Friday, December 28, 2012

To be an expert at something

Reach up
constantly, like the arms of pines.

Let light project itself
through your fingers.

And when you fall
(fall you will)

make falling a thing of beauty
like snow

restful on air,
to the storm surrendered

Then not stopping
where it lands, but rising up, 

creating of that tree
something new of its very own.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas quiet

Like snow flakes in a storm, words and thoughts blow about, not landing. The heart responds: maybe love loves a white-out. The world comes to an end. Wounds and arguments get muffled. The axe to the fallen apple tree ceases. Like a bird watching from a cage of branches I wait it out and let go of everything but this twig. Clusters of snow crazily float, lift, fall, jerk again and pass by, and by, and by. On a quiet perch inside a cave of spruce the spirit of winter and Christmas fills up this little space.

May this Christmas quiet grow from infancy to immensity for us all. I love you. I love you so much.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Spirit of Winter

In blue moonlight
we have danced
on the orchard floor

one and quiet,
the down of birds
swelling like fruit in the trees

my head fallen
on your chest of snow,
mind flung at the stars

our rustic limbs
reaching in perfect
invisible blackness
against a black sky

When did you go?
I am suddenly
too heavily something

studding the orchard
with these apple trees.
I need to dance
to nothing again.

With appreciation, always, to Wallace Stevens.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rilke's birthday

I began shrinking years ago. The phenomenon was painful at first, but over time I realized that shrinking pains, like growing pains, subside when you actually get closer to the size of your new self.

Words may be one of the smallest habitations for the self. Yet we keep trying to squeeze ourselves into them.

At some stage of smallness I found Rumi. He taught me about going and arriving and about seemingly opposing forces. When one thing comes, its apparent opposite is arriving close behind. Love and fear, life and death, hope and despair. These circles are the fields where the divine plays.

Give us one clear morning after another,
and the one whose work remains unfinished,

who is our work as we diminish,
idle, though occupied, empty, and open.

(read all of Rumi's poem "Jars of Springwater" here)

Then I found Rilke and grew smaller still while contemplating the vastness he encountered and expressed in his brief life. Poems are small treatises, the smallest forms that words compile. The wind of experience keeps blowing, eroding the outer shell. Words grow less. The ability to say anything about what is felt shrinks.

In honor of Rilke's 137th birthday, I posted his poem "Night" at my "small" blog with a sketch I drew of his strange, small face. Here are the last two stanzas of "Night":

. . . brimming with new stars, who fling
fire from their birth
into the soundless adventure
of galactic spaces:

your sheer existence,
you transcender of all things, makes me so small.
Yet, one with the darkening earth,
I dare to be in you.

(whole poem here)

The world closes in on us in its overtaking vastness. But there is another expanse we can enter in our smallness that in turn shrinks the materially burdened world. It is the infinite, eternal space here inside.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Train and the Station

The train goes
and the train stops.
I don’t know what I’d do
with either
without the other.
People must get somewhere
else, and so
we move together.
It is civilization heavy
but at the right speed. Then
just when it feels to have gone on
too fast too far
a station appears, its light
distant, a pinprick. But
by now we know
that a small light in darkness
can slow even a heavy train.
You feel it, don’t you?
The weight like the core of the earth
all around your little body,
by some power invisible to you
slowing. The noise of friction grating
and digging its heels
against the tracks. Lurch
full stop. Sigh.
Please get out, even
if it’s not your destination.
Lights are on telling you
through the windows:
Here is a place.
It is someone’s place.
Walk around. Sit on a bench.
Buy a coffee. See
how different it tastes
than it would have on the train.
Watch the ones who call this
home, their faces simultaneously
going and arriving.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I have reopened my small blog after two years. I have missed posting photos, something I did at my last blog, synch-ro-ni-zing. It seems important to keep this washed stones space for words, and that space for one photo a day of something small. All these things are just fingers pointing at the moon anyway.

Sorry I'm feeling quiet about responding to comments at the moment. But my heart is full of you.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Windy lake

The weather changes in a flash. One afternoon winter sunlight low in the sky is magnified too brightly and beams directly into the glass porch off the lake. The next the temperature drops thirty degrees, wind chimes dong coppery, and everything is gray—gray sky, gray water, gray trees, gray cottages, gray geese flying and honking—everything that is except the white caps on top of shuffling waves and foam rickracking across the surface.

It was November like this the first weekend we spent at the cottage with oaks on the hill black-striping the view down to the lake. I was seven and it was 1963. Grandpa had bought the house for Mom and us kids so we would have a place in case something happened to Dad. We owned no home as the parsonage belonged to the church.

There was no TV here that first weekend, but there was a radio, and from it we learned that President Kennedy had been shot. After that Dad decided to take us all home early so we could watch things unfold on the black and white TV.

Of course something eventually did also happen to Dad, and to Mom, Grandpa, our brother, uncles, aunts and our one cousin from Virginia who visited the lake with us in 1966. We euphemistically held their deaths at arm’s length of some future day: Something will happen. Now their frozen faces smile at us from photographs on the fridge, knotty pine walls and shelves.

This Thanksgiving weekend I read letters from the dead in the white scraps of waves. They keep coming and coming from the other side. I couldn’t keep them from coming if I tried. There is comfort in these letters that seem to say over and over, “It’s really all right that something has happened” as they slap and dissolve against our shore wall. Geese fly, honking, in the opposite direction, and the wind chimes are blown every which way imitating their flight, their sound, their life.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bells and Crosses

This poem is merely a vehicle. Though I have come away from Christianity, I mean no slight or offense to that religion here. Or to any religion. But for me, it was and is not sufficient. For some, the forms of religion are resplendent with meaning and beauty. 

I do feel deeply that religion is manmade, though most followers of it would decry such a declaration. I have always, even as a young child, been most interested in what lies underneath, inside, behind the forms of any particular creed, though there were times when high churches blew me away with their sober sacred spaces. I am even bold enough to believe that Jesus himself would wish symbols away that become over-burdened with import. He who did not own a home or carry much with him. Yes, he carried a cross, once. And then he left it there.

This speaks also of other realities, not only religion. Everywhere I turn this week I am hearing messages of form — foreground, background, and what we pay attention to.

Bells and Crosses

Hung with darkness
or rung with excitement,
crosses and bells
would otherwise be ciphers
empty and clear of meaning.
Forms alone, yet they
have been strung with cloves
that line my nostrils,
gaping like sepulchers. 
How gladly chimes
the clapper on Sunday morning
against the walls of the bell.
“Come to the warm table”
it seems to sing and vibrate,
laid white under the cross
with wafers, wine, and “be redeemed.”
I remember the joy of this banner,
when wine was imagined
as blood and bells' cups
rang their truth upside down. 
But these forms no longer
interest me, dissolving
into other matter
in the background.
Just another tree in the woods,
and another manmade
iron contraption in the city.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Madame Heart

I dreamt a scene. A woman’s head floating in a blue sky above a landscape arid with rocks and scattered manmade metal. Or was she above the sea with ships moored in the harbor of her neck? It was a Dali painting. Next day I strolled through the Dali museum into this room and that with melting clocks, stilts and butterfly sails, turned a corner and there she was floating on the wall. Exactly, though I had never seen the scene before except in my dream. I have not been able to find the painting anywhere since, and the museum is too far to go see again, to know it is real.

But what is real?

The dream? Dali? His vision? Surreal, it is called. Sir Real. For what is reality except what each of us sees, feels, perceives? Hello, Sir Real, nice to meet you, Madame Real.

Of course she was me, that head. Some version of my reality. Existing in me before Dali created her. Mind disconnected from heart, in control until the reverse happened through years and landscapes, each small keys that upended the house, doors broken open releasing the heart to graze above the world, wild, free.

But it becomes too much, Madame Heart. The butterfly sails cannot be sequestered in the harbor, nor can streetcars of progress stay on the tracks grown over with poisoned weeds, like jittery men getting somewhere they are not, everywhere there is virgin space, looking for somewhere to die.

Empty blue sky. The one place a heart can watch from, uncluttered.

~ with thanks to Erin

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November honors, a lullaby

It is black and white again, spotlights and confetti,
honors and regrets, winter. It is for this I live.
I sing to the stuttering TV of November 1963,
a girl my age, and her younger brother saluting the death parade.
One dies. Another will be reborn. The house is surrounded
by leafless trees. But o how the light in winter shines.

Note: I am relieved at the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, with some hope restored. But like most joys, it is mixed with shadows, and I feel melancholy. This is not a bad thing. "Sorrow wears, grief tears, melancholy soothes." I keep saying to myself, "Be the change you want to see ..." It's up to me, you see.

Monday, November 5, 2012

There will be lacerations

In the big world of wounds, a tiny laceration of thin skin breaks my heart. I had come for two weeks to help my daughter and son-in-law get through the waking agonies of a baby in teething torment. When a person is sleep deprived reality gets warped and minor scenes such as the pile of dishes akimbo in the sink or the laundry’s soft but menacing hill become unconquerable mountains. So, we three, the baby’s mama, daddy and grammy, triple-teamed and walked, rocked, cuddled, soothed, washed, straightened, folded, slept a little and tried to find the balance of sanity. How we long for his teeth to cut through the skin of his upper gums where four teeth hover shyly, their faces pressed against the translucent glass! (When I contemplate teething babies who suffer like this, I question the existence of God.)

Just before I left them to return to the farm, work and routines, James was cruising toward his daddy’s Macbook, so I quickly shut it. The timing was synchronized with his sudden reach. The closing laptop pinched the tiny middle finger of his right hand. Then it began to bleed, he wailed and we blubbered (mama and I) while we raced and washed and examined it for depth and seriousness (quick spurts of energy from nowhere!), while she nursed him, and daddy helped me prepare a Band-aid (his first!) — the very skin I wish to be permeable so that I might get inside and love him more completely than I do. But not like this. The blood that flows between us must be kept hidden in its treasure box, in the magic passages where a flying carpet would be humdrum.

There can be no thing that possibly comes close in worth to that thin translucent finger the size of a worm in its ill-fitting bandage. He sucked on it, seeming to understand this.

There will be lacerations. They are openings to the next tiny death swimming toward us, and to all the big ones. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A different kind of storm

While my intent in the last post was to write feelings from my own experiences of storms, I now feel that I was insensitive to post it when others have had, and now have, such catastrophic encounters with storms of a far greater magnitude. Please forgive me for not thinking it through well enough to protect my dear friends who have been so bruised by storms of a different kind. I am leaving that post, though I would dearly love to take it down. I feel it's an important lesson for me. The steps of this process matter.

I love you all.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Wind

Sounds like wing feathers
brushing screens and eaves,
and then a single cello note
spidering through the casement

on this gray dress of a day, full skirted,
embroidered with blowing leaves,
crisp-crinolined with dry corn stalks.

I love a storm, I love a storm, I love a storm.
But not for the grief torn through a far-off house—
       violent, stubborn, deranged.

I love it when I forget—seduced
by a smoking, rolled up sky,
black leather trees bending
in whispers and cracks,

humming suggestions just bass enough
to believe that another poor soul
might be abused by this power,
but not me, surely not me. Not today.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Jack-o-lantern

An outline is cut with a thin sharp knife
by an aching wrist of an old farm wife

Orange and bright, sweet and thick
the flesh is hard and doesn’t slice quick

The top with its stem will make a good lid
so she sets it aside like an impatient kid

Out of the dark scrapes slimy seeds—
pearls for snacking as salty beads

Pierces two eyes, filets a nose
carves a mouth to scoff at foes

Leaves three teeth to fend off ghouls
and the Banshee’s requiem in keens and mewls

Digs out a hole for a candle stub
carries to the porch like a laundry tub

Looks at her head with its bone-white light
windowed and shining toward winter’s night

It’s a charm she casts at this borderland
between light that’s been and the dark at hand

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Doe's Sanctuary

While I pass in my car
she emerges to remind me.
Feeling my vibration she safely tiptoes
backward from the road into
the cathedral of oaks—russet, and wound
in wild grapes. A glimpse of leaves
stained in memory.
What if I left the speed of my car
and followed her quietly in,
covered my head and lit a fragile flame?
Would she show me when to kneel
in the nave and when to shuffle
through the cloisters? I was not raised
in a church like this. I feel lost.
But this is an old church in an even
older world. I start to see
its roots in the shapes of my toes.
I’m sure I can remember the liturgy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Passionate Transitory, a poetry magazine

My friend Robert has walked hundreds, maybe thousands of miles across England and France. He writes delicious Fermoresque (Patrick Leigh Fermor) prose about those adventures and juicy poems that wander through countryside both physical and spiritual. He may be The Solitary Walker, but he has nicely gathered fine poets from hither and yon to begin a new poetry community. I am excited to be in on the ground floor of The Passionate Transitory partly because Robert is so widely read that he makes a far finer editor of such a magazine than almost anyone I know. The other reason is that the poems are quite wonderful, and I am honored to read the work of new-to-me poets and be included in this issue with them.

Check out Robert's walking adventures at The Solitary Walker.

Read the current (first) issue of The Passionate Transitory, including Robert's delightful editorial.

Read my quick interview, including who I write for here.

And here are the three poems of mine Robert included in this issue. You may have seen them before.

If you are a poet, please do submit your work to Robert for the winter issue here! Here are Robert's own words:

The scope of this journal will be broad, just as the concerns of poetry are as diverse as life itself. However, we are particularly interested in poetry as discovery, revelation, epiphany and praise; poetry as a magical conduit to the unconscious; poetry as a creative, meaningful and subtle process of marking stages in the real and metaphorical journeys we are all embarked upon — whether these be pilgrimages of the mind, the body or the soul. But before we lose ourselves in the abstract, let's remember the words of William Carlos Williamsno ideas but in things. It's the tangible things of the world that are the true stuff of poems, poems which are imaginary gardens with real toads in them as Marianne Moore so famously put it.

The only downside to Robert editing this journal is that out of proper protocol, his own poems do not appear.

Monday, October 15, 2012

At the altar

Between his dimpled fingers poke supple stems and points of maple leaves—gold, wine, russet. We sit on the floor close to the deck door screen on a warm autumn day, me Indian style, he nestled between my torso and legs. It is a day when wind dips the trees the way I dipped him earlier when we danced and he laughed. My hair blows against his cheek, and he sedately rakes fingers through it. It is a day when it doesn’t matter if you sweep or rake; the plentiful leaves that remain on trees across these farms keep being blown off and must be abandoned. They blow against windows and doors and catch in the five inches of space between the glass and screen when someone goes in or out. So now we sit at the screen as at an altar with a row of moist leaves within reach before us. He plucks two and squeezes them in each baby fist, then turns and rotates them elegantly like Martha Graham as if to remind them that they were once attached to trees. He swipes ruffles of leaves puckering out from his fingers across his mouth, which is open just enough for his tongue-tip to form a soft bud with his lips. I pick up and show him another leaf; he takes it after releasing one from his fist. The earth has given them to us and said Take, eat, this is my body broken for you. We thank her in the ceremony of the leaves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This particular loneliness

No one understands
this particular loneliness—

The crow
hopping aside
when traffic comes
then hopping back
to what is dead or

A chair
at the window
where one ever
looks out at the many or

Power lines
like single black notes
connected at electric nodes—
everyone is linked but

Are ghosts to each other
in these houses, guests
on a common field
with occasional attempts

at translation
in this air where
every tongue is foreign
about what electrifies the heart

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Followup on Ben

My student Ben is clean. I called just now, and his surgery went fine, his tumor was benign, and like a stone it was carefully unearthed and laid in the wall and mortar of his life, which I hope will be very long.

The original post about Ben was from about a month ago: May we cleanse ourselves mindfully.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Opryland, Tennessee

I need GPS just walking out the door of the hotel room to navigate my way to the first conference session, given the complexities of the convention resort with its regions: The Magnolia, the Delta, the Garden Conservatory and the Cascades with color coded carpet, keys, and maps.

One million square feet, 3,000 guest rooms, 16 restaurants with chardonnay and merlot, a river with riverboat, an island, waterfalls, palm trees and orchids under one glass dome (so like The Truman Show). A world for conventions and conferences, and even some people's ideal vacation. Climate controlled “outdoor” cafés. “Nature” in rivers, streams, an island, tropical gardens, waterfalls streaming over Tennessee rock formations harvested and transplanted into this giant terrarium. It doesn’t matter that palm trees don’t grow on these stones in the wild, or that orchids do not hang from their beautiful striated layers. No alumroot, bluestem or loblolly pine anywhere here.

A gardener tidies dirt with a broom around perfectly spaced and blooming echeveria. I see a wheeled cart full of replacement plants for those that have stopped blooming. Standing, mouth open, inside this attempt to sweep and contain an environment to resemble the [disorderly] miracle of nature, I ask, Is it alive? Is it anything but a Hallmark illustration, a facsimile of light and life, like a painting by Thomas Kincade?

Too bad I can't navigate to a hillbilly porch, where the Grand Ole Opry is streaming on a transistor radio, the Smoky Mountains awaking through light slowly burning off the mist. A jug of moonshine. An old woman whistling through her tooth-gap, both of us rocking on our blooming rheumatiz. Now that would be a conference.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Driving country roads

My eyes take snapshots in fast motion, but this is my slow, silent time with farms and seasons. Straight country roads with snug box houses and farms with barns out of which horses step. The greatness of the flat land and its spiky grains, sifted into silos and cribs. Wind chasing tails, tassels and stalks, dry and lisping. Trees standing alone in the corn, trees laced at the arms united as one against the next field. Sky over all hilled with clouds. I drive and ponder what all this represents, and what the paved road changed after the dirt road of 100 years past. How the corn is raised for cows or fuel, and the cows for milk and meat. How even this simple commerce is not simple or easy (many remain hungry, genetically modified seeds cause havoc) but is contentious, complicated and passes like clouds along the sky in various shapes and speeds.

At evening a farmer in a huge, heavy combine cuts soybeans, dust fountained and illuminated. The great earth bends to his will.

Some wind blows and we fall along with it or plow against it. Every inch of terrain is chosen. Progress or regress. We do not stand still. We never stand still. Even in silence, we choose.

But Rumi says,

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, Language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

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.