"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Monday, September 5, 2011

Kathleen L. Housley - The Painting of Water


The Painting of Water

by Kathleen L. Housley



“I can give perfect satisfaction...
in guiding water from one place to another.”

-Leonardo da Vinci*

*While Leonardo da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa, he was working with Niccolò Machiavelli as a hydraulic engineer (in Italian, maestro di acque) on plans to divert the Arno River with the goal of making Florence into a seaport. The recent discovery of the New World by Columbus and the subsequent voyages by the Florentine Amerigo Vespucci heightened the project’s importance. Leonardo completed extensive aerial drawings and designed an earth-moving machine. However, the engineer hired to do the job radically changed the design, decreasing the depth of the canal from 30 to 14 feet. In 1504, the project was abandoned when a flood collapsed the walls and 80 soldiers drowned.



The Painting of Water

I.

Even in his dreams there are rivers,
murmuring to the Maestro of Water
to study the vortices of rapids,
the swirling formation of eddies,
to sketch the velocity of floods
roaring down the Tuscan hills,
comparing their hydraulic power
to the dark force of blood coursing
through narrow arterial tunnels,
to draw as well the slow process
of streambed sedimentation similar
to the silting up of veins in old age,
revealed to him by covert dissection
and rigorous analyses as clandestine
as his ideas of evolutionary change.

He wakes with a start, inundated
by the torrent of too many ideas
gushing from the headwaters
of his brain, and before sunlight
glints on the Adriatic and suffuses
pink the Apennines’ eastern slopes,
he jumps from his bed and lets loose
a little rivulet of sepia ink across
the flood plain of an empty page:
here winding into a design for wings,
there looping into a rotating bridge,
before diverting to vacant space
near the paper’s edge where it turns
into a cataract of mirror-imaged words
about shell fossils embedded in cliffs
and geological time far more vast
than Biblical reckoning—Noah’s flood
and crowded ark being replaced
by repeated submergences separated
by the slow uplift of stratified rock.

II.

Given the super-saturation of his mind,
how can he paint her young anatomy
other than as liquid panorama?
Posing for him now, La Gioconda flows,
the ripples in her sleeves like standing waves
reflecting gold, the curlicues of her hair
under a diaphanous veil identical
to swirls of spray at a waterfall’s base.
Had there been no expectation by patrons
that a portrait be painted skin-side-out,
he would be delighted to draw her ribs
arching beneath the pleats of her dress,
the spreading delta of arteries and veins
within her hands, the pulse in her wrist
palpable beneath the hairs of his brush,
whispering of a hidden riparian system
more complex than that of the Arno
which he has recently surveyed,
drawing a detailed bird’s-eye view
as part of a scheme to divert the river,
making his beloved city of Florence,
fifty miles inland, into a prosperous port,
all of which he intends to include
in the background, underpainted blue,
along with jagged peaks, green valleys,
a stone viaduct crossing a stream,
a sinuous road and a bay leading
in the distance to a New World
beckoning in a warm golden haze,
light and shade blending like sea foam,
so that while he seems to portray
a beautiful woman, as he touches
her outlined lips with the brush’s tip,
he siphons into her ineffable smile
the confluence of her bloodstream
and the Earth’s primordial waters,
upwelling with his own heart’s awe
into a landscape beyond the curve of time.

III.

Nearly finished,
he leaves a digit
in her left hand
incomplete,
as if he fears
a final stroke
will stop up
all of nature,
defying
the laws of motion
and stilling
the Prime Mover
who of necessity
must move
or all the world
be dead.
Dynamics
demands that
he unsettle
equilibrium;
one undone
finger,
and her heart
pumps.


Kathleen L. Housley, 2011



About the Author

Making her home in Connecticut, Kathleen L. Housley graduated from Upsala College and holds a Masters from Wesleyan University. Her research and writing interests display a faithful humanism that is both deep and wide, integrating such diverse fields of inquiry as 19th-century suffragism, abolitionism, and Bible translation, the history of art and art collecting in the Modern period, cosmology, anthropology, and the material sciences—all in addition to theology and poetry. Her latest three books are Black Sand: The History of Titanium (2007); a book of poetry, Firmament (2008); and Keys to the Kingdom: Reflections on Music and the Mind (2010), a collection of meditations on the transformative power of music and friendship. Her work has appeared in the journals Image, Isotope, The Christian Century, and Ars Medica, and her poem “A Psalm for a New Human Species” previously appeared on the BioLogos website, in addition to the first of her Leonardo poems, “The Painting of Wings.”






Kathleen L. Housley - The Painting of Wings


The Painting of Wings

by Kathleen L. Housley



“The bird is an instrument functioning
according to mathematical laws,
and man has the power to reproduce
an instrument like this with all its movements.”

- Leonardo da Vinci*

*The opening quote is from the Codex Atlanticus. The quote “tomorrow morning I shall make the strap and the attempt,” is dated January 2, 1496. In his notebooks, Leonardo wrote that the attempt should be made over a lake with a wineskin for a life preserver. He also wrote that destruction could occur if “the machine breaks” or “turns edgewise.” There is no record of whether the attempt actually took place. The Annunciation was probably painted around 1472 when Leonardo was still in Verrocchio’s workshop. There is disagreement as to whether he painted it entirely, but there is agreement that he painted the angel.



The Painting of Wings

I.

More like copious field notes than paintings,
Leonardo finishes few, and even those he considers
works in progress that stopped progressing,
like lava that spewed from a fiery vent
then congealed into a cold parody of motion.
Regretfully, he recalls his half-fledged angel,
painted years before careful observation
and anatomical sketches of hawks and swifts
riding effortlessly on rivers of wind
revealed to him that flight is achieved
by force of air, not physical strength.
Weighed down by short muscular wings
that jut from his scapula, the angel
would have been forced to deliver
the annunciation message on foot,
trudging across a landscape, lovely yet awry,
to kneel at last before the Virgin who reads
from an out-of-perspective Bible. All wrong.

II.

Now he prepares to make amends,
not with paint but with real wings
made with reed bones and linen skin,
designed to finesse the air instead of
pommeling it into submission,
more like those of a bat than a bird.
He jots in his notebook “tomorrow morning
I shall make the strap and the attempt.”
Yet he hesitates, sharing with Daedalus
a concern for catastrophic system failure,
which leads him to decide against jumping
off the roof of the Corte Vecchia,
choosing instead to launch from a cliff
beside a lake, wrapped in soft chamois
to protect his bones, with an empty wineskin
tied securely around his waist
in case the whole thing come unglued
and he plummet, like Icarus, from the sky.

III.

Leonardo deems it the boy’s own fault
for not paying attention to his father’s warnings
about the narrow operating parameters
and material limitations of wings,
specifically the low melting point of beeswax
if he should fly too near the sun,
and the weight of water on the feathers
if he should fly too near the waves.
But Daedalus had to share some of the blame
for perceiving of wings as nothing more
than a practical means of escape,
impervious to the joyous uprush of blue.

IV.

Darkness descends, and Leonardo recalls
his childhood dream of a hawk hovering
over his cradle, while in the refectory,
the dim glow from a lamp illumines
the scaffolding before The Last Supper,
and in his workshop candlelight flickers
on the clay model of a great horse,
both awaiting his hands and mind
to reach perfection, heightening his fears
that he may have miscalculated
the mathematical laws of flight,
and that the morning’s planned attempt
should be postponed until he is sure
the sum does not equal his own death.

V.

As he falls asleep, he thinks he hears
the ominous vibration of wing struts.
He centers his weight, struggling
not to turn edgewise to the wind,
until all at once, in equilibrium,
he glides on the streams of the sky
before beginning a spiral descent,
landing at last by an earth-bound angel
who listens raptly to a woman reading aloud
from the Codex on the Flight of Birds.


Kathleen L. Housley, 2011



About the Author

Making her home in Connecticut, Kathleen L. Housley graduated from Upsala College and holds a Masters from Wesleyan University. Her research and writing interests display a faithful humanism that is both deep and wide, integrating such diverse fields of inquiry as 19th-century suffragism, abolitionism, and Bible translation, the history of art and art collecting in the Modern period, cosmology, anthropology, and the material sciences—all in addition to theology and poetry. Her latest three books are Black Sand: The History of Titanium (2007); a book of poetry, Firmament (2008); and Keys to the Kingdom: Reflections on Music and the Mind (2010), a collection of meditations on the transformative power of music and friendship. Her work has appeared in the journals Image, Isotope, The Christian Century, and Ars Medica, and her poem “A Psalm for a New Human Species” previously appeared on the BioLogos website.






R.E. Slater - Jars of Clay (a poem)




Jars of Clay
by R.E. Slater



Is there a reconciliation that may be found

At the weathered hands of Father Time -

Where hearts are broken beyond remits

Groaning loving-care’s clarion chimes?

Ringing o' ringing in the halls of wear

Unheard a dulled ear’s deaf stirrings -

Unwearied ensnaring grasping fares

Soon ruined a dark reef’s moorings?

Then away, away, come away at once

To faith’s fraught shoals and lauded lands -

Where sycamore trees arise tall bonded communions

And butterscotch'd groves flow o’er grace’s rolling strands.

Bathed in rosetted fugues of cherry blossoms perfuming sweet airs

And there lie 'twining amid the hallowing silences of shrouded black boles -

In spellbound hush o'er lush verdant swards of pilloried souls risen all-glorious

Whence plucked from death’s withering hands and unsparing scythe unreaped.

Lifting as thrice bound sonatas upon forgiveness’ flutes of fruit’d harmonies

Bursting unfettered lo discord’s mighty lairs of chaining darkness -

Ruptured from cold earth's torn despairs and chiming griefs

Forever moored a glad Fellowship’s eternal fortresses.

Nay, if ever a reconciliation ere be found in thee

Pray fall Incarnate Love unsparingly -

Poured from yielded earthen jars of knelling clays

Birthing sweet ambrosial nectars remitting parched souls a’thirst.


                                                                                                  - R.E. Slater
                                                                                                      Sept – Nov, 2011

                                                                                                                                                                                            @copyright R.E. Slater Publications

                                                                                                                                                            all rights reserved


The rich black boles of blooming cherry trees

AUTHOR’S NOTES

I have written and re-written this verse attempting to purge its sealed mysteries into sight for us poor earth-bound souls faithless and benighted in humanity’s withholding cloths of fleshly concerns and mortal pales. I wanted to fashion a poem that collided intense descriptions with lurid imagery, and against irregularly compressed metaphors, again, and again, and again, until we wearied of the words and could only read it numbed and lost within the verse’s sublimity.

I further wished to avoid reading this poem in tripping verse, or in everyday rhyming parlance, and have broken up the meter just enough to momentarily pause the eyes and arrest our attentions. There is, however, a slight cadence that can be found within its phrases when initiated by breathing stops and pauses. I also imposed an uncommon structure onto it that would mash together its sacred thoughts into a blinding composition of white light whose prismatic rainbow is only seen when read more thoughtfully.

Lastly, I wished to convey life’s greater adventures found within the rich compositions of everyday joys and wonders, beheld in the arts, in sound and canvas, horticulture and nature, sacred communions and worship. How each abounds to us at the Divine’s hand as they can abound from ourselves to one another’s hands when practicing the arts of service to one another. For is not the heart of creation like that of its Creator?

Hence, we may deliver life - against death’s imposing grip - when seeking to help and assist those near to us in common ways. Through the simplicities of listening, sharing, respecting, loving. We do this in the knowledge that we are chosen vessels brought into this life to enrich one-another’s lives - however beggarly they may first appear to our sight or circumstances. For it is not the vessel itself that brings life’s fullness to bear, but the ambrosial nectars that that vessel holds within which enriches friendships and fallow, wheel and fortune.

Curiously, this poem’s thematic elements blend in with its visual shape, and when later discovering this I made both one, into a visual poem about becoming jars of clay. For it is in the very act of service to others - and only then - that our true purpose may be found in acts of sharing with one another in a community of common-use pottery. Some dinged up and battered, others enriched and ornate. But no matter, it is the nectars within the vessel that gives all-and-one joy and usefulness. And yet, there are some pots that are cracked, and others that leak, that can give no service to anyone until bound-up and restored into service’s assembly. The metaphor extends even further when considering unused dusty bowls and unwashed pots unprepared for service to anyone until discovered and re-purposed by a fellowship’s divine.

For should we disdain the use of our talents and abilities, powers and resources, knowledge and connections, it is to give harm to our societies forever fraught with greed and ambition, pride and jealousy, unkindness and sin. But to become vessels that pour out grace and mercy, humility and kindness, courageousness and truth, is to present a society of men and women strengthened into living, organic fortresses immovable, beauteous and inviting.

So then, it is not how pretty the pot… nor how banged-up and unpainted the bowl or jar…. Value is not found in the thing itself. But in the vessel’s use and service. A simple thing to explain but one forever misunderstood in practice and practicalities. Be then mere “jars of clay” become vessels useful for service.

R.E. Slater
Nov 7, 2011


But now, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

                                                  - Isaiah 64.8

But we have this treasure in jars of clay,
to show that the surpassing power
belongs to God and not to us.

                                                              - 2 Corinthians 4.7


Cherry Blossoms