Between

It was a good garden, but I wanted it
moved from its plot uphill to the pond’s edge

so I could work by the water—green glaze
shimmering away toward some distant willows—

and near the house a marsh
bridged the shift from dry to wet, erasing

seams, the ground going softer, then spongy, then
sunken but still visible through a crest of reeds

where cattle shambled hip-deep and ducks
churned; all the swimming and flying and walking things

met, it seemed to me, in that marsh,
grazing and gulping.

And I wanted to transplant my garden into that turgid soil
against all sense; to bury rootlets of kale, leeks,
squash among the muscular grasses, the wild seeds—

So I stood awhile like that, passing my hands
through the shallows, imagining the joy of whole days

kneeling between those solid and fluid worlds; all day
dipping and lifting. 

                                          (“Between,” Donna Henderson. The Eddy Fence, Airlie Press, 2009

IMG_1394
Playa marsh grass, Summer Lake, OR, 1/18/18

The poem above was written over twenty years ago, from a dream which involved the longing and images it describes. Over fifteen years later, my friend (and sister-poet), Cecelia Hagen  urged me to apply for a writing residency at Playa,  an artist and writers residency program on the shores of Summer Lake, in Oregon’s Great Basin country– a spectacularly wild and remote part of Oregon’s High Desert region. I did apply, was awarded a month-long residency there in late March of 2012…and arrived to find that I had driven straight into the exact landscape of that dream those many years ago– a “place between” I had not known existed, but which poetry knew.

IMG_1407

Six years later, I am at Playa again, IMG_1367halfway into my third week of “dipping and lifting,” along with the 9 other residents which include another poet, two novelists, a filmmaker, a volcanologist and 4 visual artists.

In the Great Basin, a playa (Spanish for “beach”) also means a large, shallow alkali lake that floods in winters and dries up to a desert in summers. Summer Lake, where the residency program is located is such a playa, and since we are here in the winter, our view includes the water that covers much of its 20 mile length and 5-10 mile width…at a maximum depth (or so I am told) of 18 inches. With the constantly changing skies (the wind blows most of the time, whatever else the sky is doing) and with no clear delineation  between marsh, shore, and lake water, the playa is truly a “place between,” surreal and disorienting in its beauty and drama. It demands to be seen, not just viewed, and in doing so, we step into the yet-unknown in all kinds of ways. As Rilke writes in the poem, “To Hölderlin:” […] Hier ist Fallen / das Tüchtigste. Aus dem gekonnten Gefühl /überfallen hinab ins geahndete, weiter” (“Here, / it is best to fall. To surrender, falling, from the known feeling / into the guessed at, and beyond” [translation mine].

IMG_1437

 

This is what we have come for: the space and supported solitude in which to learn again to see, and to fall from “the known feeling into the guessed at, and beyond.”

Below are a few new poems written here, including (and ending with) the poem “Language,” which was written in french, and I can only say “arrived” in the night, inspired by Ahmad Jamal’s composition, Marseille which I have been listening to here.

But first a few others which are part of a poetic sequence collectively entitled Send Word ( which is also the title of my new collection-in-progress as a whole). For that reason, they are not individually titled, and instead simply numbered.

1.

Then light began its slow blaze over the blue-black hills,
glazing the lake’s dark muck.

I expected a ruckus of geese
but one did not arrive.

Nor did a wind stir the grasses to whisper,
nor shiver the waters in mute
delight.

It was to me then to greet it,
for me to rise
to praise.

 

2.

This was the thrill
of the new:

that I did not have to decide,
or strive.

–Love is the primary mission
of language,
I heard.

That I could listen inside of it.

 

3.

At last I can hear my angels.
They speak simply

of basic things:

        Eat more.

         —Slow down

        —Sleep now

No divine revelations—

but then I guess those are.

4.

 

So what of  Love in the primary mission of language” ?

I knew it was true when I heard it,

but I wanted more language to love it with,
what I knew.

                    Oh— I see.

That will do.

 

5.

 

I waited for the next poem,
patient and silent,
palms on my thighs, eyes
closed.

Waited some more.

—No more right now
I heard after awhile.

“If I use a red crayon?”
I asked.

No more right now.

 

 

IMG_1462

Finally,

Language                        

Language, je voudrais commander les langues —tous—
le mieux de caresser chaqu’un dans ma bouche, pour vous.

Language, je nage et mange de vous,
partout.

Language, je sent que vous entendez tout, tel que
le moment que je deviens perdu dans quelques vague regrettes,

desires, vous offrez vous: des mots,
mes guides certains dedans l’angoisse et through.

Language, chaque nuit vous informez mes rêves. Depuis
que vos arômes, vos sons et vos saveurs infuse

mes jours. Language, c’est vraiment infinite,
la vue par vous.

Language, lorsqu’a de temps en temps je quittais vous
Vous ne me quittiez pas, maintenant je sais,

jamais,
jamais,

Vous dormez pas ni départez—
vous attendez

toujours,
toujours.

Language, je suis content d’explorer jusqu’a but
l’infinité des routes que viennent et passe par vous,

bouleversée même par les petites rues
que par les grandes boulevards,
language, de vous.

Language, je voudrais commander les langues —tous—
bien de caresser chaqu’un dans ma bouche, pour vous.

Language, je nage et mange de vous,
partout.

Language, je sent que vous entendez tout, ce que
le moment je deviens perdu dans quelques vague regrettes,

desires, vous offrez vous: des mots,
mes guides certains dedans l’angoisse et through.

Language, chaque nuit vous informez mes rêves. Depuis
que vos arômes, vos sons et vos saveurs infuse

mes jours. Language, c’est vraiment infinite,
la vue par vous.

Language, lorsqu’a de temps en temps je quittais vous
Vous ne me quittiez pas, maintenant je sais,

jamais,
jamais,

Vous dormez pas ni départez—
vous attendez

toujours,
toujours.

Language, je suis content d’explorer jusqu’a but
l’infinité des routes que viennent et passe par vous,

bouleversée même par les petites rues
que par les grandes boulevards,
language, de vous.

***

(For audio file of my recitation of the poem, click below:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Donna C Henderson

Donna Henderson lives on the banks of the Deschutes River in Maupin, Oregon, where she also practices psychotherapy, poetry, music, Reiki, and teaches yoga, among other things.

2 thoughts on “Between”

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