This Girl



She is so tall now
Hair flowing down
in such luxurious waves
over her shoulders.

I cannot feel which rib
She would touch
If I were now to I pull her to me
And kiss her head.

She has cried and felt shame
struggling with a class
She sees only on a screen
Like the children’s programs
she has watched
In that same rectangle
For all the days
She can remember.

She has tried to understand
what is being required 
somewhere in a location
remote from any connection
to her heart.

Life was hard enough
to navigate at six.
Now this.

In captured moments of sheer grace
In the midst of lives
squeezed tight
by our designated protectors
she has taught me
how to draw pictures
of dresses and walking hearts
And flowers.

We, yearning to touch each other,
Peering over the edge
of what separates us
by thousands of miles
Hoping to see the whole of the life
That is trapped there
In the small flat picture
There before us
Made real by our imagination.

Yearning to smell the skin, the fragrance of the cooking
To turn and catch some glimpse
of what is seen by that other
that we take on faith
exists.

Trying not to say how much the pain of separation
Is crushing that space
within our chests
Knowing at each moment
we cannot hold each other
Cannot turn to see the life
In which the other swims.


She has taught her little sister
almost all she knows
They have played for hours in their tiny home.
She has driven her mother to cry
from exhaustion
and confusion
and fear.

They have hugged
and consoled each other
More times than could be counted.
We all are still alive
and growing.
Many now are not.

Hearts have been torn to shreds
In some infinity of variations
Over the eons of our existence.
How will all this pain
now transform us
As its waves wash all around us
In this ocean
of  existence.

The tide is crushing some here
And leaving some there
Safe to ride the next
Inexorable force
And try their luck.

What will heal and teach us
and which wounds
Will leave us
now too weak to stand
and pass our love
One to another.
And hold each other
And let real wisdom
Ripen.

Malik, Al Mulk

The universe is present in a footstep

On the soft leaf cover 

of the ground.

 

And with the next still muffled step, 

endlessness nestles quietly

in some secret expanse 

within that space 

I call my heart.

Spreading with no bounds

In the darkness there.

In that exquisite hush.

 

A darkness that when truly sensed

Is yet the most intense of light.

Light before it becomes light

Light without source

 

Light that is filled with only light.

Where all the stars and planets whirl

In their silent 

and majestic orbit.

 

There, in that moment

of the certain placement of a foot 

upon a yielding forest floor.

The Hanging Branch

 

 

A long branch
Hangs delicately
Hooked in some miraculous moment
Of windy flight.
Pulled towards the earth
With its mold of leaves,
But caught
by the branch of the tall, great tree
whose dusky bark
lit by the angle
of the dying light.
was once on the trunk of what had been
Itself.
Hooked by a small fork
Set in a new position
It had never yet considered.

When I was younger
Such seeming impermanence
Tempted me to help gravity in its work.
Throwing sticks and stones in play
to knock it from such uncertain fate
Dancing, joyous with the game of it.

Now that I am old
I see the way in which
Its graceful equilibrium
Is yet another gentle motion
In the flowing stillness
Of the forest.
And I sit and feel the quiet
Of its breath.

The Obsidian Knife

Remembering the Big Obsidian Flow, Newberry Caldera, Oregon

 

The black stone that is not stone but 

a piece of earth’s mysterious bowels

Astonished by its appearance in the oxygenated landscape 

Its molecules frozen in that millisecond of emergence.

 

We, the humans, see what it can be.

It is the knife that cuts both ways

Slices atom from atom

Parting astonishment from astonishment

So that we can slice so thin

That even flesh does not pause in its production of cell upon cell

And has no recognition of the parting.

 

It is like the bird,

Cutting the air for such a brief moment that

Air needs not know its passing.

 

From where has this blackness come,

From where this sharp flight?

What can we do but find it

Somewhere in the inventory 

Of the soul.

Angles of Reflection

Standing at the open window
looking out
at the beauty of the brightening world
For one brief moment
a drop of water nestled
in the branches of a winter tree
has caught the beams of sun
at some exacting slant
And a ruby of the purest light
gleams brighter
than the planet Mars.

And just as I can barely breathe
As not to lose that sight,
It has become an emerald
of an unknown shade of green
So clear
It makes me draw that breath
to taste it in my breast.

But before I can then breathe it out
to scatter in the world
It has become a crystal, which,
in evanescence,
Vanishes
As if none of this
Had ever been.


We are in gently whirling motion
with the earth.
The angles of reflection
are in constant flux.
But what was seen
is stored in cells
made of that same uncanny light
Where I can sip it now
from time to time
and savor that exquisite beauty
On my tongue.

Abdul Aziz Said–January 15, 2021

 

 

I have heard that an old friend may be dying today. If this is his day, I hope it is a good day to die. I am filled with love for him. My heart goes to sit beside him. My love is tinged with regret for all the times I could have contacted him, all the times I wished to contact him and did not. But love is not regret. It is present.

 

The first day I met him sometime in 1979, I went with my husband to his office on the campus of American University in Washington, DC. On the recommendation of a dear friend who knew the work my husband was doing in alternative energy policy there in the capital, we had called him and made a time to meet. Abdul Aziz was from Syria and his work for many years had been to bring peace to the Middle East. He was a highly respected academic and an expert in the politics of the Middle East. He was the only such expert trusted by all sides in the conflict. Known only to his friends, he was also a Sheik of the Sufi Order of Rafai with many followers both in the US and abroad. In Washington; these students included officials from the World Bank and people working in all aspects of the federal government. We were very curious to meet this man. I was a young woman. I had no idea what to expect. My whole being was open, delicate tentacles waving in the ocean of experience, sensing, tasting, hearing.

 

We entered the little waiting room to his office and knocked on the inner door. After a moment, the door opened a bit and a man with a great shock of dark hair and dark lively eyes under strong, dark eyebrows greeted us with energy, saying, in a voice deep, accented and rhythmic, “I’ll just be a minute. I have to finish a phone call. Please sit down. Be comfortable. Then we’ll make some tea and talk.”

 

We sat together in the outer room, making comments about the hangings on the wall, the Ababic calligraphy that conveyed something just out of our understanding, yet speaking something on a level we could almost grab. Soon, the door opened fully and Abdul Aziz Said stepped out, his hand extended as we rose to greet him. His strong face, more handsome and alive than that of Omar Shariff (who he resembled), was lit up. His whole presence emitted a kind of elegance and grace that seemed to come from another time, another place. He was dressed in a tweed suit jacket and tie and seemed elegant down to his neatly turned shoes. As we passed through the door into his inner office, I brushed against the coat rack where he had carefully hung his aristocratic-looking Burberry coat. As I turned for a moment to make sure I hadn’t disturbed it, I saw, as if in a moment of peeking behind the stage, that the lining was worn, threads hanging, and the inside of the collar a bit threadbare. It was remarkable to me at the time and remains indelibly in my memory–these things did not detract in the least from its genuine aura of elegance. They were a part of his skin, his presence.

 

I don’t remember what we talked about during our time in his office but I remember that after he had made us some stong mint tea and we had spoken for some time, he told us he had to get to a class on the other side of campus and invited us to walk with him in the lovely spring sunshine. “I have time to make it a nice stroll,” he said as he put on his coat and we followed him through the outer door. 

 

Partway across campus, we came across some lovely cherry trees in blossom. He pointed to a wooden bench and invited us to sit down. After we had been sitting for a moment enjoying the wonderful fragrance, he turned to my husband and asked, “So what’s your cover?”

 

My husband’s eyes widened and he cocked his head in question. “I’m not sure what you mean;” he responded.

 

“Ah. All of us doing this work have to have a cover. It’s like being a spy in a foreign land. My cover is that I’m a professor, a peace maker and to some, a Sheikh. But that is just the cover over the vastness, the real secret of who we all are.”

 

As time went on, we joined the group of unusual people that gathered every Thursday evening in a small hall somewhere in DC. Sometimes we would stop at his house to pick him up. One evening, as he climbed into the car he said, “Would you mind stopping at the grocery store on the way? I said I would bring hummus for our sharing this time. I haven’t had time to get the ingredients. “

 

On the way, in all the traffic, we seemed to be lost. Laughing, he said, “Shall I tell you an old Sufi trick for finding your way at such a moment? It’s reserved for really difficult situations.” We both said, “Yes! Of course!” poised to hear some rarified esoteric knowledge about the use of intuition.  He opened the glove compartment and, rummaging around, pulled out a map of Washington. “Ah, yes! Here it is. A map!”

 

We stopped at the small neighborhood grocery on the way to the gathering. He looked through the shelves of canned vegetables until he came to the chickpeas. “It’s better to make these from the dried beans; but this will do.” We got garlic, lemons and a small bottle of olive oil. “Now we’ll have some hummus!”

 

When we reached the hall there were several people already gathered, talking and arranging the room. Cushions were scattered around in a circle. Abdul Aziz greeted everyone with a kind of genuine heartiness that, unlike the American “gusto” that surrounded us in this political city, seemed to come from a place deep inside him. Genuine, balanced. He embraced everyone with a firm clasp, then, putting them at arm’s length, still holding their shoulders, he looked each on in the eyes for a brief moment.  As he greeted one or two of us, he asked something quietly, directly. Each question had to do with something he knew about that person’s particular endeavors: There was usually a brief answer and a squeeze of the shoulders as he moved on, a “Yes” or perhaps a laugh. After a few minutes of sharing news he said “Let’s begin!”

 

We all took a place in the circle. We clasped hands and raised them up to our shoulders . He said an invocation.

 

He began the Zikr. 

 

These moments or hours (it is hard to know) were of the most powerfully transporting and transforming of my life. I will say no more since the rest is well beyond words.

 

In the summer of that year, Shamcher Bryn Beorse, who was then eighty-three years old, came to stay in our apartment in Maryland for a few days. It was the first time we had met. We somehow had volunteered to take him to a spiritual conference we were all attending in the countryside north of Toronto. Little did I realize what an amazing human I had invited into my home.  A Norwegian by birth, he had been part of the Norwegian secret service during the war. He studied in France to become an engineer. There he had met the Sufi teacher, Hazrat Inayat Khan. He travelled widely, meeting spiritual teachers of many traditions, experiencing, transforming, knowing. Heading a United Nations mission to Tunisia in 1964 to study the feasibility of a saltwater conversion plant, he encountered the idea of using the temperature differentials of the ocean to not only desalinate the ocean water but to also create electricity that can be harnessed to do work.

He continued to work as an engineer in the Civil Service until almost the end of his life, tirelessly advocating for the creation of OTEC plants. While he stayed with us, I went with him to the halls of Congress where, like a white-haired, blue eyed sprite full of energy and light, he button-holed Senators coming out of Committee meetings and actually managed to engage them in prolonged conversation.

 

After he’d been with us for a couple of days, I decided that Shamcher and Abdul Aziz must meet.  I boldly invited Abdul Aziz to come to lunch one day in our spare apartment. I probably cooked curried lentils and rice with vegetables, something Shamcher seemed to like. Abdul Aziz rang the downstairs bell and I ran down with great anticipation to see him up. As he walked into the apartment, he seemed to tower above Shamcher, the spare old Norwegian. They embraced. 

 

Having no table, we sat and ate from plates on our laps as we talked. They shared a lot in common, these two intensely committed men, steeped in spiritual practice. From time to time, I saw Shamcher glance at Abdul Aziz’s plate. Seeing he was observed, Abdul Aziz said,

 

“I think you’re interested in the way I’m eating.”

 

Shamcher acknowledged he was curious. “I notice that you begin eating at the bottom of the plate, go clockwise around the edges and then to the center.”

 

Abdul Aziz responded “Yes, exactly. You observe well. It gathers the energy of the food so that little is lost;”  Shamcher said, “I supposed so, but I wanted to make sure. It seems like a good way to eat.”

 

They talked of a few things–OTEC, their origins in Syria and Norway, their ties to universities and much more I can’t remember.  As we all stood to say our good-byes, it was clear to me they were really both the same size, the space within each being expansive beyond knowing.

 

And there were the other meetings when, there in the heart of the seat of the National Government, we worked together–women and men who were making decisions about financial policy, energy policy; people making decisions in the law, in social work and healing–to form what we called “The Center for Cooperative Global Development.” Out of that work came a Declaration of International Interdependence which, at the end of 1980, we managed to have read into the Congressional Record a.

 

I left the DC area in July of 1981 when the Reagan administration dissolved the Senate Energy Committee. My then-husband’s pink slip arrived quickly. The message was clear.  The ascendency of alternative energy solutions was over and petroleum was to be the only sovereign. I was nine months pregnant as we travelled across the country to Los Angeles County to start a new chapter in our lives. I don’t know if the Center ever got off the ground.  Until my recent move to France, I was able to put my hand on my copy of the Declaration. Now it, too, seems to have disappeared.

 

Who knows what influence such efforts have as their perfume disperses through the atmosphere and through the years. 

 

Professor Said has created a huge body of academic work. There have been innumerable students of International Relations whose path in life he has influenced in his fifty-eight years of university teaching.  His influence has spread heart to heart–soul to soul as he advised governments and worked tirelessly for peace among religions and countries, taught about peace making and international relations and strove to create avenues for cooperative global interdependence. He has been a deep friend to so many.

 

May the peace you spread in your lifetime continue its own life. Your love and joy will remain with us forever.  

 

 

 

 

The Hawk in Snow

 

 

It’s windy, wet and cold and for the first time since we’ve moved here to this village, for several days I had no urge to go out to the forest to walk. Yesterday I had the same feeling of disquiet and lassitude. Yesterday, I indulged the mood as a grace period for New Year’s Day. Today it just feels like giving up. 

But the day before yesterday, the day of New Year’s Eve,  I began by saying I’d take a short walk and ended by climbing up the hill to the path that leads up to Montségur. I only went up to the top of the hill, a good pull, just up to where it levels off before it begins the real climb.  

The sky was grey, the light flat, but the smell and feel of the deep layer of oak and beech leaves under my boots still filled me. The trees along the way, some with roots growing out of the old stone walls, still spoke to me. On the way down, the view of the orange-tiled roofs of the village against the snow-dusted hills made me stop in my careful descent over the muddy, slidey track, to breathe in the feeling of living here in a place where our species has been rooted for so long.  Today I am just disgruntled and, though I want to sit and read, nothing really eases my spirit except writing.

Most of the people of the village have closed their shutters and lit their wood stoves. Unlike the old days, many are watching their télé or are planted in front of their computers.  I will leave the shutters open like the American that I am. I want to see what’s happening out there. I want to see the light, even the dim, grey light. I don’t care who sees me as they drive by. I don’t even care if the woman who is “the-repository-of-all-village-knowledge” (for whom I have real fondness) peers up to try to find me through the second story window where I sit typing and glancing at the road. She can tell I’m up here through that keen sense we all have when eyes are focused in our direction–a sense of something furtively flickering deep inside our head. I turn away to release the magnetism and go back to my typing.

And then, today, the sun came out, its brightness felt only for a couple of hours around mid-day. As it was beginning its descent down towards the mountains, I made myself set off for a walk up the hill into the forest, deciding to wander as far as I wanted. I had to get back to the trees.

I reached my sitting spot as the light was pulling away into the further valleys. Crystals of icy snow stuck to moss here and there. The light here, deep in the forest, was at an exquisite tipping point, grey, flat as if one was breathing ether through one’s eyes. 

My sitting stone is like the back of a horse. I straddle it as if riding bareback. The tree behind me grew around it, embraced it. They have become one being. I feel the cold granite between my legs and I let my warmth expand into its slow atoms until I am a bit colder and it is a bit warmer. I sit in the silence.

There is no breeze. The earth slopes dramatically down away from me, the trees riding it like the trough of a great wave. I let myself be carried by its silent, still motion. The force of it is cleansing, like the great pull of the ocean. Everywhere I look, I am moved to stillness–by the brown of the layers of wet leaves, by the brilliant green of the moss shining in the dimness, by the flecks of crystalline snow delicately riding on top of the moss’s fuzzy miniature forests growing on part of fallen trees, the patterns of the bark on these vertical beings that have ranged themselves all up and down the slopes of earth, breaking apart rocks, turning them, as they stretch out their roots with such patience, into the very earth that feeds them.

When I finally get up from the rock, feeling the cold as the air abruptly chills with the draining away of the sun’s rays from the last east-facing hillside, the silence, the presence of the trees and the soil and the moss has become me, replacing all thought, all noise. 

 

 

It is now the next day. The silence of yesterday is still with me. With snow starting in the night and falling through the morning, I have climbed up to see the woods decked in all that glorious whiteness. With the big stick I had found in the spring to help me over the slick rocks and have kept hidden in a spot under some brambles to wait for my frequent return, I am making my way down along the muddy and snow-covered track. Breathing in the silvery, dim light, I alternately watch my feet as they place themselves on ground where they won’t slip and look up to observe all the exquisite detail of limbs and bark, lichen, dark and red leaves here and there clinging to bare twigs. 

Suddenly– a large bird, barely perched on a branch piled delicately with snow, barely displacing any of the crystals held together by their mutual cold.  And suddenly, I recognise it to be a hawk. Without thought, I know it by its size, the upward sweeping of its wings as it lifts,  somehow remaining still.  But now, for some incredibly small instant, there is a flash the color of the sun at the base of a wing,  a flash of an orangey-bronze patch under a strong uplifting feathered limb. a sudden revelation of hidden beauty as stillness and movement are somehow combined. Deciding that my presence disrupts the flow of his life’s movement, he is flying in a trajectory through the trees, up and over, gone.

My whole being vibrates in response, tasting this moment, absorbing it like the nourishment that runs in the blood, like the air that seeps into the lungs and is drawn up by all the cells and moved out by the lungs once again, a different substance. Filling to emptying, emptiness to fullness. That brief moment had become the whole universe inside me, rising up and out forever.

 

 

Woods in Late August

The birds are quiet in the forest.

The hemp grows tall

The music of the streams themselves 

Holds a silence in its womb.

 

The breath of brittle  grasses 

Has paused.

Even the flies have ceased

Their restless seeking. 

And the yellow-bodied wasps

Have come to rest.

 

Only the rusty orange butterfly settles

With its dusty wings

On a quiet blue-grey flower

Hardly bending to it’s weight.

 

The haze of heat hovers

Over distant hills

Not quite like its cousin, mist.

More portentous, more distrusting

Of what must be.

 

Something lingers around our edges

Questioning. “Will there be?”

And “Watch for us”.

The heat holds some promise

Yet some menace in its breast.

 

Embrace me.

The sweat is salty 

Yet so sweet. 

 

The silent yearning of the forest 

Rises like a memory

Of of some long forgotten scent

Through the thick green of the leaves

And the still  light.

 

The Body Is Everything All At Once

 

It came to me as I walked down the hill through the green forest, experiencing movement. This, the human body is never in a single state.

This body that walks is a humming amalgam of disparate elements. Some are beginning, some renewing, some extinguishing the flame of life, drifting into the void–there, where all originates, once again and always. 

We are accustomed to seeing a human body as one individual with certain characteristics, either healthy or sick, alive or dead, friend or foe. 

So it is with the body of the world. It appears to each of us that things are in one state or another: renewal or collapse, birthing or dying. But all of this is going on at once–birth, growth, decay, renewal, stillness–Beginning, collapse, vibrancy, death. All at once and in every part. Each part vibrating differently but in some sort of symphony.

We have come to experience this place where we spend our lives–breathing and walking, talking and working, loving and hating–as a globe, a round ball. Even if we understand that it is really an elliptical ball, we feel its satisfying roundness. Pythagorus and the ancient Greeks began to know it as a sphere. Magellan, Isaac Newton and many beings seen and unseen, understood different aspects of this place as a huge ball where, held on its surface so we don’t float away, we breathe air and drink water and eat plants and animals and use what we find to make new things.  Now we have seen the photos from outer space (this vastness, somehow beyond encompassing even in our imagination) and hold in our minds the image of this blue-green sphere floating in the darkness, set off in its beauty by the lights of distant suns.

We decided somewhere long ago that this place (whether flat or spherical) is our home. We see each other and speak to each other and make plans.  We are a  particular species of animal that seem to be capable of imagining and by extension, imagining such a thing as this.

Since we believe it to be ours, we can do with it as we wish. We can somehow decide on the decor, rearrange things to our liking, decide what to keep and what to throw away. As with the human body, the life thronging on this planet has everything going on everywhere, all at once. Some cells are thriving, pulsing with life, living harmoniously with all the other forms of life they find around them. Others are in the throes of death. Some are diseased,  having consumed everything around them and disposed indiscriminately of that which they didn’t want. And of course, the other living and more slowly vibrating forms on this particular planet move along in their own rhyme, in their own rhythm. It is only at the core of everything that there is stillness.  In these times, more of us living here may have begun to sense this.

Now, in these moments on the earth, many of us can see and hear things happening to other parts of this great body, the Earth.  We can’t yet touch or smell or use the fine thread of our proprioception or feel the subtle vibrations of emotions, the tiny cues of eyes and hands and faces.

We receive impressions. We get someone’s idea about what is happening right around her, through the filters of her senses, her mind, perhaps her soul. We must trust the words and the tone and the expression of her face to transmit what we would know more directly if she were sitting before us. We take all of this into the restless space of our own minds where it resonates in some way or is rejected, ejected or forgotten, judged and sorted according to what we believe we know.

But can it just settle into the stillness? Can it just be absorbed there, rest for a while as we use our internal senses to digest it, know its essence?

It is then there is a deep response.  It is no longer outside of us, separate. We recognize the stillness in each other as the same stillness.

It is then that the impressions travelling around from mind to mind are transformed by our own experience in this body into something fluid, like the sound of the river or the rain, the quick movement of the brown-green lizard at the edge of our vision or the evanescent smell of the bean-tree blossoms as we pass.

The Streaming Rain

 

 

The path up the hill in the forest

Has been walked by so many feet

Both human and much wilder

 For so many thousands of years.

I see the prints of their passing. 

The mud vibrates with all that life.

 

Today water courses down.

The rains of days and days streaming towards ground

In such sheets of clear drops

Onto the tops of trees 

Their leaves now open and green.

 

Dripping down through boughs and branches 

To leaf-mold and dirt below

 Seeking the places where the ground is lower

To run in streams

New and old.

All these droplets of water 

Desiring, as they fall

Yearning to collect themselves into one

Into stream, into river, into ocean

 

They must be together again.



And some human hand has made a small dam

Of rocks right here

In the gathering stream

And another just there to guide it

With gentle redirection, so sure

To plummet down the side of the gulley

Into a bigger  swift-rushing torrent,

Singing loudly there

Where it will not seem to make a river of the path 

Where humans pass.

 

But plunge on down streambeds,

Down hillslopes, to ditches,

To gutters, to river

To swell its waters

And bring the leaf dust and the soil that they found

 

 Thus make the waves of that water so brown, with such frothing

To stroke the banks of earth,  grass and trees

And caress the soil to come join them

 

Racing away in some wild heathen dance

To once again all be one

In that cold caldron of salt and sea creatures

That unending, immense

Soup of life.