Plea

From a branch over unknown waters.

If I am to be severed from my first attachments, make me a bridge between relief and this emerging specter, too terrible to name.

Let me accept what may follow this request, including instructions for rooting this body as an anchor in what it dreads––or else I am no link, just a floating possibility.

Let me brace against what may yet be, extending out over the dark deep, to this unknown shore: the craggy, silty, boggy knot of its broiling terror. 

Lend courage to this limb, that I may hold. If I am far from the tree, let my spine be the crossing from the land of none to the place where it might yet be.

This Mourning

Still life with children.

Overheard, in the garden: Peter, put your sword away. 

Now is the time for your attention. 

If this to be a becoming, you cannot hold your guard. 

It is impossible to bend into another body 

while remaining upright. Hold another.

For what?

A dark hour. Then, keep holding. Wait.

***

In mourning, we unknow ourselves. 

This is not an affirmation, 

not a possibility or an idea.

***

What is it, then? 

To stand in grief with any other, 

bodies bowed to collect 

what won’t fit in the borders 

of any one, is to accept 

a constant invitation 

to unknow myself. 

I was never a beginning 

or an end––once or now, 

and will never be. 

Only we are here. 

Hold.

Walking

A lesson in surrender.

Before the iron star,

earthquake snaking 

over the far side of 

dreams, listening for 

butterfly whispers 

in the hard blue of

a desert sky, a child 

holds a foot over a 

knee to examine a 

thorn. For a moment, 

all is the space  between

his hand, his foot,

and the tiny barb. What

follows is a long 

discovery: how 

a body can learn to 

abandon itself to 

pure endurance.

Between Friends

Notes for a feast.

Collect the fallen fruits of old labors by the light of a full moon. Wade in the water to rinse, then pat dry. Meanwhile, dice the insults, the past indignities, the collected impossibilities and memories of grade school wounds, lost pets, and burned skins. Steam gently on low heat. Now return to the bowl of hopes set aside to rise in a dark place. Knead vigorously on a floured surface for the length of three songs, longer if desired. Set to rise again. Cover and repeat. We’ll score it eventually, with some symbol of our own invention. We’ll bake it golden, display it on a special tray, cut into it while it’s still crackling hot, pass out fat slices to all assembled and serve it with the good butter. Mouths water at the dream, but don’t worry, there is bread already made. It’s on the table right now. We won’t be hungry. It is good to be kneading this together, this now and coming communion. May the nourishment of the earth be yours.

***

Inspired by John O’Donohue, who taught me the Celtic term Anam Cara, loosely translated as “soul friend.” And by my soul’s friend. The italicized line above is from O’Donohue’s poem “Beannacht” (Gaelic for “Greetings”).

Time to Seek

What calls in response.

Consider a cornucopic mind, 

tumbling out into its own 

collapse 

while gestational stars 

assemble before first light 

in light of other known principles 

for living

––challenge, adaptation, change, 

and how these forms grow by 

call and response, into what will 

persist when life is threatened, 

and then try to hold some 

stable notion of time. 

Whose watch 

is the reference?

Real Talk With Gallileo

On keeping time with heartbeats and the bumpy, dusty moon.

Today, I’ll be having another one of those one-sided conversations with a dead person, as I love to do from time to time when I find occasion to think about them. What got me on this track was learning that on this day in 1609, Gallileo Gallilei demonstrated his first telescope to lawmakers in Venice. I was wondering: Why, of all people, was it them? Perhaps he needed a permit. I have not yet found the answer to this question, but I did find some more questions.

Gallileo, I’ve been wondering.

What must it have been like, to notice ––while studying medicine at your father’s insistence, after he discouraged you from your calling as a priest, after he discouraged your interest in mathematics (on the grounds that neither vocation paid as well as a physicist)––that the chandelier above you, swinging in the wind at variable arcs, seemed to keep time with your heartbeat, regardless of the size of the arc? To discover, in the experiment that followed, that pendulums of any length will keep time with one another and the human heart?

What is it like to know what happened to this discovery, how it led––a century later–– to the creation of the first timepiece, which over time meant that people kept time, which over centuries meant that people were kept by time, which over centuries meant that people no longer tended to look at the sky or the shadows of a sundial to know the hour; that people would often be so rushed by the march of expectations corresponding to the commodification of minutes, that they would no longer stop to look up?

Apologies for this digression. Of course, I am projecting here. I am somewhat envious of your freedom for study––of your freedom to stop and examine things, period. That and the way that not only did you never need to introduce yourself with an ID number, you didn’t even use a last name. 

Of course, you had money troubles of your own, especially with your brother, a composer, constantly accruing debt to support his love of music. You had studied the arts, too, against the wishes of your father, and you befriended the painter Cignoli, who painted a Madonna on the moon, which was a common-enough image until you noticed the pockmarks on the moon.

I can’t help but think that his friendship with you had a hand in the painter’s decision to resist the convention of a mythical orb. I can’t help but think that time spent with you helped him to appreciate the poetry of the possibility that the celestial body elevating her feet need not be a perfect sphere of dreamlike luminescence, that it might instead be a rock not unlike the rocks of this world, suggestive of a sort of comical lopsidedness, with cracks and crevices in which everyday filth and ordinariness may easily accumulate, along with lunar dust and cosmic pests and possibly even space mildew.

I am grateful that your work made it possible to make certain associations between our most sublime conceptions––say, heaven––and the stuff that was hanging around everywhere, either invisible or appearing to be in the way of the men with their lofty goals, who preferred not to debase themselves with considerations of the cracks in surfaces, the way that the wind would get through, and the cold, the way you had to keep mending and stopping them like you had to keep changing and feeding and holding the crying babies, ––

gathering and chopping and seasoning and boiling and stewing and roasting and cleaning; to feed the noble man a single meal, just before you got back to the babies and before you got back to do it again, how sometimes, even after all this, it was still possible, for the length of sixty to a hundred heartbeats at night, ––

just after the children were asleep, to sit in a chair, looking up, feeling an ineffable pull toward a wonder and mystery that felt both vast and made of the same mystery that you had noticed gathering herbs, wrapping the soft body of an infant, and in the longings that persisted no matter how long they seemed to go unanswered.

Thank you for insisting on this connection, even though it meant you were outcast from the basilicas you loved, from the rituals you had once thought to administer yourself, from the silence of the naves with their candles and incense, and the awe of an intimate mystery in the air.  

I’d love to say more, but my second alarm is going off now, and I’ve not yet been awake for an hour. Time to check the sleeping baby, time to check the food, iron the clothes, pack the things of the day, all the while watching the clock––which marches, I know now, by the rhythm you first noticed in the chandeliers swinging above you as you sat with the books you meant to study, the assignments you meant to get to, the financial responsibilities you meant to meet, the appointments you meant to keep, the wandering heart you meant to tame, and you could not keep your eyes from wandering up, to rest on what you had yet to understand, having the insight to notice that even this was made of something as utterly familiar as the drum in your own chest. 

From Scratch: Breadcrumbs notes

This space is about showing up as a living, breathing, wondering being: with doubts, griefs, questions, and idiosyncrasies. I post here every morning as a way to move from the dream into the day.

This is where I show up daily to practice ways of looking and being.

I used to think I was alone in feeling so much of everything, all the time, everywhere. Then I learned that the stance of a poet is spinning, and it made more sense. Then I noticed that sometimes creative work can be lonely. I may work on a given manuscript for years. This may necessarily involve significant alone time at the page, but I don’t think anyone should have to feel like they’re practicing in isolation. I may be an extreme introvert, but what sustains me is still a sense of sharing in community. Over time, I learned that there were people all around me, also doing creative work, often also feeling alone.

Like me, they were sometimes afflicted with doubt, paralysis, or general malaise. Considering the forces running counter to creative heart-mind work in this world, at this time, I think these symptoms are to be expected, but not surrendered to, because the world needs more people sharing the fruits of their heart-minds. I wondered, what would it be like if we practiced this publicly? Against the machine, in honor of living here, in remembrance of the dead. And in remembrance of some of out initial best impulses, like play and love.

This space is about showing up as a living, breathing, wondering being: with doubts, griefs, questions, and idiosyncrasies. I post here every morning as a way to move from the dream into the day. If I can’t take some of my dream self with me, I’m not much good at the day. Then I go about the living: loving, teaching, and writing longer works for publication. Facing daily fears, doubts, frustrations, and heartaches. Dreaming into a better world.

Doing this each morning is a way to remind myself and hopefully others, that there is always something new to share. Creative work is a practice, and this is where I practice publicly, as an exercise in my faith in the process. To learn and show: there is always something new. The point is wonder, and discovery. Often what I find are more questions.

What do I write about here?

  • It varies because I start from scratch daily (that’s the point!). I have fifteen minutes to think of an idea, fifteen or so to write, with the idea of getting it linked, imaged and published each morning in one hour or less. I need to keep this limit strict, so as not to encroach on space for other commitments, writing and non-writing. I believe in the benefits of self-imposed constraints with creative practice.
  • Favorite themes involve: “this day in history” meditations, found poetry, “Earthling” meditations (in which my avatar, earthling, confronts some aspect of being in this world), remembrances, and the process of creating.
  • When applicable, I will share the process that led to the day’s post, in the spirit of sharing creative approaches.

I hope that some of what you see here will resonate with you. Even more, I hope that you will grow and create in a spirit of love and generosity. The world needs you.

Phobias

Any object can become a fear object:
a needle, a flower, the dark.

One of the books I keep on my nightstand, within easy reach of my morning-coffee perch, is The Daily Poet by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano. There’s a prompt for every day of the year. Four out of five times I may read the prompt and go, “Huh. That’s cool,” and move on, and I keep checking. While not all prompts will resonate at a given time, all are technically doable, and there’s a wonderful variety. It is from this book that I developed the habit of checking to see what happened on this day in history when I’m looking for a practice exercise, and also of checking Craigslist for ideas. It’s a gem with a beautifully simple format. Today’s prompt is to consider the theme “phobias,” which is something Aimee Nezhukumatathil does so interestingly in her poem, “Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.” That sounded like something I could do today, so here it is.

Any object can become a fear object:
a needle, a flower, the dark.
Not the car exactly but riding in one.
Those figures that look human, but
aren’t. Thunder, of course, and lightning.
My grandfather, anticipating this fear, would
announce, when a storm came, Angels! They
were bowling, he told us. 

Some fear books; others, amphibians.
I sometimes have nightmares about steep
slopes. Time itself, the mirror, ridicule. I
can’t help but think these go together. The
confined space. Knees, even. Whole groups
of others: men, women, beautiful women,
teenagers, children, clowns. The ill, and
doctors. Touch itself, the color white, the
color black; small and large things. Death
and dead things; the figure 8. Weight gain,
paper. School seems like an obvious choice;
I hadn’t considered the color purple. Sleep,
holes, speed.

I read the list, impressed with the specificity
of options. Admiring, even, but I wonder,
what is the word for this ever-present knot,
this constant quaking from the inside out,
easier to hide than to still? When small, I
was not afraid of most grownups, only of 
having to become one, because while it
was clear that there would be expectations,
it was not so clear what they were. A common
concern was driving, how it was that my mother
could remember every turn, mostly, to all the 
endless places we went, and still get back home.
It saddened me to know that when my turn came
behind the wheel, I would probably disappear.

Unless! I brought breadcrumbs to leave a trail,
but consider Hansel and Gretel. They were careful,
but the birds ate their intentions home. The fire
of the oven, waiting in the dark woods, this is
what kept me in knots, the way I could stumble
and be cooked alive. But it wasn’t on the list, 
so maybe I dreamed it, as with other things,
Just butterflies, the growns would say, as though what
was happening was the flutter of iridescent wings
of a colony of new-transformed lives, ready to 
fly from this body’s own dark.

How We Celebrated Tiny Flames

We didn’t think about squandering, then,
and it never once occurred to us to save.

Remember when we shot our breaths 
out of ourselves, laughing
at the last loud fart? We couldn’t stop

And we sprayed gasping iridescent drops 
into the air like water from the spray 
nozzle of a garden hose, just for dancing.

We played chase like being hunted was a game,
like capture was a cartoon scene, we fell down
laughing. Wait, we said, I need to catch ––
like it was slow feathers falling from the sky
to be cupped in our open hands

––And remember, how we painted with it, too?
We blew our canvasses across car windows, 
fingertips tracing: here a smile, now a cat,
heart.

And sometimes it was smacked from us, as when we
fell back off a ladder or a swing, but the trick
to waiting was knowing the metaphor and trusting 
that if the next breath could be knocked out

like a ball from a basket, it could also come 
swishing back at the next run up the court,
catching nothing but the nets of our wide-stretched
throats.

We didn’t think about squandering, then, 
and it never once occurred to us to save 
any of what we spent so freely, those fortunes 
that we took for our inheritance. We had no way 

of knowing, then, how easily they could go. Really,
it takes only a certain amount of pressure, 
applied across a certain length of time, 
but how could we have begun to measure 

what we had yet to grow the strength 
to apply?

We couldn’t, not when 
time was what we flew threw, 
roaring our laughs 
like lions 
until they ran out.

Under All the Stars I Cannot Name

What would the world be like, if more people walked around proclaiming their shortcomings in the face of grand ideals?

On this day in 1923, poet Wislawa Szymborska was born. A winner of the Nobel Prize who once observed “perhaps” two in a thousand people like poetry (“Some Like Poetry”), she is celebrated for the way she explores the layered mysteries inherent in everyday experiences. 

Sometimes, a great poem can work as a blueprint for a much-needed ritual. In “Under a Certain Little Star” Szymborska explores the ritual of apology in new ways. What would the world be like, if more people walked around proclaiming their shortcomings in the face of grand ideals? It would have problems of its own, of course, but I can’t help but think that it must be a terrific improvement over a world where false certainty is celebrated as strength, apology maligned as weakness, and people are expected to be walking billboards for ideas and ideals, instead of as fallible and ever-changing creatures of flesh, blood, and dreams.

So today, I’ll be using Szymborska’s poem as a blueprint for enacting this ritual of apology, in celebration of the tremendous fallibility and impossible mystery of being human here. 

My apologies to tenderness for vowing I could do without,
and to fasting in general for my terrible performance.
May joy not be annoyed with my stalker’s watch.
May those disappeared dreams forgive me 
for pretending not to notice when they were 
kidnapped.

My apologies to space for not taking what was offered 
and appearing unintentionally ungrateful,
and to gratitude for so often making it look like a grocery list and not a flood.

Forgive me, misery, for still caring about the smell and chew of a fresh loaf of bread.
Forgive me, tender skin, for all of these oven burns, now scars.
My apologies to some great concertos I’ve never listened to, 
and to those that moved me deeply, for not sitting still.

My apologies to the cold woman on the hard bench, 
for savoring these blankets in the morning, 
for returning to them with coffee, and lingering as long as I am allowed.
Pardon my reckless heart its sudden leaking breaks.
Forgive me, solemnity, for laughing in the house of death,
forgive me, composure, for my melting face.

And to all the birds whose names I never managed to learn–– trees, too,
all those branched beings I claimed to love but did not plant, to the plants
I claimed to want but did not water, or watered too much, or kept in the wrong pots,
choking.

To domesticity, forgive these blood-soaked fangs. Faith, please notice
when I lose you, how I am always losing you; please come looking when I do. 
You can find me by my gait, like someone trying not to limp on a broken bone.
Bone, forgive my insistence on walking through your break.
Pride, forgive me when I can’t control the limp. 
Endure, hunger, that I may continue to move, just to feed you. 
Patience, don’t blame me for pretending we were sisters even when I didn’t return your calls.
My apologies to all those hopes I inadvertently inspired, which I could not answer.

And to love, for everything. 
And to honesty, for the way my eyes so often grow heavy when you speak. 
I am beyond excuses, sinking in the pit of my own making. Don’t hold it against me, words,
 for crying so much about wishing I had more to give, and then, 
when you give all you have, for guarding you in silence 
like a dragon over captive virgins he may not know.