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A pomegranate, tennis racket,

wide open lily—basically anything

can act as a Trojan horse to get

those old ideas close to me,

and dang, I’m confronted again

with all the ways I’ve let down

the world and all the ways

I could have, I should have

done better. How many times

have I tried to escape these thoughts?

I’ve run mountain races and

written thousands of pages

and wept a spring flood and

confessed and bled and still

they find a way back to me.

Sometimes they come knives drawn,

but more often they come

wearing fluffy robes and slippers,

making themselves at home.

I cornered one today, looked it

right in the eye. What? I said.

What do I have to do?

It shook its head and said,

All I ever wanted

was for you to say thank you.

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End Well

End well, says my friend,

and I think of Beethoven,

how his final symphony

was a triumphant masterpiece,

a unifying ode to joy.

And I think of the time

we ran the Grand Canyon

for weeks and on the last night

we tied the boats together

and floated all night and laughed

and laughed and laughed.

There’s the Rilke poem

about a marble torso

in which he closes with

You must change your life.

And espresso at the end

of a meal, how the dark bitter cup

leaves the mouth

in an warm O of ecstasy.

But it isn’t always easy to end—

saying goodbye to a faraway friend.

Ending a kiss. Leaving the beach.

Turning the last pages of a book.

So I think of the rabbitbrush

that fill the field—how long

they hold their gold. Until

it’s cold and they fade

and it seems like the end—

but then, if I should shovel

across them, or walk through them

in the early snow, oh the perfume

they release then—evergreeen

and earthy, herbaceous and cool.

Sometimes to end well

is to offer more

when it all seems done.

Sometimes to end well

Is to surprise everyone

with one more gift.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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