News of the World

It is ironic that a librarian, whose business it is to provide access to information, suffers from the soul sickness of TMI (too much information). This addiction can be as intoxicating as caffeine and edge-softening as alcohol, but it does not feel like an indulgence. Rather, it is the obligation of a responsible citizen and a thoughtful friend, the satisfaction of healthy intellectual curiosity, even an aid to spiritual seeking and nourishment for the poet.

But there are only 1440 minutes in a day, so how can I choose between the New York Times and the Santa Cruz Sentinel, email and Facebook and all the blog posts, articles, and websites my friends refer me to? Should I give up Jane Hirschfield’s essays on poetry, Sue Monk Kidd’s memoir of searching for the sacred feminine, or Cynthia Bourgeault’s thoughts on the meaning of Mary Magdalene? And don’t even get me started on all the tantalizing sources in their endnotes, not to mention the professional reading I should keep up with! iPhone, iPad, laptop, Nook, books, and magazines fill my rooms and days, and if they’re not enough, the library, internet, and Amazon offer ready access to more.

Now, here I am on a writing retreat outside Pescadero, in a sunny clearing among the trees, my body still tingling from a swim. The redwood over there hasn’t read the latest appalling tweet from him who shall not be named, and Spider is writing her own poem in a web strung between two branches that sway on the breath of God. It’s true that here too is more information than I can take in or understand, but it does not insist on my attention in the way newspapers and social media do because it was not created for my consumption. Everyone is going about their own business here, ten thousand leaves drinking up sunlight while the butterfly finds nirvana in a dahlia and the laughter of naked ladies drowns out the sound of jet engines overhead.

Belladonna lilies

I take off my sandals to put my feet directly on the earth. My soles read warm ground and soft green grass, an engrossing piece that invites a great deal of attention. A breeze lifts my sun-dried hair off my neck, and the redwood across from me nods companionably – she knows just what this feels like. “In the name of the bee – and of the butterfly – and of the breeze,” this is all the news of the world my soul needs.

(With appreciation to Paulette Jiles for my title, Emily Dickinson for the invocation in the last line, and my friend Ursi Barshi for the photo.)

Summer Solstice 2017

IMG_3820

After the long winter of seed-soaking rains
when the driest taproots drank their fill,
the privet and the bougainvillea
revel in inebriation,
besotted roses plaster their vines with blooms,
and even the stately redwood indulges
in tipsy explosions of baby green at every needle tip.
Now comes a feast of light
for the leafy exuberant ones.
Deep in their cells they remember
the way they thirsted in the drought,
but this memory is just a gilt edge
on the solstice invitation to summer.

The prodigal stretched-out days ask,
how big is your we?
Does it include
this velvet yellow petal,
an extraterrestrial guava blossom,
the courtly redwood?
Oh come, my darling,
it’s the summer solstice –
lift your glass to the light,
and dance with the whole shimmering forest!

Prayer for the Water

I wrote this prayer after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but thinking of the Standing Rock water protectors and remembering the importance Pope Francis placed on water in his encyclical Laudato Si, I offer this again today on behalf of the earth, our common home, wherever there is water pollution.

tuolomne river

O holy, mighty One,

open our hearts to compassion.

O Light of the world,

show us the way.

Mother of sorrows,

mingle your tears with ours.

Mother of mercy,

we are sorry.

Our Life, our Sweetness,

sweeten the poisoned waters.

Star of the Sea,

shine your brightness there.

You fishermen, Peter, James, and Andrew,

join our prayer:

may the waters give life once more.

St. Brendan the navigator,

guide the energy of our prayers

to the water that wants healing.

O sacred energy that hallows

the Ganges and Brigid’s well,

permeate the wounded water with your pure love.

All you whales and creatures of the sea,

forgive us,

pray with us.

Thanks be to the water,

our life, our sweetness,

hear our prayer.

We the People

On the day a bully takes office,

the rivers roar out a lamentation,

and the sky sheds frozen tears.

Even the marble statues weep.

In graves that the earth

had finally folded into healing arms,

the ghosts of slaves stir

from too short a rest.

 

But on the day the women march,

parchment rustles in glass cases.

us-constitution

We the people

Are created equal

Molecules vibrate faded ink into quivering.

Life

Liberty

The pursuit of happiness

On the day the women put on the armor of light

and march into the streets across the land,

on the day we claim our right

peaceably to assemble

and remind the bully

Congress shall make no law respecting

an establishment of religion,

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

or abridging the freedom of speech,

or of the press,

the lady in the harbor will lift her torch.

On the day the women resist hate

because we are all created equal,

no matter our

gender,

age,

color,

creed,

or sexual orientation,

the earth will answer our stomping feet with jubilation.

On the day the women demand

care for the planet,

health and safety for our brothers and sisters,

we will wake the country from its Trump-induced trance

and across this hazy land the wind will blow;

on that day the words in the National Archives will dance.

We the people do ordain it so.

 

 

Words in italics from our Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Image of United States Constitution courtesy of Jonathan Thorne through a Creative Commons non-commercial license.

Winter Solstice 2016

labyrinth by the ocean

One hundred steps to the center of the labyrinth,

and light enters the world as gently

as the pilgrim making her way to the center.

Can you tell the moment when the foxtail

takes shape out of the night

and the pine needles assume their points?

In the pause between

breathing out

and breathing in,

the last star fades into the brightening sky,

gone to the place you journey in your sleep.

 

I watch my thoughts dart off

like a startled flock of sparrows

in twenty directions.

I have written ten thousand words

that don’t mean a thing.

Now the solstice calls me to the labyrinth,

and my feet long for the one hundred steps.

November New Moon

crescent moon

Tonight my mind feels like the new moon,
present in all her integrity,
but turning a blank face to herself.
She blends softly into the dark night,
pleased to hide among the stars,
and rest.
Tonight she doesn’t have to reflect light,
shine on dreamy lovers,
or inspire a single poem.
She wraps all her secrets up in the cloak
her grandmother wove for her
and tucks herself in,
knows that tomorrow she will begin
another waltz with the sun, and
sliver by sliver
the words to describe
the autumn light and the blue sky of November
will begin spilling onto the page
in a golden tumble.

From the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods

Library House at Wellstone

I’m at a writing retreat, staying in a rustic cabin with no electricity or running water called the Library House. Perched on a deck among oak trees, it felt like home as soon as I walked into its book-lined walls. I set my suitcase down and perused the titles before I unpacked, saw how thoughtfully they had been chosen and approved too of how they had been organized: travel, biography, poetry, entire shelves for favorite authors like Hemingway, Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, and a whole section just for fun. I had arrived for a weeklong writer’s residency, but was tempted to spend the next seven days devouring as much of this eclectic, enticing library as I could.

Instead, I settled at the desk with my laptop and a fat binder containing the rough draft of my novel. When darkness folded my little cabin into the night, I lit candles and at some point, despite my thick wool socks, noticed that my feet on the stone tiles were cold. Out came the sheepskin rug from under the rocking chair to lie under the desk instead. I have learned to move it around to wherever my feet are.

desk in library house at Wellstone

Home is a place you’ve made your own, usually by moving in with all your worldly goods, but sometimes just by rearranging what you find in your temporary abode. I know a monk who has traveled the world and feels at home wherever he lays down his yoga mat. Even a room in a Motel 6 can become a sanctuary.

I came here to write in solitude, away from the delights and distractions of my daily life, and found a tribe of writers with a place for me, a communal life that leads to contemplation and a contemplative life that nourishes community. We all have questions here. What is the very best word to write down next? What will I do when I leave this place? I want an agent or editor to tell me definitively whether I should start my novel at chapter 15 instead of chapter 1, but instead I sink into the ground made fertile by this balance of contemplative and communal. This is my home ground, this is where I can dig deep to find the answer.