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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

From the Cottonwood

I want to hear the song in the old cottonwood tree

outside my window, the tired xylem, the weary phloem,

the rough hymn of the ancient bark. I want to know

how, despite fatigue, it continues to flourish,

to push new cells through the tips of the twigs,

how it thickens despite long drought.

I want to hear the dark lullaby of the worms

as they move through the loyal roots—

what do they know of persistence?

And the dappld shadow that continues to grow,

what might it teach me of love?

Let me be the student of the limbs

that broke off in the wind. Let me listen

and listen again. There is too much

I think I know. I’ve been singing the same

familiar songs so long I began to believe

they were gospel. Oh, how I’ve loved the psalms of green.

Let me sing them while they last. And then, may I learn

to love the song of emptiness, song of surrender,

song of whatever comes next.

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Temple

It’s not because anything special happened.

Though I’ve sat in silence in desert canyons

and climbed iron rungs on overhanging cliffs

and sung in cathedrals and sung in snow caves

and hiked naked through juniper and

washed dishes in inner city shelters

and wandered the cobblestones of ancient villages,

today, sitting on the couch in my own house,

I finally understood with my whole body

how life puts us in the places we need to grow.

And so I made tea. And sat a while longer

with the windows open, listening to my longing

as it wove with the sound of the sprinklers and the oven fan

and I said to the moment, what do you ask of me?

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Learning

Today the shadows

teach me to love

what is dim,

the sweet respite

of obscurity

when the sun

is too much

and a tree

yields its shape

so that I might slip

my clumsy heat

out of the bounds

of the vertical world

and find instead

a cool dark pool

on the ground,

as if I’m a boat

that has discovered

at last

a slim calm eddy

in which I might rest.

This is perhaps

the way we start

to meet our deaths—

sliding into the relief

of these dark, quiet

channels.

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Dave drips the hot blue wax onto the ski

and tells me how it will help the ski meet the snow.

“The cold snow is sharp,” he says, “and aggressive.”

Today’s wax will harden the base of the ski.

 

I think of the world and all its sharpnesses,

all its aggressions. We humans

are not so unlike the snow. I’ve been fooled

so often. Perhaps my soul needs blue wax.

 

No, I think, what the soul really needs

is more like the scraper he pulls out,

and the brushes of copper, horsehair, and nylon.

What the soul really needs is a scouring.

 

He explains that the scouring allows

the cuts in the structure to be exposed

so that the skis don’t suction to the snow.

Is that what all these little cuts are for in me?

 

To keep me from getting stuck? Later,

as I skate in the race and feel my ski glide

across what is cold, I thank Dave

with my visible breath.

 

There are so many ways to relearn

how it is we meet the world. Today,

the lesson is a ski, a scraper, some wax,

a man with an iron, and acres and acres of snow.

 

 

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You’re hesitating, says John from behind his mask.

Each time I invite you to strike, you wait. And he’s right.

Each time before I extend and lunge, I drop my sword.

It’s crazy. I tell myself not to do it, but every time

he motions to strike, instinct says: drop the sword.

John, I say, I’ve trained myself not to be aggressive.

When people are vulnerable, I do everything I can

to make them feel safe. It helps that John

is gentle. It helps that he beams at me a genuine smile.

Don’t think of it as aggression, he says. If someone

you love gives you the signal to touch them,

aren’t you always ready to meet them then?

And I am. Think of it as an invitation to touch.

I wonder how many stories I’ve hardwired into me.

Thou shalt not hurt. Thou shalt not strike.

Thou shalt not stab another with a sword.

I wonder that I struggle so instinctively now

when this is so clearly a game.

John drops his sword. I extend, I lunge.

I touch his chest through his silver vest

with the tip of my sword, then retreat.

Good, he says. Good. Again. Again.

Is this the way we learn all the rules

we have written for ourselves?

By breaking them. Is this the way

we might choose to meet our opponents?

By loving them.

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Keep distance, the fencing teacher says,

and by this he means, stay close enough

to your opponent that you could, at any time,

extend, lunge and attack with your point.

All my life, I’ve tried not to keep distance.

All my life, I’ve done my best to avoid

the attack—from either side. And now,

with my silver lamé and my one white glove

and my face safe behind metal mesh, I dig

to find the part of me who craves engagement,

who seeks a bout, who wants to threaten

my target and exploit their vulnerability.

Keep distance, he says, and I understand

that this is how I show up for the game.

This is how I meet not only the opponent,

but, perhaps for the first time, myself.

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I’m still learning.

            —Michelangelo, on his deathbed

Sometimes I feel as if

I missed something.

Something big. The sermon

that would forge a love affair

with the divine.

The history lesson

that would teach me

how to forgive myself.

The webinar that would train

me in doing the right thing

at the right time. If only

I had read the right book

or met the right coach

or drunk the right tea. If only.

I don’t believe it, not really,

though sometimes

I wish it were as easy

as auditing a class.

Perhaps that is why

I write poems.

I’m taking notes.

Because sometimes

the truth slips into them.

Because it’s surprisingly easy

to forget.

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And though he struggles to conjugate estar

and though his adjectives precede the nouns,

he’s doing it. He’s telling me about una foto

and all its themes—and though the words

are like strange spices in his mouth—paprika

y cilantro—and though he insists he hates it,

there is a tender sinceridad in his voice, like

a tree seed, perhaps, una semilla, that has

some vague idea of its potential, but is still

so trapped in its seed-ness that it is intimidated

by trees. And whatever part of me that is todavia

una semilla recognizes itself. How frightening

to see all that we do not know, to stand

beneath it like the shade of a giant tree,

to know ourselves as small and still stand straight.

My son finishes his descripción, then smiles

at me, and in his smile, I somehow see

the roots, the greening leaves, the trunk

as it reaches up doing what trunks are made to do.

 

 

 

 

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Circle Time

 

 

The teacher is singing, her voice

a bluegreen moss that softens the room.

I don’t know why I make a fist,

but I let my left hand land

on the back of the boy beside me.

 

It makes a sweet thump, as if

he is hollow inside. And I like it,

the sound of that thump.

And I do it again. And I do it

again, my fist a warm stamp

 

on his silence. The teacher

is singing, her voice a leaf

that whirls through the room,

and I hit him again, not

to hurt him, but because

 

the thump sounds so good.

The teacher stops singing.

She looks at me and the boy

and asks us what is happening.

He is hitting me, I say,

 

and the boy does not say no.

She sends him to the corner

to sit alone. This is when I learn

to lie. Beside me, the space

on the rug is silent as wool.

 

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After the training wheels come off

she wobbles and crashes and jumps up

to cry again. She pushes her helmet back

into place and rubs her hands of the gravel.

I force myself not to offer advice. Some

things must come from the center.

Vivian picks up the bike and straightens

the wheels, finds her place on the seat.

The pedals are not too far for her to reach.

She is ripe for this skill, and mostly willing.

She jerks on the handlebars, over rights

herself and falls again. There is such a thing

as too much right. She once told me

that if you do not learn to cartwheel

before you are eight, then you never will.

Something in the vestibular system, I wonder.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I do know

there are certain windows that close.

An eye that is unused in the first few months

of life will never learn to see, though

its parts are all in working order. Perhaps

there are windows for the heart, too,

so that if by a certain age it does not learn how

to get up and try again after it has fallen,

it will stay down and never learn how

to love beyond itself. Come on, I say under

my breath, you can do it, I say to my daughter.

And then out loud I say, Yes, yes, dear girl,

you are doing it. You are doing it, I say

as she falls, falls again, and gets back up.

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