Friday, December 31, 2010

This Too

There was the body of the fawn, in the leaves,
under the tall oaks.
There was the face, the succulent mouth,
the pink, extruded tongue.
There were the eyes.
There was its dark dress, half pulled off.
There were its little hooves.
There was the smell of change, which was
There was my dog's nose, reading the silence
like a book.
No one spoke, not the Creator, not the Preserver, not the Destroyer.
There was the sound of wind in the leaves,
in the tall oaks.
There was the terrible excitement
of the flies.

Two nights ago I saw the movie, "All the Little Animals" that is about, in part, a man who dedicates his life to burying dead animals he finds along the side of the road. He considers this his lifelong work and takes on an apprentice to carry on after he too lies in the ground.  At one point in the movie the apprentice, Bobby, silently digs what might be his own grave. As he ponders his own death, he suddenly feels lighter and more whole than he ever has.  He notices everything, and in this clarity he grows excited as his life and death give him meaning.   

Death, this too, must we not only notice in every detail, but love?

Whose death do you remember in detail, and how does this add to your life today?

Thursday, December 30, 2010



In the green and purple weeds called Zostera, loosely swinging in the shallows,

I waded, I reached my hands in that most human of gestures-to find,

to see, to hold whatever it is that's there-and what came up

wasn't much but it glittered and struggled, and it had eyes, and a body

like a wand, it had pouting lips.  No longer, all of it,

than any of my fingers, it wanted away from my strangeness, it wanted

to go back into that waving forest so quick and wet. I forget

when this happened, how many years ago I opened my hands-like a promise

i would keep my whole life, and have-and let it go.  I tell you this

in case you have yet to wade into the green and purple shallows where the diminutive

pipefish wants to go on living. I tell you this against everything you are-

your human heart, your hands passing over the world, gathering and closing, so dry and slow.

We soon approach the time of promises - the New Year's time of resolutions and the hope of will.  How do we make commitments against who we evolved to be?  For our hands were made to close so we could  gather in all that we can  - mates for children, kin for protection, foraged plants and hunted beings for food, and rocks and metals for weapons.  Our hands were also made to open so that they could fill again. Likewise our hearts were made to break open so that they could fill again and again.  How do we tip the scales so that our hands work more towards life, than for death? 

My answer:  letting go.

My promise:  letting go

What is your promise that you would keep your whole life?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hannah's Children

They will come in their own time,
probably in the black
funnel of the night,
and probably in secret-
No one will see
their marvelous coming
But the other goats,
and Maple the pony.

Now, on the evening
of the last counted day,
We latch the stable door.
As the white moon rises
She settles to her knees.

Her curious yellow eyes-
Old as the stones
of Greece, of the mountains
That were born with the world-
Look at us in friendship,
and then look away,

Inward, Inward
to the sacred groves

In Jewish stories there are two prominent Hannahs. One is the mother of Samuel, who was the last of the Hebrew Judges, the first of the major prophets, and the anointer of the first  kings of Israel, Saul and David.  He warns the people of how kings should be held to account.

The other has sevens sons who along with her were arrested shortly before the revolt of Judas Maccabees (2 Maccabees 8).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to force them to eat pork, and when they refused, he executed all 7 sons before the mother's eyes. 

What will happen to Hannah's children?  Will her kids know boredom, captivity, and slaughter?  Through their eyes will we see into other kingdoms, and refuse to eat of their flesh and sacrifice others?  Will they ask us to hold ourselves to account?  Out of the oceans, out of Africa, out of the sacred groves we come - let us not kingdoms rue but friendship rule. 

What prophecy do you hear in this poem?     

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Gift

After the wind-bruised sea
furrowed itself back
into the folds of blue, I found
in the black wrack

a shell called the Neptune -
tawny and white,
with a tail

and a tower
and a dark door,
and all of it
no larger

than my fist.
It looked, you might say,
very expensive.
I thought of its travels

in the Atlantic's
wind-pounded bowl
and wondered
that it was still intact.

Ah yes, there was
that door
that held only the eventual, inevitable

There's that - there's always that.
Still, what a house
to leave behind!
I held it

like the wisest of books
and imagined
its travels toward my hand.
And now, your hand.

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for Arnie Bleiweiss, a fellow member of my congregation.   We celebrated his life as we heard sharing after sharing about the remarkable life he had led. He had given a great gift of science, mentorship, and companionship to those around him.   The house was packed with people who had come to cherish, and to say goodbye.  Though there were moments of laughter, there were also tears. For the sanctuary was so empty without him. 

But what a house he left behind! I thank him for his wisdom and his memories, that travel from my heart and now to yours.

What house do you know that now stands empty, but is evidence of pricelessness?

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Meeting

She steps into the dark swamp
where the long wait ends.

The secret slippery package
drops to the weeds.

She leans her long neck and tongues it between breaths slack with exhaustion

and after a while it rises and becomes a creature
like her, but much smaller.

So now there are two. And they walk together
like a dream under the trees.

In early June, at the edge of a  field
thick with pink and yellow flowers

I meet them.
I can only stare.

She is the most beautiful woman
I have ever seen.

Her child leaps among the flowers,
the blue of the sky falls over me

like silk, the flowers burn, and I want
to live my life all over again, to begin again,

to be utterly

The melody of birth harmonizes with the haunting notes of death and calls us into the wilderness.  Entering that path, footsteps pause and our resolve falters, for we know not what is before us.  Yet if we do not go forward, we will miss the most beautiful sight we will ever see.

What is it that you would see along this path?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Under the leaves, under
the first loose
levels of earth
they're there -- quick
as beetles, blind
as bats, shy
as hares but seen
less than these --
among the pale girders
of appleroot,
rockshelf, nests
of insects and black
pastures of bulbs
peppery and packed full
of the sweetest food:
spring flowers.
Field after field
you can see the traceries
of their long
lonely walks, then
the rains blur
even this frail hint of them --
so excitable,
so plush,
so willing to continue
generation after generation
accomplishing nothing
but their brief physical lives
as they live and die,
pushing and shoving
with their stubborn muzzles against
the whole earth,
finding it

Last week I saw a gopher, this illusive creature. She had died, and was on the sandy road leading to our home. I do not know if she had been run over by a car before or after her death. I picked her up and marveled at her being - she was made to live underground and to thrive there.  She seemed so different from me as I lay her under the leaves covering the roots of a roadside tree.

Is she really so different?  Are we here to do anything more than live and die, and to sing that song on days of joy and of despair, ultimately finding it all delicious?

How do you stubbornly exist?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Black Snake

I startled a young black snake: he
flew over the grass and hid his face

under a leaf, the rest of him in plain sight.
Little brother, often I've done the same.

It's Christmas Day and  wonder where I shall hide today.  In calls to relatives far away?  In the festive mid-day meal?  In the special treat of a matinee?  Today I celebrate gratitude and the gifts of the spirit and the body, while in plain sight, on the front page, on the news, and on the faces around me there are those who cannot hide from hardship.  Today I think I shall go searching for a tale I can get a hold of and pull the feelings from my heart so that I might face all that is, and so that I might  love all that is.

What tale shall you face today?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Other Kingdoms

Consider the other kingdoms.  The
trees, for example, with their mellow-sounding
titles: oak, aspen, willow.
Or the snow, for which the peoples of the north
have dozens of words to describe its
different arrivals.  Or the creatures, with their
thick fur, their shy and wordless gaze.  Their
infallible sense of what their lives
are meant to be.  Thus the world
grows rich, grows wild, and you too,
grow rich, grow sweetly wild, as you too
were born to be.

Ten months ago Mary had a poem, "The Other Kingdoms" where crows rebuke her for entering their kingdom.  I replied that "the crows in their calls test our resolve - do we or do we not belong to the family of things?  We do.  Love does not lie."

Not only do we belong to the family of things, we belong to our own human family.  We were born to fuss and to scrape, to murder and to grieve, to grow addicted and complacent, and to weep at a child's birth and a spouse's death.  This we were born to do,, and yet, so much more.

Each day we have the chance to grow richer and wilder. 

How shall you grow rich and wild today?

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Now I see it--
it nudges with its bulldog head
the slippery stems of the lilies, making them tremble;
and now it noses along in the wake of the little brown teal

who is leading her soft children
from one side of the pond to the other; she keeps
close to the edge
and they follow closely, the good children--

the tender children,
the sweet children, dangling their pretty feet
into the darkness.
And now will come--I can count on it--the  murky splash,

the certain victory
of that pink and gassy mouth, and the frantic
circling of the hen while the rest of the chicks
flare away over the water and into the reeds, and my heart

will be most mournful
on their account.  But, listen,
what's important?
Nothing's important

except that the great and cruel mystery of the world,
of which this is a part,
not to be denied.  Once,
I happened to see, on a city street, in summer,

a dusty, fouled turtle plodded along--
a snapper--
broken out I suppose from some backyard cage--
and I knew what I had to do--

I looked it right in the eyes, and I caught it--
I put it, like a small mountain range,
into a knapsack, and I took it out
of the city, and I let it

down into the dark pond, into
the cool water,
and the light of the lilies,
to live.

In denying death, we refuse life.   I didn't always know this.  As a child I mourned for the animal children of the world, and so became a bird veterinarian.  I could not bear to lose one beauty to anything, for all loss was deemed cruel to me.  Then came a time when not only could I not end the curse of death, but was the cause of it.

In my bird clinic in Guatemala I was taking care of a Grey Hawk who had been shot, and a Pygmy Kingfisher who had been poisoned.  I fumed at my own kind who had done such deeds!  As they were wild birds I had to separate them from our aviary birds, so I placed them in separate cages in quarantine - our bathroom.  It was such a small space for prey and predator to share.  One day, the minute kingfisher flew out from cage through the bars, and into the talons of the hawk.  In the attempt to save, I had set up the circumstances of death. 

So too Mary with the saving of her turtle. So too us all as we step out unto the day to live.

What is your place in setting up circumstances of death?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Coyote in the Dark, Coyotes Remembered

The darkest thing met me in the dark.
It was only a face and a brace of teeth
that held no words, though I felt a salty breath
sighing in my direction.
Once, in an autumn that is long gone,
I was down on my knees in the cranberry bog
and heard, in that lonely place,
two voices coming down the hill, and I was thrilled
to be granted this secret,
that the coyotes, walking together can talk together,
for I thought, what else could it be?
And even though what emerged
were two young women, two-legged for sure
and not at all aware of me,
their nimble, young women tongues
telling and answering, and though I knew
I have believed something probably not true,
yet it was wonderful to have believed it.
And it has stayed with me
as a present once given is forever given.
Easy and happy they sounded,
those two maidens of the wilderness
from which we have-
who knows to what furious, pitiful extent-
banished ourselves.

I have my whole life longed for animals to human speak through voice or thought transfer, such as seen in the movie Avitar.  What I would I give to be able to talk and walk with a nonhuman companion at my side!  In recent years this has lessened a bit as I learn more about behavior, interspecies neurobiology, and cognitive ethology, and apply all of this through conservation behavior.  What has shifted is that I am better at listening.

To me the Barred Owl laughs at the world in the night, well, maybe it's not laughing really, but no less clear for me.  For I feel the coolness and dark of the night, the feathered companion, competitor, or prey calling in the night, and I yearn to bring something good back to the three in the hollow of my nest tree.  As Owl perhaps I don't describe in this way, but as human my mirror neurons light up as I imagine myself staring at the blood red eclipsed moon.  I too fly silently in the night.  We have not left the wilderness.  It lives in us: our brains, our blood, our DNA, and in you. 

We walk and talk together - with words, or without words. In this space, may no beings be banished from our hearts or from this earth.

With whom will you walk and talk today?