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Mary Oliver is dead. Maybe that name doesn’t mean anything to you. It should. Mary was one of the greatest poets of our time, and if you aren’t familiar with her work, I urge you — no, I beg you — to look her up. Her philosophy was that poetry shouldn’t be fussy, a sentiment all of my favorite poets share. She wrote about nature largely, but in doing so also wrote about deeper matters, matters of faith and spiritual sustenance. Her poems were like the most joyous of prayers, little hallelujahs. The world is poorer without her.

To see the least of God’s creatures
and view the universe in mandibles, pincers, paws;
to discover the very hue of God’s eyes in
a field of wheat, winter leaf or sprig of mint;
to capture all high heaven in the upturned work
of furrowing ants — what small eyes you had
and yet, how large. You are seeing it all now,
at last, and how it must dazzle! Pray for us,
toiling poets, working our own furrows,
that we will see, despite the size of our eyes,
the real, the plaintive, the whirring of wings
that wend ever heavenward, wings of locusts
or angels. It is all the same.

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I think 2019 is in cahoots with 2018. Dare I use the word “collusion”? It’s largely my fault, I guess. Every year, I give my life over to God, and every year I end up trying to run things myself. It is an easy trap to fall into, especially since sitting around like a lump waiting for God to pick me up and move me remains a nonstarter. What does allowing God to direct one’s life look like? And what is a soul to do when she cannot see the signs pointing the way? Write poetry, I guess.

For too long I’ve been onstage
listening for whispered cues —
“Never?” “Whether?” “Wetter?”
Can’t the prompter’s voice better carry,
especially as I’ve had no script to study?
Oh, my improv’s improved over the years;
I’ve studied every school from Method to
Methodist. Faith informs my performance
but gives no stage directions. The audience is restive.
I see them thumbing rotten fruit. I don’t want my end
to be ignominious hook, though I’ll not ask for ovation.
Might the director step in? His lack of notes befuddles.
What I have is old, a blurred third-hand translation
of transcendent art, the only visible word, love.
This will not get the audience seated, let alone
feed the cast. Yet the play goes ever onward.
Scenes change, scenery shifts, the crowd holds its breath.
Line, please.

I understand that I’m not on your list, or anyone’s.
Take me anyway.
I realize I don’t fit right, run both too large and too small,
break easily and bolt through batteries like heartbeats.
Make me yours, despite it all.
Take me without bright paper or bows,
without tinsel or tags to distract from what is surely
not as dear as myrrh and nowhere near gold.
I’ve soiled the cloth you wove me of, that infantile innocence
that shone from my newly opened eyes.
Spin me anew.
May this white Christmas describe the state of my soul.
May I be the present under the tree.
May I be what is wanted:
fresh hay, animal heat, the company of shepherds,
pure and clean as a newborn star
nodding “yes” above a manger.

She was voted “Best Smile;” I was voted “Most Intelligent.” We remained close after grade school, despite going to different high schools, because she worked in a department store I frequented. Whenever we saw each other, we’d chat as if no time at all had passed since graduation.

Reconnecting on Facebook was a shock. I expected my old friend; instead I saw awful caricatures of President Obama and hateful speech. When did “Best Smile” become…this? I stayed friends but shut off her posts, checking in every once in a while to see if anything had improved. It hadn’t. Things eventually came to a head, and I had to unfriend her altogether.

This kind of division is becoming prevalent. Poetry, as always, becomes my voice.

You hear: up is down.
I hear: black is white.
Bedrock becomes liquid
and the oceans walkable.
When we cannot agree
on the color of the sky,
things have surely come apart.
We fire our pistols into the air,
heedless of the hail of bullets,
which, after all, have no
place to land but on our heads.
When the mad tea party ends,
we walking wounded
will have to speak, but how?
The alphabet is in ruins;
we are left with lines
in the dirt, crude gestures.
Only a devil could sow such discord.
Only God will loosen our lips.

Note: I know there are many people out there truly suffering this Thanksgiving — this post is not for you. A change of perspective won’t mitigate your very real grief. Please know that the prayers and empathy of many, many people are with you this holiday season. Take care of yourselves!

Blessing myopia: The inability to see all the marvelous gifts in our lives because we are too focused on negative things that occlude our vision. I’ve certainly been guilty of this lack of awareness. Maybe you have, too? This Thanksgiving, let’s shift our focus a bit.

There’s lint in my pockets
but no holes, and my boots
(battered, worn) will last
another season. If I cut the frayed bits
off my jacket, no one will be the wiser.
I am fed, filled. I sink into bed
(the mattress little more than
dust mites tightly holding tentacles)
and sleep warm and well.
When I am cold, the cat comes
to sit; no blanket could be better.
There is sun somewhere,
even if I can’t see it.
It will rise and set predictably.
The clock of my life will tick.
The sound will fill the hollow places,
joy will change the plain days
into something rather lovely.
Ordinary life will stop my breath
with surprise, and daily my heart
will croon.

They say the wise man knows he knows nothing.
Though I am not wise, what I know could fit
on the width of a dime, on the lean edge
of a knife, on an atom. With careful cursive,
I could inscribe my life’s learning on the tittle
of an i. But what I know, I know boldly, down
to the soft center of my bones, a level so molecular
that the truth runnels into my porous soul
and mingles with my being. The truth is this:
Love is everything. It is quest and craft,
the only answer worth seeking, living and
dying for, chasing into strange lands and
distant ports. It is the only place to pin
your hopes, like stars on the blanket of the sky.
It is both work and worth of a lifetime.
But even greater: God is love.

We’ve been told and told — and still somehow don’t believe — that the only way to counter hate is love. Sure, it’s hard to hold love foremost in the face of evil. It’s hard to respond to the terrible atrocities of the last week or so with a loving heart and joyous words. And it is most difficult to love when all you want to do is shake people until their teeth rattle. But, Lord, I’m going to try.

Make of me, my God,
a new recipe: something sweet
and light, a flutter on the tongue,
butter-bright, subtly spiced.
When the bitter mouths bark, let me
flow in like honey, thick enough to
coat tongues and soothe aching throats.
May I be like bread baking,
like thick soup simmering on the stove,
a promise of warm contentment.
When you are done, may I spring up
in the pan, golden and fragrant,
impervious to anything
that is not an open hand reaching,
reaching to be filled.

SueBE has done it again. She got me thinking about peace and why it’s so hard to find. It seems like all I do lately is complain (inwardly) that I sorely lack peace in my life. Why, for instance, won’t robo-callers leave me alone? Why can’t I accept myself? WHY WON’T THE CAT STOP HOWLING FOR FIVE MINUTES???? (Answer: Because he’s ancient and unhappy 99% of the time. Why? Because the food — of which there is plenty — is somehow not right; the water — which I just freshened — could be fresher; there is another cat in the house somewhere and he does not like her; I am petting him, but it’s not enough….)

And then it comes to me: like my grumpy old kitty, I’m never going to find peace outside of myself if I can’t find it inside myself. But where to start?

Lord, let me be the silent eye of the storm:
the inward facing mirror
the still leaf on the grass
the clasped hand
the itched spot
the blank page.

Take away the inward twitches:
the needling of impossibilities
the rattling of nerves
the empty pinging of ambition
the revisioning of history
the cacophony of injustice

I cannot solve it or salve it.
Lord, let me live in it,
not indifferent but aware
that the end of the story
has not yet been written
and when I read it I will know
that all of the noise was for nothing.

When the whole world is a lie,
where do you go for truth?
Look inside yourself.
Find the one thing you would die for.
Extract it like a sliver.
Hold it up as high as you can.
(Don’t worry. Some
will not see, even if what you hold
is mountainous, epic, blinding.)
Your arm will wobble. Your chest
will heave with tears. Let them come.
God will see what you are holding:
If it is not worthy, you will know.
You can hide in the bowels of the earth;
still God will find you. If you are holding paper,
you will wither like a leaf in winter. If you hold
yourself, you will become a shadow. Only love
will shield you, so make yours vast, lavish,
even impractical. Stand in the light of one true thing,
and God will stand with you.

Everyone’s got an opinion these days, and we each think only ours is right. We will insert ourselves into conversations in which we do not belong just to tell other people so. We’ll deny others’ lived experiences with our own conjectures about how we might have lived it, had it been up to us. And everything is up to us — it’s all out there on the table, ready to be judged, pawed over, analyzed. Nothing is private. Nothing is sacred. Nothing can be held out as indisputably true. Please, let us all take a step backwards and listen — just listen. Truth can only come when everyone is heard.

I say, “How could they, possibly?”
and yet possibly people do,
improbably and often.
It’s the old sin, snaking,
rearing up like an asp,
to ask: “Who knows
better than you?”
And there you are,
mouth full of apple,
mealy beneath your tongue.
You know nothing. At core,
at core, all of us know nothing.
Lock your opinion in your bones
until — and, yes, unless — you
find yourself kicking the embers
of the same conflagration.
And even then, know —
there were other ways,
other gates, out of the garden.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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