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 –

The Moment

below Athabasca Falls, Jasper, Alberta

THE MOMENT

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round. 

– Margaret Atwood –

This poem’s wisdom reminds me of that found in David Wagoner’s poem “Lost”the need to stand still and let the forest find me, for to do otherwise will only guarantee my lostness. Both impart the knowing held by our First Nations’ peoples – being in “right relationship” with Nature; surrendering to its wisdom and power; trusting its medicine to heal and realign us.
In the Mountains, we settlers climbed and claimed and named peaks – ususally after people -which for hundreds, if not thousands of years before, had been named by the land’s first peoples in honor of the powers and gifts, the placeholding for tradition, ceremony, and travel direction. As an act of reconciliation, many people today are asking that we restore those original names – to acknowledge the Mountains never belonged to us, we didn’t find them. That it was and always will be the other way round.




A Blessing of Angels

A BLESSING OF ANGELS

May the Angels in their beauty bless you.
May they turn toward you streams of blessing.

May the Angel of Awakening stir your heart
To come alive to the eternal within you,
To all the invitations that quietly surround you.

May the Angel of Healing turn your wounds
Into sources of refreshment.

May the Angel of the Imagination enable you
To stand on the true thresholds,
At ease with your ambivalence
And drawn in new direction
Through the glow of your contradictions.

May the Angel of Compassion open your eyes
To the unseen suffering around you.

May the Angel of Wildness disturb the places
Where your life is domesticated and safe,
Take you to the territories of true otherness

Where all that is awkward in you
Can fall into its own rhythm.

May the Angel of Eros introduce you
To the beauty of your senses
To celebrate your inheritance
As a temple of the holy spirit.

May the Angel of Justice disturb you
To take the side of the poor and the wronged.

May the Angel of Encouragement confirm you
In worth and self-respect,
That you may live with the dignity
That presides in your soul.

May the Angel of Death arrive only
When your life is complete
And you have brought every given gift
To the threshold where its infinity can shine.

May all the Angels be your sheltering
And joyful guardians.

– John O’Donohue –
To Bless the Space Between Us

In the past week as I’ve created “love notes” to friends – for birthdays and retirements – I’ve turned several times to my much loved, dog-eared copy of John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us. In that search, several times I encountered passages that resonated so deeply, that for a moment they took my breath away. This was today’s and one I knew I had to share with you.

Much love, kindest regards, and my your angels bless and shelter you, dear friends.

Our Land

the steps of Chicago’s Modern Art Museum, 2010

OUR LAND

We should have a land of sun, 
Of gorgeous sun, 
And a land of fragrant water
Where the twilight is a soft bandanna handkerchief
Of rose and gold, 
And not this land
Where life is cold.

We should have a land of trees,
Of tall thick trees,
Bowed down with chattering parrots
Brilliant as the day,
And not this land where birds are gray.

Ah, we should have a land of joy,
Of love and joy and wine and song, 
And not this land where joy is wrong.

– Langston Hughes –

In my country and around the world, the notion of “our land” being safe and welcoming – where life is not cold, the birds are not gray, and joy is not wrong – is not the reality for too many people, for too many reasons.
War and terrorism; domestic violence; racial injustice; bullying, abuse and violence due to sexual and gender identity, faith and culture, ageism; income disparities – the list is endless for the traumas created and held in our bodies, minds and spirits, and then acted out each other and on our land. It has been so for centuries.
May we pay attention.
May we act responsibly, with equanimity, and loving kindness towards all beings, human and non human, animate and inanimate, born and yet to be born.
May we heal.

Understory

UNDERSTORY

I’ve been watching stars
rely on the darkness they
resist. And fish struggle with
and against the current. And
hawks glide faster when their
wings don’t move.

Still I keep retelling what
happens till it comes out
the way I want.

We try so hard to be the
main character when it is
our point of view that
keeps us from the truth.

The sun has its story
that no curtain can stop.

It’s true. The only way beyond
the self is through it. The only
way to listen to what can never
be said is to quiet our need
to steer the plot.

When jarred by life, we might
unravel the story we tell ourselves
and discover the story we are in,
the one that keeps telling us.

– Mark Nepo –

I’ve been thinking a lot about what comes next as vaccination rates around the world increase, countries “re-open,” and people resume life as they’ve known it. I’ve been thinking about what we learned over the past fifteen months, when “jarred by life” by the pandemic.
Have I unraveled the story I tell myself enough to discover the story I am really in? The story that keeps telling me? And how will I know?

Four Word Sad Story

A FOUR WORD SAD STORY

Two hundred fifteen children.

– KW-

“Write a sad story…in only four words.”
This was the prompt I spotted on Facebook a week ago, posted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I wrote what immediately came to mind, being immersed in media, conversation, and reflection on the week prior’s news of the undocumented remains of two hundred fifteen children found on the grounds of a since closed residential school in Kamloops, BC. An unearthing revealing the underbelly of my country’s colonial past – Government policy, from 1883 to the 1990s, enacted by its agents and police, whereby First Nations children were forcibly seized from their parents and placed in residential schools to have the Indian schooled and worked and punished and abused out of them. And we wonder what else is hidden and how many more remains of innocent Indigenous children are to be found?

I’ll close with the lyrics of a song I heard recently by folk singer-songwriter-activist and all around fine person, Maria Dunn.

LITTLE ONE

You are that little one
Sacred as the morning sun
In your mother’s arms
Your father’s heart the same
Taken from your family
By brutal, bared, bureaucracy
Instead of opening your mind
They shut you up in shame

You are that little one – hold on

What child denied her mother tongue
Underfed and preyed upon
Who among us could survive
A stripping to our soul?
In waves of rage that rock you now
Any other might have drowned
But you’re still here
Determined to be whole

You are that little one – hold on
You are beloved – hold on

How slow to open up our eyes
Say out loud “we spun those lies”
Sorry’s but a start upon the road
It’s not enough
Until we walk the path that shows
To every child who suffers so
Your life matters
You are truly loved

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Having Come This Far

HAVING COME THIS FAR

I’ve been through what my through was to be
I did what I could and couldn’t
I was never sure how I would get there

I nourished an ardor for thresholds
for stepping stones and for ladders
I discovered detour and ditch

I swam in the high tides of greed
I built sandcastles to house my dreams
I survived the sunburns of love

No longer do I hunt for targets
I’ve climbed all the summits I need to
and I’ve eaten my share of lotus

Now I give praise and thanks
for what could not be avoided
and for every foolhardy choice

I cherish my wounds and their cures
and the sweet enervations of bliss
My book is an open life

I wave goodbye to the absolutes
and send my regards to infinity
I’d rather be blithe than correct

Until something transcendent turns up
I splash in my poetry puddle
and try to keep God amused.

– James Broughton –

Our province has just announced a fast track re-opening post Covid plan, to make this “the best summer ever.” More slogans and clichés that fall flat on these ears. Few of us have received our second vaccinations with no word as to when. So until that time, having come this far maintaining safety protocols for me and my community, I’ll do my best to keep God amused as I’m sure she’s been with all these political shenanigans.

Pray for Peace

PRAY FOR PEACE

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail,
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, twirling pizzas–

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your Visa card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

– Ellen Bass –

This poem prayer was posted this week on social media, I suppose in response to the current re-ignition of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Today, I read that a ceasefire has been called.
May we see peace, bring peace, pray for peace, make peace, and be peace.

A Settlement

A SETTLEMENT

Look, it’s spring. And last year’s loose dust has turned
into this soft willingness. The wind-flowers have come
up trembling, slowly the brackens are up-lifting their
curvaceous and pale bodies. The thrushes have come
home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow,
happiness, music, ambition.

And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to
go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of
this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my
mind.

***

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you

for everything.

– Mary Oliver –
What Do We Know, 2002