Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Poetry. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Summer Day

My sunflowers!

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver

“So, what do you do?”

I’ve never really liked that question. Even in my “un-sick” years, this question has always carried a sort of responsibility that made me uncomfortable. Even in those years when I loved what I was doing, when I was at “the top of my game”, when asked this question I felt the need to make the answer sound good. I had my spiel. What I did was a bit complicated to explain, so my sales pitch carried with it just the right amount of verbiage to make it understandable, yet sound like I had arrived. I always envied those who could get it over with in three words. “I’m a doctor.” “I’m the President.” I’m fairly certain my own personal baggage in regards to feeling not educated enough played a pretty strong role in my career quantephobia, but I do believe it’s a question that makes even a brain surgeon a bit edgy. It feels like a “set-up” question. We all have our preconceived notions (albeit more a reflection of our media sources than actual reality!) about the various professions. So there arises in us something in between a defensive guarding and the upholding of ego. For me, as I look back now, I think it was a little bit of both.

Why do we ask this question? And why do we ask it so quickly? If I think to what my conversations are like with people I have just been introduced to, I would say that it gets asked within the first five minutes, almost without fail. If we are truly trying to get to know someone, is asking them what they do for a living really one of the top questions? It makes me feel like I’m in the beginning stages of Milton Bradley’s Guess Who. Have kids, don’t have kids? Have a house, don’t have a house? Went to college, didn’t go to college? Married, not married? And the questions continue until we tuck one another tightly into convenient roles in our minds. Okay, it’s not always that bad. And I don’t mean to sound cynical, but just think about it for a bit. Why do we do what we do? Why do we ask what we ask? Why do we think what we think? It’s good to stop and “think about the thinker” sometimes. Like Socrates says, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Why?

When I woke up this morning, for whatever reason, I felt extremely unsatisfied. This happens sometimes. What am I doing with my life? I’ve gotten much better at not letting this little demon have a voice in my head, but there are just those days. I think we all have them, but for the chronically ill, disabled, it’s a haunting question mixed with a heavy dose of grief and guilt. It sneaks into my mind when I least expect it. Especially when I’m tired or more sick than usual. And especially during the winter when I am more home bound. Its companions - judgement and comparison - usually tag along. Actually, when I think about it, they arrive first, quietly through the back door.

Gratitude is much friendlier visitor! 
I don’t think that this is what it’s all about. Life, I mean. When Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”, I don’t think she’s asking what our career choice is. I really don’t. I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s much less tangible than that. I think it has far more to do with the size of our hearts than with the size of our bank accounts or the houses we live in. Discontentment is a relentless debt collector. As long as we continue to borrow our self esteem from others (or other things), discontentment will keep knocking at our door.

I had another lovely conversation with my health psychologist at the U of MN last week. I’ve been seeing her for the past four years and I have yet to walk out of her office without having become a stronger women for it. We were talking about our desire as human beings to find solid ground. We love security. The problem being that security is only an illusion, and that the key is being able to love the shakiness of it all. To learn to live with un-solid ground, for in fact, nothing stays the same. The essence of life itself being change . That got me thinking about my need for answers. Answers are the solid ground we hope to find. Whether it be in regards to ourselves or in regards to others. Answers give us the illusion of control. Can you see the problem here? The minute we think we own something, it’s loss creates a tremendous amount of suffering for us! From something as insignificant as “I finally spent a lot of money on sunglasses and now they’re gone!’ to “I thought I knew who you were and now you’re gone!”

I’m not saying that the key to life is to live so unaffected that we become numb. Quite the opposite! I just think that we are missing the boat if we think the answers are what bring us happiness. Think of all the great scientists and inventors throughout time. What inspired them? Think of all the great painters standing in front of blank canvases. It was the questions of what could be that moved that first stroke, that mixed that first color, that began that first journey. These days of unknowing, these spaces we desperately want to fill with something , can be beautiful, beautiful days. Don’t think for one second  that they are moments stuck in time. All things change. This moment you and I are in is moving us somewhere . The manner in which we move with it will greatly impact the direction we go. Rilke could not say it any more gracefully,
Towards all that is unsolved in your heart
Be patient
Try to love the questions
Do not seek the answers
which cannot be given
you would not be able to live them
Live everything
Live the questions now
you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
Live into the answers
Some distant day.

I think that when asked, “What is it that you do?”, I’m going to work at making my response a verb instead of a noun. I suppose, to get it over with, I’ll still have to say something like, “I’m currently disabled”, because, well, I currently am. But this disability has given me a tremendous opportunity. The opportunity to slow down, to learn every day how to “let go” and how to live beautifully on shaky ground.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?

Today I opened my door and walked out...

Green surrounded me.

Bee-ing okay with things just as they are. 

Thankful for another sunrise.

Laughing at the volunteer maple tree in my flower garden.

Enjoying the unconditional love of my four legged friend. 


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Metta Sutta....a Blessing for 2012

Blessing for 2012

May everyone be happy and safe, and may their
hearts be filled with Joy.

May all living beings live in Security and in Peace –
beings who are frail or strong, tall or short, big or small,
visible or not visible, near or far away,
already born or yet to be born.
May all of them dwell in perfect tranquility.

Let no one do harm to anyone. Let no one put the
life of anyone in danger. Let no one, out of anger or ill will,
wish anyone any harm.
                                                ~ Metta Sutta (Suttanipata)
                                                          Translated by Thich Nhat Hahn

Before things get too busy around here, I wanted to take a moment to send out a blessing to all of us. Although it seems quite appropriate with the fast approaching New Year, it is a blessing for all the days we share on this beautiful planet.

It does not seem to matter how much wealth we have…or even how much health we have…if there resides no peace within us - then even the greatest of treasures fall short. May you find, in the quiet moments of this day, a place of perfect tranquility.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taking A Shower

I think of you often
Every other day, mostly. These are shower days - cleansing rituals
I think of you
Mothers, daughters, grandmothers
Stepping into the steam with me
I wonder
About your
Are you tired?
I never imagined so many things 
So many things 
At 40 I imagined 45 to look so different.  I had just found the love of my life
The love of my second chance at life. I imagined so many new and wonderful things
Running the back roads of Wisconsin, canoeing the endless water ways that make up the BWCA
Coffee shops, art, travel
Making love
I never imagined getting sick. No one does, really. We give it patronage like a Hallmark greeting card
Understanding it on a poetic level. Giving gratuitous sentiments like we’ve walked even one mile  
We don’t know. We don’t imagine, really
I didn’t
Something as simple as taking a shower. Rationing out the days. This is what I do. As if it all stops if I just don’t think about it
Or maybe it really is just too hard. It takes too long
Taking a shower
When you’re losing your hair
I just never
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities
All is vanity
Why can’t I be bigger than this?
This thing that insists on
I stand face up
Hot water flowing down my body
I watch the drain
As if this baptism
Slides down my shins and slips between my toes
Soap alludes
Some sort of
A ritual of sorts.  Lather makes things slippery. I brush my fingers through my hair. The first few strokes are the worst
Hair winds around my palms, wraps around my fingers like spun wool on spindles
I tell myself
Not yet
As the hair falls freely. Letting go of me.  I hold my hands up to the water, fingers down
As the fragrant spume
Carries dresses and patent leather shoes, pony tails and sparkly earrings, lipstick and sexy lingerie
Breathe in the steam. I calm myself, let the water pour over my face
Even though each breath feels as though ten thousand were gasping to get out 
Breathe as I turn and spin and maneuver
Shifting here and there so that the water can wash the hair off my shoulders
And arms
And back
And belly
And buttocks
And thighs
And calves
Stopping to tangle around ankles and toes as if to say
I have lingered not long enough, not long enough to
Prorogue the pain of letting go, to delay this grief
It’s sticky business, picking and pulling
Shifting and rinsing, it never ends
Not until I pile what’s left atop my head inside my white cotton turban
Do I feel the satisfaction of
Moving on
Can I say
Can I feel as though this soap
Somehow makes me
Can I step out onto this rug
And dry what’s left of
This disease doesn’t take anything from me that 90 years does not take from you  
I've  watched you grow old gracefully. I’ve admired your gray hair and your soft wrinkled skin 
And I’ve been empowered by your inner beauty.  Your radiance. The soft wisdom that passes your lips and finger tips 
It comforts me
It makes a path in the deepest forest of my being. A place of gentle knowing. A field for rest  
A settling
I never imagined getting sick
I never imagined
I never imagined
Letting go
And yet
I never imagined
In all your
Grace and loveliness
I think of you
You mothers, daughters, grandmothers
Who have come to the last chapters of your story
By age
By disease
By death
By letting not what lacks define you
Not by any letting go
By accepting
What is already

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Daffodils

The Daffodils - 1802 Version

“I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

It's a subtle changing, this movement from the joy in doing towards the joy in knowing . Letting go of the sadness and grief for the revised parts of me. The parts of me that cling to the past. The parts of me that remain uneasy with today.

The parts of me that secretly wish to run once again, wild and free from pain.  

This changing, this joy in knowing , only happens in this moment. Letting go opens my heart to find the gift of what is -


Joy in the knowing of all that I have had. Those moments when I too, gazed and gazed, but gave little thought to the "wealth the show to me had brought."

Joy unending.

"They flash upon my inward eye, which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."

This is Peace. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What if?

                                                                                                                                 Photo by David Ralph Johnson

Each day I learn more than I teach:
I learn that half knowledge of another's life
Leads to false judgement;
I learn that there is a surprising kinship
     In human nature;
I learn that it is a wise father who knows his son;
I learn that what we expect we get;
I learn that there's more good than evil
     in this world;
That age is a question of spirit;
That youth is the best of life
No matter how numerous it's years;
I learn how much there is to learn.

             ~ Virginia Church

Do you ever think about the "what ifs" in life? 
What if she really didn't mean what I think she meant? What if he has that look on his face because he's tired? What if that person looking at me from across the room just thinks they might know me? What if that friend didn't call because she was busy caring for someone...maybe even herself? What if the car that just cut me off honestly had no idea I was there?
So often, we think we know. We attach thoughts, ideas, reasons, emotions and energy to things that we think we know. But do we, really?

What if, just for today, we assume we don't know? Maybe even, assume the best, not the worst? 

Holding onto the idea
 that no matter my age, 
I will learn how much there is to learn.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your Laughter

Taken from the poem “Your Laughter” by Pablo Neruda

Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at the clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.

On any given day, these three couples can be found somewhere in our home. As was the case yesterday, minus one half of one. The responsibilities that go along with college and job often times keep Evan in St. Paul these days. We are so proud of him.  

Simply put, I love having them here. I'm thankful for that. It was not always the case when the older ones were at home. When I was caught up in the busy-ness of life. When I worried about things like having the house clean before anyone could visit, or needing to have time to prepare a special meal if someone was to join us, or wanting to look my best if visitors were here. Times are very different now. Most generally, anyone who enters our home knows that I could be stuck in bed for the entire visit. Our bedroom quite often serves as the kitchen, living room or study - a bed full of pets, kids, a husband and me. 

Either way, whether I am bed bound or up and about, one of the things that fills me most is the sound of laughter that echos throughout these walls. Shy flirtatious laughter, the laughter that escapes in between tickles, the loud robust laughter that comes when huddled around YouTube or at the end of a practical joke - there is nothing like it. It bounces off our ceilings, spills milk at the supper table and doubles us up onto the floor. 

There is just so much to be grateful for. I could not have handpicked better boys to be a part of our lives. I watch them. I hear when their words are gentle, I watch the tenderness and respect in their touch and I feel the genuine presence of new love. It is what their days are supposed to be all about. As Anna and Evan are slowly finding out, the responsibility of adulthood comes soon enough and making space for these moments becomes more difficult and most important. 

For me, these six kids bring me more joy and healing than all the medication in the world. I am so glad that I figured out what it means to just "be" in their presence. Minus all the "mom-expectation", I'm truly in it for the experience. Not that we don't still have our moments of parental guidance and general direction giving, but it really is an experience that we all share equally. Learning and loving, giving and taking, laughing at life. 

As Pablo Neruda says in the poem above, "deny me bread, air, light, spring, but never your laughter, for I would die." 

We all need it.   


Friday, September 16, 2011

September Morning

When summer was still here
I secretly winked at the cold air
An understanding
Between Mother and I
Not ready

My bones still benumbed
Neither warmed nor anointed
They begged
For pardon

The first freeze
Creeps through my bedroom window
Slithers down my green
Making cold paws
And cinnamon roll

Smells good
On days such as

The last door slams
I light the first pumpkin candle
Of the season
And drink my

Wrapped in my sweater
And scarf
We are reconciled
Mother and

She reminds me
Of the beauty

Of the healing
The pause

I lay my worry
Breath in the stillness
Of this moment
Breath out the unease
Within my heart

Where is that recipe
Dutch Apple Pie

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sleeping in the Forest

Boundary Waters Canoe Area      September 2008

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

~ Mary Oliver ~

I love this time of year. I always have. There is something about the crisp air that enhances the smell of nature. As if Fall salts the earth so that everyone can get one last taste before winter. Taste this, she beckons. One last time, before winters blanket covers the pot. 

Camping is something I have had to give up because of my illness. I don't spend much time being sad anymore. I find joy in being a voyeur of my own past. I had these things...and that is the gift I am grateful for. And it's mornings such as these - windows open to the chilly, just-above-frost air, birds migrating in and out of the pines announcing the arrival of the day, smells of wet earth wafting past my warm covers - that remind me of sleeping in the forest. Wrapped in my sheets I acknowledge my place in it all, melting into the comfort it brings. Falling into another place and time. 

Dad, me, Amanda and Dave
One of my favorite ventures into the North included my husband, my father and my beautiful daughter Amanda. We took a week and headed up the the BWCA in early September.

The picture to the left was taken after we had spent the day hiking to one of the high points on the Superior Hiking Trail. It was a marathon experience and we were all very happy to have arrived. Sitting atop our stone balustrade, we slept, ate our lunch and shared holy moments of complete silence. 

We kept slow on the journey. What need was there to rush? At one point, early on in the day, we decided that walking sticks were in order. My father, being the outdoors-man that he is, came prepared for such an activity and had just the tools. Here below you can see Amanda and I whittling away at the branches we all carefully selected along the path. 

The sticks have been with us ever since. 

I think that the best part about being up in the BWCA for me is the absence of thought. Not all thoughts...just certain thoughts. Like the thoughts of time, the thoughts of expectation, the routine thoughts that carry us through our day in an assembly line fashion - keeping us numb on the ride from point A to point B. As if the steward drops a Valium in your morning coffee. 

It is the absence of these thoughts that makes space. It is the absence of these thoughts that gives opportunity - an open door to what is. The here and now, in full force. About fifteen years ago I took a trip to Europe. My first husband, myself and our three young daughters at the time, took off for three weeks and backpacked all throughout Europe. It was a life changing event for me. Each experience seemed magnified a thousand times. Foods, smells, people, architecture, sounds... all in a sort of hyper state in my mind. I came home with an entirely new perspective and it changed many of my priorities for ever. Life had more substance from that point on. Only until recently did I understand why. Being in a territory completely different from anywhere I had ever been, combined with the fact that I could not understand any of the languages being spoken - which meant I could not hear or read any TV or advertising nor could I understand the people that were talking around me - I had opened up space to wholly experience the present moment. A sort of disappearing to actually appear. 

I don't think we do this enough in life. Pema Chödrön, in her book The Places That Scare You, talks about "shaking up the habitual patterns of life". Much of our suffering comes from residing in a place of mistaken happiness. The Buddha called this "mistaking suffering for happiness", like a moth that flies into the flame, destroying ourselves for temporary relief. Going through life numb is temporary relief. 

The tent is no longer there. But I am.
It only takes an open window, or the sound of geese ushering in things to come, or the memories of forest nights gone by, to shake up my life. Even as I sit here typing and reminiscing about my journeys into the woods, I find healing. 

Like the unruffled fog that blanketed our last morning there, I am warm and comfortable in my place. Loss, pain, loneliness, boredom, fear, insecurity...they melt away. And in the end, 

"I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something



Amanda and I, standing on a large rock in the forest.
I love you, Amanda Rose. Thank you, for all that you
have taught me in this life.