Lavender

I don’t know who was doing the witnessing –

the lavender plant, or me.

I only know that its divine presence shone forth,

that in its presence I moved closer

to an experience of the sacred.

So, rather than passing it by, I stopped.

I stopped and spoke to it.

Not an audible speech, but a soundless one.

The cathedral whisper one uses

when one recognizes divinity.

I danced with the lavender too,

but not the dance of the body, no,

the motionless dance of the witness,

the acknowledger,

of awareness at rest in itself,

of recognition.

 

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Net Man

My grandpa was a net man.  Never mind how well I knew him.  Never mind how often I saw him.  Never mind how much I loved him.  The point is that he used rope, wove nets with his hands, hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.    

My grandpa was a net man, a talker and a storyteller.  His life was woven with stories as much as it was with rope.  He told the stories in his deep, rich, southern voice, a voice I loved so much I never knew how to say it.  He talked about picking rows of cotton as a farm boy in Georgia during the Great Depression.  He talked about walking down to the bar to sling his drunk mother over his shoulder and carry her home. He talked about WW2, how a bomb came down the ship’s smokestack, how he was sent to pick up body parts and stuff them into a bag. 

But mostly he talked about his shrimp boat and the Gulf of Mexico.  He talked about Campeche, Veracruz, Havana, Brownsville, Key West, abandoned boats with blood-spattered decks, and hauling up nets.  Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp, he said.  Sometimes the nets were full of shrimp mixed up with seaweed and trash.  Sometimes they contained nothing but oddities and junk, and sometimes they contained nothing at all.      

My grandpa was a net man.  Never mind his T-bone steaks.  Never mind how his short fuse in youth alchemized into the easy way he had about him later in life.  Never mind that his boyhood nickname was Junebug.  Never mind that he urged me to eat a Scotch bonnet off his pepper bush, and I did, and he laughed and laughed.  Never mind the time he unrolled a giant map of the Gulf and told me all about it with a sailor’s mind and a sailor’s memory.  The point is that he had – as we all do – an unknowable wildness.  The point is that for 92 years he touched people’s lives without even trying.  The point is that now he really has crossed the Gulf.  The point is in the still of the night he left the world, and by left I mean he’s gone, and by world I mean all of this.  I mean the crescendo of his life swept back down in a broad arc, I mean mass overtook energy.   

My grandpa was a net man.  He had been a shrimper himself, and worked with the nets.  So when he opened up a shop in Key West and became a net-maker, he knew what to do.  The shape, size, and kind of net he made depended on where the shrimper would be trawling and what type of boat they used.  He worked the rope not only with his hands, but with an understanding of what was needed: the understanding that comes from time spent close to the heart of the work itself.  

The nets were dragged along the ocean floor by the trawlers, and before that they drifted down, down, down through the briny water.  But before that they had to be made from rope, the rope that passed through the fingers of my grandfather’s hands – hands I loved so much I never knew how to say it.

   

 

Recipe

Life is more the approximation of cooking than the exactitude of baking.  There are an infinite number of ways to proceed. 

Be curious, consider the methods used by every person you meet, and, in doing so, find your own way.  Develop your own recipes and never hesitate to share them.  To hoard them is to become your own dragon.

Become seasoned by the road of experience, but be wary of hardening.  The residue of clarity yields a suggestion of radiance, unmistakably luminous.        

May your love be a light in dark places.

Declaration

Friends who I have left behind, friends I’ve not yet come to know,

these drops of rain upon the hill come likewise to the valley,

to beat against your doors, streak your windowpanes,

set aglow your lighted lamps.

Return now to your visionary dream, song of your heart’s voice.

Return now to your body, at once solid and transparent.

Return now to the music in every prism at the end of every string

held loosely by the fingers of every wide-eyed child.

 

These are not the days of old maps and heavy leather-bound tomes,

gold fabric of late afternoon unsheathed, only to be slid back into a scabbard of mist,

clearing the way for a midnight sky of shattered crystal and baby’s breath.

 

These are days of cold mumbling rivers that know secrets,

cabins in the mountains, their wood beams rotting too slowly for us to see.

While walking in the morning I digest this vastness, this solitude,

this gravity that presses against the muscles around the eyes.

 

Friends, I toss myself aside for you.  I become available for you.

I eat, drink, run hands through hair for you,

scramble up the gully for you,

carry wood, fold socks, scrub pots, ever-fearless, requiring nothing.

 

These are days of time’s inhalation

pulling way up under the world’s collarbones,

stitching together the fibers of memory and intention.

These are days of emptying the mind, distilling the essence.

 

What does it matter if the world hears your voice?

We all belong to each other.  Your voice is here, mine is here,

as great, small, and equal in worth as any other.

The voice is in your heart and so the world’s heart knows it,

as surely as you know the heart of the world.

 

The line is cast before the coming of a great fish,

a sudden tug is felt through our hands

and our withered husks give rise to something new.

Steady now.

 

Field Row’s End

I am thrilled to have this poem appear in the current issue of The Cape Rock literary journal from Southeast Missouri University.

 

Field Row’s End

Ox turns at field row’s end –

onions, tomatoes, zucchini and dill.

 

The luminous strands of March

get up, get ready, to work, to begin.

 

Get up, get ready, to work, to follow

the arc of the world, the slope of the light.

 

Dirt beneath thumbnail,

knees imprint the soil.

 

Clods of mud smear rubber boots

and we, the workers,

 

anchored to weather

with its moods, whims, dictations.

 

We, the workers,

fastened to the ox and the engine of his breath,

 

fastened to the fields,

splashing around in our patience,

 

working until it is no longer work,

but who we are and what we do.

 

Tuning in to the stillness of evening,

we have become the work itself.

 

We are the field, the ox.

We are the onions, the mud, and content to be so.

 

Watching attentively, listening closely,

we view ourselves as if through a microscope,

 

our metronome held in the bone-basket of our ribs,

its momentum not yet interrupted.

Old Inuit Song

I think over again my small adventures, my fears, those small ones that seemed so big, for all the vital things I had to get and to reach.

And yet there is only one great thing, the only thing.

To live to see the great day that dawns and the light that fills the world.

Old Inuit Song

 

Among The Thistles

How can one sleep with a moon like this?  It’s so early it’s not even early, it’s late.  I mean early, you’re not up yet, not awake yet, slurps of hot liquid with eyes closed, fan of the mind humming, oscillating between two levels of consciousness, tendons shortened, digestive organs finishing up their work. 

Ten-thousand pinpricks of light still glimmer overhead, and you’re already out walking.

Hormones have been secreting, cells have been forming in your bone marrow, the liver is a tireless magician, the sublime workhorse of your heart has been laying low, half-drunk old man in a hammock.  And, like a gathering wind in the distance, love rises. 

It rises above lies and dictations, the sound of the mind.  It rises above the texture of your words, the swirling ether of your thoughts.  It blows among the thistles, it blows through your whole life.

A love so impossibly vast, unbearable its confinement.