Even the word surrender
suggests some agency,
but perhaps
what is asked of us
is zero—perhaps
we are like the seed
of the lodgepole pine
that does nothing itself
to open.
It needs the heat
of a wildfire blaze.
The seed is released
into the blackened,
desolate world
that seemed hellbent
on destroying it,
but it is the carbon-rich
soil left behind by the fire
that feeds the seed
and helps the tree
grow straight
and tall.
No surrender.
No effort.
Who could ask
for the fire?
The seed didn’t.
It did nothing at all.

First Steps

inspired by “First Steps” (after Millet) by Vincent Van Gogh and a song by the same name by Kayleen Asbo

Like a sweet and lyrical song
that ends long before the heart is satisfied —
like the first pale green of spring
that disappears by morning,
those first steps of a child.
How we cheer. How we celebrate
the very thing that will lead
our child away from the shelter
of our arms. And still,
even knowing what I know now
of loss and grief, memory insists
on repainting those first steps
in only the loveliest hues.
Years later, I am still kneeling,
arms open, stunned
by the beauty of independence,
thrilled by those first uncertain steps.
Oh my child, who can say
where your steps take you now?
Though my heart breaks, my god,
still I cheer for you.

inspired by “Wheat Field with Crows” painted by Vincent van Gogh and “Blackbirds” composed by Kayleen Asbo

Oh Vincent, I long to pause with you
where the three paths converge in the wheat field.
We can stand there beneath the sullen sky
like two piano notes side by side,
which, when played at the same time,
rub against each other
in an awkward, uncomfortable music.
Sometimes what unsettles us
is so unbearably beautiful.
I want to meet you in this moment
before you return to a wheat field
with not a brush, but a gun,
want to meet you in this moment
before the choice, before the shot,
this moment when there are still three paths,
all of them leading beyond the frame.
Let’s linger here, Vincent,
beneath the dark arpeggios of crows,
linger here while everything is still possible.
The storm is coming, I see it, too,
turbulent and full of change
while in the honest wheat, look,
you’ve shared so much light, so much gold.

What is the reason
you’re canceling his membership?
asked the AAA representative.
Because he’s dead,
I said, my voice flat
as the stiff plastic card
with my son’s name on it.
I’m so sorry,
said the woman.
Thank you, I said,
determined to stay composed.
But I found myself at a threshold
with one foot in the past
when my son had just learned
to drive and was proud
to be a safe driver,
and one foot in the present
reciting the numbers
of my credit card
to pay for the membership
that no longer includes him.
Around the fifth number,
grief was a lug wrench
lodged in my throat
and I could not speak
through my tears.
I’m sorry, I said.
Take your time, she said.
It took me three tries
to get through the digits.
The number had become his smile
as he polished the headlamps.
The number had become his pride
in driving me to the store.
It was his hands on the wheel,
his glee in the curves, his finger
tapping the dash in time
to a cheeky country song.
How is it a memory so beautiful
can crumple me like a fender
hit by a semi at the same time
it floods me with joy?
God, he was happy
when he was driving,
his foot on the accelerator,
and all that road waiting
to be explored.

May Morning

Just after sunrise,
I hear it, the bright airy trill
of the red-winged blackbird—
and before my eyes
are even open,
I feel a wild resonance
with the waking world,
the certainty I belong
to this day with its rising sun
and scent of green grass,
its breeze reaching in
through the screens;
I belong to this day
with my creature heart
that already this morning
longs to hold what it cannot,
longs to comfort others,
even knowing how
sorrow must be felt.
I belong to the song
of the red-winged blackbird
as it calls out again,
belong to the silence
as he waits for an answer.
And waits. And waits.
I belong to the spring
every bit as much
as I belong to winter.
This is perhaps
the conundrum of love,
no matter how strong the ache,
we still belong
to the world of beauty,
this world that calls to us
even in our sleep,
wakes us with a promise
strung like audible garland
across the dawn—
you belong, you belong.

Coming Together

Driving over Dallas Divide
I thought how not all streams
are destined to come together—
at least not for a long, long time.
Imagine, two snowflakes landed
side by side atop the Divide. Come spring,
one might flow west to the San Miguel,
the other east to the Uncompaghre.
It would be over a hundred miles
of flowing through beaver dams
and irrigation ditches, rapids
and eddies, before the waters
could meet again.
And so it is tonight, I feel a rush
of gratefulness that however
it happened, you and I have somehow
managed to be moving right now through
these landscapes of change together.
Think of all of the paths
that could have pulled us apart.
And yet here we are, you and I,
moving across and around obstacles,
you and I traveling together
through everything the world
has thrown at us, you and I.
diverging and coming back together,
two bodies, many possible paths
one water.

            while listening to Kayleen Asbo’s “Cypresses”

The wind, that knows itself only by what
it touches, does not whip your hair
as it churns through the wide golden wheat fields,
does not steal your hat as it tosses
the clouds into frothy white and violet whorls,
does not slap your face as you stare
at the silver-green branches of olive trees
upswept into turbulent curves. You’re just looking.

Until you realize the wind has breached the frame
and touched you the way it touches all that it loves,
and your heart knows what it perhaps wishes
it did not know—that all is changed and rearranged,
all gets stirred up and remade, even the cypress,
even the mountains, even the stubborn heart.

you can see the painting here

no passport—
still this feral beauty
crosses my border

inspired by “Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer” by Vincent van Gogh and music by Kayleen Asbo, “Les Bateaux de Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer”

Dear Vincent, I wish I could speak of grief
as well as you articulate the colors of the sea,
naming all the hues as they change in the light—
noting the deep ultramarine near the shore
even as it tends toward pale russet, toward violet.
It’s always changing, you wrote to Theo.
You can’t even tell if it’s blue because
a second later the changing light
has taken on a pink or gray tinge.
The same is true of shades of loss—
the moment I identify a deep feeling sorrow,
I notice pale hints of trust, nuances of awe.
The moment I name it tenderness,
it shifts into pain, ferocity, exhaustion.
Tonight I stared into the seascape you painted
on the shores of the Mediterranean,
and I knew myself not as the water
with its capricious tones, but as the boat
that sails upon it, something transported
by all this change. I tried to see the sea
with the same perspective you had:
It wasn’t very cheery but neither was it sad
it was beautiful. 
Oh those blue depths with their emerald, their white.
I let myself be carried by that beauty.

How do we deepen our relationship with the world?

Our survival depends on it.

The downfall of human society, said French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, will stem from our disconnect with the world around us. and Albert Einstein noted, “The field is the only reality.” Like the scientists, poets, too, have been exploring this concept for centuries. In this four-week playshop, we’ll read poems that create connections between outer landscapes (the world of experiences) and inner landscapes (the realm of emotions, ideas and questions). Then we’ll explore our own creative practice, building bridges of words between the self and others, self and the natural world, self and the divine and the self with the self. How might a poetic practice inform every part of our lives?  Students of all experience levels welcome–from first-time poets to Pulitzer Prize winners.

July 5
July 12
July 19
July 26

Hosted by One Spirit Learning Alliance, on Zoom. 5-7 p.m. mountain Time


To register, click here

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