How To Be a Poet

How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work, doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

– Wendell Berry –

An Imagined Future

I CONFESS

I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,
beaming peace like the North Star.
I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes earth burn and turn on its axis.”
But we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”

– Alison Luterman –

The Cure at Troy

Troy

THE CURE AT TROY

Human beings suffer
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave…

But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.
It means once in a lifetime
That justice can rise up
And hope and history rhyme.

– Seamus Heaney –

Earlier this week, I heard Irish poet Pádraig Ó’Tuama read this poem in a live stream and from him learned that Joe Biden has been reciting it in his campaign for president. Once the election results are certified, it would appear that poetry will have once again returned to the White House.

To Have Enough Room

BLESSING THAT BECOMES EMPTY AS IT GOES

This blessing
keeps nothing
for itself.
You can find it
by following the path
of what it has let go,
of what it has learned
it can live without.

Say this blessing out loud
a few times
and you will hear
the hollow places
within it,
how it echoes
in a way
that gives your voice
back to you
as if you had never
heard it before.

Yet this blessing
would not be mistaken
for any other,
as if,
in its emptying,
it had lost
what makes it
most itself.

It simply desires
to have room enough
to welcome
what comes.

Today,
it’s you.

So come and sit
in this place
made holy
by its hollows.
You think you have
too much to do,
too little time,
too great a weight
of responsibility
that none but you
can carry.

I tell you,
lay it down.
Just for a moment,
if that’s what you
can manage at first.
Five minutes.
Lift up your voice—
in laughter,
in weeping,
it does not matter—
and let it ring against
these spacious walls.

Do this
until you can hear
the spaces within
your own breathing.
Do this
until you can feel
the hollow in your heart
where something
is letting go,
where something
is making way.

– Jan Richardson –
Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

A Precious Curiosity

A PRECIOUS CURIOSITY
“…ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.”  Jeremiah 6:16

Little girl clutches her mother’s hand
struggles to keep up as her mother’s long legs
make one step to her every four.

Slows down to touch the flower.
Stops to look up into the golden leaves through to
the endless blue.
Tilts her head to hear the subtle birdsong.

Mother, impatient, tugs her forward
into their destination.
So much to do
again today, always.
No time to waste.
No time to wonder.

And yet…

The sudden remembering of her own small self.
So easily and so often touched by a simple beauty not yet named.
Senses alive and alert to a precious curiosity.

Her mother tugging her hand 
making her trip to keep up.

Imagining that lineage of hurried and harried mothers,
walking on ancient paths,
tugging the hands of their little wondering ones.

Walking in an ancient memory,
to find a good way now,
to slow down,
to be tugged by her little one into rest for her soul.

– KW –

On the Cusp

LAST DAYS

Things are
changing; things are starting to
spin, snap, fly off into
the blue sleeve of the long
afternoon. 𝘖𝘩 and 𝘰𝘰𝘩

come whistling out of the perished mouth
of the grass, as things
turn soft, boil back
into substance and hue. As everything,
forgetting its own enchantment, whispers:
I too love oblivion why not it is full
of second chances. 𝘕𝘰𝘸,
hiss the bright curls of the leaves. 𝘕𝘰𝘸!
booms the muscle of the wind.

– Mary Oliver –
(Twelve Moons)

What’s Asking To Be Seen

I’m standing on the cusp of the seasons, now dressed for winter when I walk Annie. Gloves need to be swapped out for mittens, trail runners for Blundstones. Tomorrow, we’ll go shopping for a new winter coat for Annie, as I think with age, we’re both feeling the cold more. Today there’s a skiff of snow on roofs and yards, the shallow pond froze last night, and during yesterday morning’s river valley walk, the shoreline was edged with ice. Yet, still the red, golden green and light brown falling leaves.

This autumn, one particularly resplendent in colour and warmth with sunshine most every day, I felt the invitation to “see” what was on display and unfolding while Annie and I walked. She, ever patient, and I, and with my early generation, single lens phone camera in hand, stopped in front of a red amur maple, reminiscent of my Niagara youth. Glowing, almost vibrating vermillion, I was awestruck and until now, never thought my phone could capture what I was seeing. It was the beginning.

“I take my camera out into the world, and it invites me to slow down and linger over these moments of beauty. It opens me to wonder and delight.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Then it was the roses, full blown blossoms and buds, still. And the sweet peas – always an irony for me with an April birthday, and them the designated flower.

The dandelion, harbinger of spring, peeking among the dried leaves. The golden ash against our signature blue sky. Ruby globes of crabapple, sun-kissed cherries, orange mountain ash berries.

Sunflower sentinels bordering a walkway. And the skies.

One day the clouds had me spellbound. Later that day, after I’d shared their magnificence on Facebook, friends said they, too, had noticed and appreciated I’d stopped to notice, to press, to share.  Another day, later in the season, I was smitten by treetops in their yonder backdrops.

And throughout, always that amur maple marking autumn’s reign.

 “…this is one of the wonders of photography: to be able to frame a moment in time and, within my gaze and absolute presence in that particular moment, to discover holiness. In that single moment, I am reminded that all moments are holy.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Framing these moments during our neighborhood walks has easily transferred into chronicling my weekly trek in the river valley. The “Camino de Edmonton,” a thirteen-week staged event to correspond in distance to a final leg of the Camino de Santiago, finds twenty or so hardy souls meeting every Saturday at various rendezvous points in the city for an 8:00 am start. There, I bring my Lumix “point and shoot” hung around my neck, tucked securely into the hip belt of my Deuter pack.

“the graced eye can glimpse beauty everywhere, seeing the divine at work in the hidden depths of things. It is so easy to let our senses be dulled and to settle for the ordinary.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

Most often walking alone, safely distanced, I settle into my pace and breath, letting my gaze soften, slowing to see with eyes of the heart onto what is asking to be seen. Again, vistas full to bursting with autumn’s abundance. Yet, at the same time, growing more visible with every week, the giving way to emptying, the baring, the decaying and the dying that is winter.

“We don’t have to go out and try to take ‘beautiful’ photos. We simply need to pay attention and foster a different kind of seeing.”

Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart, 2013

And accept the invitation to see what’s asking to be seen.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Camera shy Annie.

Ironing

Now I Understand
(in response to Pablo Neruda’s An Ode for Ironing)

Your house cleaned.
Your floors swept.
Your bed made.
Your dishes washed.
Your gardens tended.
Your dog walked.

You, who has the means
to purchase the hands’ work of others
inherited, earned, dignified

Who would have thought
my taking on the task
of ironing your linens and your clothes
as I pressed mine –

my small act of gratitude
for your generous hospitality
for opening your home to me
giving me sanctuary of rest and routine
while I, the novice, explored the world
making true and real my heart’s desire –

would be taking away
this small but necessary
weekly Sunday evening pleasure
bringing you back 
to your self
giving you back
the ground of your being?

Now I understand
this ode’s essence
to bring substance and harmony
to give routine and resurrection
to allow you to feel with
your hands
your way 
into a new week.

– KW –


Golden

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada, the 12th of October, almost as late in the month as it comes. Remarkably, autumn’s colour abounds, with gold and burnished brown, red and aubergine still a vivid contrast against the cerulean sky and dark green conifers.

Yesterday a fierce wind blew from the north west. A kite hung high for an hour in the steel grey sky, its dragon-like features a foreboding of what’s to come. The scent and feel of winter waiting impatiently in the wings, typically impolite in timing its arrival. Like a takeover, one might even say “hostile”, or a coup overthrowing the trees before they’ve taken off their sovereign hued robes, and wreaking shock and havoc among the yet to depart migrating birds. This reminder of impermanence, life’s cycles, nature’s work. During a time when around the world most everyone feels fraught with uncertainty and complacent with pandemic protocol fatigue, I take comfort and find solace that yes, the days grow shorter, the sun rises lower, the trees will soon be stripped of their remaining leaves, the snow will fall, the temperatures plummet.   

One morning last week, making breakfast for Annie and drip coffee for me, I heard Jill Scott sing her song, Golden. I wrote down the chorus knowing I could use it for today’s blog, because, well, it’s been so golden this past month. I’m in the sixth week of my latest Abbey of the Arts online course, “Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist,” where I’m exploring these archetypes of contemplation and creativity, two deep affinities. In one of last week’s creative exercises, I learned about the French pantoum, a poetic form that can be quite revelatory in its play and placement of lines.

So in that spirit of unabashed experimentation, here’s my tribute to Thanksgiving, living golden, impermance, presence, winter – all riffing off Jill Scott.

Livin’ my life like it’s golden
it’s that time of year.
Shimmering brilliant leaves
remind me to be here.

It’s that time of year,
winds blow strong and sting
remind me to be here.
Winter’s in the wings.

Winds blow strong and sting.
Shimmering brilliant leaves.
Winter’s in the wings.
Livin’ my life like it’s golden.

With abiding gratitude, love and kindest regards, dear friends.

An Encounter

WISHING WELL

“Outside the Met a man walks up sun
tweaking the brim sticker on his Starter cap
and he says pardon me Old School he
says you know is this a wishing well?
Yeah Son I say sideways over my shrug.
Throw your bread on the water.
I tighten my chest wheezy as Rockaway beach
sand with a pull of faux smoke from my e-cig
to cozy the truculence I hotbox alone
and I am at the museum because it is not a bar.
Because he appears not to have changed
them in days I eye the heel-chewed hems
of his pants and think probably he will
ask me for fifty cents any minute now wait
for it. A smoke or something. Central Park displays

the frisking transparency of autumn. Tracing
paper sky, leaves like eraser crumbs gum
the pavement. As if deciphering celestial
script I squint and purse off toward the roof
line of the museum aloof as he fists two
pennies from his pockets mumbling and then
aloud my man he says hey my man I’m going
to make a wish for you too.
I am laughing now so what you want
me to sign a waiver? He laughs along ain’t
say all that he says but you do have to
hold my hand.   And close your eyes.
I make a starless night of my face before
he asks are you ready. Yeah dawg I’m ready.
Sure? Sure let’s do this his rough hand
in mine inflates like a blood pressure cuff and I
squeeze back as if we are about to step together
from the sill of all resentment and timeless
toward the dreamsource of un-needing the two
of us hurtle sharing the cosmic breast
of plenitude when I hear the coins blink against
the surface and I cough up daylight like I’ve just
been dragged ashore. See now
you’ll never walk alone he jokes and is about
to hand me back to the day he found me in
like I was a rubber duck and he says you got to let
go but I feel bottomless and I know he means
well though I don’t believe
and I feel myself shaking
my head no when he means let go his hand.”

– by Gregory Pardlo –

I heard this poem walking with Annie earlier this week. Poetry Unbound, hosted by Pádraig Ó Tuama, is one of my favourite podcasts. Now in its second season, each episode, featuring one poem, is a mere fifteen or so minutes. Yet while I listen, to Padraig’s recitation and then to his skillful, heartful invitations as to how I might hear into the poem, time stands still. I can listen to one episode several times in the course of our walk, and each time feel transfixed.

I share it here because it reminded me of the post I wrote several weeks ago on loneliness, a feeling state that continues to linger for many of us, as summer gives way to fall and the inevitable winter, as Covid-19 numbers continue to climb around the world. Click here to listen to the rather remarkable Pádraig’s reading. I hope you enjoy it as much as he and I do.

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.