“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.
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)
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.
“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
“I keep having variations on the same conversation with friends and strangers and colleagues. How extraordinary it feels, for those of us in places of the world that are opening up, to do ordinary things like hug people and walk unmasked into common spaces and even just be at the office. Yet: how strangely, puzzlingly unnerving it all also can feel.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021
Yes. Yes. Yes. How extraordinary to hug my friends; to dine out last night inside a favourite restaurant, one buzzing with the energy and enjoyment of patrons at every table. Yet strange, puzzling and unnerving. Yes.
I continue to vacillate between wanting full out engagement (in my introverted, socially anxious way) to remaining cocooned in my backyard. The once ordinary still suspended, not yet settled. Last night we were shown our table, the only one remaining, positioned at the entrance, one I would have typically refused for its situation on the threshold between its comings and goings. However, it had the most space around it, wasn’t as noisy, and oddly enough, provided comfort consistent with my lived experience of the world on a threshold, between its comings and goings.
A lesson in this for me: that what I had previously relied on and looked for – both out there and in here (I type, pointing to my body) – for comfort and confidence, to have capability and competency, for helping me to show up well in my life, is now up for review, reconsideration, and revision. That there’s an invitation in the subtle discomfort arising from being and doing that no longer feels quite right.
“We are, on many levels, in a new chapter — following on the multiple chapters of the past 18 months. This is a time of transition. It’s a liminal space emotionally, psychologically, physically, institutionally, relationally.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021
In the past few weeks, since my province “opened up” and relaxed all public health restrictions, I’ve had several anxious filled dreams each with the theme of identity – lost, stolen, awakened – from being confronted on the “conflict of interest” within myself and with community; to having my wallet with my driver’s license and health cards, and my passport stolen; to having my home overtaken by technicians and researchers, there to rewire it and me. This, as my country awakens, yet again, to its history and horrific impacts of the identity “theft” and “rewiring” of its First Peoples via the Indian Act and residential schools. This, as our world awakens in the aftermath of the life altering pandemic.
“Part of what we need to do now is rest, as we are able. To let ourselves fall apart, perhaps. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been hard to fully articulate what was happening inside us and how that was ricocheting between us. Now, we are in a new moment, called to feel what we need to feel, to find words and new intelligence of practice in all the spaces we inhabit and work in and relate in. To acknowledge what we’ve survived, what we’ve lost, what we’ve begun to learn.”
Krista Tippett, The Pause, July 17, 2021
In the past few days I have been incredibly tired. Perhaps a run of nights of fitful sleep under a “heat dome” is finally taking its toll. Too, I have been filled with sadness beyond plausible attribution. While I have been pretty good at processing throughout the pandemic – here, in my journal, and in conversation – as the once immediate focus on covid is wrestled away by staggering climate catastrophes near and far, and other innumerable violence and tragedies, grief – in all its spaces and places – continues to seek my acknowledgement and its expression.
To help me find the wisdom in this liminal time. To shape anew myself, my relationships with others, and with my world. To do so without quite knowing how.
“Grief is not so much a process that we “make it through” and come out the other side fully intact, but a non-linear, purifying midwife of the unknown.”
Matt Licata, personal blog, June 16, 2021
Another one of these posts that pauses to simply notice and somewhat name.
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.
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.
“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.”
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?
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.
This supper a somber affair. The feast of Passover always is, but tonight is more so.
A foreboding hangs in the air, though it appears only the man they call Jesus knows its source. The other men, twelve in total, follow their master’s lead, talking quietly among themselves, unsure of what is unfolding.
I am the unleavened bread made special to order for this gathering. My flavor is bland but when I am broken and dipped into the finest quality olive oil, I come alive in the mouths of those who chew me. I fill their stomachs with a hefty goodness.
Now I hear the man they call Jesus say I am his body. What does this mean?
Now I absorb my cousin, the heavy, dark red wine that each man sips, as the same man says, it is his blood. What does this mean?
Together, I and my cousin, the fruit of the vine made wine, are proclaimed the body and blood of this man. I know not how this is so. But I do know that as each man slowly chews me, and reverently sips my cousin, savors us together with this man’s words, we warm their bodies as we nourish and enliven them.
Now, we are part of them and what is to come.
Now we, in each of their bodies, travel to the Mount of Olives, the home of our friend, the olive oil.
Now, I sit heavy like a stone in their stomachs as they hear their master tell them they will fall away from him. I feel their stomachs clench around me.
One man, emboldened by that inner alchemy between me and my cousin, steps close to his master and passionately declares his love and commitment.
Now, this same man, resisting the bile rising in his gullet from us as we sour in his belly, the reaction to being told he will soon deny his master three times, more passionately denies this.
Soon, for some, our life giving to be denied, too.
– KW –
An experiment in Midrash, the ancient Jewish practice of re-imagining sacred text, I wrote this piece during my participation last spring in the Abbey of the Arts “Soul of a Pilgrim” online retreat. As weekly my photo and poem feature, I’m posting this a day early, in acknowledgement of the Last Supper, commemorated in the Christian tradition on Maundy Thursday.
I’ve been thinking about joy and lament for the past few days. How – as poet Christine Valters Paintner described them – as “sisters,” who make space for one another, even, I’d say, needing one another for a purer expression of each. I had logged onto a live Zoom call with Christine and a couple of hundred others from around the world for this year’s Novena for Times of Unravelling, another soulful offering from the Abbey of the Arts, this time oriented around the principles of their Monk’s Manifesto.
This day’s theme was cultivating creative joy by letting body and “heart overflow with the inexpressible delights of love.” Christine was clear to say this joy “isn’t about happiness, but something deeper…an opening to the capacity to taste paradise…and that this capacity for joy is in proportion to our capacity for grief.”
A few days earlier, I sent a “thank you” email off to another favourite poet, Samantha Reynolds, who writes under the pen name of “bentlily.” I think I’ve mentioned here that every Monday I’m greeted with her past week’s offering of daily poems, her practice for eleven years of musing on life’s daily moments. Included that week was her “17 flavours of joy”, evoking my memory of the “visceral experience of joy hurting a bit, being like an arrow that pierces my heart…unlike happiness, which is lovely, but not nearly as deep, as profound, as indelible.”
Today, a full moon, and in the Christian tradition, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Too, the beginning of Jewish Passover. And in a couple of weeks, Ramadan. A “trifecta” of high holy days among the Abrahamic religions. I always intuit a certain potency of energy and possibility during such synchronicities. Maybe even a thinning of the veil. Certainly, an opening to the range of feelings and memories evoked. Life’s joys and laments.
“I want the beauty, the psychedelic wildflowers, the call of the wild birds. I want all of that shimmering beauty to illuminate the northern darkness. We have peace of a kind, but no cultural resolution — the tensions which produced the Troubles are still there. It is important for me to see beautiful Carrigskeewaun as part of the same island as Belfast.”
Michael Longley in On Being with Krista Tippett, March 25, 2021
I like how he describes what being a poet and writing poetry mean for him.
“…good art, good poems, is making people more human, making them more intelligent, making them more sensitive and emotionally pure than they might otherwise be.”
Michael Longley in On Being with Krista Tippett, March 25, 2021
For me, the capacity to hold joy and lament…in one’s life, in situ.