Packing for the Future: Instructions by Lorna Crozier


Take the thickest socks.
Wherever you’re going
you’ll have to walk.

There may be water.
There may be stones.
There may be high places
you cannot go without
the hope socks bring you,
the way they hold you
to the earth.

At least one pair must be new,
must be blue as a wish
hand-knit by your mother
in her sleep.

*

Take a leather satchel,
a velvet bag an old tin box —
a salamander painted on the lid.

That is to carry that small thing
you cannot leave. Perhaps the key
you’ve kept though it doesn’t fit
any lock you know,
the photograph that keeps you sane,
a ball of string to lead you out
though you can’t walk back
into that light.

In your bag leave room for sadness,
leave room for another language.

There may be doors nailed shut.
There may be painted windows.
There may be signs that warn you
to be gone. Take the dream
you’ve been having since
you were a child, the one
with open fields and the wind
sounding.

*

Mistrust no one who offers you
water from a well, a songbird’s feather,
something that’s been mended twice.
Always travel lighter
than the heart.

Packing for the Future: Instructions

Listening to Lorna Crozier, whom I greatly admire, on CBC Sunday morning, I was reminded of this poem of hers which I’ve loved since I first read it. Haven’t you wished, at least once in your life, that someone would give you instructions for your unknown future? Some directions to help you navigate this life you find yourself in?

She has us begin with thick socks, the hope socks bring you, / the way they hold you / to the earth, ground you wherever you are. Bring a pair blue as a wish /hand-knit by your mother / in her sleep, an enchanting possibility. Even if your mother never knit, you could wish for that because you know that Wherever you’re going / you’ll have to walk.

You will need a satchel, a bag, an old tin box – / a salamander painted on the lid, something to hold that small thing you cannot leave – a key, a photograph, a ball of string to lead you out / though you can’t walk back / into that light. For myself it was a purple Crown Royal drawstring bag in which I kept my inexplicable treasures. And though I neglected the ball of string, I did leave room for sadness because that is the other language we must learn in order to move through this world. Perhaps most important is to take the dream / you’ve been having since / you were a child, that one where you were connected to the real world and its aliveness in a way that we seem to lose as we grow older.

Finally, the instruction to always trust offerings of water from a well (that icy-clear taste), a songbird’s feather (a Jay’s impossible blue), something that’s been mended twice (my first pair of leather gloves). That last line: always travel lighter / than the heart, catches my breath each time, a gentle reminder not to let heart-heaviness weigh me down too long. I return to these instructions from time to time, when I feel I’m losing my way, pull on those sky blue socks and start walking.





Questions to Ask When Waking by Bernadette Miller

What would you do if you really knew
that life was wanting to sing through you?

What would you say if your words could convey
prayers that the world was waiting to pray?

What would you be if your being could free
some piece of the world’s un-whispered beauty?

What would you stop to bless and caress
if you believed that blessing could address
our painful illusions of brokenness?

What would you harvest from heartache and pain
if you understood loss as a way to regain
the never-forsaken terrain of belonging?

What would you love if your love could ignite
a sea full of stars on the darkest night?

Questions to Ask When Waking

Well, you probably know by now how much I love poems that ask important questions that I can’t really answer but which awaken my whole being. And of course the best time to hear such questions is in those early moments of waking before we are stolidly in our everyday routines, that liminal space where we are neither here nor there.

Each question begins with What would you do… or say or be or stop or harvest or love. Honestly, each one of these exquisitely crafted questions is enough to fill me up with wonder and carry me through my day. I especially love some piece of the world’s un-whispered beauty. There is so much beauty that is self-evident, reliable, traditional, but what of the unspoken beauties that are more hidden?

Can you believe that blessing could address / our painful illusions of brokenness? If we stopped to bless with our attention what we believe to be broken, would we find that it was whole? And then loss, that universal heartache, if we could understand it as a doorway into the never-forsaken terrain of belonging, understanding that we are not abandoned in our grief.

What would you love if it could ignite / a sea full of stars on the darkest night, if loving this world would bring more light (for how could it not), if your words could convey prayers? Is there a question here for you to wrestle with, to awaken you to some new understanding so that you know that life was wanting to sing through you?

About Standing (in Kinship) by Kimberly Blaeser

We all have the same little bones in our foot
twenty-six with funny names like navicular.
Together they build something strong—
our foot arch a pyramid holding us up.
The bones don’t get casts when they break.
We tape them—one phalange to its neighbor for support.
(Other things like sorrow work that way, too—
find healing in the leaning, the closeness.)
Our feet have one quarter of all the bones in our body.
Maybe we should give more honor to feet
and to all those tiny but blessed cogs in the world—
communities, the forgotten architecture of friendship.

About Standing (in Kinship)

I’ve always liked the concept of kinship, that state of relatedness with others, our affinity with other people, animals, earth beings. There is a connection, a sense of empathy which feels important to me and the rare kindred spirits in my life with whom I share this closeness are precious to me.

So I was pleasantly surprised by how this poet introduces us to the idea that we all share twenty-six little foot bones with funny names like navicular. How together they build something strong, how they hold us up, allow us to walk through our lives. How when one of those bones breaks, they get taped to the ones beside it for support. And then she reveals her lovely analogy: how things like sorrow work that way too, find healing in the leaning, the closeness. Oh yes, it is the leaning toward one another, the connection that can ease grief, even while we feel the pain of the loss, the broken place.

She suggests we might honour our feet, those 26 small bones that are so necessary to being upright and mobile, and also give honour to all those tiny but blessed cogs in the world – those interconnections of community, the forgotten architecture of friendship (such a lovely phrase). Consider if you will, the architecture of your own connections with people, your kinships, how we could not stand for long without them.

Perhaps as I walk today, I will feel those bones, feel the closeness with my kin, with all of you.

Kindness by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Consider the tulip,
how it rises every spring
out of the same soil,
which is, of course,
not at all the same soil,
but new. How long ago
someone’s hands planted a bulb
and gave to this place
a living scrap of beauty.

Consider the six red petals,
the yellow at the center,
the soft green rubber of the stem,
how it bows to the world. How,
the longer we sit beside it,
the more we bow to it.

It is something like kindness,
is it not? The way someone plants
in you a bit of beauty—a kind word,
perhaps, or a touch, the gift
of their time or their smile.
And years later, in the soil that is you,
it emerges again, pushing aside
the dead leaves, insisting on beauty,
a celebration of the one who planted it,
the one who perceives it, and
the fertile place where it has grown.

Kindness

It is still too early for tulips in the garden though I happily bring home bright bunches of cut stems from the grocery store (flowers being as important as food, especially in March). The poet asks us to consider how tulips rise from the soil where they were planted, how someone’s hands planted a bulb which became the gift of a living scrap of beauty; the miracle of seed to flower.

Whatever colour you may choose (mine are yellow at the moment, a bouquet of sunshine), we watch as their green stems gently bow, a graceful still life. She suggests that the more we contemplate these early blooms, the more we bow to it. You really can lose yourself in the close-up intensity of colour and intricacy of the flower’s whorls, pausing for a moment to pay attention, to pay homage.

The connection she makes is enchanting: It is something like kindness, / is it not? The way a kind word or touch or smile from someone plants / in you a bit of beauty. How the flower of that kindness emerges in you, insisting on beauty. You are the fertile soil where that beauty has been planted which recognizes the giver of the gift as well as you, the receiver. This is indeed a celebration, simple kindnesses we all exchange with one other. Let us insist on beauty.

when we get through this Maya Stein

When we get through this, I want us to set a table with all of the loaves of bread
we’d practiced in our quiet houses. I want us clutching fistfuls of the cilantro we coaxed
from our city windowsills, and I want the nascent musicians, the ones who learned
old songs on their new ukuleles, or warbled choruses on isolated balconies, to take
the stage together. I want all the knitted, crocheted, stitched, and mended things pooled
at our feet, warming our ankles. I want us to greet each other in unfamiliar languages,
to tell the stories of those who have been lost. I want us to look, in unison,
toward the world millions of miles and light-years away, to take in what is before us,
and beyond us. I want us to wake to the magnitude of our fortune against the smallness
of our time. And then I want us to remember this, and to keep remembering.

when we get through this

Now that we have passed that magical first year of this great unknown global experiment, now that spring is edging its way forward so that new possibilities seem within reach, there is a sense that things may shift. What this poet is calling when we get through this, is much more palatable to me than the frequent refrain of when things get back to normal, normal meaning any number of things we can’t all agree on.

I think at least some of us can agree that there is no going back. What Stein is offering us instead is the idea that all the things we did to support ourselves and others, the loaves of bread we’d practiced in our quiet houses, the herbs we grew on our windowsills, the songs we learned to play or sing, the handwork created – she wants all this to be brought together to share, to take the stage together.

She wants us to tell the stories of those who have been lost, not to forget them, to see what is right here before us in this very moment. She wants us to wake to the magnitude of our fortune against the smallness of our time – I especially like that line – to realize how many are the gifts, especially in times of uncertainty. Finally, she wants us to remember all of what has gone on and to keep remembering. It is through remembering what has been lost and what we have gained that we can go forward with new possibilities. This poem asks us to keep remembering.

What the Heart Cannot Forget by Joyce Sutphen

Everything remembers something. The rock, its fiery bed,
cooling and fissuring into cracked pieces, the rub
of watery fingers along its edge.

The cloud remembers being elephant, camel, giraffe,
remembers being a veil over the face of the sun,
gathering itself together for the fall.

The turtle remembers the sea, sliding over and under
its belly, remembers legs like wings, escaping down
the sand under the beaks of savage birds.

The tree remembers the story of each ring, the years
of drought, the floods, the way things came
walking slowly towards it long ago.

And the skin remembers its scars, and the bone aches
where it was broken. The feet remember the dance,
and the arms remember lifting up the child.

The heart remembers everything it loved and gave away,
everything it lost and found again, and everyone
it loved, the heart cannot forget.

What the Heart Cannot Forget

Everything remembers something the poet begins, grounding us in this world. There is rock, here since time out of mind, forming and reforming, the rub / of watery fingers along its edge, as it is shaped. There is cloud, with its imaginary shapes of elephant, camel, giraffe, covering the sun, gathering together to release its clouds of rain. There is turtle, one of the oldest creatures, who remembers legs like wings, a prehistoric time before it had to crawl to the ocean’s edge while escaping the beaks of savage birds.

Each being, creature, entity, remembers its origins. There is tree with the story of each ring, with times of not enough water and too much, the way things came / walking slowly towards it long ago, each tree, each ring with its own story. And there is the body with its lifetime of memories, the scars on skin, the ache in bones, the feet which have danced, the arms remember lifting up the child. Most of all, there is the heart which remembers everything it loved and gave away.

Right there, can you pause and remember your own loves, what you’ve lost and found again, and everyone your heart has held. Because finally, she assures us, the heart cannot forget. Our hearts remember it all – rock and cloud and turtle and tree and our bodies which keep us in this world. Everything and everyone remembers something. Though the mind may forget, the heart remembers it all and we are all part of this world.

Silver (for Suzy Moore) by Jeannette Encinias

“How many years of beauty do I have left?
she asks me.
How many more do you want?
Here. Here is 34. Here is 50.
When you are 80 years old
and your beauty rises in ways
your cells cannot even imagine now
and your wild bones grow luminous and
ripe, having carried the weight
of a passionate life.
When your hair is aflame
with winter
and you have decades of
learning and leaving and loving
sewn into
the corners of your eyes
and your children come home
to find their own history
in your face.
When you know what it feels like to fail
ferociously
and have gained the
capacity
to rise and rise and rise again.
When you can make your tea
on a quiet and ridiculously lonely afternoon
and still have a song in your heart
Queen owl wings beating
beneath the cotton of your sweater.
Because your beauty began there
beneath the sweater and the skin,
remember?
This is when I will take you
into my arms and coo
YOU BRAVE AND GLORIOUS THING
you’ve come so far.
I see you.
Your beauty is breathtaking.

Silver

This is a poem I started passing on to a few of my beautiful silver-haired friends this week after being introduced to it by my friend Maureen who was reading it to her elderly mother. This morning I decided it’s too good to not to share with all of you – silver or not, woman or not, young or old – a gift of recognition of the beauty of a well lived life.

How many years of beauty do I have left? How’s that for an opening question we might all be asking ourselves, at any age, though not in the traditional sense of the word. By the time you reach 80 (are you there yet? do you know someone who is?), she tells us your beauty rises in ways / your cells cannot even imagine now. Can you imagine? And how your wild bones grow luminous and / ripe, having carried the weight / of a passionate life. Oh my! Now your hair aflame with winter, your learning and leaving and loving show in the tender lines around your eyes and your children find their own history / in your face. This is beauty, the beauty of an aging face, a face with wisdom written on it.

This is the time of life when you understand what it feels like to fail / ferociously – love the fierceness of that failure, and also the resilience to rise and rise and rise again. Even in inevitable loneliness to still have a song in your heart, to feel that heart beating with the strength of an owl’s wings, a Queen remembering her beauty. This is no surface beauty superficially admired but the goddess within beneath the sweater and the skin.

May this poem remind you of your own loveliness, how far you have come and know that you are seen. I see you. / Your beauty is breathtaking.

Telephone Repairman by Joseph Millar

All morning in the February light
he has been mending cable,
splicing the pairs of wires together
according to their colors,
white-blue to white-blue
violet-slate to violet-slate,
in the warehouse attic by the river.

When he is finished
the messages will flow along the line:
thank you for the gift,
please come to the baptism,
the bill is now past due
:
voices that flicker and gleam back and forth
across the tracer-colored wires.

We live so much of our lives
without telling anyone,
going out before dawn,
working all day by ourselves,
shaking our heads in silence
at the news on the radio.
He thinks of the many signals
flying in the air around him
the syllables fluttering,
saying please love me,
from continent to continent
over the curve of the earth.

Telephone Repairman

What draws me to this poem is the literally hands-on, personal touch in this present-day wireless world. Though I do still see telephone repairmen from time to time, mending cable…in the February light, they are less common now, another sign of our changing world, even with increasing and instantaneous communications.

The poet tells us some of the words that will be carried along those cables – thank you for the gift, / please come to the baptism, / the bill is now past due. These are the simple, essential messages we exchange in our daily interactions, voices that flicker and gleam back and forth. I envision theses voices in a graceful dance within the wires.

When he says We live so much of our lives / without telling anyone, I am conscious of our current isolation, the lack of ordinary, daily exchanges we used to make, the silences we carry. And I’m touched by the notion of the many signals / flying in the air around him as he continues to work his repairs. Then this man reflects so eloquently on the syllables fluttering,(love that!) saying please love me. Isn’t that what we are all longing for, to be loved, whether we speak it aloud or not? What might you hear fluttering in the telephone wires above you today if you listen closely?

Things That Cannot Die by Paige Riehl

A spoon in a cup of tea.
The letters in yellow envelopes,
the way a hand pushed lines
into the soft paper.
Morning laughter.
A white shirt draped
over the chair.
An open window. The air.
The call of one blackbird.
The silence of the other.
November. Summer.
The sounds of the piano notes
as they rest in the treetops.
The road from here to there.
Grief, that floating, lost swan.

Things That Cannot Die

Here we have another one of those apparently simple poems, simple by virtue of its uncluttered language, yet containing much in its fifteen lines. After the title, the poet does not tell us how it is that some things cannot die, instead she gives us straightforward examples of ordinary objects so that we can imagine them for ourselves and perhaps even add our own.

She speaks of everyday items – a spoon, laughter, a white shirt, an open window, letters and the way a hand pushed lines / into the soft paper, which I love for the way it invites the unseen writer as well as the reader. She names the call of a blackbird as well as the silence of the other – again allowing our imaginations to hear that silence. Seasons, piano notes not just heard but as they rest in the treetops – can you not just hear them?

And finally, Grief, that floating, lost swan. Now there is an imagine I will carry with me, that embodied sensation of untethered lostness that can accompany grief. These are the ways she portrays the undying nature of our mortal lives. They are elusive, these named items; they will not last forever, and yet, I sense she is reminding us that there will always be such things to help us notice the precious brevity of life.

Dreams Before Waking by Adrienne Rich

What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing
each other’s despair into hope? –
You yourself must change it. –
what would it feel like to know
your country was changing? –
You yourself must change it. –
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?

Dreams Before Waking

This is the last stanza of a much longer poem by Adrienne Rich – you can read the whole of it by clicking on the title above but it was this stanza in particular that caught my attention – perhaps because we have been through, are still going through, so much uncertainty and often despair.

By now, I imagine you know how much I love questions in poems and here she offers three to make you reflect. What meaning would you make of living where people were changing each other’s despair into hope? Changing hopelessness into an aspiration that something good may happen. And her answer: You yourself must change it. It is not a passive hope; she matches desire with action.

Her second question, what would it feel like to know / your country was changing? seems particularly relevant in this century, though this was written almost 40 years ago. And again her response: You yourself must change it, must change it even though your life felt arduous / new and unmapped and strange.

But it is the final line which is riveting for me: what would it mean to stand on the first / page of the end of despair? What if we could imagine, whether your loss of hope be personal or global, that you are at the beginning of the end of despair? It’s a question we can only each answer for ourselves. And even if there is no answer right now, it is a question worth holding.