Knapsack

With Mother’s Day on one side and Memorial Day on the other, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom.  I can’t believe she’s been gone for 25 years.

This poem first appeared in 2014, in The Wayfarer Journal of Contemplative Literature.

 

Knapsack

It’s a shame

I don’t have the patience to garden,

my mother being who she was,

doing what she did with sunflowers

and lemon balm.

And with me being who I am-

a fine cook responsible

for so many glowing embers,

so many bubbling broths.

The memory of her is light enough

to take with me wherever I go,

propelled by the sea breeze,

pushed along by intimate hands,

drawn down muddy roads

slashed with the watercolors

of coming summer,

medicine wheels whirling

in my stumbling eyes.

 

Olympic Mountains

Jagged white peaks rose, totems of winter: Earth’s Master Carver.

I was merely an apprentice spoken to in passing, on one of those Seattle days when darkness comes at 4:30 in the afternoon and mantles your whole life.

I listened to Van Morrison’s T.B. Sheets as I trundled along the pier, just up from where the cruise ships dock when they pass through Elliott Bay, tourists de-boarding only long enough to get coffee and smoked salmon, see the Needle and the Market, through the sad tourist lenses of not knowing.

The wind cut into me like a halibut’s teeth, oysters moped in brackish sludge, aquatic hermaphrodites fascinated with themselves.

The mountains and I fell for each other, both of us northerners by birth.  Both wreathed in mist, starved for sun.

 

Sitting Still, Listening, Spring Evening

A warm May evening startles me with its beauty, as you often do.

The birdsong, an affirmation.

Laughing water, a meditation.

 

Wine is soft. My cravings relax their grip.

A ripple in the grapefruit moonrise.

Medicine in the moment.

 

Nothing Else

How do we carry out our solitary work?  How do we live in just one body, be in just one place, with so much wild possibility spread out before us, urging us to leave our withered husks behind and investigate the effervescent.

Where is the cat curled on the hearth?  The mother, the rising voice of her bread finding its way from oven to counter, the father with watering eyes and handkerchief, the children with their tiny toes, guarded by shepherds until deemed self-sufficient.  Gone from here, you and I to follow – what else?

The silky flesh of an avocado for nourishment, a blushing apricot for astonishment, hot tea for purification.  A trio of stocky, red-breasted robins eat a breakfast of insects in the rain, knowing nothing of coats, hats or umbrellas. Is there anything else?

No small town sitting with hands folded in its lap, where change is slow to occur, where it’s easy to listen and record what is heard. No vast city arching its back, inviting temptation. No slender valley sitting in the sun, rubbing its feet together like two lamps containing dormant genies.

Nothing to miss out on, nothing else, nothing to do, blind in one eye and deaf in the other.

May we carry out our solitary work, be of some use.

 

Intersection

A swirl of motion disguised as effortless.  Notions innumerable, channeled by a single consciousness and dismissed.  Pandemonium, orchestrated as if by grand design.

Sirens, horns, voices, shoes, wheels, engines, commerce, commotion, patches of persistent quiet.

A rich harvest of information passing through the needle’s eye of a moment’s fraction.  Another wave breaking in the audio-visual department, undertow corroding the bodily equipment.

It all sucks in a sharp breath and repeats itself, falls in on itself, as a wet blanket is pulled from an oven and thrown over the world.

On a nearby oasis amidst mortar, steel, concrete, glass and trash, orange poppies sway their bodies as if they got high at a music festival.  As they turn their paper Mache faces toward the sky, the subway rumbles – a whale passing below, carrying minnows who will soon join us up here on the surface to brave the storm.

 

Binoculars

Look too long at faraway things and you lose sight of where you are right now.  Desire and fear are pulling you in ten-thousand directions.

There are other forces.

You can turn more inside, see yourself more closely, as if through binoculars.  Just pause, listen, and feel.

 

 

Neahkhanie Mountain

On this, the first day of my life, the elders tell me they never acquired anything they didn’t later wish to be free of.  They ask about my mother, father, umbilical cord.

Soon, I tell them, soon: the wind on this mountain will sweep my mother’s ashes from my hand and combine them with the Pacific.  Soon I will learn that my father has gone off to Spokane, that the cord was wrapped around my neck and had to be untangled.

We travel up the Kilchis River, pick huckleberries, eat sourgrass and purple clover, catch steelhead.  These elders, these children of the mountains tell me I’m one of them, kindling my warm hunger, my quiet thirst.  Dirt and clay emulsify with the tissue in my fingers.

The voice of this place is audible to me now, I understand the meaning of my name.

I hear the presence of this Coast Range, and rest in the tremor of waves grinding their verses against the ankles of Neahkahnie, the story of the earth told to me in a wordless dialect.

Deep listening is effortless on the first day of your life, when you’ve yet to unlearn it.