Two days of an icy prairie fog and every blade of grass, and twig, and branch, and every stretch of wire, barb, post and staple, is a knot or a threat in a lace of the purest white. To walk is like finding your way through a wedding dress, the sky inside it cold and satiny; no past, no future, just the now all breathless. Then a red bird, like a pinprick, changes everything. ~ Ted Kooser, “Hoarfrost” in Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems
When the landscape emerges in the morning light frost-bitten, all iced up and white-crisp, I yearn for color, any color, to reappear with the day’s thawing out. My breath hangs like a cloud in the dry air as I crunch my way to the barn, living proof that I breathe for another day even though too many others right now can not.
We are a breathless people, wondering what comes next, feeling frozen and suspended in a pandemic and smoke-filled burning world.
We are a breathless people, wondering who or what will choke our life from us.
We are a breathless people, dressed as a bride in frosted satin, waiting at the altar for the Groom who bleeds red to save us from our fate.
If we could, like the trees, practice dying, do it every year just as something we do— like going on vacation or celebrating birthdays— it would become as easy a part of us as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how to lie down and fade away as if in deepest meditation, and we would learn about the fine dark emptiness, both knowing it and not knowing it, and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know when they stand undone, surprisingly intricate, we need to know also so we can allow that last thing to happen to us as if it were only any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives falling away, the spirit, complex, waiting in the fine darkness to learn which way it will go. ~Grace Butcher, “Learning from Trees” from Poetry of Presence
If I were to die as a leaf, I would want to change my clothes just bit by bit, overnight oozing gradually to scarlet, bleeding into the green a little bit more, until I’m so unrecognizable, I’ll seem brand new.
That would be ideal.
The reality is a fading to grey and brown, my edges withered and torn, bug-bitten with holes and weather-beaten bruised, dangling and fearful of letting go and so forgotten.
So I remember: no one, not one, falls without its Maker knowing. No one, not one, dies without being made brand new.
Sheep will not eat it nor horses nor cattle unless they are starving. Unchecked, it will sprawl over pasture and meadow choking the sweet grass defeating the clover until you are driven to take arms against it but if unthinking you grasp it barehanded you will need tweezers to pick out the stickers.
Outlawed in most Northern states of the Union still it jumps borders. Its taproot runs deeper than underground rivers and once it’s been severed by breadknife or shovel —two popular methods employed by the desperate— the bits that remain will spring up like dragons’ teeth a field full of soldiers their spines at the ready.
Bright little bursts of chrome yellow explode from the thistle in autumn when goldfinches gorge on the seeds of its flower. The ones left uneaten dry up and pop open and parachutes carry their procreant power to disparate venues in each hemisphere which is why there will always be thistle next year. ~Maxine Kumin “Why There Will Always Be Thistle” from The Long Marriage.
Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men Thistles spike the summer air And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.
Every one a revengeful burst Of resurrection, a grasped fistful Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up
From the underground stain of a decayed Viking. They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects. Every one manages a plume of blood.
Then they grow grey, like men. Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear, Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground. ~Ted Hughes “Thistles”
Reluctantly the summer goes In a cloud of thistledown. ~Beverly Ashour from “September”
It is armored, it is deeply rooted, it is relentless. Highly ambitious, it produces downy tasty dancing seeds ready to soar far. Generation after generation of thistles persist due to this delicate ballerinas’ flight to the next horizon.
I should be strive to be as persistent, as rooted, as determined, yet as fluffy and tender under my defensive prickles and spines.
And then, may I softly dance in the journey to the next life.
Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air- Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches. Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches, Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair. Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on. But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone! Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark Is any of him at all so stark But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection, A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection. Across my foundering deck shone A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash: In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is immortal diamond. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection”
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye; at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed, For this corruptible must put on immortality 1Corinthians 15:51-53
In a matter of minutes this morning, mere clouds changed above the rising sun; its fire started low, sparked into dazzling flames, then became a beacon, lit from within and without and all around thus transformed.
So we are spared from our destiny with ashes by such Light.
So Christ, becoming man and rising — as He did, and risen as He is, changes us forever, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye.
Our toes, our noses Take hold on the loam, Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us, Stops us, betrays us; The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on Heaving the needles, The leafy bedding,
Even the paving. Our hammers, our rams, Earless and eyeless,
Perfectly voiceless, Widen the crannies, Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water, On crumbs of shadow, Bland-mannered, asking
Little or nothing. So many of us! So many of us!
We are shelves, we are Tables, we are meek, We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers In spite of ourselves Our kind multiplies
We shall by morning Inherit the earth. Our foot’s in the door. ~Sylvia Plath from “Mushroom”
This overnight overture into the light, a parturition of “ink caps” after a shower. 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 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 unworthy soil, this brief and shining life in the sun, this folding, curling and collapse to die back to dust and dung.
Inedible, yet so Chrisincredible, they rise beautiful and worthy as is the way of things that never give up once a foot’s in the door.
Lined with light the twigs are stubby arrows. A gilded trunk writhes Upward from the roots, from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring a bare-limbed torso is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree to beget leaves, to embroider itself all over with green reality, until summer becomes its steady portrait and birds bring their lifetime to the boughs.
Then even the corpse light copies from below may shimmer, dreaming it feels the cheeks of blossom. ~May Swenson “April Light”
This April we are surrounded by corpse light: the threat of untimely death, so we distance ourselves one from the other, awaiting the “all clear” which may be a long time coming ~
We have already forgotten the unprecedented illumination that walked from the tomb on a bright Sabbath morning to guarantee that we people, we who are no more than bare twigs and stubs, we who feel hardly alive, are now begotten green, ready to burst into blossom, our cheeks pink with life, promising future fruitfulness.
April is the cruelest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water.
I will show you fear in a handful of dust. ~T.S. Eliot from “The Wasteland“
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2
We do not want to think of ourselves as the dust we were and the dust we will become but the last several months have changed that. We have become hosts to a virus that can transform us to dust.
We thought we were living fully before; now, in our isolation, we have to examine what a full life really means, mixing our memories and desires.
Dust, like the relentless emerging life of April, is so cruel~ it reminds us of what could have been, as life rises miraculous from the dead.
We become nothing more than a handful of dust… yet the Creator lifts us up in the palm of His hand, and blows on us: we then breathe and pulse and weep and bleed.
We shall be like Him, part of his Hand, breath of His breath, for we shall see Him as He is.
Sometimes as an antidote To fear of death, I eat the stars
Those nights, lying on my back, I suck them from the quenching dark Til they are all, all inside me, Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself Into a universe still young, Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space, The light of all the not yet stars Drifting like a bright mist, And all of us, and everything Already there But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough To lie down here on earth Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields Of our discarded skulls, Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis, Thinking: whatever left these husks Flew off on bright wings. ~Rebecca Elson “Antidotes to Fear of Death”
We live out our earthly lives within these shells we call bodies, aware we were made intentionally and uniquely by our Creator in His image. Every part of us has purpose and meaning, down to the smallest corpuscle and the longest bone. We are His treasure, so much so He came to walk with us to preserve us by looking like, feeling like and suffering like us.
Yet we weaken over time, as this is temporal housing only. Even a small packet of viral RNA can cause us to fade and become dry husks.
Easter means it isn’t over. Death is overcome, the tethers of earth are broken, these husks become bright wings that soar as treasures lit from within.
…nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24: 5-6
Since this moment (the resurrection), the universe is no longer what it was; nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more, and should not be anymore, what we were before.
Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted.” ~Paul Tillich, American theologian
So what do I believe actually happened that morning on the third day after he died? …I speak very plainly here…
He got up. He said, “Don’t be afraid.”
Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life. His life and our lives through him, in him.
Existence has greater depths of beauty, mystery, and benediction than the wildest visionary has ever dared to dream.
Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the moleculesreknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall…
It was not as the flowers, each soft Spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles; it was as His Flesh: ours. ~John Updike from “Seven Stanzas at Easter”
From the far star points of his pinned extremities, cold inched in—black ice and squid ink— till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void even for pain, he missed his splintered feet, the human stare buried in his face. He ached for two hands made of meat he could reach to the end of. In the corpse’s core, the stone fist of his heart began to bang on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
Our flesh is so weak, so temporary, as ephemeral as a dew drop on a petal yet with our earthly vision it is all we know of ourselves and it is what we trust knowing of Him.
He was born as our flesh, from our flesh. He walked and hungered and thirsted and slept as our flesh. He died, His/our flesh hanging in tatters, blood spilling freely breath fading to nought, speaking those last Words our ears can never forget.
Then He got up, to walk and hunger and thirst alongside us –flesh of His flesh– here among us He is risen –flesh of our flesh– married forever as the Church: a fragile, flawed and everlasting body that will rise, once again, as He did.