Death and Temperance, and the Wall

 

I have hit the poetry wall tonight. I’ve been feeling it coming for a couple days now, the slowing, the resistance in my brain as I approach it. And here, tonight, with Death as the prompt, I don’t know where to go. I want to make it light and fluffy, toss it off without thinking. I don’t have the brain cells for much work tonight, and my will to work is shallow and listless. Then I remind myself that some of the shiniest poems happen at the moment of the wall. Of course, that’s when some of the worst ones happen, too. Sigh.

 

 

No, I think she’s a woman in a red cloak
with gentle brown eyes and midnight skin.
Unlike the ferryman, she asks no token,
no proof of passage or confession of sin.

She carries a sickle instead of a scythe,
appearing in fevered delusions and dreams,
and though you may dread to see her arrive,
you will cherish her presence on the journey.

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There now. I’ve written something. I honestly can’t tell whether I like it or not. That’s part of the wall, too, the loss of a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Best to just get it down there, and come back to it with a clear head when April is over.

TOMORROW’S PROMPT:
So much of it is about Balance, isn’t it? Justice, a few days ago. Even Death–there’s always a balance between death and life, between the fear of it and the hope for it. The Lovers–they’re all about balance between the opposite parts of our inner nature. Tomorrow, again, is another sort of balance: Temperance. We’re not talking about periods of US history here, but about the concept. Passion and zeal are important drivers, and they can be great when you need to get the chariot moving, but fokeeping it going straight and steady, you’ve got to find the temperate balance. Can the Fool, in her naive and wandering heart, find the deep meaning of Temperance?

Gratitude List:
1. Pink trees
2. Cool breeze
3. Bees
4. (Ack! Now I need to keep going with this.) Poetries (Don’t judge me.)
5. Cheese (Hey now, I do love it, and we had some mighty fine Pepper Jack for supper.)

May we walk in Beauty!

Meeting the Mage

Into the Woods

Sometimes you can’t see the trees for the forest.
You miss the sweep of oak, the broad arms of maple,
the proud rise of locust and poplar and pine,
because the understory closes in around you.
The briars catch and grab, the poison twists
and wanders everywhere into your pathway.

Sometimes you miss the healing tang of rose hips
there in the green tangle before you
because you’re fretting about the thorns,
licking the blood from torn and tattered fingers.
You miss the berries swelling in the brambles
as you reach to free yourself from their grasp.

But some days, when the path is muddy
and you’ve slipped for the thousandth time
back down the slippery hill trail,
your eyes will catch the bright blue
of a feather in wet leaves,
or the sparkle of a shining stone
there where your hand has reached
to push you back to your feet.

TOMORROW’S PROMPT:
Little Red had her Wolf, Snow White had her Dwarfs, and Goldilocks had her family of Bears. When the Fool enters the Wood, the first person she encounters is the Magician (the Mage, the Shaman, the Adept, the Witch). This is someone with a great deal of skill in the manipulation of the elements, someone who can make you see what you think you want to see, a creator of illusion. The Fool encounters Magic in tomorrow’s poem. My poem will be about Magic or the Magician, or the Elements, or changing consciousness at will. Will you join me?

Gratitude List:
1. Getting it done. Plugging. Deciding what I can do and can’t do, and making it work.
2. The haven of my parents’ house for grading in silence, distraction-free.
3. Music and words. Reflection and contemplation.
4. Black-out poetry–my sixth-grader is doing some for homework, and it’s lovely.
5. All the elements.

May we walk in Beauty!

A Pleasant Day


It’s a pleasant day for an old man cat, when the sun shines and the catnip is rising through the myrtle.  (Photo by Farmer Jon.)

UNESCO has named March 21 World Poetry Day.  Someone on my Facebook page suggested we mark the day by quoting Mary Oliver: “Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.” I read that part of that one to my classes today.

See if you can catch
a wriggling poem from air
to mark the new day.

Gratitude List:
1. Happy cat
2. Clear fresh water
3. Poetry and Poets
4. Wise women
5. A good book

May we walk in Beauty!

Snugglesome

snugglesome

Gratitude List:
1. Bald Eagles. Twice in the last two days, I have seen a bald eagle (perhaps the same one) near the Wrightsville exit off 30. Once in the air, and once in a tree. Every time I see one, I bless the memory of Rachel Carson, and remember that one person can make a difference in the world. Were it not for Rachel Carson, we very well might not have bald eagles to be grateful for.
2. This snugglesome cat. I knew him when he was a kitten, and now he is an old man, and I have only slipped from young adult into middle age. I feel as though I have gone from being his Mama to being his granddaughter. And so time is fleeting, and I am grateful for the time he has with us.
3. Poetry–putting it out into the world in a more intentional way.
4. I think that the sick-folk are getting better. I haven’t heard anyone cough for a good half-hour now.
5. En-visioning. I began a little Vision Booklet today. It came together very easily because I used collage bits that I have been saving. Probably just for this. I think that I have sorted out my heart’s desire a little more explicitly this year than I have before. That is satisfying.

May we walk in Beauty!

If I’d Only

fire-and-water
Fire and water–A photo I took of fire, melded with the Japanese wave painting. I feel like there’s a human portrait in there. . .

Today’s prompt is to write an “If I’d Only _________” poem.

If I’d Only Had More Time
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

If I’d only had more time
had more rhythm
had more passion
had more energy
more focus, more rhyme

If I’d only had more zeal
had more wisdom
had more hope
had more tenderness
more compassion, more appeal

If I’d only had more sass
had more impertinence
had more whoop
had more in-your-face
more fierce, more brass

If I’d only had more only
had more mostly
had more often
had more will
more do
less lonely

Gratitude List:
1. The moment when I crawl into bed in the evenings. The delicious feeling of being just about to fall asleep
2. The messages in dreams
3. Poetry prompts
4. The mix of leaves in the yard: poplar, oak, maple, sycamore, walnut, locust
5. Always beginning again

May we walk in Beauty!

Opportunities for Practice

special

Sometimes it seems as though the Wildest One (you might call her God, or the Universe, or Love) is actively meddling in the affairs of mortals, like I am given a thing to learn, and then immediately after am handed the situations necessary for practice and integration.

Last weekend, I took part in a training with the Center for Community Peacemaking on Restorative Circles with Kay Pranis, a thoughtful wise woman who gave us many tools for using the idea of a circle to bring restoration to broken relationships when harm has been done in a community.

In the two days since I have been back to school, I have encountered several situations in using a circle tool in the classroom helps to facilitate the discussion or to ensure that a student expressing a feeling or opinion feels safe. Yesterday at the beginning of class, one student began sharing her concerns about the political process. Other students began to jump in and talk over her, encouraging her and debating her points. She is very soft-spoken, and I was afraid that her moment of vulnerability would disappear into the fray, so I took a stone to her desk, said that while she had the stone, the rest of us were empowered to listen, and she continued. When she was finished, she just naturally handed the stone off to the next person, and a relatively respectful circle ensued.

In another class, the sharing of papers can get tedious, and some of the students tend to be anxious about sharing their writing. I handed a talking piece to one of the boys who seems to take a quiet leadership role in the class, and said that we’d send the talking piece around the circle a couple times. People could share parts of their papers or pass. In the first round, the girls (it’s a very small class) both passed, and I thought that maybe it was a bad choice to do it this way, but in the second round they both shared, and a boy who strongly dislikes English class also shared, making up an answer to one of the writing prompts on the spot–it allowed him to use his verbal strengths in community, so his sense of inadequacy about the writing was suddenly moot. Again, the students seemed to have a natural understanding of the process of the talking piece and turn-taking.

Along with those delightful examples is situation of harm that needs to be addressed. I need to work through with the student in my class who was at the receiving end of a very harmful comment whether a circle might be the place to address the harm that occurred.

So. Along with the learning comes the opportunity to practice. May I be open and ready to use the tools I have been offered.

Gratitude List:
1. The way the mists and fogs hang about the fields in the mornings
2. Practice. Opportunity to practice
3. The shining eyes of my students
4. Poetry. Yes, again. Yesterday after I had read the Dawna Markova poem I had chosen for my opening poem, a boy asked if I had ever heard of Langston Hughes. I told him that yes, I had even posted a Langston Hughes poem to my Facebook page the day before. I will have to bring a Hughes poem to class this week.
5. The hope of restoration

May we walk in Beauty!

Re-Integrating

tattoo

Quiet, thoughtful, tired today. So much to absorb from my three days of learning to keep circles. Now the work is to learn to apply and integrate the practice into my work, into my Work. And after three days of circling with twenty-five others, that specific circle itself must settle in like a seed and germinate within. And now, somehow, I must now reintegrate into the world outside the circle.

I think it would be good for me, sometime in the next two months, to sit in circle with people who are planning to vote for Trump, people who are planning to vote for Clinton, and people who are voting for Stein or Johnson. Perhaps some non-voters should be in there, too. I could not be the Circle Keeper, but I think I would come out of such an experience a much healthier person, hopefully less anxious, less furious.

Gratitude List:
1. Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Spirit
2. Autumn is in the air
3. The circles expand out and outward
4. Poetry, how it says things that cannot articulated in didactic words
5. We are more alike than we are different

May we walk in Beauty!

Wings Wide

hummer
Just a picture of green leaves, but if you look really closely and squint your eyes and cock your head to the side, about a third of the way along the very bottom of the photo, you can make out the silhouette of the mother hummingbird’s head, her bill pointing down as she feeds her baby.

For the Vulture

When you came to rest upon the pole
and opened your wings
wide to the sky,
were you holding up that cloud, or
warming your shoulders in the sun?

Were you warning the people in the valley
that death will one day visit us all,
or reminding us that all of life
is one great cycle, with no beginning
and no end?

I felt it as a benediction,
the pastor raising her hands toward heaven
and blessing her tiny congregation
gathered under the sycamore tree.

Gratitude List:
1. Hummingbirds. I know. Every day, right? But yes, every single day, and yesterday I trained my binoculars on the nest when the mother flew away and saw two tiny needle beaks poking up above the nest’s rim. Picture a metal bottle cap–the inside of the nest is only millimeters deeper than that, and two tiny hearts beat inside two impossibly tiny winged creatures who live inside that space. My heart keeps falling on its knees.
2. Friday. I love teaching, love my new batch of students, love seeing my earnest colleagues daily. And. And. I am exhausted. The first week is a glorious whirl. At one point this week, I found myself telling one class about another class’s deadline.  One the day when I was orienting all the classes to the use of certain computer programs, I completely missed a step in the last class of the day because I thought I had told them already–I had said it so many times already. That said–I am eager for the weekend of rest.
3. Poetry. My life is so much richer for the beauty of language that surrounds me.
4. Hymn sing. Friday mornings, the faculty gathers before school to sing hymns together. It’s the perfect thing to wake up the spirit for the last day of the week. What a perfect, perfect metaphor for the work we do together, to sit and blend our harmonies once a week.
5. Solitude. (I need to carefully find my moments of solitude in the new rhythm of my life.)

May we walk in Beauty, ever ancient, ever new.

Hymn Sing

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Gratitude List:
1. The poetry of old hymns.  John Ruth (may he live forever) articulated this beautifully last night.  I have been itching to find words for why I keep returning to the oldest hymns, even when the patriarchal language and theology send part of me into a tizzy.  It has to do with the fact that we’re singing poetry together.
2. The resonance of a hymn-sing in hardwood-floored gallery.  A perfect space for four-part harmony.
3. Singing and reading poetry in a gallery.  The hymns and poems and paintings all have a deep sense of structure beneath the surface vibrancy and color.  While we sang, while I read, I gazed at Freiman Stoltzfus’s mandala painting on his Symphony of Spring wall.  We sang “For the beauty of the earth”–this line caught me: “for the mystic harmony linking sense to sound and sight.”  Holy moments.  (If you get into Lancaster, you must check out Freiman’s gallery on Prince Street.)
4. Roma and John Ruth.  What lovely people!  They must be nearing 90, but they’re as crisp and playful as ever, she leading the songs with vigor, he giving vignettes and thoughts on each song, on the state of singing, on how moving it is to watch youtube videos about interspecies interactions.  And here is the amazing thing: After I introduced myself to him, I mentioned that we had talked about my great-grandfather 25 years ago.  He remembered the conversation (better than I did).  He’s written a 1000+-page book in the intervening years, met hundreds of new people, traveled the world, and he could still remember meeting a kid just out of college and researching her family history.  What a brilliant mind.
5. Words and word-lovers.

May we walk in Beauty!

Grandmother’s Roots

IMG_20160530_110821693
the peonies have
finally awakened in
the doorway of June
transient blooms and roots that
come from grandmother’s garden

Examen and Gratitude:
1. (Who inspires you?) Harriet Tubman.  Today, I finish my mini-course with my students at the River.  We will talk of dreams and water, of the Underground Railroad that traveled up this River, the walk to freedom.  And I will tell them of the Dreamer, Harriet Tubman–legend says that sometimes she would suddenly fall asleep at really dangerous moments on the journey northward, but when she awoke, she would know the next way to go.
2. (What makes you glad?) Sun on the wing of the red-winged blackbird.
3. (What fills you with deep joy?) The inclusive laughter of teenagers, the way they perform for each other to make each other laugh, the way the laughter catches from one to another and on down the line like a wildfire.
4. (What is your hunger?) For solitude, for silence, for deep quiet.  Even in the midst of loving these last days with my young people, part of me is turning toward the quiet of summer and the deliberate pacing of the long days.
5. (What wakes you up and calls you forward?) Trying on new ways to use words, reading poets who break up language and use it like mosaic and collage artists use broken bits of glass and pieces of paper.

May we walk in Beauty!