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.
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
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
words fly away like corn shucks
over the fields.
Here, lost in a mountain’s
attention, there’s nothing to say.
She let go.
Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of fear. She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely,
without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a
book on how to let go… She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it.
She didn’t write the projected date in her day-timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go.
She didn’t analyse whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.
She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
It is said that before entering the sea
a river trembles with fear.
She looks back at the path she has traveled,
from the peaks of the mountains,
the long winding road crossing forests and villages.
And in front of her,
she sees an ocean so vast,
that to enter
there seems nothing more than to disappear forever.
But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.
Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.
The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.
I board the airplane to see my parents. They live far away and long ago
And some years into the future; you never met such wry time machines
In your life. Sometimes they will be about to pass the marmalade when
Suddenly it is late 1941 and they are in college and kissing on the train;
But then as you slather your toast it is 1967 and a war wants to eat their
Son or 2012 and they are at that son’s wake or 1929 and a father comes
Home without his job, or it is a week ago, and do you think that Federer
Is the finest tennis player ever, or Laver, or Don Budge? It happens that
Fast. It’s unnerving and glorious and confusing and perfect and I would
Sit with them every afternoon, if I could, and say tell me tell me tell me,
Tell me every moment of your whole lives, don’t leave me here without
Your grace and humor and the extraordinary gleaming jar of marmalade
From which come all your stories. Next year in Ireland . . . says my mother,
And my dad grins, and I want to kneel and beg the Lord for this moment
Again and again always, the inarguable yes of their bodies, the resonance
Of their endurance, the hunch and hollow of their shoulders, the reverent
Geography of their faces, the lean song of my father’s hands on the table.
In memory of Mary Catherine Nicklas Petro
10/6/1933 – 3/16/2020
We are not all left standing when the war has ended.
It feels like the end times.
For many, it is.
Inhalation is our first act of embodiment.
Exhalation, our last.
One lifetime, millions of breaths
a conversation with all existence.
Where does the spirit go when we die?
Hail Mary, my gentle Momma,
You left; you gave up your breath
before the virus could steal it.
You waged a long campaign to stave off
cancer, old age, and death.
Emancipating your breath
you added the gift of your spirit to all.
Holy Mary, you released your body,
returned to Earth, our suffocating Mother,
in respiratory distress for decades.
Humanity is a virus choking
and drowning our source of life.
When the host dies,
the virus dies too.
Momma, you returned to our Mother
so you could garden with Her,
to try to heal us all.
You shared with me the two poems you would like read at your services. I have always hoped that I would also be able to read this poem for you. With you, there was always forgiveness. Nourishment of the body and soul. Acknowledgement of despair and pain, balanced with appreciation for small treasures and moments of beauty. All of this was connected, part of the family of things. This poem is for you.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I grew up going camping all over the U.S. My parents loved camping and instilled it in me. My mother loved growing things. She was a master gardener. She had hoped to make it to see one more spring. This poem is another one she would like read at her service.
I said in my heart, “I am sick of four walls and a
I have need of the sky.
I have business with the grass.
I will up and get me away where the hawk
Lone and high,
And the slow clouds go by.
I will get me away to the waters that glass
The clouds as they pass,
To the waters that lie
Like the heart of a maiden aware of a
And dumb for sorcery of impending joy.
I will get me away to the woods.
Spring, like a huntsman’s boy,
Halloos along the hillsides and unhoods
The falcon in my will.
The dogwood calls me, and the sudden thrill
That breaks in apple blooms down country
Plucks me by the sleeve and nudges me away.
The sap is in the boles to-day,
And in my veins a pulse that yearns and goads.”
When I got to the woods, I found out
What the Spring was about.
In recent conversations, Mom shared with me several poems she would love to be read at her service. Since we don’t know when that will be, due to travel restrictions and pandemic, I thought I’d share here. This is the first one.
Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Written last night, After a several day “extreme heat” spell.
Hello, 63 degrees. I feel you gossiping with the trees. My windows are all grinning widely waiting for the breeze.
A photo from last summer at Hume Lake…