Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Season of Ash and Somber Penitence

Here are some random Ash Wednesday thoughts.

--You say you're unfamiliar with Ash Wednesday? Are you one of the bajillion people who celebrated Mardi Gras yesterday or maybe you went further and had yourself a season of Carnivale? You have participated in the liturgical year without perhaps even realizing it. Those holidays arose as a response to the liturgical season of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday. In much earlier church times, Lent was a time of discipline, of giving up, of penitence. Many Christians, if they were wealthy enough to afford the items in the first place, gave up sugar and meat and fat and alcohol. So, as the season of Lent approached, they had to get all those items out of the house--thus, a festive party opportunity!

--A decade ago, I was trying to teach myself about rhythm and meter and to actually write in meter. A formalist friend of mine suggested that I use metrical writing already in existence as a model, much the way that hymn writers used to do as they turned drinking songs into hymns. I came up with the line that makes up the title for this blog post, but got no further; it's modeled from the first line of Keats' "To Autumn": "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."

--Ash Wednesday is the high holy days that reminds us that we're here for a very short time. Those of us who go to Ash Wednesday services will have a cross smudged on our foreheads, a cross of ash ideally made from burning the palms from the previous Palm Sunday. We hear some variation of these words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

--One Ash Wednesday, I went for a pre-dawn run at the beach. I heard an old guy with a cigar say, "This is how I'm celebrating Ash Wednesday right here. I'm gonna smoke all day long." I thought that approach actually worked on multiple levels.

--I've written a lot of Ash Wednesday poems: "Ash Wednesday at the Trinity Test Site," "Ash Wednesday in the ICU," "Ash Wednesday on I 95 South," and "Ash Wednesday in Miami."

--Only one of those Ash Wednesday poems has been published, so here, for your Ash Wednesday reading pleasure, is "Ash Wednesday at the Trinity Test Site," which was originally published in The Ledge:

Ash Wednesday at the Trinity Test Site

I didn’t develop a taste for locusts until later.
Instead I craved libraries, those crusted containers of all knowledge,
honey to fill the combs of my brain.

I didn’t see this university as a desert.
How could it be, with its cornucopia of classes,
colleagues who never tired of spirited conversations,
no point too arcane for hours of dissection.
I never foresaw that I might consume too many ideas,
that they might stick in the craw.

I never dreamed a day would come when I preferred
true deserts, far away from intellectual centers.
No young minds to be midwifed,
no hungry mouths draining my most vital juices,
no books with their reproachful, sad sighs, sitting
in the library, that daycare center of the intellect.

The desert doesn’t drown the voice
the way a city does. No drone
of machinery, no cacophony of crowing
scholars to consume my own creativity.
In the desert, the demand is to be still, to conserve
our strength for the trials that are to come.

Here, the earth, scorched by the fissile
testing of the greatest intellects of the last century, reminds
us of the ultimate futility of attempting to understand.
The desert dares us to drop our defenses.
In this place, scoured of all temptations, all distractions,
the sand demands we face our destiny.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Thank you for the poem and these Ash Wednesday thoughts.

Your run on the beach reminded me of my Florida childhood and Palm Sunday there, with actual palm leaves.