Charlene Langfur / Paula Riff
Trying to Do The Right Thing Even When It Doesn’t Matter
My 13 pound honey colored dog and I are out walking
under the blood colored moon in the middle of summer,
under the ashes from the fire in Cranston.
Today the fire is on the other side of the mountains in 119 degrees
and this is the way of it now for those of us here near the old oasis,
troubles and omens around us, I call them signs and move on
but they are everywhere I look, past the fat old palm trees,
trees overwhelmed with their own fronds, burgeoning leaves, carrying
weight, trees trying to stick to a life plan, and we walk past the scrub pine,
and wild yucca in near bloom, whatever made it through the hottest
most humid of summers, here where life continues as if no change
is actually taking place in the world, as if no shifting to solar and low water use
is an imperative, nor focusing on what is needed most in order to make it through to what is
we know we need in the future. We walk easy along the sand, a familiar sand path along
the canyon’s edge, each of us breathing in the darkening air as if it is easy
to react to what is around us, and we do our best to adapt to a new world.
I am of the mind to help with the earth changes around us. It is because
of the way I am, trying no matter what the odds. As I walk I plan
for low water gardens, calendula, aloe, planting a sweet orange nasturtium bed,
colors to enchant the heart when nothing else will, a plan to plant seeds to grow herbs
and flowers and to save the seeds for next year, for dreams and succulence.
Later I think we can walk through all the heat wave’s bad air
to the other side of it as if there is a door, past the wild air of trouble around us
which seems to have no end. Talk in Washington is we do not have the resources
to change what is happening, no money to help humans and animals.
But money is piling up, monopoly style, higher and higher. Green paper, gold bricks,
all that. This tender we use to represent our real needs in life.
My dog and I move on, speed up a little, waiting for what comes next.
The fire finally to be put out, or the air to turn even poorer. Tomorrow
we will pile all our recycling in the car to bring to the recycling plant
and we’ll buy up more seeds to plant for the next season. Planning to give back
and live with less. We head home, any way that works, here in the same world
we were both born to, with its earth and water and here where we think we can keep it safe
by changing our ways to plan for whatever comes next. We know how to make it home,
walking hard, reaching out far as we can until we catch hold
turn the key in the door, make it all right again for one more day.
Signs of Life
What survives the big summer heat in the desert always catches my eyes.
It’s easier to see the gains and losses here than everywhere else,
here where there are endless stretches of sand and the lavender survives at 117 degrees.
I am not sure how it does it but I see how what survives encourages me to thrive along
with it as if we are all part of the same life force. I see the plants grow, with such insistence
in spite of everything, taking what they need and letting everything else go.
Today I feel my life feels stronger as I am able to hold up against the force of the heat.
The rabbits bolting from behind the mesquite, I watch them carefully to keep them in my sight,
movement from out of complete stillness. All at once they disappear in thin air and never look back.
I see how fragile we all are here, here where the giant century plant takes 20 years to grow
and poachers bleed them dry to make the littlest bit of tequila. Here where the moon rises
over the mountains as if perfectly timed. I see how what grows here tells us more
about our future than we may want to know, how our government turns a blind eye to it all,
ignoring advances in solar, wind, anything that works to save what we have now for the years ahead.
Here in the desert it’s easy to see the advances needed. See what we need to do next.
This morning the cactus was in bloom, a single flower reaching out on a single stem
of its own, only inches in diameter, lotus like, full blooming with crème colored jewels,
a near impossible sight, I think, rare, miraculous, something from nothing even in times like these.
A Simple Life with What is Here
Today my plants became a way of life
for me. Transplanting the lavender takes time.
$3.00 on sale a Home Depot. Can you imagine
my good fortune? I dig up the dirt from an unused lot
and carry it home. A shovel full at a time.
Set the plant on top of the dirt with a half inch
to spare on the sides of the plant’s roots. Room to grow.
A rule of thumb for a job like this. Getting the room
it needs exactly right matters. And picking off the old growth to lighten
it up. I can smell the lavender on my hands and arms
as I work through the delicate leaves to thin them out.
And when the plants grow I know I will feel richer, protected.
Already I see how the plant takes to the pot quickly, how it settles in,
protecting itself, how the leaves are a sweet green, and I am sure
the healing color will help me live as the plant grows. That is how full life
starts here. From branch to root, everything I’ve put to a new life
more than I know.
Catching After the Light
The heart takes me to where I feel at my best today,
helps me find a way for me to connect to a human place,
a path for me to follow when there is no other way
find a few words for what runs too deep for me to describe,
a simple way out,
a way for the 10,000 thoughts
the mind comes up with every day, to take me where I want to go,
thoughts that help keep me afloat
thoughts about saving what we have, gathering small seeds
getting ready for another season, tending the aloe plants for healing,
especially the soft, nubile ones,
take to what is around me in the dirt to help me start over no matter how much
I want to stick with the past and not move ahead,
I push forward on solid ground, gather what works,
the morning coffee, sweet red strawberries
looking for a path with patience to it,
today I’ve spent a good part of the day watching the road runner
idling on the back porch, the opal feathers glistening in the sun,
and the purple headed lizard
watching me from behind a rock and running off when
the time is right. It knows the exact moment to take off.
I feel better with them, the small animals
and the path we were on together, waiting for the earth to lighten up again
as if there is more to all our connections than we know in our bones,
staying true, sleeping long, catching after the light
one day another night until we know exactly how
to do it again and then again until it works.
Charlene Langfur is an organic gardener, a rescued dog advocate, a Syracuse University Graduate Writing Fellow. Her poems are about the environment and how we all need to make changes. Her most recent publication is in Still Point Arts Quarterly, called “Chasing Home.”
Paula Riff creates cameraless images using the processes of cyanotype and color gum bichromate as a way to physically interact with the natural world as an artist. She cuts the paper at various intersections which allows her to enter the conversation with the images in a very intimate way. Her intention is to strip away as much as possible so that she can focus more on the elements of design and consider elements of nature in a different way.
Shibui. The Japanese word shibui refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle and unobtrusive beauty and it is this concept that reflects the spirit of this series, Shibui. An object of art that employs these characteristics may at first appear to be simple, but upon closer inspection the subtle details and textures balance that simplicity with a rich complexity.