Sit With All Your Senses Alert

Thank you to my friend Kim Woodland for this guest post. I met Kim in Carolyn Flynn’s writing group and have had the pleasure of hearing her work for many years now. A naturalist and retired teacher, Kim shared the experience of outdoor education with kids from preschool to high school, and now I’m delighted to share with you a view of my garden through her poetic eye.

photo of garden

My Friend’s Backyard

the sun

bathes my skin in warmth

like the steam curling up

as I sip my morning chai

on this cool spring day

photo of chard

winter rains have resurrected

last autumn’s chard,

dark green leaves flutter

on four feet of ruby red stems

individual asparagus

stand like sentries

in the oblong wooden rimmed

garden bed

some tipping their heads

like snakes ready to strike

the oak titmouse,

a small gray bird

with a fancy crest,

flies proudly from tree to tree,

a chickadee visits the suet feeder,

turning like an acrobat

to find the choicest bites,

a golden crowned sparrow

flits nervously in a bush

waiting for its turn

while the Bewick’s wren

trills a daring song

and waggles its stiff,

upturned tail feathers

I sit with all my senses alert

photo of oxalis

as I observe the neon yellow

petals of the oxalis

reflecting the sun’s color

back to the giant star

the smell of jasmine

arrives on a warm breeze,

my feet are solid on earth

as I sit in my friend’s garden

breathing it all in

each atom  

vibrating its own story

connects me

to my place

within the infinite

and the microscopic

as they swirl and twirl

into one.

By Kim Woodland

At the Edge of Spring

All fall and then all winter

I meant to prune

the spent asparagus ferns.

Now, hidden beneath the dry stalks

and lush encroaching oxalis,

Tom and I discover fat spears

pushing up from the earth.

A white tulip peeps from under the hopseed,

and jasmine shares the first fruits

of its fragrance with the bees and me.

Workdays that began and ended

in the dark two months ago

are now bookended by light,

and the slate blues of my winter doldrums

are yielding to pastel hues.

Within me optimism stirs

like a chick inside an egg

who hears her mother’s chirps and coos.

This school year,

my last as a college librarian,

is exactly half over,

and I feel change coming

like the light

slowly swelling the days.

What used to weigh heavy

is starting to slip away.

Already I delete incoming emails

that no longer apply to me.

Soon I will shred papers,

give away office curios,

and on the last day

surrender the keys

that have been for twenty-one years

in my safekeeping.

For now, though, I am waiting

as I started to wait

when I planted bulbs last fall.

What colors will bloom?

Which flowers will flourish?


With gratitude to Lea Haratani for the title

Each Dawn a Surprise

oxalis blooming in a garden

From the dark place despair dropped me

may I rise up like oxalis

after the first autumn rain,

push through

wildfire ashes and

soaked cedar bark mulch

into this enticing

day-following-night world.

Let me sip sunlight

and feast on my own green,

unfold cloverleaves as if

the sun would return

tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

All winter long

buried,

I dream of flowers

so yellow they might be worthy

of this light.

December Drought

In weeks with no rain, 

the lime tree and roses sip

rinse water from the shower,

as eloquent in their distraught and drooping silence

as a languishing invalid in a romance novel.

Meanwhile the bougainvillea, 

that strapping hero of the garden,

shamelessly flaunts a riot of red bracts,

and the clock vine winks back,

allowing coy orange starbursts

to peep from her curtain of green.

It is December, and we poets must be brave.

Bake cookies and trim the tree,

sip eggnog at the holiday masquerade,

but if you happen to see,

as you sign and stamp

one more Christmas card,

a monarch butterfly go by,

take in the flutter-dance

like Renoir instead of Wordsworth.

Flaunt your own finery

and wink back at this season’s

swaggering would-be suitor. 

He doesn’t need to know

what you are saving and savoring,

that you are a succulent

with poems in your cells.

Image created by Jennifer Prince and shared under Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 4.0

Tug and Sigh

Datura blossoms, also known as angel's trumpet

Like the datura’s yellow trumpets

I am waiting for the breath of angels

to perfume the twilight

of this ordinary day

and play the vigil hymn

reminding me

that heaven and earth

wed long ago.

I too am married

to the unseen

sigh and scent,

filling and returning,

thus never full –

always longing,

often failing,

yet ever blessed

with heaven’s pull.


(Title from “The Silence Now” by May Sarton)


Gray-Haired Woman under the Harvest Moon

full moon

Sixty summers I’ve seen ease into autumn,

and I recognize this patient tug 

of nighttime on the days,

gentle at first like my own hand

easing a ripe tomato from the vine,

then insistent,

darkness yearning

for the tomb of winter.

At sixty a sprain is slow to heal,

and vigor wanes

before day’s work is done.

Tonight, though, last light

like the scent of apples

round the cider press

lingers on summer’s wake

as the orange belly

of this pregnant season

peeps over the horizon.

What will I gather

in the gloaming?

Paint on the cavern wall

the hieroglyph for patience,

And plant me as a seed,

for sixty years have shown me —

winter is a womb.

Feast me now with hazelnuts

and pour a cup of mead

to seal the promise

of a distant spring.

Like crickets and tree roots,

I am beholden to darkness

and care not 

what the world in me may see. 

Touched by harvest moonlight,

I know my silver beauty,

and novice though I am,

surrender to the night.

Image courtesy of C.E. Price

Hold Us in the Great Hands of Light

photo of garden at New Camaldoli

Touching the outside,

you make the inside glow.

Drinking my coffee

by halogen light,

I may not see it,

but the fig tree knows.

It all began with you.

Fiat lux,

and so it was 

that first day.

This morning

light on leaf

draws my eye

as a chipmunk 

nibbles the fig I left

last night on the fence rail,

dainty as a lady at a tea,

all of us beholden

to you,

one of countless,

but in this blue sky

our one, our only.

Title from “Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver

A Holy Fire

Candle surrounded by stars
Image by Sarojani Rohan

What if you were pregnant with a holy fire?

Would you be lit from within?

Might your glowing eyes hint

at the mystery to the outside world?


How would you feed this fire?


When she was pregnant,

my friend listened everyday

to Mozart and Debussy

so her babe would hear

sweet sounds in the womb.

She gave up caffeine and alcohol,

ate fresh organic food,

and practiced breathing

to prepare for labor.


How would you feed this fire?


Purify yourself.

Rest and dream.

Now is the time of waiting,

now is the long night.

Breathe in

the darkness,

and breathe out

your fear.


You are tinder for the fire,

and it will burn in your bones.

Floral Designs

Photo courtesy of Maggie Muir

I would give my all

to this one and only blooming,

every cell attentive

to soil and sunshine

in my sweet suckling

desire for water and light.

Perfume and pigment to petal, please,

then welcome, hummingbird,

butterfly, and bee

to my prodigal promiscuity.

Pollen to pistil,

let us give and take our fill

as if night will never fall

or winter ever come.

What Do You Hear?

What do you hear, Mary Camille?

On this first morning of the Labor Day weekend

I hear the roll of tires on asphalt

even through my double-paned windows.

I hear the mourning dove’s coo,

here I am, and where are you?

I hear the rumble of the espresso machine

like a locomotive grinding up a mountain grade

and the hiss of the frother,

spoon clinking against cup.

I hear the thump of squirrel paws

landing on the roof

and a rustling of privet leaves

on the limb he just leapt from.

I hear the silence

in a city without electricity,

the gurgle of receding floodwaters,

the last, labored rasp of the old woman

in the convalescent home.

I hear the clap and roar

of the departing helicopter,

the moans of those left behind,

barely make out the whisper

of a knife pulled from its sheath.

I hear the startled cry of the child

when another aftershock shakes her world,

the creak and clatter of shifting rubble,

the crinkle of plastic

as an empty water bottle is crunched

and tossed on a pile of trash.

I hear the crackle of wildfire

and roaring wind the fire itself creates,

the pop of exploding pinecones,

stamp of boots on earth,

a curse.

I hear the clackety clack

of the Giant Dipper gripping the track,

the cries of thrilled delight

when it crests the hill

and races gravity down.

I hear cheerful old tunes

on the antique organ

urging Looff’s painted ponies on

in their eternal loop,

the clatter of metal rings 

tossed towards the clown’s gaping mouth.

I hear gulls and waves breaking,

sand lapping seawater,

the ocean’s own merry-go-round.

I hear the surf

like the heartbeat of the earth

I hear the surf.

Inspired by the poet’s question to himself, “What do you hear Walt Whitman?” in his poem “Salut au Monde!”