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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 9, Number 1, March 2015

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Giselle Maya & Patricia Prime
St. Martin de Castillon, France & Te Atatu South, Auckland, New Zealand


Riddles and Puzzlements

all things it devours
birds beasts trees flowers
gnaws iron, bites steel
grinds hard stones into meal
slays king, ruins town
wears mountains down . . .
     —Gollum's riddle from J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit

The magnificent ruins of Delphi are weathered, the island of Santorini may once have lodged in its crater now filled by the sea the legendary city of Atlantis.

The stone Buddhas of Sri Lanka are almost intact, marked by wind and sun. We ourselves are scarred, within and without. Yet time's effects can also be beneficial, wines and cheeses improve with age, and possibly our sagesse, our wisdom and understanding.

all that remains
in an empty niche
a ghostly silhouette
of the larger Buddha
and his gigantic feet

The war of course is elsewhere; we stay home listening for the innocence of children that stills the heart. We imagine we are in Afghanistan in the years of terror. That moment when a wonder of the world, the sandstone Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved out of the cliff face on which they have towered over their remote mountain valley for 1,700 years, were demolished on the orders of Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban. The images protected the valley and its people for centuries. Now all that's left is a pile of rubble. Stunned by the destruction of the colossal, elaborately decorated images of the Buddha that were worshipped in their heyday as objects of religious devotion, we can only wonder at the reason for this outrage.

with a small shovel
I add compost for a new plant
a blue hortensia
set under the walnut tree
it cheers me all day long

Each year the garden is a mystery. Some plants will rise from the soil again in spring, the hellebores come forth even in late winter and the snowdrops . . . The gardener can plant fava beans and snowpeas already in late autumn. Long before the earth has warmed she is amazed to see the green tips of the fava beans and peas surface through a thin layer of snow. The roses blossom until after frost when noontime is still warm, nights cold. Dandelion greens can be added to salads almost all year round, nettles can enhance soups. This is the time to put out seeds for winter birds and watch them from a wooden bench behind the garden cabanon. A new tiny birdhouse will be hung high in one of the tall trees, a nesting place for mesanges (blue and yellow tits). Cherry tree trunks are good for spreading bird seeds for all birds who come to visit.

love is a memory;
the wind and rain tossing
the empty rose . . .
thundering from a corner
the ocean at night its real colour

The sculptor told me there were two kinds of women with power in their transformations: the painted geisha as untainted as warm-blooded statues and his favourite, the kitsune. His women are naked, vulnerable, based on Venus de Milo. Some have no arms, others no legs, parts of their heads missing. "If Venus de Milo is considered to be beautiful," he says, "then so are other disfigured or handicapped people."

the language of flowers
what is their lifespan
when to unfold
it is a riddle as we are
to contemplate

Time itself seems to be a great riddle. It can flow both slowly and fast. The gardener has come to help create a rectangular space for contemplation in the Luberon Mountains in Provence. He climbs the ladder to create a bamboo arch for a yellow rose tree. We check a dahlia root eaten by moles, this makes the tall healthy plant wilt, we water it—will it survive? We inhale garden scent, touch with hands and eyes plants and flowers to check their well-being, the compost rises with many weeds my helper has pulled—it will nourish the garden, all we need to do is give it ashes, peelings, clippings, then turn, water, sift it—fresh soil creates itself with time, heat and rain.

in summertime
we played quietly, but for the sound
of birds and insects,
looking at the flowers
until our mothers called us home

After the war our London street was in ruins: broken windows, houses, piles of rubble, bomb craters—places where we played although forbidden. At the end of the road, high railings surrounded a cemetery and we'd squeeze through them to enter the miraculous silence and beauty of swept pathways, trees, flowers, angels and statues. Some gravestones had photographs of beautiful smiling babies or children on them, others held poems or grieving messages. Fluffed-up sparrows puddled in the fountains and larks—we could see them flying above the heads of the mourners, zipping about.


Author's Notes:

Cabanon: a spot for writing and observing wildlife.
Kitsune: in Japanese folklore a fox women with nine tails, different guises and a tendency to run.

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