There have been all of these fascinating snippets of news stories, recently, which I would love to weave into something—a poem, a quest, a novel of a quiet, thoughtful, language-ridden sort. What might emerge?
* A fleeting reference in computer code to the Book of Esther may or may not be a sign of an Israeli origin to the Stuxnet worm that is bedeviling Iranian computer systems.
* A "hidden" language spoken by only about 1,000 people has been discovered in the remote northeast corner of India . . .
* LONDON – The language of the Epic of Gilgamesh and King Hammurabi has found a new life online after being dead for some 2,000 years.
Academics from across the world have recorded audio of Babylonian epics, poems, and even a magic spell to the Internet in an effort to help scholars and laymen understand what the language of the ancient Near East sounded like.
The website hosts some 30 audio files, generally a few minutes long. Among them are extracts from "The Epic of Gilgamesh," and the "Codex Hammurabi," one of the world's oldest set of laws.
There are also several versions of the "Poem of the Righteous Sufferer," a Babylonian tale that closely parallels the Biblical story of Job, and other texts, including an erotic hymn to the goddess Ishtar and an incantation to prevent dog bites.
At dawn when light releases her a pueblo child crosses the waiting circle of the dance plaza, trailing a little bough of pine. The slight print of her beaded deerskin boots erases behind her as she goes. The pine brushes away all trace of her passage across the frozen winter ground. Pure Zen. I laugh, touching Joe’s flannel sleeve to show him.
With her, the world is back. Nearly done with its precipitation out of night. Edges solidify. Shapes form. Distinctions can be made again. Earth. Sky. Pueblo. The calm solidity of wall that holds the wind off us. Straw in its surface. Good substantial adobe. The watchers on the roofs, in doorways, all around, wrapped in their striped woolen blankets. Watching for the dancers. As still as the surrounding land. Between dwellings around the edges of the plaza, patches of last week’s snow. The early morning sky perfectly clear, beginning to be blue again. Then the unlooked-for movement, gift of chance or grace. Just where the dancers are to come, the solemn child in deerskin boots and neon pink ski parka, making unerringly for her mother. It is familiar. When you meditate each day at dawn, and after sit letting the day return, you get accustomed to the progression. Color is the last to come back out of the darkness, after night. First a gradual distinction between masses. Then shapes, accompanied by dark and light relative to one another. Size. Movement. And only finally the greens and reds and blues and old adobe browns and subtle gradiations. The details that make personal. The world precipitated out of nothingness.
And with sunrise the dancers come. Down from the hills, their animal nature on them. Enter the plaza through a quiet opening between two of the flat-roofed dwellings on the far side and come across the circle toward us. Heads uplifted gravely under the horns and feathers and fittings of evergreen. A crowd of musicians following beside them once they’re in the clearing. The profound stillness startled awake with low-voiced drums and gourd rattles, the whisperings of feet to earth.
Out of night, the world.
Out of nothingness, the dancers.
On one particularly dark day back in the Bush Era, when it was clear that things were only going to get worse, our writing group was greatly heartened by this story about poet James Merrill and a transformative green scooter.
James Merrill wrote in his memoir, A Different Person (1993), about visiting a doctor about his depression, saying that he didn't know how to live or how to love, he just knew how to write a poem. The doctor, he said, "listened closely, then acted with undreamed-of kindness and dispatch. 'Come with me,' he said, in a flash ushering me out of his downtown office and onto the back seat of a smart little pale-green motorscooter. I put my arms, as instructed, about his stout, gray-suited person, and off we went in sunlight, through traffic, under trees, past architecture, over the muddy river to lunch." (The Writer’s Almanac, 3/3/3)
Our hope is that this collection of writing will give readers the same je ne sais quois that brief but immense lunchtime voyage gave us—encouragement for going on; inspiration to do something simply good for ourselves each ordinary day; a smile; a moment of respite or recognition; time out from global numbing; a pause for weirdness, wonder, and delight. We want to share what gives us pleasure or some keener satisfaction putting down as well as picking up.
So hop on the green scooter with us. Read and be well.