Jesus and Woody

Taos

Taos, New Mexico. Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

Taos, New Mexico is a beautiful place. Imagine a warm summer evening sitting by a creek that rolls quietly to the river Rio Grande; you feel the magic of water in the desert. Water grants life; renews life. So precious is a life. My mind’s eye travels miles in seconds. Looking down from the bridge that crosses the narrow Rio Grande gorge, I toss a pinyon branch and I watch it travel through the canyon by the pueblos on it’s journey to Santa Fe; and then at Albuquerque where the river flattens and widens and water birds play along the shore; and on past El Paso where the river becomes the border between Texas and Mexico – a shallow river – a place of crossings for wild things – those beings naturally wild, we call free and others made wild by violence and fear, tired, poor and hungry seeking relief and asylum. Precious lives. There is no need for brick and mortar; we have built a wall of fear. An informative article in the April 23, 2018 New Yorker “A Voyage Along Trump’s Wall” sought to inspire discussion; discussion and compromise all seem so romantic now as we enter this the latest chapter of shock and awe.

Blessed am I able to freely sit and breathe and feel the special magic of a place. On this solstice day may the light shine and illuminate our way.

Happened upon the new Ry Cooder recording The Prodigal Son. It’s a good one. Keep thinking of the lyrics of his song Jesus and Woody inspired by Woody Guthrie’s song Jesus Christ where Woody (writing in 1940) speculates modern capitalist society would kill Jesus too. Listen to Woody sing here on YouTube. Ry’s lyrics – singing from Jesus’ perspective –  stick with me:

“so sing me a song ‘bout this land is your land’

and fascists bound to lose

you were a dreamer, Mr. Guthrie, and I was a dreamer too…..”

“…..some say I was a friend to sinners

but by now you know it’s true

guess I like sinners better than fascists

and I guess that makes me a dreamer too…..”

 

embrace and see

 

Seebeyondmask

Robin L. Chandler, 2018

Some memories are like small towns on country roads;

once well travelled, now enigmas signifying an interstate exit.

Sister reminded me Mom’s favorite perfume was Faberge’s Tigress.

Dad bought her Tigress every Christmas.

Tigress: the sleek bottle containing the amber liquid crowned with a tiger skin stopper.

Unconscious memories no longer a mystery.

“Comprehend without your head

and without your ears, listen

to noiseless, un-mouthed words.”[1]

My mother was a Tigress – that was no mask.

She comprehended the noiseless, un-mouthed words of others.

Listening without her head and ears she always saw the truth behind other’s masks.

No matter how deep it cut-to-the-bone she always spoke her truth.

See suffered no fools.

And she always gave herself away for the benefit of others.

Across time and space I see you.

I embrace you.

I love you Tigress for all you did and hoped for me.

Namaste.

Written while listening to Caetano Veloso singing Cucurrucucu Paloma en Vivo inspired by the lyrics translated from Portuguese to English.

[1]A quote from Attar’s poem The Conference of the Birds, translated by Shole Wolpe

Round Midnight

roundmidnight

Robin L. Chandler, 2018.

 

bittersweet

hope tinged with sadness

lonely cup of coffee with Hopper’s Nighthawks

searching for something; wishing to share

rounded body of all things in one

painting

rough and smooth

wet and dry

loosing yourself in the the act, life emerges

rounded body of all things in one

 “things that gave way entered unyielding masses,

heaviness fell into things that had no weight.”

From Ovid’s TheMetamorphoses, Book I, translated by Horace Gregory

Written listening to Thelonious Monk and Gerry Mulligan play Round Midnight on Mulligan Meets Monk recorded in New York City; August 12 – 13, 1957

A field in winter

Field

Robin L. Chandler, 2018

Winter has brought short days, cold nights, and muted colors. But even in this grey rainy gloom, you can find light. Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of hearing the pianist Roger Woodward and members of the Alexander String Quartet play Dmitri Shostakovich‘s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Opus 67. It was January 20, 2018, the morning of the Women’s March marking a year since the Presidential inauguration. Shostakovich’s deeply moving music was inspired by the tragic discovery  – as the Nazi armies retreated from their failed siege of Leningrad – of the Russian atrocities committed against Jewish People. I found the sobering music – particularly the strong chords of the opening of the third movement “Largo” appropriate for my reflections both political and personal. What was inconceivable has become all too real: capitalism flirts actively with fascism, and democracy is gravely challenged. Illness has struck my loved ones. Like standing in a field in winter, life seems almost absent. Time slips through your fingers; silence roars. Shostakovich’s music breaks your heart, but mends it just the same. Life continues, sleeping underground.

hold on

holdon

Music was her life. As a child she had run and jumped and played, but as she grew older the disease encoded in her DNA began shaping her body, and over time leaving her limbs increasingly useless…hands, arms, and legs noodle like and unresponsive to her wishes….unable to hold on to someone’s hand, and making standing impossible without holding on to crutches for support. It didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual, the strength ebbing a little more each day. Family photo albums revealed the truth. A young child jumped rope, played hopscotch and softball; looking at the pictures, you could almost hear her giggling and screeching with delight as she played tag with her friends. Only later, when she reached adolescence, did the braces, the crutches, and ultimately the wheelchair, banish her to the wings, while others moved their bodies effortlessly on center stage. Thankfully the disease would not reach her heart and lungs for years to come. But when she sang, she felt free and unbound by the disease that gripped her body. When she sang, she soared, holding on to each note fully, cherishing the place where the music took her. She deeply loved Brahms‘ Requiem. And when she took her place as a soprano in Robert Shaw’s chorus, performing the masterpiece at San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral, I cried for joy. Because in those moments, her inner self ran unchained at the speed of light, living fully outside her body’s limits, roaming freely and playing, defying all gravity’s laws.

love and change

Cottonwood in the Owens Valley. Robin L. Chandler 2016

Cottonwood in the Owens Valley. Robin L. Chandler 2016

The lights dimmed and the spotlight focused on the figure center stage guitar in hand; she began to sing, the voice a little smoky and raspy, working towards the high, round notes so clear in my memory. Soon, “Saint” Joan Baez sang two of my favorites by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie respectively, “With God on Our Side” and “Deportee,”. Both songs are stories of love and tragic loss.  Each story holding forth the possibility of redemption, that we can learn from our mistakes and take right action.

Election eve, the significance of this sainted singer was not lost on any of us in the audience. This deeply disturbing election season nearly over, we drank deeply of the songs offered us, believing in the promise of a world where all persons count, no matter their origin or identity, and that the fabric of our society is stronger, when our diverse threads are woven together. Listening, my heart responds, I will march again to her call to action to build a better and loving world.

Between songs, she spoke about her belief in the ideas and aspirations expressed by Bernie Saunders as he crossed the county this year connecting with the hopes and ideals of a new generation. But she also spoke admiringly of the courage of Hilary Clinton, withstanding the barrage of lies and intimidation hurled at her these last months.

On my recent trip to the Eastern Sierras, many a cottonwood was growing, singularly, isolated from other trees in the valley, telling a story, stately and proud. In some cases, it was unclear if a tree was near death because of lack of water, or if it was merely beginning the long winter sleep. These trees standing statuesque on a parched landscape, with the majestic sierras as their backdrop, called to mind the elm trees, deemed Liberty Trees by the colonists turned patriots at the time of our Revolution. The first such elm was located in Boston and celebrated in the revolutionary poetry of Thomas Paine. Soon Liberty Trees were anointed in towns and cities throughout the colonies; these majestic trees witnessed calls to action, celebrated victories, and mourned defeats. Trees bear witness to our story, and with this act they become part of our own story, symbols of strength, longevity, knowledge, loss, and redemption.

We are participating in the most historic election of our time. The stakes are high; it feels like the future of our nation and perhaps the world weighs upon our ballot box. At times, I have been paralyzed with fear of what may come. But I also know that there are persons, my fellow citizens, who think differently than I and will vote differently than I, and they too are fearful of change. And yet, we are all part of the same country, and we must move forward together, whatever changes comes. I think of the lone cottonwood in the Owens Valley, thirsty. Is the tree telling a story of suffering brought on by a changing climate?  Is it hanging on for dear life hoping for the redemption winter snow in the mountains will bring? Is this cottonwood a symbol of my republic gasping, near death? Listening to the tree, my heart responds. While I fear the change that the election could bring, I will be strong like a tree, making connections, bringing the long-view, and sharing all the knowledge and wisdom found deep in my core. I will take right action continuing to build a better and loving world respecting the rights of all living beings.

 

you are my sunshine

Bad dreams. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

Bad dreams. Robin L. Chandler Copyright 2016.

September brings cooler nights and turning leaves. The fruit trees are bringing forth figs, pears and persimmons and our thoughts turn to the harvest holidays. Morning skies are gray and foggy and afternoons are blessed with golden sunshine from a southern exposure. A melancholy rests lightly on my shoulders, realizing we’ve nearly completed the ritual cycle round the solar system, another year gone, mourning lost loves, preciously cradling what we hold dear, the future a mystery.

Picking on the guitar, I start to sing You Are My Sunshine. Bob Dylan called it our best American Song, and he recorded in with his friend and fellow roots musician Johnny Cash in Nashville, Tennessee, 1969. I speculate Dylan’s high honor stems from the sprightly tune in a major key, strong contrasting imagery of bright sunshine/gray skies, happiness/tragedy, and because it touches a root deep in the American psyche: lost or unrequited love.

The song’s roots lay in Depression riddled Georgia, written and first performed in 1933 by Oliver Hood, a poem to lost love. A local bard, Hood’s authorship remained anonymous for many years, a man who loved music and making music every Sunday after church and dinner, sitting on his front porch with his friends and neighbors sharing songs and tunes. As Alan Lomax writes in The Folk Songs of North America  describing the white ballad singer of roots music “carefully tune [s] his voice…his latent emotions must be kept under control…his solo…an act of memory, almost ritualistic.” A sharer of songs, Hood was not concerned about copyright in the early years of his music writing. Governor Jimmie Davis, bought the rights from the Rice Brothers, who recorded the song in 1939 claiming authorship.

The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried.

 

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

 

I’ll always love you and make you happy,
If you will only say the same.
But if you leave me and love another,
You’ll regret it all some day

 

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

 

You told me once, dear, you really loved me
And no one else could come between.
But now you’ve left me and love another;
You have shattered all of my dreams

 

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
In all my dreams, dear, you seem to leave me
When I awake my poor heart pains.
So when you come back and make me happy
I’ll forgive you dear, I’ll take all the blame.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away