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.
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 suchentry.
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?
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, 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.
“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 all.
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 postingit in social media, the congratulations, support, and encouragement from friends and family.
Thank you and much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
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)
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 aresuffering the loss of home, safety, culture, family – too many to list to fires, floods, earthquakes, political oppression, disease, poverty – too 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.
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.
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.)
“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
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.