Portents

Beetle, snake, apples. We walk single
file under willows, the dappled light
casting shadows. First the beetle, on its back,
and one side missing a few hairlike legs.
I flip it with the fine point of a pen revealing
its pale shell with elegant black stripes.
What to read in the moist spot it leaves
scuttling into the weeds? Immediately,
a slip of snake whips quickly into hedge,
slender tail a question mark, disappears.
Three small apples in a row far
from orchard. Four of us stepping
lightly on the concrete walk, stepping
lightly into the mystery of being
here together in this moment,
where everything is contained.

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Limbs of Love

It is out of love for itself that Consciousness bodies itself forth as a universe.
Christopher Wallis, Tantra Illuminated

Last night, in town, a shed exploded and burnt a house to the ground.
Everything was lost except the cat and the owners and their faith
that things come around right as long as we’re alive and unharmed.

Today, I’m outside in the ninety-seven degree heat limbing the pines
that cluster on the south side of our land, the break between the ditch,
which burned last time, and the driveway, the last fuel-free space
before our barn. These trees bear scorch marks from the last fire
to climb our hill. They look like reptiles and smell like my deepest
memories of nature with their citrusy sap. Wielding my lopper
and pine saw—used at Christmas, and now, in fire season—
I slip among them murmuring words of love. They are good at surrender.

Bark, and green or dry wood yield easily and the limbs drop around me
like so many petals showered from the Mother’s hand above. In this way,
we become one. My hand on the smooth bark of their branches, and my hand
sawing away what will burn, harm, kill, their scent in my sweat like a lover.

Years

Nothing is last, nothing first.
Everything is a wheel. Here
and here and here with no room
for there. Even infinity is a loop
twisting back on itself. While dark,
also light. Up, also down. Try to mark
what ends from what starts, walk
on this spinning ball east to west
or north to south and the place you began
is also moving, like the horizon
out of reach. Stand still and ride
through the night sky that holds
the morning light. Morning,
the crescent moon hangs
like a comma in the sentence
of your life. Follow it.

What I Know of Melancholy

with a nod to Elizabeth Bishop

How water draws it, magnet and salve.
Still water. Moving. Held. How the tide
sweeps it away, leaves the ground wet
and vulnerable to life. How the well
reflects the tunnel-sight of loss. The heart
of the river that beats over rocks that hush
and break. How a woman I did not know,
even her name, went there one winter day
with coffee and pastry and the rifle
that took away the cloying sweetness
and killing pain. I know that river.
I have sat with its shades and reedy stones
to drown my bitterness in its sounds.
It calls forth words for all that I know
I do not know. How it flows, fresh and free
to the ocean it meets, like knowing,
flowing, and flown.

Fragile Mystery

Saturday, the dog dislocated her hip.
Today, the vet met two emergencies
waiting at the door. A Chihuahua hit
by a car whimpers in the distance,
then, silent in its crate going home.
My dog shivers beneath the waiting room
bench. I kiss her head, pat her chest.
It’s a simple surgery, carpentry really,
sawing and stitching. Still, she’s eleven,
old in dog years, and her aging hurts.
On the road home, sirens. First one car,
then another, then the ambulance flashing
down the roadway. Each requires me to slow
and pull over. Each delivers a soft blow
to my gut. Someone somewhere is injured.
Friends report their overwhelm with the weight
of the world. The way the body feels
living life, like a sob in the fine lines
of nerve and blood, a crying in the heart.
Everything that lives, dies. (Feel that).
Up the bumpy drive to home, the sun
strikes glass like the hammer of God,
shatters me into a thousand tender pieces.

With Time

Wind is erasing the hills this morning,

blurring their lines with a white mist

of lifted snow, the northern sky

an imperturbable blue. The turmoil

of air is not its business. I kneel

before Quan Yin, her four arms

hold a lotus, the braided loop of infinity,

and two hands touch in the sign of prayer.

I contemplate the suffering in this world

and ask for relief. It blows like the wind

lifting snow. It sweeps around the earth

like a silk veil, this exhale. In and out,

breath and wind, darkness and light,

living and dying. It goes on with us

and without. These bones settle on the cushion,

in the body, compressing like the rings of trees,

rooted in the neutral, ever changing earth.

Compelled

Outside, the snow collapses

on itself, water finding water

that way it has of shifting shape

and staying the same. The river

roars its full-throated runoff,

wicking away what falls.

The arc of light slants higher

across our hills, days longer

by seconds. Still, it’s winter.

In this quiet expanse of white

lit life, we fall into our own

slant of time. Bones resting

on bones that spark in bright

arcs of pain. You paint. I write.

Fire pops in the grate its long held

breath of rain. Water moving

everywhere, compelled

to start again.