Sunday, January 30, 2011

To Begin With, the Sweet Grass


Will the hungry ox stand in the field and not eat
of the sweet grass?
Will the owl bite off its own wings?
Will the lark forget to lift its body in the air or
forget to sing?
Will the rivers run upstream?

Behold, I say - behold
the reliability and the finery and the teachings
of this gritty earth gift.


Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
thrillingly gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone's face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.
And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs….


Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
The dancer, the potter,
To make me a begging bowl
Which I believe
My soul needs.

And if I come to you,
To the door of your comfortable house
With unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
Will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.


We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we change.
Congratulations, if
You have changed.


Let me ask you this.
Do you also think that beauty exists for some fabulous reason?

And if you have not been enchanted by this adventure-
Your life-
What would do for you?


What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
through with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).
And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself.  Then forget it.  Then, love the world.

Someday I feel like a child playing in the meadow, while bombs fly over head and digging parties put friends into the ground next to where I stare in wonder at the trees.  What do I mean by this?  Some days I grow weary of fighting – I just want to love the world. 

For instance I am at a bird conference now.  Many of these people, if not most, have wild parrots as companions in their home, or raise them for various reasons, including making a livelihood.  I am mostly of the clan, “mutual other” where I see birds as beings with their own inherent worth and dignity. After years of studying them in the wild, my heart hurts to have them in captivity where we humans make most of the choices for them.  Those surrounding me are mostly of the clan, “utilitarian.”  Humans have ultimate control over birds and it is not an ethical dilemma to control them and place them into our lives, where the birds live quite differently from their natural and evolved behavior.  Truly I guess that all of us belong to both clans, to the one clan called earth.

So I find myself torn – is it possible to fight with one’s self for any worthwhile reason? How do I speak of my truth, of my longing, and of my pain while letting the other know that I hold their needs tenderly and that we are of the family of things?

I go to the other, hold out my begging bowl, and ask them to fill it with their beauty.

As our cups fill together, may we forget to love only ourselves, and instead love the world.

Love the world…them’s good fighting words!

To whom or to what do you hold out your begging bowl today?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

At the Pond

One summer
     I went every morning
        to the edge of a pond where
           a huddle of just-hatched geese
would paddle to me
     and clamber
        up the marshy slope
           and over my body,
peeping and staring—
     such sweetness every day
        which the grown ones watched,
           for whatever reason,
     Not there, however, but here
        is where the story begins.
           Nature has many mysteries,
some of them severe.
     Five of the young geese grew
        heavy of chest and
           bold of wing
while the sixth waited and waited
     in its gauze-feathers, its body
        that would not grow.
           And then it was fall.
And this is what I think
     everything is all about:
        the way
           I was glad
for those five and two
     that flew away,
        and the way I hold in my heart the wingless one
           that had to stay.

I weep.  I know not what more there is to life than the gladness and sadness possible before us, and in our hearts if we could just open to the mysterious reality of our days.

Yesterday a woman asked me how I could bare the tragic circumstances of the people and parrots of Central America.  Her question recalls how I can leave the poverty and the violence with my US passport, and others have to stay, not growing, and then dying.  Turning outward, I told her there were years when I could not hold it all, and days still where the ache is great.  Reading this poem reminds me of my true work here at this conference, and in my 53 years of life. I am here not to get more learning, offer more teaching, or to save the world. My calling instead has been to find a way to hold more gladness and more sadness.  Then to be held more myself by the love of this world.

How will you hold or be held today? 

Prayer - January 28, 2011

May I never not be frisky,
May I never not be risqué.

May my ashes, when you have them, friend,
And give them to the ocean,

Leap in the froth of the waves,
Still loving movement,

Still ready, beyond all else,
To dance for the world.

Today I am attending the Parrot Festival in Houston, Texas. The people here are parrot lovers who have come to learn and to celebrate life.  I am their honored guest and have come to teach them about the human dimensions of conservation. However, it is I who am learning from them.

Last night was one of the evening festivals. I arrived late to a room of sparkling, babbling, brightly colored humans who reminded me of the parrots they adore.  As if they weren’t already having enough fun, each table was given a mystery bag full of crafts and materials with an assignment to dress one of their participants in a costume made from the bag’s contents to resemble a parrot species assigned to their table.  What a bunch of frisky people! After the contest, of which the Bare-eyed Cockatoo/Human won, some people just spontaneously began dancing.

Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I was tired and in heels all day.  Maybe I just wasn’t ready to show my delight of the world by dancing.  But my mind was racing with the beauty of these people before me, and who knows, perhaps today or even tonight I will make some movement that aligns with the love that I feel for these people in this place.

Where will you dance today?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

There Are a Lot of Mockingbirds in this Book

Yes, there are many
of those wondrous creatures
who live in the thorns
and are musical all day...

but this isn't nature
in which such birds
want, each pair,
their own few acres-

this isn't nature
where the sweetest things,
being hidden in leaves
and thorn-thick bushes

reveal themselves rarely-
this is a book
of the heart's rapture,
of hearing and praising

and  never forgetting
so that the world
is what the world is
in a long lifetime:

singer after singer
bursts from the thorn bush,
now, and again, and again,
their songs in the mind forever.


Isn't that what each are - singers in thorn bushes?  Somehow, during the course of the day we manage to reveal our true, wondrous selves and this song builds the world as it is.

Which is a world where no acres belong to anyone
Where beauty and love are ever revealed
Where the day is full of hearing songs of wonder
And our responding praise   -
pulling thorns from those have burst forth
or have yet to escape.

What thorns might you remove today?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Almost a Conversation

I have not really, not yet, talked with otter about his life.
He has so many teeth, he has trouble with vowels.
Wherefore our understanding is all body expression-
he swims like the sleekest fish,
he dives and exhales and lifts a trail of bubbles.
Little by little he trusts my eyes
and my curious body sitting on the shore.
Sometimes he comes close.
I admire his whiskers and his dark fur which I would rather die than wear.

He has no words, still what he tells about his life is clear.
He does not own a computer.
He imagines the river will last forever.
He does not envy the dry house I live in.
He does not wonder who or what it is that I worship.
He wonders, morning after morning, that the river is so cold and fresh and alive, and still

I don't jump in.

I have spoken often of the Ichetucknee, a spring fed river that in the summer is so cold that you have to clamp down on all fear and just jump in.  If one does so, there are great rewards.

Under the surface there are the sleek fish that with grace, you can sometimes touch.
At the surface are the croaking limpkins and the murmuring wood ducks who do not startle as you swim by them, listening.
Above the surface the Osprey look at you and you imagine you might fool them into thinking that you are a fish, so wondrous it feels to be part of the river for hour after hour.  Or perhaps the eagle could mistake you for a bird and take you away from all your trouble with firm talons.
Finally near the last bend is where the otters can be seen.  Yes, there is awe and gratitude, but I admit to discontent.  For I want to dive with them, root around for mussels with them, play with them, touch them, and be them.  It will not happen and soon one must exit the river at the end of the run.

It's all I can do to not drive back up to the entry point and jump in again. But what good would that accomplish?  For at least another two hours I could do  more than imagine that I am one with this world, my body would confirm that I am.

With this knowing, would not this river last forever?  If all humans could shed their clothes and join our brothers and sisters - in form or in dream - might we just forget our envy  and our religions? 

What a site - middle aged naked women recognizing each otter individually and seeing themselves.  How the people would marvel.

Go ahead and look, I've got whiskers too!

Where don't you jump in?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Deep Summer

The mockingbird opens his throat among the thorns for his own reasons
but doesn't mind if we pause to listen and learn something
for ourselves; he doesn't stop, he nods his gray head
with the frightfully bright eyes, he flirts his supple tail, he says:

listen, if you would listen.  There's no  end to good talk, to passion songs,
to the melodies that say this branch, this tree is mine,
to the wholesome happiness of being alive on a patch
of this green earth in the deep pleasures of summer. What a bird!

Your clocks, he says plainly,
which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.

We are in deep winter in North America.  The mockingbirds are here, but not as flamboyant as they will be come this summer.  I suppose that if I listened hard enough I would hear the happiness of being alive from other sources, whether it's on a patch of urban sidewalk, suburban strip mall, or brown fields of last year's harvest. 

I step outside and I hear street traffic, a dog barking, some identified bird, my own heart, and a ringing in my ears.  I have hearing loss accompanied by a constant ringing and have for years. So  I don't always hear the bird calls that others might.  Instead I let my imagination wonder, for I know that beauty flits among the wet branches this grey morning.

Whatever our perceived flaws or losses, don't we each have to find our way to compensate, to be able to listen to the spirit of this world?

What do you hear when you walk out this morning?  In what ways do you compensate for who you are so that you may know happiness?

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Lesson from James Wright

 If James Wright could put in his book of poems a blank page

dedicated to "the Horse David Who Ate One of My Poems,"
I am ready to follow him along

the sweet path he cut through the dryness and suggest that you sit now

very quietly in some lovely wild place, and listen to the silence.

And I say that this, too, is a poem

Let us leave our minds blank for horses, over ridden, abandoned, shipped to slaughter
Let us leave our minds blank for the sparrows dropping from the skies and the flies upon children's faces
Let us leave our minds blank for the wildness without to colonize the wildness within
Let us leave our minds blank for that we love and may one day come to love.
Let us leave our minds blank in honor of all beings

All beings, who I say that too, are poems.

What kind of poem do you write today?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Empty Branch in the Orchard

To have loved is everything. I loved, once
A hummingbird who came every afternoon-the freedom loving male-
Who flew by himself to sample the sweets of the garden
To sit on a high, leafless branch with his red throat gleaming.
And then, he came no more. And I’m still waiting for him, ten years later,
To come back, and he will, or he will not.
There is a certain commitment
That each of us is given, that has to do with another world
If there is one.  I remember you, hummingbird. I think of you every day
Even as I am still here, soaked in color, waiting, year after honey-rich year.

What is this other world of which Mary speaks?  Is it heaven? The beloved community?  A science fiction adventure where we discover new planets and species?

I wonder if it this other place isn’t already here, within and without us.  Perhaps it is a commitment to love and hence be bathed in all the colors of the rainbow. We promise to do this even knowing that one day the light will fade from our eyes and we will no longer see the sign of life’s covenant with us. 

After death we either will come back to life, or we will not.
But what if we came back to life this day with the sun’s rising?

What or who will you love today?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

If You Say It Right, It Helps the Heart to Bear It

The comforts of language are true and deep;
In a cemetery, in the South, so many stones and so many
So small.  Sometimes three or four in a row….
Can you imagine the condition of the heart of a mother
Or a father watching these plantings?  I cannot.  But I try.
“God taketh  his young lambs home.” It’s is carved there.  A few words
Like water on a stone. Cool and beautiful like water on a stone.

Several years ago I journeyed north from Mobile, Alabama to visit the place where my grandfather was born. As I approached this place, more and more of the cemeteries held stones with the name “Joyner” on them.  When I arrived at the country church, deep in the pines on a dirt road, the cemetery was full of my ancestors.  There, after a morning’s rain, I found the markers of my great grandparents.  With the sun reflecting off the water atop the time smoothed stones, I could just make out these words, “He served while he lived.”

Today I give a workshop on Compassionate Communication.  I will hold these words from the past as I offer people the chance to learn ever greater how the language we use can comfort, if not in the immediate, at least into the future if our intentions are to love while we speak truth.  If we can use our language, thought, and action as a means to practice compassion in every moment, maybe our cemeteries will be not quite so full of lost lambs who had succumbed to the jackal of our natures.

Where might you use words of comfort today for another?

Friday, January 21, 2011


What is the vitality and necessity
Of clean water?
Ask the man who is ill, who is lifting
His lips to the cup.

Ask the forest.

Ah, Environmental Justice in poetry.  What befalls one of us, befalls us all.  If there not clean water on this earth, then we all become ill:  the fishes in the rivers, the herons on the banks, the children on dusty roads, and the planet itself.

But I speak for myself.

Let me ask the forest, which from my upper story hotel room in Denver is several miles away.  The trees don’t really start to populate the rising terrain until the upper reaches of the of the brown shrouded mountain.  The snow is scant on the peaks, which are graced with low clouds.  I don’t know why, but is just feels “dry” out there.  Perhaps this is just my Florida self speaking who is accustomed to the over 93% humidity reported last week.  Even at home with all that water, there isn’t enough. Many springs are ill, and several have already died.

The pine forests here and at home answer with crashing limb and trunk, or with a crackle of fire.  If I could but take the cup of poisoned water from the lips of this wondrous world, and refill it with loving purity I would.

What shall you put in your cup today to offer the world?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It Was Early

It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world

and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,

especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out

as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!

What do they mean?  In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving

the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
 Little mice, run and run.
Dear pine cone, let me hold you as you open.

I wonder how you awoke this morning? Did you have doubts of your kind?  Perhaps there are certain politicians whose rhetoric exasperates you, or the latest tally from terrorist bombing correlates with how many fewer times you will express today.  Maybe you are thinking of the tender children who cannot run away from abusing adults, who could not run away from their circumstances either.

What if, as we think of how we are hunted and haunted each in our own way, we choose this today to be blessed.  We watch the harm, we watch the fear, and we watch the chase, which is a dance, isn't?  

Then in response, we choose to bless the world and hold all lives, mean and small, knowing that the human heart may yet open.  Maybe today.

Who do you hold today in hopes it will open?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Everyone should be born into this world happy
and loving everything.
But in truth it rarely works that way.
For myself, I have spent my life clamoring toward it.
Halleluiah, anyway I'm not where I started!

And have you too been trudging like that, sometimes
almost forgetting how wondrous the world is
and how miraculously kind some people can be?
And have you too decided that probably nothing important
is ever easy?
Not, say, for the first sixty years.

Halleluiah, I'm sixty now, and even a little more,
and some days I feel I have wings.

The story I tell of myself was that I was born a happy child.  I recall feeling such love for my siblings and parents, or at least empathy.  I had a sense of the drudgery of my father and mother. This didn't impact me greatly for I spent as much time as I could with birds, and flew free. Then somewhere in the growing up, I lost the ability for the over view, and returned to the mud and harshness of the terrestrial life. 

The span of these middle adult years had a lot of harsh landings, and a lot of escapist time up in the air.  Alternating between dreams and grounding may have been challenging, as I believe it is for most of us in our middle years, but what skills we acquire! Now is the time to fly low to the ground so we can wrap our wings around the suffering and the gorgeous. 

At what level do you fly today?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More Honey Locust

Any day now the branches of the honey locust will be filled with white fountains;

in my hands I will see the holy seeds and a sweetness will rise up

from those petal-bundles so heavy I must close my eyes to take it in,

to bear such generosity....

I hope that you too will pause to admire the slender trunk,

the leaves, the holy seeds, the ground they grow from year after year

with striving and patience;

and I hope that you too will say a word of thanks for such creation

out of the wholesome earth,  which would be, and dearly is it needed,

a prayer for all of us.

Dogwood, magnolia, hickory, cedar, and oak
Every day you greet me out my windows
With patience you remind me of
myself, no self, all ourselves
I bow in gratitude

What do you give thanks for today, which is a prayer for all beings?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Poet Always Carries a Notebook

What is he scribbling on the page?
Is there snow in it, or fire?

Is it the beginning of a poem?
Is it a love note?

What is the first yawn of the morning?
The gasp while the scale delivers its news?
The sink full of dishes?
The newspaper full of bad advice trumpeted as truth?
The son calling from jail?
The uncertain purpose of the day's activities?
These words seen in blog form?

Are they all love notes?