I Am

This is how Foothill faculty and staff describe academic year 2019-20

On the Friday before fall classes start at Foothill College faculty and staff come together for “Opening Day” to prepare for the new academic year. This year a panel of student leaders became our teachers and offered us a two-hour training on equity, focusing on implicit bias, privilege, and racism in higher education, including at Foothill. For our last activity at the end of the session we were invited to write a poem in which each line begins with the words “I am” to help us see our diversity and our unity.

I was almost too heartbroken by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to share this poem, but the students who asked us to “Listen, Learn, and Level Up” inspire me to live up to RBG’s legacy and work for a just and democratic society. Please take ten minutes to write your own I Am poem and share it in the comments.

I Am

I am a woman with no children

   learning to mother others.

I am a librarian

   learning to read

   myself and the world

   in a new way.

I am a seeker

   learning how to listen.

I am a human

   learning how to be a better creature

   on this planet.

I am grateful to be

   on this clear and sunny morning

part of the Foothill family.

Pack Nothing

Not even my laptop or photo albums?

What about insurance policies,

the earrings my sweetheart gave me?

One pair in your ears.

If I go with just the clothes on my back,

which outfit should I choose?

Shoes you can run in.

My books?

Start memorizing poems now.

Learn how to tell a story.

If you trust the prayer

in breath and heartbeat,

you can travel light.

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