Sunday, May 8, 2016

From the Canyons to the Stars - No, not about Messiaen

If you never go to any classical music concerts but love art and painting, find some time to listen to Oliver Messiaen's monumental suite From the Canyons to the Stars (Des canyons aux etoiles...). This is cosmic mysticism set in sound, maybe the most powerful and inspiring work of music composed in the second half of the 20th century. Not "easy listening" music... one should say "awesome" - if that word did not shift its sphere of significance to somewhere quite distant from "awe." But you have to find a concert hall where they play this surreal assemblage of wind machines, birdsong, horns and instrumental chorales. This song of praise arises from the orange slopes canyons in the American west (the Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon were two inspirations) to the starry skies and beyond.

Here's a visual interpretation of the first movement, Le desert, posted on You Tube by JeeRant two years ago. I found only the recording of the third movement, What is written in the stars (Ce qui est écrit sur les étoiles ), possibly uploaded without copyright clearance. Listen at your own peril! There are many versions of the sixth movement for the solo horn called Appel interstellaire (Interstellar call) posted by ambitious horn players the world over. You can listen to it on your tiny loudspeakers, but to have a full experience of the otherworldly music, you need to go to a real concert with live musicians, such as the one by Ensemble Intercontemporain in Athens, Greece.

My canyons and stars are found in poetry, not sounds. I document things that catch my attention in short occasional poems that have no pretense to "Great Art" - these poems are pages from a personal, intimate journal. They capture impressions and reflections from my peregrinations through a southern California landscape, a place of beauty unparalleled in this world or any other.

Only in California

The desert is rich with the noise
of our ghost river, suddenly filled
with mocha cappuccino, a swirl
of white frothy foam on the surface.

Chuparosa and sunrose blossom.
The moving white spot of a rabbit’s tail
disappears between sticky snapdragons
goldenrod and pearly everlasting.

The last red leaves tremble on the tips
of tree branches. The liquid amber
is bare; the gingko, no longer golden,
a skeleton waiting for summer.

One by one, scarlet star-shapes fall
onto the bright green carpet of new grass.
The shoots of narcissus and hyacinth
peek through the weight of dead foliage.

Puffy pink clouds surround the disc
of the moon, shining on the smooth
turquoise. Seasons melt in a day.
The sun smiles at the audacity

of this preposterous, beyond belief,
one and only, California spring.

My dear friend artist and poet and a person extraordinaire, Kathabela Wilson, has lots of great ideas, one of them asking poets to write about gardens and parks. The following two short poems were inspired, respectively, by the Pasadena garden of Jean Sudbury and Vance Fox, and by the Arlington Garden in South Pasadena, planted in the vacant lots that await the construction of the extended 710 freeway. I saw both gardens in the middle of the summer last year, and what a summer it was!

Time Lapse Garden

Arms of the agave
Stretch out to the sky
Waving in slow motion
Trying to stop the train of time
From moving on and on and on
Past fluffy two-color roses
The madness of cactus spikes
And the hammock swinging
Seductively in the shade
When Jean goes by

The Golden Hour

The mockingbird leads a chorus
of orioles, black phoebes, bluebirds,
finches, juncos, and ruby crowned kinglets.
The buzzing you hear is not dangerous,
these are Anna’s hummingbird’s wings.
Birds crowd around the fountain,
water droplets scatter on sandy path.
The afternoon sighs with relief.
All is well and all shall be well
in our garden at four o’clock.

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