Every time I turn to peer at my reflection in the mirror,
a cruel bargain comes in play: the glass takes off another day
from my expected living span. It’s vanity’s fair payment plan.
Each time I look I pay, alas. I see already how the glass
has laced its silver in my hair, my youth was stolen unaware.
The real me just fades away, glance by glance, day by day,
until too late I’ll turn to see the mirror has stolen off with me! ~John Thornberg “Stolen Glances”
Reflections sometimes are blurred and not altogether an accurate representation of the real thing.
When I look at how I’ve changed over the years, as I pass by, just catching a glance in the mirror, I marvel at how the same brain and heart can exist in such a changing shell. I am still me, but the mirror seems to be stealing away the girl and young woman that I was.
And it is as it must be: no fountain of youth on this soil.
I knew you were not poisonous when I saw you in the side garden; even your name—milk snake— sounds harmless, and yet your pattern of copper splotches outlined in black frightened me, and the way you were curled in loops; and it offended me that you were so close to the house and clearly living underneath it if not inside, in the cellar, where I have found your torn shed skins.
You must have been frightened too when I caught you in the webbing of the lacrosse stick and flung you into the woods, where you landed dangling from a vine-covered branch, shamelessly twisted. Now I am the one who is ashamed, unable to untangle my feelings, braided into my DNA or buried deep in the part of my brain that is most like yours. ~Jeffrey Harrison “To a Snake” from Into Daylight.
Cast off on a sunny spring day onto a warm manure pile, a wriggled-free fresh snakeskin, almost covered by my fresh load~ lay blended with old hay, horse hair, shavings, tucked among what is already digested, dumped and discarded.
This, an intact hollowed shadow of a still living creature who has moved on: I too need to leave my old self shrugged off onto the manure pile, shed when it no longer fits the ways I’ve grown more hallowed, a fitting remembrance of my entangled feelings about who I once was, yet now left behind.
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body. ~Walt Whitman from his preface to “Leaves of Grass”
Time, in so many ways, has been standing still for us over the last few months, fueled by an unprecedented quarantine and social isolation. We anticipate “when things return to normal” but the reality is there will be no “normal” for those who have lost jobs and businesses and family members or their own robust health since February.
And now society finds itself in the midst of anger and argument, marching and shouting to defend those who have lived for generations with injustice and oppression, and continue to face that reality every day, and the majority of us were oblivious.
“Normal” holds no appeal when “normal” is living under a tyrant’s thumb or dying under a knee.
So how do we approach a change in seasons as we ourselves are irrevocably changed?
What shall we do?
We are our flesh: all colors, flawed and fragile. We must look beyond the lashes of our eyes to see and understand the fluency of the poetry found in our bodies. We, each one of us, deserve the patience of being heard.
This summer will stand on its own in all its extravagant abundance of light and warmth and growth and color stretching deep within the rising and setting horizons. Each long day will feel like it must last forever, never ending, yet, like the unpredictable length of our fleshy days on earth, it will eventually wind down, spin itself out, darkening gradually into shadow.
That is the “normal” of our existence because summer always, always ends.
Yet another will reappear, somehow, somewhere, someday. The very poetry of our flesh, the very survival of our souls, depends on it. We will then see beyond our own eyelashes.
Surely a never-ending summer is what heaven itself will be. We shall all be changed, in the twinkling of an eye…
God keep my jewel this day from danger; From tinker and pooka and bad-hearted stranger. From harm of the water, from hurt of the fire. From the horns of the cows going home to the byre. From the sight of the fairies that maybe might change her. From teasing the ass when he’s tied to the manger. From stones that would bruise her, from thorns of the briar. From evil red berries that wake her desire. From hunting the gander and vexing the goat. From the depths o’ sea water by Danny’s old boat. From cut and from tumble, from sickness and weeping; May God have my jewel this day in his keeping. ~Winifred Lett (1882-1973) Prayer for a Child
This prayer has hung in our home for almost three decades, purchased when I was pregnant with our first child. When I first saw it with its drawing of the praying mother watching her toddler leave the safety of the home to explore the wide world, I knew it addressed most of my worries as a new mother, in language that helped me smile at my often irrational fears. I would glance at it dozens of time a day, and it would remind me of God’s care for our children through every scary thing, real or imagined.
And I continue to pray for our grown children, their spouses, and now for three precious grandchildren who live far from us. I do this because I can’t help myself but do it, and because I’m helpless without the care and compassion of our sovereign God.
Right now, this week, I pray for all children who are growing up in an increasingly divisive and conflicted world, who cannot understand why skin color should make a difference to one’s hopes and dreams and freedom to walk anywhere without feeling threatened.
May I be changed in my prayers. May we all be changed, in a twinkling of an eye.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me. ~C.S. Lewis
Rain always follows the cattle sniffing the air and huddling in fields with their heads to the lee. You will know that the weather is changing when your sheep leave the pasture too slowly, and your dogs lie about and look tired; when the cat turns her back to the fire, washing her face, and the pigs wallow in litter; cocks will be crowing at unusual hours, flapping their wings; hens will chant; when your ducks and your geese are too noisy, and the pigeons are washing themselves; when the peacocks squall loudly from the tops of the trees, when the guinea fowl grates; when sparrows chirp loudly and fuss in the roadway, and when swallows fly low, skimming the earth; when the carrion crow croaks to himself, and wild fowl dip and wash, and when moles throw up hills with great fervor; when toads creep out in numbers; when frogs croak; when bats enter the houses; when birds begin to seek shelter, and the robin approaches your house; when the swan flies at the wind, and your bees leave the hive; when ants carry their eggs to and fro, and flies bite, and the earthworm is seen on the surface of things. ~Ted Kooser “How to Foretell a Change in the Weather” from Flying at Night: Poems 1965-1985,
I reckon the birds and mammals and insects and worms are much better at anticipating weather change than we humans are. It is programmed into their DNA in a way that we have lost in our evolved state. Instead we are glued to our cell phone weather apps, or the Weather Channel, watching the prediction change hour to hour as if it is the gospel truth. I’m here to remind us all it is called a “prediction” for good reason.
We forget about checking the sky for the direction the clouds are traveling, or even what clouds are up there. We forget about checking our own outdoor thermometers because we don’t own them any longer. We certainly forget about barometers – a little kitchen window gadget that my father thumped with his finger every morning of my childhood, so he could see what the atmospheric pressure was doing so he could anticipate how wet or wind-blown he would be that day.
In particular, we forget to watch the critters around us – how their behavior changes and how they are preparing themselves and their environment for whatever weather change to come. They feel it in their bones and their brains by whatever means God has given them.
Our Haflinger horses are already shedding off their winter coats yet there are still six weeks left of winter. What are they trying to say about the weather to come?
So, we humans are weather-challenged creatures but all the clues still exist if only we pay attention. My weather app says the northwest will have rain rain and more rain through the weekend with a possibility of snow late Sunday. The Weather Channel website says we’ll experience high potentially damaging winds, flooding and snow. Who to believe?
I think, all things being equal, I’ll choose to believe what is predicted for Denver this weekend: all sun and a high temperature of 71 degrees. I’m sure all the critters there will be out sunbathing. Wish I could too.
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the Earth. I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the hardest of times.
Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the “Road Closed” sign turned me toward terrain I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt as though something was dying, and so it was. Yet deep down, amid all the falling, the seeds of new life were always being silently and lavishly sown. ~Parker Palmer
I know disappointment feels particularly bitter when I’m the one at fault, realizing I could have done things differently, not letting go when I kept hanging on.
I know that my failings, like leaves that flame out as everything around turns cold and brisk and unforgiving, eventually fall to the ground, to be forgotten compost by spring. Yet I don’t forget.
I know hard times become the seeds and nurture for new growth and new life, like a planting of possibilities in the soil of regret.
I’m given chances, again and again, to try to get it right. All is grace.
Being too warm the old lady said to me is better than being too cold I think now in between is the best because you never give it a thought but it goes by too fast I remember the winter how cold it got I could never get warm wherever I was but I don’t remember the summer heat like that only the long days the breathing of the trees the evenings with the hens still talking in the lane and the light getting longer in the valley the sound of a bell from down there somewhere I can sit here now still listening to it ~W.S. Merwin “Remembering Summer” from Garden Time
Yet another transition between seasons and adapting to the demands of a new day ~ there is good reason things don’t stay the same.
Air and light and colors change, as do I, as I must.
That perfect tipping point balance is only a moment in time; gone by too fast and I scramble to adjust yet again, holding out hope I can walk carefully, cautiously along the center line.
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field. The dark wheat listens. Be still. Now. There they are, the moon’s young, trying Their wings.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe Or move. I listen. The wheat leans back toward its own darkness, And I lean toward mine. ~James Wright from “Beginning”
Wherever it was I was supposed to be this morning— whatever it was I said I would be doing— I was standing at the edge of the field— I was hurrying through my own soul, opening its dark doors— I was leaning out; I was listening. — Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, Volume 2
I am leaning back further into darkness.
Sun rays through the window blinds no longer rouse me awake. The farm animals are eager for their evening tucking in rather than lingering long in the fields. The leaves blink away their green.
I ready myself for bed early, glad for respite and stillness.
Summer isn’t over yet but its fatigue is evident. We’re leaning back, eyes closed, ready for rest.