Snow falls from the sky, Clings to pine needles and sycamore limbs That canopy Red Cedar River. Snow falls again. Ploosh, Into water almost frozen. It is cold, so cold. Breathlets nestled deep in our lungs Rise warm and swift, Like birds startled from our mouths, Whirl to the treetops, Warm a bottom branch to the nth degree. Enough to trigger release, A silent descent, Soft splash, Frozen water into flowing water, Sisters meet again. Easily, as if they had known All along. At last. Softly. Stunning. This is the sound of unexpected understanding. Of grief. Water into water. This is the tender sigh of crystal edge into liquid embrace. Of forgiveness. Water into water. This is the audible moment of transformation, a subtle shift of flow. Of bloom. Water into water. This is the symphony of comet tails brushed across the sky, at speed, Melting into the river of space. Of whales gliding through oceans and rain saturating The soil, quenching its filamentous thirst. Water into water.
Category Archives: Language
The world tilts
There is more than one way to mark darkest of night.
Newgrange in Ireland flooded with light.
A stone shed in sand filled with starlight and strangers,
holds oxen and donkey, a child-filled manger.
In Ohio the serpent mound coils away.
The Mayans in Tikal are still marking the days.
In Montana a stick thrust deep into the snow,
and for twelve days Yule fires will grow and will grow.
So the birth of the sun and the Son are the same,
crossing thresholds from darkness to light with one name.
Before glittering things that imprison our eyes,
all the paper and plastic and stuff money buys,
was silence and stillness, coldness and bleak,
the slow march of winter on two frost bitten feet.
Before the vice grip of new, fast electronics,
were birds tweeting carols, celestial phonics.
Owls in the twilight, frogs in brumation,
soft fur of hare, the bear’s hibernation.
Do not forget what this slow time is for,
a Light in the darkness, a knock at the door.
Welcome! Welcome! Invite illumination
to come in, to rush in!
My corner eye thought they were birds,
but leaves, just detached from limb,
flickered and flipped a brief migration,
landed at wind’s discretion.
Soon dappled light will be replaced
by straight shadows clacking in birches,
those be-jangled enthusiasts of fall
and its golden, breezy air.
Then they were leaves,
but no, peep-piping birds fluttered,
re-leafing trees, dropping tenderly
onto bare branches, nestling softly
into needled pines.
Sun is softer now, air sharp,
a languid, restless token.
My paddle board caught the wind, too,
a leaf on the water,
detached from shore,
rippling down the cold lake.
I turned to go back.
What leaf would ever do that?
Holey trinity: Mother, daughters, and the holy nose
I was always bargaining with God in the back seat of the car on the way to church about picking my nose.
This is the last time, I promise, then I’ll never pick my nose again. I really want to go to heaven, so this is the last booger, I swear.
Then it would itch.
Or it was an especially dusty day.
Or I could feel it in there, waiting. God would understand.
My Dad always picked his nose in our pick-up truck on the way to school. I pretended not to see, staring out the window, peripheral vision betraying me.
There were all kinds of hairs in there, I knew. I’d seen those, too. He was 6’6″ tall, so it was difficult not to look anywhere but up his large-nostriled nose.
If I hadn’t picked my nose so much as a kid, then maybe my left nostril would be the same size as my right one.
Now I’ll never know, because I’m not a kid anymore.
Now I have my own kids, and I’m sure they’ve seen me pick my nose a few times. God knows. Okay, many times.
My daughter picks her nose while she reads books. Completely absorbed, absent-minded picking. I’m not sure where they end up. I try not to stare that long.
Upon being introduced to Michigan State University’s mascot at age 4, she promptly picked her nose. Sparty got down on one knee, nose to nose, and brought his felted finger to his fuzzy, oversized nostril in mutual understanding.
Most mammals can’t pick their noses, it’s not physically possible. Imagine a cat trying to do that. Or an elephant.
Or a whale.
It’s impossible to pick your nose while snorkeling and listening to millions of tiny underwater clicks–fish mandibles munching minerals–while feeling the strangest, strongest desire to never exhale carbon dioxide ever again in order to preserve this beautiful, intricate, aquatic dance of astonishing color, light, and texture.
Coral icons, layer upon layer of life, plated with sun-gold.
Is it only hominids who dig for gold? For there is something extremely human about nose picking. The pointer finger neatly fits (but not the thumb). It is completely self-directed. An exercise in free will. Public or private? Long or short? Deep or shallow?
I’ve outgrown my original deal with God. As my daughters and I grow older, there is more reason to believe God delights in creating life, not bargaining with it.
My daughters’ noses were cleared after their first, startling, beautiful breath fresh from my womb.
God took a deep, loving belly breath–in through the nose, out through the mouth–and dust swirled into life. The same dust forged in exploding stars, the same dust we pick from our noses.
Now I know (tapping the side of my nose) that the nose was created not just for fingers, but for aromas–detectors of danger and decay, gateways to otherworldly pleasures and pains, solidifiers of memory, pathways for life’s breath–inhale and exhale.
my Mom’s perfume and favorite, faded pink and purple plaid shirt.
my shoulders drop.
the top of my daughters’ tiny heads, smooth baby scent tinged in tiny, translucent hair.
I close my eyes
my husband’s aftershave, a can he used for more than five years because he loves adventure, not things, people, not self-grooming.
I am still
motorcycle exhaust and 5-year-old me between my Dad’s arms, leaning into every turn without fear, hair flying, elation, alfalfa, and dust filling my nose.
I miss him
asphalt after rain, nettles in spring, pine needled trees on Mt. Adams, strawberries in warm June sun, cookies in the oven.
You will get the call
That changes most things, not everything
You take it at the coffee shop, Blue Owl,
Where your favorite table is not taken,
Your laptop open to work,
the news article you are writing about mouse research.
Your Mom’s number, good, you needed a break.
You take it
Stepping outside to the empty parking lot
A quiet place between two concrete buildings
The sun shining on a west facing wall
Leaning against it in between two yellow lines
And you will hear that something is not right.
They are doing tests,
Lab work needed in Portland
Pancreas and liver showed up on the MRI, lights,
Could be something else.
Your Mom does not say it on the phone,
But from this day on they are the hardest,
The most precious days.
The days you are furthest away and closest to home.
Painful distance, painful diagnosis.
Six months to a year, but your dad is strong
And on the young side,
So aggressive treatments could be worth it.
Treatments like holding back a flood
With just a few sandbags, piled up
As the rain pours down, chemicals pour through.
There is no holding it back.
The Power Ranger is powerless as it stands,
In the om position
On the table beside him during chemo.
I fly home after the call and
My eyes rest easy on the folds
Of hills that reach down to the river.
I think, “They are like the folds of my own brain.”
The river circuitry running through it
A pathway of blue.
“The folds of my brain, they must be similarly drawn
Down to the water that runs through them.”
I drive east after flying west to meet my mom,
Preparing for an experience I’m not prepared to have.
Thinking of my dad, who never complained,
Always worked hard.
Spoke a little too fast without listening,
but his heart was always good.
He always had a way forward in mind.
I wonder what way forward he will find this time.
That’s really the only way that Dad goes, forward.
Finding a way.
I don’t know what new folds
In my brain I’ll come upon as I go down this winding river.
I can’t see around the bend.
Should I stop now and wait?
Should I keep going?
Should I build a fire here?
Should I portage?
What’s around the corner?
Is it that water fall?
Is it a dam?
Is it rapids?
I’ve had a calm journey until now.
I’m not prepared.
I want a life jacket to save me.
I’m not ready to take off my Dad’s.
Acronym stands alone and credible.
in utter importance it discards the in-between.
free of further verbalization, independent of long vowels and
that impede the progress of CAPITAL LETTERS.
acronym uses more ink for one loud fact
than all indispensable, indivisible in-betweens put together.
acronym assumes abbreviation is understood,
that ideas need nothing but skeletons.
large letters, quick, efficient, cool, savvy
have left neighborhood letters behind,
small ones that slow CAPITALS down,
inconsequentials that love to be to be pronounced,
that bring assonance and alliteration when spoken openly—given voice.
in-betweens shrivel and die in dark shadows between UPPER CASES—
big letters, suave and slick, with-it and quick,
forget how the word sounds, how the world sounds,
in the smallness at their feet.
acronym leaves behind
the curved bottom of y, the strong back of h,
the inclusiveness of o, the quiet invitation of b
to sit in a comfortable chair
and stay for t
I want to shout enough!
About the places that we board and we take and we squander.
The women crying out! Listen to them
The vulnerable, the small, the poor,
We steal their right to be.
To speak is to exist, to take up space, to complete the whole.
I want to have a tantrum like a toddler
Scream the hurt and pain that lingers.
Why do those in power get the voice?
Why do those with money get the choice?
The woman who sat with her coffee and her paper
The men with their boots and opinions
The women playing mahjong and bridge
They gather, they talk, they interview, they bring
Their family and sisters and brothers
And developers? They say it’s not enough.
Not enough money.
They say you are not enough!
The love of money is evil, he said, and he was right.
We love it so much we give those who have it the right
Where buses go, good produce, green parks.
The best streets, the most trees,
The beings we save and the beings we let die.
These words aren’t enough!
Why do we act from scarcity?
Why don’t you act scared of me?
I am the woman, the athlete, the mother
I speak for the little, the forgotten,
the soil, the air, the mammals warm and dying,
the children, the teenagers, the elderly.
They are our enough!
Give them food and shelter,
Give them beauty and plenty,
Hell, give them money, yes a minimum standard for everyone
to ease the burden, to lift the weight
So they can fly, their imagination, their ingenuity, their creativity
To experience this world in all its beauty!
Beauty is enough!
Why do we take land from native people and
native flowers and trees and birds and bears?
There is enough!
Stop reaching, stop taking, stop fighting,
Why aren’t the voices speaking for love
Amplified like the fear that we hear in the news
In the news, it is not enough, but here, right here
It is enough.
WE ARE ENOUGH
to turn the tide
To stop the hate and the violence and the unjust, the persecution and damning blindness.
ENOUGH I say to administrations that abuse and use and persecute and squander
The beauty that is the immigrant and the refugee,
And the dream that most Americans have woken from.
Enough! Enough guns for they fail
To make us safe, they replace
The words we need to speak
To hear where we hurt, where we are ignored and forgotten.
Walk into the garden, look at the pain the world is in
put your guns down, dig your hands in, sweat!
It is enough!
What words do I need?
Life is too short
Life is too precious
Life is found in forgotten streets,
in quiet meadows,
in trees growing through sidewalks,
in the apartments shoved out
and all the people who made their home
there stepped on, told to go.
Enough, I say,
Are you uncomfortable yet?
Is this Enough?
Your voice belongs here, too. Please,
an invitation to
Tell us your enough
Dear Teenage Sarah,
Your Dad will not always be there.
You feel his presence as big and annoying and he doesn’t understand you, as a young woman, and neither do you, as a young woman.
You both focus on another place, with hoops and keys, made of blocks and bruises, hardwood floors and ten foot nets.
In that practice gym you talk to each other in spurts and slaps and barks:
block, go, stop, pivot, hard, jump, pass, drive, push, rebound, shoot, huddle, ashamed, no, yes, and you and he write your story in wins and losses without looking each other in the eyes for too long.
It will be okay. It was good enough.
After games you will celebrate or sit to be yelled at on the cold January car ride home, plied with questions you can’t answer, you try, and get back home to eat dinner and go to your room on the first floor and to college for five years, and he will go upstairs to his room, the creak in the second step.
He will not always be able to walk up those steps.
He will never ask you about your boyfriends.
He will never want you to see him naked when he can no longer turn over in bed.
He will take his last breath in your room after playing an unexpected game impossible to win, but he stayed in the game, never wanting to sit on the sideline, to stop and ask what else there is to love as the game clock winds down, while you try in vain to reach him, you will hug him and hold his hand and give his restless hand a rubik’s cube and tell him that you love him, but he will not answer you, your 1,000 point trophy ball sitting on top of the bookshelf.
He will leave having loved you the best he could with a language he knew and believed in. With faith.
Your room backfills with leftovers from life, the wave tip of a watercolor ocean, great grandparent portraits, old glass bottles, records, file drawers, wedding photos, everyday flotsam eddying,
and you will sleep there again, your future husband, your two daughters, your Dad, dying from pancreatic cancer.
Tell him that you love him.
poem based on Langston Hughes’ “I Dream a World”
I dream a world beyond
the walls that keep us in,
the locks, the gates, the bars
all fall away and then
we gaze upon each other,
each life a glorysound,
like birds aloft, aflutter,
our songs, once lost, are found.
A world beyond the grip
of violence, fear, and greed,
where all can breathe the air,
breaths deep and whole and free.
I dream a world alive
with creatures great and small
who have good food to eat,
clean water, beauty, all.
This world we dream to being,
dream light into the dark!
Then gather up the words,
ignite them with love’s spark!
Thank you God for coffee
That gets me through the day
That keeps me nice and regular
(Maybe that I shouldn’t say)
‘Cause if it weren’t for coffee
I don’t know what I’d do
I’d probly chew tobacco
‘Course there’s marijuana too.
Nah, I wouldn’t chew tobacco,
But coffee stains my teeth
I think I’d use the hash
Cause I’d have better breathe.
Who am I to say
What’s right or good or bad?
When pushing comes to shoving
It’s whatever people have
Around them when they need it,
A mental shift in mood.
Mine’s black and strong with cream
It’s psychoactive too.
In other places it’s totally fine
To drag on this or that.
Culture is such a blinder
I’d rather just forget
About stigma (gasp), taboo
Who needs them anyway?
Thank you God for coffee
That gets me through the day.