Saturday, September 4, 2010

And Yet Poets, Too, Bestow Meaning-Making Blades - Transcriptions About Poetry & Counsel From A Tamarind Tree Greatly Pruned

[Not a tamarind tree but a shady mimosa whose leaves resemble the tamarind. My friend Maria Cipriani took this photo from the platform of a ruin at Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico when I pointed the "shot" out to her (my camera on the fritz). This photo visually depicts a point I make in the essay about the interdependent relationship of trees and psyche.]

[This essay is inspired by a friend who was to care for a beloved tamarind tree that I grew from a seed I brought back from one of my many trips to Mexico. It flourished in my one room dwelling on the roof but due to my mis-communication Tamarinda (my name for her, the tree) was drying and dying when my friend arrived to water it. The tree is reviving with new leaves and supple limbs now newly conformed by much needed pruning, the radical surgery it needed to survive the long dry season of neglict while I was away.]

What are the roots that clutch, What branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
--T.S. Eliot, from "The Wasteland"

"Sweet Christ, rejoice in my infirmity;
There’s little left I care to call my own.
Today they drained the fluid from a knee
And pumped a shoulder full of cortisone;
Thus I conform to my divinity
By dying inward, like an aging tree."
- Theodore Roethke, from "Infirmity"

My tamarind tree is the only living being I share my life with full-time, such a wonderful healing presence, too, making no demands but for water and some loving reverie. Ah, but people are another matter, not easily watered or cared for though I do my weekly part hour by hour with clients. I must see them as "arboles tamarindos--dulce y amargo estan las frutas" ("tamarindo trees--sweet and bitter are their fruits"), and is not good counsel (therapy/healing/wholing-containing) knowing when to make healing cuts paying attention to those parts in need of pruning to allow for new reaches, new aspirations, new grasping toward space and light, and welcoming night, each leaf tightly folding as darkness gathers revealing tender skeins and veins veiled by day's brightness reflecting from their surfaces? But darkness reveals even tree mysteries unnoticed, unseen until gleaming day recedes when backsides of leaves, shy as monks or new lovers, display inner structures and threads hinting at movements made unseen but for time passages then the thing is grasped as a result expanded.

And as in the tamarind tree's recent fate, presence is the "water" which nurtures, attention and timely pours in a dry season when too much light--insight and inspection of psyche--can parch a soul as did the summer sun magnified by the window glass upon my sweet tree as yet without flower. It is a delicate balance, soul work, 'psyche' work, the word 'psyche' borrowed from ancient Greek referring to the concept of the self, encompassing the modern ideas of soul, self, and mind. The Greeks believed that the soul or "psyche" was responsible for human behavior.

A psyche in Greek mythology also means a butterfly.

How often I saw in Michoacan, Mexico, psyches, their annual destination and return. Monarch butterflies adorn tamarind trees, others, living ornaments reproducing and at rest on trees whose limbs and trunks wear dappled orange brilliance, winged cycles of transformation from silky cocoons to eventual births with stretching of damp wings to dry once windward then ever onward, more orange flights and flight patterns repeating, yet never redundant, lilting passages along invisible trails which only psyches can ken. There is no life without gravity and wind, and the press between.

Butterflies, ancient symbols of metamorphosis, have still living relationships to trees. I witness this vibrant relationship in Mexico and out my window even in New York City, a butterfly all the more psyche in context of brick and steel, a living symbol of intimate interdependence between psyches/souls and trees. The word for 'tree' in Greek is dentro referring to roots which penetrant soil and rock as well as buildings. Dentro in Spanish means inside, within; cocoons, wings, trunks and limbs of trees, penetrate roots boring inside, making within-ness , all these etymological nuances, psyche and dentro amplify dynamic realms between presences in variegating qualities which are rarely seen in action but only when their solidity which is not too solid at that sits, sifts or stands formed for eyes.

Tamarinda, my little tree, strives, proves again to me and my clients, it's branching and greening in the window, that even in dry moments, in intense isolation, she can still revive and recall, as only a tree may in due time, those waste moments of accidental abandonment not only with the evergreen wisdom of a philosophical attitude but also with compassion and a conscious agreement to not be a victim of the harsh aspects of existence which are relationships of all kinds, the not showing up, or showing up too too much when presence then can become a burden, an affliction, driven by a mistaken notion that physical presence is all that is needed rather than the refining qualities of nuance/dance between presence and absence, that very real need for solitude, for quiet to discover that which is within these mulching aspects which are the greater shapers of soul and--I project--of trees.

Tamarinda also mourns, perhaps as only a tree can and "knows" how to do, the loss of leaves, the drying of soil and limbs, for this, too, is tree-life, dying into itself, conforming to its own inner nature, its entelechy, Greek for the potentiality and potency latent/nascent in each particular seed, and to that Great Mystery of Great Nature who has deemed Tamarinda a tree misplaced from her natural environment (Mexico, India, and other countries) to one inherently alien to her, an East Village, New York City window overlooking stalwart etching ginkgo trees true to their own entelechies. Do they converse with Tamarinda peering down at them, their tree tops only an arm's length from the sill, do they speak of exile and adaptation, of longing for return or is all dirt everywhere home so there is no return but that of seasons and the annual return every Fall, as predictable as homing geese, elderly Asian women to gather from the sidewalk the ginkgo fruit whose aromas are those of liver and bark, the pulp and seeds bring a good long life and fertility?

It is no accident perhaps that mythically Adam and Eve, after partaking of forbidden fruit, were exiled awakened, self conscious, to Tree Knowledge, to awareness of the opposites which expels/exiles out of the Garden of Infantile Sleep into dance and dirge, into duende (deep song), into world sorrow found in every existing thing, some memory remembered in DNA but unknown by minds but glimpsed as I did in Mexico's brightness formed to wings shaped by, and shaping, invisible currents of wind...trees and exile, then, are woven mythic tapestry, entwined incarnate life, people and things with or without roots and wings always 'leafing' and leaving, as the poet Rainer Rilke writes, as "creatures who live on departure" (Duino Elegy 9). Gabriel Marcel, Christian existentialist philosopher and writer, refers to the human species not as homo sapiens but as homo viator, man the flyer, man the traveler, man on-the-way. We dream of wings yet need rooting things to catch our free falling into space and time. Tamarinda climbs my pane, twists her delicate limb-ends against the frame, turns them back to herself which is a form of flight pressing and conforming, assenting to limit which locates her own dream of space.

In the history of religion, the history of roots and wings, great internal shifts come from outer strife and striving, happen on or near a tree or within forests of trees--Siddhartha Guatama sitting at his Bodhi tree until, as he insisted, he "awakened", of which there was and is no guarantee but only that remaining impermanence, to become a "Buddha", his back against the tree, his thighs and one hand upon the earth, mirth or mourning, man goes ajourneying each for his/her own awakening not by imitating Buddha but by heeding the force of entelechy and Fate, then sits, flies within, and waits, roots; Jesus of Nazareth, worked wood with Joseph his step father, had an ambivalent relationship to trees (he cursed a fig tree which bore no fruit and perhaps had glimpsed that he would die upon a tree) and also to fathers human and divine for he was but a bastard child, though often proclaiming that he "and the Father were One", was killed by the demands of God the Father to redress the imbalances of Law and Love. He was born on a journey, fled soon after, traveled in adolescence, and returned a wanderer, one who was passing through, proclaiming another kingdom not of this world but of a kingdom awareness brought about by a literal tree, a broken man casting his vision down to those hapless clowns wreaking of fish guts who did remain to drift and dream, to eventually proclaim the Tree Man who frees those who may find his entelechy resonates with theirs.

My little Tamarinda is both my Bodhi and my Cross, my green and groaning aspirations to be true to my own "tree" nature, my entelechy not made or formed at all by me, as well as to just be, no matter the weather, "inwardly conformed" to inherent nature even when Death will inevitably parch me too or pull me up by the roots...all or at least some of this I hope to bring imperfectly, but as shadows do, to my clients, a shade tree, a lean-upon, a tree house, a rooting place, and even kindling, at the same time a pruning force allowing tree nature in clients to be what it is more freely, for is it not always/already what it is though part of human tree nature is to argue, to fight and push against forces greater than embodied selves always seeking and escaping roots, and that all this struggling, too, is as it should be, winging improvisations attended to, at last, by dreams of wake and sleep?

And meanwhile we flourish enough until the final parching, the lightening strike, the forest fire, the killing bore and, yes, the man made and human-wielded hammer and wedge, ax and saw, which fell not just one tree but a forest entire...and yet poets, too, bestow meaning-making blades, and to this I aspire in writing as well as in counseling. Since some form of waking is found in Nature (though not guaranteed) and at Her trees, both Bodhi and Cross, the poet Theodore Roethke's words are fitting:

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

And these Her doings are how to live and how to die all the while as rooted incarnate beings reaching in all directions, other bestowals of yearly deposits of leaves, of seeds, sowing affirmation of more life which is Freud's "Eros Principle", "life wants more of life" and that life wanted is steeped, too, intrinsically, in Death...the "Life/Death" force the more accurate is Roethke's poem entire:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

And so I, too, go where I have to go even if I do not fully know for now or what is ahead. I am perpetually exiled in spite of laying down roots and I know only as one expelled and expanding from places I would never have consciously chosen to go and "I learn by going where I have to go" trusting and arguing with entelechy which may be the me of me. This I know - I will be a tree until I am dead yet still I will be a tree though dead which is a part of tree and certainly a part of Her, Great Nature.

As I write this now on a slow moving train whistling through a Carolina night with its lesson in impermanence and in what remains, the Witness always green, I see my own reflection staring back at me amidst sleeping strangers, other dim shapes fleeting beyond the window wavering while I grow blinder, slowly slowly, in both physical eyes. I will continue to pray Gerard Manley Hopkins's prayer as I do now, for Tamarinda and me, for those passersby whom I serve, my beloved clients:

Lord, send my roots rain.

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