Monday, July 25, 2011

Moodling Metaphor

I bought Luci Shaw's Breath for the Bones after reading the first instalment of the Book Club discussion by Laura Bogess last Monday. (Grabbing a book at a moment's notice — I love it that I can do that sort of thing with my Kindle.) It is a good time for me to be reading this book and thinking along Shaw's lines. I read the two chapters discussed last week and found myself nodding, yes, yes.

Then I came to Chapter 3 ("Meeting the God of Metaphor") and on reading her story of the oak tree, my heart began to pound. Here's that story:

"After Harold died, my good friend Bernie Bosch and his sons took down the old dead oak tree that stood in our front yard. The previous spring it had not leafed out at all, and we had known it must be toppled. Bernie waited until the ground was frozen hard so that the crash of its enormous bulk wouldn't damage the lawn.


It was a huge job. And after the screaming power saws were silent and the tree was dismembered, all the wood had to be split and trucked away (that was the deal—he cut the tree down in return for the wood), and the mass of debris piled on top of the stump and ignited. The white-hot blaze burned for days, and even after the flames died down, a thin tendril of smoke still threaded the air above the site. It looked like a dormant volcano. The fire ate away most of the stump and the roots deep below the surface so that a week later all that was left was a black-rimmed saucer of ashes like a wound in the sod.


It was then I realized why the felling of the tree occupied my thoughts so consistently and with such a sense of significance. It was because I was the frozen sod with the deep wound, and Harold was my tree who was simply... gone. How unreal it seemed that his roots that had for more than thirty years penetrated deep into my life, that had anchored us and joined us so solidly and securely, had been eroded by the fire of decay. The space above ground that for so long had been filled with his vertical strength and solidity and shape was empty; air had risked in where, before, the towering trunk had outbranched to leaves" (Kindle location 678).

She goes on to explain how her latching onto that metaphor of Harold as the tree and herself the ground with the gaping hole was a healing thing: "I needed to find a picture, something so real in my imagination that I could derive sense impressions from it, and building from this stimuli I could perhaps see a pattern and derive significance from the image."

The reason I responded viscerally to Luci Shaw's story and how it affected her is because I have my own tree root story. Four years ago, when we were moving, we needed to empty our son's bedroom. Even though he hadn't lived at home for some time, his room was still full of 'him.' I spent hours one weekend, collecting his stuff from every nook and cranny of his room and assembling it in the middle of his floor, ready for him to take it to where he lived. It made me very sad and I felt restless until I saw a metaphor in it all. I even wrote about it.

The Prodigal’s Things

Unearthed from dresser drawers 
   closet corners and bookshelves 
his things sit in the middle 
   of his empty room 
the rootball of a dug-up tree

Lawn bags stuffed with clothes 
   balance on plastic tubs 
      heavy with Playstation, Game Gear
      trophies, marbles, a slingshot 
      ball glove, card collection, skate decks 
  and boxes bulging with photo albums, CDs, books . . .

Will he think we’re kicking him out?
“Don’t be silly,” says his dad
   “He hasn’t lived here for two years
and we’re selling the house”

Still the taste of mother-angst
   lingers on my tongue 
   wakes me at night
In the morning I place empty hands 
   on those uprooted tentacles:
“God, please look after this transplant 
with light, love, new life,”

and my heaviness lifts 
   as I am reminded
the great Tree Farmer 
   who made the tree
   planted him first in our home
   and knows intimately 
      each sapling in the forest
is still in charge


© 2011 by V. Nesdoly

Luci Shaw again:
"A metaphor, because of its implicit reality and force in one arena of life, can transfer or carry over its meaning into another arena. The image acts to bring sense and immediacy and relevance to the real-life situations it parallels."

I agree. We can spend our time in much worse ways than moodling metaphors.

This post is linked at "Breath for the Bones: Tell Me a Story," where writer Laura Bogess talks about chapters 3 and 4 of Luci Shaw's book.  There you can find links to other blogs which have joined in on the discussion.

10 comments:

Maureen said...

Wonderful post, Violet.

Your poem touches me, perhaps in a way that only another mother knows deep inside. I've done the same thing (why is it mothers always get this task?) and it always breaks the heart, until, as you write, "the tree planted him first in our home".

violet said...

Thank you, Maureen! I'm not surprised that a fellow mother understands. One can never resign from that wonderful job!

Laura said...

Oh, Violet, I'm so glad that you are reading Breath for the Bones with us! It's such a deep-read, and your words here tell me just how deeply it can speak. A mother's work is sometimes the hard stuff. I haven't yet reached this point--both of my boys still spilling bits of themselves into our hallways and living spaces. But the thought of it is so much to bear and your words give me courage for what is to come. Planting seeds, that what I do every day. Praying for the Great Gardener to give them strong roots and make them grow.

violet said...

Why thank you, Laura! It's a wonderful book and I love how you lead the discussion! It's a pleasure to be reading along with you.

CallingForth said...

I also was touched by the poem as having 4 sons we have been through some of this... and perhaps will not face the full reality of it until we move!
Someone else mentioned Luci Shaw - sounds like I will need to follow through on the recommendations:)

Cindee Snider Re said...

Love the image of a "rootball of a dug up tree" as your son's things were piled high in the center of his "empty room." Such an incredible visual! My oldest son leaves for college in a few weeks, and the image made me laugh through happy tears -- so good to let our kids take life by the wing, so hard to let go of their once little hands that needed us so much. Loved your poem! Blessings to you today.

Patricia said...

Glad to meet you =) A mother's heart never stop beating... your poem touched me where I am, with two sons off to college and the prayers we breathe for them each day.

pathoftreasure said...

Your poem touches me. My kids are younger but I know this day is coming; how comforting that He is in charge of all the saplings. So nice to meet you!

violet said...

Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, CallingForth, Cindee, Patricia and Path of Treasure! Much appreciated.

I never would have believed the strong instincts of motherhood before I became a mother. I guess we're all in the same boat -- loving our kids and wishing, in a way, we could keep them forever growing in our own courtyards.

Charity Singleton said...

Violet - These metaphors make meaning run so deep. Your love for your son is palpable.