The Soul Confined

 
It’s frail, this spring snow, it’s pot cheese
packing down underfoot. It flies out of the trees
at sunrise like a flock of migrant birds.
It slips in clumps off the barn roof,
wingless angels dropped by parachute.
Inside, I hear the horses knocking
aimlessly in their warm brown lockup,
testing the four known sides of the box
as the soul must, confined under the breastbone.
Horses blowing their noses, coming awake,
shaking the sawdust bedding out of their coats.
They do not know what has fallen
out of the sky, colder than apple bloom,
since last night’s hay and oats.
They do not know how satisfactory
they look, set loose in the April sun,
nor what handsprings are turned under
my ribs with winter gone.
~Maxine Kumin “Late Snow” from Selected Poems: 1960 – 1990

photo of spring snow by Paul Dorpat

This past weekend we had it all: sun, rain, windstorm, hail, and some local areas even reported a late April snowfall. It is indeed disorienting to have one foot still in winter and the other firmly on grass that needs mowing.

It is also disorienting to look at pandemic data and hear varying experts’ interpretations about what is happening, what they predict and what strategies are recommended.

It may be time to loosen the tight grip on social distancing yet many are reticent to emerge from their confinement, for good reason.

Just last week, we released the Haflingers from their winter lock-in back onto the fields – their winter-creaky barn-confined joints stretched as they joyfully ran the perimeter of the fields before settling their noses into fresh clover. Their ribs sprung with the fragrance of the apple blossom perfume of the orchard and it lifted my sagging spirit to see them gallop. But even the horses are not ready for complete freedom either – I whistled them in after two hours, not wanting them to eat themselves sick with too much spring grass. Their time on the outside will be tightly controlled until it is safe for them to be out unrestricted.

Surprisingly, the horses come in willingly to settle back into their stalls and their confinement routine.

I’m not so different. I long to be set loose in the April sun and the freedom to go when and where I wish. But the new reality means winter is not entirely gone yet and may not be for some time. There are still tragic and untimely losses of life, still plenty of weeping and lament from the grief-stricken who have been robbed prematurely of loved ones due to a virus that is circulating indiscriminately.

So we must ease out slowly, carefully and cautiously, with one ear cocked and ready to be whistled back in when we are called to return to safety.

Like an Idiot, Babbling and Strewing Flowers

To what purpose, April, do you return again? 
Beauty is not enough. 
You can no longer quiet me with the redness 
Of little leaves opening stickily. 
I know what I know. 
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe 
The spikes of the crocus. 
The smell of the earth is good. 
It is apparent that there is no death. 
But what does that signify? 
Not only under ground are the brains of men 
Eaten by maggots. 
Life in itself 
Is nothing, 
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. 
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 
April 
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. 
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Spring”

I know that we cannot depend on the return of Spring to heal us~
it is balm not cure.

I know that none of its beauty can bloom without it dying before~
it is a shroud thrown over to cover our decay.

I know I cannot be transformed by the warmth of the sun~
it is not enough for my skin to sweat when my heart lies still and cold.

I know I must dig deeper in holy ground for the truth~
it does not lie in perfumed blossoms and sweet blue skies.

I know what I know~
life in itself is nothing unless
death is overcome yet again
and our hearts, once broken,
begin to pulse red once more.

Entirely Content

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photo by Harry Rodenberger

 

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I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
~Mary Oliver “What Gorgeous Thing” from Blue Horses by Penguin Press

 

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We are experiencing a short reprieve this week from gray and drear and rain and typical April chill temperatures.  It is suddenly fantastically spring, all in a big headlong rush toward summer. Our windows are wide open, there are apple-blossom breezes wafting through the house, the bees are busy, the birds singing at the top of their lungs as soon as daylight appears at 5:15AM.

What gorgeous thing it is to see and hear and smell and taste this glory if only for a day or two.  So full of promise and potential.

Even if, as predicted,
the rain returns this weekend,
even if the grey clouds come back hovering heavily on our shoulders,
even if the air no longer carries forth this incredible perfume,
it did happen
and for the moment,
just a moment,
the world felt entirely content to simply be.

 

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A Handful of Dust

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April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain…

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

~T.S.Eliot from “The Wasteland”

 

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We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become.  We are living fully right now; we cast shadows before and behind us depending on the time of day and time of life, mere ephemeral reflections of our presence on earth.

Yet the dust we were and the dust we become is as fearful a thing as our transient shadow.

Dust so cruel~
it reminds us
of what could have been,
how life once rose miraculous
from the dead.

We are nothing but a handful of dust…
until the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us.
We breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.

We become more than mere shadow.

We are His, part of his Hand, breath of His breath.

 

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We Haste Away So Soon

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Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.
 
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
~Robert Herrick “To Daffodils”
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So short a spring:
today some parts of this land are in the throes of winter with blizzards, ice storms and snow drifts keeping them home-bound on the Sabbath.  There is little hope for the brave bulbs that tried to surface from the ground over the last several weeks.
Here in the northwest, we are springing late as well, with chill winds and unending rain. The daffodils have melted on the stem unable to sustain the battering while hordes of slugs luxuriate with unending voracious appetites for their petals.
We ourselves aren’t much different than these tender blooms – though we hope not to be chewed to death, we are, after all,  here today, gone tomorrow.  When bud bursts to blossom, we flame hearty with such exuberant joy, then wither until we are no more.
We are, for our brief days, a reflection of the Sun itself, just as we should be.
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Divine Discontent and Longing

 

 

 

…the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.  All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered. 

…Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing…
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

 

 

 

 

It is as true for me as it is for Mole in Grahame’s wonderful story:  I must stray from my comfortable little home to look and wonder at the world around and above me.  Spring drives me forth with awe and longing and discontent more than any season: the light is so different and compelling, the clouds dramatic and ever-changing, the greens never more vivid, the smell of the air perfumed and enticing.

What seems so plain, so ordinary at other times of year, becomes magical and beautiful in the spring;

…maybe, just maybe, so do I.

 

 

 

It Sings in Me

 

 

 

The roofs are shining from the rain,
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree–
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.
–  Sara Teasdale, “April”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frogs plutter and squdge-and frogs beat the air with a recurring thin steel sliver of melody.
Crows go in fives and tens; they march their black feathers past a blue pool; they celebrate an old festival.
A spider is trying his webs, a pink bug sits on my hand washing his forelegs.
I might ask: Who are these people? 
~Carl Sandburg from “Just Before April Came”

 

 

 

And so spring asks:

Who are these people?

Here we are, closing in on mid-April and it has been a week of heavily drifting snowstorms in the Great Lakes and northeast, tornado weather in the south, and blustering wind and rain in the northwest.  I am not so sure of Spring nor is anyone else.

Yet it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

The calendar does not lie, nor does my nose.  The pollen counts are rising despite the rains and as I step outside in early dawn, I can catch the slightest fragrance of just-opening cherry and apple blossoms in the orchard.  Within a week there will be sweet perfume in the air everywhere and the fruit trees become clothed in white puffy clouds of blossom before bursting full into green.

In defiance of the calendar, our oak trees cling stubbornly to their brown bedraggled fall leaves as if ashamed to ever appear naked, even for a week.  In May they will go straight from brown to green without a moment of bare knobby branches.

Even so, it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

A morning bird symphony tunes up ever earlier including the “scree” and chatter from bald eagles high up in the fir trees surrounding our house.  Nesting has begun despite the wet and cold and wind because their nest is the secure home that calls them back, again and again, year after year.

Like them, it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

I rise opening like a bud, I dress my nakedness to cover up my knobbiness, I wander about outside exulting in the free concert, I manage to do chores despite the distractions — this routine of mine which is so unchanging through the calendar days becomes glorious gift and privilege.

Hopefulness sings in me in Spring.  Yes it sings.

 

 

 

Let the Rain

 

 

 

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

~Langston Hughes “April Rain Song”
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Spring is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Some days this time of year, the skies begin gray with indecision and it doesn’t rain nor does the sun ever shine —  a truly lukewarm day.  The days that are most interesting, however, are those that declare themselves “clear” or “soaking wet” and then switch somewhere in the middle in a stormy transition.

A day can start with pouring rain — no half-hearted drizzle, this — with no hope of clearing, no peek of blue sky, no mountains on the horizon as if covered in gray cotton wool.

Then in a mighty switch near sunset, a wind blows in and takes the gray away with a sweep of the hand.  The skies clear, the mountains reappear with even more snow cover than the day before, and everything around shines with the glistening wash that has taken place.

It is spring, it is April, when all things are reborn wet and shimmering.  Let the rain drench irresistible light.

 

 

 

Oatmeal Should Not Be Eaten Alone

 

I eat oatmeal for breakfast.
I make it on the hot plate and put skimmed milk on it.
I eat it alone. 
I am aware it is not good to eat oatmeal alone.
Its consistency is such that is better for your mental health 
if somebody eats it with you.
That is why I often think up an imaginary companion to have 
breakfast with.
Possibly it is even worse to eat oatmeal with an imaginary 
companion. 
Nevertheless, yesterday morning, I ate my oatmeal porridge, 
as he called it with John Keats.
Keats said I was absolutely right to invite him: 
due to its glutinous texture, gluey lumpishness, hint of slime, 
and unusual willingness to disintegrate, oatmeal should 
not be eaten alone.
…I can see him drawing a spoon through the stuff, gazing into the glimmering
furrows, muttering.
Maybe there is no sublime; only the shining of the amnion’s tatters.
~Galway Kinnell from “Oatmeal”

 

 

But now the supper crowns their simple board, 
The halesome parritch, chief o Scotia’s food;
~Robert Burns from “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”

 

 

 

But when the melancholy fit shall fall 
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, 
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all, 
And hides the green hill in an April shroud; 
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose, 
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave, 
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
~John Keats from “Ode on Melancholy”

 

 

 

 

Oatmeal mixed up with a bit of chewy melancholy,
reading of poets and peonies and wholesome parritch;
it seems early for poetry on this sublime shrouded morning in April …
yet like porridge, nothing more is needed to begin the day well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mystery Made Visible

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applebuds

This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass glowing, this young spring.
The secret hallowing is come,
Regenerate sudden incarnation,
Mystery made visible
In growth, yet subtly veiled in all,
Ununderstandable in grass,
In flowers, and in the human heart,
This lyric mortal loveliness,
The earth breathing, and the sun…

…The apple takes the seafoam’s light,
And the evergreen tree is densely bright.
April, April, when will he
Be gaunt, be old, who is so young?
This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass lowing, this young spring.

~Richard Eberhart  from “This fevers me”

 

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It is a mystery
how the dead,
so very dead
can live again.

Ground frozen
mere weeks ago
now leaps lush and vibrant.
Branches snapped off dry
in midwinter storm and ice
now burst with bloom.

A new leaf glows
in evening light,
pulsing illumination.

Beyond understanding
Beyond imagining
Beyond each fevered breath
that could be,
but isn’t,
our last.

 

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