Thursday, March 29, 2018

On the 76th anniversary

Where I live, most folks come from somewhere else,
and having come here, we now claim it as our own,
each of us bringing something of before --
-- of culture, or of art, of prejudice or belief --
that becomes another brick in this home we build together,
while the history that shaped this land
before our late arrivals still exists as our foundation;
decisions made that drew us in
and determine how we all hope to continue;
a gross injustice rectified,
a loss recovered, the falsely accused
returned to open arms and reunited,
a reconciliation shared that echoes in our bones
and fuels our hearts with hope.

Having chosen our new forebears,
we are the undescended children
of a new vision of community,
our former diversity a model which exists in awkward yoke
with our current lack of same,
a shared past shaping us which has no mirror in the present.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thoughts for an unproductive artist

Think about the cherry tree--
bare for so much of the year,
and yet we plant them everywhere
and wait each spring, anticipate
the fullness of their blossoms,
admire their pinks, their rosy fullness,
inspired to plant more just to experience
those few days of delight.

From bare to full and quickly bare again,
the cherry trees remind us:
perfection's never permanent.
Rejoice when it takes place,
and trust, when it must leave,
that its brilliance must return,
and that all the days when we feel barren,
empty and bereft,
we are just storing up the light we'll need
so we can bloom again.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Time for change

Together we are marching.
We are breathing the one breath,
traversing the distance from strangers into intimacy,
gathering and sharing in the losses of the world,
lifting up our voices in the One Song of creation
like the birds outside my window
or the planets in their orbits
we're declaring our intentions that the time has come,
is now, is meant to be
a time for change.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

That bright flame

At the deep root of yourself there lies
an unquenchable spark
that glows -- however faintly --
in everything you feel and do,
a response uniquely yours, and yet
connected to the larger fire
that animates us all.

Whatever has befallen you
cannot extinguish that bright flame
however it may flicker
it may never be snuffed out:
there will always be, beneath it all,
that essence, that flash of light
that makes you you.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Open your ears.

Open your ears
and listen for what invites you to say yes.

Is it the wind,
that carries the scent
of earth, longing to be turned?

Is it the sun,
that illuminates the dust
piled in the corners?

Is it the rain, reminding you
you need to clear the gutters
before they fill?

Is it your stomach groaning,
hungry to be fed?

Or is it your heart,
calling you into silence
so you can hear the cries of the world?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What to do, what to do...

I hear you say we can use grief --
convert it into energy --
and yes, I've seen it done and know it's true,
and yet the prospect chills me, stills me,
drops me into stasis as I stare into the emptiness
and can't imagine it will ever fill.
That is the challenge, isn't it --
it's not that now is suddenly empty,
it's the prospect of all the empty nows to come
that overwhelms us:
this person, this activity, this place, is gone, and nevermore.
The raven sings his mournful song,
depositing its worm into your ear, relentless dirge of loss,
and still we wake again to face another day
and still the pain we'd hoped might vanish in the night
lingers on, its angry elves
pounding their tiny hammers in our brains and in our veins
in a relentless harsh cacophony there's no way to ignore.

And truth be told--
no day will ever go by now
without that sense of loss,
though it may dim,
and we are carved, formed, modified,
by the shapes our lives will take as they adjust
and then reform around the hole that's left behind.
So shall we bend and slump,
contort ourselves, or lift our grief above our heads
and carry it as a prize or gift
that raises all our efforts to new heights?

The choice is ours, and every day's
a chance to make it yet again,
to lower or to lift; to bend or even break,
or rise again to carry what we've learned
into the light.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Something motherly in me

First light,
and spring is on the rise --
I know it must be,
because I'm hearing birds again,
their chirping so aggressive,
so insistent I can't miss it.
Must be their mating calls,
which means the wreath on our front door
will soon begin to rattle --
like the van's-a-rockin' don't-come'knockin,'
busy with the building of the nest inside its arc,
above the bow, and though I know
we could take the damn thing down
and so avoid the mess they make,
there's something motherly in me
that rejoices in the return of last year's babies.
Now they're grown and making babies of their own,
and that ongoing tradition reassures me.

Tiny gray birds mean so little in the face of all that's crumbling --
the government, the bridges, so symbolic
of the losses of connection we're all facing --
and still the gray birds come
and build their nest inside my wreath again, and chirp --
telling me the world will still continue when I'm gone.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A bridge to compassion

What do we do with the dark we feel?
What do we do with the cold
that scutters through old bones
and keeps us shivering?
Where do we put the guilt that comes
with knowing how small our own trials are,
and yet we still complain?

Put pen to paper, brush to canvas:
scrawl the anger, splash frustration,
hurl the ink and paint out into the world,
away from the soul they score with their sharp edges,
digging troughs that funnel into depression;
pour them out, the self pity and the fury;
let the words and pictures aspirate
the poison of our disappointment,
leach the venom from our veins
so we can greet the other with grace and courtesy,
not carrying the disfiguring load of resentment,
that keeps us from forgiving, from seeing
that those who wage their ceaseless wars,
who block our efforts to serve, save, and relieve,
are people, too, beset by their own
fears and wounds and frustrations.

Perhaps if we can find new ways
to creatively express concerns
without attacking others,
our art might form a bridge to more compassion. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


What is it that explodes us,
makes us bigger, richer, kinder persons,
capable of giving more than just a cursory attention?
What takes us from immersion in our thoughts and pleasures
out into the heart of someone else's need or cry;
that moment when compassion rules,
and now becomes a stirring in the veins,
an echo of another's pain or blessing,
a moment when connection is a truth we cannot help but feel,
known beyond all knowing,
true beyond whatever we might see or touch;
the wing of the green moth
that flutters out of reach but draws us closer to the flame.

Scorched, we burn in sympathetic waves,
approach and then pull back,
aware and then shut down again
and buried in our own erected walls until
another unexpected tender moment pierces,
struggles through the gap already carved,
an invitation to step through again
and feel the power of shared breath with all humanity,
shared roots with all that grows and dies and then is born again,
with all who struggle and are lost, then found again,
with all the stars that fell to make us up
or twinkle nightly invitations in the sky
to be more than we had thought of being;
to be, O great, O powerful,

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When worries rise

When things go dark -- just one or two:
the shipment that arrives too late or damaged,
the mouse that fails to track on your computer,
the favorite food altered, or no longer stocked
at your local grocery store,
the friend who takes offense where none was meant...
I start to wonder: will this be one of those years?
Remembering the Bad Year in my childhood,
when the furnace blew, the dryer died,
and Dad was in an accident,
and then he lost his job,
the bad news tumbling in like jenga blocks
when the kingpin is removed --
And so I grow more vigilant,
and notice things that wouldn't normally worry me --
the paintings that never seem to gel,
the days when no poem comes onto the page,
the requests for aid that always seem
to fall outside my comfort zone,
the criticisms, and the difficult conversations
that we can no longer avoid,
and then anxiety kicks in, quivering in the veins --
really, is this gonna be that year?
These tasks are easy, so far,
but are they harbingers of harder trials to come?
And so we realize again how vulnerable we are..

Open the windows,
listen for the birds of spring;
let their song reassure you.
All is well, all is still well,
you are still living on the path,
and summer waits around the bend
with its bright promise;
hope is on the mend.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Awaiting spring

Having only seen her naked
and dripping with red berries,
I am waiting for my dogwood
to burst into song-- or maybe flames?
I'm not quite sure what to expect,
and not completely positive
that she survived her winter in my yard,
and so I wander out,
tiptoeing through the tall wet grass
to where she stands, majestic
in the center of my lawn,
and examine the tips of her lithe brown fingers --
are those buds? I ask the ferns
who gather at her roots in green obeisance,
but they are silent.

I will simply have to wait,
and hope she will surprise me
with great blossoms of delight.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Differing perspectives

We who have lived and moved and had our being
in several different states
(I don't just mean, like, Illinois, Texas, or Minnesota,
but also sickness and in health, in joy and degradation)
are blessed to understand change can be good:
a chance to reinvent yourself,
to find new opportunities,
and so we cavalierly (or so it seems
to those who haven't known this freedom)
offer change -- a gift -- to those who might not
have discovered yet that safety's an illusion;
that it doesn't always mean sticking with what you know
and watching it degrade (because it always does;
that seems to be the way life works);
that safety is discovering
the resources within yourself to tackle something new,
to dream, or to imagine some new life;
to find new talents or take on unexpected burdens,
and in doing so discover some new strength
you hadn't realized you had.

But if you never leave, or risk,
of course our willingness to share,
to shift, to trust, to try new things,
to experiment, will only seem
another threat -- just one of many attempts
to take away the life you know,
and so, inevitably we find ourselves at odds,
and drifting more and more apart until
some tragedy helps us again to see our common ground.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I'm not stalking

In the Sanborn Room
the ancient leather chairs
gather in the after hours, sharing
stories of the students who have dozed in them,
heads turned into their tall wings, sheltered,
dreaming of algorithms, battles and fraternities
while snow piles up against the tall paned windows
that stretch their checkered paws from floor to ceiling
while dust mounts on the shelves that circle the room,
the books that no one reads, their dark green spines
growing brittle with age and disuse.

I once sat in your lap
in one of those dark chairs,
my legs draped over its cushioned arm,
my cheek against your chest.
Wrapped in your warm embrace, I felt I'd reached
a peak experience, and sighed -- as I sigh now,
thinking of you, a simple ferry ride away,
yet unresponsive to my pleas for your attention.
I'm not stalking you,
just wondering how your life turned out,
and if, like me, you found the love you craved.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018


What is it that I miss?
Not God, whatever that word means to you,
because that word is always with me,
even more now, since I walked away,
so could it be the vestments, colors,
fabric of my dreams, the stoles, the banners,
or the stained glass windows?
Not the crosses -- wood, or gold,
empty or inhabited,
though Ethiopian silver with
those streamers is a look that I adore --
and clearly not the clergy
(though some I have befriended)
many more have I offended in my heart,
so wholly human and pretentious --
I stopped putting them on pedestals long ago.
The places -- dark and hallowed
by the years of worship, voices echoing
through the beams and cushions --
and the scents, for sure,
candles and incense, censers swaying as they pass,
but not the sermons, often flawed
and singling out the points that Jesus
never intended us to make,
and long, and filled with platitudes.
And sadly, not the people,
not the coffee hours and meetings,
the sniping and the jockeying for position,
and the rules, and the holier-than-thous...

No, it's communion that I miss.
Not the squares of wonder bread, or wafers,
not the tiny glasses, grape juice rattling in their heavy trays,
but I have memories of stoneware chalices of port
passed round a circle,
and homemade bread, so sweet and warm
and torn for one another from the loaf we shared
and placed in waiting hands, from God through me to you,
this is my body, in remembrance,
and the sip, and wiping cup before we passed it on;
that sense that we were truly one,
raising our voices in rough harmonies,
the old psalms chanted, verses rising at the end,
the voices of the monks, rough unison
that finds such beauty in our different
timbres and perspectives,
and the kneeling, always kneeling,
in the worn stone floor below the pews,
and knowing, once again,
that we are small, and linked, and loved,  and part
of something so much larger than ourselves.

Monday, March 5, 2018


Fear is such a visceral emotion:
one tiny indicator of possible danger,
and all my body's cells go on alert,
stand up, and look around, and shout,
What? What? to one another,
ready to do battle,
or to flee if that's required,
but somehow never ready to just listen to my voice,
the voice of calm, the voice of reason,
the voice that says, "I've got this:
you can settle down;"
instead they all get agitated,
scattering their tiny wits
and losing focus on whatever goal I'd set for them
until enough time has passed without an incident,
and they finally sense it's safe
to return to their usual stasis..

Words cannot express

I can fill the world with words and phrases
And still fail to communicate
What it means to have been blessed
By knowing you.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

So many people

So many people talking,
Longing to be heard and seen,;
So many people,
Hungering for their moment
Of praise and accolades,
Driven by conviction or desire to excel
To stretch themselves, 
to grab for the gold.
Not enough people listening,
Hungering for peace.
Not enough people
Driven by compassion,
Imagining themselves in others' lives,
Placing the good of the whole
Above the one.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Each scent

Each scent that I encounter
Finds its origin in you.
Each face, however dark or light,
Young or old, pockmarked or smooth,
Was first seen in your eyes.
Whatever weather --hot or cold,
Floods or freezing rain
First leaves your hands
Before it warms or chills me,
And each event --
The blessing, curse, or ordinary --
Finds its way into my life 
Having passed through your
Creative processes.
You paint the canvas on which I dance;
I am but one of many brushes
Carrying shape and color into your world.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Rough weather

An inauspicious start to the day:
A canceled flight, a child in tears,
A marital fight, and years of fears
Come rolling in, a rising tide of worries,
Old regrets, remorse and new frustrations.
How can we start again, you ask,
Or do we just press on and muddle through
The feelings gathering at the gate to peace,
Clawing at our coats as we attempt to pass?
"Think me, think me, think me!" They cry,
And each one's true, but only to a point,
But still they tug and pull,
Dragging us off the path and in 
To self-recrimination.
Simple misunderstandings blossom into war in this harsh climate,
And fear becomes a target and a weapon, guilt the arrow, trust, what shatters.
The family butterfly flaps her wings
And storms break out on every front,
Rain pounding down the lines, and wind,
Battering at the windows as souls struggle to remain erect and rooted,
Grounded, steady and serene 
until the weather rights itself.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


The messages the colors send --
The tired harvest gold and brick,
The avocado trim, the drawers that stick,
The refrigerator hum, the raucous blare
Of heat, the faintest hint of disinfectant
And of smoke, all these and more
That speak of age and overuse
And yet I cannot help but think
How this would seem luxurious
To all those refugees camped out in tents
Or hiding behind trees, afraid and thirsty,
Dying of the cold, the war, starvation...
This scarred table, 
the lamp that doesn't work,
The dirty carpet, scuffed and stained,
The shower that runs cold instead of hot,
All this I see, and yet I'm haunted still
By all the faces that may not see tomorrow.