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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Poem: Morning Vanity

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Morning Vanity

Sitting at my vanity, the lighted mirror
blinks on and hovers like a moon. The
chiaroscuro room is dark outside
the nimbus of light. A glazed vintage
dimestore bluebird seems to sleep
at my elbow, while outside the window,
birdsong hooks and whips morning awake.
What are we to them in our daily ritual
of rekindled radiance? My eyebrow brush
nudges an orderly code. Pastel blush roses
my cheeks that puff out like clouds. Off goes
the moon with a click. A lacquered kiss
with a licked finish, and the sun rises.



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49 comments:

Susan said...

All ready for work then? Lovely little morning poem, my friend.

steven said...

the process of preparation, of welcoming the day and of preparing to be welcomed is so gently expressed here. i read this over and over. i do think there's something of us that is a piece of the bird's experiencing. i'm not sure i could pinpoint it though! steven

erin said...

i love the poem, ruth, but i wonder on our ignorance. what order do we believe we bring to our day with an eyebrow brush? do you use an eyebrow brush? i remember my mother using one, a slim red compact with a matted tray of black that slid out. she had gorgeous eyebrows when she was young. they were fields of lush womanhood. no primping stopped my father from drowning and leaving her with four children to raise. each day the river continued to dissect our property, the river he drowned in. each day she continued to lay her eyebrows down. was i supposed to go beyond this modicum of control in the poem? i seem to have been catapulted there.

even the bird - it is glass. it's not flying. and so i remember that it is in our reckless flight that we live most.

xo
erin

Brendan said...

I've been thinking of a poem like this, the morning rituals of entering our dingdong day being as natural as birds warming up their songs outside. I see a richly appointed nest here, and preening, and bringing oneself in alignment with the exquisite code of nature, so that no amount of human interference that may arise in the dingdong work day can ever fully ruffle the plumage of this exquisite moment. Lovely. Can I worship here too? (I don't mean that I intend to apply eye-liner, but I do want to join in these devotions in the chapel of waking. --- Brendan

Louise Gallagher said...

I love this morning poem. The gentleness of its rising. The patterns laid out in the hush of morningsong.

And then, the departure. From night to day and the stepping out into the day, decked out in all our radiant pastel blushes.

Lovely poem!

Thank you for opening my day with a smile.

hedgewitch said...

The mundane becomes the sublime, and the rituals of waking tie us to that larger web of life. Your language is jewel-like, but far warmer than cold rocks--full of the light that sparkles off the facets of dawn. Thanks for starting my morning with such a lovely warble of words.

Dan Gurney said...

Lovely poem! I especially liked the play on the word, "vanity" in the title. For it seems we human creatures are from the very beginning of the day—and all the way to day's end—tragically self absorbed. I like the way you let the outdoors world into your room, but return to the dimestore artificiality of our human surroundings.

Maureen said...

So interesting to think, in the context of vanity, of the beauty of a morning unfolding, of how we can never compete with the natural loveliness all around us.

I especially like your concluding lines.

The Solitary Walker said...

Nothing much to them ... but alike in our preening rituals?

Babs-beetle said...

:)

rosaria said...

Wow! Stunning.
The mondane and the divine, the minutiae in that lacquered kiss and the infinite in that sun rising. How Emilyan this picture, this ritual.

Ruth said...

Yes Susie, all set to begin another day out in the world. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Steven, thank you for reading it that way.

I have noticed different behavior in birds in different yards at different homes. Ours are quite skittish here (maybe it's Bishop the cat), but in other places, they do not seem alarmed when I pass by closely. It's all fascinating to me.

Loring Wirbel said...

Luscious in words and structure, both.

Ruth said...

Dear Erin, after wrestling for years with our cultural icons of beauty and artifice, I love these questions you ask. I am at ease. Yes, I use an eyebrow brush, and tweezers, mascara, lip gloss. I trim my nails, shave my legs. Brushing my eyebrows is as much kinesthetic as aesthetic for me. When they aren’t brushed, I feel unscrubbed. But I still want to lie down in the meadow’s grass and roll around. (And I love your toes in the mud.)

Wendell Berry in his poem “The Heron” starts,

“The world as men have made it is an ungainly

hardship that comes of forgetting

there is other life than men have made.


He was talking about plowing his fields. This was on my mind when I wrote “Morning Vanity.” My poem resides under ‘vanity’ in the title, vanity in the sense we use as being narcissistic, and vain in Solomon’s sense of all things coming to nothing that we ascribe meaning to (he with his glorious attire and primping, and so many mates to woo).

What is vain? I have watched turkey vultures perch on top of our tall barn and preen for 30 minutes after eating something dead in the meadow or woods. Oh I think it is glorious, and I love them for it, for their very own attention to themselves this way. I do not know if it helps them and their species in survival. Perhaps not, but they are beautiful as they clean themselves up, as they pay attention to their wild feathers encrusted with blood.

Oh your mother, and you, for losing your father in such a way, too soon. Wendell Berry also wrote, “I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” Animals do so many things differently than we do. Sometimes I wish we humans did not have to feel sorrow. But then we would also not be able to feel joy. We would give up everything to have your father back. But sadly, it would be in vain to do so, for nothing we give up would bring him back, or my brother back, who by the way was a rustic mountain man to look at him, who happened to admire women who were scrubbed and polished a bit, to be attractive to him. Strange creatures we are, no?

I so want every individual to be free to love, and live, according to their desire.

Ruth said...

Brendan, is there a more precious sight than a mother chimpanzee grooming her baby? Or a cat cleaning herself. Or the turkey vulture purifying himself after cleaning up my meadow so faithfully, removing the stench of a dead possum.

But aside from nature, I feel with you the humble surrender to this daily return to whatever attentions keep my hum spinning. Having tools of quality for this practice is as important to me as any meditative practice, for I enjoy each material thing in its feel and function, and it fills up something in my soul.

If I were a man, I think I would like the ritual of shaving with a brush and a cup of soap, and a straight edge (something I watched my father do). I know it's more work than shave cream from a can, or an electric razor, but there is something terribly attractive about those old fashioned steps, at least when I see someone else doing it!

Ruth said...

Louise, ah, the sunrise of your beautiful smile. One of the things I have learned about myself (there are so many reasons I like getting older, and a few I don't like as much) is that I need hours to prepare myself for the day. I cannot wake up after light. I cannot get up and get ready to go without hours of sitting, reading, writing. And I must allow myself leisurely time to preen, prune and primp, so that my insides don't feel rushed.

Ruth said...

Hedgewitch, thanks for your lovely comment. I got lost in Rembrandt and Vermeer, in the painted lace ruffs and glinting eyes. The dressing table became a painting in my mind's eye. I'm glad it felt warm to you.

Ruth said...

Hello, Dan, thank you. It takes constant monitoring, as you indicate in your Mindful Heart posts about greed, "affluenza" (great term!), and how we have needs in our soul that we find ways to fill, some healthy, and some not. It can take years and years to work these things out for ourselves, it has for me. And still I bump up against my ego attachments and get spanked. There is a way, I think, to surrender to it all, to what it is we want, in our soul, and be free to fail ourselves, and show one another that we might be imperfect, even as we are whole.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Maureen. I love this topic (maybe you can tell from comments). We, of all the animals, wear clothes and otherwise conjure ways of presenting ourselves to others that will either impress, or maybe just allow us to feel comfortable with what they see. I have come to accept this wholeheartedly, even though it is a bit of a pain to put on makeup. It's something I want to do.

I just learned the term "licked finish" — the term for when painters rub the paint with a finger to smooth and blend it.

Ruth said...

Robert, please see my comment to Erin, about my observations of turkey vultures.

Ruth said...

Babs :) back.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Rosaria! As in Dickinson? Thank you!

Ruth said...

Loring, oh thanks, my friend. Thank you for mentioning the structure, as I really wanted it to be tight, like a box visually.

Oliag said...

I love your morning routine so beautifully described...up with the birds and preening along side them...

Margaret said...

"off goes the moon with a click..."

Daily rituals never sounded so sweet. Great imagery, as always. Summer is here and routines will change (hooray). But not the beauty regime! :)

Ruth said...

Oliag, these birds are so loud, you wouldn't believe it. Sometimes I'd like to give them a piece of my mind. ;)

Thank you.

Ruth said...

Margaret, well you do live in the South, and you must keep up the rep of a southern belle. ;)

missing moments said...

Oh, Ruth ... been without internet for days (in Portugal) ... but always love to pop in and hear your words! sigh ....

Miss Jane said...

Loved this preening vanity.
It seemed quite orderly until the licked finish--and, kapow, the sun rises. Excellent.
I loved the photo, too.
The tail of the blue bird, black onyx earrings and Chanel--lovely.

Shari Sunday said...

I am trying to leave this comment for the third time. Hope it works. I find your wording delicious. The "nimbus of light" in the dark room, the "lacquered kiss with the licked finish" For some reason this reminds me of a little envelope I have saved with my mother's writing on the front and a perfect red blot of lipstick on the edge.

Barb said...

So, Ruth - you're putting on "a good face" to face the day?

Amy@Souldipper said...

Yes, what do our ablutions of beauty do for Nature's peeping toms? Do they laugh or just wonder?

Ruth said...

Reena, thanks for that sigh, I feel one myself, thinking of you sitting out on a terraço in Portugal . . . wow.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Miss Jane. I was looking up painting terms, and when I found "licked finish" it felt right. Thanks for noticing the photo, too, and liking those artifacts on my dressing table.

Ruth said...

Shari, too bad about the commenting problems. It gets frustrating.

I love the image of the precious envelope from your mother, oh so beautiful and cherished.

Ruth said...

Barb, yes, it's symbolic, isn't it? Putting our best face forward, so to speak.

Ruth said...

Amy, ablutions . . . for beauty, for washing, for grooming, I think they connect us with our natural friends, for they too preen and groom.

Vagabonde said...

Your poem reminds me of so many mornings, before going to work. “The chiaroscuro room is dark outside the nimbus of light.” It was exactly light this for me too. I got up before my husband and so just had this little mirror light and the rest of the room was dark. I felt much more at ease if I started the morning with my usual ritual – not rushed and using the same gestures. I could have gotten up later and zipped through it all and put my makeup in my car like so many women did, but that would have been stressful, so I got up at 4:00 am and was out the door by 5:30, breakfast included, cat fed, coffee made for husband, the top stories on the BBC, the NYT and Le Monde read online (I started work at 6:00 am.) I did that for many years, but I don’t miss it now. I get up at 9:15 am just in time to see Jon Stewart while having breakfast – and I can stay up until 1:30 am or later, which I never could do.

who said...

Another beautiful poem Ruth. The kind of depth that one can come back to read and find fresh meaning for themselves for as long as they are able to come back to read

Many many times

And anytime I see anypiece of jewelry with onyx I pause longer than usual to examine the words or the person wearing this polished mineral. Onyx can have bands of almost any color, and the arrangement of the bands, are parallel.

The crystal pieces the make up Onyx are so tiny that very little is known of their actual crystalline nature.

And so geologists consider the mineral cryptic. It's a very special mineral, it goes perfect with your poem.

Marja said...

wow beautiful

Ruth said...

Vagabonde, after reading your morning schedule when you worked, and what it is now, I wonder if I could ever shift my hours back to late nights and late mornings. It sounds pretty nice, but I would miss my early morning quiet, I think.

Isn't Jon Stewart the best for 'the news'?

Ruth said...

Dusti, how good of you to connect the onyx in my earrings with the darkness (depth) in my poem. Of all the people I know, I believe you might take more time really examining what you read than anyone.

Ruth said...

Thank you, and welcome, Marja.

Anna said...

How shallow I must be! I loved the poem, and then all I wanted to know was what is that cologne?
Sorry Ruth!
Anna
x

Ruth said...

Anna, shallow, you? Nah. It's Chanel No 5. :-)

ds said...

Ah, the space between the necessary private and the oh so public. I think I get it now--and the movement from natural to "artificial" and back again.
No complacencies in this boudoir ;)
Lovely.

Ginnie said...

Only you would know how to make a poem of such a simple but relevant ritual, dear Ruth!

Jeanie said...

I'm smiling. Your work is so beautiful, so evocative.