I dwell in Possibility – A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye – And for an everlasting Roof The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This – The spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise – ~Emily Dickinson
The possibilities contained within a Dickinson poem are doors and windows standing wide open for interpretation and comprehension. When I visit Emily’s dwelling full of mysterious capitalizations, inscrutable dashes and sideways rhymes, I am blind, get easily lost, stumbling over this and that, and end up wondering where she is leading me and how far I’m willing to go.
Yet she tells me – This – to get my attention, hold it fast, to look up and out, beyond, and into forever.
-This- is what I must do when I read her carefully chosen words and dashes -This- is what I ask of a reader who opens my email or comes to my daily post -This- is us dwelling in possibility for a moment or an eternity, all eyes and windows and doors wide open to grasp a glimpse of Paradise.
-This- is our hands spread, ready to gather, to hold, to embrace, to pray, to fold to prepare us for Whatever Comes Next…
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I live a quiet life in a quiet place. There are many experiences not on my bucket list that I’m content to simply imagine.
I’m not a rock climber or a zip liner or willing to jump out of an airplane. I won’t ride a horse over a four foot jump or race one around a track. Not for me waterskis or unicycles or motorcycles.
I’m grateful there are those who are eagerly wired with alertness for the next experience: adventurers who seek out the extremes of life so the rest of us can sit back and admire their courage and applaud their explorations and achievement.
My mind’s eye and imagination is powerful enough, thanks to the words and pictures of others. I find I’m content to explore the corners of my quiet places, both inside and outside, to see what I can build from what I find right here under my nose.
When the light is right, and I’m open enough to it, what I see is ready to spring right out of the frame.
The difficulty to think at the end of day, When the shapeless shadow covers the sun And nothing is left except light on your fur—
….and August the most peaceful month.
To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time, And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light In which everything is meant for you And nothing need be explained;
At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you.
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the hope of meaningfulness, and press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and which reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”
Some days my voice feels so weakened I am unable to sing out from myself, knowing I have said too much that means so little.
I swing and I miss, over and over swishing the air – hoping, listening, looking, living for a connection made through sharing images and words.
I am bewildered by life most of the time – how figurative and literal smoke and haze can permeate and discolor our days and nights.
What I must do is lay bare the beauty I see, seeking a way to make a sad and suffering world less mystifying.
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Light splashed this morning on the shell-pink anemones swaying on their tall stems; down blue-spiked veronica light flowed in rivulets over the humps of the honeybees; this morning I saw light kiss the silk of the roses in their second flowering, my late bloomers flushed with their brandy. A curious gladness shook me. So I have shut the doors of my house, so I have trudged downstairs to my cell, so I am sitting in semi-dark hunched over my desk with nothing for a view to tempt me but a bloated compost heap, steamy old stinkpile, under my window; and I pick my notebook up and I start to read aloud and still-wet words I scribbled on the blotted page: “Light splashed…”
I can scarcely wait till tomorrow when a new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does each day. ~Stanley Kunitz “The Round”
It is too easy to be ground to a pulp by the constant irritations of the day – my aggravations are too easily expressed, my worries never seem to wane – all of it sucks gladness out of me. When my feelings become four-dimensional and surround and drown me, I lose all perspective on what got me out of bed to begin the day.
God is in these intricate details, whether the splash of light on a petal or the smell of rotting compost; it is my job to notice this. It is tempting to look past His ubiquitous presence in all things, to seek out only the elegant grandeur of creation and bypass the plain and smelly and homely. Yet even what lacks beauty from my limited perspective is worthy of His divine attention.
He knows the value and purpose of each thing He created, including me and the things that aggravate me no end.
The time has come to be refreshed and renewed even when surrounded by decay. His care is revealed in the tiniest way. He is worthy of my attention because I am constantly worthy of His.
If I rise early enough, I can see each new day’s light splash everything awake. By the time I come in to sit down to record my words and photos, I’m thoroughly washed with a fresh dawn. I can scarcely wait to take on what this day will bring.
A new life begins for me, as it does each day, as it does each day.
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I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable. I want them to honor both the heart of faith, and the light of the world; the gladness that says, without any words, everything. ~Mary Oliver “Everything”
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
At other times though, I remember how one flower in a meadow already full of flowers somehow adds to the general fireworks effect
as you get to the top of a hill in Colorado, say, in high summer and just look down at all that brimming color. I also try to convince myself
that the smallest note of the smallest instrument in the band, the triangle for instance, is important to the conductor
who stands there, pointing his finger in the direction of the percussions, demanding that one silvery ping. And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth I’d rather just sit here reading how someone else has been acquainted with the night already, and perfectly. ~Linda Pastan“Rereading Frost” from Queen of a Rainy Country.
that even though its lines are broken
will be drawn forward to the part where blueberries firm against fingers
say roundness sweetness unspeakable softness in the morning light. ~L.L. Barkat,“This Morning” from The Golden Dress
I’m asked frequently by people who read this blog why I use poems by other authors when I could be writing more original work myself. Why do I use my photos to illustrate another person’s words instead of inspiring my own?
My answer, like poet Linda Pastan above is:
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
Yet, like Linda, for over a decade now, I’ve decided not to stop trying, since I’ve committed myself to being here every day with something that may help me (and perhaps you) breathe in with gladness and gratitude the fragrance of words within this weary world.
There are several hundred of you who do take time to come visit this corner of the web every day, and several dozen of you have actually purchased the Almanac of Quiet Days book where my photos inspired poet Lois Edstrom to write her own words of grace and beauty. That is a source of great encouragement to me!
Like poet Mary Oliver, I cannot separate the poetry of my photos from the poetry of words I compose – I try to see the unseeable and help others to see it as well:
I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable.
I am so awed at your faithful reading and generous sharing of what I offer here.
Even when my lines are broken, or I say again what another has already said much better, yet bears repeating — I too try to write with quiet hands, and see through quiet eyes, out of reverence and awe for what unseeable gifts God has given us.
Thank you for being here with me, looking for those illuminating words and pictures which lift the veil.
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I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon
How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?
Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me. In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. ~Stanley Kunitz from “The Layers”
A child is asleep. Her private life unwinds inside skin and skull; only as she sheds childhood, first one decade and then another, can she locate the actual, historical stream, see the setting of her dreaming private life—the nation, the city, the neighborhood, the house where the family lives—as an actual project under way, a project living people willed, and made well or failed, and are still making, herself among them.
I breathed the air of history all unaware, and walked oblivious through its littered layers. ~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood
…we become whole by having the courage to revisit and embrace all the layers of our lives, denying none of them, so that we’re finally able to say, “Yes, all of this is me, and all of this has helped make me who I am.”
When we get to that point, amazingly, we can look at all the layers together and see the beauty of the whole. ~Parker Palmer from “Embracing All the Layers of Your Life” in On Being
My favorite scenes are ones where there are several “layers” to study, whether it is a still life of petals or a deep landscape with a foreground, middle and backdrop. The challenge is to decide where to look first, what to draw into sharp focus, and how to absorb it all as a whole. In fact, if I only see one aspect, I miss the entire point of the composition. It is wonderfully multi-faceted and multi-layered because that is how my own life is – complex with so much diverse and subtle shading.
If I try to suppress some darker part of my own life I wish to forget and blur out, I ignore the beauty of the contrast with the light that illuminates the rest.
The layers reflect who I was created to be as an image-bearer – complex, nuanced, illuminated in the presence of dark.
Beautifully composed and ultimately transformed.
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overly delicate, like a flower skimmed of all fragrance.
You hear in the long last notes of the nightingale’s song
how to harbor what’s left of joy, how spring clutches
the green shoot of life and holds on and on through summer, prepares
for no end that is sure in coming, the fall ever endlessly repeating. ~Maureen Doallas “Recounting Seasons”, from Neruda’s Memoirs
One of my greatest joys is watching time as days become weeks, then months, and as years flow by, the seasons repeat seemingly endlessly. I know they must end for me eventually so I anticipate transitions before they take place.
In the “olden” days, many farmers kept daily hand-written diaries to track the events of the seasons: when the soil was warm enough to sow, when the harvest was ready, the highs and lows of temperature fluctuations, how many inches in the rain gauge, how deep the snow.
Now we follow the years with a swift scroll in our photo collection in our phones: the tulips bloomed two weeks later this year, or the tomatoes ripened early or the pears were larger two years ago.
I take comfort things tend to repeat predictably year after year, yet I can spot subtle differences. Our hydrangea bushes are a harbinger of seasonal change: they are blooming a darker burgundy color this year, the lace caps are mostly blue rather than pink and purple. Their blooms fade eventually into blended earth tones, then blanche, finally losing color altogether and becoming skeletal.
And so it is with me. I harbor joy by noticing each change, knowing the repetition of the seasons and the cycle of blooming will continue, with or without me here watching. I am unnecessary except as a recorder of fact.
I will keep watching and keep documenting as long as I’m able.
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In your next letter, please describe the weather in great detail. If possible, enclose a fist of snow or mud,
everything you know about the soil, how tomato leaves rub green against your skin and make you itch, how slow
the corn is growing on the hill. Thank you for the photographs of where the chicken coop once stood,
clouds that did not become tornadoes. When I try to explain where I’m from, people imagine corn bread, cast-iron,
cows drifting across grass. I interrupt with barbed wire, wind, harvest air that reeks of wheat and diesel.
I hope your sleep comes easy now that you’ve surrendered the upstairs, hope the sun still lets you drink
one bitter cup before its rise. I don’t miss flannel shirts, radios with only AM stations, but there’s a certain kind
of star I can’t see from where I am— bright, clear, unconcerned. I need your recipes for gravy, pie crust,
canned green beans. I’m sending you the buttons I can’t sew back on. Please put them in the jar beside your bed.
In your next letter, please send seeds and feathers, a piece of bone or china you plowed up last spring. Please promise I’m missing the right things. ~Carrie Shipers, “In Your Next Letter” from Cause for Concern
For our children (and now their children) who have left the farm, now living far away:
I want to be sure you are missing the right things about this incredible place.
There is so much about a farm that is worrisome, burdensome, back-breaking and unpredictable. Don’t miss those things.
Miss what is breath-taking, awe-inspiring and heart-swelling.
We miss you more than we can ever say, indeed an intensive “missing” that can’t be expressed in words. So I send this to you and you’ll understand.
Once again a child asks me suddenly What is a poem?, And once again I find myself riffing freely and happily Without the slightest scholarly expertise or knowledge; But I am entranced by how poems can hint and suggest And point toward things deeper than words. A poem is An owl feather, I say. It’s not the owl—but it intimates Owlness, see what I mean? You imagine the owl, owls, Silent flight, razors for fingers, a wriggle of mouse tail Slurped up right quick like the last strand of angel hair, A startle of moonlight, a fox watching from the thicket, All that from a feather. It’s like an owl is in the feather. A poem is a small thing with all manner of bigger in it. Poor poems only have a writer in them, but better ones Have way more in them than the writer knew or knows About. This poem, for example, amazingly has owls in It—who knew we’d see a flurry of owls this afternoon? ~Brian Doyle, “A Flurry of Owls”
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
I walked into our big hay barn this week, finding scattered atop the few remaining bales from last summer these few owl feathers…
they were waiting for a poem to hide within, just as the barn owls are tucked invisibly in the rafters until the cool air of dusk and hunger lures them to the hunt, swooping outside to capture both moonlight and mice to be coughed up in pellets of fur and bones.
These feathers, dropped like so many random snowflakes, carry within them the glint and glow of the moon, a reminder what we leave behind matters, whether it be feather or fur or a wee dry skeleton, a shell of who we once were yet are no longer.
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Someone spoke to me last night, told me the truth. Just a few words, but I recognized it. I knew I should make myself get up, write it down, but it was late, and I was exhausted from working all day in the garden, moving rocks. Now, I remember only the flavor — not like food, sweet or sharp. More like a fine powder, like dust. And I wasn’t elated or frightened, but simply rapt, aware. That’s how it is sometimes — God comes to your window, all bright light and black wings, and you’re just too tired to open it. ~Dorianne Laux, “Dust” from What We Carry
We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute? I’m ready to go back. I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people. ~Thornton Wilder, from Emily’s monologue inOur Town
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
Lord, all bright light and protective wings…
Let me not wear blinders through my days. Let me see and feel it all even when it seems too much to bear, lest I’m too weary to listen.
Let me write it down or find an image that captures You, if only for the moment I feel your presence.
Lord, prepare me to be whelmed at your world, so Heaven itself will seem familiar, and not that far, maybe just round the corner.
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