All Things Sing You

yellow roses climbing up archHuman ears hear

the chittering of squirrels

and the here I am coos

of the mated mourning doves,

the breeze playing

in redwood boughs,

bamboo fronds,

and ponderous birds of paradise,

each tree as distinct

in the fingers of the wind

as instruments in an orchestra.

But could I ever learn to hear

the spit spat spurt

of asparagus cells eating sunlight

or slow my vision to catch

those green spears soaring to the sky?

Ordain my senses

that I may eavesdrop

on the love song

of the vine to the rosebuds

and the petals’ pleasure-soaked sighs

as they unfurl their delicate curves.

May I too sing You

ten thousand ways

in the ebb and flow

of silence.

Title from Rilke’s Book of Hours, 1,45

The Womb of Winter

Snowy scene
Photo courtesy of Quin Johnson

Hidden in the earth

a seed waits, drinking darkness.

Conceived on a summer day

when the sun suckled the earth,

fruit of wanton flowers frolicking

with passionate, hungry bees,

a seed in the womb of winter

might feel lost and forgotten.

But no,

the earth is not a grave;

it is your swaddling clothes.

Trust in the darkness,

trust in your quiescent potential

that holds all in its nothingness.

Spring will come,

and the light of lengthening days

will coax the glory of God

from the seedpod

and beckon you to itself.

For the Lifetime of a Minute

Sunrise over the beach

When dawn approaches with the usual palette

on this January morning,

sky flaunts willful, windborne clouds,

resistant to all

but shades of gray.

At my window I return to coffee and notebook,

like the fisherman

intent on what hides in the sea.

Hearts beat,

his and mine and the fishes,

even the rhythm of unborn poems.

But while fish and poems swim

in secret places,

the fisherman and I are caught.

For a minute

sky accepts the brush of dawn.

The hint of color snags

me in my bed,

the fisherman on the beach.

We both look up.

For a minute between slate and silver,

all is washed the palest pink,

and this sky is just what we need.


Title from “Revelation” by Jenny George

What Cannot Be Defied

sunlight pouring into the inner chamber of Newgrange

Apples ripened and acorns fell early,

confusing madcap squirrels.

Girls wore sundresses in November,

and the pedicurist polished

toes to peep out of sandals.

Where were the umbrellas and wool sweaters?

Our customary summer drought

lingered past its welcome;

even the rosemary and echevaria thirsted.

But beyond our fevered planet’s ripped cocoon,

the stars still proceed in their stately course.

We may defy gravity,

but the law itself remains unbroken.

Our earth continues to orbit the sun

at the same tilt,

and the days grow shorter.

At dawn on the winter solstice

sunlight will pour down the ancient stone passage

just as it did five thousand years ago.

Oh, praise the light that is beyond our reach!

Thanksgiving at Dawn

For the pace of the sun

and the gentle way

light returns to us each day.

For my eyes that see

shades of white and blue,

notice when specters become

guava tree and bamboo.

 

Now leaves that were black in the night

turn olive, sage, and seaweed green,

and for a moment

light tickles the cloud’s belly pink.

 

For the cup of silence

that holds this witness

to what never fails

but might be missed –

everyday magic.

The Drum of a Day

All we have is the heartbeat

played on the drum of this day.

We are the hands on the skin,

and this hollow space

that swells with the rising sun,

pregnant with possibility.

Here resonates the call

to work and play and —

thrumming within each beat —

the sun’s farewell,

the night into which we naked return.

 

(Title from a poem by Antal, an 8th-century poet and the only woman among the Twelve Alvars of  South Indian Vishnu worship)

The Place That Shelters

desk and garden in retreat room at New Camaldoli

A bumblebee buzzes under the eave

as I take a sip from my coffee cup.

Though the sun has yet to peep

over the mountaintop,

light is seeping into the world.

All is still

except for the bee and me.

Jasmine and juniper,

salvia and fig tree,

even chipmunks and quail

wait in silence.

All is still 

but the bee and me

and the rolling restless sea.

Soon, soon

stirrings will burst

into full-throated blessing,

the rest and prayer

of this longed-for retreat day,

but in this moment

we perch on the threshold

and see,

   as guests at the feast would,

   the bee and me seeking and sipping,

   creatures alike in our need,

that this day will be good,

yes, very good indeed.

California coast from New Camaldoli

Solstice Fire

Long days and sultry nights

leach all reason

from my sleep-starved

flesh-enmeshed spirit

drunk on light and heat

then hungover

and with me a whole hemisphere

besotted and whirling.

Here at the edge of the sea 

the fog will float in soon 

and for all of us eventually

the soft quilt of darkness

but today and always

the cave of your heart

is lit with God-fire.

Feel it flow

through your veins.

Burn —

as only you know how.

Inspired by Linda Serrato’s poem “On This Morning” in Sacred Stone,  Sacred Water: Women Writers & Artists Encounter Ireland.

Happy Easter, Happy Earth Day

“I can hardly wait to have a drink,” a fellow churchgoer told me with a grin as we walked out of the Easter Vigil a few years ago.  Ah yes, the bliss when you finally partake of a delight you’ve abstained from for forty days (alcochol! chocolate!), but that was the year I gave up social media, and I had no burning desire to rush home and check Facebook. In a relatively short time I’d gotten out of the habit of even thinking about it. Plastic, on the other hand, I have obsessed about like no other Lenten sacrifice of my life, yet there can be no blissful anticipation at returning to its use.

“How’s your plastic challenge going?” friends often asked me over the last six weeks, and the answer was always some variation of humbling – because I kept failing. Early on I imposed my own penance and promised to give 50¢ to charity for every piece of plastic I put in a trashcan and 25¢ for every piece I recycled. Any guesses on my donation to Save Our Shores? My transgressions add up to a shocking $25! The biggest culprits were trash bags, tamper-proof seals, and takeout containers. There’s not much I can do about those plastic seals, but I’m learning which restaurants use compostable containers and try to remember to take my own “doggie bag” with me when I go out for a meal. Despite my failure to completely eliminate single-use plastics, I have reduced, which means less garbage and fewer trash bags. If you’re contemplating reducing your plastic use, consider other side benefits. Eating less processed food is good for your body as well as the planet. By not shopping online, you will support local businesses and maybe even buy less stuff.

Which habits will stick now that Lent is over? To be honest, the ones that don’t require much of a sacrifice like using mesh produce bags and shopping bulk bins. Avoiding clamshell containers is much harder because I love fresh berries and those Trader Joe’s salads that are perfect to take for lunch at work, but I’m going to try. I’ll definitely keep relying on my Kleen Kanteen and Zojirushi coffee cup and plan to switch from liquid to bar soap, but I might not keep making my own yogurt (yogurt tubs can be recycled though!).

After forty days of considering environmental action as spiritual practice, I’m delighted that Easter and Earth Day almost coincide this year. At this double celebration of life and hope, I’d like to end with a poem in honor of the gray whale I wrote about last week.

gray whale spouting
Photo courtesy of NOAA

Spring Migration

In the lagoon

I could hear my tribe breathing,

but in the billowing open sea

whale spray and ocean ferment

are all the same –

our spouts, her whitecaps.

We ride the tidal surges,

lost and found in her power

as we sing our way home.