Category Archives: Journal

The End of an Era

Last year I posted about this trusty mug that I’ve had a little over 30 years. A bit over 30 years ago, I received this mug as a gratitude gift from my local PBS station, because I donated to them. I loved the color, its capacity, and how it kept my drink hot for a long time. It was part of my daily practice. It has survived dozens of moves, some across country. This morning I drank my coffee and noticed a dampness on the side table. I blotted it up. I thought I’d spilled a little. Later I noticed coffee stain on a couple of papers sitting nearby, and I thought, “Uh-oh.” And yes, alas, closer examination reveals several hairline cracks in the mug. Just enough to leak. My very favorite mug must be retired. I don’t feel sad, just quietly accepting. Things inevitably wear out. I’m glad I had it as long as I did. I will miss it, though. I’ve probably used it every day since I got it — 11,680 days of my life.

The Yes Began to Root In Me

Something Like This, Anyway

If I prayed, which I don’t,
then we could say that I asked
god to open every door that I
had shut, every door I did not
know was there.
Why I asked this, well,
this will make sense to you
or it won’t, but every closed
door I was aware of
had became a point of suffering.
And with every open door,
I could feel congruence,
the world rushing in to create
more space in me.
And god said to me, though
we could not say that it was a voice,
god said, Open even the door with people jeering
on the other side, their faces twisted
in hate? Even the door to an entire
forest of sorrow? And because
this conversation was not really
happening, we could not say that
I said yes to the questions, but
we could say, perhaps, that
the yes began to root in me
and it was not so much a matter
of someone opening the doors
but that the doors more or less
dissolved. And what I had thought
could separate me from anything else
was shown to be nothing at all.
I would like to tell you that I felt grace
in the opening, but the truth
is I felt such terrible ache.
And god did not come put a hand
on my cheek and tell me
everything would be okay.
In fact, if anything, the voice
I did not hear told me
there are no promises.
But I felt it, the invitation
to keep opening doors,
to not close my eyes,
to not turn away.
And though I do not pray,
I said thank you, thank you.

–Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

A Recent Vacation

I recently went to the mountains, and while sitting among the trees this poem came.

When I go to the woods
I bring no books along
preferring instead to read
the primary sources:

the opinion columns of pines
persuasive essays by incense cedars
an array of novels from oak trees.
Quaking aspens are poetry of light
and movement.

There is philosophy in fallen logs.
I study the hieroglyphs of former
wildfires to glean memories
of the Before time.

Even dead trees have purpose
as nurseries for animals and plants;
the rhymes arising from them
are kissed by the wind,
then float away.

Lassen-Crater Lake-Oregon Caves-Jed Smith 2017

What Is Precious Inside Us

“We live in a time of the dissected soul, the immediate disclosure; our thoughts, imaginings and longings exposed to the light too much, too early and too often, our best qualities squeezed too soon into a world already awash with ideas that oppress our sense of self and our sense of others. What is real is almost always to begin with, hidden, and does not want to be understood by the part of our mind that mistakenly thinks it knows what is happening. What is precious inside us does not care to be known by the mind in ways that diminish its presence.”

– David Whyte

What You Missed

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.

Postcard

“Postcard”
by Olena Kalytiak Davis

Lately, I am capable only of small things.

Is it enough
to feel the heart swimming?

Jim is fine. Our first
garden is thick with spinach
& white radish. Strangely,
it is summer

but also winter & fall.

In response to your asking:
I fill the hours
then lick them shut.

Today, not a single word, but the birds
quietly nodding
as if someone had suggested
moving on.

What is that perfect thing
some one who once believed in god said?

Please don’t misunderstand:
We still suffer, but we are
happy.

A Reckoning

“You Will Never Get Death / Out of Your System”
by Dana Levin

How old is the earth? I asked my machine, and it said: Five great extinctions, one in process, four and a half billion years.

It has always been very busy on Earth: so much coming and going! The terror and the hope ribboning through that.

Death, like a stray dog you kick out of the yard who keeps coming back—its scent of freedom and ruin—

         Some people love death so much they want to give it to everyone.

         Some are more selective.

         Some people don’t know they’re alive.

                 —

Metabolic system, financial system, political system, eco-system—systems management, running around trying to put out fires—

Sodium nitrate. Sodium benzoate. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (to keep the food from rotting). Plastic (surgery). Botox, Viagra, cryo-chamber—

Voting backwards, into what
has already died—

Voting Zombie in the name of “change”—

And everywhere in fortune cookies, the oracular feint of a joke future—

where death is the trick candle on the victory cake.

                 —

Some truths are hard to accept. Especially when they won’t budge beyond a couplet.

Especially when they won’t tell you if they mean you well, if they herald freedom or ruin—

You! You and Death! Lovers who just can’t quit. That’s how we make the future.

The terror and the hope of that, as change goes viral.

The Eucharist of the Ordinary

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.

John O’Donohue

Changes

It’s September! Usually this month energizes me. I associate it with back to school and new beginnings, despite the fact that school starts in mid-August here.

“Even as we fret about the changes our progress wreaks in the air and on the airwaves, in forests and on streets, we hardly worry about the changes it is working in ourselves, the new kind of soul that is being born out of a new kind of life. Yet this could be the most dangerous development of all, and the least examined.”

– Pico Iyer

The above quote speaks to how I feel about the times. And alas, that’s all I have to share for this moment.

Instead

pie porn IV: apple pie baked

The Poet’s Occasional Alternative
by Grace Paley

I was going to write a poem
I made a pie instead      it took
about the same amount of time
of course the pie was a final
draft      a poem would have had some
distance to go      days and weeks and
much crumpled paper
the pie already had a talking
tumbling audience among small
trucks and a fire engine on
the kitchen floor
everybody will like this pie
it will have apples and cranberries
dried apricots in it      many friends
will say      why in the world did you
make only one
this does not happen with poems
because of unreportable
sadnesses I decided to
settle this morning for a re-
sponsive eatership      I do not
want to wait a week      a year      a
generation for the right
consumer to come along

Visiting Mountains

chief mountain
Chief Mountain, Montana

Visiting Mountains

The plains ignore us,
but these mountains listen,
an audience of thousands
holding its breath
in each rock. Climbing,
we pick our way
over the skulls of small talk.
On the prairies below us,
the grass leans this way and that
in discussion;
words fly away like corn shucks
over the fields.
Here, lost in a mountain’s
attention, there’s nothing to say.

–Ted Kooser

The Cry of Time

“And it seems to me that life, this brief life, is nothing other than this: the incessant cry of these emotions that drive us, that we sometimes attempt to channel in the name of a god, a political faith, in a ritual that reassures us that, fundamentally, everything is in order, in a great and boundless love — and the cry is beautiful. Sometimes it is a cry of pain. Sometimes it is a song.

And song, as Augustine observed, is the awareness of time. It is time. It is the hymn of the Vedas that is itself the flowering of time. In the Benedictus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, the song of the violin is pure beauty, pure desperation, pure joy. We are suspended, holding our breath, feeling mysteriously that this must be the source of meaning. That this is the source of time.

Then the song fades and ceases. “The silver thread is broken, the gold lantern is shattered, the amphora at the fountain breaks, the bucket falls into the well, the earth returns to dust.” And it is fine like this. We can close our eyes, rest. This all seems fair and beautiful to me. This is time.”

— Carlo Rovelli, The Order of Time

Edgy

Port Townsend July 2019

Doomscrolling. Pandemic. Police brutality. The disaster that is the president. Election malfeasance. The dissolution of the postal service. A mediocre Democratic presidential candidate (for whom I root!). Sexism, patriarchy, misogyny. CLIMATE CHANGE. (Remember that?!) Drought. Wildfire. Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Floods. The rise of Neo-Nazis and other white supremacy groups. Systemic white supremacy. Hate crimes. People being selfish, going maskless because they hyperfocus on personal civil liberty, and to hell with anybody else. New school year beginning, with some schools opening in person, and others distance learning. The added stress to families related to this. Hungry families. Millions of unemployed people. Millions facing eviction. Millions facing medical crises beyond Covid-19. Death.

Where’s my fucking handbasket??

So here is a metaphorical selfie. I’m all spiky these days. And purple, as usual. Sometimes, there are moments in my day when I sit still, and quietly count my breaths. Time passes, and somehow equanimity lands on me like a honeybee, for just that moment. And the moment after that. And the moment, and the moment…

And I remember what I’ve said to my daughter when she is anxious:

Do you know in your heart, and feel, that you are loved?
Yes.
Are you being eaten by a tiger right now?
No.
Then you are okay.

I’m tempted to whine, “What have we come to, that the bar for well-being is so low?” What follows is the realization that I have lived an immensely privileged life for a couple of decades. There was a time when I did not have material and financial ease, or even enough. I lived in rigid anxiety and stress. There are millions of people who live this daily. The truth is, life as most of us live it — future oriented — has always been uncertain, uncontrollable, unknowable. It’s just that before the pandemic, most of us suppressed this truth; we’d whistle past the graveyard and pretend we’re in control.

Then I remember a quote my mother loved, by St. Julian of Norwich.

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

How can this be true? It feels like a koan. It can sit right next to another koan: “Not knowing is most intimate.” Come and sit with me. Leave a comment if interested.