Arrival: words in brief

How do we wait for the new year’s arrival?
Fire burning day and night,
pots littering the top of the wood stove,
turning up their noses
at the full kitchen upstairs.
I once burned old letters here
as the year turned,
blazing through endings;
now the purple-gold glow
is our small share of the sun’s
wild energies captured
to keep our winter bones warm.
Polar temperatures, I’m learning,
have their own variations:
today is bright and windless.
I pad in winter moccasins and snowshoes
through the soft snow,
like a child in the warmest slippers;
no colder than the mice
who leave their small trails
scattered under the cedars,
tunnel down underneath it all,
and survive.
Inside there is tea and soup,
and I take it in slowly.
The contours of my heart are rounded,
both spacious and full, its rhythms
keeping pace with my life.
I hold the hot soup of this moment
in my cold hands, note its arrivals and leavings,
the newborn child of its entrance,
the small swift bird of it lifting its wings
to take off.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: arrival. Day 97, New Year’s Eve. 

Interview: words in brief

I interview my parts:
my limbs today are strong and stretched,
yoga widening space in my lungs and heart.
Each day my body’s new-found sweetness
shifts away lifetimes of clutter,
clears space for joy.

My heart is softer now,
appreciative of ordinary kindness,
awake to simple possibilities.

Sometimes I fear the future; or mourn
the enthusiasms of earlier decades, or grieve
my heart’s attachment to a village
that was always more a dream than a plan.

I keep vigil with the fears, let them
travel through,
remember that this world is provisional,
my place here is temporary,
and has always been.
But I am still here, finding delight,
finding peace.

My feet are connected to the earth;
I am at home within myself.
My mind is open to the trees and sky,
engaged with poetry and wisdom,
and with my own gleaning of words to fill my hunger;
My hands find ways to make small things beautiful.
My soul can handle truth.

Moods drift past like clouds;
I watch, let them drift where the wind blows,
try not to hold on to anything,
except presence,
except love.

From 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. Word prompt: interview. Closer to 200 words, I believe, but this wanted to be said today.

One day you may drift into darkness (on a small ship on the sea’s slick surface): a poem

I’m heading off on a short backpacking trip with two dear friends early tomorrow morning, and as I get ready I’m thinking about darkness.

I will tell my children:

one day you may drift into

darkness, on a small ship

on the sea’s slick surface,

the moon’s reflected light reflecting

faint hope on the rolling waves.

Don’t fear this starkness,

the lonely vigil,

the shadows cast upon you and

against you, strange fish lapping

at your ship’s sides,

the roaring silence, your soul’s

uncertain state of repair.

You are alone here;

you will always be alone

in your quietest self, in your

night-time wanderings,

beneath the sky’s huge awning,

no more here than in a crowd.

There is no safer harbour, there is no

certainty of life unfolding as you wish it,

as you believed had been granted,

had been gifted.

But you are alive now, luminous watcher,

buoyed by this silent cradle,

high up on the slippery waves,

rocking,

rocking.

Instructions for loving the place you live in

(A guided meditation, a love letter, a poem. Imagine it spoken out loud.)

First, stop, close your eyes, and listen. You may be tempted to open your eyes, but you will hear more that is true if you first keep them closed. Breathe into your heart, your belly, all the way down to your feet. Stand still. Let the waves of sound crash over your head: the hum of traffic, the roar of airplanes thousands of miles above you, the shrieks of laughter, the sirens, your neighbours shouting, sparrows singing, small children’s tears. Keep listening. To love a place you must listen beneath what it pretends to be, listen to what hurts it and what makes it most alive.

Open your eyes slowly. Keep your ears open: to the whispered greeting beneath the noise and bluster, the first sigh of recognition, the soft hello.

To love a place, start walking. You can’t fall in love in a hurry, closed up in steel and glass, shutting out the seasons, blocking out what’s real. Each step is an offering of your presence, a necessary courtship, an invitation to a dance. Under your feet your aliveness meets the streets, it meets the skin underneath the rigid garments, it coaxes and teases and lays down your tracks. This isn’t possession, it’s a rite of celebration, a deep soul connection, a blessing. It’s your way to see and be seen.

To love a place, explore with slow urgency. This is not haste, it’s a courtship of delight. What will you find in the alleyways, between the spreading trees, in the unkempt fields of goldenrod and asters, deep down in the ravines, by the river’s edge? Don’t be afraid to open your senses – what you discover may enchant or alarm you: the rough bark of maples, the smell of the porous earth after a storm, bold green plants pushing through the sidewalk, trees heavy with fruit ripe for your picking, hawks wheeling wide above high-rises, rabbit tracks stretched out beside train tracks, nestlings cast cold to the ground by heavy rain, piles of cigarette butts and indestructible coffee cups, the stench and rot of last week’s compost spilled out by raccoons. It’s all real; it’s all true: both the pain and the beauty. You’re not perfect either.

To love a place, don’t distain, don’t turn up your nose, don’t turn away, don’t let others shame or disparage. You need to keep coming back. Listen to its stories, tend to its wounds, be mindful of its past, be kind. You can be a healer, a caretaker, a lover, a friend.

To love a place, you must keep showing up. You must map your joys and griefs slowly over its surface and its depths; you must weave through its wide and narrow spaces your own bittersweet life. If you are patient, the place you love will one day shake off its shyness. It will look you in the eye and share its secrets. It will pull back its hair, uncover its shoulders, uncross its arms and legs, let you in everywhere.

I tell you, I promise you: the place you love will love you back.

ravine

 

 

Opening (a poem)

The clouds are threadbare today,
like a white shirt worn thin
with many washings. I see
the rumour of blue underneath,
a bright gap, an opening.

I wish I could tear away the edges,
ease them open with my fingers,
pull apart the thin strips of fibers
no longer needed.

I think I could slip the clouds
from your eyes too,
strip off your outworn garments,
unveil the bright clearing of your heart,
if you’d let me.

Pulling out a few more of these daily pieces from the past month-and-a-bit. This one is – no surprise – in response to the word prompt “opening.”

 

 

Waiting (a poem)

I’ve been thinking about the “work in progress” feel I have towards poetry lately.  I think it’s like this: for a long time poetry and I had a fairly casual relationship. There was an easy companionship between us. The words came easily. Recently,  I think I’ve fallen in love with poetry in a bigger way, and when you fall in love, sometimes a self-consciousness develops. You seem to have too many limbs, and you’re convinced that your words are coming out all wrong, and you start comparing yourself to other people. So there’s that. This summer I’m also writing daily around word prompts instigated by someone else. And thus even more so, everything feels like an experiment: fluid, unfinished, like a puzzle, sometimes awkward, but also exciting. How do I use today’s random word as a jumping off point to understand my own voice? How do I turn this into something I want to write about? How do I unselfconsciously try things out that are new to me? And then there’s the question of whether to share things when they feel so provisional. But the truth is right now I want all poetry all the time. This is from the word “waiting.”

Waiting

The wistfulness of late summer
arrives earlier each year.
This year it came when the spring’s first shoots
rose up above the ground.
Later, you knew, there would be rain and sun,
and the wild riot of blooming,
then flowers fading, grass withering, leaves turning.

What you had waited for each day in winter,
the tightness of your body aching to release its tension,
would barely start before it ended:
you, a spring uncoiled in
summer’s high dive under the approving sky,
the lake’s blue eyes ringed with tall sweeping pines,
smiling at your graceful prowess.

Too soon the lake cloud-lidded,
the sun again turning its face from you,
now basking its love upon the leaves,
inflaming them, and then too, in fickleness,
discarding both you and the leaves,
now older and more over-ripe
with knowing than you once were.

And you retreat.
Sit quiet by your small fire, waiting,
curl back into yourself again, lovelorn,
aching again with a pained hope
– each year aching with your pained hope –
that the sun will turn its fierce and tender gaze to you once more,
next spring.

 

 

Salt fermentation (a poem)

You always crave sweetness when it’s salt you need:
the warm salt of tears,
the sour tang of sweat,
the shock of immersion
in a cool saline ocean
soothing your heat.

But sometimes you’re drowned in salt sorrows,
your patience tried by a strange
fermentation, wholly unwelcome,
waiting for some deep sea change
to relieve you, for a rich curing agent to turn you
back to yourself.

I know you’d prefer sweet yeasts on your tongue,
their musk on your skin, their amorous softness,
but your salt struggle is
the brine that transforms you,
your grief’s complex cultures
are food for your bloom.

I know you think you’re dissolving,
but, oh love, your salt is like sweetness,
balm to my heart, tender with flavour.
Oh love, you’re bursting with comfort,
softened with yearning
you melt on my tongue.

Since the beginning of July I’ve been participating in an online course with Maya Stein called 100 Words: The Beauty of Brevity. It’s a course only loosely; mostly it’s a one-word prompt each day, a few helpful comments from Maya and other participants, and the challenge to write daily and keep things brief. This is from the prompt “salt.” Poetry always feels like a work in progress lately. This is about 140 words, in case you’re counting.