It’s my pleasure to welcome Robert Rife as one of several special “guests of the house” here at All Nine this summer. Many of you may remember Rob from last summer’s Blog Hop. But there’s much more to this guy than randomly hopping about blogs. Robert grew up in Calgary, Alberta but is presently the Minister of Worship and Music at Yakima Covenant Church in Yakima, Washington. He holds a B.A. in music and an M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. He is a multi-instrumentalist (including Highland Bagpipes), singer-songwriter-arranger (his CD, Be That As It May, is available on iTunes), studio musician, choral director, and liturgist.
As a writer he maintains two personal blogs, innerwoven on the spiritual life, and Robslitbits on the literary one. He also blogs for Spring Arbor University, Conversations Journal for whom he also writes the print magazine study guide, and at CenterQuest, an ecumenical school for Spiritual Direction. He has been a contributor to Abbey of the Arts, and a host of other blogs. His poetry and music are featured on the new ALTARWORKS website.
Greatest achievements to date: a 27-year marriage to wife, Rae, and their two boys, Calum and Graeme.
He loves words.
He loves life.
Especially when they meet.
The Words of Summer
By Robert Rife
I don’t like summer.
Now that I have your attention…I don’t like summer. Here’s why.
I am unabashedly a philosopher-poet, and a singer-songwriter of those grey, spongy songs of all things unrequited. You know, the kind of guy your Daddy told you to avoid and, if you had any self-respect at all, certainly not to marry. Yet, oddly, but boldly, someone did marry me and even kind of likes this invisibility cloak of whimsy and artsy cloud of unknowing I don like a tiara.
It’s not so much summer itself that doesn’t do it for me. It’s what it represents – fullness without effort, expansiveness without explanation, joy without cost, glee without embarrassment, a complete dearth of shadow and nuance, and a goofy contentment simply unfit for moody buggers like me. It has a full frontal character that dumps the whole enchilada into your lap at once, leaving you scalded with jaw agape at the insult of it all. And, worst of all, it reveals too easily just how self-referential I am. But, alas, 160 words in and I digress…
How dare a season be so annoyingly positive when I have brooding to do. I can’t seem to get any stare-at-the-wall non-work done when the days keep shouting at me to engage with them on their own terms. Surely so much heat and light, all at once, can’t be good for a person? Isn’t it like the distant aunt who shows up once every other year and, in a voice only slightly less bothersome than an earwig, tells you every story you’ve already heard?
I am of course metaphor-ing for the purpose of pontificating. I am supremely an autumnal spirit. How do autumnal spirits gain access to the shallowest time in the calendar year? After all, ninety percent of my wardrobe contains heftier fibers more fitted to brisk winds than absorbent for waterfall perspiration. There is a high price to pay for writers as our environment becomes unsuited to our persona.
Ah, there is, as Uncle Bill tells us, the rub.
If you’re like me, there is a built in irony to all things literary – to the artistic process in general. We often write some of our darkest material when light is most abundant. And, when shadows run thick and long in deepest winter we’re spinning out jaunty little numbers in the spirit of Dr. Seuss. I mean, why write something comforting when it’s 106 degrees outside and the annuals died weeks ago?
What is it with artists that we absolutely insist on living outside everyone else’s parameters? It is not a foregone conclusion that what comes from our pen must align with our environment or even our experience. Although, the rambling nature of this piece by now has this blog owner pounding her head against the bathroom wall – “Why? Why did I ask him? I had other choices!”
All that to say this, we never have to let our surroundings dictate the kind of artistic endeavor we feel to be most genuine at the time. If one is taken by dwindling light of early winter afternoon, conjure something that imitates, or contradicts it. If one dances a jig, naked on the front lawn every June 21st, then write something that enhances, or even deprecates that same experience (although generally advisable to do so slightly more clothed). If one can find nothing but despair in the never-ending winter, or fall, or summer, or whatever, tell the story most authentic to who you are then.
It’s the only way the world gets any truth told and, as artist-prophets, the price is always high for telling the truth.
For me, it is the whitish hue of the fall-winter folk.
* * *
I’ve included three poems that uniquely showcase summertime. But I’m not happy about it!
How still the silent sun
How still the silent sun,
rotund and rolling out his path.
The day, she sets her course to run,
till all that is is was, and laughs.
Why, full laced with postures sure, come
to brood upon our sad affair –
when distance, stoic, sharpness, one
tills less the heart, its dark will dare?
Goes once and twice and three times round
the sweet blue globe, his race to run.
But, short and swift our days are found
and slow baptized, our living ones.
At evening’s breast bedecked with stars
our mem’ries come to roost and rule,
and moments, chanting songs not far,
bring round once more to heaven’s jewel.
Thoughts in a driveway
It was about that time when
he knew it was about
Waves of heat wrapped
themselves around the throat
of a late morning.
He stretches out his arm to
catch some summer, letting the
hot breezes twist through his fingers.
Sometimes hearts rattle like
the car door that, offered
enough reprieve from the summer
heat, shuts itself outright in annoyance.
Distance, like an angry hornet,
intent on its aggressive intrusion
pushes against an unyielding window.
But, given the panic level, he relents
and opens up again to the outside
where it too was vulnerable,
And once more
a day’s penumbral gifts,
restless like the dandelion fields,
become like they were before –
and he starts the car.
A morning in Malibu
Day creeps in slowly
like a child, uncertain, demure.
The disheveled hillsides yawn
themselves back to thirst again
in the dry, January sun.
A nighthawk, warblers, and sparrows
choir themselves out of the quiet night –
a morning dissonance at war
with nothing but hunger.
Down the slow road into town
a woman pegs up laundry, old school,
to dry in the hot ocean winds.
Eucalyptus, snapdragons, and primrose compete
for what little water is left
after years of drought.
Shakes of uncommitted clouds
stoop to the margins of
warm sky. That’s where the colors are,
a shock of tapioca time in love
with the lilacs, blooming only
for themselves to be the judges.
The town at the bottom of the hill
smells of competing sea-salt
and cheap tourist breakfast.
Those ladies looked out of place
in their broqued jeans and high heels,
that push them up above the
flip-flop culture encroaching –
like the sea.
Runners, running, so many runners,
running apace and aloof as the uneven
shoreline. They are chased by
over-confident gulls and the sad
feeling they can’t outrun something.
But still the water dances with sun
and dreams and there is time.