Thursday, April 16, 2015

Poetics of Airy Sacred Gnomes

Like last week, I will present the poem before the essay.
Like two weeks ago, I will follow the essay with some light fiction from “free fall” (as explained in this month’s Dr. Fell post).

Vocabulary: The word “glen” is from Scots-Irish meaning a narrow valley. At home, where the bow river eases through a spread out flat prairie landscape, I chuckle to refer the area of Glenbow.
The rest of the airy poem is in the footnotes.

The Fairies
By William Allingham

Up the airy mountain
Down the rushy glen
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men

Sacred (essay)
Strange to think of an airy land being sacred, although I did read a story as a child (Perhaps in Alfred Hitchcock Presents) where there was a remote valley sacred to the indigenous God. A rich hunter persists on going into it, following some game. Luckily the white-man God comes into his camp at night and gives him a little totem. I imagined the hunter’s God as wearing a blue plaid jacket like my father wore.

I suppose an atheist might think there is no need for sacred, just as, to him, there’s no need for religion. I answer: Not quite. While I would never advocate religion to an atheist, sacred is something else. I would ask the person: Do you have a study desk that is just for studying? If you are associated with the armed forces, then do you have a parade square that is sacred, a square you would have to go walk all the way around rather than casually amble across? In both cases you beheld an object, or a place, to set your intention to study or train.

Sacred needn’t mean blindly religious. At your study desk you might do arts and crafts on a pre-Christmas weekend; if it’s dark late at night on an army base, then, after boozing in the bar, you might dash across the parade square to get back to barracks. I admitted doing so to a military policeman, while under interrogation, and we both laughed. (The MP was trying to track everyone’s movements on that night)

To me cemeteries are sacred, in a semi-religious way, but if scientists ever had a reason to believe an old graveyard might contain useful information on the origin of the deadly Ebola virus, then I would be first in line with a shovel. “The dead must serve the living,” I say. Again, sacred does not mean rigidly religious.

If my atheist friend confuses sacred and religious, then perhaps it is because the sacred intention being set is so often religious. But not always. I would point this out to my friend by rhetorically asking: Where is the religion in a preserved French battlefield where one is directed to neither laugh nor sing? Where is the religion in bowing as you enter the martial arts dojo? And what of that special area of an awesome intention to reach out, not for the religious but for the spiritual?

Ah, spirituality
In our day and age, “spirituality,” as you know, is freely individual. Scripture-free. It’s not organized, not coercive and certainly not oppressive. How sweet to peer through the veil between this world and the next, or to seek a connection with another realm, or to seek a higher power whom some would call God, or to seek to transcend our common mundane life—Give me airy Gnomes and Fairies!

Perhaps spiritual is what I mean by sacred, and perhaps my meaning differs too much from the mainstream. Then again, our words change as our understanding changes.

I think there are things undreamed of in our everyday philosophy, things that, like a dream, cannot be grasped as solidly as we would grab a shovel handle. I sense this.

In the Pacific Northwest the indigenous elders would wrap away their sacred carved masks until next year, not to preserve their “specialness,” not like a store packs away seasonal decorations, but, rather, to preserve for their people the opportunity to connect with the spiritual. I’m sure the elders were practical hunters, serious and realistic, yet also willing to see something beyond the horizon. 

“If the spiritual did not already exist, we would have to invent it.” (Paraphrasing Voltaire)

Gnome (Fiction)
I’ve mentioned my free fall group before. Our “prompt” one morning was “something heard on a public conveyance (bus or taxi)”

I’ve been a bus driver for a long time—of course I like my job. I always half regret when they change my route after every six months, because by then I’ve gotten to know Margret and Maggie and little Meg.

One day, of average summer weather, after the commuter crowd had dwindled, and I was waiting at my time stop, I heard a voice from the bottom of my stairs, saying “hello.”
I said hello back, guessing that it was a man, not a woman, just don’t ask me what age, a man dressed in a gnome costume, complete with tall hat.

The fellow continued, “Do you gnome the way to San Jose?”
I said, “I’m going right there. I guess you mean the San Jose Jotel, right on top of San Jose Pizza.”
“Yes,” he said, climbing the stairs to sit nearest me. “I’ve got a lot of friends, and there’ll be a place to stay.” He sat down with a lumbering motion of the older, but not the coordination of the oldest, and not the flop of the youngest. Then he leaned forward with the posture of a chatty customer, my favorite type.

I pulled the mighty swivel lever and swooshed the door, asking, “Have you been here before?”

“I’ve been away too long, too long among the mundane world.”

“Oh. Well, where do you hang your hat?”

“This weekend, with my fellows at LepreCON, the convention for the non-mundane at heart.”

“Hold that thought,” I said as I pulled out to the road.

He added, “Normally my hat is in a lot of closets, for I’m such a Gnomeo at heart.”

Peering into mirrors and the distance I said, “I can’t nudge wink to you, I’m driving… Have you a philosophy, oh Gnomeo?”

“Yes, yes I have come to believe that life is a great big freeway, and we are all free to travel the less mundane road, if we like.”
The road rumbled while we pondered this.

I said, “I see you like wearing green.”

“It’s not easy, being a gnome, but with a dream in your heart you’re never alone.”

Sean Crawford
~It was when she played the voice of Juliet in the 2011 animated movie Gnomeo and Juliet I first learned who Emily Blunt was. It’s a fun show. (Emily’s also the heroine in that 2014 Tom Cruise sci-fi movie, Edge of Tomorrow, and she’s in the fairytale musical Into the Woods)

~I can’t resist saying that in Edge Cruise does not just smile pretty but is a good actor, as a reviewer at Roger Ebert’s site notes. Cruise plays a uniformed noncombatant, a jobnik, a public relations flack named Cage (No doubt because he’s caged by the war) Writes Matt Zoller Seitz , “Cage is a complex and demanding role for any actor. It is especially right for Cruise in that Cage starts out as a Jerry Maguire-type who’ll do or say anything to preserve his comfort, and learns… By the end he’s nearly unrecognizable from the man we met in the opening.” Link to the review.

~My poetry policy, for all these past posts, is only to present what I have memorized. For today’s poem, I can only recite the first verse, so that’s what I posted. For the rest of it, here’s the link.

~Sometimes stuff, rather randomly, makes it onto our FreeFall Fridays blog. We post it as it was written that day, not revised. (Except for spelling and punctuation) Here is the link.

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