Everything in the world begins with a yes. Clarice Lispecter
For Bishop Tom
In the beginning there is only Yes, infinitesimal, infinite, invisible seed sprouting in the swirling dark, the slow integration, expanding, extending, the sudden explosion into light—baby, blossom, universe, all beginnings are the same—and Yes to a world begun before words where nothing separates this from that, and Yes to the senses alive before language, bird song, leaf shadow, skin touching skin, and Yes to Tom whose injured brain erases speaking, reading, names, but through hands cupped upon bent heads, his unimpeded heart pours forth with nothing to restrict the flow of Yes in beginning and Yes in the end.
This is an updated version of the poem that appears in the print edition.
Crossing the lake in thick fog with nothing to be seen except the buoy to starboard marking the rock we didn’t want to hit that Tom said we’d already passed but Whit said No, we’re way beyond it which is when the boat rose up bow riding high to leave us stranded the boat an ark the rock a mountain the fog a cloud that covered us waiting for who knew what—a voice, a face, a sudden shining— but there was nothing more than thinking how many times when losing sight we circle back to where we started only to begin again.
That’s what it’s called the men tell me after our discussion of Matthew Five and what it means to turn the other cheek, or not, the latter being the path that brought them here. But what, I wonder is a “natural life”? Isn’t it, really, the life led by everyone, those behind walls and those without, each of us living the one life given which is to say there’s no parole for anyone. Yet listening to the men describe how they found Jesus, or rather He found them despite everything, or maybe because, I think of Paul on the road to Damascus, the sudden light, blinding, transforming, reforming, or then again this, a slow inner revealing, the shy gift of sweet snowdrops
This is the season, trees stripped clean and what was hidden now is seen, the path that leads into the woods, the littered leaves, the crooked walls that once marked fields where grass grew tall, remnants of a time long past, reminding me that nothing lasts.
Will death be like this, do you think, the day the breath does not return, will our true nature be revealed when stripped of memory, heart, bone, sight, will we, too, open to the sky, and, like the forest, fill with light?
"More later" ends her every note but "more" or "later" never comes so what is more I'll never know though later I can understand as weeks and months and years go by with many things still left unsaid as we creep closer to the edge, and after that who knows what's next? Though she might say oblivion, the body buried, dust to dust, I believe in things unseen, the mystery of something more, the thin place where two worlds meet, the numinous in roots and wings.
Kneeling on Boston Common it's this foot, naked, resting in my lap with clean towel, socks, warm water waiting, that tells me this is what happens after a cold winter of deep snow when you're homeless in dirty socks and cracked shoes that don't fit: this foot, bloody, swollen, toes deformed, I wash gently, first one, then the other, and never have I felt so close to Jesus, his feet, bare, pierced, bloodied, nailed to the wooden cross.
I hoped that you might show yourself for after all we'd often talked of what might happen after death but so far there is only this; the way leaves shook in sudden wind as we prayed beside your grave, acorns striking heads, hands, feet, and we looked up, expecting you —it was, it seemed, your kind of joke— but all we saw was silent sky which is to say that life goes on: trees drop their leaves and snow falls soft as children starve and glaciers crack, and so far you have not appeared although it's true I sometimes think that late one night as I lay sleeping you, in secret, slipped inside for in the dawn light when I woke, sun rising like an open heart spilling forth a sea of love, in that moment, ah, bright wings, I saw the world. through your eyes.
It was once in early May, a raw day, Bitter, on a western creek, I crouched Beneath a weeping willow, expecting Nothing, resting really, the black back Eddy smooth as glass when suddenly The rod tip bent with such great force I almost fell, but didn’t though I couldn’t move, it was that cramped Beneath the tree nor could I even raise My rod. I could only hold my breath, The reel singing, line spun out, Pulled by what I couldn’t see, but How I longed for just a glimpse, A glimpse would be enough, I thought, Until a glimmer showed itself, a flash Of light deep in the dark, and then, Of course I wanted more, the all of it To see and hold before releasing, Letting go. Like life, the way we’re meant To live, to let each breath be all there is, But seldom do; it isn’t easy. Perhaps I prayed, I can’t be sure, but Inch by inch, the fish drew near, until The moment, timeless, now, a rainbow Like a blessing rose, shimmering, A gift bestowed.
in a pink shirt the reporter speaks his voice ripe with excitement while behind him the Wave crashes over and over the same bodies flung like broken sticks which in an instant they have become bundled into body bags bulging on the shredded sand though when we return we’ll hear from one survivor in a wheelchair whom we glimpse smiling as the scene shifts to a woman waltzing across her kitchen dazzles as she holds high a ziplock bag not large enough for bodies no but fruit she says stays fresh for days.
Before the solstice in December when trees stand stripped on granite ground, I hear them in the woods at dusk, their hollow hooting back and forth, the courtship of the Great Horned Owls, in this, the darkest time of year, light draining from an empty sky, but still they sing, response and call, their slow duet, notes rise and fall, and something
The readiness is all, he says, but I’m not ready, not for this: the bluebird back before her time—that is, if she ever left—the winter soft as summer mist when pink buds swell too soon, surprising. Which should, it seems, be cause for joy, but, yet again, it is not so, for on this fragile island earth, ice fields melt, dark waters rise, and sweeping north in wild flight, swans bear within them seeds of death, not yet in bloom, but it will come when warbler, wood duck, raven, wren drop from the silent sky like stones; and in the green dawn no birds sing.
There are tracings in the snow-filled field, Tracks I see but cannot read; except the deer’s Small heart-shaped prints, the rest remains A mystery. And so, I think of Hebrew script, The jagged flame that writes of God, but Is not God, the scholars say. God dwells in White fire, not in black. In sky glimpsed Through dark winter trees, in breath-filled Silence when we pray.
“When you pray, go into your room,” He said, so each green dawn as spring light stirs, I sit, womb-snug, in my small room, hushed high above unfurling leaves, with Luke who’s all of five days new, but solid as a loaf of bread, and, oh, such wisdom; petal-soft, in and out, I hear his breath. Receive. Release. That’s all there is. Just this. Quiet. Nothing more.
It’s the coat I notice first, several sizes too big, and blue as the sea, an ocean to drown in, and clearly not hers. It was, I guessed, his, just two months dead, and she, his wife for scarcely a year, stays afloat, barely, marooned in his clothes, in anything that keeps him close, the scent and touch of cloth to skin. But it’s the shoes that pierce my heart—gunboats, we called them when I was a child—and they do look like boats, his New Balance sneakers that carry her, heeling, over sharp breaking waves.
As I stood, rooted, winter-locked, my hand outstretched in southern sun, the lizard leapt to the branch of my arm as if there was nothing at all to fear. As if I was the tree he sought, he rested, weightless, green as grass, pink throat-fan ballooning with each small breath, and I felt something ease inside, a sweetness rising, as he ran, quick as raindrops, up my trunk, toe pads tickling as he touched, oh so lightly, neck, cheek, hair, like a blessing, or a prayer.
He didn’t see me which is why I was able To sit beneath him in bare woods, close enough To almost touch his six-inch prehistoric beak, Curved scimitar that searched and tapped As he hopped, bobbing, up the oak. His broad black back, shy sweep of wing, Ungainly, yes, but such a sight, and Better yet his outsized head topped By a tuft of flaming red that stuck up straight, And made me smile. A cartoon’s joke, Yet he was real. So were my thoughts That bitter day, mind and memory Bleak as steel until I looked and saw and felt The sudden wild gift of life.
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