Monday, April 28, 2008

Blackberries and Roses

I was told once about ten years ago that my theme song could be "Don't
Fence Me In." At the time, it did not sit well. I heard the wildness
it implied as more feral than anything else. Alone, skittish,
protective, afraid-- not words I was inclined to accept or adopt as my
own descriptors, despite any timid undercurrent of truth. Gradually,
however, I have come to see the truth in what was more likely meant
when the song was named.

The wildness is still there in me…but instead of chaotic ferality, I
think of sweet woodsy blackberries left to their own devices or roses,
thick with blooms, thorns, perfume, and a direction of their own. The
wildness is a chafing for freedom, the determination to go and see and
touch and write and root where the soil is promising. When I find that
soil, that willing, generous, accepting, plot, I can't help but bloom
and burst forth and flourish for the profound glory and wonder of the
experience. It is a beautiful feeling unlike any other.

I equate this sort of freedom with passion. What I do with that
passion, how I feel it and share it and live it, is what I try to give
back to the soil… or more accurately, to the people, who have accepted
and welcomed me for who I am…who look at the blooms and the thorns and
the fruit and say "beautiful" as I look at the people and say the
same. Such is the harmony of nature, such is the nature of

I had a friend recently write the following: "Yes, let us all move
into that which is fearsome and prove ourselves worth of the hearts
that have been given us." I responded,

"I ask, then, what heart have I been given? My heart wants to leap
and jump and write and work and serve and look and see and touch and
explore and swim and dance and hold so very gently…this is the heart I
have been given by God. An artist's heart, a dreamer's heart, a
writer's heart, a passionate heart who sees God where she looks and
feels the warm memory of her origin when she loves."

This reminds me of the Jessica Powers poem called "The Second Giving,"
in which she writes

God seeks a heart with bold and boundless hunger
that sees itself and earth as paltry stuff;
God loves a soul that casts down all he gave it
and stands and cries that was not enough.

Not wanting to be fenced in now is more of a mantle I have picked up
than a yoke laid upon me. Please, I find my heart saying to my
dearest companions, and also thank you. I offer my berries, my
blooms, my hand and heart and poetry, for you have helped bring them
into being and I have more than I can contain. As well, passionate,
glorious, humble thanks for stepping through bramble and twinings.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

No me lleva corriendo...

Again with a challenging day at work yesterday. If it was mental challenge of an intellectual sort, that would be one thing… a pleasure, actually. I love to try and have my mind roll and stretch in new ways. Mental yoga—who knew it could bend that way? But lately, the challenge has been far more emotive, far more interior and heart oriented, rooted in unique perceptions of things.

But then when least expected the door to the left opens and I’m left chuckling, because I hadn’t seen one there.

I rode the bus down to my parish yesterday for an evening meeting. I was NewYork neutral to the crowd and who was sitting next to me. Until the seventy something man asked me the end point of the bus route. Clearly he was struggling for the words in English and not understanding my answer. I noticed he was holding a passport from Spain and was fortunately able to negotiate my way through conjugations and vocabulary to converse in Spanish. His relief would have been gift enough… and then he asked me what I did for my work and where/why I’d learned Spanish. I spoke simply about the happiness I have in working with another language, the pleasure of it on my tongue, the shape of it in my mouth, the sparks and colors when syllables and meaning encounter each other. This moved into a discussion of poetry… he asked if I read Neruda. The simplest response I could offer was a patting of my heart, closed eyes, and a smile. Soon he was quoting parts of Neruda poetry that he had memorized. He spoke about his practice of reciting poetry mentally while he swam—such a connection did he find between the rhythms of the two activities.

We shifted into the culture of self-interest and materialism that seems so wide-spread in the United States and parts of Europe. Poetry, literature, art, these were things you carried with you in your heart that needed nothing more than a soul open to noticing and perceiving, accepting.

This gentleman from Murcia is a retired professor of French who has made choices so that “la muerte no me lleva corriendo.” Death does not carry him running.

Amen to that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Two Magical Cats

I have a new print on my wall. It is a gift from a friend with whom I went to the Met this morning. We stopped outside to speak with an artist she knew who had a table of his prints displayed. This one is of two striped cats staring at each faces, just orange stripes and cat bodies and whiskers looking up and down at each other from the top and bottom of a set of outside steps. The one at the bottom has the advantage of also seeing the crescent moon behind her night time companion. It is so easy to imagine the conversation that preceeds their adventure. Somehow I think it might be in a French accent--

Two Cats Prior
to a Nighttime Carouse

Shall we?
I seem
to be caught
by the moon,
by the magical
mystical, mischief
making moon.

Your whiskers
are curling…
Are they?
Your tail, it is
tipped with
a metronome's twitch…

Can you feel
the night
in your fur?

I am nearly electric,

Be-bop, hip-hop,


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Still, Quiet, Joy

Know what happened on the way to work this morning? It was quiet enough, still enough, for a brief, brief moment in the middle of Manhattan to actually be able to hear the sound of bird feet on the manhole cover by the bus stop where I was standing. You could hear the little clicks as she moved from nubby button to nubby button on the top. Amazing. And then the traffic, mechanized and human, started up again and the moment was gone.

It made me think of other moments like that--moments of purest assurance that God delights in providing opportunities for us to simply enjoy. Here are some of them for me: Glimpsing a hummingbird, when I learned to hear the wind come before I felt it in Southern Louisiana, the wrap of a friend's arms in a hug, noticing a line of ants carrying a cracker across a sidewalk, finding the perfect word to fit the meaning and music of a poem that I might be working on, watching a chameleon cycle through his change in the company of eight year olds on a 183 year old gallery...

To a greater or lesser degree, these sorts of gifts are passing...but I have to say that it another pleasure entirely to wonder what the next one might possibly be. And to believe that it is there...amidst the inevitable challenges and struggles and trials that will be there just as surely. Comforting, actually.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sheep in the Streets

The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Eastertime is John's story of the Good Shepherd.

It isn’t often I find myself thankfully praising God for sheep as I swarm down Manhattan sidewalks with the rest of the hive. Rarer still, for one who prides herself on a certain capacity for insightful logical thinking, the source of my praise was their utter simplicity of thought, their instant refusal to acknowledge or place credibility in the voice of a stranger.

Looking around me while waiting for the train and seeing no faces I recognized, I allowed my mulling to progress into a consideration of what qualified as the voice of a stranger for an adult. Suppose I was lost. Wouldn’t I need to rely on a stranger’s voice to help me get on track? Suppose I was hurt or got sick, wouldn’t it be strangers who called for assistance or asked me necessary questions? Suppose I up and hollered unnecessarily at someone for something. Wouldn’t it be a stranger who chastised me?

But then, I began to think that the word “stranger” has far less to do with whether or not two people have an established relationship than it has to do with the concepts conveyed, the language used, and the detectable disposition of the one speaking.

The voice of a stranger is not a voice of love. The voice of a friend is. The voice of a stranger is not one of concern or care or compassionate, necessary challenge. The voice of a friend is.

Sheep do not listen to one they do not recognize as friend. Smart sheep…seeking out the voices bearing evidence of the foundational elements of Jesus’ teaching and refusing to acknowledge any other.

Another way to look at this, I realized, is in terms of baptismal promises. For some of us, we made the promises ourselves. For many, if not most, the promises were made on our behalf. The one question that sticks with me in my wooly afternoon mind is “Do you refuse to be mastered by sin?” The question could perhaps be reworded in two distinct but complementary ways—Do you refuse to recognize the voice of the stranger? and Do you refuse to speak in the voice of a stranger, one whom the sheep of the fold do not recognize?

Our answers indicate our willingness to learn the language--both how to speak it and how to recognize it: the common tongue of right relationship. Love. Care. Concern.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


The week was not an easy one for me. In an email to a friend, I said that "my head is spinning a bit and my heart is aching some, to tell you the truth." Nothing radical happened. Nothing devastating. Rather, it was multiple things on multiple fronts- things that raise questions upon questions, things that are muddy, messy, and challenging. Much of it was atmospheric, not having to do directly with me, yet impacting nonetheless. As I wrote one evening, "I may not be the ultimate target of the mud, but that doesn't mean the one holding it has good aim."

Regardless, routine happens. and each day, when I woke in the morning, I put a different companion in my school satchel. That bag is intentionally small enough to only carry one book, a notebook or two, some pens, and the bits and trifles one needs for life in the City. I love that grab, sling, and go feeling of it... a feeling of freedom, actually.

But as to the companions-- I went to the library last weekend and found a literary bonanza. Everything I was looking for was in. Consequently, I have a lovely stack of volumes by my bed. Over the week, I have lightly wondered whether these books, Like Marcela's dolls in the Raggedy Ann stories of my early childhood, move around at night, shuffle their order, and decide among themselves which one should be on top for a given day.

Mary Oliver was in for two different days-- two different collections of essays/poems that are achingly, equisitely observant, interior, ruminating, celebratory, and grounded in the warm, wet, embrace of earth.

Wordworth came with me one morning, too. His "Tintern Abbey" is like walking into a painting. I find it a portal to solitude and interior realignment. On the bus, I can be walking amidst such passionate beauty, listening to the rhythms of language that he synched with his own foot stride in a radical break from the fixed measure of much of the other poetry of his time.

And then there's Whitman. I'd not read Leaves of Grass until a few years ago. I gave it to myself as a sort of assignment to read over the summer. It is such an important poem in the history of world literature that I thought I needed to know it. And oh, how I fell for it. The exuberance, the celebration, the freedom, the passion, the casting of a wide net and proclaiming all of it good, the celebration and acknowledgement of the whole self, the sweeping vistas...

So, here's to good companions. Be they present live in person or live on the page.

Who ever you are, now I place my hand upon you that you may be my poem. –Walt Whitman

Anoint me with life-
the honeyed distillation
of all I give and receive!
Let it drench and seep
into the veins of the Earth
to be mined again
by other poets,
journeyers free,
who accept your
to breathe the natural verse
of ebb and eternity.


Monday, April 7, 2008

How you look at a thing

I walked into work this morning, coffee in hand and thoughts in mind, and was asked “Hey! How was your weekend?” “It was a good one, actually. Especially yesterday. Thanks-- You?” “What exciting thing made it so wonderful?”

And there I had to stop and think. Not about whether the day was wonderful or not, not about the smile that stayed with me for the rest of the afternoon, not about the gratefulness I feel or the hope I have that another such day might occur. It was my colleague’s word choice and the assumption that for the day to be a good one, something exciting must have happened. I don’t begrudge him the word or the thought…it just made me hesitant to actually engage in a description with him when I know from experience that by common measure, what constitutes a really good day for me doesn’t quite match the going definition.

I had brunch with a friend. We covered Church, philosophy, politics, racism, poetry, art, families, work... To extend the conversation, I walked with her back to her apartment where she was going to pick up her car and go visit her father. Along the way, we commented further on the impulse to write and create, we noted the fresh portent blooms on the pear trees gracing the sidewalks, we marveled at the soft perfection of an arc created by a construction net hanging from a building.

If that constitutes exciting, so be it. The important, grace-filled thing to me is that it happened.

Friday, April 4, 2008


When your day begins in the pouring rain and the driver of the cab you damply hailed is chugging Red Bull… when a class of your students yesterday spent their time writing poems about decorum in the library (I figured, why not combine? It’s national poetry month and their behavior was markedly lacking in that certain something that makes education possible)…when your meetings and conversation outlast your capacity to comprehend another word, let alone a whole idea…

How wonderful to encounter a gentle reminder, from yourself, no less, that there are spaces and times and words that bring calm. That there is that mystical, liminal space, where you can let go and find around you that hammock, or rocking chair, or cradle, or arms, where there is peace. I wrote this several years ago and found it among files.

Quiet Words

Hush love,
rock rockabye,
let the night come;
Stars need the darkness
to kiss the moon;
Moon needs midnight
to spin its shine;
Shine needs hearts
to carry it on,
carry it out
into a world afraid
of shadows.

Rockabye rock,
Hush love, hush,
feel the dreams
come in a rush
of silken colors
oceans deep;
go on, little one,
into the arms of sleep.

Lullaby honey,
nestle down
in the sweet soft arms-
sweet in the stillness,
soft in the dark;
breathe in the shine
of the moon and
the Maker
swinging you
swinging you
rocking you, rock.
loving you, hush,
into quiet word