For When People Ask by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

I want a word that means
okay and not okay,
more than that: a word that means
devastated and stunned with joy.
I want the word that says
I feel it all all at once.
The heart is not like a songbird
singing only one note at a time,
more like a Tuvan throat singer
able to sing both a drone
and simultaneously
two or three harmonics high above it—
a sound, the Tuvans say,
that gives the impression
of wind swirling among rocks.
The heart understands swirl,
how the churning of opposite feelings
weaves through us like an insistent breeze
leads us wordlessly deeper into ourselves,
blesses us with paradox
so we might walk more openly
into this world so rife with devastation,
this world so ripe with joy.

For When People Ask

Have you not ever wished for such a word, one that means okay and not okay, when you are not quite either. A word that means devastated and stunned with joy – the complexity of living one’s life with the paradox of grieflove. She is seeking a word that says I feel it all all at once. I missed that second ‘all’ on first reading – all of it, all at once.

Tuvan throat singing, as I’ve learned, is a technique which originated in central Asia for singing two or more pitches at the same time, one deep, one high. What a perfect metaphor for the contrast between sorrow and joy, those intermingled emotions we all must encounter some time. The wind swirling as the heart swirls, the churning of opposite feelings.

Many poets from Blake in the 18th century, to the current Mark Nepo have written to express this commingling of apparently opposite feelings. Here Rosemerry gives us this uniquely aural image of throat singing, a way to live with this paradox, to be in this world so rife with devastation, / this world so ripe with joy. I am touched by her words, by the universality of this experience.

Night thinks it’s crying again by Kelli Russell Agodon

and I keep listening to a song about autumn 

where an apple tastes like longing and every leaf 

in the maple tree tries to explain loss

through a series of colors—hectic orange,

indifferent red, a kind of gold that speaks

directly to God or moonbeams and in the dark

as I drive down wet roadways watching for deer

the only things I can see clearly

are the yellow leaves christening

my windshield and I think how we are taught

not to love too many, too much, the night,

the darkness, and I believe I am crying but it is

only rain.

Night thinks it’s crying again

It’s raining here where I am tonight and the idea of night thinking it is crying intrigues me, makes me want to know more. There is a song about autumn where an apple tastes like longing. There’s that word again, longing, that yearning we may not be able to articulate that sometimes comes with this season.

Where other poets might speak of the brilliant hues of autumn, Agodon tells us that every leaf / in the maple tree tries to explain loss through their changing colours. We’ve all recognized the hectic orange, but a gold that speaks directly to God or moonbeams – that stopped me in my tracks and threw all my commonplace descriptions out the window.

She says we are taught / not to love too many, too much. What does this mean? Is she speaking of the loss that these falling leaves embody? I believe I am crying but it is / only rain. Perhaps she wants us to know that this is a loss that is seasonal, not a time to grieve for this natural ending – no tears; it is only rain.

Longing by Julia Cadwallader-Staub

Consider the blackpoll warbler.

She tips the scales
at one ounce
before she migrates, taking off
from the seacoast to our east
flying higher and higher
ascending two or three miles
during her eighty hours of flight
until she lands,
in Tobago,
north of Venezuela
three days older,
and weighing half as much.

She flies over open ocean almost the whole way.

Oh she is not so different from us.
The arc of our lives is a mystery too.
We do not understand,
we cannot see
what guides us on our way:
that longing that pulls us toward light.

Not knowing, we fly onward
hearing the dull roar of the waves below.

Longing

I don’t even know if I would recognize a Blackpoll Warbler, with its tiny elegant markings of black and white and taupe (had to look it up), but this poem certainly made me consider it. How they live in Canada’s boreal forests, how they weigh a scant ounce, how they fly nearly 1800 miles nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean for their fall migration. Is this not astonishing?

These are merely facts, but it takes a poet to put them into words that show us the marvel of how they fly, ascending two or three miles / during her eighty hours of flight before these small miracles of being finally touch down in northern South America, three days older, / and weighing half as much.

What the poet really wants us to understand, I believe, is how The arc of our lives is a mystery too. We too are guided by what we cannot see, that longing that pulls us toward light. Without knowing how or why, we make our way onward, hearing the dull roar of the waves below. After all, she is not so different from us – the astounding miracle of our own lives.

August by George Bilgere

Just when you’d begun to feel
You could rely on the summer,
That each morning would deliver
The same mourning dove singing
From his station on the phone pole,
The same smell of bacon frying 
Somewhere in the neighborhood,
The same sun burning off
The coastal fog by noon,
When you could reward yourself
For a good morning’s work
With lunch at the same little seaside cafe
With its shaded deck and iced tea,
The day’s routine finally down
Like an old song with minor variations,
There comes that morning when the light
Tilts ever so slightly on its track,
A cool gust out of nowhere
Whirlwinds a litter of dead grass
Across the sidewalk, the swimsuits
Are piled on the sale table,
And the back of your hand,
Which you thought you knew,
Has begun to look like an old leaf.
Or the back of someone else’s hand.

August

I know, it’s September, but this poem captures for me some of the essence of August looking in the rear view mirror. I especially like the opening lines, Just when you’d begun to feel / You could rely on the summer. Isn’t that just how it is – feels like summer is just getting going, those warm days we’ve waited so long for and suddenly it’s coming to an end.

He has an evocative litany of sound and scent and sight associations with this time of year – we will each have our own. Then we have the day’s routine finally down / like an old song with minor variations. A splendid metaphor which feels recognizable, how we live our summer days reveling in our patterns, familiar habits that arise with the heat.

And then, the changes begin – the light, the cool gust out of nowhere, the sale table piled with swimsuits no longer wanted. He layers all this with a suggestion of aging, the autumn of our lives, how the back of your hand has begun to look like an old leaf, no longer so familiar. Yet, with all that, we still carry within us the rich ease of August into these fall months.

Communion at the BP by Paula Gordon Lepp

It was a little thing, really,
this offer to fill my tire.
I was unscrewing the valve cap
and heard a voice behind me.
‘Here, I’ll get that for you”

“Oh that’s ok, I’ve got it,” is what I
normally say to such overtures,
this knee-jerk reaction to refuse.
I am the one who offers to help,
I am the one who serves.

Perhaps it was the eager spirit
in his face or his brown eyes
full of hopeful connection that
caused me to say okay.

I felt the vibration of
his unspoken benediction:
I can’t do much for you,
fellow weary traveler,
but I can do this. Lay
your burden down and
I will carry it for a bit.

And I couldn’t help but wonder
how many times I have denied
someone the blessing of serving
because I have been too stubborn
to accept their gift.

As I was standing there in
the sun drenched gas station
parking lot, the hiss and tick of
the air pump sounded very much
like a psalm. I watched his hands
filling more than just my tire with air,
while goodness and grace
swirled around us.

Communion at the BP

How often do you decline offers of help for the little things in your day? If you’re more comfortable giving than receiving, as I am, you will understand. We are quick to say “Oh that’s ok, I’ve got it.“, that knee-jerk reaction to refuse. And yet this time, Lepp responds to his eager spirit…his brown eyes / full of hopeful connection.

She receives his unspoken benediction – let me do this small thing, fill your tire, this much I can do for you. This leads her to wonder how many times she has denied / someone the blessing of serving. This is truly something to consider, that allowing another to help us, even briefly and in small ways, can be a gift to them, not just to us.

In this mundane gas station parking lot, listening to the hiss and tick of the air pump (can’t you just hear that?), she tells us it sounds to her like a psalm. And as she watches him filling more than just my tire with air, she becomes aware that goodness and grace / swirled around us. And now we are all left filled with something more, that gift of receiving.

Crickets by Sue Owen

Some summer nights you
can hear them getting all
worked up over this idea
of cheerfulness and song.

Deep in the grasses where
they hide, there is a need
to be heard in the darkness,
even if their voices are

so small they sound
like a door creaking on
its hinge, or the squeak
a drawer makes when

it opens up at last.
It seems as if the damp
air and dew are trying
to hold their song down

out of sheer gravity,
but neither dampness nor
darkness makes them stop.
In fact, the crickets like

to show off their song,
to let it lift up off
the earth the way that
all notes rise to the stars,

and float up through the
thick night, as if their
joy itself were the only light
we needed to follow.

Crickets

I’ve been falling asleep to the rhythmic sound of crickets responding to the nighttime heat. At times the sound seems steady, then a tiny pause before resuming; at times it grows in volume, then drops to a faint chorus. I’ve read that by counting the number of chirps for 15 seconds then add 37, you can tell the temperature in Fahrenheit. But I quickly get lost in the counting; I just know it’s a hot night.

The poet describes this chirping as getting all / worked up over this idea / of cheerfulness and song, how there is a need / to be heard in the darkness. A need to be heard in the darkness, especially if our voices are small. She imagines the damp / air and dew are trying / to hold their song down, yet they persist, like us, that need to be heard.

Crickets, she tells us, like to let their song lift up off / the earth the way that / all notes rise to the stars. What a gorgeous, aural image, how the sound floats in the night air as if their / joy itself were the only light / we needed to follow. Whether sound or light, if we listen attentively, we can stay present to the moment, feel the joy. Perhaps we may even be reminded of our own song.

The Thing Is by Ellen Bass

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you down like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

The Thing Is

This is such a favourite poem, to say nothing of poet, of mine, that I can’t understand how I haven’t shared it here before, so let me rectify that. The opening might seem like a simple enough statement, even a platitude – the thing is to love life, yes, of course. But then in every life, at some point, there is grief and life can seem unbearable. Yet still we must find ways to love it.

Have you been there, when everything you’ve held dear / crumbles like burnt paper in your hands? Bass’s descriptions of grief are so visceral – your throat filled with the silt of it, the air thick and heavy, more fit for gills than lungs. Have you ever felt that weight, an obesity of grief, until you ask yourself how you can stand it?

Now that she has taken us to that edge where we feel we cannot withstand this state, she comes forward with a response, an answer to that question you didn’t think could be answered. Then you hold life like a face / between your palms. Perhaps this is even your own face so ravaged by your grief, and your answer is simply yes, I will take you / I will love you, again.

This is not simplistic advice or trite words. This poem reminds us we must love life again and again, even, and especially, when we are deep in our sorrow. This really is the thing, to love life even when you have no stomach for it, until you do again.

On the Last Day of the World by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree.    ~W. S. Merwin

On the last day of the world, I would want
to feed you. Raspberries. Thin slices of apple.
Peaches so ripe they drip down our chins,
down our necks. I would want to sit with you
beneath a tree, no we’ll climb a tree, no
we’ll plant a tree, yes all of these. On the last
day of the world, I want to give myself permission
to feel exactly what I feel, to be exactly who I am,
to shed every layer of should and meet you
that way. Knowing we have only hours left,
could we put down our arguments with ourselves
and each other and find no energy to pick them up again?
On that day, I want us to write the last poem
together and let the writing undo us, let it teach us
how to get out of the way, how to obey what emerges.
Let’s run outside, no matter the weather, and praise
the light till the light is gone, and then praise the dark.

On the Last Day of the World

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer writes a poem every day (https://ahundredfallingveils.com/), so it’s hard to choose just one or two but this one invited itself here today. The quote from WS Merwin has stayed with me since I first read it – such a generative intention, full of hope for the future. On the last day of the world, how startling to contemplate – what would you do?

In this poem, she offers us raspberries, apple slices, peaches so ripe they drip down our chins. She wants to plant a tree, climb one, sit with you beneath a tree. She wants to meet you just as she is, to shed every layer of should (shedding shoulds – yes!). With only hours left, what if we put down our arguments with ourselves / and each other. What if we let go of all that and just sat quietly with ourselves, exactly as we are.

She invites us to write that last poem together, let it teach us how to get out of the way, how to follow the wisdom that emerges when we let go of the ‘shoulds’. Then we could run outside even in the rain, especially in the rain, and praise / the light til the light is gone. That’s the easy part. Then praise the dark, because both are necessary, both worthy of our appreciation.

Think about this: what might you do on the last day of the world if it could be anything?

The Most Important Thing by Julia Fehrenbacher

​I am making a home inside myself. A shelter

of kindness where everything
is forgiven, everything allowed—a quiet patch

of sunlight to stretch out without hurry,

where all that has been banished

and buried is welcomed, spoken, listened to—released.

A fiercely friendly place I can claim as my very own.

I am throwing arms open
to the whole of myself—especially the fearful,

fault-finding, falling apart, unfinished parts, knowing

every seed and weed, every drop
of rain, has made the soil richer.

I will light a candle, pour a hot cup of tea, gather

around the warmth of my own blazing fire. I will howl

if I want to, knowing this flame can burn through
any perceived problem, any prescribed perfectionism,

any lying limitation, every heavy thing.

I am making a home inside myself
where grace blooms in grand and glorious

abundance, a shelter of kindness that grows

all the truest things.

I whisper hallelujah to the friendly
sky. Watch now as I burst into blossom.

The Most Important Thing

Just reading the title of this poem, right away, I needed to hear what the poet names as the most important thing. Fehrenbacher writes of making a home inside herself – a shelter of kindness…a quiet patch / of sunlight to stretch out without hurry – can you already feel the invitation of such a home, a fiercely friendly place of your own.

She invites opening to it all, especially the fearful, / the fault-finding, falling apart, unfinished parts – anything you recognize here? I certainly do. She lights a candle for the flame to burn through any perceived problem, any prescribed perfectionism, / any lying limitation, every heavy thing. That seems to cover most, if not all, of what may hold us back from being fully present to life’s joys.

She ends with returning to the imagery of making a home inside herself, where grace blooms in grand and glorious / abundance. Is this not what we each long to create, that compassion for ourselves that allows mistakes, offers forgiveness, kindness? Could it be that such a home is available to each of us when we open the door?

Those last two lines catch my breath. To whisper hallelujah as I burst into blossom. Such an extraordinary image, but more than that, I can feel it in my body, a fiercely friendly place.

Nobody Cares by William Stafford

Nobody cares if you stop here. You can
look for hours, gaze out over the forest.
And the sounds are yours too—take away
how the wind either whispers or begins to
get ambitious. If you let the silence of
afternoon pool around you, that serenity
may last a long time, and you can take it
along. A slant sun, mornings or evenings,
will deepen the canyons, and you can carry away
that purple, how it gathers and fades for hours.
This whole world is yours, you know. You can
breathe it and think about it and dream it after this
wherever you go. It’s all right. Nobody cares.

Nobody Cares

Nobody cares could sound cruel, the kind of adolescent throw-away comment of disregard you may have received at some time or other. But I believe Stafford means this differently, a gentle admonishment to live without fear of others’ opinions or expectations, to just be who you are.

To begin, Nobody cares if you stop here, right here, right now, to gaze at the view around you without limits. And the sounds are yours too he tells us, the wind whispering or becoming ambitious (great word choice) as it does before a storm. Or you can let the silence of / afternoon pool around you, that kind of quiet that fills you with tranquility – you can even take it with you.

As the sun rises or sets, that slanted light of extraordinary colour is yours to carry away with you, that purple, how it gathers and fades for hours. You can remember the soothing effect of those times of day whenever you need them. This whole world is yours, you know. You do know that, don’t you? He is reminding you that you carry all this with you wherever you go. And it’s all right because it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or says, it’s yours to experience. Nobody cares.