My friend turned to me in distress- I don’t know what to do, he said. I used to have a purpose. I was once a “Somebody.” Now I don’t know what to do with a single day!
Don’t you understand, I may need to fill twenty years of days like this!!
long slow breath
is a long slow breath
soft edges and sunlight
it’s your grandson’s smile
and the trust of a good woman.
this day is a hawk drawn sharp
against a mountain sky
it’s the way the clouds break
over the ridge and the feel
in your hand of a well-balanced tool
it’s the cool breeze on your neck
as summer fades into fall
this day is everything you’ve forgotten
and all you never needed to know
it’s the necessary and the sufficient
it’s a soft chair and a sleeping dog
it’s a white tree with yellow leaves
on a hillside of deepest green
this day is the first and last day
of nevermore this day is a day
beyond the need to become
a somebody this day is a day
to be a body walking this earth
in peace this day
is a long slow breath
Last month, as part of a trip to Chilean Patagonia and Antarctica, we had the extraordinary opportunity to trek wild Pumas on some private land adjacent to Torres Del Paine National Park. We were led by a terrific guide and photographer, Rodrigo Moraga (https://www.rodrigomoragaz.com)
This is more of a reflection on the many lessons Jack taught me in his life and in his dying. I’ve long felt that dogs can be true Bodhisattvas, essentially enlightened beings returning to this plane of Samsara to help us floundering humans move toward our own enlightenment and that of all sentient beings.
it's so easy
it’s so easy to lose it
without noticing, your attention
driven to inattention by jobs and bills
parents and children
the heat slowly rising
-- just another frog in the pan
then suddenly -- you’re old
you notice the stars
have grown dim, the days
seem shorter, damp and cold
and all of your poems
now speak of loss
until one morning
you wake before dawn to the sound
of birds singing in the darkness
and after all this time
right there it is
you almost don’t recognize it
yet from a deeper place
you do what you once might have done
to walk barefoot over the wet grass
to feel the cool breeze on your still-warm skin
to lift your weary eyes to the first soft colors
and you know, once again
what you certainly always have known
rises the luminous face of the ecstatic child
that here rises joy
that here, after so very long
rises once again
the all-redeeming grace of wonder
and for one more glorious, completely ordinary day
you are blessed
A Mother’s Love, A Son’s Regret. Looking back, it’s clear that I’ve written more about my father than I ever did about my mother. Fathers and sons I suppose. But she was also the quieter, smaller one of the two. I always had the sense that she chose to hold herself close, always to defer.
September 11, 2001
We drove her from Florida to Chicago on September 11, 2001. The world had suddenly erupted in fire and all flights had been cancelled. We convinced Hertz to give us a van and we drove for three days across a silent, empty America. Her dementia was pretty bad by that point, and she repeated over and over and over, “Where am I going?” “Why do I need to go?” I didn’t have a good answer then, and I guess I don’t now.
A Mother’s Love, a Son’s Regrets
Margaret Ruth lived in a nursing home in Chicago from 2001 until her death in 2004 from simple old age. I’ve posted before (link immediately below) about my sadness that I failed to attend properly the end of her life, allowing her to die alone in the night when it was pretty clear that it was her time.
I own that regret. But there’s also the regret of perhaps never having really known her. So here are two pieces that speak to missing the life of one who loved and raised me. Perhaps I could only see this as I creep into my older years myself. First, the mystery of seeing off one who once had been the entire world.
When the World is Lost Forever
we stood in a circle around the grave
some read poems while some
chose silence. the funeral director
placed her ashes in the ground
while the redwing blackbirds sang
among the corn. we'd always assumed
that she could fly, but then we
were only children, and eager to cling
to childish things
A Mother’s Love, a Son’s Regrets
And second, upon seeing her in the nursing home, a shadow of who she’d once been and wondering if (or perhaps knowing) we’d missed something essential over all those years.
old woman, what have you done with her?
she was here when I last looked. now
there's only you, a remnant, your mind
approaching the capacity of experience
cycling back upon itself, the tape skipping, catching
rewinding as we speak. your face has been chiseled,
deep lines cut into spotted flesh surrounding pools
of sadness in your eyes.
I can see into the depths
of that water -- here rest the old ones
in images black and brown, a diminishing succession
of farmers’ wives standing resolute at the arms
of sitting dead husbands. here are young brides
with radical curls, high collars and narrow waists
holding round-faced war-babies smiling at the camera.
here is a mother reading soft words to soft children
in light fading into dreams—ah Margaret Ruth
we were for each other
and we never really knew
On the Way to Heaven, 2nd Lineage Poem: Over Ohio My father died of lung cancer in Florida in 1986. Always an angry man, he was supremely bitter about his illness, feeling like he’d been robbed of the retirement due a lifetime of work. At the time, I was buried in my own workaholic haze in Chicago, flying down on weekends to see him, then going straight back to the office when I got back North.
He was in hospice when I got word that the end was near, and was in a coma by the time I arrived. This poem tells the story of a real conversation, one I’ll obviously never forget. He was a hard man who was hard on his boys. As I enter my own older years, I resent the hardness less and less, and miss him more and more. I’d love to be able to talk with him one more time.
The end of the year always turns my thoughts to family, lineage and those who came before. A Joyful Noise- Root Music of the Heartland – the first in a series of “lineage poems,” words of origin and reflection, of receiving and giving. My parents, both born in the earliest part of the twentieth century (1915 and 1917,) met in a no-stoplight farm town in northwest Ohio. Bred of simple stock, firm in their protestant faith, the kind of belief that’s simply assumed, stitched into the fabric of a life.
Third of three collections of African wildlife photos from last October, this time in Zambia along the Lower Zambezi River. A glorious place rich with wildlife and perhaps just a touch less traveled than the Okavango Delta in Botswana.