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Naked truths (07/16/2006)
By Janet Lewis Burns

"A tree has significance if one sees it against the empty face of sky. A note in music gains significance from the silences on either side. A candle flowers in the space of night. Even small and casual things take on significance if they are washed in space, like a few autumn grasses in one corner of an Oriental painting, the best of the page is bare." - Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Naked truths strip the mind of conventional assumptions. What provokes and entices creative writers and poets to compose? What images taunt them until they release them to paper? I wonder, how did Abraham Lincoln's lilac bushes make their way into Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last In The Door Yard Bloom'd"?

A James McBride New York Times bestseller, "The Color of Water" tells a moving story of a Jewish rabbi's daughter who married a black man in 1942 and raised twelve children, sending them all to college.

When McBride would ask his mother if he was black or white she'd snap, "You're a human being. Educate yourself of you'll be a nobody!" She told him that God is the color of water. Of his Jewish grandfather, he writes, "Race was something he never talked about. To him it was a detail that you stepped over, like a crack in the sidewalk."

The late Anne Morrow Lindbergh's classic "Gift From the Sea," c 1975, reflects on the pattern of living, balance and relationship. Though women's essential needs, gifts, observations, and aspirations are considered, the thoughts expressed intertwine with life cycles of men as well, even more so today.

Seashells brilliantly made their way into Lindbergh's impressions and it works wonders! "I am very fond of the oyster shell. It is humble and awkward and ugly. And it is comfortable in its familiarity, its homeliness, like old garden gloves which have molded themselves perfectly to the shape of the hand," she muses.

Poet Robert Frost was the catalyst who piqued my interest in poetry and wordplay. Writing of simple things and common folks, Frost's lines have been vastly repeated:

"Good fences make good neighbors." "I took the one (road) less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." "But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep."

"'Men work together,' I told him from the heart, ‘whether they work together or apart.'" Every spring, as we wander through the countryside during calving time, I bring to mind Frost's "pasture" and his invitation, "you come too."

Annie Dillard's work is rich with "fecundity." An Eskimo seal hunter makes his way into her Pulitzer Prize winning book. This "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" writes of "kayak sickness," an eerie account. It comes over him, alone in his kayak, floating on completely quiet waters. With sun's glare in his eyes, the mirror-like water hypnotizes him. He freezes as if floating in a bottomless void, sinking away, unable to cry out, slowly going insane.

I reach to the top shelf of one of my bookcases for a long lost friend. I first became familiar with teacher and poet Galway Kinnell when he spoke at a poetry reading in Winona in September of 1997.

I devoured Kinnell's collection "When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone" in one satisfying gulp. With such subjects as "the massage," "oatmeal," "the man on the hotel room bed," and "the tragedy of bricks," the reader is fed gut-wrenching confessions.

Talented writers "get us" with innuendoes, metaphor, and associative remarks - their rhythms bearing compelling messages. What it says to you is what it means. One word often speaks for itself. As Kinnell muses, "Nothing that enters the room can have only its own meaning ever again."

We never know as much as we think we do. Writers have a way of transporting the attentive reader a dimension closer to wisdom and understanding...a journey deeper into oneself.

Happy trials!

Janet Burns has been a lifelong resident of this neck of the woods. She can be reached at: patandjanburns@earthlink.net 


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