In a patch of baked earth
At the crumbled cliff’s brink,
Where the parching of August
Has cracked a long chink,
Against the blue void
Of still sea and sky
Stands single a thistle,
Tall, tarnished, and dry.
Frayed leaves, spotted brown,
Head hoary and torn,
Was ever a weed
Upon earth so forlorn,
So solemnly gazed on
By the sun in his sheen
That prints in long shadow
Its raggedness lean?
From the sky comes no laughter,
From earth not a moan.
Erect stands the thistle,
Its seeds abroad blown.
~Robert Laurence Binyon –“The Thistle”
There isn’t much that thrives in a dry summer like this other than mounds of blackberry bushes and scattered clusters of thistle. They both are defended by thorns to keep them from being eaten by all but the most persistent and hungry grazing animals.
I admire and recognize such tenacity, knowing I too have held tightly to my own defenses to keep from being swallowed up. I approach these weeds with respect for the scars they can leave behind – their roots go deep, their seeds travel far.
We coexist because we must.
How else would beauty come from our bleeding wounds?
“Let me enjoy this late-summer day of my heart while the leaves are still green and I won’t look so close as to see that first tint of pale yellow slowly creep in. I will cease endless running and then look to the sky ask the sun to embrace me and then hope she won’t tell of tomorrows less long than today. Let me spend just this time in the slow-cooling glow of warm afternoon light and I’d think I will still have the strength for just one more last fling of my heart.”
– John Bohrn, Late August
Everything is made to perish; the wonder of anything at all is that it has not already done so. No, he thought. The wonder of anything is that it was made in the first place. What persists beyond this cataclysm of making and unmaking?
There are times when all appears to be perishing, especially in the dying time of year when the world is drying up and blowing away like dust storms. The obituary pages predominate in the paper, accompanying an overload of bad news, mass shootings and suicide bombings. All appears to be perishing with no relief or hope.
Even the leaves are bleeding red.
But it is the waning light and shortening days coloring my view like smoky haze in the sky painting a sunset deep orange. Darkness is temporary and inevitably helpless; it can never overcome the light of all things made.
Life persists in the midst of perishing because of the cataclysm of a loving and bleeding God dying as sacrifice. Nothing, nothing can ever be the same.
“God goes where God has never gone before.”
~ Kathleen Mulhern in Dry Bones
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room…
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.
~Sylvia Plath from “Mushroom”
This overnight overture,
a parturition of “ink caps” after a rain.
As if seed had been sprinkled on the manure pile,
they sprout three inch stalks
still stretching at dawn,
topped by dew-catching caps and umbrellas.
Nearly translucent as glass,
already curling at the edges in the morning light,
by noon melting into black ooze
by evening complete deliquescence,
withered and curling back
into the humus
which birthed them hours before.
It shall be repeated
again and again,
this birth from muck,
a brief and shining life,
and dying back to dung.
It is the way of things
to never give up
once a foot’s in the door.
“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.”
Tennessee Williams in “Camino Real”
These words became his epitaph
Some beginnings in this life commence on inhospitable ground: no soil, no protection, barely enough water. Just a crack in the pavement, relentless heat and the drive to thrive.
Such delicate beauty can come from nothing but a seed packed with the potential to transform its circumstances. A gentle transcendence has the power to break through rocks and change the world.