The talkative guest has gone, and we sit in the yard saying nothing. The slender moon comes over the peak of the barn.
The air is damp, and dense with the scent of honeysuckle. . . . The last clever story has been told and answered with laughter.
With my sleeping self I met my obligations, but now I am aware of the silence, and your affection, and the delicate sadness of dusk. ~Jane Kenyon, “The Visit” from Collected Poems
As we slowly adapt to evenings spent with family and friends again, taking off our masks to actually witness the emotion on a familiar, now unveiled, face:
There are smiles and laughter again. We are trying to remember how to be ourselves outside the fearfulness that contagion wrought. More important: there are tears again. And wistfulness. And regret. And longing.
This delicate sadness happened – even to those of us who were never directly touched by sickness. We will never be the same, never so light of heart again, remembering what this past year has cost.
It is a slow transition to dusk. We sit together now and watch it come.
When I take the chilly tools from the shed’s darkness, I come out to a world made new by heat and light.
Like a mad red brain the involute rhubarb leaf thinks its way up through loam. ~Jane Kenyon from “April Chores”
Over the last two weeks, the garden is slowly reviving, and rhubarb “brains” have been among the first to appear from the garden soil, wrinkled and folded, opening full of potential, “thinking” their way into the April sunlight.
Here I am, wishing my own brain could similarly rise brand new and tender every spring from the dust rather than leathery and weather-toughened, harboring the same old thoughts and patterns.
Indeed, more wrinkles seem to be accumulating on the outside of my skull rather than the inside.
Still, I’m encouraged by my rhubarb cousin’s return every April. Like me, it may be a little sour that necessitates sweetening, but its blood courses bright red and it is very very much alive.
I got out of bed on two strong legs. It might have been otherwise. I ate cereal, sweet milk, ripe, flawless peach. It might have been otherwise. I took the dog uphill to the birch wood. All morning I did the work I love. At noon I lay down with my mate. It might have been otherwise. We ate dinner together at a table with silver candlesticks. It might have been otherwise. I slept in a bed in a room with paintings on the walls, and planned another day just like this day. But one day, I know, it will be otherwise. ~Jane Kenyon “Otherwise” from Otherwise
We become complacent in our routines, confident in the knowledge that tomorrow will be very much like yesterday. The small distinct blessings of an ordinary day become lost in the rush of moving forward to the next experience, the next task, the next responsibility.
The reality is there is nothing ordinary about this day – it could be otherwise and some day it will be otherwise.
Jane Kenyon wrote much of her best poetry in the knowledge she was dying of leukemia. She reminds us that we don’t need a terminal diagnosis to understand the blessings of each ordinary moment.
So I look around longingly at the blessings of my life that I don’t even realize, knowing that one day, it will be otherwise. I dwell richly in the experience of these moments, these peaches and cream of daily life, as they are happening.
There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Silver dust lifted from the earth, higher than my arms reach, you have mounted. O silver, higher than my arms reach you front us with great mass;
no flower ever opened so staunch a white leaf, no flower ever parted silver from such rare silver;
O white pear, your flower-tufts, thick on the branch, bring summer and ripe fruits in their purple hearts. ~Hilda Doolittle Dawson (H.D.) “Pear Tree”
…we noticed the pear tree, the limbs so heavy with fruit they nearly touched the ground. We went out to the meadow; our steps made black holes in the grass; and we each took a pear, and ate, and were grateful. ~Jane Kenyon from “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”
A moment’s window of perfection is so fleeting in a life of bruises, blemishes and worm holes. Wait too long and nectar-smooth flesh softens to mush and rot.
The unknown rests beneath a blushed veneer: perhaps immature gritty fruit unripened, or past-prime browning pulp brimming with fruit flies readily tossed aside for compost.
Our own sweet salvage from warming humus depends not on flawless flesh deep inside but heaven’s grace dropped into our laps: to be eaten the moment it is offered.
The perfect pear falls when ripe and not a moment before, ready to become an exquisite tart which tastes of a selfless gift.
Outrageous flowers as big as human heads! They’re staggered by their own luxuriance: I had to prop them up with stakes and twine. In the darkening June evening I draw a blossom near, and bending close search it as a woman searches a loved one’s face. ~Jane Kenyon from “Peonies at Dusk”
There’s not a pair of legs so thin, there’s not a head so thick, There’s not a hand so weak and white, nor yet a heart so sick But it can find some needful job that’s crying to be done, For the Glory of the Garden glorifieth every one.
Then seek your job with thankfulness and work till further orders, If it’s only netting strawberries or killing slugs on borders; And when your back stops aching and your hands begin to harden, You will find yourself a partner In the Glory of the Garden.
Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees, So when your work is finished, you can wash your hands and pray For the Glory of the Garden that it may not pass away! And the Glory of the Garden it shall never pass away ! ~Rudyard Kipling from “The Glory of the Garden”
There is no better place to be than in a garden down on my knees. Humans were created for this: the naming, the turning over of the soil, the planting and nurturing, the weeding and thinning, the harvest and gratitude, and then a time of lying fallow to rest.
The garden is a place for prayer and praise.
When I meet a truly great gardener, like my friend Jean who has grown and hybridized dahlias for decades, what I see growing in the soil is a tapestry of artwork made from petals, leaves and roots. She has passionately cared for these plants and they reflect that love in every spiral and swirl, hue and gradient of color, showing stark symmetry and delightful variegation.
Arising from the plainest of homely and knobby look-alike tubers grow these luxurious beauties of infinite variety. I kneel stunned before each one, captivated, realizing that same Creator makes sure I too bloom from mere dust and then set me to work in His garden.
She lay on her back in the timothy and gazed past the doddering auburn heads of sumac.
A cloud – huge, calm, and dignified – covered the sun but did not, could not, put it out.
The light surged back again. Nothing could rouse her then from that joy so violent it was hard to distinguish from pain. ~Jane Kenyon, “The Poet at Ten” from The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon
I have a mare who journeyed as a foal from overseas alongside her mother, a difficult immigration to a new life and farm, followed by the drama of weaning and separation, then introduced to a new herd who didn’t speak her language so she couldn’t always understand what was being said.
She was shy and fearful from the beginning, knowing she didn’t belong, worried about doing the wrong thing, cringing when others laid back ears at her or bared their teeth, she always hung back and let others go first, waiting hungry and thirsty while others had their fill.
What she did best was be a mother herself, devoting herself to the care of her foals, as they became the light of her life though still covered with the cloud of not belonging, she grieved loudly at their weanling goodbyes.
Still, two decades later, in her retirement, she is shy and submissive, still feeling foreign, as if she never quite fit in, always letting others go first, concerned about making a misstep.
I think of her as an immigrant who never felt at home unless she had a baby at her side~ to live alongside one to whom she finally belonged: how does one measure the pain of true joy and love while knowing the violence of separation is inevitable?
thank you to Lea Gibson Lozano and Emily Vander Haak for their photos of Belinda and her babies
How much better it is to carry wood to the fire than to moan about your life. How much better to throw the garbage onto the compost, or to pin the clean sheet on the line, With a gray-brown wooden clothes pin. ~Jane Kenyon “The Clothespin”
I get easily overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done: a full day of telehealth computer visits with patients from home but all the usual household and farm tasks waiting for me –grass to mow, flower beds to weed, garden to plant, fences to fix, manure to haul, animals to brush out — the list is endless and there are never enough hours in the day.
So of course, I moan and whine and write about it.
Or I can set to work, tackling one thing at a time. A simple task is accomplished, and then another, like hanging clothes on the line: this one is done, and now this one, pinned and hanging to freshen, renewed, in the spring breezes.
At the end of the day, I pull them down, bury my face in them and breathe deeply, knowing how much better I am than before I began.
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven, And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end. The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry. Out of an unseen quarry evermore Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer Curves his white bastions with projected roof Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work, The frolic architecture of the snow. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson from “The Snow-Storm”
The barn bears the weight of the first heavy snow without complaint.
White breath of cows rises in the tie-up, a man wearing a frayed winter jacket reaches for his milking stool in the dark.
The cows have gone into the ground, and the man, his wife beside him now.
A nuthatch drops to the ground, feeding on sunflower seed and bits of bread I scattered on the snow.
The cats doze near the stove. They lift their heads as the plow goes down the road, making the house tremble as it passes. ~Jane Kenyon “This Morning”
We’ve seen harsher northeast winds, we’ve seen heavier snow. Yet there is something refreshingly disruptive about the once or twice a year overnight snow storm: it transforms, transcends and transfigures.
So we stay home when the weather and farms demand we do, to feed and water ourselves and our animals and the wild ones around us. It is a quiet and private and tumultuous time, a time to be attuned to one another.
What we owned was piled on the bed and warmed the room with the smell of bodies, bleach, and dryer sheets. You, on one side, folded the colors and I, on the other, the whites. Between us, years, children, holes in the knees, stains.
What you folded became gifts, wrapped, too beautiful to open. I watched you work as I took sock after sock and married them. We knew that most of what we did would be undone, but it kept us coming back to the same bed, the same warm room. ~Jim Richards, “Laundry” from Mud Season Review #15
All day the blanket snapped and swelled on the line, roused by a hot spring wind…. From there it witnessed the first sparrow, early flies lifting their sticky feet, and a green haze on the south-sloping hills. Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk I took the blanket in, and we slept, restless, under its fragrant weight. ~Jane Kenyon “Wash”
Twenty years ago the green square beyond our back door was webbed with lines on which I hung with wooden pegs my angels and my ghosts –white nightgowns winged in the wind, shrouds of tablecloths, shirts fluting their spooky sleeves, their dwindling tails — shadows of the lucid cloth moving like water on the grass.
Now we live over a basement dryer churning beneath a 40-watt bulb. The trap keeps filling with a gray lint as my cloths, my second skins, are dried out by the dialed minute. The air behind the house is empty of apparitions, epiphanies. Gone is the iron-fresh smell of damp linens praying their vapor to the sun. ~Luci Shaw “Evaporation” from Water Lines
We need to always be on the lookout for simple pleasures that keep us coming back for more again and again.
Clean laundry freshly dried on the clothesline is one of them. True, the towels and sheets are rougher when the wind has snapped them into shape rather than a rolling dryer drum with fabric softener sheets. The scent of the outdoors more than makes up for the sandpaper feel. I bury my face in the pile as I bring it inside to fold and put away.
Smoothing, folding, stacking, creating order- it will be undone and redone in merely a week, yet is such a comforting routine.
Even when there is disarray, when we are soiled and smelly, when we feel tossed into the dirty clothes hamper, we can be restored. Water and cleansing and wind bearing fresh air ready us to be folded and smoothed and stowed away until we are needed.
We don’t just keep coming back; we are called back. We are loved so much that dirty doesn’t matter because it always (always) can be made clean.