Monday, April 12, 2010

Some Herons - April 12, 2010

A blue preacher

flew toward the swamp,

in slow motion.

On the leafy banks,

and old Chinese poet,

hunched in the white gown of his wings,

was waiting...

The preacher

made his difficult landing,

his skirts up around his knees.

The poet's eyes

flared, just as poet's eyes

are said to do

when the poet is awakened

from the forest of meditation...

They greeted each other,

rumpling their gowns for an instant,

and then smoothing them.

They entered the water,

and instantly two more herons-

equally as beautiful-

joined them and stood jut beneath them

in the black, published water

where they fished, all day.

I imagine myself, approaching a pond in New England, and discover that Mary is sitting on the bank, watching the water. She is disturbed by my presence, me with my robes of organized church swirling around my head and in my head, thoughts of "maybe this will preach." Is she so different, as she studies bird and fish, wondering "maybe this will make a good poem." Either way we are both fishing for beauty, for answers, and perhaps even more so, for questions. Whatever we catch, we are no different than those up river, down river, across the river, in the river and above the river. We all go down to the river to pray.

If herons are poets and preachers, what are ospreys? Eagles? Ducks? Cranes? What are you?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Indonesia - April 11, 2010

On the curving, dusty roads

we drove through the plantations

where the pickers balanced on the hot hillsides..

no poor man,

with a brown face and an empty sack,

has ever picked his way out of.

A the inn we stepped from the car

to the garden, where tea

was brought to us scalding in white cups from the fire.

Don't ask if it was the fire of honey

or the fire of death, don't ask

if were determined to live, at last,

with merciful hearts. We sat

amongst the unforgettable flowers.

We let the white cups cool before

we raised them to our lips.

I have lived this journey of Mary's. I have had brown hands serve me cafe con leche - beans picked by scorched hands, cows milked by a man earning $2 a day, and my needs served in white cups from a mother of four who lost two children as infants to treatable diseases. In such incongruency, hearts open up and ask, why me? Why aren't the tables reversed where I am serving others from my long labor of facing little choice on how to nourish myself and my family? Perhaps these questions are too hot to answer and my privileged life style cannot take in the heat of these questions, and still stay sane in my own situation. These people - the workers, pickers, and servants of the world are unforgettable flowers of beauty. Let their beauty help me recommit my life as a picker. By anguishing and picking choices I can raise others' hands to my lips to kiss and perhaps help others raise themselves out of the ashes of fires serving me, the inheritor of neocolonialist fires that ravaged the world. I bow down and kiss the earth, now, in prayer for this to be so.

Where do you see economic disparity in your life and what choices do you make based on this reality?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Swan – April 10, 2010

Across the wide waters

Something comes

floating– a slim

And delicate

Ship, filled

With white flowers

And it moves

On its miraculous muscles

As though time didn’t’ exist,

As though bringing such gifts

To the dry shore was a happiness…

Of course! The path to heaven

Doesn’t lie down in flat miles.

It’s in the imagination

With which you perceive

This world,

And the gestures

With which you honor it.

Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those

White wings

Touch the shore?

Mary has written of swans before in “Swans of the River Ayr.” There she speaks of the calamity of our kind in taming the wild, in taming ourselves. The child can see this fierce chaos, but somehow we domesticate our urges, and hence life around us. I wonder if it is true that the difference between vengeful swans and swans of beauty lies only in our imagination. What if we did keep the child’s nonlinear expansive story telling ability, the near magical dream world they live in, and bring that forward to our hearts and minds today? In other words, what if we were poets? Would we be creating a kinder, more loving world? One of stark reality where our imagination says, yes, death is yours sweet one, and my life, the swan’s life, is your life. Perhaps we don’t live in that world because it is too wondrous, too awesome, too powerful. If we did we’d be bowing in recognizing our self-less power all the time to ducks in the park, slugs in the garden, and trash in the street.

What would you do when the swans come to shore?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Twittering With Mary Oliver

In a few days I will be traveling around Central America with marginal capacity to connect to the internet. My hope is to use a mobile phone to tweet into this blog to keep in touch as I continue to read daily one Mary Oliver poem and reflect upon it. I will only be taking one book with me as I dive into La Moskitia area in Honduras, and it will be Mary's poems. If the reception is there, check into this blog and look down to the right and below to see the text messages that come through from twitter. I tried to do this today as an example for the poem - Lilies. I don't actually leave the country until Monday, so let me know if you have any feedback on how this works for you on the comment section below.

Lily loving liberal bleeding heart and proud of it,


Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Hermit Crab - April 8, 2010

Once I looked inside

the darkness

of a shell folded like a pastry,

and there was a fancy face...

When I set it down, it hurried

along the tide line

of the sea,

which was slashing along as usual,

shouting and hissing

toward the future,

turning its back

with every tide on the past,

leaving the shore littered

every morning

with more ornaments of death-

what pearly rubble

from which to choose a house

like a white flower-

and what a rebellion

to leap into it

and hold on,

connecting everything,

the past to the future-

which is of course the miracle-

which is the only argument there is

against the sea.

In a Monty Python skit, there is an "Argument Clinic." The paying customer keeps saying "I came here for an argument," and the clerk says "No you didn't!" The tide comes in bringing life and bringing death. We can argue with this, but did we come into this life for an argument? I think maybe we did, thought it's not about life and death. It's about whether there is a sea at all, a sea that is separate from ourselves. The miracles comes when I see the word as rubble of the pearly gates, no heaven, no hell, no life, no death. Me, the crab incarnate with the earth as my only home.

Where do you find home?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Singapore - April 7, 2010

In Singapore, in the airport,

a darkness was ripped from my eyes.

In the women's restroom, one compartment stood open.

A woman knelt there, washing something

in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach...

A poem should always have birds in it...

Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees...

A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.

Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and

neither could win...

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

But first we must watch her as shares down at her labor,

which is dull enough...

She does not work slowly , nor quickly, but like a river.

Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don't doubt for a moment that she loves her life

And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop

and fly down to the river.

This probably won't happen.

But maybe it will.

If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn't.

Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only

the light that can shine out of a life. I mean

the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,

the way her smile was only for my sake: I mean

the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Just as I was thinking of how Mary's poems are all saying the same thing and asking the same question (and of course they are, aren't they, just as the sun asks and answers the same thing in startlingly new ways every morning?), here she does something different, answers a different question in my mind, heals another part of my life, leads me to the broader resonance that her poems affirm. My soul breathes, "Finally!" My question is, like her one question, how do we love the world? An important corollary question for me, that has been feeling neglected in this book of poems to date, is how do we love the humans in our world? How do we love all that we are and including our expression in society that leaves beauty scrubbing ashtrays in public toilet bowls? How do we see light in war, in poverty, in gang leaders and in drug lords? This is the work of my life, to love the world of nature, including human nature. This driving passion is no more noble than the sharp tang of cigarettes and urine mixing in polluted rivers, or the refolding of a dirty cloth in the hands of others on any street, either in Singapore or Mexico City. The light that can shine out of our lives is in all our hands.

When have you been surprised by beauty in humans?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spring - April 6, 2010


a black bear

has just risen from sleep

and is staring

down the mountain.

All night

in the brisk and shallow restlessness

of early spring

I think of her..

There is only one question:

how to love this world.

I think of her


like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against

the silence

of the trees

Whatever else

my life is

with its poems

and its music

and its glass cities,

It is also this dazzling darkness


down the mountain,

breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her-

her white teeth,

her wordlessness,

her perfect love.

Okay, Mary, you've nailed it down to one question, although just a few poems ago, your question was, what is a soul? Perhaps this comes out of the question, "how to love the world." The question is not how to be loved? Why me? Why not me? Or how shall I die and when? How shall I best meet my needs? In the asking, I feel empowerment. In the asking, we give ourselves a choice. Now, this moment, we choose how to love. Shall it be wordlessly like the bear? Watching like in so many of Mary's poems? Reading this poem?

How do you love the world?

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Buddha's last Instruction - April 5, 2010

"Make of yourself a light,"
said the Buddha

before he died...

No doubt he thought of everything

than had happened in his difficult life.

And then I feel the sun itself

as it blazed 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.

The face of Buddha is like the sun that moves across the sky. Both help us in our primate minds know our inherent worth and dignity, know that it matters what we do, and known that it is a blessing we were born. You also tell us as you rise above the horizon that we are not needed. How scary is that! Yet, dear, Sun, you turn us into something of inexplicable value, and if we dance as well as we are able with you, we can more greatly reflect the light that is the divine in all existence.

If you were dying and a crowd gathered around, what would you say to them?

Moccasin Flowers - April 4, 2010

All my life,

so far,

I have loved

more than one thing...

In spring

the moccasin flowers

reach for the crackling

lick of the sun

and burn down...

But all my life-so far-

I have loved best

how the flowers rise

and open, how

the pink lungs of their bodies

enter the fire of the world

and stand there shining

and willing-the one

thing they can do before

they shuffle forward

into the floor of darkness, they

become the trees

I rejoice in this poem, for today is Easter, Ostara, and our annual Flower Communion. The streets and woods around Gainesville are bursting with light green leaves and flowers poking out through the undergrowth, or exploding atop trees and bushes. Was there ever such a spring? I think every year I ask this - is it me, or is this spring more marvelous than the last? Rilke, in his Ninth Elegy, says, "Earth, my love, I will! My faith yields to you not needing one more of your springs, ach, already one spring is too much for my blood!" My blood stirs with the surprise of what was once barren, I swear, only a few days ago, is now polyphonic splendor. Oh that I was consciously and consistently willing to flower in beauty as intimate death keeps me company under the suns arcing dance. It seems in spring that I am more willing to accept the invitation of death and resurrection and that there is more joy than usual in change. It's as if I feel I am turning into the trees myself, one un noticed in a forest. In watching them with my unknown neighbors who share the same azalea bush, together we turn our hearts to awareness, acceptance, and peace.

What does spring mean to you?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Some Questions You Might Ask - April 3, 2010

Is the soul solid, like iron?

Or is it tender and breakable, like

the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?

who has it, and who doesn't?

I keep looking around me.

the face of the moose is as sad

as the face of Jesus...

One question leads to another.

Does it have a shape?..

Why should I have it, and not the anteater

who loves her children?

Why should I have it, and not the camel?

Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?

...What about the grass?

As a child I would pray, not at my bedside as instructed by my parents, but out the window looking at the Hickory tree that protected my bedroom from loneliness. There I would say to God that I wished that all animals could go to heaven. If any could not, I would trade places with them. For if heaven was a place without animals, I didn't want to be there anyway. I feel much the same way about souls. I don't want one if all beings don't have one. What then is a soul? Does it fall into relativistic mush if a virus and bacteria have one as well? What is it that connects us all, that gives pause in wonder when we sense it, and stillness in grief when we don't? Oh my soul, who are you that knows the wonder and grief of life and that connects me to life in invisible strands of a web that holds us all? My soul then is all around me and is that gift that awakens me to the reality that I am a mirror of the world's soul. So much do I "know this" that when I read this poem this morning, my mind saw "I keep looking around for me," even though I know this poem fairly well. The sun is nearly up, and I'm about to for my morning walk, looking around for me, for you...

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Sunflowers - April 2, 2010

Come with me

into the field of sunflowers

their faces are burnished disks...

Come with me

to visit the sunflowers,

they are shy

but want to be friends;

they have wonderful stories..

Don't be afraid

to ask them questions!

Their bright faces...

will listen, and all

those rows of seeds-

each one a new life!-

hope for a deeper acquaintance;

each f them, though it stands

in a crowd of many

like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work

of turning their lives

into a celebration

is not easy. Come

and let us talk with those modest faces..

My tour guide Mary now turns her modest face to me the reader and makes a direct invitation to visit her world. Though she is talking of sunflowers, (is she?) I am seeing fields of people, so many that their shoulders touch. They turn their grateful faces up to the sun and each thought of theirs is a seed for new life in the future. Though they are grateful and with so many others, they, we, are lonely. So there is nothing better than to have one come among us and ask us questions and let us tell them the stories of our lives. Each question asked is a seed for future life. Though our stories may not be the epics that get burned into famous literature that lasts through the generations, they are the universal story - of how each day the questions, answers, and stories are small step to turn our lives into celebration.

What question would you ask a field of sunflowers? A field of humans?