Posts Tagged ‘impermanence’


Give me your hand.
            —this epigraph, and all italic lines by Rainer Maria Rilke, from “Wild Love,” trans. by Joanna Macy

Tonight, again, I slip my hand into the hand of Rilke
and let him lead me into regions of beauty and terror.
Though I weep, though I tremble, he does not let go.
When I praise, he reminds me, No feeling is final.
There was a time, perhaps, when I did not believe
a poem could save my life. Now, I know.
If you could examine my cells, you would see
every single one of them has been tattooed
with his words. I use poems the way others
use a rope, a light, a crust of bread, a knife.
He whispers to me of impermanence.
Is it not the very fragrance of our days?
And yet, he seems to say, in the meantime
there is so much splendor to be made.

*Inspired also by correspondence with Luise Levy and John Mason

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            with thanks to Joi Sharp

When my teacher told me
Everything we love can
and will be taken from us,

I did not know how she
was preparing in me
a synaptic path.

I understood her words
in the way one understands a journey
by reading a map.

Now, ten years later, with every breath
I travel this path of loss
as so many others have before me,

and yet there is no trail, no signposts,
no destination, and the path changes direction
from moment to moment.

But the path does not feel foreign.
Every turn of it is paved with truth—
Everything we love can and will be taken from us.

Those words now offer
the strange comfort of prophecy
as I wander these trails of impermanence,

stunned with gratitude even as I weep,
alive with loving what doesn’t last,
astonished by the enormity of love—

how love is the red thread that pulls us through,
not a thread to follow,
but a guide that never, ever leaves the path.

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My father lies in his hospital bed,
eyes unseeing, unable to do more
than open and close his hand—
a wounded bird trying to fly—
his thoughts too wispy
to gather into sentences.
And then, quite clearly,
What is wrong with me?
I tell him, We don’t know.
And then, Is it my fault?
I want to gather him
into my arms and cradle him
the way he once cradled me.
No, Dad, I say. It’s not your fault.
You’re doing so good.
And then he is lost again,
cloud-minded, moaning,
his face a storm of pain.
Outside the window, the clouds
have lost their shape. The wind
pulls their thin white veil across the blue
like a translucent sheet.
In the coming days, there will be rain.
His eyes flash open, then close.
Hi, he says, his voice warm,
full of marvel. Hi, I say,
press my hands to his chest.
I’m pouring love into you, Dad.
He hums the little two-note song
he always hums in affirmation.
He is so beautifully himself.
Then you’re going to need—
His thought evaporates.
What do I need, dad?
I’m desperate for his answer.
What do I need to pour love into you?
He says, You’re going to need—
The sentence turns cirrostratus.
I kiss his head.
I kiss whatever went unsaid.
Neither of us knows what we need.
We hold each other and reach
for what we cannot hold.
Hands open, we wing into the moment,
into love, this sky where we meet.

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And if I can’t live forever,

then let me make the most

of this sliver of eternity,

these slender days I’ve been given

in the ongoing story.

Let me be recklessly curious

about what I will never know—

driven to dance with the secrets

of galaxy and spruce cone.

Just this morning, I wondered

what wake will I leave behind?

Let me be relentlessly kind.

Let me find peace

with the imperfect self.

Let me find love

for the imperfect world.

In my smallest moment,

let me lean into enormity.

If I can’t live forever,

let me at least believe in forever

and love the world


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One Impermanence

inside each perfect blossom

hides the ache

for more just

one more

perfect blossom

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Can’t bring home the Sangre de Cristos with me.

As if I need another mountain in my back yard—

but these peaks are different, somewhat softer,

somewhat closer, somehow new.

A photo isn’t the same.

Can’t bring back the strange jazz of Friday night

with its ancient clarinetist, its renegade bass.

Can’t bring the back porch where we drank tequila.

Can’t bring the bright howl of coyotes

heralding dawn. I would like to pack

the conversation Julie and I had

this morning, the one in which she shared

her unmet dreams. And the laughter

in class today when hope was plucked

like a chicken and made into soup,

and the way the clouds were strangely blown

across the morning sky. The dark red gourd

Wendy carried with her. Scent of pinion.

Sound of Rachel’s drum. We can’t bring anything with us, really.

A toothbrush, a change of clothes, some boots.

But nothing that matters. Nothing

that we most want to hold. Like the love

I feel for these people who gather

in small rooms to talk about poems. Like

the friendship that blooms when we dare

to know just how much we can never bring back.


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It wasn’t until I had passed through security

and found my way into Concourse B

that I found myself sinking into a chair

across from a giant Vienna Beef poster

and began to weep. And once they began,

the tears wouldn’t stop. Nor did I try

to stop them. I had wondered in the ICU

where they were. Had wondered

again at my parents’ home. It was strange

to be so level—not cold, really, and not numb,

but oddly steeled. It was a relief, really,

to sob into my hands. To let grief take over.

To be a maidservant to fragility.

What a gift to be sideswiped with the truth

of our vulnerability. What a blessing

to be baptized in my own helplessness.

Over the loudspeaker, they announced

that a plane was delayed. As if any of us

really know when we’ll depart, when we’ll arrive.

When the tears dried, I stood. Walked

to my gate recalibrated. Called my parents

again because I could. Because I could.

In the window, I smiled at my watery reflection,

how it almost wasn’t there at all.



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A metal table in the sun. Beyond it, winter.

Two women sit, brought here by rambling.


One woman weeps, tears of mortality.

The other woman rhymes with her.


Everything rhymes eventually, though

neither of them know it yet. The grass.


The snow. The dirt. The way the two women lean

into shadows. It’s not that time makes demands,


it’s just that the women still see themselves

as separate. They grasp at the present,


thinking this makes them a part of it.

Meanwhile, the birds. Meanwhile,


the trees. Meanwhile, the cells, changing.

Meanwhile the sun slides down the sky.


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Years after the ten-word lesson in impermanence,

the truth of the words still comes to me—not always,

of course. For instance, not today as I skied with my daughter,

the sky relentlessly blue. Not as I folded the sourdough loaf,

the dough soft and stretchy in my floured hands. Not as I walked

up the driveway with my son, backwards, doubled over

in laughter. No, it never occurs to me when I am

at home in my gladness. Only later it comes, when thoughts do

what thoughts do—insist on forever, long for assurance, hope for more.

But always, buoyed by joy, enabled by bliss, the truth comes

to me, not like a pin in a balloon. Not like a shriek in the night.

Not like a thorn. More like a friend who is always there to hold

my hand and squeeze it as if to say, yes, that’s right,

it’s hard to let go. Still, there’s so much more to love. See

that chickadee at the feeder? See the shape of the river?

Note the color of eggplant’s skin? Come. See how the sky

stirs with purple and pink? See, it’s still lovely now

that the purple is gone?

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morning after he died,
I stare at red willows
wonder why they’re so beautiful


already vanishing
this snow as it falls—
best start kissing now


this old idea—
I slipped it on like a silk dress
lined with glue

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