These Great Sadnesses

Our bodies have evolved
so beautifully,
those miraculous thumbs,
that swaying spine,
but how is it
that in all that
adapting,
advancing,
surviving,
I am left with
no organ to bear
the great sadness
of being human?
Grief crawls through
my veins, searching
for the place it will be
digested,
held,
converted
into some other energy,
exhaled or absorbed.
It presses at my throat,
writhes through my skull,
slides around my lungs,
leaving me voiceless
unbalanced
suffocating.
My body has failed me,
left me with no
organic capacity
for these great
sadnesses.

The Housefly

There are bits of this world
I have not yet learned to love
(Let’s not speak of war
and rape and the garbage dumps
like writhing quilts spread over
fields of oceans.)
I mean even the wild citizens
of this earth, true to their
primordial calling,
who follow the vision
imprinted deep in their cells.

The simple housefly, say,
whose only harm is the tentative
way it lands on my cheek,
my ankle, while I rest
in the afternoon sun.
The feel of its pinprick
feet, tender on my skin,
draws unwarranted curses,
a childish contempt.

Dear sister fly, forgive
my petty disdain of your wise
and nimble nature.
Small harbinger of rain,
you who tread so lightly
as you weave through your
existence, I am ashamed
of my narrow, brutish love.

A Fine Beauty

Is there a finer beauty
than the morning sun
glancing off the turquoise
shimmer of the sunbird,
the dark yellow of its belly,
the perfect lines drawn by
feathers growing in careful
patterns from the recesses of
its small body?
Where do the feathers of a
sunbird acquire those startling
colours? Do they slide through
pigment arranged in tidy
sections in translucent
skin,or form in rainbow pools
gathered deep in the crevices
between avian organs?
I remember being a child at
a desk, counting out nickels,
memorizing prepositions,
but my education strikes me
as shoddy, devoid as it was
of the magical science of
tiny bird bodies
sprouting feathery
emerald
wings.

On the Feast Day of St. Francis (October 4)

Francis preached to the
birds, assumed they
understood his pious
convictions, felt enough
camaraderie with that
kingdom of creatures that
he stopped to include
them in his reverie, his
grand ideals.
What was it Francis
felt pressing in his peasant
heart that he couldn’t help
but share it with the
pigeons pecking
in the dust of Assissi’s
grey stones?
What truth have I
ever grasped that could
improve upon the
understanding of the
rufous sparrow,
watching me sidelong
from its branch,
content in its
leafy theology?

the river

i remember
grass pressed into knees
green and compliant
the empty november air
that turned our voices into water
our movements into lines
drawn across blank skies
a drunken reticle
incapable of focus.
you wrapped that peasant quilt
around us
promised it would hide us
guide us
through a labyrinth of limbs
shivering inside the watching winter
reverberating with the remembrance
of tenuous touch.
the wind
that meddling melding
alchemist of prairie
coaxed us closer
forced space into nonspace
breath into agate stone.
this was our fusing
fumbling incarnation
reincarnation of fusions
fostered centuries ago
by the smell of slate grey rivers
slowing
into
ice.

(Memories of a long ago poetry night. This poem had never yet found its way to this site…)

This Hour

If this hour
were the
only one,
the only hour
of all existence,
would it feel
like an elaborate
waste, a pointless
exercise in cells
and blood
and biology
and thought?
Or would it be
the greatest miracle
the divine mind
could conjure,
worth an eternity
of waiting for
this one brilliant
explosion of matter?
I move carefully
across the damp grass,
watch the wasp
weave through space,
feel giddy with
my body’s presence
in this beautiful,
brief experiment.

When Prayers Fall

When your prayer falls
weighted and dull
at your feet,
betraying all your
brave and fragile
hope,do you kick it
scuffed and dusty
to the tangled ditch
or do you kneel
beside it on
that sharp gravel,
breathe on it
the heartbroken
breath of a child
collecting, with
tenderness, the hollow
bones and feathers
of a dying bird?

Lessons

I read ancient words
from a borrowed bible
to a room of squirming,
squirrely children,
and when Jesus says
Consider the birds,
their young bodies
rise off the
dusty carpet
and their arms
remember the wings
their shoulder blades
once held.
They have forgotten
the bible and
become the birds.
I consider the girl
in the corner of the room,
her mouth and eyes
perfect Os, her arms
slow and angular,
like a pterodactyl or
a baby owl.

The Foolish Questions

I ask the vast uncaring blue
above my head what great
adventure I am meant for,
what beautiful significance
waits for me,
but the sky only opens its
pale wide face, welcomes
the sacred ibis with its
stark white lines, startling call,
unselfconscious as it follows
the current of wind or
its own mysterious urge
to fly again this morning.
Below, the bark of the eucalyptus
cracks imperceptibly into
thin sheets of paper
that no one will gather into
careful piles, that will
become the damp softness
of death and earth.
The tree asks no questions
of its sky, soil, rows of climbing ants,
only reaches peeling arms
into the deep pool of space,
waiting for life to have its way.

On a Nairobi Street

When the old woman
wearing black tire sandals,
her back bent under forty years,
maybe fifty, of stick bundles
wrapped with the frayed rope
that cuts across her forehead,
her neck bearing a weight that
should break it, has to hurry,
shuffle her feet more quickly,
lean into the wind with her immense load
and narrow limbs to make way
for the sleek roaring animal
that is the vehicle I control
from on high in an air conditioned
capsule of itunes and cupholders,
I think about the privileges of power
and I am afraid of the prophecies
in ancient texts.