Noman’s Land Common (Film-Poem Online)

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<a href="https://vimeo.com/152471055"><img src="https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/552486948.webp"/><br />Click to watch</a>

Noman’s Land Common

A shadow passes over the meadow, effortless
in its cooling presence, a wake
of songbirds, for a moment stilled,
for a moment passed over
by a presence like night, a shoal of fish
beneath the barnacled hull,
tender in covering, blanket-soft,
the lids pulled over
our welling eyes, to shed a drop
in the pool of soft grasses,
which ripple, concentric,
in an unseen wind that blows
all things, together, onward, all things,
eventually into crossing,
into parting, into the covering-over
of life with — not death, exactly — 
but the other side, the other life
in which cloud, meadow, fish, ship
reveal their true names to us — 
flashes-through-sunlight, dark
moisture, ink of relentless progression.
A brush dipped
in clear water, the pigment’s smoke,
a cipher of leaves in the swirled cup.
The Hawthorn renounces her wedding vows.
Slow raptors finger the dryness of heat.
Nameless, in the new world, a congregation
of petals, root, trunk, and branches,
new leaves, in the unnamed world,
hold out their yellow hands to the rain.
A voice cries out
in a language you recognise, and the cloud — 
for that is what it is, just a cloud,
retreats in spinal curvature over the hill,
which is grass, then soil, then stone,
a foetus in the centre, its open hand
a gesture of greeting, of saying “goodbye” — 
and now you are on your knees, in a field,
jet-lagged, on a Wednesday, remembering
your name, a gift from your mother,
as the multiplication tables arrange
themselves before you, pieces for chess,
a calendar full of meetings in which
you can never say: for a moment, I was
that shadow, say, listen, I have been
to the other side of life, and a child
rests in the womb of the earth,
but instead stare-down at your ink-stained
hands, and nod, and arrange your broken
face into the gesture of listening.

Process Notes

With the tenth anniversary of the birth and death of our son James fast approaching, I find myself writing about the ongoing effects, including sudden and overpowering moments of grief. The text came first. I then shot time-lapse of clouds through an inexpensive toy kaleidoscope using a Raspberry Pi camera. I also shot real-time nature footage through the same kaleidoscope by holding it up to my smartphone camera. Valerie composed and performed the music. The title refers to a nearby patch of common land in North Hertfordshire that we frequent. One year, after extensive tilling, a field adjacent to the common erupted in red poppies, not unlike the no-man’s land of the First World War.

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Creative Partnership and The Norton-Nottoli Wedding

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Val and I spent the morning at our local coffee shop, listing past experiences that have brought us most alive and present, and talking about how we can support one another in having more of these kinds of experiences as a shared vision for our married lives together. Not surprisingly, encouraging one another as artists was a major theme. How perfect, then, to be able to attend the remarkable wedding of Deb Norton and Chris Nottoli later that same day.

Theirs was not a traditional ceremony. Instead, having dedicated themselves to running Ojai’s local professional theater, Theater 150, they decided to write and stage a musical to both celebrate their commitment to one another, and raise funds to support the theater. The result was hilarious, profound, and disarming. Attended by hundreds at Ojai’s Libbey Bowl, the production involved inexpensive but clever props and costumes, a band and chorus, cheerleaders cueing Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-style audience participation (ranging from throwing plastic bats to waving sprigs of kale), breakdancing Jello, the Greek god Hermes, and much more.

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Enlightened America

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“…how amiable the gorgeous advantage of the newly born.”

-Marvin Bell, “The Book of the Dead Man (#42)”

I am somewhere over the Midwest as I type this, returning to the West Coast from a weekend in Boston. Val and I made the trip to attend a very special wedding. Seeing two dear friends — both kind, courageous men — exchange vows with each other, and blessings with all in attendance, renewed my understanding of what marriage is all about.

We stayed in the Omni Parker House Hotel, home to Emerson and Longfellow’s Saturday Club, and spent what little time we had on this trip getting acquainted with American history up close. We visited beautiful old churches, and made the trip up to Harvard — a school founded by Puritans to unite scholarship with spiritual pursuit. Continue reading…

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What Marriage Means to Me

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The best man at my wedding was, and is, gay. We met several years before I met my wife. We were both fresh out of college, finding our way in relationships. We would take turns, over espresso drinks, listening to one another’s hopeless crushes, dating mishaps, and heartbreaks. With each new relationship we learned a little more about what we each wanted in a partner, and encouraged each other that we would, one day, find The One — his patient, kind, domestic-minded guy; my smart, quirky, artistic girl. For both of us, finding a partner who wanted kids was important.

As soon as Val and I got married, we started referring to ourselves as a family. After the death of our infant son, my understanding of what marriage and family means changed dramatically. The commitment we made in our wedding ceremony — to love one another unconditionally, as best we can — was held to the fire. Grieving our hopes and dreams as parents tested the definition of “family” as a unit of support. Certainly, we were stronger together than apart — but some days we found ourselves both simply unable to give any more. It was in these times that the greater family — including relatives and friends — buoyed us up. Our commitment to love each other, and to support each other in learning and growing in the midst of adversity, became a new, refined definition of what it means to be married, and to be a family.

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