Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

carrying on with this review thing

[spoiler warning! yikes!]

“The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” by Katherine Howe pretty much jumped at me from off the shelf and so swung me into its world. Its loaded with of my favorite story elements: an old decrepit family house, a long family history of powerful, magical women, plenty of scholarly studies going on and last but not least, amore.
I am still impressed that this book had all this going on and still held a real soul at its center. “A book with a soul?” you might inquire. “Let me continue,” I say.
Many years ago, a dear professor let me know, as I studied magical realism in literature, that as northern caucasian women, we would never be able to write magical realism ourselves. Our culture, our history was all wrong for it. This made me furrow my brows but I saw her point. At the same time, I didn’t see her point at all. And I’d like to think that “The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane” is a good candidate for magical realism in Northern American culture. Women coming over from England (around the 1600’s) brought over a lot of folklore, a lot of remedies, some which were contained in grimoires and other writings. These remedies, while using various things in Nature, had a strong magical bent and were carried out by “cunning” women and men.
This book explores the fictional history of one line of “cunning” women and how the earlier ones related to God in Puritan culture. And I think this is where the soul of the book lies. Whether these women had magical powers or not is pointless but they did have something special whether it be special knowledge and a healing gift or whatever. They had the gifting and they used it to help others. Deliverance Dane believed that God had given her this gift to share and to her that’s the point of this life, to give the help we contain in ourselves to others.
Perhaps because of where I am in life, this spoke to me very deeply. And despite those years ago, I remember that same thread of thought running through the magical realism books I had read before by Allende and Morrison and others. Whether we believe in God or not, giving whatever (flavor of) magic we contain in ourselves is one of those best things.
I  also appreciate how Howe took the time and effort to put a strong and gifted woman into a very difficult culture and to really ponder out what could have plausibly happened to Deliverance Dane. And not only that but to ponder out Deliverance’s beliefs in everything that was going on around her. The ending is a sad one, of course because this is the time of the Salem witch trials but this book is a rare treat and one I’ll enjoy again.

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The Willows Converse Among Themselves

I look across the river and catch sight of the willows, lost in their own world. They have no regard for me. They are speaking to each other in whispers so I hear nothing clearly but I see their long golden-yellow chains wavering over the water. It reflects their light.

There are presences in this world that are not human but sometimes, a human being comes across one of these presences and this is when poetry happens—when we interact with the strange divinity that moves through the world.

I caught sight of the willows and so complete were they within themselves, so beautiful to behold, that my mind stopped dead in its tracks and my heart eased. In the presence of an Other, human commotion becomes impossibly silly and pointless. The past and future converge into the present and there is only now.

I exhale the stress I’ve held this morning as I watch them. The willows, their long hair hanging over their faces, disregard me totally and completely and talk in their slow tree way, something to do with the air, water, and earth. I cannot hear much but what I do hear makes me recall there were other beings on this earth other than myself, older than myself. They exist in this time, in many times, living, dying, always reappearing. The willows hang their hair over the water as they have done for centuries, listening to the currents and moving with the breezes and eddies of the wind.

With a gratefully diminished self, I thank the universe for the ancient poetry that is the willow tree and move forward, reborn, into the bright day.

 

茶の煙柳と共にそよぐ也

the tea smoke

and the willow

together trembling

Issa

(Trans. David G. Lanoue)

Beautiful Dirty Summer

The thick green groves of cup-plants (silphium perfoliatumare) stand eight feet tall and are in their late summer glory. I look up at their bright yellow ray flowers and shield my eyes, the bright flowers sway so high and run so close to the sun. When I squint, the flowers darken into forms without color like the outline of the sun beating through closed eyelids.

I take a step nearer and peer into the leaves. Tiny pools of still water collect where the thick cup leaves meet the stems. It has not rained in the last few weeks and I’m surprised there is any water here at all. For leaves that are not broken or rotted, thimblefuls of water weigh without movement, rimmed with the detritus of summer: a fly’s wing, a wad of spider web, bits of dead grass and portions of pollen.

These tiny pools are water for goldfinches, tiny birds that flash by like rays of light. It hasn’t rained for weeks and this is left, tiny pools of water full of dirty summer. I consider drinking it. With one quick gulp, I’d drink the essence of a passing summer, imbibe what August means, and taste the bitter part of the growing season. This is living but rotting part that underlines all our lives but that no one likes to see, much less taste.

I shift my weight from foot to foot. The sun beats heavily down. The yellow flowers tumble in overhead breezes and the goldfinches live nearby, finding water where they can as the dry weeks pass. My hands drop to my sides and I pass back through the grass, ready for the shade. Perhaps when it rains and all the cup plants are full, I’ll take my drink along with the many others.