How To Be Alone

It all begins with knowing
nothing lasts forever.
So you might as well start packing now.
But, in the meantime,
practice being alive.

There will be a party
where you’ll feel like
nobody’s paying you attention.
And there will be a party
where attention’s all you’ll get.
What you need to do
is know how to talk to
yourself
between these parties.

And,
again,
there will be a day,
— a decade —
where you won’t
fit in with your body
even though you’re in
the only body you’re in.

You need to control
your habit of forgetting
to breathe.

Remember when you were younger
and you practiced kissing on your arm?
You were on to something then.
Sometimes harm knows its own healing
comfort its own intelligence.
Kindness too.
It needs no reason.

There is a you
telling you a story of you.
Listen to her.

Where do you feel
anxiety in your body?
The chest? The fist? The dream before waking?
The head that feels like it’s at the top of the swing
or the clutch of gut like falling
& falling & falling and falling
It knows something: you’re dying.
Try to stay alive.

For now, touch yourself.
I’m serious.

Touch yourself.
Take your hand
and place your hand
some place
upon your body.
And listen
to the community of madness
that
you are.

You are
such an
interesting conversation.

You belong
here.

-Pádraig Ó Tuama –

Wave to Wake

walking for water on Morocco’s Sahara

Prologue: Last winter in the midst of another Covid lockdown, Vancouver poet Samantha Reynolds, writing as bentlily, invited her readers to notice life around them. This is, after all, the basis of most good poetry. So successful was the reception that she re-issued her invitation for May. Each morning my inbox welcomed her prompt. I’d read and file each one in a folder for the time when less distracted by who knows what – oh I know, the coming of summer and all that great outdoor stuff – I could focus my noticing in response. That day came September first. And while I don’t do every activity every day, more than not I do, this prose poem being one such entry.

You invite me to notice, for thirty days.

From gazing at the sky, to taking a mundane moment and making it sacred;
eulogizing a favourite food, then eating it back to life;
listening to a piece of music while conjuring the images it evokes.

Today it’s WATER.
To take in – in a holy way – the everyday banal which for me,
for so many of us in this so called civilized western world,
comes so freely, without effort or a moment’s thought.
We turn on the tap to take a drink, a bath, or a shower;
cook our food, wash our clothes, cars, and dishes; soak the dried grass and limp flowers.
Mindless motions and maneuverings. 
Yet drought, wildfires, insufficient snowfall, contamination – even here we are running out of water, and several of our reserves, home of our First Nations peoples, to this day, have no clean drinking water. So much for treaty terms and promises.

When you wrote that women and girls around the world collectively spend 200 million hours daily finding and collecting water, that many are raped on their long walks to distant sources,
I shamefully admit, I mindlessly took a sip from my SWELL bottle and went on to tackle the next thing on my list, sitting safely in my office, in my home.

When I read your invitation to drink a glass of water slowly, as though I had dedicated my entire day – my life even –
to finding it, getting it, carrying it home, still,
the enormity of that reality skipped across the surface of my consciousness.

What does it take
for a stone to break the water’s surface,
drop down deep inside me,
ripple out across my cells,
create a resonant wave of comprehension and compassion?

for your telling of this fact to
fracture the façade of indifference,
flood me with understanding the impacts of privilege?

to remember once long ago, water turned to wine turned to blood,
an alchemy of the sacred,
a miracle to quench my thirst?

water collage

Epilogue:
A dozen or so years ago, I wrote a “nested” poem and made a card collage of words and images to acknowledge a young friend who, at four years of age, asked “How can it be that clean water is not a given for all those alive in the world?” He went on to organize local benefit concerts and community fund raising events to support well building in Uganda. The collage design became a promotional image helping him raise over $25,000 in the four years since first asking that question.

“Well…

Well, water is very important.

Well, water is very important,

       for LIFE especially.

Well water is very important

       for LIFE, especially when there is no rain.”

“So that’s why we’re making some.”

The truth of miles walked by women to gather water for their families came home when I travelled to Morocco in 2019, where I saw Berber women with plastic jugs, walking to wells to get the day’s supply for cooking and washing.

Last month, someone posted three photos of the same view of Lake Oroville in California’s Sonoma valley taken first in 2017, then in spring of 2021, and finally in July showing the devastation of repeated and prolonged drought. From lush green hillsides and a mighty flow of blue water, to sand parched hills and reduced flow, to merely a creek bordered by muddy banks and hills devoid of vegetation. A picture – or three – telling a powerful story.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Falling Apart

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.
We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem,
but the truth is that things don’t really get solved.
They come together and they fall apart.
Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen:
room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

– Pema Chödrön –

Not so much a poem, but words that bring solace from its simple, utter truthfulness. In many places around the world, we are riding another covid wave – the fourth, perhaps even the fifth. Variants and vaccinations, closures, masks, crowded ICUs…
Several months ago my mother wondered if she’d live through to the other side of this virus. I thought it was a wise observation, to which I had no answer. To which there is no solving. Things come together, fall apart, come together again and fall apart again. And so it goes. And so we let there be room. For it al
l.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Cornering the Light

CORNERING THE LIGHT

A burst of the stove’s blue flame.

Sun hidden inside thunder’s heavy coat.

Candles flickering their soft invitation to dusk.

Stars’ ancient arrangements guiding you home.

Moon’s face a monthly show of mystic moods.

Eyes shining with tears not yet wept.

Your laughter pouring from the playground swing.

Apology humbly given, heartfully received.

Still pond and puddle reflecting a cloud swept sky.

Our hard-earned love.

– KW –

My honorably mentioned submission to the monthly Canadian Off Topic writing contest. The requirements included using the word “corner” in some form or fashion; ten lines maximum; and acknowledging-referencing the inspiration, which was using the first line of Mark S. Burrows, “Nine Forms of Light,” in The Chance of Home, 2018. An added benefit was receiving feedback from the two judges. And upon posting it in social media, the congratulations, support, and encouragement from friends and family.

Thank you and much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

The End Times

THE END TIMES

We knew it would come crashing down,
but now we are in the clatter –
fire, drought, flood, smoke, heat,
the million and one ways
that beings cry out. We thought
there would be more time.
We pretended that we didn’t know.
We squandered so much
that we might have saved,
and for what? Trinkets. Glitter.
The pleasures of ignorance
and a basket full of Happy Meals.

It’s time to ask the dying
what they know. What will you give up
to cure what is killing you?
What do you pursue
when your days are numbered?
Gaze into the eyes
of a beloved old dog.
Bury your face in her neck
and engrave the scent on your memory.
Let your heart break open.
Learn to cherish what remains.

– Lynn Ungar –

Lynn Ungar first came to my attention last year with her “viral” poem, Pandemic. Straight to the point and heart, her words pierce with truthfulness. A week ago, our beloved Annie dog went under for a brief diagnostic procedure. Thankfully an “all OK” diagnosis, she returned home that day woozy and with a package each of probiotics and antacids, hopefully to curb the somedays’ frantic rush to eat grass. But with eleven and a half years under her belt, and a decade this month with us, I know the times we walk together are ever precious. But isn’t it so for each of us – how life changes on a dime? Once again, around the world, we see how precarious, precious, and fragile our circumstances.
Reading Radical Regeneration: Birthing the New Human in the Age of Extinction (2020) by Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker makes the unequivocal point that we are living in the end times. The posthumous One Drum (2019) by Richard Wagamese cites ancient prophesy of a time “when words would fly like lightning bolts across the sky, and ” when “the human family would move farther apart and that this separation, the break in energy, would cause great stress upon the Earth… floods, titanic storms, famine, earthquakes, the departure of animals, strange diseases, and turmoil among all peoples.” (22)

It is time to learn to cherish what remains.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.



For the Children

Bida and her children, Morocco, 2019

FOR THE CHILDREN

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light.

– Gary Snyder –

Yes, for the children
young and old,
inner and outer,
near and far,
who are suffering
the loss of
home, safety, culture, familytoo many to list
to fires, floods, earthquakes, political oppression, disease, povertytoo many to list

May we stay together.
May we pray together.
May we play together.
In the flowers.
In the light.

Thinking of the peoples of Afghanistan, Haiti, Bangladesh, Turkey, Greece, Sicily, France, Canada, United States, Germany, Belgium – too many to list.

Life

LIFE

1
A moment of pleasure,
    An hour of pain,
A day of sunshine,
    A week of rain,
A fortnight of peace,
  A month of strife,
These taken together
  Make up life. 

    2
One real friend
    To a dozen foes,
Two open gates,
  ’Gainst twenty that’s closed,
Prosperity’s chair,
    Then adversity’s knife;
These my friends
    Make up life.

     3
At daybreak a blossom,
    At noontime a rose,
At twilight ’tis withered,
    At evening ’tis closed.
The din of confusion,
    The strain of the fife,
These with other things
    Make up life.              

4
A smile, then a tear,
    Like a mystic pearl,
A pause, then a rush
    Into the mad whirl,
A kiss, then a stab
  From a traitor’s knife;
I think that you’ll agree with me, 
    That this life.

– Carrie Law Morgan Figgs –
1878-1968

Another inbox gift from the Academy of American Poets, I received this poem the same day I wrote Monday’s post, This Beauty. I felt an immediate correspondence and in a curious way, with more reading, its rhythm and theme remind me of “Waters of March,” that famous bossa nova by Brazilian Antonio Carlos Jobim, one that too, speaks of life’s bitter sweet.

Give-Away Song

GIVE-AWAY SONG

This is my give-away—
            not because I don’t want
                  it anymore,
            not because it’s out of
                  style or
                broken or
                useless since it lost
                its lid or one of its buttons,
            not because I don’t understand
                the “value” of things.
This is my give-away—
            because I have enough
                  to share with you
            because I have been given
                  so much
                    health love happiness
                    pain sorrow fear
            to share from the heart
            in a world where words can be
            meaningless when they come
            only from the head.
This is my give-way—
            to touch what is good in you
            with words your heart can hear
            like ripples from a pebble
            dropped in water
            moving outward growing
            wider touching others.
            You are strong.
            You are kind.
            You are beautiful.
This is my give-away.
     Wopida ye.   
          Wopida ye.
                Wopida ye.

– Gwen Westerman –


Arriving in my inbox this week from the Academy of American Poet’s “poem a day” feature, this poem needs to be given away, again and again. So I share it here, to “touch what is good in you” and in me, too, during days when I need to remember this, and maybe you do, too.
(Typically I format a poem on the centre of the page, but here, I chose to preserve the author’s original, off centre formatting.)

A Poem Becomes a Poem

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched every
whereby its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

– Mary Oliver –

From poet-theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, I learned different ways to read and hear a poem. This one below, a re-created, very abridged version from Mary Oliver’s above offering, using the last word of every line. A poem becomes a poem.

light Buddha died
morning begins
clouds first fan
violet
green down trees
anything hour
upward
fields gathered
listen itself
air
every waves
everything life itself
hills fire
needed
turning
value
branches head
crowd

– KW –

The Trickster


The Trickster

When I don’t write, I scare myself by thinking
I’ve forgotten how.
Like the first day in a new season back on a bicycle, or snow skis.

I know they say it’s simple, like riding a bicycle – you never forget.
But I forget
that when I simply take
my favourite fine black ink pen to write
on simple white lined paper,
words,
which have been patiently waiting for me,
arrive.

Sure, they might need some dusting off,
some spit and polish.

But words,
carrying and conveying
feelings and emotions,
images and impressions,
questions and doubts,
come tumbling out

often in a coherence that
startles me revealing
a wisdom reminding me
I am paying attention even when I think
I’ve forgotten how.


My mind is a trickster in this regard.

Perhaps I shouldn’t pay it
so much
attention.

– KW –