Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hózhó náhásdlíí

 A Christmas Eve poem for all who walk in darkness.
John Hwang : Skid Row

Beauty before you, in darkness;
In darkness, beauty behind you.
Beauty above you, in darkness;
In darkness, beauty around you.

In the back of your mind
you know it
and yet as you run against this dark current
you can’t even breathe.

In the back of your mind
there is a way that winds forward,
toward open road, still waters, nights of kind rest—
the kind others speak of as a common starling on a wire,
little knowing a rare bird has come to bless them again with presence.

You could go crazy
imagining the darkness embrace you 
with such love instead of betrayal, 
because now it slices you open,
stabs you again and again,
rejects you for the millionth time.

You could go crazy
remembering light, remembering a time
when light on the water touched you,
made you feel something;
when light in the valley
broke open your heart and nourished it.

Instead the cruel yoke 
bends you toward asphalt,
down to kiss the dirt and pay it homage.
Instead the iron rod
beats you into a cell half the size of your
burst hopes shriveled dreams
so that you long to evaporate.

Instead your shoulders
fold inward as you carry endless piles of coal
that fuel nothing that feeds you.
Instead your luminous face—
if only you still could see it—
is cloaked by an executioner
who kills without giving its name.

This is why I send the light toward you
to meet you in the valley at the center of the ocean floor.
It rushes like a fury of lava even now,
though you don’t see it,
though your senses are shrouded in exacting poison.
Fur-tongued, muscles seized, plugged, cloud-blinded—
even in paralysis you reach,
second by millimeter by aeon by mile.

This is why I send the light toward you
as you reach, whether you know it or not. 
It climbs the winter cliffs as the city sleeps in misery,
its gentle hands moving over each frozen cell
and calling them back to life.
It weaves this way around
every battered reed, every shivering seed
all is not lost;
everything is never lost;
anything that is lost can be made whole,
can be called into being out of what was not.

And so this is how I come for you.
This is how you walk in beauty.
In darkness beauty walks;
Beauty walks in darkness.
It has become beauty again.
It has become beauty again.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Everything is shared.

The lump in the throat
The bruise on your crushed face
The echo in your belly
The lines of prophecy on your hands

Everything is shared.

The simmering question that drove you into this alley
The doubt that you will ever be known
The childhood knowledge that you could run on air, through treetops
Tender things your father never said

Everything is shared.

Days sinking into white hot sand
Steel-spined walls keeping you locked in step
Your endless loss of blood and breath
Each undisclosed transfusion that brings you back from the edge

Everything is shared.

Afternoon, midnight, fracture-just-before-dawn fears that paralyze
Nameless desire that sinks you to the bottom of a well that draws fire from deep below
The framework of sorrow that breaks your bones one by one, daring you to want anything again
Other dangerous abstractions like hope

Everything is shared.

The fibers of your food, your absent shelter
Strange rain that keeps you alive long after you’ve quit caring
Light that shows you a picture of your secret heart spread across magazine pages
The static, the spaces, invisible frequencies surrounding your odd voice with compassion

Everything is shared.

Words that break open a cell, a rock, a tinderbox full of flint and fire
Keys to the codes that can’t be cracked in a single language
Microscopic movements collaborating in a long play of intricate foreshadowing
The building blocks of an apocalypse, of resurrection that would astound you

Everything is shared.

Your heart of ashes and feathers; part coal, part glint of wondrous stone
Your heart a planet; moving waters, hovering spirit, unrelenting green
Your heart the quark and the atom; your heart dark matter
Your heart breaking atmosphere; your heart a traveler

Everything is shared.

Everything is shared.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Old Land

Robert Frost once said something about a poem usually starting as a lump in the throat, a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy lovesicknessand he is right. This simple poem is, like others, a song of sorts for the many hearts in this world bearing the weight of costly experience. If you feel that weight, too, it is also for you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

New eyes for the unseen town

If this was all there is—all there is—just 
the 2-D screens and flipping pages, the dotted 

lines and shredded tire treads thrown to the sides—the
looping jingle that wakes you over and over, the clouds and their 

cloned shapes—if this is all there is—all you are—the punch 
in punch out and the same food on the table—oh that is a lie, betrayed by

open earth, open sky—by down-rushing water at the end of the stepped
trail, by the million echoing surfaces of chipped-away cave, the

dynamite-cleft tunnels and glide of pure music through its grooved
lines—this is just a shadow, a movement, a circumference only.

The outline of glory. Failure as the first cut of a glory-worn dress that
would only overwhelm the girl were she to fit in it now.

Oh gasping town with your raggedy trailers and shut-down 
restaurant doors, your trees are your glory. You outshine

the next worn-eyed town over in its gray lines
blank spaces and poor, false trees.

May you see your own beauty—when you lay
down your life to save the place you first kissed in,

where you played games with mystery when you were young—
every dawn she’s coming alive over your sleeping body whether you

notice or not. In the valley the light uncovers the textures of your heart,
your many-layered riches. So what that your trucks are always dying,

always at risk when night masks the road as they run their miles down
your spine. What matters is travel, and see, your blood pumps

through you unhindered, even as it still did
splattered across the mountains during your last war.

You’ve never quit being worthy of love,
and even now, the wildest of winds pursues you

as if you were the only one 
in the entire world.

Monday, August 19, 2013

To Darkness, To Perfect Sight

There was a time when we were thrilled
to not know whether the universe would
collapse or go on forever. The uncertainty
was exquisite, with notes of amber, sage, 
sweetgrass, early summer honeysuckle nectar,
tangerine, smoke, and pine needles dripping
rain from who knows what ocean. And so on.

And then we lost ourselves in cognitive dissonance.
In carbon dating and the ten-year plan. It takes
spectacular death to take one back to the realm of
unknown asteroids and the other side of the black
hole you wish to name after all your grandchildren's
grandchildren and their children. A blacked-out sky
and a neighborhood blackout to finally hear the
movement of these particles of air you swore you
could see secretly singing when you were small.

It's almost unbearable, this rush of quiet that besieges
your slight body as you first break through the skin of
space, and then the loudest sound coming out from
your heart, that roar that surrounded you in the galaxy
inside your mother. And here is where you go mad
with love for the infinite dark, where you finally
want to live on and on, never knowing everything,
because time is no longer your country, and you're
no longer a stranger in this everlasting house.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Finding song

Mike Robinson : Tau Zero

So leave.
Leave them for now.
You lose nothing.
Be alone.
Be nourished by all that rises to meet
your solitary shape on the plain.
As you let the sky make you small.
As power comes through your cells,
fuses into what was not
and yet was always to be.


Go, walking.

Pull yourself onto the back of this animal
that rushes into the unknown.
Don’t think of what was planned.

You are no one else.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Inner Landscape of Beauty

Connemara tree
I first heard John O’Donohue’s voice during a profoundly dark season of my early adult life. I was sick as a dog, barely crawling through a brutal depression, and shut up in a proverbial dark night of the soul. My quest to save the world had been sharply aborted and turned upside-down by a mystery illness, and I’d been pretty much shipped back to a country I thought I no longer had a home in.
So there I was, very alone in a new state, working temporarily in a part-time office job someone had kindly offered me as I attempted to get treatment and maybe heal.

As anyone who’s suffered any kind of non-incidental depression knows, it was a crapton worse than any of the physical suffering I was trying to survive. I could barely think; I could barely pray; I could barely hear God or sense any kind of presence that was once so natural to breathe in. Every day after work, I’d drag myself outside to the forest by my house and trudge through the woods for half an hour in a desperate attempt to stay alive on the inside. Those days when spiritual books seemed full of dry, muted words, trudging through the forest was about as good a prayer as it got.

And then, one day a random newsprint catalog was being passed around the office advertising random overstock stuff sitting in some warehouse, calling our names. Did we want anything? I didn’t see anything interesting—except...there was this audiobook on cassette called Anam Cara. I had no idea what Anam Cara meant, but there were a bunch of Celtic knot designs on the cover along with a photo of what I [very mistakenly] thought looked like Stonehenge, and I admit I'm a sucker for Stonehenge (primarily because I’ve never seen it in real life, so they say). 

Soon, I was driving to the doctor or grocery store and sitting longer than necessary in parking lots, because I was listening to this voice with the distinct cadence of a native Irish-speaker speaking words to me about the soul, about God, about story, about pain, about connection…that I could actually hear and understand.

I probably listened to those tapes a zillion times. 

Since then, I’ve still yet to read a single book by John O’Donohue; Id get the book…but then find that I just wanted to listen to him talk about all the things he was so excited and inspired and enlivened by. (Because reading big abstract words is a shifty business, but when John O'Donohue says them as he means them, they're authentic and pulsing with life.) Somy experience of his ideas has been solely based on listening to his voice on audiobook. And because of that, when I finally heard The Inner Landscape of Beauty,* Krista Tippett’s monumental 2007 On Being interview with him shortly before he passed on, I felt I was listening to a friend. (Although I’m sure everyone else did, too.)

Anyway, beauty is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As in beauty will save the world beauty. Of course beauty draws every human being (whether or not we’re aware), but I don’t know that you look for it or recognize your need for it quite as desperately as you do when you’re in pain. Because it’s not simply a pretty landscape; it’s a landscape of power and presence that you see as it is only when your inner eye has been opened. And that landscape can be anywhere, strangely. So…this evening as I was driving home, I listened to John O’Donohue read his incredibly profound 2003 treatise on beauty for a few minutes. And suddenly, I had to shut off the stereo, because I realized I wasn’t really seeing anything, and I needed to see. And then the light hitting the leaves on the trees lining the freeway nearly pierced my heart.

This preamble is way too long, but I had to at least try to explain a little of why this one relatively short conversation/interview meant so much to me. I could be wrong, but I think it was the last time the voice of this philosopher/poet/scholar (who really stayed a priest even after he stepped away from official priesthood) was recorded. So tonight, I couldnt help but return to it and distill a bit of his voice into another “found” poem. (Although Im not sure you can really distill his voice.*) The strangest thing was that I couldnt see these words without hearing them as hed say them...I guess his voice is still uncannily present.

Again, none of these words are technically mine—only the spaces and dots and dashes. I do take full responsibility for playing with the connections between the words to create new sentences and thoughts (and any possible mis-juxtaposing that may have occurred). So if you don’t think something works, oops. But hopefully the heart of this great poet's wisdom comes through with the same refreshing voice, just in new form.

*If you've never heard it before, listen to the whole unedited interview. Absolutely worth your time.

If you love what you hear, consider purchasing for yourself Longing and Belongingthe brilliant collection of John O'Donohue's wonderful narrated books, available through his official posthumous author website. To say tit's worth every cent is an understatement! (Although, if it's too much for your budget, let me know and I may be able to suggest an alternate source for much less, depending on your country of residence.)


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Poetry of Ordinary Time

One night when I couldn't sleep, I decided to listen to the latest On Being podcast, which was a really arresting conversation between Krista Tippett and a poet I'd never heard of, Marie Howe. There were so many words, lines, thoughts that stood out to me as I listened, and I kept thinking, I should write these down. But then they were more than just thoughts; it all sounded like a poem to me.

When I was about 19 or so, I found a book of poems in the library by the amazing Annie Dillard, who'd written a book that had recently blown me away (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, of course). Annie handled words like a cross between an athlete who performs stunning feats without a second thought [apparently] and an astronaut who sits on a thin ledge between life and death and fixes some billion dollar spaceship part with a jerryrigged toothbrush. (Okay, that sentence proves that I'm not Annie Dillard. w00t!)

My point simply being that Annie could've been putting out loads of volumes of profound, elegant poetry made of her own words if she wanted to, but instead, she put out this odd and brilliant book of "found" poems. Basically, she played around with scraps of words and phrases from the random sources she so delights in (e.g., an 1800s manual of boys' projects, a Russian hunting memoir, van Gogh's letters, the Apocrypha) and found the poetry in them. Anyway, I recalled the book and thought, Why not?

As Annie says in her Author's Note, "I did not write a word of it." In other words, Marie Howe said all of this; I merely created a collage to form a fresh image of these ideas. I might have contributed punctuation; I might not have.