Child stirring in the web of your mother Do not be afraid Old man turning to walk through the door Do not be afraid
– Joy Harjo – How We Became Human
Every day I receive and read several poems from various sources, including social media. Not too long ago I read a brief musing on poetry by philosopher, author, activist Bayo Akomolafe: “Poetry is the language of the apocalypse. When cracks appear, when tensions materialize and split the familiar open, the least thing you need is precision. The least thing you want is to simply get to the point. Well, the poet casts his eyes beside the point, beneath the surfaces, where the exquisite sprouts.”
As we step into this new year, one where cracks and tensions continue to be evident, continue to split open the familiar, this poem felt right as an offering and evocation of the exquisite. A prayer of sorts to greet the day, to remember the power of thoughts and beauty, to not be afraid.
He said, “I want only five things, five chosen roots. One is an endless love. Two is to see the autumn. I cannot exist without leaves flying and falling to the earth. The third is the solemn winter, the rain I loved, the caress of fire in the rough cold. Fourth, the summer, plump as a watermelon. And fifthly, your eyes.
– Pablo Neruda –
Ahhhh…Neruda and what his words evoke. As winter, solemn and bitterly cold, descends here on the northern prairies, I think of the gifts of living within the cycle of seasons. A radical simplicity in the noticing, naming and appreciating. The now foreshortened sun appears still in the Solstice sky, an offering I accept to sink into rest and reflection. Wishing you, dear friends, simple gifts of the season, kindest regards, and an endless love.
Blessed are you who bear the light in unbearable times, who testify to its endurance amid the unendurable, who bear witness to its persistence when everything seems in shadow and grief.
Blessed are you in whom the light lives, in whom the brightness blazes – you heart a chapel, an altar where in the deepest night can be seen the fire that shines forth in you in unaccountable faith, in stubborn hope, in love that illumines every broken thing it finds.
– Jan Richardson – Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, 2015
The irony of this season, where across faith traditions there is a focus on the return of the light, is that it is a time for many of us when the darker feelings of sadness, grief, loneliness and worry are felt more intensely and amplified in and around us. This poem helps me tenderly hold the tension of what and how I “think” I should feel in this time of celebration, with what and how I may actually feel. It reminds me that within each of us are “we who bear the light.”
May you grow still enough to hear the small noises earth makes in preparing for the long sleep of winter, so that you yourself may grow calm and grounded deep within.
May you grow still enough to hear the trickling of water seeping into the ground, so that your soul may be softened and healed, and guided in its flow.
May you grow still enough to hear the splintering of starlight in the winter sky and the roar at earth’s fiery core.
May you grow still enough to hear the stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that your inner silence may turn into hushed expectation.
Brother David Steintl-Rast
On the heels of Monday’s post, re-Wintering, one of the women in my circle wrote, “It has been interesting the way our conversation last week on “wintering” has continued to resonate…. A friend shared this with me and thought you would appreciate it as well.” As she offered, may we all “step consciously into December.”
SELF-COMPASSION My friend and I snickered the first time we heard the meditation teacher, a grown man, call himself honey, with a hand placed over his heart to illustrate how we too might become more gentle with ourselves and our runaway minds. It’s been years since we sat with legs twisted on cushions, holding back our laughter, but today I found myself crouched on the floor again, not meditating exactly, just agreeing to be still, saying honey to myself each time I thought about my husband splayed on the couch with aching joints and fever from a tick bite—what if he never gets better?— or considered the threat of more wildfires, the possible collapse of the Gulf Stream, then remembered that in a few more minutes, I’d have to climb down to the cellar and empty the bucket I placed beneath a leaky pipe that can’t be fixed until next week. How long do any of us really have before the body begins to break down and empty its mysteries into the air? Oh honey, I said—for once without a trace of irony or blush of shame— the touch of my own hand on my chest like that of a stranger, oddly comforting in spite of the facts.
– James Crews –
Every morning I’m greeted with two poems in my inbox: one from Canada’s League of Canadian Poets, and this one from The Academy of American Poets, “Poem-A-Day.” I think most of us need a daily dose of self-compassion, or at least to be reminded that gently placing our own hand on our own chest over our own heart is a kind and loving gesture we each deserve, and need.
Much love and kindest regards to you, dear friends.
this time the massive flooding and landslides a province away how a “river bomb” dropped a month of rain in two days on a landscape already battered and burned by last summer’s fires in a “heat dome” of hell weather descriptions I’ve never heard before
– yes, I think about people my kith and kin stuck in cars between mountains of mud swept over the edge covered like quick sand their homes and lives and livelihoods destroyed light a candle, say a prayer
I think about towns evacuated and flooded tossed like a child’s play blocks when the earth heaves decimated by flames stoked to a frenzy by raging winds
I wonder about the already fragile “supply chains” when the country’s largest seaport is held captive by a collapsed infrastructure cross country corridors for truck and train are broken
I remember this is today, here and now that yesterday it was someplace else and tomorrow there will be a tomorrow –
But it’s when I read about the thousands of animals drowning see farmers defying evacuation orders in attempts to save them imagine their terror as water submerges mud entombs fires incinerate
There is this thing called choice that we value so highly. Free will, some call it, all our decisions left to ourselves.
There is this thing call freedom that we value so highly. Live free or die trying, all our purposes set by our own hand.
There is this thing call rights that we value to highly. The right to decide, to protect. Everything sits upon it.
There is this thing called us that we struggle to value. Us eclipses my choices, my freedom, my rights.
Us means it’s harder, more complex, unknown.
– Gretta Vosper – Take a Deep Breath, 2019
I first met Gretta Vosper in autumn of 2019 when she keynoted an event at which I facilitated a session on creativity. An ordained minister of the United Church of Canada, Gretta is, paradoxically, a self-professed atheist. Unlike most in the gathering that weekend, I was completely unfamiliar with her and her reputation for a radical, fierce commitment to justice. But like most present when she spoke, I was deeply moved, to tears actually.
Recently re-reading her self published chapbook, Take a Deep Breath: A Poetic Pursuit of Justice (2019), I came across this poem which shimmered with remarkable prescience and current relevancy.
“A tree is a light-catcher that grows life from air.”
Maria Popova, “Why Leaves Change Color,” The Marginalian, October 26, 2021
That line stopped me for its simple truth and eloquent beauty.
This morning, basking in the “fall back” gift of an extra hour’s sleep, lingering over coffee with Annie beside me on “her” aptly named loveseat, I started to read Maria Popova’s wondrous words in her weekly newsletter, The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings). A click back to last week’s issue, an essay on the process – both scientific and philosophic – of photosynthesis and the colour of autumn leaves. “Could anyone write more beautifully about the magic of this process, this season, and its connotations?” I whispered to myself.
“Autumn is the season of ambivalence and reconciliation, soft-carpeted training ground for the dissolution that awaits us all, low-lit chamber for hearing more intimately the syncopation of grief and gladness that scores our improbable and finite lives — each yellow burst in the canopy a reminder that everything beautiful is perishable, each falling leaf at once a requiem for our own mortality and a rhapsody for the unbidden gift of having lived at all. That dual awareness, after all, betokens the luckiness of death.”
Every Saturday morning has found me walking in the autumn splendor of Edmonton’s North Saskatchewan River Valley. Having just completed the ninth of twelve weekly stages, I continue to be in awe of the season’s vibrant colours. Too, with the exceptional lack of snow, though this week saw a skin of ice on a large pond, and a patch of thick frozen runoff. Every week, I make photographs from what I see, from what especially shimmers and shines. And without fail, most of those photos are of trees in their golden, vermillion, russet, and bronze glory. Of their transition from fully “dressed” to bare limbed. Some resplendent with red, black, and purple berries; some with tight portending buds. Yesterday I remarked to my husband that no one can say we don’t have colourful autumns here on the prairies. He reminded me it’s that we don’t typically have the massive globes of colour from the towering hardwood oaks and maples. Yes, here one must look closer in, not quite so high up, nearer to the ground for such treasures.
“As daylight begins fading in autumn and the air cools, deciduous trees prepare for wintering and stop making food — an energy expenditure too metabolically expensive in the dearth of sunlight. Enzymes begin breaking down the decommissioned chlorophyll, allowing the other pigments that had been there invisibly all along to come aflame. And because we humans so readily see in trees metaphors for our emotional lives, how can this not be a living reminder that every loss reveals what we are made of — an affirmation of the value of a breakdown?”
As I’ve written before, my earliest memory is of laying in my baby buggy, looking into trees – the new green maple leaves and the spaces in between onto the sky. The fluttering and swaying, in the growing warmth of spring, caught my budding curiosity, creating a life-long affinity for their beauty and recognition of their healing balm and wisdom.
So it is that I appreciate Popova’s naming other, perhaps less ‘attractive’ metaphoric connections between ourselves and trees – death and breakdowns. And why this poem of Mary Oliver rings so deeply true:
WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily. I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often. Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches. And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
When walking in the woods, Or on a path, Or down the street, In a store, Or just upstairs, When you are intent on going, Where ever it is you are going, Stop. Stand still.
Notice how the mind can chatter, Like purple finches in the trees, Endlessly clicking and warbling, Rising and falling and rising again. Notice all your plans and longings, All the things you got, but didn’t want, All you wanted, and didn’t get, All the circular conversations aimed at changing, What was already said or unsaid. Notice all the losses you are carrying, With as much grace as you can muster.
Notice the sky, the feel of the air on your skin, The sounds or what hangs in the silence, The hard knot in your throat. Notice all these things and more, Because there is always more. Then let your heart open, Even just a crack, A dribble or a dam break, It doesn’t matter. Because it is in that opening, You’ll find a clear space The one you keep finding And losing And finding again.
Remember to love it all, All of it. Hold hands and high five With what’s easy and dear, Ephemeral and brilliantly ordinary. Wrap compassion like a blanket The kind we place tenderly, Around other people’s shoulders, When the disaster is done and the worst is over. Love it all, Without looking for any way out, Not condoning, just allowing, For it all to just live, Where it lives. Love everything that broke your heart open That changed you forever, That made you softer, And helped you understand, What you could not have understood otherwise. Love what you’ve endured, Love what you are still enduring. Love the purple finches and the sidewalk, The view from the upstairs window, The brambles and wild asters, And the click of the keyboard.
Love all of this Small and fragile, Big and beautiful, Life.
Then take the next step.
– Carrie Newcomer –
As I wrote in my post Walking, I like to meander and saunter. I like to pause to listen, to look up into the sky, into the trees, onto the expanse of river or field. Yes, to find the image that shimmers, but also to empty myself of all the clutter and clatter so I can take in a bit of what surrounds me, let it envelope me, inside and out.
When Annie and I walk, she is patient with me, as I pause, as I focus my camera, as I stop to talk with a neighbor. Just one of the many things I love about her.
This poem arrived in the monthly “Growing Edge” newsletter by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer. Evoking David Wagoner’s “Lost,” and David Whyte’s “Start Close In,” I love Carrie’s grace-filled noticing and wise counsel to love everything that breaks our hearts open…makes us softer…that we’ve endured and are still enduring, while encouraging us always to take the next step.
Dear friends, may you, too, love it all and take the next step.
You ask me how to pray to someone who is not. All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard, Above landscapes the color of ripe gold Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun. That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’ Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately, Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh And knows that if there is no other shore We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.
~ Czeslaw Milosz ~
I took this photo last weekend during my weekly “Camino de Edmonton,” where a group of us walk through the river valley – from east to west, intwelve stages of eight to fifteen kilometers – from September to the end of November. This is the city’s railroad trestle bridge constructed in 1908, a still-standing, functional testament to what built Canada “from sea to shining sea.” Earlier in the week, I “saved” this poem and knew it would be the perfect complement, or my photo the perfect complement to it. Synchronicity in the married beauty of word and image. My life as poem and prayer…and photo.