Stillness

I find there is nothing that drives away dark thoughts as much as Sunday morning, especially when it follows a night of strange and troubled dreams after a week of increasing tensions at work in a school year that seems never-ending. As I wake, pondering the attrition of humanity in general with a hymn-line playing in my head, Change and decay in all around I see, unable to tell if I am feeling heartsick, soul-sick, or just plain sick, the Sunday stillness settles my spirit. My stomach, on the other hand, needs more time…not sure if I will make it to church or not. A riotous melody from the front porch works like a tonic: a finch fantasia. The mohawk-headed babies that hatched in my door wreath should have flown on by now. I am glad they linger. I need these bright notes. I wish I could interpret them and know exactly what the finches are saying to one another… if they were not here, the silence would be so loud. There is a time for silence and it is not now. It is not the same as stillness. Sunday brings stillness, the finch song brings stillness, the wall clock with whirring crystals brings stillness. I am craving prolonged stillness, I am so tired, but I make myself go.

And if I had not done so, I would have missed it.

Backing out of the garage, closing the door, turning down the driveway… there.

Across the street, lying on the grass in front of a tangled green thicket, a large white cat, so still it seemed an alabaster statue. It didn’t move as I approached. It gazed at me as if it belonged in that very spot (I have never seen it before).

Sphinx-like. Pristine. Regal. Otherworldly. Breathtaking. I think I whispered the word Amazing.

I could have stayed and stared, I think, forever.

But, without movement of any kind, the white cat reminded me that stillness isn’t an untroubling; it is, instead, a submerging, away from surface-level fear, a shaking off, a resting place, a deep abiding.

Which paradoxically involves moving on.

I feel certain it winked at me as I did so.

Curiosity drove me to look it up: Pure white cats are rare, 5% or less of the population.
It didn’t seem to mind my taking its picture.

*******

special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

The lamppost

Late one evening
when I was a child
I rode in the car
beside my father

when he turned
onto our street
I saw, up ahead
dead in the center
a light

Look at that,
I said, a light
in the middle of the road!

Daddy chuckled
it’s not in the road,
that’s the lamppost
in our yard
.
When I see it, I know
that’s home

All these years later
I can still see it
from so far away
glowing in the dark
in the center of it all

No Fauns hereroadscum. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Osprey acrostic

Overlords of sea and sky
Sunward soaring, unafraid
Precise piscivore pair
Riding the winds with
Easy grace
You see and seize the moment

Osprey pair. Photo by my friend E. Johnson.
“Fierce beauty,” as Sy Montgomery would say.

A poem of body and song

On the last day of National Poetry Month, Sarah J. Donovan, creator of Ethical ELA, invites teacher-poets to celebrate thirty days of writing for VerseLove. In studying a collection of poems dealing with struggle and celebration about what we are told and believe about ourselves, Sarah says: “I thought a lot about how our bodies hold and shape so much of who we are.” Today we write to own that we are writers and poets, considering figurative body language, other voices that have influenced us, and our own song.

For me, writing calls from sacred places, inherently requiring, as an act of creation, sacred spaces.

As such, writing, poetry in particular, takes on a life of its own. It starts as one thing and becomes another. This may be more than one poem. I am just letting it be.

Polyhymnia at the Core

And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.
—C.S. Lewis, “How the Adventure Ended,” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
 
The ghost
of my father
and grandfather
are here 
in the shape
of my face
something of them
about my cheekbones
my mouth
a certain turning

My grandmother
is in my bones
those are her arms
in the mirror
fixing my hair

no denying
my mother’s eyes

the Spirit sighs

I imagine Polyhymnia
nearby
(if I can choose
my Muse)
in long cloak and veil
finger to her lips
bright eyes glimmering
silken rustlings
as she leans
whispering, 
always whispering

it is with great love
that she raises
the lion’s claw
piercing every knobby layer
of my being
peeling away
until all that remains
at my tender core
is wordless song
singing there
all along

you are alive
alive alive alive
in the listening
in the remembering
in the faces
in the sacred spaces
where you have been brought
to learn
the unforced rhythms
of grace

now find your words
and be

Polyhymnia. Joseph Fagnani, 1869.

Polyhymnia’s name means “many praises.” She is the Muse of sacred poetry, hymns, and meditation.

The lion’s claw in my poem is an allusion to the referenced chapter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Aslan peels away the enchanted dragon skin from Eustace, restoring him to his true—and transformed—self.

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” is from the paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message.

When I’m by myself poem

Today on Ethical ELA Jessica Wiley invites teacher-poets to compose in a form invented by her ten-year-old daughter, entitled “By Myself.” The challenge: Keep the first and last stanzas from the model and write eight rhyming lines in the middle, beginning with “I am.”

As I began to write this morning, quite by myself (so I thought), I heard a sound outside… I had to stop, open my back door, and listen. Naturally it had to become part of the poem, as it’s part of me, now…

Lines Composed Before a Late-April Dawn as Birds Begin Singing and a Barred Owl Is Calling

When I’m by myself
And I close my eyes

I’m flickering candleglow
I’m a rainstreaked window
I’m sky-scouring birds
I’m the wings of words
I’m snowflakes, driven
I’m mistakes, forgiven
I’m an ivy-covered portal
I’m the voice of the owl, immortal

I’m whatever I want to be
An anything I care to be
And when I open my eyes
What I care to be
Is me

A recording of my owl out back in the pre-dawn darkness this morning.

One of the many symbolic meanings of the barred owl is sacred space… which is always calling to me.
It’s also known as a hoot owl.
I have stories and an old song about that, for another day.

Barred owl. Jon David NelsonCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

‘How to be’ poem

Today on Ethical ELA Sheri Vasinda invites teacher-poets to compose “How to be” poems for VerseLove, in honor of National Poetry Month. The idea is to choose a topic, research it, list facts, and write a poem incorporating those facts in a Do/Do Not format. Sheri says students love this. Imagine their awe at seeing facts take on poetic form…and the power they find in it.

I’ve written of seahorses before; they fascinate me for many reasons. As a writer, the seahorse remains one of my favorite symbols.

How To Be a Seahorse

Don’t worry about being the slowest swimmer
in the sea;
just anchor your prehensile tail to long grasses
so that strong currents
don’t drown you

Don’t worry about your posture
being different from other fish;
let them be horizontal
you stay upright

Don’t worry about having no teeth
and no stomach
and no etiquette;
rejoice that your loud lip-smacking vacuum
enables you to eat constantly
so you can stay alive

Don’t worry about not having scales;
wear your bony armor
with befitting chivalry

Don’t worry how other fish do it;
you find someone
you blush, you flush bright colors
you court for a few days
prim and proper
keeping apart at night
meeting again just after dawn
—ye who are males, step up
sacrifice your own time and energy
on behalf of your beloved
by carrying the babies for her
(even if there ARE 2000 of them)
-out of all the universe
you be Dad Extraordinaire

and commit
for life

Never mind—if you do—
that your scientific name means
“horse sea monster”
—just wonder, if only you can,
little Hippocampus
why your very likeness
is embedded deep
in the temporal lobe
of the human brain
as the central storehouse
for emotion
for learning
for the vast, rolling sea
of human memory.

You can’t worry about that, Seahorse.
Just keep rolling your eyes
in every direction
independently of each other
and swim
(if ever so slowly)
onward

*******

with special thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge

Eggsultation

-The continuing saga of Little Blue Egg

Dear Little Blue Egg,

In all the generations of finches
hatched in wreaths on my front door
I have never known
a mother to lay just one egg
and leave

but that is what your mother did
last Sunday.

Here you’ve been ever since
resting in your nest,
forlorn in the freezing cold

day after day after day

one blue egg
one blue door
one long blue silence
one blue human
(that would be me, Franna,
sad self-appointed custodian
checking on you every morning)

until Friday

when, out of the blue,
there were TWO
of you!

On Saturday, three!

On Sunday, no more…
although I heard
the most beautiful singing
at my door

then on Monday… FOUR.

Little Blue Eggs galore.

I do not know
where your parents were
during those five days
of your cold blue lonesomeness
or how your mother could withhold
her charming clutch
for so long

but I know this thing:
your father and mother sing
every morning
like tiny angels
in eggsultation

and so
do I.

Little Blue Egg gets a sibling five days later

A quartet of Little Blue Eggs… joy!

A short clip of the parents’ music… it echoes throughout the house.
No wonder that finches symbolize joy or that their collective noun is a “charm.”

Some sources say only males sing; others say females sing in spring.
Listening to their bright morningsong, I am reminded
of these lyrics from O Come, All Ye Faithful:
Sing, choirs of angels,
sing in exultation…

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

note:
the letter to Little Blue Egg (alone no more!) is an epistolary poem
for Day Five of National Poetry Month


Sunflower acrostic

Happy National Poetry Month!

At Ethical ELA, Bryan Ripley Crandall kicks off VerseLove by inviting teacher-poets to compose acrostics: “Think of your  person, place, or phrase. Lay the letters onto the page as if fallen leaves. Game-on. Write as if you are ‘gifting’ to another, and use each letter to craft an original poem.”

I love acrostics and have long believed this ancient form is underused.

As I pondered a topic, I went to the refrigerator door to start breakfast, and there it was:

The Drawing My Granddaughter Made During a “Sleepover”

Six years old, blissfully
Unaware that it’s the emblem of a 
Nation being invaded, she announces:
Franna, I am making this for you.
Love crayoned on the paper as
Our own special symbol.
When night falls, we put on our pink pajamas
Emblazoned with these light-seeking faces
Radiating joy of now, promise for tomorrow.

She texts me in the evenings sometimes to be sure I am wearing my sunflower pajamas

Buzzard on the steeple

Here is the church
Here is the steeple
Here sits the buzzard
watching the people.

Most unholy,
it said of the scene
And people dare
to think ME unclean?

Destruction, it said
bowing its head
Will they carry on
’til all are dead?

What’ll be left?
That’s food for thought
So the bird prayed
o’er what we have wrought.



Inspiration: This photo taken by my friend, E. Johnson.
I edited the color to “Noir.”

This is, oddly, my second buzzard post in recent weeks. The first was dedicated to a grieving buzzard who wouldn’t leave his dead mate by the roadside (Carry on). I couldn’t resist using “carry on” again here, connoting the service the buzzard (vulture, actually) provides to the world by eating carrion.

While classified as unclean in the Bible due to its diet making it unsafe for human consumption, the vulture is a mighty agent of cleansing power. Consider: The common turkey vulture is in the condor family Cathartidae, drawn from Greek carthartes, meaning “purifier.” It is the same root for catharsis: purging, purifying, cleansing. The vulture can ingest toxins and bacteria that kill other scavengers. Its head is featherless, easier to clean after its unsanitary work. It holds its wings out wide for the sun to burn away germs.

In some cultures, the bird is considered sacred, especially in those that perform sky burials.

Above all, the vulture has been a powerful symbol since ancient times, most often of life, death, rebirth, protection, and wisdom.

I think about that, looking at this buzzard perched here on the steeple.

Like a bird of pray.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March