Losing the Words


I was surprised by joy this morning to discover that Verse Daily had featured my poem “Losing the Words” late last year! Somehow I missed it — and today was the perfect day to discover it!

Here’s the link:

And here’s the poem:

Losing the Words

Wantons, they’d give themselves to anyone!

See how they slip in and out of one another’s clothes?

How – dressed in zinnia-colored feathers, giggling –
they settle to the lip like birds, then flicker away?

Oh, they hide behind the roof of my mouth with flashlights,
cast firefly shadows on my stuttering tongue –

dash onto the stage and off, grinning madly —
but above them that terrible sign: Exeunt Omnes.

For one day all of them –
all the thousand thousand names of God –

will fall in love. Conjoin. Merge
into the unkempt darkness behind the stars.

They will be gone forever. Then silence
will enter the echoing chambers of my mind.

It will speak its name at last.
I will say Yes.

Winter Solstice, 2015

Again, our winter solstice ritual: up at 4 am to drive out to Hilina Pali in the dark pre-dawn. Here in Hawai’i, there is hardly a twilight: it is dark and then one blinks and the sun has risen.

The island permits only amber street lights, so as not to interfere with the deep space telescopes. So it’s very dark.

And this morning it was blackness thick with rain. Lightning flashed across the southeastern sky over the ocean. Then we turned onto a tiny road winding south across the lava and the rain gentled.

At the end of the road we clambered out, Don laden with camera bag and tripod, I clutching my notebook under a giant red rain cape. The sweet smell of molasses grass filled the wet air. In darkness, sitting on a boulder, I breathed sweetness and listened to the rain on my hood and thought about the year that has ended.

So much to regret, so much grief and anger, so much learned the hard way – oh, the hard way, still, after all these years!

Release, release, release. Bless the immense and tolerant and sweet-smelling earth, who takes it all in without judgment and turns it into compost.

I thought of how I want to grow in the new year, intentions and choices and commitments, and planted the seeds in the compost of the letting go.

And then the rain stopped and light broke through. Solstice morning! Light returns! Birds rose and sang and skimmed above the grasses.

I thought of Machado’s lines about “golden bees … making honey from my old failures.” When I got home I read again the whole poem. So today instead of my own poetry, you get pure gold:

Last Night As I Was Sleeping
Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Joyous solstice!


Sudden Oak Death Syndrome

Sudden Oak Death Syndrome

Down the long body of California,
ramalina drapes the dead shoulders of oaks
with her bent hair.

Lace lichen. It’s the color of sadness,
of rain that goes on for a long time,
of things fading into the distance.

Behind its veil ooze black
cankers of phytophthora ramorum.

We are in plague time now,
these dead too many to bury, shrouded
in lace the color of smog, fallen

like kindling over the stucco-colored hills,
behind dry lakebeds
where are tattooed the lost shapes of reeds.

Here I name them, the old friends:
live oak, scrub oak, white oak, black oak,
coffeeberry, huckleberry, buckeye, bay laurel,
rhododendron, manzanita, madrone, sequoia.

In the fires, even their roots will burn.

We leave our children a place with no eyelids.
They will die thirsty,
telling stories of our green shade.



Crow Teaches the Song of Himself

Crow Teaches the Song of Himself

I walk out into kelp-smell, clouds of swifts rising,
and one fine crow, taking, like me, the air.

Through striped poppies with orange flauntings
sulfur-colored mustard, wild tomatoes –

and here’s that one fine crow,
swanking down the path ahead of me.

Ah, how he is taken with himself!
How he knows he adorns the day!

For the whole sky rides in his blue-black feathers
and the sun of his yellow eye.

And I too swank – I too in his wake
loaf and stroll and glint my shining eyes

at a pack of truant gulls whooping and helling
round a squadron of portly pelican beadles

at leapfrog terns and peregrines
and small black-and-yellow bees in the lupine.

And I nod to right and left over my gleaming
shoulders, fine as this briny day.


Grouse Song

In many traditions, the grouse is a symbol of the spiral dance to the heart of mystery. Here she is also an offering to my own limping, arthritic joints.

Grouse spins inward, dances
the one-wing limp-dance –

the hunched, knee-favoring,
stiff-hip-lurching two-step.

Round and round she dances
dragging a wing, a thumb joint,

and the dragged part, flightless,
makes a spiral in the dust –

a whorl, a shell-shape, an ear.
What you must follow

is not the bright chest exposed
to arrows but the dragged

wing, the lurch, the dark thing
hidden, which you thought dead.

There is the pivot, the way in,
the still place where she falls

down and down, until
she touches where flying cannot go.