Monday, February 04, 2008

I exist as a tatterdemalion

"I have been a tree with its roots reaching deep into the good dark earth,
I have been a lake sparkling in the sunlight,
I have been a hawk in rapturous flight,
I have been a dolphin dancing in the ocean,
I have been a mountain dreaming under the moon.
I have been a flame dancing on the hearth,
I have been a light in the window to guide a weary traveler home."
Kerrdelune, Light

Before Sunday’s rain, I managed to get into the front yard for a few pictures of the acacia, which insists on looking its best on cold drizzly winter days. The bright yellow blooms almost glow.

J’s assigned her undergraduate English class the challenge of writing about a “concept”. The example she uses to demonstrate is “authority” which she then lectures on with great relish. Included in her lecture, she reminds the students that they can’t just begin with: “The dictionary defines X as blah blah, and I believe that is very, very true….” She admonishes writers to consider their chosen concept as a dynamic “process” not an inert “noun”.

That was on my mind as I read Kerrdelune’s post on Light (quoted above). Consider light: talk about the whole mystery of light as a concept. I was soaring along on this flight of fancy, when, without warning, I hit a brick wall: “In this lifetime I exist as a tatterdemalion…”

What’s a bloody tatterdemalion?

Before reverting to English composition 101 and going straight to the he dictionary, I took a moment to dredge up any shreds of meaning attached to this obscure word that might be floating at the back of my mind - like garbage sloshing around the legs of dark and rotting piers.

A tatterdemalion is something disheveled I thought, somewhat raggedy, but still standing up straight with a certain inner dignity showing through the cracks. I pictured this concept as a small rustic cabin, seen from outside on a moonless night, with a candle glowing humbly behind curtains in an upper window. My unkempt acacia trees, dressed in their unseasonably bright flowers and brightening a cold winter afternoon, seem to fit this mood. Like disconnected lights, shining inside an old soul, dressed in the wrong fashion, and wearing the wrong accessories, and simply not like us, my dears.

Then, I Googled it. The dictionary says “tatterdemalion \tat-uhr-dih-MAYL-yuhn; -MAY-lee-uhn\, noun: A person dressed in tattered or ragged clothing; a ragamuffin.” Humph. I flatter myself that my “concept” is richer than the flat definition. I do however, appreciate that the dictionary voiced a certain dithering indecisiveness about the number of syllables pronounced aloud.

There’s a state of mind way beyond this noun, that the word invokes in Kerrdelun’s post on light. Her lyrical poem paints a picture as lovely as the photo she chose to illustrate her point.

Here I am, existing on today’s spin of the cosmic clock, embodying the concept of a tatterdemalion. And who knows what we’ll each be next time around? I love the idea of being a candle lighting the weary traveler’s way home What a concept!


kate said...

This was a wonderful post. I enjoyed Kerrdelune's poem. Your discussion of tatterdemailion follows a fascinating path and now I, too, am wondering about next time round.

kate said...

I think you might like this blog:

As I was reading a post there, you came to mind and I thought I would pass on this link.

Martha in Michigan said...

Your opening poem reminds me of JoePug's Hymn #5. (

I am the day, I am the dawn, I am
the darkness coming on
And I am once, I am twice, I am
the whole, I’m just a slice

I am the disappointed kiss, I am
the unexpected harvest
I am the Old Kentucky Home; I am
the son who runs the farthest

And I am faith, I am belief,
except for when I’m not
I am the teeth of champions, I am
rust and water rot

nina said...

I like your definition better.
So much more complimentary than to seem without value.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness.