Tag Archives: storytelling

Vox Humana Week on WIZ

As deeply as I feel the charge from hearing a coyote call close by or catching the wood-and-water chuckle of wild turkeys, as fully as wind flittering through cottonwood leaves inspires me to listen and to breathe, I appreciate the sing-sound of the well-turned human tongue.

Sometimes, in lonely canyons, when there’s no one else there, I’ve heard noises my ear interprets as half-words and singing threading around stone bends like odors rising off home cooking.  While intriguing and beautiful, these voices confuse the human ear, which is always hoping for sounds or phrases of address, the touch of deep-reaching words.

As I’ve said elsewhere, people need to feel that touch of fine language but out of need often settle for less, trying, sometimes desperately, to make more of poor speech than is actually there. We strive, like Rapunzel, to spin gold from straw.  Even when by illusion we half-succeed, we often pay for it by loss of relation. Human language is beautiful when it rises out of wellsprings of feeling for others, when people speak in such a way as to make it possible for others to hear. My experience is that animals can also come to rely on the human voice, similarly hoping to feel its strong effects.

Much of our language is a wasteland of discordant sound and unreaching yet grasping words.  For the rest of the month on WIZ, I hope to post links to poets and others reading or singing their work, good stuff that sits nicely in the ear.  If I’m lucky, we’ll get up some podcasts, including of me reading. Anybody visiting WIZ who thinks he or she might have something suitable for broadcast, please email me at pk.wizadmin@gmail.com.

To start, you can go here (link) to hear Leslie Norris read his poem “Water.”  When you reach the link, click on “Listen to Leslie Norris reading ‘Water'”.

[Edited 12/21/13 to weed out odd formatting symbols introduced by a WIZ update done a few years ago.]

Guest post by greenfrog: Iona

It seems strange to think that sitting with what’s left of a woman who second-mothered me most summers and for two school years of my life is yoga, but it was the most heart-opening practice I’ve done.

What’s left? A bag of bones, draped with a thin and mottled fabric of skin. Bits and pieces of the sharp-tongued intellect, the manipulative middle sister, the telecom executive mind, the loving aunt to a dozen or so nieces and nephews.

“…aaaaaaaaaarrrraaaaaeeeaaaerrammmmaaaarrreeeaa…”

She’s stuck in the middle of a word, intoning it until the breath of the word runs out. She looks at me, confused – unsure of whether it’s the word or her mind or my presence that is out of place, not right.

Eyes look out from deep hollows in her skull, the upper lip drawn up, exposing the greyed and yellowed front teeth. The eyes seem to have shrunk, eyelid skin disappearing under the ocular orbits of her skull, a bottomless crevasse, reappearing hugging the round eye.

How can an eye look uncertainly? Is it the shape of the eyelids? The brows? Hers never move.

A sentence about the dogs she cared for 30 years ago comes out clearly, intoned with the wry sense she used when managing us as kids, telling me of a white dog trying to hide in the greenery of her backyard.

“eeeeeehhhhhhhaaaaaaaahhhhhhheeeeehhhhhh”

She gets stuck on another word; runs out of breath. Stops to inhale.

Yesterday, the daylight from the window at the head of her bed cast artists’ shadows across her face, framing her skeleton head in a silver halo of clean, frizzy hair. Despite her complaints, the room is clean, the temperature is pleasant, she’s only ten steps from the nurses’ station.

She tried to get out and about on her own a week ago and fell. The scabs and bruises mottle her skin even more than age. She’s got a clear adhesive bandage on a wound on her wrist, too tempting a target for the hen’s pecking instinct, the unwatched fingernails’ primate-picking-grooming instinct.

Yesterday, she was sleepy, drifting off, startling awake when doors closed in the corridor. The light was really perfect for drawing. I had a sketch book in my bag, but I was seated beside her bed, her cool fingers holding my hand. Once when she drifted off, I thought to slip my hand from hers and retrieve my sketchbook. But even a millimeter of movement brought her back awake in a moment. I resisted the sketching urge and held still. I was the one posed.

Today, the light is more muted, as the advance guard of a snowstorm moves into the valley. I can still see the bone shapes in her face, the drooping cloth of her skin lying across the skull, her front teeth protruding from aging, drawn back lips, the weight of her skin draping toward her ears. With a sketch today, I think I could capture the light I saw yesterday.

What’s with this urge to sketch? Just to free my hand, my self from this diminishing biome? Create distance from her, to turn her into an abstraction of darkness and light? Or maybe a desire for the intimacy of drawing someone, my eye touching each edge, each curve, probing each shadow of her face, an intimacy we once shared through words, an intimacy that too many strokes, each cutting off blood to a different fragment of mind, now deny us?

She reaches for my hand again. I receive hers.

She articulates as carefully as she can, “I would find it quite pleasant if you would remove this bandage,” lifting her bandaged wrist. I tell her that the doctor would be unhappy with me if I did that. We repeat this conversation five or six times during the hour. Sometimes I defer to medical expertise. Sometimes I lie about doing it later. Sometimes I look her in the eye and tell her that I think she’d pick it raw without a bandage. My responses seem to matter more for the sound of my voice than the content of the words. Do I mislead myself that the actual words don’t matter?

I pause to take a breath myself. It doesn’t bring me back to center, but it does stretch, then relax more deeply the intercostal muscles. I’m reminded that I’m the mind of a body. I rest, holding her cool fingers in mine.

Walking back to my car in the parking lot, my heart feels strange, entangled, alive.

____________________________________________________________

For greenfrog’s blog, In Limine, go here.  For his bio, go here.

Guest post by green mormon architect: 8.3 Million

As the bus exits the Lincoln tunnel and enters Manhattan, I strain my neck to look out the window at the buildings towering over me in the narrow corridor called a street.  I am overwhelmed with awe at the beauty and majesty of this new environment.  I can hear, feel and smell the city breathing with both life and decay.  Steam coming out of the asphalt.  Music coming out of a church.  Rotten food coming out of buildings.  Light coming out of windows.  People walking everywhere.  I am a foreigner here.  Where can I find shelter, or a drink of water?  Where do I push my stick into the landscape, like Brigham, and say this is where I will begin?

I decide to explore this living organism called a city.  Much more seems to be going on here than is visible on the surface.  The landscape before me is teeming with life like a tree, with roots extending deep into the earth and branches soaring into the sky.  Lightning and water flow hidden through arteries giving life to all.  Burrowing under the city’s skin I enter one of the arteries called a subway.  Here I am transported to another time.  As I emerge, not knowing what to expect, my eyes take time to adjust to the changed scene before me.  A person reeking of urine and dressed in rags asks for money.  I get a sandwich from a guy at a deli.  Someone follows me calling out that he knows me, but I’ve never seen him before.  This part of the city is old.  The scale of all I see is different.  Ground Zero lies in ruins.  People around me share where they were when it happened.  There is a wall lining an entire street with flowers and graffiti-like markings.  One of the scrawlings says, “I sat in silence watching.”  Why are all these people here?

By chance I run into a friend from high school.  I don’t know what to say to him.  He doesn’t say anything, so we pass each other on a piece of concrete called a sidewalk.  How do I make my mark?  How do I make a difference?  I run into a friend from college.  He lives here now.  We talk as though we were not in a foreign place.  I forget that I am the foreigner.

An obsession begins to develop towards this strange wilderness.  I feel at home for the first time in my life even though I am alone.  But I’m not alone.  This vast landscape is layered with people, surfaces, textures, and materials that combine infinitely to provide me the community, music, crime, art, filth, food, and beauty that I need.  Every stranger I pass on the street helps contribute to make each of these parts of my life here possible.   Again I burrow into the city’s skin.

I emerge reborn, now a child of the city, confident.  I am ready to begin.  I know where in the landscape to place my stick.  I enter a box called an elevator and fly upwards, unseen, as high as is humanly possible, to the top of an Empire.  Here I stand on stones carved out of the earth by human hands.  These stones suspended 1250 feet above the street allow me to see the grandest achievements of Humanity.  It is February 14th at midnight.  Sleepless in Seattle comes to mind.  Except my love is not coming for me.  My love is already here, all 8.3 million of them.

____________________________________________________________

Jonathan is an architect and blogger who loves talking about sustainability, the environment, buildings, and cities.  He has worked in Orlando, San Francisco, Portland, and now Salt Lake where he is approaching one year in Utah working for the LDS Church.  He blogs at green mormon architect and salt lake architecture and is looking forward to a return trip to New York next month.

August is people month on WIZ

I’ve decided to officially declare August Homo narrans month on WIZ.  Throughout the month, I’ll post narrative prose and poetry that’s people-centric in nature.  Homo narrans (“storytelling man”) is John D. Niles’ provocative turn on our self-assigned scientific designation Homo sapien:

Only human beings possess this almost incredible cosmoplastic power, or world-making ability… Through storytelling, an otherwise unexceptional biological species has become a much more interesting thing, Homo narrans: that hominid who not only has succeeded in negotiating the world of nature, finding enough food and shelter to survive, but also has learned to inhabit mental worlds that pertain to times that are not present and places that are the stuff of dreams (p. 3).

When I write poems and essays that focus on nature, human presence permeates them — my presence out in nature as observer of and participant in some events and also as teller of the stories I relate.  Also deeply important: the audience who follows these narrative trails with me.  Though it might not appear obvious, my writing is all about people.  I wouldn’t present my narratives to audiences if I did not carry deep and growing feeling for fellow humans.  But I worry — a little — that the feeling I bear toward my own kind doesn’t shine through as much as I might hope.   So I’m tipping my hand.

One of the reasons I don’t write much (comparatively) about people is that hummingbirds or deer or swallows don’t especially care much if I write about them, but some of the people with whom I’ve had stunning encounters and whose stories weave through mine might feel put out by my narrative take on events or as if confidences have been betayed.   I embark on this project with the greatest respect and undying affection for my fellow beings.  As far as I’m concerned, the same rules of engagment apply in the human environment as when I’m out in the natural one.

Pretending, for the moment, they are not one and the same environment. 

Throughout August, then, WIZ will run narrative pieces celebrating the human presence on this planet and in general reveling in both the perks and glorious ironies of being human.  Readers wishing to join in — please feel encouraged to do so.   Stories, poems, fiction, or hybrid pieces that weave natural threads through the human narrative tapestry are especially welcome.  Please read the Submissions guidelines then send your best Homo narrans efforts to wilderness@motleyvision.org.

_____________________________________________________________

Niles, John D.  Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature.  Philadephia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Hudson’s Geese: Reprise

(For Leslie Norris)

By Tyler Chadwick

Day’s last reflections
catch on wind-swept ripples
as two geese throw shadows
across watered silence.
Embraced by echoes,
each circles the other.
Tracing this current,
I watch Hudson’s pair
venturing back
across the continent:
Her wings bear no scars
of hapless encounter
with fox or wolf or man;
his body carries
no hunter’s spray,
the lead that felled him
to the dogs. They bask
in this dusking plane,
watching the horizon
gather them, leaving
phantom indentations
in the eyes of those who
understood their love.

 

Tyler Chadwick is an academic refugee from Utah living in Idaho with his wife, their three daughters, and their Miniature Schnauzer, Bosley. He leapt into the Mormon blogging scene at A Motley Vision (his home away from home) when Theric Jepson’s post about Onan’s sin coaxed him to finally plant his rhetorical seed in the field of Mormon letters. His poetry has appeared in Metaphor, Dialogue, Irreantum, Salome Magazine, Black Rock & Sage, and on WIZ (here and here) and AMV (here and here) and many of his poems and his Mormon Poetry Project can be found on his personal blog. He enjoys chasing clouds and draws his natural philosophy from Whitman: “You air that serves me with breath to speak! / You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape! / You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers! / You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides! / I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear to me.”

“Hudson’s Geese: Reprise” was originally published in Irreantum: A Review of Mormon Literature and Film 8:1 (2006).  For Irreantum’s home page, go here.

If you would like to read Leslie Norris’ poem “Hudson’s Geese,” go here.

The Island for Poi: a short story by Lora

“The Island for Poi” is a short story written in the “And that’s how the fox got his red coat” tradition, except with a twist: this story is about how the fantastic and mysterious relics found on an island came to be there.  Also, the story is told by a first person narrator who learned the “truth” in parts.  It’s a fun and breezy rite-of-passage tale, as satisfying to read as a berry can be to eat.  Its nature overtones make it a good fit for WIZ.

Lora lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two children, dog and rat. She is currently reading Atlas Shrugged. Lora gardens, writes, and runs the household. She is also preparing for the next school year when she will have both children enrolled in cyberschool.  

 

“Poi Maluuma, you get in here!”

Poi was second oldest of us seven boys, and cursed with the curse of secondness, as everyone knew. As he slouched into the shade of the tree where our family spent our days, he dragged his big feet and hung his tousled head. It was much too hot for Momma to sit or cook in the hut until after dark, but that didn’t stop her from growling her command anyway. While Dad went fishing and could be anywhere at sea, everyone knew that home was where the Momma was.

She stared up at him from where she reposed on a mat in the shade of the tree. Momma was not your typical openhearted islander. Other women sometimes asked each other if she had even been born among the Friendly People. She was steely and flinty. I didn’t know these were the words for her until years later when I went away to Chile for school. Eventually it would occur to me that Momma might have been channeling the soul of some mean housewife from Detroit. She was bad for the tourist business. She didn’t care what others thought. She had seven boys and she always declared that she had been stricken enough. Continue reading The Island for Poi: a short story by Lora

Degrees of Coyoteness

As I walked out of a nearby canyon last week using the same trail where I reported having an encounter with a curious coyote, my nose detected gases given off by putrefaction.  Somewhere nearby, bacteria were at work breaking down formerly living tissue to simpler matter, dispersing an organism’s worldly goods to its biological heritors.

To this we must all come.  But who has come to it now, and where?    

Walking deeper into the field of decomposition gases, I looked around, guessing what I would find.  I was approaching the gravel pit, a dumping ground for domestic and wild animal carcasses and the scene of occasional war crimes of the sort some people commit against animals.  It’s common to find coyote remains around the pit, along with elk and deer carcasses, tree prunings, the ashes of bonfires, articles of clothing, and aerosol cans—the residue of “huffing” parties. Continue reading Degrees of Coyoteness

The Kingdom of Pissemyre

by J. Max Wilson

East of the cemented waste, the aspen stood, a sapling still,
And there a few aphidian peasants leeched their lives from phloem’s rill.
They lapped the aspen’s sweetest sap; rapt in bohemian blissmare, blind—
And sapped the sapling of its health (though still it prospered of a kind).

Then came the Bishop Barnaby and Stinkfly Deacon forth to feed,
And sanguinary sermons spoke with lurid liturgy and creed.
And so, by priestcraft’s gory glut, their doctrine inadvertently
Restored the tree to verdant form, though only temporarily.

Then from across the crackèd desert came the Piss’myre army, strong—
The ‘nighted nibelungian host marched one-by-one as ‘counts the song.
And up the sapling, up they marched (still one-by-one-by-one) until
With formic might the pissant host subdued the lesser peasants’ will.

The dreaded deacons then received the doctrine they themselves had taught.
The bloody bishops banished were, to starve to death for all they wot.
And in their place the Piss’myre lords set up a new society;
A kingdom grand, a great machine of order and efficiency:

“Divide, assign, to each allot a place, a part, a role to play;
To each his branch, his twig, his leaf, an overseer to obey.
Revoke their freedom every whit, yet to their vice impose no let:
To cultivate and harvest more their sweet, mellif’rous excrement.”

And gladly, gladly did submit the chattel to their slavery,
Contented only to be free to wallow in debauchery.
So nurtured by their overlords the lech’rous population waxed,
And ‘neath the load of sponsored sin the aspen sapling’s blood was taxed.

Through sun-scorched day and dark new moon, the kingdom throve thus for a spell,
And still the tree, all wan the leaves, drew strength from root’s deep, clonal well.
‘Till on a night an august storm with thund’rous wind ‘rose from the west;
The trees all danced ‘fore God’s great breath; from each its wrath obeisance wrest’.

The scent of dawn hung o’re the earth, while sun’s ascent revoked the night,
And lo, what new apocalypse dispensed now was by mourning light?
The jagged edge of xylem cracked; the leaves pressed wet against the ground;
Behold! The Kingdom down is cast! It’s unseen canker now is found!

There! bored by pissants through the pith, an hidden tunnel had been wrought
Up through the trunk, through which the yield of sin-crop might be swiftly brought!
And compromisèd thus the constitution of the sapling’s core,
The aspen could not then endure the storm and tribulation sore.

To ev’ry kingdom, vast or microscopic, certain laws are laid,
And exhortations, prophesies, and types and shadows in them played.
And so a warning sign is raised to kingdoms great and persons small:
Beware the taste of honeydew, lest thou like Piss’myre also fall.

 

For helpful notes on this poem’s content, go here.

J. Max Wilson’s personal blog, Sixteen Small Stones, may be found here.

Welcome to Wilderness Interface Zone

There’s something about walking out of the desert or other wild or marginally wild area that you don’t get walking into it.  Something that you feel in your return to others sharing the fire or that comes from sliding into your vehicle to head home at the end of a hike or campout.  Something about completing the journey on foot, walking through the front door, closing the circuit. Continue reading Welcome to Wilderness Interface Zone