This series of ten fables is from Laura M Kaminski’s last penny the sun (Balkan Press, 2014). It is dedicated to Jeannine Burton.
Fable One: Separation
The climbing rose, much-loved with blossoms of many
colors, Joseph’s Coat, took a strange step, a leap
off some evolutionary cliff. Each blossom-bearing
stem began to show a pinch, as if some invisible
tourniquet was tightening, each stem a long green
earthworm now dividing. And every rose, red
or gold or peach or something blended in between
was pinched off into alonedom—each grew its own
toes, small new feet, stepped down, began to wander.
Some were excited, some uncertain, slower.
After only twenty minutes the novelty wore thin, toes grew
tired of the unfamiliar and each of these strange creatures
sought a place to stop for rest and reassurance, a place
to feel comfortable again, fit in. They flocked like birds—
all the mostly-yellows grouped under the tomatoes, reds
gathered by the potting shed, oranges, peaches, splashed
or specked—all gathered into their small sets with those
that looked most like them, a scurrying, divisive migration.
No scissors needed now when you step out to gather
flowers for the table; they are not connected to their roots,
might even voice objections if your bouquet-collection
deigns to use stems from other color-coalitions, goes
full-spectrum, representation, comprehension. They are not
connected to their roots, some might even spit pollen
if you mention that, to you, the variation in their hues
makes them, in combination in a vase, more beautiful—
if you mention you suspect them of having common
origins, if you dare say they all smell the same.
Fable Two: Climbing
I’d been distressed as I perused
your straight-line plan
to climb a mountain high as
Everest. Such an ascent takes
time, is perhaps best tackled
in large looping circles.
True, circumambulation comes
with its own frustrations—
progress seems so slow when
you look down below you
on the slope and spy your own
old notes of bright ambition,
words you wrote eight months ago
that you’d now prefer to hide.
And it’s also true we do grow
older on the way, the air gets
thinner, colder, and some days
we struggle to remember
why we came, fight to fill our lungs
and hearts, inhale life and one more
time distill its beauty, exhale
one more phrase.
Still. Keep. Moving. Slowly.
Fable Three: Pausing
We continue upward, approach another
bend. Here, the air is fragrant, sweetened
by the blossoms of a wild rose that’s found
a crevice in the cliff, taken root and grown.
Suddenly our own journey does not seem so
impossible. We pause here to rest, to savor.
We are not even asked here to remove
our shoes, not tasked with inscribing new
commandments. All we are called upon
to do is pause a moment, feel gratitude.
Fable Four: Rooting and Rotting
First, you must be stripped down—
remove not just your thorns, but blossom
too, and half your skin, surrender
to the guillotine and flaying. Stripped
of individuality and protection, you’ll be left
alone in meditation, left to stand immersed
in liquid, nondescript and mostly naked
twig, standing in a clear jar in the window.
From here, there are only two
directions you can go—either begin
to grow fine threads to drink more
deeply, or refuse, choose instead
a wet rotting from the outside in
until you’re taken out and added
to the compost. There isn’t even
judgment of your preference—
either way, you’ll still be useful
in the garden.
Fable Five: Immersion
regarding The Drowned Book: Ecstatic and Earthy Reflections of Bahauddin, the Father of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks & John Moyne, Harper One, 2004
Two men sat
by a bubbling fountain—
Rumi and Shams—
Shams sat with his arms open;
Rumi’s were tucked in.
The hands of Jellaludin
Rumi, son, were tightly
curled, clutched a notebook,
his father Bahauddin’s
journal of reflections,
words of wisdom
And this carefully written
notebook was the topic
of the conversation Rumi
was having with his friend.
Rumi insisted he needed
these recorded musings
from his father.
Shams told him he
shouldn’t cling so tightly
to the ink-blots of another.
Finally Shams grabbed and threw
the treasure in the fountain—
Rumi was left in shock,
an emptiness of breath and hands.
Before Rumi could speak again,
Shams told him: Not to worry—
it is only water—if you truly
need this booklet it will still be
fine after a brief immersion.
Reach in! Retrieve it!
Now we’ll see if
Bahauddin’s old inscriptions
The fountain wall on which they sat
has crumbled into rubble, seven
centuries and more of feet and wind
have turned its masonry to sand—
but The Drowned Book, those ancient
pages that were soaked, then saved—
remain available today, in English
translation even, and in print.