On Writing and Reality

“Written Deer” by Maggie Smith

    Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?

—Wisława Szymborska

My handwriting is all over these woods.
No, my handwriting is these woods,

each tree a half-print, half-cursive scrawl,
each loop a limb. My house is somewhere
here, & I have scribbled myself inside it.

What is home but a book we write, then
read again & again, each time dog-earing

different pages. In the morning I wake
in time to pencil the sun high. How
fragile it is, the world—I almost wrote

the word but caught myself. Either one
could be erased. In these written woods,

branches smudge around me whenever
I take a deep breath. Still, written fawns
lie in the written sunlight that dapples

their backs. What is home but a passage
I’m writing & underlining every time I read it.


On Whether Anyone Hears the Lonely Tree Fall

“Wolf’s Trees,” by J.D. McClatchy

If trees fall in a wood and no one hears them,
Do they exist except as a page of lines
That words of rapture or grief are written on?
They are lines too while alive, pointing away
From the primer of damped air and leafmold
That underlie, or would if certain of them
Were not melon or maize, solferino or smoke,
Colors into which a sunset will collapse
On a high branch of broken promises.
Or they nail the late summer’s shingles of noon
Back onto the horizon’s overlap, reflecting
An emptiness visible on leaves that come and go.

How does a life flash before one’s eyes
At the end? How is there time for so much time?
You pick up the book and hold it, knowing
Long since the failed romance, the strained
Marriage, the messenger, the mistake,
Knowing it all at once, as if looking through
A lighted dormer on the dark crest of a barn.
You know who is inside, and who has always been
At the other edge of the wood. She is waiting
For no one in particular. It could be you.
If you can discover which tree she has become,
You will know whether it has all been true.

                                                                                            for Wolf Kahn

Lingering Memories

What is Sacred, by Lee Herrick

I have no idea what priests
dream of on Christmas Eve, what prayer

a crippled dog might whine before the shotgun.
I have no more sense of what is sacred

than a monk might have, sweeping the temple
floor, slow gestures of honor to the left,

the right. Maybe the leaf of grass tells us
what is worthwhile. Maybe it tells us nothing.

Perhaps a sacred moment is a photograph
you look at over and over again, the one

of you and her, hands lightly clasped like you
did before prayer became necessary, the one

with the sinking cathedral in Mexico City rising up
behind you and a limping man frozen in time

to the right of you, the moment when she touched
your bare arm for the first time, her fingers

like cool flashes of heaven.

On Storms in Life and Sky

Revenant, by Christian Wiman

She loved the fevered air, the green delirium

in the leaves as a late wind whipped and quickened —

a storm cloud glut with color like a plum.

Nothing could keep her from the fields then,

from waiting braced alone in the breaking heat

while lightning flared and disappeared around her,

thunder rattling the windows. I remember

the stories I heard my relatives repeat

of how spirits spoke through her clearest words,

her sudden eloquent confusion, trapped eyes,

the storms she loved because they were not hers:

her white face under the unburdening skies

upturned to feel the burn that never came:

that furious insight and the end of pain.


Becoming and Not

The earth reclaims her own.

“From dust to dust,”

And from dust to trees,

From trees to these autumn

Leaves left scattered

On the ground in early spring.

Our houses– so secure,

So lovely — need to be safeguarded

From their homes;

Even our lives seem to need

Protecting from the place where

They are living.



Author’s Note:

I wrote this poem while thinking about how incredibly disconnected our lives have become from their physical realities. Our lives are inherently connected to the earth, and it seems the earth itself tries to remind us through erosion of asphalt streets, the rotting of wooden houses, and the perseverance of life throughout the seasons. Perhaps life would be less stressful if we viewed these natural intrusions as an invitation to return home rather than a threat to the way our lives are supposed to be.

To the Weary and Stressed

“For One Who Is Exhausted, a Blessing” by John O’Donohue

When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.

The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.

Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.

The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.

You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.

At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.

You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.

Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.