star shatter

welcomed, born without invitation

entering into inevitable dance,

stumbling, beckoned further than thought,

held, awakened to the sound

of a new tomorrow, trembling.

you said “fear not.”

you said “be still.”

and I recall something: a not yet.

so why all this star shatter,

why quake and thrill,

why the abysmal chatter?

why Hemingway and orchids,

bee buzz and dark matter?

motion and light quickening,

racing into piercing darkness

perhaps not dark at all

but merely such brightness

we are blinded and know no more.

healing: midsummer

“I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I do not know. / As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.” —Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth

***

Every summer, I scuttle down the front porch steps without shoes, propelling myself towards our gravel driveway, where I make my way tentatively over the crumbled, jagged forms of scattered copper rocks. By the end of the season, the soles of my feet become calloused and strong, and I stride without wincing, without any hesitation.

***

The thing I remember is the feeling of dirt beneath my feet. Stepping gingerly into the garage, looking for a terra cotta pot or the like, I had left my sandals inside. After scanning the laden shelves, I noticed a tin watering can with a withered brown plant inside. We quickly removed these brittle remains, and the budding green thyme plant nestled itself happily within its abode, supplied with new soil. It overspilled its bounds.

***

“All that matters is to be at one with the living God / to be a creature in the house of the God of Life. / Like a cat asleep on a chair / at peace, in peace… / feeling the presence of the living God / like a great assurance / a deep calm in the heart.” —D.H. Lawrence

***

Inbox (1 unread): “Dear Mattea, I am delighted to inform you that your scholarship application has now been processed, and you have been granted a postgraduate award in the School of Art History. Congratulations! If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

***

Juneteenth: an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marking the day—June 19, 1865—when the news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas. They had been free for two years. They just didn’t know it yet. Their lived reality didn’t align with the words scrawled upon the page, skeletal, black upon white—by a man who confessed he cared more about saving the Union than he ever did about slaves. On September 18, 1858, Lincoln assured an audience: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” No right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office, or to interracially marry. Who decides what freedom looks like and when it is won?

***

Memento (2000):  “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”

***

To the gentle baker who remembered my name after only meeting me once, the one with the gentle eyes, the one who insists that I take a box of pastries home with me after my shift so they will not go to waste: thank you. I wish the world was wholly made up of such kindnesses.

***

I am reading, and I am waiting. I am healing. Colette, Annie Dillard, then Fitzgerald. This chapter of untethered postgrad life with abundant time for contemplation has awakened me to the deep need for healing in my own life—in areas I thought I had already surrendered, in issues I thought I had processed and put behind me long ago. I have also had my eyes opened anew to the desperate need for healing and reform throughout my own nation. My heart is heavy, but this is no excuse to turn away. Each Instagram story is the face of a precious child of God we have lost too soon, a linked resource, a petition, a plea. So I read up on environmental racism, dietary racism, misogynoir, police brutality, and the intersection of race and mental health stigma. What is the difference between simply breaking and breakthrough? How can we make this last? What seeds are we planting? What will they become? How many will stay to tend the garden and how many will be left to partake of the fruit? I’ve been clinging to a quote by Rilke about loving all our unresolved questions so we can live into the answers. Lord, come.

attention, art, & love: quarantine thoughts

“The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.” —Marie Howe

***

“Daddy, she looks like a good person. Doesn’t she look like a good person?” The little boy chattering in the Target shopping cart, gripping a toy shaped like a beige egg, suddenly turns his clairvoyant eyes towards me. A good person. I smile broadly behind the gray confines of my mask and hope that a timid wave and a softening in my eyes can somehow be enough to convey a burst of joy. Soon, their cart rolls out of view, and I realize with a start that I will never know what was trapped within that egg, aching to emerge.

***

“Art. Love. What’s the difference, really?” My friend says with a shrug, and when he smiles his eyes crumple into celebratory lines, like confetti mid-descent.

***

A few nights back, I had a dream that I was running, breathless, from something or someone. The only shelter was the church ahead, but I was barefoot; I couldn’t enter without shoes. My friend appeared in an adjacent doorway and kindly gave me his sneakers without a second thought. I rushed inside, only to see a face turn away in hurt.

***

December 9th, 2019:

“I bumped into a friend today, dressed brightly and carrying an umbrella. I rushed over to huddle under too, and we laughed when it bopped my head. We spoke of those graduating in December and exchanged a mutual frazzled look. We both expressed how charmed we are to be waiting ’till May, delaying the inevitable, taking our time with growing old. We parted ways. The rain fell.

Now I am sitting at Blackberry Market, and, though it is echoey and empty and strange, it is altogether like a second home. I think the baristas know me (embarrassing or flattering?) and my signature mug by now. I’ve settled in, to this seat, yes, but also here at large. It is making sense to me now. I drove friends to the store yesterday and knew the twists and turns and street names—no GPS needed. More friends stayed in my apartment until 2:00 am because they couldn’t bear to leave; they told me it felt like home, and I could see in their eyes that they were hungry for belonging. We listened to my Frank Sinatra Christmas vinyl and jazz and then fell into comfortable, companionable silence. I went off to bed, and a few still lingered there. As I drifted off to sleep, I bemusedly thought about this feeling—like that of a parent with children sleeping over. I fell asleep to the lullaby of whispered conversation and spurts of contained laughter. Tenderness.”

***

Lady Bird: “Well, I was just describing it.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Well, it comes across as love.”

Lady Bird: “Sure, I guess I pay attention.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?”

***

January 13th, 2020, four months ago, first day of final semester:

“I make small talk with the girl beside me at the CPO window. We shared a ride together once from Midway; her friend drove us and insisted on me not paying. I smile and turn to leave, and she shouts after me: ‘Take care!’ I didn’t expect it, but it rings in my ears as I step out into the grey afternoon.

I drive to Twice as Nice and find that the dress I’ve been pining over for weeks is gone. I buy a cozy grey sweater instead and pay in all quarters. The woman at the register excitedly exclaims that they are just what she needs. She is almost out of quarters, she says. And pennies.

We are always filling in the gaps, whether we know it or not. I am amazed today by how we are able to be so many things to so many people, shifting and morphing in and out—how God stitches us into the complexity of His story. We may never know when our presence, our words, or our actions turn out to be exactly what someone else needs.

Earlier, in chapel, Dr. Ryken said, ‘It is when we reach the end of our own limited resources that God is able to do all that He can do.'”

***

“We have so little of each other, now… Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy? These fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here, have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.'”—Danusha Lameris

***

Another dream: On a road trip, I suddenly realized my luggage had mysteriously vanished from the car. Then, I could see it, there, waiting for me along the sidewalk. We were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, so I jumped out of the vehicle and barreled after it. The black form kept getting further and further away, and I turned to see the car had left me behind.

***

JO: “Perhaps… perhaps I was too quick in turning him down.”

MARMEE: “Do you love him?”

JO: “If he asked me again, I think I would say yes… Do you think he’ll ask me again?”

MARMEE: “But do you love him?”

JO (tearing up): “I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”

MARMEE: “That is not the same as loving.”

JO (crying, trying to explain herself to herself): “You know, I just feel like women… they have minds and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it, but… I am so lonely.”

***

“I know you are reading this poem / as the underground train loses momentum and before running / up the stairs / toward a new kind of love. / I know you are reading this poem listening for something torn / between bitterness and hope / turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse. / I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else / left to read.” —Adrienne Rich

very blessed

“I’m very blessed,” you say over the phone and mean it.

It is Good Friday, and one of the lines from Eliot’s “East Coker” has been ricocheting in your mind for hours. Last year, you knelt before the cross after a three hour long service and cried. Your hand was over your friend’s. A stranger’s cupped your own. His body was broken. Crumbled bread, spilled wine. Your body felt broken, limping slightly towards the stage with a tender inevitability. You have been thinking about lost things and about how Eliot, regardless of your own opinions about his overly-lauded oeuvre, is a prophet. A month from now, graduation. A month ago, Scotland. A kind of eternity between.

“Beneath the bleeding hands we feel

The sharp compassion of the healer’s art

Resolving the enigma of the fever chart…

To be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital

Endowed by the ruined millionaire,

Wherein, if we do well, we shall

Die of the absolute paternal care

That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere…

The dripping blood our only drink,

The bloody flesh our only food:

In spite of which we like to think

That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—

Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.” — T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”

4.10.20

the curvature of a spotted feline back

shudders against crossed legs. she is

asleep, purring and dream-twitching.

very blessed. you remember in physics

learning about sound waves, how the hum

of a cat’s purr has special healing properties,

can strengthen bones, lessen the risk of heart attack,

abiding within the frequencies of 20-140 Hertz.

very blessed. like the berries, cherries, and peaches

blending together just right to bless the body.

like the long-awaited phone call, like light streaming

through the window onto these small potted plants,

as they reach heavenward, grow without striving.

sweetbitter (4/1/20)

Happy National Poetry Month!

meditation #1:

a handful of berries in the morning,

bitter then sweet in alternating grace.

they lie, smooth as pebbles, trembling slow.

these are the days that must happen to you,

and these are the fruits placed in front of us:

the chaff and Chaucer’s sentence al sooth.

you are you, neither Socrates nor Persephone.

you are the grinning totem, the lodestar.

 

so the sunlight falls across us in waves,

cleansing us for we expect nothing in particular,

tugging us nearer to the start of all things,

and nearer still to the stirring of branches above,

of wildflower yearning and velvet bees abuzz.

in the realm of sweetbitter, think not of me.

consolation of

It feels trivial to be writing about writing, but

here I am.

I am twenty-one. It is February. Neither of these facts feel true.

“Are you going to do something with your writing?” A friend asked me. I stared blankly. Surely, I already was. Surely, writing itself is an act and sharing it another. “Are you going to publish any of it?” My mind sputtered. “I don’t know. Maybe, but not yet.”

themes of childhood & womanhood, loss of innocence, pureness of vision,

seeking, pilgrimage, moments of religious significance

dreamlike. psychological insight. elegance of diction. both strength & weakness.

“You are so brave.” Several people have said this, eyes wide, when I explain that I want an adventure for a life, that I cannot stay here, that I will cross an ocean. I do not feel brave, have never felt particularly brave.

There is no sun.

It is the longest cloudy spell Chicago has seen in over twenty-two years. I feel its weight.

My world is white and grey, bifurcated by dark skeletons of trees.

I’m reading Bluets. It felt so strange last night. I watched the Dutch Blitz cards flash and glasses clink, and I kept expecting someone to launch into a monologue on Boethius or Sharon Olds or St. Catherine of Siena. I kept waiting for wisdom. I have always abhorred small talk, but now I feel that I am ruined forever. Especially after Boston. I sat; I ate my gluten-free cookies.

I wonder what my color would be.

“My consuming desire is… to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” Sylvia Plath understands. She understands many things.

A prayer I barely remember writing:

Spark kindred joy in me and gift me a gaze that sees the good in all things. Provide me with an inner elevation of the mundane. Give me the courage it takes to consume my daily bread, to rise once again, to creep through the opaque winter dawn and put on my woolen socks. Beg me to join the dance and make me come alight. Fill in the gaps, O God, and meet me in my unbelief.

 

December 1, 2019: all that I can give

The first day of Advent —

and I look down at my hands,

sparkling with pine tree sap

from ornaments bedecked high,

and begin to know what it means

to need darkness to appreciate light.

 

The airport’s hallways are endless,

like purgatory, I think to myself,

circular, as Dante intended —

never-ending and buzzing with the noise

of a thousand mumbled epiphanies.

A man jogs by. I wonder what he is running from, where and who he is running to. We are both liminal and infinite. Liminally infinite. We are sleeplessly awake. The bleary masses, hurrying across the finish line, limping, with the wannest and weariest of smiles.

Dizzying screens flash, staccato. Cameras clash. And we are all publicly private, together.

I think of Christ entering into the chaos too,

born near the dungheap, beneath eons of stars long dead. Dwelling in our midst, in our misery, in our everyday grey, in the twist of a night’s extended flight delay. He is here.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

Chatsworth House: A Rendezvous with Mr. Darcy

For those of you who know me well, you know that one of my absolute favorite films is the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley. Now, before anyone starts an uproar, I also enjoy the 1995 BBC mini-series. However, considering its total length of nearly 6 hours, I often find myself gravitating to the newer rendition instead with its dazzling cinematography and enchanting score (which I often listen to whilst studying). For those unawares, Chatsworth House was used for filming the scenes at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s estate, in the 2005 film.

Everything about the estate is extravagant, even from the start. Lush. Decadent. Gilded. Its simultaneous magnitude and emphasis on minute intricate detail is altogether breathtaking. Chatsworth belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. The history of Chatsworth began with Elizabeth Talbot, known as the Countess of Shrewsbury or Bess of Hardwick. A native of Derbyshire, she married four times and became the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England (after the Queen, of course). It was in partnership with her second husband, Sir William Cavendish, that she bought Chatsworth in 1549.

Visitors at Chatsworth today can view magnificent works of art that span 4,000 years — ancient Roman and Egyptian sculptures, masterpieces by Rembrandt, and work by modern artists, including Lucian Freud, Edmund de Waal, and David Nash. The statue seen above (which you may remember from the 2005 film) is “A Veiled Vestal Virgin” by Raffaelle Monti — ordered by the sixth Duke of Devonshire after a visit to the artist’s studio in Milan, Italy. Other treasures include an extensive geological collection and the library’s early copy of Audubon’s The Birds of America and a prayer book that once belonged to Henry VII and then Margaret Tudor. (The library also possesses many volumes of poetry, perhaps partially due to the influence of Georgiana, the fifth Duchess of Devonshire, who dabbled as a poet herself. She is portrayed by Keira Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess, which was also filmed at Chatsworth.)

The gardens and grounds of Chatsworth are no less exceptional than the interior of the manor, featuring a Victorian rock garden, a labyrinthine yew maze (which I proudly navigated in record time), a waterfall, and acres of other wonders. There are over five miles of walking trails and impressive gravity-fed waterworks abound, such as the 300-year-old Cascade seen above on the left. There is a prominent focus on sustainability that can be especially seen in features such as the Kitchen Garden, which supplies fruit, vegetables, and herbs for the manor house and has done so for years. 20 gardeners total are necessary to keep the estate pristine.

The greenhouses at Chatsworth are acclaimed throughout Britain. However, some grander elements have been lost. During and after the World War I (1914-18), there was not enough coal to heat the conservatories and, therefore, many plants, especially of tropical varieties, died. Because of the expense of restoring, maintaining, and heating, the property’s renowned Great Conservatory built by Joseph Paxton, the largest glass building in England of its time, was demolished in 1920. Still, horticulture is very much alive at Chatsworth. When we visited, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was in full swing, which is quite the affair. We declined visiting its separate encampment of vast white tents (think The Great British Baking Show multiplied by five), begonias, and ferns as admission is separate and ranges upwards of £34.00 per person. Tickets are now on sale for the next flower show, June 5-9, 2019, if you’re interested.

Visiting Chatsworth House was one of my favorite memories from my trip to the UK! As I strolled around the gardens and it began to softly rain, I couldn’t help but think about the appeal of moving to some little cottage in Bakewell and being able to pop over to Chatsworth for picnics in the summer or their cozy Christmas market in the winter. As you exit the manor through the gift shop (oh, how clever), you come face-to-face with a bust of Matthew Macfayden (the anointed Mr. Darcy of 2005) — a lingering prop from the film. A cheeky sign underneath reads, “Please do not kiss.” Or perhaps it isn’t so cheeky; maybe, in the past, this has been a real issue. Of that I cannot be sure, dear readers. Regardless, when I saw the likeness, I could not help but recall the iconic scene shot in Chatsworth’s sculpture gallery:

“Do you not think him a handsome man, miss?” “Yes. Yes, I dare say he is.”

A Year in Pages: 2018 (II: May-December)

At the beginning of 2018, in celebration, I read eight books! (see this blog post) The spring semester of my freshman year was a busy one, so I was unable to read recreationally until the summer (when I had a copious amount of time to do so in England on trains or the Tube). Listed below are the twenty other books that I read this year! A grand total of 28 books in 2018!

The Story of Art by E. H. Gombrich  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Fascinating. Engaging. Beautiful. Enlightening. Informative.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dark. Thrilling. Intense.

Z: A Story of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Sympathetic. Vivid. Dazzling. Tragic.

The Popular Girl  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Decadent. Eloquent. Entertaining. Memorable. Brilliant.

The Rich Boy  &  Other Short Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Dynamic. Unexpected. Satisfying. Concise.

Sidney Chambers  &  The Shadow of Death (Grantchester #1) by James Runcie  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Suspenseful. Metaphysical. Heartwarming.

Emily Brontë: Poems by Emily Brontë  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Melancholic. Vain. Existential.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Stirring. Revealing. Moving. Candid.

You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are by Rebekah Lyons  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Life-giving. Insightful. Wise. Fruitful. Inspiring.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Horrifying. Sharp. Haunting. Unsettling.

Ada’s Algorithm: Lord Byron’s Daughter Launched the Digital Age by James Essinger  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Mathematical. Intriguing. Unembellished. Illuminating.

The Distaff Side by Elizabeth Palmer  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Dramatic. Predictable. Cliché.

Ophelia by Lisa M. Klein  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Riveting. Sympathetic. Imaginative. Captivating. Fresh.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry  [✭ ✭ ✭]

Intriguing. Mysterious. Disappointing.

The Art of Losing by Kevin Young  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Relevant. Striking. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Sorrowful.

Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Simple. Refreshing. Encouraging. Lovely.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Breathtaking. Wise. Creative. Faithful. Candid.

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Revolutionary. Truthful. Fascinating. Insightful. Tragic.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Witty. Brilliant. Genuine. Impassioned. Succinct.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood  [✭ ✭ ✭ ✭]

Startling. Raw. Political. Realistic.

 

What novels did you most enjoy reading this year, friends?

I’d love to add them to my 2019 to-read list, so please comment below!