Sunday, September 30, 2012


The sumac imitates
the sun in shades
of fire. Each leaf
a flaming experiment
to warm her meadow brood.

Tangerine and bittersweet,
pumpkin, amber, vermillion,
each burnt wing floats
down from the sky,
in failure, radiant.

(I revised the last line. It was:
radiant in failure.)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Still and still moving"

I startle three hens under the lilac, one in her dust bath, the other two waiting for it. It is unforgivable of me, and they let me know. The air is thick with mist, which enters feather and hair, even bone. I did not want to rise up from my chair to get outside and walk. And neither does the hen want to budge from her comfortable hollow, scratched and dug out so she can bathe and rest.

. . . As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. . . .  (T.S. Eliot, from East Coker, Four Quartets)

Something in me would happily go down to death sitting in this chair, living through the interior, letting go of the body. Mind and heart diving, connecting, deepening, finding light in the darkest places. They say that women grow introspective in their forties. Now I am in the waning fifties, and traveling inside, toward my original home, is still what I desire. If Home is where one starts from, as Eliot wrote, it is also where we go in the end. The body dallies and drags through to that. Even air heavily prohibits movement.

We must be still and still moving . . .

It seems that the first is difficult early in life, and the second later. Always the reversal, the seemingly opposing force that is waiting behind this present experience. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

jet trail

neither forward nor backward,
it divides the sky

and tapers
through the sun (its body);

the right end puffs, feathered
and disintegrating,

the other end thinly

then suddenly veers at an angle,
with invisible wings 

* * *

sandhill cranes stutter above,
though I can’t see them;

* * * 

without chronology,
this syntax satisfies both

what is alive in me
and what is dead

Friday, September 21, 2012

Monday or Tuesday, depressed or deep rest

Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever desiring—(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)—for ever desiring—(the clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light sheds gold scales; children swarm)—for ever desiring truth. . . . ~ from Virginia Woolf's "Monday or Tuesday" Read the whole very short piece here.

Distilling a few words . . . for ever desiring truth.

Desiring truth, and distilling words. I wonder if there is a better example of this practice than VW's little piece. Very close attention to not only the heron, but to her own (VW's) environs, to the moment of light, even to a memory recollected on the path commenced via this vision.

In this short "fiction" of Virginia Woolf's from the collection of the same title (do read this short piece if you haven't before, linked above), she begins and ends a vision of a heron with the descriptive phrase "Lazy and indifferent."

Does the heron only seem lazy and indifferent to the observer, while she labors over her deep attentiveness? Is she participating in active staring as I like to call it?

Last week when I felt low and decided to simply sit and do nothing for an hour (nothing? is it possible to do nothing?) I came to and found these words by Jeff Foster (thanks to the beauty we love):

We can view depression not as a mental illness, but on a deeper level, as a profound, and very misunderstood, state of deep rest, entered into when we are completely exhausted by the weight of our own false story of ourselves ...

How often do I feel lazy and indifferent! Yet, is it not just a label, a perception? A false story as Jeff Foster puts it? To read this VW piece closely, I see that the heron knows his way. The heron's stars are veiled. The heron does his work! He lives, he moves, he flies in and out of his life. Could we do better as writers (as livers) than to observe a moment, distilled in words that erupt out of our own life's reality, as complete in one moment as in the wingspan of a lifetime?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nothing rich

Leaves and grass only.
Nothing rich
with depth of flavor please.

No white linen,
bottles of oil,
or silver creamers.
Just a rough-hewn meadow-table
under a scorched-leaf tree.

Even the bare neck
of the sky does not long
for jewels and grapes.

I do not fall
on my knees
where once I fell craving
amethyst where
the Canada thistle glints.

I sink on my knees
with the doe to rest
under the incarnadine sumac
burning itself up.

What does she know
of the beyond
or care for anything
more sacred than
the taste of this thin flame?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 17, playing hookie at the beach

All of everything has slowed nearly to a stop in this resort town by Lake Michigan. There is almost no one at the beach besides us: my daughter, my grandson and me. The season is past. Just a few shore birds and walkers, and a couple of late swimmers: one very large man who came dressed all in black and now dives in black trunks, and the thin woman in a black bikini with him who shines like chrome when she curls up and down in and out of the teal water. The day is summery still, except for one or two fiery trees on the dune, and a thinner morning sun. Only the wind hurries on like a woman tugging her child to school or the next errand: Hurry, hurry, hurry up, honey. But oh, sand clings to my baby grandson’s chin where he has drooled, and I rejoice!  Waves inside me clap with white-capped hands over how he face-plants this moment! He eats the sand, he blinks it, he sifts it through his chubby greedy fingers (but we know he will only, can only, take a small token of what is within reach). Then, like a grain of sand I kiss him. And cling.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A stone rests

A stone rests.
Water rushes over it like spirit.
Laughter and tears.
Now look at it again and see
what this movement
means to the stone.

If you can’t see it
then listen;
If you can’t hear it
then smell;
If you can’t smell it
then taste;
If you still don’t know
what the movement means
to the stone
then ask the water to rush
over you
until you are moving
at the same speed
as the stone.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

May we cleanse ourselves mindfully

There is nothing so cleansing as illness. When Inge was in treatment for breast cancer eight years ago, she was free of worry in a way. She was focused on getting better, and other concerns fell by the wayside by comparison. She said she had never been more “happy.” I think she meant that she had never tapped into true joy so deeply as she did during those months when all of life was whittled down to pure bone. At the end of treatment, a subtle panic approached as she recognized that she wouldn’t be DOing anything to keep cancer at bay. She asked her doctor, What can I do to prevent this returning? He answered: Be happy.

I have a student named Ben who took last year off after fast-growing tumors were found in his chest. He had surgery to remove them, then chemo and radiation. Then in the spring, good as new, he came in with vigor and excitement to review his plan to finish. But, and my heart breaks to type it, yesterday he and his dad came in to tell me there is another fast-growing tumor, and he will have surgery Friday. They wanted to know how his plan will change if he takes this semester off? He will find out in the coming weeks if the tumor is benign or malignant. As we discussed contingencies, and what it means to his program in preparation for becoming a high school English teacher to take this term off, whether or not the lump is cancerous and requires treatment, I felt the weight of all life in my little office. The father sat soberly with worry on his brow. The son seemed nearly paralyzed, motionless, face stoic, as we went over a revised plan for spring, summer, fall, spring—every course and requirement a warm, golden biscuit of privilege for the living. He was clearly numbed by it, yet alive with the question: Will I be here for that?

How might I live—totally and intensely—without news that I could be dying? As Kerouac says in his writing tips, be in love with your life and accept loss forever. We are dying, whether we are conscious of it or not, and whether it is next week or next year or 50 years from now.  Osho said, “Live totally, live intensely, so that each moment becomes golden and your whole life becomes a series of golden moments.” Our life does have a holy contour. O please, self, see it, feel its shape with your fingertips. Let your eyes adore it. Eat it with relish, this simple fare of what you are given.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Reading eyes

Life’s what you see in people’s eyes; life’s what they learn, and, having learnt it, never, though they seek to hide it, cease to be aware of . . .  (Virginia Woolf, from "An Unfinished Novel") 

I have to be quiet long enough. Reading eyes is easier when listening, than when talking. 

I was listening to a student talk about changing his mind about becoming a lawyer after being in a jury selection pool. "It was like because this lawyer was wearing a suit, the people in the room believed him, whatever he said. It made me sick. I had wanted to earn a lot of money. But now I want to be a teacher instead."

And I looked off to the left, to the bare white wall, as if abstract ideas about value and fulfillment floated there and I might see the possibilities. Excited and wanting to talk and talk but also to hear what else he had to say, I remembered something someone said in a speech at one of the campaign conventions the night before on TV, about how working is more than just earning money, it's taking care of your family and your community. I looked back to the student, his eyes reflecting the window light behind me. 

"It was a hard spring term, I lost interest in life. I was smoking too much weed, several times a day. But then something happened."

"What happened?"

"Working with kids at the YMCA. . . . God . . . "

And I remembered how he looked when he came in, before I'd heard his story. So happy. The dark time a few months past hidden, or healed. It was Life in his eyes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Words are too much, as is the "adorable world"

WCW called for “no ideas but in things” to shun flowery lyricism with no concrete content. But at this strange moment I can hardly even bear words chained together in any poetic form. I want to distill them even more, down to bedrock. I watch for a clue of some obtuse secret color. Mystery must not be spoken of. It must only be revealed in the subtle flavor of a squash blossom. Latinate words put me off.  "Squash blossom" puts me off—sounding so poeticized! Give me Anglo-Saxon gutturals. Give me ash grey, but not the word “ashes.” Give me an empty wine carafe or old milk bottle, but not the nostalgia for it. Has the heart gotten too saturated, and only a gradual dissipation of its contents will satisfy?

And yet my hypocritical fingers type away.

I wonder what the mind and heart are capable of. Whatever their vastness, they have to be emptied, and regularly. This is the work of meditation. (Or pain.) To dim down glitter and clammer. To get back to the place I remember, as what Virginia Woolf wrote, Mother and son, who are you . . . People drive this way and that . . . Carnations; chrysanthemums . . . Grey is the landscape; dim as ashes; the water murmurs and moves. If I fall on my knees, if I go through the ritual, the ancient antics, it’s you, unknown figures, you I adore; if I open my arms, it’s you I embrace, you I draw to me—adorable world! (from "An Unfinished Novel" in the collection “Monday or Tuesday”)

Will this longing ever return?

Monday, September 3, 2012

The longing of no longing

All is sand. The way it touches, mirrors and adheres to skin. Crystals clean as winnowed grain. Hot on the surface, cool in the under-dark. Poems distant on the horizon, belly-dancing in liquid heat. This is the longing of no longing. Hearing the far-off soul’s music, with no desire in my hips.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Not wholly abandoned

Was it the same rasping sky that pressed upon me and squeezed out the last poem? Much of summer there was water all around us but not here; to the north it passed, where mint farmers needed it, and to the south along the Interstate it pushed travelers to the airport or on to the bronze glass buildings and brownfields of Detroit.

But what need does the beautiful, abandoned Michigan Central Station have of rain, for instance? Admittedly she was the tallest rail station in the world, a proud poet of the line. Buildings that are alive need to be watered, as much as soybeans and corn. Rain is essential to their elegant symmetry, and resilience; it balances the sun’s tempering. In the cycle of the skies and waters of the world, what loss and grief if too many days spread without rain tapping or beating on their stone and glass! All living things participate in the giving and taking of water.

But what now, why does Central Station’s empty-socket stare facing Corktown need rain? Like backward tears rain streams through glassless windows. It hums like forgotten streetcars, each drop skittering in and out with the persistence of the thousands of persons daily catching a train in Charlie Chaplin’s day, when Detroit was Paris.

When Detroit was Paris! We who are alive cannot conceive of the possibility. Maybe in this is the answer: Rain waters the memory of life as much as life itself. If one pimple of moss or mold blooms in a dark stone corner of a derelict building, there is hope that life, and poetry, may survive and thrive once again.