Just before the green begins there is the hint of green a blush of color, and the red buds thicken the ends of the maple’s branches and everything is poised before the start of a new world, which is really the same world just moving forward from bud to flower to blossom to fruit to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots await the next signal, every signal every call a miracle and the switchboard is lighting up and the operators are standing by in the pledge drive we’ve all been listening to: Go make the call. ~Stuart Kestenbaum “April Prayer”
These buds have been poised for weeks and then, as if responding to the Conductor’s uplifted arms, readying for a momentous downstroke, they let go of all their pent up potential~ exploding with harmonious energy enough to carry them all the way to autumn when they fly, gone with the wind.
We wait impatiently until next spring, operators standing by to take our pledge, for the next encore performance.
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Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep. ~Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
When a January night lingers long, beginning too early and lasting too late, I find myself in my own insistent winter, wanting to hide away from trouble deep in a peaceful snowy woods, knowing I choose to avoid doing what is needed when it is needed.
I look inward when I must focus outside myself. I muffle my ears to deafen voices crying in need. I turn away rather than meet a stranger’s gaze.
A wintry soul is a cold and empty place, not lovely, dark and deep.
I appeal to my Creator who knows my darkness. He expects me to keep my promises because He keeps His promises. His buds of hope and warmth and color and fruit will arise from my bare branches.
He brings me out of the night to finish what He brought me here to do.
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By the road to the contagious hospital under the surge of the blue mottled clouds driven from the northeast — a cold wind. Beyond, the waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines —
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches —
They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter. All about them the cold, familiar wind —
Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined — It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of entrance — Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted they grip down and begin to awaken ~William Carlos Williams “Spring and All”
I ask your doctor of infectious disease if she’s read Williams he cured sick babies I tell her and begin describing spring and all she’s looking at the wall now the floor now your chart now the door never heard of him she says but I can’t stop explaining how important this is I need to know your doctor believes in the tenacity of nature to endure I’m past his heart attack his strokes and now as if etching the tombstone myself I find I can’t remember the date he died or even the year of what now are we the pure products and what does that even mean pure isn’t it obvious we are each our own culture alive with the virus that’s waiting to unmake us ~Brian Russell, “The Year of What Now”
It is the third January of a pandemic of a virus far more tenacious than we have proven to be, it continues to unmake us, able to mutate spike proteins seemingly overnight while too many of us stubbornly remain unchanged by this, clinging to our “faith over fear” and “my body, my choice” and “lions, not sheep” and “never comply” — because self-determination must trump compassion for the unfortunate fate of vulnerable millions.
We defend the freedom to choose to be vectors of a contagion that may not sicken us yet fills clinics, hospitals and morgues.
William Carlos Williams, the early 20th century physician, would be astonished at the clinical tools we have now to fight this scourge. William Carlos Williams, last centuries’ imagist poet, would recognize our deadly erosion of cooperation when faced with a worthy viral opponent.
So what happens now?
Starting with this third pandemic winter, with our souls in another deep freeze, covered in snow and ice and bitter wind chill, a tenuous hope of restoration could awaken – tender buds swelling, bulbs breaking through soil, being called forth from long burial in a dark and cold and heartless earth.
Like a mother who holds the mystery of her quickening belly, knowing we nurture other lives with our own body, we too can be hopeful and marveling at who we are created to be.
She, and we, know soon and very soon there will be spring.
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Here is a meeting made of hidden joys Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place, From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise, And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.
Two women on the very edge of things Unnoticed and unknown to men of power, But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.
And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young,’ Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime.’ They sing today for all the great unsung Women who turned eternity to time,
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth, Prophets who bring the best in us to birth. ~Malcolm Guite “The Visitation”
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1: 41-45 (Song of Elizabeth)
This scene in Luke is remarkable for its portrayal of the interconnected relationship of four individuals, not just two. Here are two cousins who become mothers despite utter impossibility — one too elderly and one virginal — present on this day with their unborn sons — one who is harbinger and one who is God.
These unborn babies are not just passively “hidden within” here. They have changed their mothers in profound ways, as all pregnancies tend to do, but especially these pregnancies. As any mother who first experiences the “quickening” of her unborn child can relate, there is an awesome and frightening awareness of a completely dependent but active “other” living inside.
She is aware she is no longer alone in her shell and what happens to her, happens to this other life as well. This is deeply personal, yet deeply communal at the same time – as we witnessed in the arguments about maternal vs. fetal rights that took place in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday.
The moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she and the baby in her womb are overwhelmed, filled with the Spirit from Mary’s unborn. They leap, figuratively and literally. Her voice leaps up, louder in her exclamation of welcome; John leaps in the womb in acknowledgement of being in the presence of God Himself.
How can our hearts not leap as well at God’s Word to us, at His hope and plan for each of us, at His gift of life from the moment of our conception.
After all, He once was unborn too, completely dependent on the willingness of His mother to bear Him to birth, completely alive because of the overshadowing Spirit of His Father.
When I pray I go in, and close the door, But what, really, do we mean by prayer? Isn’t it anything done with full attention Whether sinking into silent depths, or Relishing a sun-ripe peach, or gazing At the zinnias freshly picked this early Morning, these multi-petaled shouts of joy, Lemon yellow, orange, reds, a carnival of Flame-filled light, the sweet green scent Summer flowers. ~Sarah Rossiter “Zinnias”
My father’s mother grew a garden of zinnias to divide the house from the woods:
pop art tops in every color—cream, peach, royal purple, and even envy
—the sunburst petals…
the heads little suns you watch die on the stem if you want the bloom back. ~Tyler Mills “Zinnias”
As an eight year old, I grew zinnias from a tiny package of seeds tucked inside a Christmas card by my third grade teacher whose rapt attention turned to her backyard garden when school doors closed in the summer.
She nurtured each of us students like one of her cream-colored zinnia buds arising boldly on a single sturdy stem, growing tall almost before her eyes, yet still undefined.
Watered and fed, her warm light shining on our bright faces, we opened expectantly under her steady gaze, each one a sunburst bloom smiling back at her, which kept her coming back, year after year, to sow a few more celebratory seeds with her sprinkling of wisdom.
Thank you to Chris and Jan Lovegren for sharing their zinnias!
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Flower in the crannied wall, I pluck you out of the crannies, I hold you here, root and all, in my hand, Little flower—but if I could understand What you are, root and all, all in all, I should know what God and man is. ~Lord Alfred Tennyson “Flower in the Crannied Wall”
Am I root, or am I bud? Am I stem or am I leaf?
All in all, I am but the merest reflection of God’s fruiting glory;
I am His tears shed as He broke into blossom.
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Just as we lose hope she ambles in, a late guest dragging her hem of wildflowers, her torn veil of mist, of light rain, blowing her dandelion breath in our ears; and we forgive her, turning from chilly winter ways, we throw off our faithful sweaters and open our arms. ~Linda Pastan “Spring” from Heroes in Disguise: Poems
The ground is slowly coming to life again; snowdrops and daffodils are surfacing from months of dormancy, buds are swelling the spring chorus frogs have come from the mud to sing again and birds now greet the lazy dawn.
Everything, everyone, has been so dead, so hidden; His touch calls us back to life, love is come again to the fallow fields of our hearts.
Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain, Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
In the grave they laid him, love whom men had slain, Thinking that never he would wake again. Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green,
Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain, He that for three days in the grave had lain. Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, Thy touch can call us back to life again; Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green. ~John Crum
The bud stands for all things, even for those things that don’t flower, for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing; though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing; as Saint Francis put his hand on the creased forehead of the sow, and told her in words and in touch blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow began remembering all down her thick length, from the earthen snout all the way through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail, from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine down through the great broken heart to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: the long, perfect loveliness of sow. ~Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow” from Three Books.
We all need such a blessing – a gentle hand on our forehead to remind us of our budding loveliness. Without that affirmation, we become convinced we will never flower and fruit, that we are worthless to the world.
Due to cruel comparisons on social media and elsewhere, our young people (and too many older adults) remain crippled buds, feeling criticized and bullied into believing they don’t measure up and can never be crucially beautiful in the world.
And so I must ask: compared to what and whom? What is more glorious than blooming just as we were created – serving the very purpose for which we were intended? Why wish for something or someone else?
There is nothing more wonderful than exactly how God knitted us together for His own purpose and in His own image — imperfectly perfect.
Celebrate your lifelong loveliness, whoever you are!
In the shallows of the river After one o’clock in the afternoon Ice still An eighth of an inch thick. Night never disappears completely But moves among the shadows On the bank Like a glimpse of fur. Meanwhile Trees Grass Flies and spiderwebs Appear alone in the flat air. The naked aspens stand like children Waiting to be baptized And the goldenrod too is stripped down To its bare stalk In the cold Even my thoughts Have lost their foliage. ~Tom Hennen“At the Beginning of Winter”, from Looking Into The Weather.
My thoughts are stripped bare these days, no flowers or flourishing foliage left behind- just stark rows of naked branches, waiting, orderly and plain.
It is the nature of winter to think only of the essentials when night is always creeping around the edges of midday.
There is silence outside and echoing in my head, while waiting for something, ~anything~ remarkable to bud out and bloom.