Gretel’s Insight

At 5 a.m. stars glisten through pine trees. Twenty pages write themselves. Love is not what teases. Love is never perceived in glimpses.

We shrug our way into bodies and begin again the long ascent. One studies Latin roots, cuts of rabbit and Gretel’s insight. Earlier I paused by the brook, happy and cold. Be cautious of the inclination to filter the given moment through preference.

Thus lilies, thus chickadees. You tape your glasses and continue reading long after the others are asleep. Who cries out to the stars, cries out in vain indeed. On the other hand, boiled coffee with spoonfuls of sugar.

Oil paintings of nineteenth century whalers abound. Does it matter that we forget many of our dreams? The dog shifts in her nest of blankets waiting. All intentions are idle.

As even in winter the store sells lettuce and kale. When asked about deer patterns in the forest I usually lie. One refuses to accept the possibility of no problems and thus they continue. Such little lights, such a deep black sky.

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Pivotal Angels

I take my beloved where I go: down icy slopes to the brook which hums low songs in darkness. What goes slowly still goes. Her wrist and ankle appeared to me in a dream, set somewhere high amidst blustery stars, pale blossoms of which I perceived myself a cheerful root. Rain falls in the valley but turns to snow in the hills. I love this world and only sometimes yearn for another.

Word by word we find our way. Her shoes by the door reminded me of coffins or aging Belgian horses, images I kept to myself. One remembers in January the sideyard bluets and on Sam Hill Road dense plosions of forget-me-nots. If we can keep it to ourself, is it love? Antique radios hiss in corners, litanies of better days.

I also dreamed – again – of hangings, and back roads from which I could not extract myself and – worse yet – the painful death of beloved animals near haunted mausoleums. Up at midnight, again at two and finally up at three to walk with the dog, uncharacteristically scared of the dark. Potatoes sprout their blonde eyes and reach blindly for the cold walls of the root cellar. What language allows is, properly understood, a floor. My glasses are broken and my boots are riddled with holes.

And yet. One says in prayer to Jesus “you’re just a symbol, just an image” and he says in reply, apparently without umbrage, “I can still be helpful.” Pivotal angels thus abound. There is a sleep with which I am not familiar but long to be, may even perhaps be ready for. Tuck me into your pocket then, take me when you go.

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Joy is the Balance

How cold it was this morning! The sun not risen, sharp winds howling across the limbs of creaking trees. One hesitates at the trailhead when considering another way.

Though later, deeper in the forest, I began to read the sanskrit of wildlife in snowy tabula rasa and forgot about choice altogether. A fox coming up from the river, a deer – a small one – stepping from this glade to that and even faint mouse tracks abruptly ending in a violent snow swirl indicative of owl wings. What did H. say years ago about stumbling on evidence of the unheard screams of the dying?

Well, I remember watching snakes in the garden as a child, unable to look away. And later still letting trout in the shallows nibble at my toes. Happiness is what we can bear, and joy is the balance in the clean hands of God.

When I am not attentive, frost heaves beneath my feet crunch and I fall – forward into snow or down further to rock. How often one forgets their walking stick and wishes that they hadn’t! We are all in motion, and that is our only home.

I remember years ago telling a woman I’d just met if Heaven didn’t include mirror balls then I wasn’t going and she said I don’t think you’re going anyway, mirror balls or not. Always I return to motel rooms – in Albany, in Saint Louis, the one in Waycross, Georgia. She recorded a dream of pottery shards and I stayed three years to watch it play out.

Past the fire pond more deer tracks. A single poplar leaf lay like an overturned moccassin pointing north. One waits on the mail as if it were still possible to be surprised.

Turning back I heard the tenuous two note spring song of chickadees following one another up the cold hill and broke out myself in a scratchy song. One struggles to avoid projection yet who else but you could appreciate the loveliness of birch trees at dawn, coldest morning of the year so far?

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This New Inclination to Sit Quietly

No sunrise is ever the same. A little snow collects on the backyard pine and chickadees sit on its branches preening. At J.’s, I listened to old Johnny Cash songs while studying snowbanks that sparkle and glisten so intensely beautifully that after a while I leave for fear I really will leave. What would Emily Dickinson do is not the worst question you could ask.

The trail breaks a little underfoot, especially when I am not attentive. I pause where in summer two bear cubs climbed the yawning pine tree, mewing piteously, while their mother crashed the underbrush to draw me away. A spray of cardinal feathers behind the barn makes me and my daughters sad. We always need more wood for the fire.

We go where we must in the company of those we choose. Also, there is only one lesson and we are always capable of learning it. One stands a long time by the brook in winter before the slow murmur of flowing water perforates the thick walls of ice. Sliced apple and honey on warm bread and the last of last summer’s blueberry wine.

God is never not where we are, which I tend to forget, being prone to forests and fields and the sound of snow falling. K. says to trust this new inclination to sit quietly in darkness and why not? At 2 a.m. I remember without anger old teachers, good and bad. My love for dogs is perhaps closest to God’s love in that I seem to love them all equally, whether they’re “mine” or not.

How impossibly bright the world is becoming, and how soft the hymn that never quite leaves my ears. All birthday wishes are duly noted, gratefully received. We are not alone! I write happily in the rose-colored chapel, sharing crumbs with religious mice, grateful as always for nothing in particular.

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My Unbearable Delight

The blue light of dawn – which the is the light of which we are all composed – arises now. One can be grateful for candles, and the shape of mountains, and the sound of snow sifting in wind through the pines. This life and no other.

Slowly one learns to be grateful, and to see the gift as what is given. Giving? That, too.

Often when I wake in the morning there is a sense of having traveled great distances, never unaccompanied and often outside time. Yet there is nothing to do but allow Christ to do it. Did I mention gratitude?

One watches the stars fade from the sky, and rabbit tracks emerge in the snow. The blue light of dawn – which is the light of which we are all composed – comes as a blessing. Always ask what continues.

Reheated coffee, familiar texts, Latin roots. The sound her shirt makes falling to the floor, a sigh outside of hunger, and kisses, always kisses. I put more wood in the stove and go to the window to see if the cardinal will visit.

One learns not to take the red bird of the heart for granted. Prisms reveal the vivid beams of which any light is composed and I am never not amazed. We are dust motes in a secret chapel, we are lovers in a clearing that only we can find.

And so on and so forth unto always. Oh you who lighten my unbearable delight.

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Some Other Distance

And we stand in the bright cold and watch crows overhead. And we are aware of watching. Can one say the crows circle in an interior way? One does and is not otherwise mollified. Thus writing, this writing.

Dusty snow on the trail obscuring patches of ice makes for slippery going. We are always dancing, always skating over surfaces. Delight lies in going down. The dog steps gingerly onto the frozen pond and I wait, thinking of you. Kisses in the cold, that contrast.

Things break, or seem to, and yet something else goes on. Often before the sun rises, watching my breath out back, I think of the many distances I know, and how even when bridged, some other distance remains. The cardinal comes from the North always, always following the female who knows the way. One learns, one does. I carry my coffee to the window and drink it tired, watching the sky to the east flare with violet mare’s tails.

Choice is the last illusion and so cannot be either a container or a referent. And yet. How I long to sleep, and to find the arms in which sleep is not dangerous but safe, even – perhaps – welcome. And what then? In a sense – an important sense – the hill climbs us as well.

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The Mapless World

God’s Word is the quiet of ice which yesterday was melting but today no longer.

The cardinal at rest in a snowy hemlock, twenty feet away.

And chickens fluffing against bitter cold.

One reads certain books but avoids others.

In a similar way, I am unsettled by the division of time into measureable segments, which of course reflects the deeper confusion of what I am in truth.

And you.

At night I dream of foxes running in moonlight, the rust-colored flair of their tails leaving faint crescents on the snow.

At dawn I carry an ax to the barn to break ice in the horse trough.

When we are cold we are apt to think we have always been cold and will always be cold.

One works in darkness, word by word, coming at last to belief, and then realizing it is essential to keep going.

Joaquin sent me a picture of a hammock strung on a cross and Jesus – a distinctly European Jesus – reclining inside it, very peaceful, very content.

K. writes to say – in essence – oh just wake up already.

My boots are very old and snow creeps in and melts and my heels are numb after every walk and when will I be ready to not be the man without shoes?

The man without shoes dreams of Ohio and points west and of keeping on.

And the cardinal comes to the feeder, and the deer grow very still and quiet.

It is the tea candles I light when I pray before dawn, and the little rainbows shimmering on the walls when the sun rises and I am sitting happily after, thinking nothing in particular.

Lately I drink tea with Chrisoula, the two of us sitting together in the shadowy dining room, working out what it means to set terms and conditions on what is, in the end, unconditional and immeasureable.

A few leaves on the maple tree near the brook quiver and rustle – practically orchestral – despite the absence of perceptible wind.

Late, but not too late, I am learning how to face the love I fear.

And thus She visits, and this writing it is for Her, and me as well, being not quite ready for the mapless world.

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A Little Light Is Often Sufficient

The sound a shovel makes at the driveway’s edge. When I look up, low-hanging clouds move quickly north. Rabbit tracks and a little further, frozen fox scat. This life, this way.

One continues with reheated coffee, poured in darkness, and silent prayer in a familiar corner. Gretel is the only character in that story who really changes, at least in the versions I prefer. She writes steadily, like an apple strengthening its hold on the bough. We are all in motion, always.

Coming back up the hill I smelled cinnamon amidst wood smoke and stopped, taken back to an ancient kitchen, amazed. A little light is often sufficient. The dog paces back and forth, her life an intensity I can barely imagine. What happens in Austin, stays in Austin.

Or so I say, composing the lyrics as I go, each street corner a new stage. Received in Ireland but as ever moving on. Creativity is not product but process, and one has to give up everything to know it. Dimly, one senses she has finally left, and so rises to begin at last the work.

Last week, cutting wood in the forest, I thought about my grandfathers, and wondered what I would say to them now if I could. Evolution is a good idea, a helpful one. We sit on maple stumps, gulping hot tea, observing the moose observing us. Who taps at my window, who is calling by and by?

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You Who Never Left

Blessings arrive after noon, like the first time I read Emily Dickinson. Cardinals reach the feeder, bolts of red in the plainer light of day. I think of you, who never left and yet – somehow – cannot be reached.

Between snowflakes, a prismatic welter of blue and violet and gold. I dream of horses and funeral bells and wake up forgiven. Who gives assent to love through language is bound to repeat it, day after day after day.

That yes and no other. To my surprise, even the trails count the days until you come to walk them with me. The dog waits by the bridge and I lose a glove running to her.

Certain letters I avoid, others I savor. Who wants an explanation gets chains and a cage. May I share the songs and poems that bear your name?

Don’t stop writing. Moths settle when the candle is extinguished and the the room fills with the plush of their breathing. I celebrate when you rise.

Falling stars mark the way, or a way. One never knows what the mail will bring, nor what image will at last unleash the Love that for decades went banked and dark. Thus this.

We are not of the world and yet its loveliness burns through me like a hashknife. You, always you.

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