Finding A Way

Maybe I have been languishing a bit. It’s been a month since I last wrote here. While most Fridays I’ve managed to post my photo and poem features, sometimes offering a bit of explanation as to why this poem now, I haven’t had the jam to write much else on this platform.

I have been writing. A couple of pieces for EdmontonEats (that sweet official writing gig), magazine submissions, poetry contests, and an application to an online summer writing session where, if accepted, I want to learn what it means to be a writer and hone my skills. Cover letters, bio notes, project proposals. At times I feel daunted by the newness of it all, and too, with the solitary, at times lonely space in which I am crafting this new identity, word by word. And it comes.

I thought about writing a piece describing last month’s felling of our Willow. I would have titled it “Beloved Willow Be Gone,” for in eight hours, with a three person crew of master arborists roping, climbing, cutting, grinding, and carrying, that magnificent fifty year old tree was no more. I now see too much of the backsides of garages, sheds and houses, and feel exposed unlike ever before during the near forty years we’ve lived here. But I do see an expanse of sky unlike I’ve ever seen, and we have more sun in the morning, making coffee on the deck a lovely start to the day. Winds have blown very strong many days since, and I am relieved not to wonder and worry would Willow finally give way, crashing into those garages, sheds and houses. Soon the stump will be ground and we’ll plant a new tree…a Mayday with its signature prairie spring perfume and white wedding bouquet blossoms…a quick growing canopy that will eventually begin to fill the still, stark void.

I simply didn’t have the gumption to write more than my “four word sad story” about the recent “discovery” of hundreds of unmarked indigenous children’s graves on the grounds of a residential school. The original reported number, 215, is now over 1000 after other grounds were explored, and is expected to rise significantly as all school sites across Canada are examined. My country’s dark secrets are literally being unearthed and coming to light. It is time, long overdue. I knew my words would be trite and so commit to listening, learning, and being open to being disturbed into wise and respectful action.

National Indigenous Day Celebrations, Jasper, Alberta

And then there’s the pandemic which, by the sounds of it, might become history next month, which is only a few days away. My province is intent to remove all safety measures come July 1st. Other provinces are following suit sooner than later. Vaccinations feel like a “get out of jail” pass. And while I’ve received both shots, I’m hesitant, skeptical even with this abrupt and arbitrary “end” while cities around the world are going back into lockdown as more virulent variants take hold.

Last week we drove to the mountains for a few days. Our first trip since this all began last March. Sitting on the dock our first evening, a balmy summer solstice, I felt myself decompress with every sigh, releasing months of anxiety and uncertainty. I imagined Nature having a mighty big job ahead as she transmutes everything released by people letting go of all we’ve carried these many months. But I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet.

Every week I receive a wonderful letter, The Pause, written by poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, giving insight into the coming week’s On Being podcasts. This week, he describes the conversation Krista Tippett has with Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows about their new translation of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. You know I’m a Padraig fan, quoting him here often. Once again, his words resonate and offer me a fitting conclusion to my meanderings today:

“The world — as it is envisaged in Rilke’s letters — is not a tame place. It is filled with pain and potential; joy and separation; war and wonder. These are not meant to be easy companions, and this is part of the marrow of the letters to a young poet: find a way to hold yourself while being in the world that is around you.”

Much love and kindest regards, 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.

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.

Homage III – to social consciousness

Pádraig Ó Tuama

your voice the companion to my otherwise silent walks
reciting others’ poems in my ears
offering interpretation and invitation into
new contexts, meanings, shapes, and forms

I’d thought that glorious enough until
I heard your voice recite your words
interpret and invite me into hearing anew
holy scripture and story

your poems a clarion call
to love and justice
to curiosity and compassion
to wondering as I walk
who am I and how am I complicit
in empire’s delusion?

Naomi Shihab Nye

hearing her disembodied voice
coming to you across the plaza in Columbia
telling you of kindness and its peculiar kin
you take the only possessions you have left –
save the clothing on your back –
and with pen and notebook alone
take dictation, writing words that become
iconic for their naked, known truth

too, in Albuquerque’s airport
you hear her call
and with your broken Arabic and wide-open heart
you tend to the distressed grandmother
both of you delayed at the gate
soon a party breaks out
as Arabic cookies and American juice boxes are shared
community made among women
dusted for those hours of waiting
in something far sweeter than powdered sugar

something my heart yearns for
with every poem of yours I read

This is my third and final set of poems written as tribute to poets for National Poetry Month. I “met” Pádraig Ó Tuama last spring walking with Annie and listening to him host the podcast, Poetry Unbound. Becoming a fan, I discovered he was Poet-in-Residence at NYC’s Church of the Heavenly Rest, leading virtual workshops on contemporary interpretation of scripture, guided by his work in social justice and conflict mediation in Ireland. Naomi Shihab Nye came to my attention with her wondrous poem of tending and befriending at the Albuquerque Airport, Gate A-4. Her work often sheds light on the plight of refugees, immigration, cultural conflict, and belonging. Both poets incisively invite me into deepening consciousness of my privilege, complicity, and commitments.

Please Forgive This Interruption

Berber woman on the Sahara fetching water

PLEASE FORGIVE THIS INTERRUPTION

Please forgive this interruption.
I am forging a career,
a delicate enterprise
of eyes. Yours included.
We will meet at the corner,
you with your sack lunch,
me with my guitar.
We will be wearing our famous street faces,
anonymous as trees.
Suddenly you will see me,
you will blink, hesitant,
then realize I have not looked away.
For one brave second
we will stare
openly
from borderless skins.
This is my salary.
There are no days off.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~

Monday’s post, Our First Panniversary, struck a chord for readers, resonating with their own growing pandemic impatience, frustration, grief and weariness. This week, again, reading of lockdowns in Italy, France and Germany; and another white man going on a shooting spree in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, aimed at Asian Americans prompted posting this poem. My reminder to pause, notice, see, and really take you in through my eyes into my heart.

Make America Again

Chicago Skyline, 2010

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

– Langston Hughes –

I’d been waiting until the results of the American presidential election to share Hughes’ powerful words, written in 1935. It’s been sitting in my draft file for over two months. Today, two weeks since the unprecedented attack on the Capital Building, many in the world witness the inaugurations of Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice-president of the United States. Eighty-five years since Hughes penned his clarion call. And as many have written in these past weeks, there is much work to heal from the ravages of the pandemics of racism and COVID-19. “Make America again!” May it be so.

Wind’s Wisdom

BREATHE

Breathe, said the wind

How can I breathe at a time like this,
when the air is full of the smoke
of burning tires, burning lives?

Just breathe, the wind insisted.

Easy for you to say, if the weight of
injustice is not wrapped around your throat,
cutting off all air.

I need you to breathe.

I need you to breathe.

Don’t tell me to be calm
when there are so many reasons
to be angry, so much cause for despair!

I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,
I said to breathe.

We’re going to need a lot of air
to make this hurricane together.

– Lynn Unger –

Words That Might Matter

I have none.

For the past few weeks I’ve struggled to find any words that might matter both inside and out there. A few weeks back, the words of others helped me find my way through to some of mine. But right now I need to admit, as I did in reply to a friend’s ever thoughtful and beautiful blog post, that I am feeling emptied of words that might matter.

Quite paradoxical, that with the bigness, muchness, fullness of everything in the world right now, for this past quarter year living in this Covid-19 pandemic, now doubled-down with as insidious and deadly a pandemic, racism, I am empty.

I read, I watch, I listen to people whose voices I need to hear and need to learn from. And in response, I have lost mine.

Perhaps it’s a matter of laying fallow, much as I have felt myself to be these past weeks, when I suddenly realized that for the first time in my five decades’ long working life, I am now without and see no “what next.” Again, the paradox that with the full blush and burst of spring, and now summer’s arrival, at least by the calendar’s indication, I feel myself more to be in the late fall, early winter. One of life’s many liminal spaces and places.

Or perhaps it’s like this. An excerpt from John O’Donohue’s blessing for a father, sent in reply to a long lost friend, and to my own father for today, Father’s Day.

“There are many things
We could have said,
But words never wanted
To name them;
And perhaps a world
That is quietly sensed
Across the air
In another’s heart
Becomes the inner companion
To one’s own unknown.”

John O’Donohue, To Bless The Space Between Us, 2008

Wave After Wave

I heard it said last week that it’s never going back to the way it was. While said in the context of the current Black Lives Matter protests and uprisings in our cities, communities, and consciousness, I think it could also be said of the other deadly pandemic, COVID-19. For both, in our news and conversations, on social media platforms and our minds, words and images of updates and opinions, reactions and responses feel like waves breaking on the shoreline. Constant, rhythmic, one after the other.  No sooner does one recede when another rolls in. Sometimes soothing me with optimism and hope. Sometimes pounding with a storm’s fury and rage.

“Your fidelity to love, that is all you need.
No day will then match your strength.

What was once a fear or problem will see
you coming, and step aside…or run.”

Daniel Ladinsky, A Year With Hafiz, 2011

At this moment, I’m on a live stream service from a church in my community. Centered on Pride Month, I watch the video story of how in 1999 it made the commitment to become an openly affirming congregation. Since the video’s production in 2006, I hear that while so much has changed, so much remains the same. Underscored is that protest is often the catalyst for change. That our ongoing attention, care and action is always needed. That the journey for justice never ends.

And so, we keep on.

One breath after another.

One foot after another.

One wave after another.

Real Work

Marches have continued around the world this past week protesting racial injustice and police brutality. In my city, right now receiving the much-needed steady soaking from a weekend of rain, it is estimated that 15,000 people gathered during Friday evening’s sunshine and warm weather on the grounds of our provincial legislature. Wearing masks, carrying signs, “taking a knee”, all thankfully without the eruption of the violence other cities have recently seen, though social distancing protocols to stave off infection from the other pandemic, COVID-19, were hard to maintain.

Diego Romero, Digital Journalist for CTV News, “Fight for Equity: More than 10,000 people rally against racism at legislature”, June 5, 2020

Initially, I had planned to attend, but my best intentions gave way to accepting I was unable to put myself at risk due to chronic health factors, and a growing anxiety that signaled my need to pay attention. While I would miss the march, I would be in this fight for the long haul.

After concluding my participation in the eight week The Soul of a Pilgrim program this weekend, come Tuesday I’ll begin a twelve-week book study, reflection, and conversation of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, hosted by a small group of thoughtful, seasoned practitioners of The Circle Way. Together, we will create a safe and strong container to do our real, hard, and necessary work of identifying both within and without the systemic impacts of white supremacy and racism. It is a beginning of a long and real journey.

“It may be that when we
no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we
no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey…”

Wendell Berry

Mindful of so much that has been happening in the world around me, this past week had me thinking back to a year ago when I experienced my first Peer Spirit Wilderness Quest. Hosted and guided by the founders of The Circle Way, Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin, with their quest guide colleague, Deborah Greene-Jacobi , the stars and my schedule had finally aligned to make the trek to the eastern slopes of Washington’s Cascade Mountains. With “hindsight being 2020,” I’m grateful to have gone last year because this year’s quest had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Months before my departure, I was thoughtfully and carefully prepared with packing lists, activities to discern my intention, clarifying conversations, and closer to the date, travel and weather details.  Once arrived, I joined a beautifully multi-generational, cross-cultural cohort of eleven men and women, some who had travelled from as far as Australia and Germany.  Once settled, we soon began in earnest, readying our tent sites and ourselves to fast solo on the Sacred Mountain for three days and nights.

Sitting and sleeping alone, with the sun and moon, the stars and the clouds, the wind, groves of aspen, spruce, pine and fir, birds and bugs as my companions, created a mighty connection and opened a portal through which I felt the wisdom and life giving and saving gifts of Nature. I did not return with answers to questions, nor even clarity as to first step directions to take. Instead, I was filled to overflowing with gratitude and reverence for all and everything that had brought me to this point in my life. I felt a deep appreciation that was beyond words, with no regrets. And I experienced an inner consolidation of hard l/earned presence.

The wilderness quest is very much akin to the pilgrim’s journey. Both are predicated on a final stage of “coming home” to oneself and one’s community, and to incorporation (in corpus – in body) of lessons learned, questions discerned, gifts received. (Again a synchronicity with this first year anniversary is that this last week’s eighth and final practice in The Soul of a Pilgrim is “coming home.”) This to then to awaken to the next call to begin again. Last year’s quest still reverberates and compelled me to follow the energy to The Soul of a Pilgrim. Now both call me into the work of dismantling my racism, taking guidance from this kind and compassionate wisdom:

“What continues to be the deepest wisdom for me
is the call to release my effort, the summons to fall into
the embrace of the One who offers an abundance of nourishment.
I’m learning to trust in the unfinished nature of things.
This calls me to give my heart to my work,
as I always strive to do,
and then wrap myself in the shawl of humility
to honor my own limitations.”

Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim , 2015