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As You Have Done for Me

There is treasure in you.

—Joi Sharp

If you were here

I would put my hand

on your heart

and hold it there

until our breaths

became a single tide,

hold it there until

I could feel the moment

when you remember

your infinite value.

It’s so easy to forget

we are treasure.

So easy to lose track

of our own immeasurable worth.

The chest rusts shut.

We think we are empty.

Amazing how easily

we are fooled into believing

we’re paupers.

Sometimes it takes another

to remind us

we have always been

not only the treasure

but also the key.

Though the hinges

are a metaphor,

the treasure is not.

We were made to open,

to share our priceless gift,

to press our hands

to each other’s hearts

and hold them there

until we all remember.

Lightly, lightly. It’s the best advice ever given to me.  

–Aldous Huxley, Island

Eventually I learn

that anything I would hold onto

will weigh me down—

sorrow, of course,

but even delight.

And there is no predicting

when the next step

will find me travelling

onto thin ice—

so I remind myself

each step, each breath,

each grasp, each hope,

go light, go light.

Their hats are cockamamie.

One has lost its carrot nose.

Stone buttons and eyes

have long since succumbed

to gravity. But there is

something yet dignified

about the snow people in the yard,

their knobby stick arms raised

as if, in their declining state,

there’s still so much to praise.

Getting Ready

What might you need to let go of or “clean out” in order to make room for wonder or joy?

—Kayleen Asbo, Advent and the Arts: The Week of Hope

Just today I walked

in the shadows

and noticed how

they scrubbed me

the way silence sometimes

scrubs a room.

Wonder rushed in.

It wasn’t that I was trying

to keep wonder out,

it’s just that with my schedule

and rigor, I hadn’t left it

space to enter.

If only with mop

and broom I could sweep

out anything

that would keep me

from wonder, from joy.

Instead, the world offers

shadow, stillness,

quietude, loss,

and a red-tailed hawk

in the heart,

circling, circling,

wondering what

it might subtract next.

What does control have to do with the creative process? How could a poem really save you? How might we fall more deeply in love with the world as it is? These are some of the questions I muse about with poet/radio host/friend James Navé on his radio show Twice 5 Miles. Recorded last week, the hour contains lots of practical ideas for writing and meeting the self that might rather hide … I hope you enjoy listening!

Inviting Obama for Dinner

I no longer remember much of etiquette

from reading White Gloves and Party Manners,

so when Obama doesn’t come to our house

for Thanksgiving dinner, I needn’t worry

that I’ve forgotten how to address a former president

in an informal setting. I do, however, remind my kids

that if Obama were sitting with us,

they would want to remember to put their napkins

in their laps. They do.

And you probably don’t want to lick the serving spoon,

I add, as it goes from the cranberry sauce

into an eager mouth. And we don’t talk about farting.

The whole time Obama isn’t eating mashed potatoes with us,

we wonder what he is eating with his family

and what they are talking about,

and if he might not just accept an invitation

to our home for dinner. If he did,

we agree we would refrain from using the knife

with the butter dish to butter our own bread.

And, uncertain how to address him,

we’d just ask him personally how he’d like be called.

I’d like to believe that Obama might actually show up.

He’d knock at the door in his elegant and humble way,

no fanfare, holding a side dish of roasted brussels sprouts,

and we’d listen as he told us what he’s up to these days.

As it is, it’s kinda fun when he doesn’t show up

and we act like ourselves. I eat my green beans

with my fingers—they taste better that way.

My daughter plays with the candlewax.

Sometimes, I lick my plate.

Building the Snow People

We rolled them out of backyard snow.

How quickly snow balls the size of a heart

become snow boulders the size of a man.

We gave them features

to make them more like us.

Dark brown stems and leaves of dried mint?

Those became hair. Carrots for noses,

of course. Small gray rocks for eyes.

Plus knobby sticks. Rust-colored leaves.

Thin icicles from the eaves.

The wail of a siren going by—

that went into them, too.

Plus a prayer for those in pain.

And a slip of blue Colorado sky.

We walked among them,

these rare guests in a time of quarantine,

and perhaps we felt our loneliness lift.

What is a snow man but a temporary cairn,

a dolled up trail marker that leads us

back to ourselves, back to our own backyard.  

At Some Point It’s Clear

So little of life’s sweetness

can be planned. Oh, meals,

of course, and sometimes

children. But mostly, joy

loves a surprise, loves

when schedules get shuffled

and agendas unravel and

suddenly there’s a space

for bliss to slip in dressed

in calamity’s clothes.

So easy to praise what

looks like success—

but teach me to give thanks

for the mess—

whatever is burnt, broken,

wounded, fumbled, missed.

Teach me to be open in each

unscripted moment

to the bloom of gratefulness.

Small Things

Small things aren’t just important,

says my father. They’re everything.

And I think of how,

night after night, he’d lie

on his back on the floor

and bench press me

as I stood with one foot

in each of his hands.

Years later, every morning

he’d lift me with a phone call—

This is the Broadmoor. This is your

morning wake up call.

He’d say it in his snootiest,

haughtiest British butler voice.

And years later,

when we hold hands

he rubs his thumb across my thumb,

a small, familiar gesture of love.

Now, wishing I could hold

his hand while we sit

in different rooms together

a thousand miles away,

I can almost feel

the pad of his thumb

move across my knuckles

the way wind moves over water

and creates the weather.

It lifts me.

It’s everything.

And do you know that you’re actually going to make more of a difference by focusing on politics than on the culture you’re passionate about? You don’t know what you might help make happen. Our world is full of the result of unintended as well as intended consequences. 

        —Yo-Yo Ma, “Yo-Yo Ma and the Meaning of Life” in The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 20, 2020

When Rilke travelled through Russia

and studied Saint Francis

and fell in love with the married Salomé

and wrote poems for The Book of Hours,

he could not have known

that over a century later

a woman on another continent

would find herself wrestled by darkness

and find in his poems encouragement

to lean even deeper into darkness

until she could fall in love

with what she feared most.

He could not have known she would

tattoo his words into her memory

and scribe them into her blood

so whenever she walked or lay in the dark

she would have his words ever with her,

and they made her not only more brave

but more wildly alive than she’d been before.

And what if, as his parents had pushed,

Rilke had joined the military

and turned his back on poetry?

And what if he had not gotten himself expelled

from trade school so he could go on

to study literature and art?

What would have become of the woman

a hundred years later

had she not found his poem

and learned from him to love the dark?

Here’s a version of that poem that saved me, “You Darkness, That I Come From,” read by Meryl Streep.

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