We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness.
Mary Oliver Red Bird (2008)
I collect poems that appear in my inbox or on social media. This is one posted by wise elder Parker Palmer in mid March of this year. Is it prescience? Or simply another rendering of Mary Oliver’s astute skills in observation already so evident in her poetry situated in the natural world. I imagine is was cited often in the months following the 2016 American presidential election. It continues to have remarkable resonance there as states swing to vote in politicians and legislation undermining and undoing so much of what we have considered the hard won, inviolable rights of the historically vulnerable, marginalized and disenfranchised.
Today, I think it apropos for my province, mere days after the election that gave to the woman who took over her party’s leadership on a no confidence vote, the mandate to proceed with her view of things. A woman who, just days before, was found guilty of violating the province’s conflict of interest act. A woman who, in the first months of assuming leadership, was publicly apologizing for every verbal gaffe she’d made speaking, apparently without thinking. Or was she revealing a heart that was “small, and hard, and full of meanness.” A heart that regrettably becomes so shaped by empire. A heart that beats in my own chest unless I chose to cultivate otherwise.
TO THE SEA Sometimes when you start to ramble or rather when you feel you are starting to ramble you will say Well, now I’m rambling though I don’t think you ever are. And if you ever are I don’t really care. And not just because I and everyone really at times falls into our own unspooling —which really I think is a beautiful softness of being human, trying to show someone else the color of all our threads, wanting another to know everything in us we are trying to to show them— but in the specific, in the specific of you here in this car that you are driving and in which I am sitting beside you with regards to you and your specific mouth parting to give way to the specific sweetness that is the water of your voice tumbling forth—like I said I don’t ever really mind how much more you might keep speaking as it simply means I get to hear you speak for longer. What was a stream now a river.
Once a month I have a Zoom call with a dear friend who lives near the sea. She and I have known each other for several years, a decade at least, maybe two. We’ll check in with each other and then see where our conversation takes us. Always into depth and meaning, relationship and emergence. Always held within a container of love and deep regard for each other. Always remarkable the interior landscapes we can traverse in an hour.
This poem arrived the morning after our most recent conversation. I love it for so beautifully capturing, despite being written by a man, the way my friend and I ramble together, often saying, just as the character in the poem, “Well, now I’m rambling,” and just like the poet’s response, “I don’t think you ever are.” Inevitably, because of the container we’ve created, one where vulnerability is welcome, curiosity cherished, and questions allowed to rest without answers, I come away with clarity, the results of which often show up in these posts.
Once in another Zoom conversation, this time withother dear women friends who live by the sea, I came to know that perhaps this way of talking with each other is simply, particularly, the feminine way of being with each other and in the world. A couple of years ago during early pandemic days, the day after that call, I emailed them:
“Many times it seems my thinking is foggy and lazy, that it isn’t “cogent” or coherent, that I can’t put together a compelling argument of defense. And then it came to me, this is the feminine way – to feel my way through a depth of complexity that is dark and foggy, that isn’t necessarily, yet, cogent nor coherent...You wrote to me, gifted me, once with the invocation that I recognize with increasing vividness that I know what I know, that find myself less and less inclined to self-doubt, meekness and hesitation.“
This rambling, vulnerably feeling one’s way through the depths of complexity and uncertainty is the “unspooling” described by Anis Mojgani, that “beautiful softness/of being human, trying to show someone else/the color of all our threads, wanting another to know/everything in us we are trying to to show them.”
I love that I can be this way with another, because it helps me be this way more with myself – soft, vulnerable, vivid and alive in the unknowing, the curiosity, the questions.
May we each have in our lives such persons with whom to ramble.
Give up on your agenda – this is exploration, not exercise. She can’t hear you calling her on, but then, you can’t smell whatever is so intriguing about that clump of grass, so maybe just relax. Stop counting steps. Don’t even count birds, or minutes or the things you have left to do on your pressing and eternal list. Move gently into the immeasurable. Stop to greet children. Consider that the most fascinating thing in the world could be your neighbor’s garbage can. Observe without judgement what is near to hand – even if what you see is the halt in her step, the way her spine has begun to show. Walk just long enough to remember that love is not an antidote to death, but loss is not the opposite of life.
– Lynn Ungar, May 2, 2023 –
Over the past year at least, I’ve been saying that walking Annie is no longer exercise. It’s fresh air, the gift of being outside noticing life around us. That I may walk 10,000 steps, but certainly not aerobically. And I’ve long known for a dog, walking is “scent shopping,” so I best be prepared for meandering. But in the last two weeks, the gift of this oh-so-perfectly-timed poem, could not be more true. Some of you might know that two weeks ago yesterday – after our morning walk, treats in the kitchen, sleeping…errrr…supervising our work in the office, and then going outside to her kennel when the house cleaners arrived – Annie suddenly was not ok. Disoriented, barely able to walk let alone stand upright, shallow breathing, drooling, incontinent – the ER vet clinic gave us a diagnosis of THC poisoning, an increasingly common incident given our carelessness with roaches and edibles. We were given a prognosis, took her in to see our vet the following morning, who confirmed the diagnosis, but by Sunday her condition was not improving. No appetite nor eating, so we bought electrolytes for her water (on the suggestion from a Facebook friend who saw my posting). Her walk had not improved, in fact we were seeing more weakening. But of most concern was seeing her paw at her right eye, and when I did the reflex test I’d seen the vets do, she didn’t blink, leading us to believe she’d suffered vision loss. A return visit to the vet on Monday morning confirmed my first, and our worst suspicions: she’d most likely had a stroke. “She’ll not live to 17,” the vet said, referring to Annie’s predecessor, Peggy, who died late into her 17th year. And with further examination, and seeing Annie’s lethargy, I wondered if she’d last the week.
After deliberation, we decided to pass on the neuro consult, not wanting to add further distress to Annie with the battery of tests required pre exam. We know she is happiest with us, and so we’d keep her home, tend to her best we could, hope for the best, and pray for a miracle.
This is my “Lazarus” story, because with every passing day, Annie has returned to herself, engaging in all the patterns and endearing ways she is who she is, with us. Looking eagerly for me to get her leash to walk, barking at the neighbors (fulfilling her job as guard dog), finally eating regularly with creative concoctions of smelly canned fish to pique her interest, remembering to remind us to fetch her favourite dessert of dentistix, and following me down into the office where she takes her place on her supervisor’s cushion. The big right front paw she would persistently, heavily place on my keyboard at noon to signal lunch and a walk…the one I would curse for interrupting my work…that has been slow to return being the side that became weakened. But tonight, she placed it on me as I napped, reminding me of dinner time. It comes. I pray it comes in the office, on my keyboard, and I will kiss and welcome it back.
Annie is a bird dog with smelling her particular stock in trade. We think her loss of vision and diminished sense of smell have been the most disorienting for her, with her hearing less for the past couple of years. Sleeping more than usual with the trauma of it all, and the neurological stress has been exhausting. At yesterday’s chiropractic session, we learned that dogs have the ability to reroute blood to injured areas of the brain. We’re hopeful that as we see her eating, and sniffing with more precision and focus outside and during our walks, coming into the kitchen while we cook and eat dinner, her scenting is returning. We pray, too, that her eyesight might improve as pressure comes off the optic nerve, because the eye itself is in good health.
In the last week, I’ve read of several friends having to say goodbye to their beloved fur companions. Each time I feel my heart squeeze. With Annie being our sixth dog, this is a heartbreak I know too well, yet wouldn’t trade for the joy each brings, the love I feel, that grows with each one, in return. Lynn Ungar writes it one way. Mary Oliver in her volume Dog Songs, writes it another: “We would do anything to keep them with us and to keep them young”.
At thirteen years, walking slower, needing my help to be lifted onto the bed, and now ensuring she makes it up and down the stairs safely, with this health crisis, I know Annie isn’t young, and that I can’t keep her forever. I am simply so thankful to have her with us now, for as long as now is.
Much love and kindest regards, dear friends. And deep gratitude to you who replied to my posting on Facebook. Your love, thoughts and prayers have helped immeasurably.
Different trees grow various heights and then perish and evolve into another species.
They reach their limbs – their souls – a little deeper into incandescence’s well
and then tell the world by their marvelous appearance what life is like.
Yes, try to do that before you depart this wondrous place we are visiting;
bring us some good tidings of silence beyond and silence you have already heard.
Hafiz, as rendered by Daniel Ladinsky A Year with Hafiz: April 29
This selection felt like a lovely follow-up from last week’s poem, Aunt Leaf, by Mary Oliver. Coming across it on April 29, my margin note reads: “This is exquisite. This is my knowing of trees, especially our beloved Laurel Leaf Willow, gone now two years.” Both poems spoke to me of that “before, beneath, beyond words” knowing we have with trees, and the other “more than human” beings.
It’s been a tough week. I’ll leave it at that for now. Yet as the miracle of spring explodes with Alberta’s record breaking heat – not a good thing given how dry, with province-wide fire bans and daily evacuations due to grass fires – I once again find myself in awe with and comforted by the silent beauty, graciousness and grandeur of trees. This quote from patron saint Catherine of Siena a fitting sign off for today:
All has been consecrated The creatures in the forest know this,
the earth does, the seas do, the clouds know as does the heart full of love.
AUNT LEAF Needing one, I invented her — the great-great-aunt dark as hickory called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.
Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves, and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool, and whisper in a language only the two of us knew the word that meant 𝘧𝘰𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸,
and we’d travel cheerful as birds out of the dusty town and into the trees where she would change us both into something quicker —
two foxes with black feet, two snakes green as ribbons, two shimmering fish — and all day we’d travel.
At day’s end she’d leave me back at my own door with the rest of my family, who were kind, but solid as wood and rarely wandered. While she, old twist of feathers and birch bark, would walk in circles wide as rain and then float back
scattering the rags of twilight on fluttering moth wings;
or she’d slouch from the barn like a gray opossum; or she’d hang in the milky moonlight burning like a medallion,
this bone dream, this friend I had to have, this old woman made out of leaves.
– Mary Oliver – Twelve Moons
While never naming nor summoning a great-great aunt from among the trees, my earliest memory is of gazing up into the spring green canopies of maple and chestnut, where placed in my buggy to nap, I’d be lulled to sleep by their fluttering leaves, the play of dappled light, and the hum of cars passing by. Those maples surrounded my great gran’s home on the street hemming the mighty Niagara River, while the chestnuts, with their lacy pyramids of pink and white blossoms and glossy brown nuts hidden behind green prickly shells, held court over the fence and in the backyard of our main floor apartment, it, too, on that same river street.
A small Canadian town, across the river from the bustle of a big American city, both trees and river became my touchstones, providing a grounding for the inner and outer bustle. It’s only as I’ve grown older that I realized the necessity of that gift to my well being, that I would have known them to be, claimed them to be my friends.
While reading this poem, wishing I’d had the imagination then to have conjured a friend made out of leaves, maybe it was simply a matter of being inarticulate and diffuse. Maybe imagination was always at play, given my natural affinity for always noticing trees as I walk with Annie, or ride shotgun, and knowing that sitting in my yard surrounded by trees has been healing post surgery and illness. Maybe too, I’ve had my own Aunt Leaf all this time, inviting me to wander the world, and walk in circles wide.
“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out my ears, my eyes, my noseholes – everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor.”
– Audre Lorde, A Burst of Light and other essays
When I read this quote earlier in the month, I thought, “That’s a powerful manifesto… just what I need to claim for myself for my birthday and beyond.”
I’d been home a week from my three weeks in Morocco, basking in the full sensory experience that IS Morocco. I had enjoyed myself immensely – a feeling that’s lingered now a month, delighted with my decision to have returned. I felt deeply content with how I’d shown up – not by bringing the best of me, but by bringing all of me. I used my skills to navigate some tricky dynamics, to ask for what I needed, and to offer what I could, including having “an answered prayer” in a room mate, simpatico were we in many ways. (Not everyday do you have a room mate who suggests we meditate daily.)
Travelling solo meant I needed to stretch beyond several comfort points, and while I had some inevitable moments of anxiety, scared even the final morning in Marrakech when my driver never showed, I tended to myself with care, regularly checking in, quietly reassuring myself. My boundaries were intact, yet flexible.
I’ve learned over years of travelling that my creative practices – photography and journaling with the occasional small painted vignette – give me both wonderful personalized memories and in the moment help ground and grok the rich day to day experiences. As I’ve upped my photography skills in the last year, my journal entries lapsed. So this week I filled them in using ticket stubs, brochures, business cards and photos to prompt my recollections. A touch of water colour to brighten the text heavy pages already embellished with washi tape.
In short, I came home, to use a somewhat passé, admittedly overused description, feeling empowered. Ready to keep on living the rest of my life until “I go like a fucking meteor,” just as I’ve long imagined myself coming in.
When we’re young there’s lots We don’t know about The beloved: How he or she is only housed Briefly in this or that body.
Mostly, the beloved is the world, But we’re not ready to see That yet, not able to bear The idea that the beloved Won’t necessarily gaze back at us With eyes like ours, won’t Wrap us in his or her arms.
We want risk, but comfort, too, Comfort most of all. We’re still clinging to our loneliness, Not yet ready to be alone.
– Gregory Orr – Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved
I think I’d heard of Gregory Orr. Read something of his when a poem arrives in my inbox, or crosses my Facebook feed. But this poem really grabbed me given its appearance this week during the still potent trifecta of faith traditions. From his publisher, Copper Canyon Press, Mary Oliver is quoted as having written about this volume: “What other poet do you know who would give his work such a title—ambitious and humble at the same time? He speaks now, in these many short poems, which in their entirety are really one long poem, of mysteries, of those things—emotions, situations, mind and heart states—which are beyond the definitive.”
In addition to poetry, and city happenings, my inbox welcomes me each morning with a variety of contemplative essays and musing . For one, this week’s theme has been resurrection: what it may have originally meant, how it’s been distorted over time and empire’s (mis)interpretation, and what it might mean in a renewed way today for us. Referencing contemporary theologian Matthew Fox, it offers that we “be resurrection” for ourselves and each other, by rising up and being counted through the commitment to hope and creativity…by being in love with Life.
Being in love with Life and recognizing that the beloved IS the world, are among travel’s most significant gifts to me. I carry home as “souvenir” the memory of my encounters with people, land and culture beyond my familiar, and I am renewed. I return empowered having traveled well with my self in “our” aloneness. And my curiosity, gratitude and imagination are enlivened.
Very much taken by this poet, and the bit I’ve read about him and from him as I prepare this post, I’ll conclude with another of his poems from the same volume, perhaps as wise instruction and reminder for me as I begin my next round of poetry submissions…
“How lucky we are That you can’t sell A poem” How lucky we are That you can’t sell A poem, that it has No value. Might As well Give it away.
That poem you love, That saved your life, Wasn’t it given to you?
The grass never sleeps. Or the roses. Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on his feet, and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move. Maybe the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not keep that vigil, how they must have wept, so utterly human, knowing this too must be part of the story.
– Mary Oliver –
It’s Good Friday, Passover, and mid way through Ramadan. To my way of thinking, the convergence of such significant holy days across these Abrahamic faith traditions signifies an energetic, archetypal potency, transcending dogma. So suggests Mary Oliver in the last stanza of this poem…the inevitability of utterly human error and vulnerability…as if written in the stars for all to unfold as it must.
I’ve written here in the past that I was born on Good Friday. For those who follow the traditions, this doesn’t translate to having a Good Friday birthday every year, though I have had several. Too, I’ve shared how having a birthday on what many view as the darkest day of the Christian calendar gave way over the years for much consternation and contemplation. Now I simply accept it as a meaningful thread within my personal narrative.
This year my birthday is tomorrow, Easter Saturday. Nearly three decades ago, I intuitively evolved the creation of a “coming of age” ceremony for that day, one held within the earliest traditions for baptism. For me, the declaration before my God that I was from that day forward accepting responsibility for my life…that I would now become my own “god mother.” This culminated in legally changing my name to honour the women after whom I’d been first named, and taking a third in gratitude for another who had championed me as a young girl. I became Katharine Maria Anneliese, names that took some time for me to publicly claim, and that I have been growing into ever since. Names that, in my opinion, age well with the promise and potential for ever becoming. Names that every day honour the ancestors, ancients and angels who guide me.
In a most lovely, spontaneous revealing, I learned a few months ago that I share a birth date with poet whose work I admire. Given some other shared affinities and affections, we’ve concluded a soul connection at work that might eventually bode well for some poetic collaborations. In the meantime, I send her my love and warmest wishes for a lovely April 8th birthday.
Packing up for a weekend away, the stark pleasure of compartments. A miniature version of my life.
It is never photographed so my great-grandchildren will never know it but this just-before time of folding and stuffing and zipping it all up is as delectable as the trip itself.
When I backpacked around Europe and India I was asked, don’t I feel vulnerable with everything I own on my back?
Goodness no, I replied, with no stuff to anchor me. I am free, which is the safest feeling of all.
-bentlily by Samantha Reynolds –
As some of you know I’ve been travelling this month. I returned to Morocco, a destination that captured my heart when I first visited in September, 2019. I’d made a deposit to return in 2020, then the world stopped and I needed to apply it this year before it expired. Given I was touring with the same small group, women only company, its itinerary evoked the comfort of familiarity with enough change brought by our remarkable local guide, Mariam, to keep it fresh and as enthralling.
A week ago, I enjoyed my final dinner at the riad in Marrakech sated by not only the varied collection of fresh Moroccan salads and flaky “briouats,” but also with the multitude of sensory impressions newly etched and deepened from my first visit. Morocco does that. In the surrounding silence, as dusk descended through the open roof, the first stars flickering, the only sound was the water tumbling into the pool below from where I sat. The following day would begin the journey home. Once returned, I came across Samantha’s poem on IG where she regularly posts. From Vancouver, Samantha is known for writing a poem a day, a practice she began as a first-time mother over ten years ago.
Struck particularly by Samantha’s last stanza – as one who travels light, able to curate clothing for three seasons for numerous weeks in a lightweight carry-on and messenger pack (in contrast to the huge pieces of luggage I saw on countless airport carousels, and in the back of our tour van, everyday portered by men at our various accommodations, and lifted and arranged twice a day by our driverHakim) – I responded, “The freedom in traveling light is practical and a powerful metaphor for life.“
Determined to shop very little this trip, and increasingly finding it is my way, as weighing heavy with time passing is wondering what I’ll do with and to whom I’ll give what I’ve gathered over the years. Yes, the carpets with their rich colours, textures and patterns are always my temptation, and offered the opportunity to practice non-attachment, albeit with much silent self-talk and a few tears of regret. Yet I did well… until that last day in Marrakech, when my guide casually walked me into a 12th C caravanserai, now restored and converted for local artisans. Immediately recognizable were paintings by an artist whose work I’d first purchased in Essaouira in 2019. I’d heard he lived in Marrakech, and there he wasat Galerie le coeur blanc, the studio shared with his better known brother, Hamid Khantour. Smitten again with his soft yet vivid palette and Moroccan subject matter, I caved and came way with two more pieces, confident they’d fit in my suitcase. Hah! Two inches too long, posing a packing up challenge.
Admittedly, a step backward in traveling light! But I loved supporting a local artist and making memories of my return to Morocco, soon to beseen every day on my walls.
Happy to be home. Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.
“You can’t measure your success by the number of people who follow you. You measure it by how true you are to path. Because if you aren’t true to path, no amount of societal success will ever gratify you. And if you are true to path, the way that the world receives you is of little significance because you have already found your way home.”
Jeff Brown, Hearticulations: on friendship, love and healing, 2020
Hmmmm…ideally, in principle, I know this to be true and appreciate Jeff’s reminder. Though right now, during the cinematic and music awards season, witnessing the unabashed joy, honor, respect, humility, and bewilderment experienced by winners, and too, by those who didn’t win (let’s step away from the binary), I do think such acknowledgement of one’s being “true to path” is important. Perhaps even vital. I sampled such sweetness when after several submissions over the past two years, and a couple of honourable mentions, I received the email this week announcing my poem had been chosen by the judges of Off Topic Publishing’s poetry contest. Last week another publisher wrote back in response to a submission that my three poems were “fabulous.” Had I not erred in submitting them simultaneously, often an acceptable practice but in this case forbidden, they’d be published this spring. A trifecta of success when the Edmonton Stroll of Poets selected one of my photos for the cover of its 2023 annual anthology, and too, a poem. A bit more remote, though nonetheless rewarding, is that my editor secured an international publisher for the education anthology she oversaw, for which I wrote the foreward and poetry for each section.
Do I feel joy, thankful, affirmed for my efforts? You bet I do. Emailing a friend, I wrote that the angels had given me just enough to nudge me on in this new calling. While I’d already lived the lesson of leaning into rejection and mustering perseverance – one I know will come again and again – after hiding in a cave for a couple of months upon taking way too seriously an off hand remark from an established local poet, I somehow found my way back to path by editing, writing and preparing over twenty submissions, including another send out of my collection, during the first two months of this year.
Now to wait and see…and finish packing for my return to Morocco, where for three weeks I’ll revisit a land that enchanted, enthralled, and inspired one of those “honorably mentioned” poems. I won’t be posting here this month. And while I’ll be photographing, I’m uncertain about posting on my Facebook and or Instagram accounts.
In the meantime, I wish you, dear friends, the uplifting joy in spring’s arrival together with much love and kindest regards.