Archive for the Mark’s weekly reflections Category

Waiting to Be Picked Up

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I was ready to fly home after teaching in Albuquerque, when the sudden light on the underside of a palm trip took me to another time.

 

WAITING TO BE PICKED UP

A burst of light makes me look across the way,
where a sliver of dawn slips under the leaf of a
palm tree. The lift of the palm feels Egyptian and
the trap door to our age opens to all time. Sudden
light can do this. Like now. And I realize in this
breath, before getting on another plane, it doesn’t
matter how that door opens. We can run into walls
or bounce off each other. We can fall, thinking we
can fly. Or exhaust ourselves by asking life, “Why?”
Or turn in sudden pain. Or rise from our knees in
awe. Or trip when a stranger from the side looks like
someone we’ve lost. It doesn’t matter how the trap
door to our heart opens. My driver is here. I can
feel him watching me stare off. I can’t stop looking
at the light in the palm. I feel certain, if I go and
touch it, we’ll all be in Egypt before the Pyramids
were built. I wheel my suitcase to the car, knowing
that once in the open, the light will find us. When
no one’s looking and we’re out of things to say,
the ancient light that lives beneath words will
fill the hole in our heart that we show no one.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or a loved one, describe what you feel when you suddenly have nothing left to say.

News of the Universe

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We live in a global culture addicted to the noise of how things fall apart. Yet all the while, things are quietly coming together as well. It’s not about good news or bad news, but having access to whole news. This poem explores what’s below the noise.

NEWS OF THE UNIVERSE

The thousand alarms we hear each day are
only half the news. There’s no avoiding this
but it’s the other half we need. Today—light
from a star that died 30,000 years ago arrived
so softly, it brought a child out of hiding. Today—
the song from the beginning rimmed the ear of
a broken man in time to loosen his hand on
the trigger. Today—a mountain in India held
its face to the sun despite all that it’s seen and
the expedition so furious to climb to the top
forgot why. Today—someone with nothing helped
someone with everything off their knees. Today—
the best of us cracked its seed way under ground,
under all the trouble, under all the things falling
apart. Today—all the tears in the world watered
that seed. Today—the breath of the Universe
arrived as wind to awaken the Earth,
making everything possible, again.

A Question to Walk With: Report on the news of wholeness happening around you. Tell the story of something coming together to a loved one or a friend.

Short Wisdom on a Long Planet

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Our ecological problems are evidence of a deeper, spiritual problem whereby we, feeling incomplete, feed off the Whole; whereby we, feeling empty, use everything up in an attempt to fill ourselves; whereby we, feeling insignificant, scar the earth in order to feel significant.

 

Short Wisdom on a Long Planet

We keep turning one thing into another and calling it progress. We keep machining the beauty off of things as they are, using tools to create more tools, as if that will let us live longer. We keep burrowing into everything but ourselves: churning trees into lumber, animals into meat, wind into electricity, vegetables into remedies, silence into noise; turning the Earth, continent by continent, into one giant ant hill. We keep eating our way through the arms of the Universe, desperate for something large and quiet to hold us.

 

A Question to Walk With: Walk somewhere outdoors and with a friend or loved one, discuss your relationship with the Earth.

The Festival of Life

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We fight it constantly, but the meaning of life waits beyond all our plans and under all our desires; waiting for us to lose our maps and crack our hard shells open so that the light within can join with the light without.

 

THE FESTIVAL OF LIFE

What if the heart cracks like a seed,
needing to be opened to grow? Then
how do we understand what comes
pouring out? Does pain turn into a
small root? Does grief if watered start
to break ground? It does no good to tell
someone broken that they will become a
flower. No one believes this while lost in
the dark, anymore than creatures of the
night can believe that there’s a festival
of life making up the day. But this is
the work of faith, the faith that moves
like song and blood beneath our wounds:
to believe that we are more than what is
done to us. It’s true. I’ve lost everything
more than once, each a devastation. Yet
each in time grew me into who I was to
be. I can’t explain or offer conclusions.
Just know that we’re surprised into being.
Like divers who open the treasure just
as they’re running out of air, we’re
forced to let go of what we want
in order to live another day.

A Question to Walk With: Describe a time when you were close to what you wanted, only to have to put it down or walk away in order to take good care of yourself.

Beyond the Telling

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One of the reasons we are so bound to storytelling is that the telling opens us to truths too large to keep in view.
 

BEYOND THE TELLING

I met a woman from Brazil who had to tell her story. Her mother was a difficult woman. But at the piano, she moved like a heron flying low to the water, mirroring the deep. The moment she finished—her hands lifting like slow wings from the keys—her mother was breathless. It was then she seemed to find herself. In that silence between worlds, Claire loved her mother most.

In this world, her mother pushed against everyone. Like a stump no longer growing but too dense to be removed, her mother was always in the way. When someone would ask, Claire would lean forward and stall, landing in a sigh. It was all beyond the telling: the condescension, the endless criticism, the impatience with everything human, the coldness of her widowhood, the cutting of ties when she began to be shrouded by Alzheimer’s.

Yet Claire couldn’t let her mother go. She tuned her piano, though she seldom played. For touching what her mother touched made Claire feel close to her. During her last year, her mother sat at the piano, just staring at the keys. But two days before she died, she dropped her thinning hands and began at middle C to coax a song she couldn’t finish. She began to fly, then stopped and turned away.

It’s been weeks since the funeral and in her grief, Claire keeps searching for the rest of that song. What part is her? What part is her mother? She keeps searching for the moment her mother would lift her wings. Her therapist says, “Try to let it go.” But in the night, she dreams of her mother’s hands lifting from the keys like the fingers of a saint throbbing in the dark.

Claire wants to finish the song so she can begin to fly herself. If she could just finish the song, she might be freed beyond the telling. Every night, Claire feels her best self hover like a note of truth between generations. If she could only finish the song, it might illumine the bottom of her grief, where she could close her pain and begin again.

And every time we’re touched by another, whether by the contagion of their joy or the opening of their pain, every time the song of life moves from them through us, we carry their note, and add our own, to suffer our way into harmony. When I lean to hug my eighty-seven year old mother, trying to feel the young girl she was, alive with wonder before I was born, I’m trying to feel and play the one song that shapes us all, though we’re so frightened to share it.

All we want, really, is to be freed beyond the telling of what went wrong or how we failed. All we want is to be freed into living the song that life keeps jazzing through our hearts. What we call coincidence, what we call obstacle, what we call the miracle of surprise—all are notes of life bringing us alive, throwing us into each other, forcing us to accept our small crescendo in the unending hymn that bemoans and affirms what it is to be here.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, tell the story of someone in your life whom you wish you understood more completely.

Between the Wall and the Flame

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One of the noble covenants of love is how we take turns lifting each other from the limited vision that arises when we are in pain, how we take turns reminding each other that there is more than our pain, more than our despair, while bearing witness to our pain and despair. This poems comes from such a time.

BETWEEN THE WALL AND THE FLAME

You ask, “How can you believe in
anything when there’s pain everywhere?”
And I see the pain in your face. I have no
answer, anymore than day can make its case
in the middle of the night. Yes, things are
breaking constantly and people, bent from
their nature, are cruel and our desperation
leads us to an excess that is even too heavy
for the planet to bear. Yet, I am in a wine
bar in Hell’s Kitchen, against a brick wall,
and the small flame from the oil lamp is
letting the wall whisper its long history.
And somehow in the lighted inch of
brick, what matters flickers and I feel
everything. Something between the wall
and the flame flutters like a butterfly
carrying the secret of peace, unseen,
unnoticed. And even seeing it, and
feeling it briefly, I don’t know how to
speak of it. It’s as if under the earthquake
of existence, an infinite hand holds the
ball of fire that is our world. Now some-
one nearby pokes me and asks, “So, are
you talking about God?” This is beyond
anything I have a concept for. We’re like
small urchins churned over in the surf of
time. There’s so much more than we can
know. But you are still hurting. So I’ll
stop talking. Come, put your head
on my shoulder.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, tell the story of a time when you put your head on another’s shoulder and how that helped you through.

The Book Won’t Let Me Hold It

I was trying to read a book of poets from all over the world but the day and the light led me to feel their lives. This is the poem that arrived.

THE BOOK WON’T LET ME HOLD IT
This morning, the sun spills
from the mountain to the page
and try as I will, I can’t read the
poems; only the chiseled notes
in the back about their lives: this
one killed on a forced march to
Germany, his poems pulled from
a mass grave. Another began as a
basket weaver in Turin. And the one
who climbed the Sierra Nevada in
search of his wife, long gone. And
the native of Shansi returning for
the first signs of spring, waiting on
the willows. Lifetimes to carry and
carve what no one can carry or carve.
And now, the lost one from the Sung
Dynasty who left only two poems, like
blue pebbles after a storm. And the
sad one whose only crime was being
sensitive. Like a waterfall gaining
from the source, spraying off the
rocks below; the lives of artists.

The poets referred to, in order, throughout the poem “The Book Won’t Let Me Hold It” are: Miklós Radńoti (Hungarian poet), Antonio Porchia (Argentinean poet), Kenneth Rexroth (American poet), Yang Chu-Yuan (Ch’in poet), Lu Mei-P’o (Sung poet), and Cesare Pavese (Italian poet).

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a loved one or friend, describe a connection you have for a writer or artist from another time and what their work awakens in you.

Being As Art

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What if we are being painted by the artist of time?

BEING AS ART

The pastels of dawn are washing up
behind the winter trees as if we are
sketches and Being itself is some painter
bringing us to life. And today She tries
to color us in a bit further. I can feel the
brush of eternity stroking the way I think;
a bit lighter in front, a tad darker in back.
Now a tear is forming in my right eye. Where
does Being get the color for that. Or for all the
blackish blotches of untimely death across the
globe. Or the luminescent yellow that is the
song of the unborn. The day appears and
we are still in it. It is no longer about
masterpieces or doing what no one
has done. Just staying in it.

A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a loved one or friend, describe yourself as a painting half-finished by life. What is the painting of your life evoking? What colors are there? What world is your life a threshold to?

With Things That Break

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The deeper the cut, the redder the blood. The deeper the experience, the richer the wisdom. It has always taken more time to reach the deep than the surface. And so it is with each other. It takes time to listen our way beyond the cuts into the depth of each other’s experience where the richness of living waits. This piece explores this mysterious physic of the soul.

 

WITH THINGS THAT BREAK

What matters bears entering more than once. This entering-more-than-once is a form of listening. It’s how leaves in fall offer a deeper color on rainy days. In that grayness, we look again and the undertones have a chance. I have a friend who moved to Victoria; that lush isle off the coast of Vancouver where winters seem long and dreary. In her third winter, someone born there pulled her aside and said, “You have to learn to love the rain. You have to spend more time wet. Then you’ll have different names for lazy squall and slanting mist. Then the rain, as much as the sun, will cause something in you to grow.” It’s the same with things that break our heart. Like learning to love the stories of elders who repeat themselves. You have to learn to love the slant of their rain. To take the time to sense what they can’t leave behind. With things that are new, we keep moving. With things that break, we circle back: repeating and renaming till we can find each other in the rain.


A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of someone you know and how they have endured being broken. What have you learned from their journey?

 

A Walk through Time

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Months after my father died, I found myself in New York City, wandering through the Musuem of Modern Art, a place I love. On the third floor, in an exhibit featuring the work of Gauguin, I felt his presence strongly.

A WALK THROUGH TIME

Up 7th and over at 53rd, I’m back at MOMA.
The last time I was here, I came from the hos-
pital where my father was tethered, dangling
from his life, his shock of white hair looking
like Moses after he was stunned by the energy
of God’s face. But my father didn’t believe in
God, though he worshipped the sea. Today,
etchings by Gauguin who at 34 lost his job
when the French Stock Exchange crashed
and beyond his fear, his gift for painting
was waiting. No one wants to accept this.
But when the first dream comes down, the
real dream begins. With no formal training,
Gauguin was compelled to cross the sea till
he found himself in Tahiti carving mysterious
statues from old tree trunks. I’m now before a
woodblock of a woman listening to a voice in
the sky. She’s made of lime wood. The chisel
marks smell like the shavings in our basement
when I’d watch my father stroke the nicked up
surface of mahogany to reveal its woody center.
This is where we meet: craftsman, artist, poet.
I imagine the three of us in some café: Gauguin
impatient with us, my father wondering why I
brought us together, and me feeling awkward
but content, to know the place we all come
from.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a time when one dream came apart which in time revealed another. What did you learn from this difficult unfolding?