Friday, February 19, 2010

Looking Up at the Stars

This week, for Poetry Friday, not a poem, exactly, but a poetic thought.

Mostly I wanted a reason to post this photo of my son from almost ten years ago. It is a collage which must have been a Valentines Day gift. He is two or three here, wearing his favorite train shirt. He was crazy about trains. I keep this little collage on my bookshelf, just above my meditation altar, which takes up another shelf. But I hadn't looked closely at it in a while. I suppose I am feeling sentimental about it as my son has been away for a few days, visiting my father and his wife.

But the foregoing is not the poetic thought I wish to offer. I remembered a passage from a short story by Garrison Keillor having to do with his baby son, and that is what I am offering today.

From "Laying on Our Backs Looking Up at the Stars," by Garrison Keillor:

In 1970, in search of freedom and dignity and cheap rent, I moved out to a farmhouse on the rolling prairie in central Minnesota, ... where I planted a garden and wrote stories to support my wife and year-old son. ... On the Fourth of July, 1971, we had twenty people come for a picnic in the yard, ... and that night we sat around the kitchen ... and talked about the dismal future.

America was trapped in Vietnam, a tragedy, and how could it end if not in holocaust? We were pessimists; we needed fear to make us feel truly alive. We talked about death ..., about racial hatred, pesticides, radiation, television, the stupidity of politicians, and whether Vietnam was the result of strategic mistakes or a reflection of evil in American culture. It was a conversation with cement shoes.

I snuck out to the screen porch with my son and sat and listened to crickets, and my friend Greg Bitz sat with us and two others came out, tired of politics and talk, and we walked along the driveway out of the yard light and through the dark trees and sat down in a strip of alfalfa. ... And then we lay down on our backs and looked up at the sky full of stars.

The sky was clear. Lying there, looking up at 180 degrees of billions of dazzling single brilliances, made us feel we had gone away and left the farm far behind.

As we usually see the sky, it is a backdrop, the sky over our house, the sky beyond the clotheslines, but lying down eliminates the horizon and rids us of that strange realistic perspective of the sky as a canopy centered over our heads, and we see the sky as what it is: everything known and unknown, the universe, the whole beach other than the grain of sand we live on. ...

Indoors, the news is second-hand, mostly bad, and even good people are drawn into a dreadful fascination with doom and demise; their faith in extinction gets stronger; they sit and tell stories that begin with The End. Outdoors, the news is usually miraculous. A fly flew in my mouth and went deep, forcing me to swallow, inducing a major life change for him, from fly to simple protein, and so shall we all be changed someday, but here under heaven our spirits are immense, we are so blessed. The stars in the sky, my friends in the grass, my son asleep on my chest, his hands clutching my shirt.


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