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It is funny how the muse works. Even as I am distracted by the art-killing, mundane requirements of life, something persists to whisper to me. Thankfully. Even if those whispers are drowned out by the storm-like babel of Rilke’s crowd, they emerge almost imperceptibly like fragile threads of lace woven by frail hands into the dwindled still moments of my life. Little by little, something clearer and compelling forms itself together. Like a glimpse of Virginia Woolf’s pattern. And then I wonder regretfully what art could compose itself had I been able to listen more.

Tonight there is something about the moon. Except that it is so foggy here I cannot actually see it.

Last week at the shelter support group, we presented education on domestic violence to the women who are living there, escaping it. We try to instill a framework of what they experienced, perhaps so they can avoid it in the future, but also to reassure them that what they experienced was real, and that many, far too many, have experienced it also. As has become routine, we end this session with asking them what is a healthy relationship — a question most have not considered, nonetheless those who have wrangled with an almost lethally unhealthy one. But this evening, some of the women had definite ideas.

It came time to go around the group for their closing thoughts. One woman, the newest to the household, had been stone-silent the entire group. Just when I thought she would pass her turn, she began slowly to speak. She glared into my eyes and said that our discussion had been hard. It made her feel hurt, but also ignited an anger towards the person who had hurt her. She wanted vengeance even. She wondered how could someone begin to consider healthy relationships when they are mired in a bad one. To the point where it is no longer clear what is healthy and what is not. That we begin to become unhealthy too, starting to do abusive things ourselves because of what we experienced, over and over. How can we even hope for a good relationship, she asked, in a way that embarrassed me in the philosophically-flawed notion of future-tensed hope. She pleaded, but not in a way that warranted an answer, other than the tears welling all around the table. All I could do was put my hand on her arm and say that I was so happy she had responded.

That night driving home, the moon was so low and radiant in my horizon so as to be a guiding beacon for my car. And perhaps because I was tired and raw, the moon conjured something romantic, melancholy, poetic. At first I wanted to explore an annoying litany of philosopher ideas to articulate my connection to this strange, glowing disk hovering incredulously over the skyline. But what most came to mind, to the part of me that wants to translate these moments, is that simply, the creme-lit, distant landscape is a place I will never visit. Completely unreachable. Yet it persists in my darkening sky so predictably that civilizations could measure their time by it, more accurately than by the sun.

The next day, a friend wrote me an incredibly poetic email from her artist retreat in the countryside. It was correspondence tending to the heartening and savory details of nature available to only those who know true and enviable solitude. And of course it was full of Birdness. In it, she mentioned that I might like a talk that her Zen Buddhist teacher gave on suffering, as it is my relentless theme of late. As I listened to his illuminating talk, I received a hint sewn into the pattern. Her teacher read the poetry of the medieval poet, Saigyo — a poet almost obsessively concerned with the moon. A symbol of enlightenment, the beauty in the breath-taking and indescribable culmination of accepting the painfully ephemeral and suffering nature of being human. Always there, but practically unreachable.

Winter has withered

Everything in this mountain place:

Dignity is in

Its desolation now, and beauty

In the cold clarity of its moon.

This is what the muse left me this week. I know it’s not my job (nor am I able) to weave it so tightly together with meaning and language that it would suck the air out of the atmosphere and extinguish the moon one might see tonight, the moon throughout one’s entire life. But I am astonished that somehow a poet, from across the divide of 1,000 years and immeasurable distance, reaches to me through the chatter and knows intimately the miraculous moon that guided me home that withered night.

(Bird Singing in Moonlight, 1938, by Morris Graves)The rest of the poem is here: