psalm at high tide
by Martha Serpas
Rain on the river’s vinyl surface:
water that glitters,
water that hardly moves,
its branches witness to trees,
to fronds, leaves, crab floats, pilings,
shopping carts, appliances–
the divine earth takes everything
in its wounded side and gives back
It bears the huddled profane
and endures the soaking
venerated in its wild swirls–
this river fixed with wooden weirs,
radiant in misshapen glory.
* * *
Today has been another Wednesday in which I never really got a chance to sit down and write all that I would have liked to write. My children are demanding, my days a series of little, relentless demands, and I am tired. I look forward to a time when they will sleep past 6:00 a.m regularly, but that day has not yet arrived, and the cumulative affect on my body and mind is not really fun, especially since I am a die hard night owl who can go to bed early only rarely. Meanwhile, I love my girls and will probably mourn the passing of their littleness one day, especially the cuteness of seventeen month-old Elsa standing by the dryer today, crying and pulling on the dryer door because, despite my total sneakiness, she somehow deduced that her blankie was in there.
As I sit down to write they are both asleep. It’s 8:15 p.m. but my body feels as if it could easily be 11 p.m. (Don’t pay attention to the incredibly unhelpful “time stamp” that blogger puts on this and on every post, which is always fabulously incorrect–just another one of those little things in life that are not-quite-right but which I deal with summarily by letting them sliiiiiide by.)
This past week we watched a really great documentary about Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor, who uses only natural, found materials to build his sculptures outdoors. The sculptures are impermanent, sometimes constructed of leaves arranged into a streak of color on the ground, or maybe stones carefully stacked and balanced into a three dimensional shape. They are strikingly beautiful and exquisite, and yet, once built, the forces of water and weather pull them apart at their own pace.
I was very inspired by this beautiful documentary, entitled Rivers and Tides. Only a few days before we watched it, I had built the gingerbread castle pictured above for my daughter’s fourth birthday party. She had asked for a castle cake several months in advance, and I had agreed to make one for her birthday. Thoughts about how I was going to pull this off started percolating in my head a few weeks before the date. I had no idea what I was going to do, and I actually do not know much about cake decorating. Finally, a week before, I started looking around online and batting around a few different possibilities in my mind. At the last minute, I decided that it might be less risky to build a castle from gingerbread rather than cake, and to make cupcakes on the side to fulfill the cake requirement of the birthday party.
At some point, I realized that I was getting into the territory of obsession with this princess castle project, and felt slightly foolish, especially when I was standing in the bulk candy section at the grocery store and oscillating for much longer than I would like anyone to know over which candy would be most suitable for the outside walls. This was no longer totally about making my soon-to-be four year-old happy. She would have been happy with the most generic, store bought thing I had put in front of her, as long as it was pink/purple/sparkly. What was really going on was that I was getting excited about doing something over-the-top creative, for a change. It was engaging a passionate part of me that loves embarking on a creative project and taking it to the max, whatever the max might be. Once I decide that something is going to be awesome, I cannot bring myself to do less, and would have to be in bed with the flu before I would settle on something store bought.
I finally decided on Neccos. They are at least somewhat old fashioned because my mom claims to have loved them as a kid, and they would provide the muted pastel color scheme I was looking for. But it wasn’t until I got the Neccos home that the idea of breaking them up into little shards and cementing them into a mosaic occurred to me. And yet, it almost felt as if it was meant to be. It was as if my subconscious mind already knew it was going to do the mosaic before my conscious mind was alerted to this fact. So that still small voice led me through the maze of choices at the grocery store, telling me no, no, no, and finally yes. And I came home with the Neccos, not knowing exactly why, or what path I was going to take to completion.
Oh, this is all so silly, I know. But while I was working on it, in the silent space during Esme’s afternoon at preschool and Elsa’s afternoon nap, I felt as if I was doing something very therapeutic for myself with all that icing mortar, and was myself amazed by the process of it coming together, almost of its own accord. And I did not care at all that the castle would, in a few days, be half-eaten, or, more likely, thrown into the trash because it would be disgustingly sweet. No matter. I might as well have been designing a castle to house ten generations of a royal family.
So when I watched this documentary, I understood what Andy Goldsworthy is all about. He did not seem at all crazy to me for spending an entire day on a freezing beach, stacking up rocks, knowing that the tide would soon come in and carry them all away. It is said that some of the great Russian writers wrote “for the drawer,” never really thinking that their work would be published.
There are far more conclusions to potentially draw from the art of Andy Goldsworthy than comparing it to my humble castle-building experience, and many more angles to explore, but I am at my insight limit tonight. I was actually also going to write about another aspect of this birthday party, which was that, although I invested a lot of work into it, I was able to, in the end, step out of its way and lovingly detach from its outcome. In the past, when planning events, I have been driven crazy in the attempt to control their outcome, which is, quite simply, insane. Events can be prepared for, but not controlled, as they involve too many people and variables, and have a life of their own. They must be released into the realm of unpredictability and possibility and chopped free of the hostess’s ego. Yes, I was proud of myself for getting my incredibly large ego out of the way of this party, and felt that it was somehow a turning point for me. And I will only add that the party was really fun for both kids and adults, and to me had a light, blessed ambiance that seemed to exceed the sum of its parts, the sum of my efforts. For now, I would encourage everyone to go watch this documentary and be edified. And if you live in the States and have Netflix, you can watch it instantly online, which is a great bonus for people like me, since I have never really mastered the whole physical DVD mail exchange thing satisfactorily enough to have something good to watch on the weekend.