This morning, in being still
For perhaps a moment or two
Everything was achieved.
All that wanting
All that noise
Bothering my body
Constantly crowding this mind
all day long
Into the night
And in the silence
the whole of my life’s work.
When my mother was settling down
Into her last sleep
“I have accomplished”
And in floating away on the tide
Into the vast ocean of stillness
She found that that was that
What I find in the silence
Is that all this activity
All these mistakes
All this awkwardness and floundering
I swim in it.
I give way to what I am and
what is becoming of all that
in this moment
As in the waters of hot sulfurous springs
we find again the flowing emptiness,
the joy of finding we are nothing
All the noise we have drawn in
to make our way
wherever we have come to
As when, in those days
and days without endings
between the worlds,
we floated in stillness
Beginning only now and then
To sense somehow
through the beating rhythm
Of everything we knew
to feel the vibrations
that would eventually
capture our soul.
Weeding in the garden
at the end of day.
A day of rain that came and came
and then stopped again
just as evening turned
And sun returned
Opening a window
onto that brief passage
of spring to summer skies
I weed the onions
and think how grateful
they now seem
for all that space and light.
They will, I know
Suddenly expand and grow.
I do not pull weeds
But thin instead the plants
that now compete
With those onions
we planted, gently, in the spring
that I wish will grow
as big and sweet and strong
As ever their heritage will allow.
The plants I pull
become the soil
that will then nourish
All this ground
And flourish from our toil
They are equal to the onions
But take another place
In this garden
That will, with all that grows
Lying in the tangled web
Of the pains of life’s dark threads
The memory of two butterflies
Rises dancing in my head.
Yellow like the yarrow
Against the darkness of the trees
Sparkling in the sunlight from the vantage point
I call out,
“See my darling! Look! “
And dancing for a moment with them
She is captured by their grace.
The light is so unexpectedly bright
For this season of the year
The joy that rises when we hear
Those first light notes
of spring sparrow
Comes early now
while stiff, hard cold
In the night.
What if winter never comes again
Will we remember
the crystal of the snow
The way it makes a show
Of such purity
That delights us by what it conceals
And what it reveals
Of light and delight
Of cold faces
On sleds down hills
Crunching with the cold
What if winter stays always with us
And we must burn wood all the year
Will we fear what we hear
In the night
Will we shiver when we know that the fuss
Of the baby
In the cold cannot be told
To our soul
Will we care?
Will our lives
still be dear?
Yes. Whatever comes
We are who we are.
We are part of all this.
We are the same as we were
Through the ice and the heat.
Through the wars and the droughts
Through the bitter and the sweet
What we will do
We will do.
But the earth will not be through.
Memories of beauties past
Are buried deep
Down twisting tunnels
In some dripping limestone caves
Where they seep
Through still clear waters
Till, from the darkness
Coy, as if in playful hiding
A hidden edge will glitter
As if asking to be found
Friendships forged and then forgotten
Fields of light on golden trees,
Floating seeds like snow of cotton
A dance, a whirl,
An eye that shoots
a flame of love
through all those flying winds of time
To burn again a pathway
Through my rhyme.
We lie together in the dark
While thoughts rise up
like feeding fish
In warm waves
left from making love
that lap along our shores
When all things flow with ease
In the softness of the night.
These bits of beauty reappear
Attached by threads
Pulled up to taste the water
By some softness of the light.
Yet memories of sad mistakes wait
In easy reach
savage tigers ever
at the edges of our sight
Any moment they will growl
and snarl with terror
and with might.
As we walk along
our well-lit paths
they lash out and they bite
Their horrid teeth
Can leave us maimed and raw and scraped
Writhing on the ground.
And then from there
Pursue us even
in the moonless desert
Of the night
Which has carried children
In some hidden place
Where the warmth that grew within my heart
Swelled them into form
And that first child now has carried two
In the womb that came from womb.
This body made of meat and bones and air
Is still tall and straight and warm
My heart still pumps blood in steady beats
And sends cells in steady swarm
Through legs that still will move below
As far as I will dare to go.
When I was young and held
That first child
in my womb
There was a concert in a room
In the city where I lived
A city full of gleaming white
And twice as much of black.
In a great hall with people packed in tight
Women drummed on big clay drums
They’d brought back
from someplace on that continent
from which we all have come.
They brought deep inside themselves
Alll that they had learned
From th women of a tribe
who kept the knowing of those times
that are older than the old
Who knew the emanations
From vibrations in the stillness of each cell
From that space that lies within.
Here, lying in this room
I still feel the echoes of those drums
In my now long- empty womb.
I may not climb steep mountains
Or run the miles
that once have passed beneath my feet
I may be too far away to hug my daughter’s daughters tight
Yet my hands still pull the weeds from earth that does not wish
To let them go.
My feet can push a shovel deep enough
To plant a tree
I carry logs and could split them if I would
I ride a bike for miles, perhaps in pouring rain.
If needed, I could sleep in tents out on the ground.
I do not care so much if there are pains
As long as I can sleep and dream.
My grandmother was not of my blood
But of my heart
When I see her first, deep in grottos
Of my mind
Her soft form
Draped in shapeless floral cloth,
Yellowed apron tied high above the waist
She waits up high
at the top of some steep stairs
Whose wooden boards
I still can feel beneath my feet
and whose air was made
Of wafts of smoke from burning slag.
I climb to her,
my parents climb behind
She gathers me in folds of flowers
Smelling not of summer fields
But of the meat of cooking stew.
Which drifts also through that rusty screen
Nailed years before
on that front door
Whose peeling wooden frame
waits for my small hand
To reach the wooden knob
and pull so hard
That eagerness will propel me
Almost backwards in this game
to tumble, laughing
in those warm and flowered skirts.
And then through into that one big room
Where all is shared in this rough home,
the oval table covered with a cloth
A monster of an iron stove
that burned the dirty coal
From the mines beneath the town
And a wooden rocking chair
Where I could sit in that big soft lap
And hear the strange words travel back and forth
Across some enormous space
from mother to grown son, my father,
in some language with a music
so nearly understood.
While lunch bubbled softly in big pots
On the stove that clicked with heat.
And soon, she will take me by my hand
And lead me up more stairs
to two small bedrooms on the floor above.
In the first, her dresses trapped on wire,
hang along a wall.
No closet here, just fabric drawn across.
And a high wide bed with stool to climb
and plop myself on feather beds
where she and I will sleep.
And there, on the pillow to the left
I’m sure to find the fabric horse with mane and tail of yarn
Always of a different cloth. Eye bright with yellow thread.
She will neigh to me. And as I have done before,
I’ll grab this new fine mare
and hold her close.
Already, in my mind, she has become
A member of the small herd
That waits for her back home.
There was only once
I ever saw my father cry
It was the day she died,
When I saw him, in the small dim kitchen
Of our familiar home,
lean suddenly back
As if too weak to stand
And brace against
The cold white metal fridge
The tears flowed and he could not
Even think to cover up his face
with hands I knew so well.
Yet, he could not but show
His face so raw, so open,
That I dared hardly look.
They traveled to see her buried
Leaving me behind
But I got my natter in
With my daring scheme
Of climbing through a basement window
WIth a willing friend
And making such a mess
The two of us, just eight,
Dared each other to such brave acts of gluttony
in that quiet kitchen, out of bounds.
Called to dinner,
We left dishes smeared with chocolate cake,
And ice cream melting on the ground.
So it was when they returned,
TIred out and worn
with all that drinking
Of vodka toasts, the tears, the tales
The uncles and the aunts
that take and take
They could not just sit in peace at last
But must feel instead the anger blast
The disappointment surge
And I the shame
Of that mistake.
Where am I in all this shifting imagery
of human minds
Grandmothers of all kinds
We move about as if on some huge and
Checkered board where chess is being played
The queen that travels every way
And also time.
Grandmother now, I lie awake
Floating on these tides of love
Wending my way along the paths
My spirit chose to take
While the tigers, for these moments,
Slumber tamely as the dove
And the rhythm of my lover’s breath
Lifts me in its wake.
I sleep for you, my beloved,
My darling one,
I sleep for you when you do not sleep
When your love for another keeps you awake
Hanging on the sound of her breath.
I take a remedy for the pain in my head
That took up residence
During a night of sobbing
For your pain.
It penetrates the membranes of separation
To ease the searing in your head
You have no choice but to endure.
I sing to you the songs I sang
When you dozed in the crook of my arm.
The Broadway tunes,
The song about a blackbird singing in the night
Knowing it will ease the flow
From day to dark.
I breathe in light and breathe out strength
Straight Into your lungs, into that body you drag
From one act of love to another
All day long, one day after another
With no rest.
I breathe for you.
Long, greedy breaths
Filled with life.
I walk through the forest,
Seeking beauty for you
Filling your nose with drafts of moist earth,
Filling your aching spaces
With the music of the pure blue sky
The vibrating gold of an autumn leaf
As it flutters down.
I drawn it in, deep, so deep,
and fill you with it all.
It is you who are seeing it, you who are smelling it
You who hear the slight call of a bird
Fluttering into winter
As the wind moves all the leaves
Of burnished umber
In a dance that enchants your every fiber.
It is you, my beloved, whose cells multiplied
Here inside this body.
Now as then, I breathe for you,
I cover your feet in the middle of the night
When I am cold
As my mother did for me
As you do for the bodies that emerged
From the chemistry of cells
Deep within the earth of you.
My blood nourishes you
As the sunlight coming through my window
Here in another faroff land
Penetrates our eyes.
Laughing, breathless with joy
I hear my heart crack
And break from all moorings
As when a rock cliff splits
WIth the unending force
of wind and water.
And again I break away
From all I know of me
Flooded with these hot tears
Of molten love.
This is the summer I learned how to breathe. No, it’s the summer I learned to be breathed. Well, actually it’s the summer I discovered I AM breath.
I think that’s it.
It’s been a summer when the universe itself was breathing so deeply and so slowly that breath seemed suspended for longer and longer moments. The fire of breath spread and wafted here and there. Water went deeper and deeper into the essence of the breath until, dispersed so finely into the hidden molecules of breathing, there was no longer enough moisture for even mosquitoes to reproduce and thrive, despite the heat they love.
I chose a pretty challenging summer expedition even though it involved no planning, no added expense. I had only to remain at home and bear the heat. The trails were too hot and too filled with biting flies to go on pilgrimage through the woods and over the mountains. I worked from time to time in the garden in the cooler air of morning. There, my thoughts broke free and brought me news of all that our species is facing: the droughts, the floods, the hunger, the sorrow, the dying the strain. I pulled the weeds and picked the beans to give us food. To feed our friends.
But my travels took me far into all that space that’s contained inside. I needed no ticket, paid for no accommodation. The fuel for the journey was the fuel of emotion, burning more purely than when I was young. It was often a hard road but the view was worth every bit of dust and bump and discomfort.
Towards the end of summer, having seen all that, I got into my old car and drove through the gorges and countryside, past Cathare castles and spreading vineyards to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. There I joined my daughter, my granddaughters and my son-in-law who had , together, made a truly grueling journey of thousands of miles of flights, and lines and taxis and hotels. Like a miracle, we were there together, in each other’s physical presence, there where the watery breath of the planet washes back and forth , touching the body of the land, transforming it with each coming in and going out.
There, by the incredible blue of the sea, I watched the emotions my life has engendered. I saw them plainly, heard them, smelled them, tasted them so poignantly in the way one’s experience of everything shifts when one travels. We bathed for hours in the glorious healing, huge water, riding the gentle waves. In those moments in an unfamiliar place, the beauties shine like gems, the lens of the soul breaks free and both the wide scope and the fine detail are somehow simultaneously in focus. Then later, I hugged my family goodbye in the sweaty marble streets of Montpellier, my breath breathing the enormous ache.
Now the season is changing. The heat has dried the leaves on the trees. There’s more zucchini to make into fritters or chutney or bread. There are apples in a box in the basement. The winter squash is coming on. A bit of rain here and there has given the grass a bit more green and will bring out the Cepes in the forrest.The last flowers of summer are fading, their stems beginning to brown, their green blood slowly withdrawing, back into the breath of the earth.
My body seems to barely exist. I think it was finally washed away by the pure, clear, warm salty waters of the sea, the same fluid where it was created, molecule by molecule. I know it’s still there in with some sense I can’t name. I can feel its outlines when I try. There are things that prick and ache and itch, but it all seems to exist in the breath. I watch as emotions come and go, in all their colors, sometimes becoming huge without warning ike bursts of fireworks, expanding into the void forever and then fading away ever so imperceptibly, until each spark is finally extinguished and the moon returns to rule the night sky.
That’s where I went for my summer vacation. Now, as the air begins to finally cool, I sit at my desk in school to pay attention to what comes next. I wait for the rain and feel breath going out and coming in. I smell the sharp smell of pencil shavings. I hear the ticking of the classroom clock, the scraping of chairs. The new teacher is here.
In the woods
a presence floats along
Up over rocky places
Rough and steep
Finding a place to make its way
Attached as it must be
To the pull of earth
Hearing bird song once,
then again in some other now
And then again
The flies that bite when motion stops
Bite, and bite again
Tasting what must be sweat on flesh
Causing a pain somewhere
A sharp prick
And are gone
Themselves made of emptiness and light
With some slight sound
A buzz, perhaps a hum.
The air moves all around
The shadows, green and black
Shift back and forth , pushed here and there.
The sky above is blue.
As if of nothing but itself
A sense of heat and dampness
Sings with its liquid notes
Water somewhere on the peripheries of sound.
The deepness of the green.
Up and up through heated air and cool
where other spirits are themselves
Awake. Or perhaps these trees, enormous
And so full of what they have become
Of air and earth and water, quiet
Are asleep and dreaming of this presence
As it floats along
As if in some gel
Of stillness, brewing heat
Before Christmas last year, a shirt appeared one day, hung from the neighbor farmer’s wire fence bordering the road. Across the front of the shirt, the name of one of the big French telephone companies was written in white across the dark blue background. I noticed it one day on my afternoon walk. I remembered seeing a white truck parked nearby the day before. I thought I’d wait and see if the owner came to claim it.
Another week went by and then another. In the French manner, no one wanted to take it since it wasn’t polite, and at any rate, no one else could really wear it. And then came the news that a novel virus that had begun in China had spread to the US and then to Europe. It got a name.
Then it seemed no one wanted to touch the shirt to put it in the trash since it might, somehow, be contaminated. Everything around us that other humans could possibly have touched might carry this microscopic, mysterious thing we had come to fear. No one wanted to touch trash dropped on the street even after several days had passed and the virus could not have survived. Each time I passed the shirt it would tempt me, my reason saying it could no longer be infected. Part whim, part perversity, I decided finally to leave it there, caught on the sharp wires, and see what would happen over time. It became a kind of marker, my little science experiment into the nature of the interaction between the decomposition of man-made matter and the surrounding culture.
Since, we have come through two years of being ruled and then ignominiously nosed around by the evolution of this new virus. It is made, like many of its cousins, of only a single strand of RNA that can attach itself to the RNA of an animal’s cells. This thing–not really independently alive since it cannot, by itself, reproduce–finds ways to live by using the strings of RNA or DNA of other cells. It then can cross the threshold between living and non-living carbon-based matter by being able to reproduce itself. Once it invades a cell, the very process of replicating itself damages the cell. These thousands and thousands of tiny injuries are what make us feel ill. Depending on where they have evolved to thrive, these foreign RNA strands can invade organs like the lungs and wreak havoc with the way our body functions.
There have been thousands and thousands of these waves of viral evolution that have gripped populations of humans, particularly since we brought animals close to us to raise and eat. We have helped them find their way to us by relentlessly destroying forest habitats and wetland habitats, where, in our absence, they had adapted to the organisms they had found there. And we, a species now so globally connected that we can talk to people around the world and bind them to us with our love, we, who are so adept at utilizing resources, cannot muster the same level of cooperation and organization displayed by a horde of things only potentially alive.
In the face of the wave of this new virus, there has been a chaos of reactivity. Economies have all but come to a halt, endangering more lives over the long term than even the virus will be able to. Over the course of the last two years in the US, doctors have become public health officials rather than care providers. If you call a doctor to tell them you’re sick (if you’re lucky enough to be able to talk to one) she will likely direct you to whatever protocol is in development at the moment for following rules– rules for testing, reporting and quarantine. She will make it clear she doesn’t have the time to help you with your symptoms. They are unimportant. Her job is to try to keep what you have from spreading.
Then, you’re on your own to find an appointment for a test. In many places in the US at this moment, you’ll really have to scramble to find one, even while you’re so sick you can barely open your eyes. And the US is so much better than more than half of the rest of the world.
In most of our “developed” and wealthy cultures around the globe, parents have been forced to take on more and more of the responsibilities that were shared by other members of their culture. The education of children, the care of young children during the day, even the provision of basic, non-urgent medical care have all been given back to the parent. Parents already stressed by the pressures of a modern competitive society, many on the verge of real break-down before all this, have been forced to add so much more to their load. And then we have forgotten them or even given them the direct message that, for Heaven’s sake, just cope, why don’t you! Do you think you’re special? You’re responsible for your choice to have children. Do you expect your society to share that responsibility?
While many in the privileged world turn down the vaccine for their own considered reasons, over half of the world’s less privileged population is unable to access even the first vaccination. Only a little under fourteen percent of the population of the continent of Africa, for instance, has received at least one dose. Today, I read that a team in the US has developed a vaccine based on older, cheaper vaccine methodology. It simply uses a partially inactivated form of the virus which gets the body to trigger the immune system to fight off that particular piece of RNA. It is already being used and produced in India and will spread rapidly since the technology is not proprietary. It is not quite as effective or adaptable to new viruses, but it will considerably slow the advance of the Alpha and Delta variants. The wind changes because the ice melts and the ice melts because the climate warms. One thing bumping up against another. A shirt forgotten on the fence. People walking by, thinking about it or not thinking.
The shirt eventually turned to a shredded, unidentifiable piece of material, mostly white with a tinge of blue. One garbage day, it was gone, presumably put into the trash by a neighbor who finally felt safe to handle it. Meanwhile, the virus too has been changing. It does not decompose like a shirt made by humans. Instead it evolves. Both occur through random chance. The shirt was subject to the chance of changing weather and human decision-making. Exposed to the same randomness, the nature of the virus shifts in the direction of those changes that allow it to reproduce more copies of that change, more copies of itself. An almost imperceptible change occurs through random mutation and allows more of those tiny individuals to survive. That imperceptible change produces changes in the environment they occupy and on we go.
As humans, we are capable of creating changes in the culture around us. In the ‘60s and ‘70s many of the young people like me looked around and said, “The direction my culture taught me to take is not good. Killing people on the other side of the globe for ridiculously vague reasons (or for matters of greed) is insane. Continuing to make the planet we depend on uninhabitable is not a good path. Being intolerant of others of our species because they have a different color, a different belief, or are not attracted to the opposite sex is not useful. Continuing to overpopulate our home will destroy us. Building nuclear plants whose potential risks far outweigh their benefit to our comfort is stupid.” We changed the culture around us. We infected things with our love. We changed what was sexy. We consciously changed the human qualities that appealed to our desire to procreate.
This culture, so vibrant and positive, was pushed down and pushed aside by the dominant and powerful ,but its DNA persists in the population. There are variants here and there. Like a virus, these shifts in culture never really go away–they just become endemic. This little attitudinal virus with which I was infected as a sixteen-year old has developed and adapted and is still infecting all the susceptible individuals it encounters on its journey. Now it can reach farther than ever, around the globe, here in France and back to the US, outwards through the internet.
We’re a species rather superb at creating what we can use our big brains to imagine. We’re rather superb at using resources to shape our environment. There is a randomness in the universe that allows for change. Just as the DNA and RNA of all organisms allows for organisms to increase their reproductivity in the soup of randomness, the randomness of it all allows for new opportunities at every moment. We often think, as we try to survive from one day to the next, that there are only one or two choices open to us. There are an infinity of possibilities, each choice opening another avenue of infinity. When something looks like a positive direction, we can feed it, we can make it grow. We can make it expand under the attention of our love. It is clear from where I stand at the age of seventy that this opportunity we have–of living a life here on this planet– is like the water flowing in the river at the bottom of our land. It flows towards the vast ocean, persisting even when reduced to a trickle, carrying with it the impressions it encounters along the way, purified from time to time by the rush of clear water from the mountains and the torrents from the skies.
I cried today
For beauties lost, small moments passed
Sifting through as if an hourglass
Each grain shining as the force of time
Pulls along without a sign
That it too will fall from view
To be caught in well-springs deep within
Where it will glitter briefly
When light slants through, bright and true
And pulls tears of joy and loss
From a heart full since broken
More than twice
My daughter stands by some device
In front of rows of chairs and wooden stage
Violin to chin, making music sing
At some young age,
Such sweetness danced behind my eyes
That tears welled up and I wept
For such a moment deeply kept
Somewhere hidden within a cell
Where only dreams are said to dwell.
And then the moment when,
Having watched and run and breathed
With such abandon on the grass
The ball at last with one swift pass
Arrived just where he’d known it should
My blond young son had kicked it straight
With a slight lithe leap, it flew so neat
And so direct to find
The middle of that net.
Bouncing back, we clapped so hard and cheered
My heart so filled with beauty it was seared
Forever, soaked with love within my mind.
And now, in this moment where I sit
I hear the liquid strains of violin
Coming from a box within
this box that seems to move me right along
Driving past woods themselves alive with song
Blossoms drip from apple trees
Where savage flowers in random beauty grow
Below, so many forms I’ll never know
The liquid that has touched my cheeks
Is that which makes all essence flow
Amidst this green that spring makes grow
I drown in some sweet sorrow
We’ll call love.