If I were a plant, I might arrive at silence and stillness a little more gracefully. I might meditate with greater success.
If I were a plant, I think you would find that – impossible as it seems – I am both an annual and a perennial. Both evergreen and deciduous, succulent and garden flower, creeping fig and marigold.
A plant thinks, “where is the light and heat, there is the light and heat, here are my roots, if water comes I shall drink what I can.”
An animal thinks, “my belly is empty, my belly is full, this is my place, this is not my place, these are my children, I have no children.”
A human thinks, “through many gateways I have passed, to come into this place at last.”
~ from How To Carry Soup (Homebound Publications, 2020)
There is more than one world. Turn your attention now,
away from the one that is always trying to sell you something,
for time is short and you have work to do.
Befriend yourself, settle into a homecoming,
apprentice yourself to the dear friend of your own curiosity,
to a sense of belonging, a familiarity not dependent
on external circumstance, not interested
in outward manifestation.
Flash a smile and a sparkling eye
at every stranger you meet upon the road,
and your heart’s voice shall become so clear
resisting the call to drink from it will become an impossibility,
easing your thirst with refreshment from your own well,
with plenty to spare for all fellow travelers.
Work all the morning alongside your comrades
from every country, prophets from every land.
Walk all the afternoon among hills that rise and fall.
Rest all the evening, recite the same verse three times
for health and good fortune.
Wake the next morning, take a vow
of kindness, begin again.
You’ve been searching a long time now. Somewhere along the way,
you pause. You begin to notice the intricacies of every texture,
the textures of every intricacy.
All the magic you overlooked becomes discernible. How could you have missed it?
It is at once ordinary and extraordinary, astonishing and unremarkable,
poetic and prosaic.
Seeing this, you give up chasing after dragonflies
that vanish the moment you find them.
You give up the search, the quest, the chase, the pursuit.
Relief. At the riverbank you allow yourself to rest.
Not Rip Van Winkle’s sleep of oblivion, but a deep rest in awareness.
Eventually you rise, stretch lavishly, yawn imperially.
Making your way along the path, you tread more lightly than ever,
beholding – no, absorbing – the wonder of life on earth,
as translated through human senses.
You separate the sounds, hearing each one in singularity
before listening to the unified whole of all the sounds combined.
You taste the watercress, the blackberry, the squash blossom, the herbs.
And then you continue to make your way down this forest path
alongside the flowing river, treading as lightly as possible
until you discover the space between pleasant and unpleasant,
harmonious and discordant, thrill and disappointment.
Now you have moved beyond. Beyond what?
Beyond the realm of opposites, the arena of duality.
Naturally there will be a return journey – you’re only human, after all.
But for now, you keep going, as joyfully as possible,
in a freedom born of simple astonishment,
with a recognition of the holy presence in all things,
at peace in the acceptance that any day now, up around
any bend, you might meet death upon the road.
We may not live to see the harvest,
gather the bounty, savor the meal,
or enjoy the kindly shade of the tree.
These may all very well
be the province of others.
So let us not forget our purpose,
overlook the importance of our labor,
neglect to take notice of our responsibility
or be blind to our blessings
in the patient growing of things,
the careful choosing of words,
the daily provision of nourishment.
May we observe
the wisdom of the camel,
who teaches well how to kneel,
how to work, carry water.
All sales of How To Carry Soup now support the Rainforest Alliance – a meaningful point of connection between the art of poetry and environmental protection.
Art matters. Science matters. Earth matters. It matters.
“Change the way you carry soup and watch the world open.”
Strange, how there’s no money in bending
spoons, levitating, walking through walls, eating fire.
Stranger still, the mind’s tireless insistence
on returning to the same vault of memory:
a woven hammock bleached by the sun,
beach glass, the texture of a Van Gogh,
metallic oysters, cold beer, fried shrimp,
French vanilla ice cream.
Strangest of all, perhaps, are the fingerprints, bones,
poetry – the circumstantial evidence all around us,
everywhere we go, all our lives.
Take, for instance, the decaying wood
of this old canoe, once paddled
by my father’s hands up the Withalacoochee
to a hidden crystal spring, his long toes
hanging on to their cheap sandals.
Every bit of wood poking up
through the surface of the water
an alligator in my imagination,
every cypress tree along the bank
a bent grandmother of my boyhood.
The hours of that summer too free
to be measured, the days too wild to be held.
Journeys undocumented, stories untold.
The perils of being at sea too long,
the price of coming ashore, no match
for the danger of missing a siren song,
never casting adrift, never charting a course.
The face of the stone lion
has turned white due to weather and time,
two things I understand very little of,
being neither meteorologist nor physicist.
I only know that he reminds me
of a Celtic warrior about to pick a fight,
milky streaks spreading
through the dark copper of his mane.
A stone lion is the best kind of lion to have,
for he requires no meat
and will never turn on you.
Being stone, he looks no more tired
than he did all those years ago.
I admire his dignified silence,
and wish I were more like him,
hardly effected by weather and time.
Maybe then the sun I’m sitting in
wouldn’t feel like it had to work so hard
to beat back the gloom of eventuality.
For the moment, though,
I somehow get hold of slippery acceptance
and wrestle it in close,
effort in one hand, surrender in the other.
For the moment, he comforts me,
ever gazing at the garden before him,
neither its conqueror nor its servant,
a snail passing before his feet
like a tourist at a monument.
Once you have traveled
in the four directions,
along the main thoroughfare,
and spent a good deal of time
on back roads and side roads,
putting one foot in front
of the other until you reach
a measure of satisfaction,
it is possible you might find
a clear idea of why you set out
in the first place, so long ago.
That’s the high road –
from which you can look
beyond yourself and see
how the course you take
converges with the others.
The cartography of your choices
that seemed before to hold
no pattern – the direction of
your footsteps, how
they brought you here at last.
Spirit of breath and practice, holy mystery of movement and stillness,
grant me the discipline to just sit here, though the old fires still burn in me.
Grant me the wisdom to remain plainspoken at the doorstep of the mind’s
entanglements. Let me keep a balanced, empty mind.
Grant me patience, not only for my own sake, but for the sake of others.
Wherever I am, may I not lose the sight to truly see the colors, forms, shapes
all around me, then and there.
And whenever I walk, may I have the sense to notice the soles of my feet
touching the ground, meeting the earth – even when they are housed in shoes.