Sunday, October 31, 2010

Summer Story

When the hummingbird
sinks its face
into the trumpet vine
and the funnels

of the blossoms,
and the tongue
leaps out
and throbs,

I am scorched
to realize once again
how many small, available things
are in the world

that aren’t
pieces of gold
or power–
that nobody owns

or could buy even
for a hillside of money–
that just
float about the world,

or drift over the fields,
or into the gardens,
and into the tents of the vines
and how here I am

spending my time,
as the saying goes,
watching until the watching turns into feeling
so that I feel I am myself

a small bird
with a terrible hunger
with a thin beak probing and dipping
and a heart that races so fast

it is only a heartbeat ahead of breaking
and I am the hunger and the assuagement
and also I am the leaves and the blossoms,
and, like them, I am full of delight and shaking

These are Los Dias de los Muertos – the days of the dead, and all Souls and Saints days. I cannot arise this morning without death before me, and recalling the Aztec cultures that brings us these traditions in part. Stories and myths about hummingbirds abound in the Aztec culture, a bird who brings bounty as well as mediates death and rebirth. Without consciously putting all this together, this morning I donned hummingbird earrings. Then I sat down to read my poem of the day, and here is Mary speaking of hummers.

Her poem mediates my deep hunger and vulnerability. I long for a world where beauty and care abound. Given our lack of justice I am but a small bird amongst mountains and storms. What can I do when death and oppression threatens? I am thinking that I can dip my tiny self into my inner being and see the earth’s heart breaking. This is so scary for it means I am nothing, but a feather falling to the earth, or floating up to the sky. May we this day give up everything, so that we may receive everything.

What does this time of Samhain, Halloween, and these Days of the Dead mean to you? Where do you feel small or feel death?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Night Herons

Some herons were fishing in the robes of the night

At a low hour of the water’s body,

And the fish I suppose, were full

Of fish happiness in those transparent inches

Even as, over and over, the beaks jacked down

And the narrow bodies were lifted

With every quick sally,

And that was the end of them as far as we know-

Though, what do we know except that death

Is so everywhere and so entire-

Pummeling and felling,

Or sometimes,

Like this, appearing

Through such a thing door-

One stab and you’re through!

And what then?

Why, then it was almost morning,

And one by one the birds opened their wings and flew.

This morning it is brisk, colder than I have been in months. The reddish/pink sky patch of horizon in the east is crisscrossed by utility lines strung across dead trees now serving as telephone poles. You may think there is not much beauty in an urban landscape. Wait, perhaps I speak for myself. Then a marvel strikes through to your heart. Yesterday in this place of cars and noise, a bald-eagle flew over the road, hunting in the early hours. Someone will die today to feed this bird, and countless beings have died so that we are here today. I pray that I might know this death, let it stab me deeply, so that I use every molecule of nourishment that comes my way to fly, to liberate as I myself am liberated.

Where will you fly today?

Friday, October 29, 2010

A River Far Away and Long Ago

The river

Of my childhood,

That tumbled

Down a passage of rocks

And cut-work ferns,

Came here and there

To the swirl

And slowdown

Of a pool

And I say myself-

Oh, clearly-

As I knelt at one-

Then I saw myself

As if carried away,

As the river moved on.

Where have I gone?

Since then

I have looked and looked

For myself,

Not sure

Who I am, or where,

Or, more importantly, why.

It’s okay-

I have had a wonderful life.

Still, I ponder

Where that other is-

Where I landed,

What I thought, what I did,

What small or even maybe meaningful deeds

I might have accomplished


Among strangers,

Coming to them

As only a river can-

Touching every life it meets-

That endlessly kind, that enduring.

The other Mary that is endlessly kind and enduring I see in the deer along the river bank This doe, gentle and mild, may this day be s too fearful to look into her reflection in the pool, for she is on guard for predators. If, we, the prey and predators, were to ponder and slow down, would we see that we flow with life in the form of Ghandi, Jesus, the newborn child, and the mother duck who gives her life over to the snake to protect her eggs? If we were to come upon this river and pause, would we not be tempted to take a leap of faith and jump in? I know I am, and mourn that I hold back.

What would that be like if were to go out our doors today as the sleepy rays of the sun come over the hills, and see the stream of life alive in everything? And then jump in. going where the moment takes us, to strangers, to pain, and to no purpose whatsoever, and in that process we wash the wounds of the world with kindness.

Where would you like to take a leap of faith, and yet hesitate?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Orchard

I have dreamed

Of accomplishment.

I have fed


I have traded

Nights of sleep

For a length of work.

Lo, and I have discovered

How soft bloom

Turns to green fruit

Which turns to sweet fruit

Lo, and I have discovered

All winds blow cold

At last,

And the leaves,

So pretty, so many,


In the great, black

Packet of time,

In the great, black

Packet of ambition,

And the ripeness

Of the apple

Is its downfall.

This morning I awake to blackness in the town of Tucker, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I’m here for a workshop on Restorative Circles. As I awoke, I had a clear image of the good work of my mother. In her middle years she was a quilter. These later years though she mostly sleeps, and when awake, challenges those who care for her and wish for her a better life. She has dementia. The gravity of the years is upon her and she is an apple on the way down. As her Power of Attorney and her Medical Power of Attorney it often falls to me to be the enforcer and persuader for her to make decisions that benefit her, and do not harm her. Many days my discomfort, pain, and loneliness of having her slip away so slowly leaves me judging the worth of myself, her, and the world at large – for surely such sweet blooms should never turn to moldy apples littering the ground.

But her quilts endure. She worked on one quilt a good part of my adolescent, a patchwork of embroidered birds. Later she gave me an appliqué penguin quilt. I have both still and they are used every winter, a little worse for wear. My mother’s brain may be fragmenting into pieces, as will my precious quilts she made for me, and frankly, my body is a little worse for wear. Somehow though as I think of the beauty and warmth of love and care sewn into these quilts I seem at peace. For the pieces of her life will endure in quilt, in me, and in those that come after. There is no way to restore her to her youth, and there will come a time when her quilts are beyond restoring, but life will have come full circle. Thank you mother for your loving work. Thank you all for the work you do.

What is your work and how does it bear fruition?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning

but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

I have recently come back from a weekend Zen Buddhist retreat. We spent the weekend in silence, sitting on black mats, and had some spots of laughter. Mostly though it was serious business this wanting to change our lives. Then one morning a Barred Owl came to a tree outside our meditation rom. S/he began cackling, hooting, and doing that mocking squirrelly laugh that they do. I broke out in smiles, laughing with this bird who might have actually been laughing at us, and not just with us. We humans engage in such ridiculous acts. I wonder if were to look at what triggered us with joyful mirth, perhaps a bit on the loving mocking side, we might be able to keep our hearts open a little longer and a little larger before we become triggered into rushing on to somewhere we might deem safe. No safety, on life and love in a broken world, this perfect world.

Where in your life do you see or engage in ridiculous acts?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Blackest of Inks

At night,

The panther,

Who is lean and quick,

Is only

A pair of eyes

And, with a yawn,


A long, pink tongue.


He listens

As he walks

On the puffs

Of his feet

As if

On a carpet

From Persia,

Or leaps

Into the branches

Of a tree,

Or swims

Across the river,

Or simply

Stands in the grass

And waits.

Because, Sir,

You have given him,

For your own reasons,

Everything that he needs:

Leaves, food, shelter;

A conscience that never blinks.

Mary, are you the panther who walks in the night with the blackest of inks? Has God/existence given you everything you need? With your ink do you have what you need to assuage your conscience with these poems so fine? If you don’t think you have what you need, do you imagine the panther does?

I don’t know what Mary is thinking here. Also, I don’t know what a panther is thinking. Perhaps they too feel regret over actions; a cub lost when she ranged too far from the den to hunt, a mate given over to a younger, strong competitor, a forest deer that screaming in the day’s dreaming.

I come out on the side those nothing fundamental separates humans from other animals. For the most part if we say “humans only do this” we find out through science and observation that this isn’t true. The difference is often only matter of scale and interpretation.

So what then of conscience and morality? Studies have shown that a sense of moral code does appear in social animals. What do they do to lessen their shame? Can they write poems in the dark of night? Can they arise like I do before the sun, scribble my thoughts here for you to read, hoping that with this virtual black ink, I may better able see the sun’s light in every being and every moment?

May I hunt without blinking, totally focus on the love that has yet to be born and the ego that has yet to die. Together, with the jaguar of the tropical forest, we kill to nourish ourselves and our world.

What does your conscience tell you?

Ocean - October 25, 2010

I am in love with the Ocean

Lifting her thousands of white hats

In the chop of the storm,

Or lying smooth and blue, the

Loveliest bed in the world.

In the personal life, there is

Always grief more than enough,

A heart-load for each one of us

On the dusty road. I suppose

There is a reason for this, so I will be

Patient, acquiescent. But I will live

Nowhere except here, by Ocean, trusting

Equally in all the blast and welcome

Of her sorrowless, salt self

I have read studies that show certain personality types are more attune to one landscape or ecological system than others. Some people’s physiology and perhaps too their cultural and family systems, do better by the ocean. Others come alive in the mountains. Perhaps if you are neither of these kind of people, the deserts? The topics? Maybe, grief does come to us all and we come to accept this. In this, though there might also be a choice. Where might we find the trust that we belong to the beauty around us? Let’s go ahead, and if we can, make it in some ways as easy as we can and live where we are comforted and held. Maybe this is the rocking of the ocean, the lofty vision of the mountains, the clear crisp unclutteredness of the dessert, or the warm embrace of the tropics, whose very air seems to support the heaviest burden.

I also know that beauty is everywhere, and in every landscape. We don’t need to choose to go beauty, beauty is with us always. I once lived in Newhall, California. It was the dry desert of Los Angeles county rimmed with smog and ram shackle strip malls. I so despaired of living there. Once, a number of my work colleagues went to see a movie wherein the film a woman committed suicide by jumping out of a sky scraper window, dramatically shattering her life as she did the same to the car on which she landed. My fellow veterinarians quipped, “Someone just told her she had to move to Newhall.” My boyfriend at that time, native to LA Country, was deeply offended. Somewhere in the discussion and in the later months, perhaps to honor him and maybe all of life, I committed myself to loving where ever I was, to find beauty where I may. This has mostly worked even in the harshest climes: to love the beauty before me, and also to choose to go towards beauty. Let’s all be easy and hard on ourselves, shall we?

Where kind of terrain calls to you to live and love by?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Visiting the Graveyard

When I think of death

It is a bright enough city,

And every year more faces there

Are familiar

But not a single one

Notices me,

Though I long for it,

And when they talk together,

Which they do

Very quietly,

It’s in an unknowable language-

I can catch the tone

But understand not a single word-

And when I open my eyes

There’s the mysterious field, the beautiful trees.

There are the stones.

In the silence of this retreat I hear death speaking to me. There’s the creak in my knees as I unfold my legs again and again, rising and falling into the sitting cushion. The wind in the Spanish Moss whispers of times past and times yet to come. The clank of dishes, the cough, the sigh, the bell, the clapper, and my own urine splash and tinkle in the bathroom, all these death and life. The chickadee, perky with her dark cap, won’t be alive in a few more years, so short this species’ span of life. But now I hear her high in the oak, already dead before she hatched. I wish I could speak this language. So I sit, I strain, I listen. After each mediation I open my eyes. I see the beautiful tree, a grave marker on my heart, breaking it open, weighing me down with stones, until I am so deep in the earth that I am one with all.

Where and how does the language of death come to you?

Another Everyday Poem - October 23, 2010

Every day I consider the lilies-how they are dressed-

And the raven-how they are fed-and how each of these is a miracle

Of Lord-love and of sorrow-for the lilies in their bright dresses

Cannot last but wrinkle fast and fall, and the little ravens

In their windy nest rise up in such pleasure at the sight

Of fresh meat that makes their lives sweet-

And what a puzzle it is that such brevity-

The lavish clothes,

The ruddy food-

Makes the world

So full, so good.

I have spoken of this before in this blog, of my very first sermon ever preached was, “Consider the Lilies.” There is death in that part of the scriptures, for at one point, the parable speaks of how humans throw the grasses into the oven. We are the ones who strip the dresses from the innocent, we are the ravens who look for that which we can raid and kill for our own sustenance, and then some. O Lord, how am I to love all this?

I am on a Zen Buddhist silent retreat this weekend. Perhaps I shall not ask or answer this question, but somewhere in the silence, just love what is.

May it be so.

Will you share a breathe in and out of silence with me today, so that we may hear the dark birds calling and the wind in the grasses?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Straight Talk from Fox

Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment's miracle. Don't think I haven't
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.

In an earlier poem, Self-Portrait, Mary shows a bit of herself. Here too is a self-portrait. I wonder if in so many of her poems when I have thought she made a boundary between human and nonhuman, (which I railed against) maybe it wasn't herself she was talking about, but us. She's a foxy one. This poem isn't her dilemma, but ours. We are the voles cowering in our dark awareness that death is out there somewhere. If we just curl up enough and constrict our hearts enough, perhaps danger and risk will not sniff us out.

Though we may be small prey items in the scheme of existence, I believe we are also predators. Grateful and joyful, even in the face of death.

My spouse reads this poem at the bed side of gravely ill and dying people from his congregation. I don't know if these people are thankful or if joy or peace graces their end days. As they lay dying, do they uncurl and invite in death, open up their hearts to the stories of their lives? Find gratitude? Of course, Mary's poem asks, what will I do when the time comes? I don't know, but what about this very next moment as I look to the day. May I embrace those teeth-whacking hits that come my way, and dance with both acceptance and pouncing back.

Do you find it possible to welcome death in the midst of so much life?

Thursday, October 21, 2010


There is a place where the town ends,

And the fields begin.

It’s not marked but the feet know it,

Also the heart that is longing for refreshment

And, equally, for repose.

Someday we’ll live in the sky.

Meanwhile, the house of our lives is this green world.

The fields, the ponds, the birds.

The thick black oaks-surely they are

The invention of something wonderful.

And the tiger lilies.

And the runaway honeysuckle that no one

Will ever trim again.

Where is it? I ask, and then

My feet know it.

One jump, and I’m home.

Hearing this poem I am reminded of the song, “Gentle Arms of Eden” by Tracy Grammer and David Carter. The chorus goes:

This is my home, this is my only home
This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known
And should I stray in the dark night alone
Rock me goddess in the gentle arms of eden

The green world is our home. Earth, our sacred ground that we know now, not fathoming if we become sky people at some future time as we ascend to the stars, or to heaven. Is there some invisible boundary between this “nature” and the expanse of urban life? Isn’t home all over the planet, even the places we have defiled and desecrated?

Later in this same song we hear:

Now there's smoke across the harbor, and there's factories on the shore
And the world is ill with greed and will and enterprise of war
But I will lay my burden in the cradle of your grace
And the shining beaches of your love and the sea of your embrace

I was speaking with my spouse about the future of the earth and how humans have changed the planet so. The topic came up as I explained how difficult it was for me to read historical novels of my home area. I had recently finished reading Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier and have begun reading Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen. The span of history told of how the Southeast was once full of abundant oaks, fish, and birds, and now to my eye it appears devastated.. I don’t know if I can finish this second novel, so painful is my response to what we have lost.

I mourned that we had lost paradise. To which my spouse replied, “The parrots you love are not so different or any more or less innocent than we. Perhaps the only difference is that they know they have not left paradise.”

Ah, my beloved homeland. Earth, my only home. We humans and what we build is nature and are the fruits of eden. Paradise never left us. Only in some artificial construct of human knowing and culture, we set up an artificial boundary of whether who we are and what we do belongs.

May today in my actions and thoughts, welcome and be welcomed.

Where do you feel the most at home? The least?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Night and the River

I have seen the great feet

leaping into the river

and I have seen moonlight

milky along the long muzzle

and I have seen the body

of something scaled and wonderful

slumped in the sudden fire of it mouth,

and I could not tell which fit me

more comfortably, the power,

or the powerlessness:

neither would have me

entirely; I was divided,

consumed, by sympathy,

pity, admiration.

After a while it was done,

the fish had vanished, the bear

lumped away

to the green shore

and into the trees. And then there was only

this story.

It followed me home

and entered my house-

a difficult guest

with a single tune

which it hums all day and through the night-

slowly, or briskly,

it doesn't matter,

it sounds like a river leaping and falling; it sounds like a body

falling apart

Being a prey item myself, you would think that I would root for the fish in this story, or the small dove loosing feathers in a explosion as the falcon hits. I am also a predator and have, and I admit it only a few times, been hungry in my life. Mostly I know how hard it is to be a predator, being a wildlife veterinarian who has treated the young raptors who have not learned the difficult task of hunting or fishing. So I root for the predator.

In short, I am torn. Seeing an Eagle scoop down over the river I whisper "careful" to the Pintail ducks on the water. Then my breath stills and when the Eagle's talons are full of meaty feathers, I should, "Wow! Well done!" Then I think of the eggs to grow cold on the nest and what will not come to be for the sake of dinner. I ache.

What a mess this life is. I awake this morning so pleased that I have the resources to contribute to life through writing, speaking, and consulting. As a predator I have hunted well in my life, accruing resources so that I may rest in my nest lined with feathers. But they are feathers of others. Just yesterday I awoke, weepy, thinking of the masses whose children will die of dysentery before the day is over, one who might have an older brother here in the U.S., perhaps even the one who cooked a burrito for me over the weekend. I am for the prey, and I am for the predator. I am for power, I am for sharing power so that it does not accumulate in the upper echelons of the food chain.

Being on the team of life, also means cheering for death.

I wonder if the only sane response is the crazy one - to go through this day with a broken heart, open to what is and letting in everything, so that my heart grows bigger and stronger.

Who do you root for, prey, predator, both, neither?