy only in the total throwing of the self into the ACT of god or loving without thinking of the act of love, but only being moved to love. For a garden to have integrity, for a poem to have integrity, it must be an act of god, to god, moved by love because of grief. The call of the cantador is a wail of grief but it is love that the wail becomes, great and terrible beauty, beauty so arresting that the moment expands into life--into breath.
Where is god in Rilke's poem? Where was god in these translations? Where was the apasionada?