I Wonder What I Owe

At almost four in the afternoon, the
wind picks up and sifts through the golden woods.

The tree trunks bronze and redden, branches
on fire in the heavy sky that flickers

with the disappearing sun. I wonder
what I owe the fading day, why I keep

my place at this dark desk by the window
measuring the force of the wind, gauging

how long a certain cloud will hold that pink
edge that even now has slipped into gray?

Quickly the lights are appearing, a lamp
in every window and nests of stars

on the rooftops. Ladders lean against the hills
and people climb, rung by rung, into the night.
~Joyce Sutphen “On the Shortest Days” from Modern Love & Other Myths.

While spending my day at my desk talking to faces on a screen,
as I will today and every day,
the names and stories and symptoms change every half hour.
I sometimes glance up and out my window to the world beyond,
concerned not to break eye contact.

I want to say:
don’t you know this darkness surrounding you won’t last,
while this day is fading
you can turn on the light that you were given
to find your way out of this.

I wonder if I owe it to you to tell you
when I was young and afraid and away from home
I didn’t believe the light was there either,
or it wouldn’t turn on, or it burned out so I
I felt swallowed by the darkness.

Then someone gave me a ladder to climb out
and lit my light so I could see where I was going.

Here I am now,
handing you a working light and a sturdy ladder
and telling you how to use them.



A Silken Ladder

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The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
~E.B. White “Natural History”

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No matter where I go to complete farm chores this time of year, I’m getting a face full of spider web and often a spider or two or three in my hair.  The spinners are very busy in the night dropping from rafters and branches, leaping courageously into uncharted territory with only their thread as rescue cable.

I am not so brave as they, nor as diligent.  Instead, I’m lollygagging in the art gallery of their fine work,  simply appreciating the abundant crop of silken ladders and hammocks, while trying not to destroy them.

I’m drawn back morning after morning to see what they’ve caught and how well they endure.  As long as I keep my face out of their masterpiece, all is well.

All is well.

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Holding On

 

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Many a night I woke to the murmur of paper and knew (Dad) was up, sitting in the kitchen with frayed King James – oh, but he worked that book; he held to it like a rope ladder.
Leif Enger in Peace Like a River

Some nights are like that.  The footing underneath is loose and my feet are slipping.  I have the distinct feeling of plummeting while lying completely still in bed.  I feel the need to grab hold of something, anything, in order to avoid free falling… to what?  to where?  My dream is so vivid, the sudden descent so visceral, I wake sweating with my heart racing.

So I grab fast to the Word –a woven rope of faith– frayed though it may be with nicks and scars and scorches, meant for clinging for safety.  It is a ladder to security, challenging to ascend, difficult to hold on to without accumulating blisters and scrapes along the way.  The going is tough, sometimes too daunting for my limitations.  The familiar ground below appears farther and farther away.

So I keep going, hand over hand, page over page, word beside word.  There is only up now.  It is the only way.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten