CROCUSES AND EMPATHY

Hydrangea

What’s this about April being the cruelest month?* You’d never catch a pollinator saying that! Not in this latitude, anyway. After a seemingly endless winter, with its freezing sleep, the earth is waking up—and I, for one, spend my days diving in and out of crocuses. You haven’t lived until you’ve felt the great sky behind you but suddenly distant, the violet silk of petals all around, and golden pistils lighting your way into the chambers of another world…

Okay, so I’m not a bee—but I remember vividly a time last summer when I noticed a hydrangea tree buzzing all over. As I paused to watch one bumble bee at his labors, his back legs thickly padded with pollen, something about the way he dipped again and again into the same blossom gave me a dizzying physical sensation of his motion. At a certain point, he cupped the blossom and pressed it close around his head, and I felt a kind of creature-to-creature empathy.

This became one of the activities in my mindfulness class at the jail: not to imagine we could know another’s thoughts or feelings, but to give ourselves over to the pure sensation we might extrapolate from various physical cues. Right now I’m facing a wall; what would it be like to be on the other side of the table, facing the door? I’m wearing a soft aqua sweater today; what would it be like to wear a worn gray sweatshirt instead? What would it be like to be taller, more muscular, bearded? What would it be like to hold my forehead with that tension, deeply creased? One group member was driven half-mad by a noisy cellmate, and I suggested he imagine, next time the man was carrying on, those words at that volume issuing from his own mouth.

To evoke the spirit of the activity, I passed out photocopies of this poem by Pattiann Rogers, who kindly gave me permission to post it here.

 

+

 

Suppose Your Father Was a Redbird

 

Suppose his body was the meticulous layering

Of graduated down which you studied early,

Rows of feathers increasing in size to the hard-splayed

Wine-gloss tips of his outer edges.

 

Suppose, before you could speak, you watched

The slow spread of his wing over and over,

The appearance of that invisible appendage,

The unfolding transformation of his body to the airborne.

And you followed his departure again and again,

Learning to distinguish the red microbe of his being

Far into the line of the horizon.

 

Then today you might be the only one able to see

The breast of a single red bloom

Five miles away across an open field.

The modification of your eye might have enabled you

To spot a red moth hanging on an oak branch

In the exact center of the Aurorean Forest.

And you could define for us “hearing red in the air,”

As you predict the day pollen from the poppy

Will blow in from the valley.

 

Naturally you would picture your faith arranged

In filamented principles moving from pink

To crimson at the final quill. And the red tremble

Of your dream you might explain as the shimmer

Of his back lost over the sea at dawn.

Your sudden visions you might interpret as the uncreasing

Of heaven, the bones of the sky spread,

The conceptualized wing of the mind untangling.

 

Imagine the intensity of your revelation

The night the entire body of a star turns red

And you watch it as it rushes in flames

Across the black, down into the hills.

 

If your father was a redbird,

Then you would be obligated to try to understand

What it is you recognize in the sun

As you study it again this evening

Pulling itself and the sky in dark red

Over the edge of the earth.

 

Pattiann Rogers

from The Dream of the Marsh Wren: Writing As Reciprocal Creation

 

* T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land.”

2 thoughts on “CROCUSES AND EMPATHY

  1. Wonderful post E. 🙂 It brought to my mind the song “Walk a Mile in my Shoes” , specifically the line ‘before you abuse, criticize and accuse-walk a mile in my shoes.
    In never having put on bee’s wings before I thank you for that chance.

    D

    Like

    • Thank you, Duane – it’s nice to hear from you. I’m happy you made the connection you did to those lyrics – and that you were able to share my “flight” of imagination!

      Like

Please share your thoughts and experiences

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s