Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Back to What Matters

 

 

We are built to make mistakes, coded for error.

            —Lewis Thomas

 

 

And thank god for mistakes,

our inherent inclination to not do

what we’re supposed to. It’s cellular,

 

they say. Biological. Evolutionary.

Just two nights ago, my back erred.

Stopped working. Would not stand straight.

 

Would not sit. No walking. No bending.

No lifting. No twisting. You lay down,

it said. You don’t move. And so for two days,

 

I’ve watched the sky out the window.

I’ve watched the wall be a wall. I’ve

marveled at the body, how it changes

 

from go to no in an instant. How

a simple mistake—a lunge to the side—

didn’t seem like a mistake at the time.

 

And yet, because of it, rest. Because of it,

a quieting. A welcome nothing. The occasion

to know healing. The firm invitation

 

to learn to say no. How difficult times

help us grow. How mistakes become

game changers, chances for transformation,

 

the summons to wonder, What am I doing

here anyway? Why am I really here? And

the bravest part of the self steps in to answer.

 

  • Dear Friends, I have been literally flat on my back for several days, and I was utterly unable to write poems. Or do anything, for that matter. It was so humbling. Amazing, really, to be so incapacitated! And I am feeling much better. Your regularly scheduled daily poems should return now …

 

 

 

 

One on the Floor

 

 

 

math homework

crumpled and tossed—

one student subtracts herself

Concentric

 

 

 

See, I want to say to my son. See

how the pond has frozen in thick,

 

continuous curves. See all the lines,

how they ring each other, like dozens

 

of tiny orbits. I want to show him

the marvel of it all, but he is too old

 

now for marvels, or perhaps too young,

the precise age where beauty is boring.

 

And so I take the child of myself to the pond

and show her the rings. I resist the urge

 

to explain how the meltwater formed them,

how surface-tension forces make liquid melt

 

cling against the lower parts of the ice.

Instead, I let her gaze at the miracle,

 

trace the concentric bands with her fingers.

How curious the rings are, like frozen halos

 

that fit enormous angels. How astonishing

in their design. Just wait till I show her

 

we can walk on it, too. I let her amazement

become my own, our feet slipping

 

across the smooth surface, our breath

rising in white ephemeral curls.

 

 

 

Scent of ripe quince—

how it wholly takes over.

Salt. Butter.

Pure cold water.

 

Release of carrot

just pulled from the earth.

Purple of lilac.

Playing with words.

 

Sweet thrill as a note

rises up through the lips.

Kissing, of course—

the sweet red crush of it.

 

Sun on my shoulder.

Voice of the lover.

The moment before

the moon breaks over

 

the horizon. Reading.

Walking for days.

Staring at stars.

High alpine skies.

 

And all the things I didn’t try.

All the unwalked paths.

Sleeping in. Waking up.

Uncontainable laughter.

And the silence after.

 

 

 

One Continuation

 

 

returning from the journey,

as if the return isn’t also

a journey—

as if this journey called home

isn’t also riddled with wonder, surprise

 

 

 

We begin by talking for an hour

about the kids, her church, dad’s health,

and how we both cry when we see acts of goodness.

We clean the kitchen. Address one mess

before starting the next. Then we peel apples,

marvel at their size—how much larger

they must be than in the time of Fanny Farmer,

who thinks we might need eight tart apples

for our nine-inch crust. Fanny, even a hundred years later,

you are still synonymous with precision,

organization and good food. And, as I recall,

you, too, practiced your art in your mother’s kitchen.

As it is, seven apples in 2018 are enough

to fill two generous crusts. Oh Fanny,

some things have changed, for instance

this Granny Smith, large as my fist. But some things

are exactly the same. A level teaspoon

is still a level teaspoon. The simplest recipes

are still often the best. And it’s still so good

to make a pie with your mother, talking

about all of life’s loose ends, measuring sugar,

filling the crusts, then cleaning up the mess

as the scent of sweetness touches everything.

 

Practice

 

 

To be grateful not only for flower,

but also for mud, grime,

slug, slime, the dingy,

the filthy, the tired,

to be grateful not only for star

but also for what is prickly, thornsome,

tricky, testy, sore,

to be grateful not only for warmth

but also for the cold that holds it,

the chill, the bite, the nip, the freeze,

the breeze that blows always head on.

To not only say thanks, but live it.

To not only know thanks, but give it.

 

 

 

What Hands Can Do

 

 

 

In my country, he said, we take strangers

by the hand when we greet them.

His taxi wove through the northbound cars

on Lakeshore Drive, and I watched his eyes

in the rearview mirror as they searched

the lanes for where to go. It’s strange,

perhaps, he said, to offer someone

your bare hand, but it’s a nice gesture,

I think. In the world beyond the car,

how many strangers did we pass

in one minute? How many chances

to reach toward another and say

Hello, or as they say in Bosnia,

Zdravo? How many chances

to open some small part of ourselves

and trust the other to do the same?

I wanted to disagree with the man.

I wanted to tell him, that’s what

we do in this country, too. But

clearly his experience told him otherwise.

Here, he said, people shake at the end

of a conversation to make a deal.

But not at the beginning. At least

not with strangers.

I want to start a revolution. I want

our country shake hands more.

I want us to extend ourselves

toward those we don’t know,

to offer them something of ourselves,

to be vulnerable, welcoming, kind.

When I got out of the car, I thanked the man

in his tongue, as he’d taught me, Hvala.

I paid with the credit card in the back.

I didn’t reach forward to seal the deal.

I stepped out grateful for what he gave me—

one more way to revere creation,

one more way to honor what hands can do.

One Invitation

 

 

not just to play

the song, but to be the song—

the leaping melody,

the sullen chords,

the infinite silence inside

Taking Things as They Are

 

 

 

Besides learning to see, there is another art to be learned, — not to see what is not.

            —Maria Mitchell, pioneering astronomer

 

 

Give me eyes that see only what is,

eyes not fooled by veils, by scars.

Give me ears that hear only the words that are said,

ears that clearly translate silence.

But give me a heart that feels into

what is possible, a heart that believes

in goodness, despite reports

from ears, from eyes. Give

me a heart that speaks only love,

that leans toward kindness, that opens

again and again like an O’Keefe petunia—

larger than anticipated, mind stopping,

soul rousing, haloed by wonder

and wholly true to itself.

%d bloggers like this: