Poetry

with photography by Dearing Fauntleroy
He Moves Slow
 
He moves like the woods, takes his time
like piñon measuring centuries of life
in fractions of an inch;
takes his time
like the exquisitely perfect pace
of an unfolding leaf.
 
The quick daily tide of living
slows around him,
eddies in the corners
of his attention,
waits for him to be satisfied
that the house is tucked in tight.
 
I see him stop
in the middle of the room, turn
to look once more
at the woodstove, check
the back door, feel
in his pocket
for his hat, for his gloves.             
I shuffle my feet.
But I’ve learned you cannot rush
the earth-measured pace
of one who takes time
to be
at ease in himself.
 
I’ve watched him chop wood,
seen him gather the swing of arms
in a powerful stream
of motion.
He never slipped, never once looked up
or away.
 
He talks slowly
and someone asked him
in seriousness, once:
Were you hit on the head
as a child?
 
I sputtered in laughter
 
but later
I thought:
 
He was struck
by a shaft of sunlight
through forest shadows
as a child.
 
~2009
 
 
The Secret Rhythm of Grass
 
April is the hardest month, here
where the air is thin and
cold continues, as if it
picked up the habit
of winter and forgot
to let the next season
take its turn.
 
My father’s forehead was cold
in December and hard
like wax,
though his cheeks had been rosied up,
and the shoulders of his
dress-white suit made broader
than they had been
in years.
 
I’d wanted so much
for him to see
this land,
our place—the creek
flowing full in early summer—
but now
 
it’s bone-cold April and
the source of the creek,
high up in the mountains, is
frozen in snowpack, waiting still
like tears
to melt and flow.
 
I’d wanted
to walk with him under cottonwood shade
in our sheltering woods—
a parcel
of my life he would finally
understand.
 
I cried
to the mountains and sky, “You can go
anywhere now, Dad, come see
what my world looks like”—but
if he moved in the wind through those trees,
he left not a single blade
of winter-brown grass
bent down.
 
Yet, maybe
 
when the molecules of air at last
expand and soften
in their warm summer dance,
perhaps
there will be a chance
for Sadness
to quietly take the outstretched hand
of Full Heart. They’ll bow
to each other and circle around
and braid back
through a lifetime
of memories—Dad
at the helm of his boat,
clear eyes on the distance; Dad
in his motor home, proudly showing off
the compartments and how things work; Dad
young and handsome in his pressed blue
air force uniform, smelling of Old Spice,
leaving for work.
 
and maybe
 
when the music of memories
pauses,
I will see
that the dancers have left
fancy footwork patterns
of grace
and acceptance
under the summer-green trees
in my heart.
 
~April 2010
 
 
Leaving New Mexico
 
…a bit more slowly than we’d expected;
it seems we were trying to shoulder open
the door of the future more quickly
than its natural speed,
so the future pushed back
in its natural way, saying “stay
at a walking pace where you can
say goodbye to an old life,
even as you say hello to the new.”
 
New Mexico is in my blood.
Its soul was shaped by centuries
of rough-hewn life
in Spanish and Native tongues,
with Spanish and Pueblo blood.
The earth that holds those memories
fed them to me over the years,
up through my rooted feet.
 
But now I’m full enough, it seems,
of juniper/pinõn, of the once-new charm
of hollyhocks, soft-shouldered adobe walls,
spicy wood-smoke fragrance
in the cool night air.
I’m full of los viejitos’ stories,
artists’ visions, spirit-inspired
and superimposed on the spirit
of patient craftsmanship
from ages past.
 
Now the towering mountains call.
Now the land that smells of cottonwood
outside my less familiar door
rolls northward, unimpeded
by a deep-cut creek
whose water empties wildly
out of the mountains each spring.
 
That land stretches out, unchecked,
to the wide high valley’s northern climb;
to the west through the oncoming wind;
to the south under Blanca’s stately stance;
and up
to the head-tilting peaks
right there, in the east—
 
And yet—just for now,
New Mexico cradles my venturing spirit,
holds me quietly a little longer
in this place so full of the past—my past, our past
of more than a quarter-century here;
and the deeper past of earlier peoples’
daily lives, unsevered
from the nurturing earth.
 
This moment weaves itself
out of intersecting lines of time,
which circle back to now—to the still,
exquisite point of balance
 
between what I have known
and what I soon will know.
 
 
May 24, 2009
Santa Fe, New Mexico
 
Belonging Here
 
I feel like I’m the last little
odd-shaped piece
of a jigsaw puzzle
slipped into place,
and suddenly
a seamless, three-dimensional image
comes into focus and
opens around me
in every direction,
and all the irregular edges,
jagged borders, perceived
dividing lines, the
feeling of separation
—have dissolved.
I’m home.
 
Crestone, Oct. 24, 2009
 
Cottonwood Creek
 
The mountain
always gives me
exactly
the amount of beauty
and aliveness
I can take in—
chilly rumble
of water under
glistening creek ice,
slant of sun
climbing the upward angle
of the canyon wall.
 
If I up the voltage
of my breathing
in the cool, clear air
 
and fall into synch
with the rhythm
of my walking—
crunching steps
on the snowpacked trail,
 
the mountain
is always still
one step ahead—
plenty of
beauty and aliveness
in reserve,
always generously
keeping me filled
as I open up,
draw in breath,
 
and take in more.
 
Dec. 6, 2015
 
Something I tend to forget
 
Right now
as the chilling bite of autumn
cuts through my clothes
and slides its icy fingers through my mind—
long winter arriving,
 
right now:
 
a delicate, radiating warmth, sweet green,
soft breath of breeze, new life,
gentle blossoms 
unfolding
 
on exactly
half the globe.
 
~October, 2007
“We are all connected”
 
As if
the seamless universe was
divided up and packed in
clear boxes, side by side
and stacked, each containing
an equal-sized chunk
of
all that is.
 
Yes,
I see that those boxes
could be touching,
invisible sides adjoining,
invisible tops and bottoms
stacked
in an almost-indivisible
whole.
 
But
what is there to connect,
in fact,
when the infinitely subtle,
exquisitely permeable
quasi-walls
between us
don’t actually
exist?
 
April 2013
 
Maternal Detachment
 
Especially in early spring,
when the earth here
is monochromatic,
trees still bare,
sky unsettled, open,
the wild air edged with
inhospitable chill—
 
this land is not
a gently enfolding,
greenly comforting
maternal lap.
This is spectacularly
indifferent land:
canyons full of snow,
rocky peaks, crags
towering over us,
always changing,
always immensely
still.
 
I sat for a while
on a stump by the creek,
semi-sheltered from the wind,
protected by vertical banks
on both sides.
I could hear the moving air
incessantly talking to itself
through the trees
and answering itself
in waves of sinuous sound.
Yet even in that refuge
I was disconcerted
by the ultimate cool unconcern
of the land,
as though anything
could happen—
 
which, of course,
it can.
 
 
April 2010
 
 
Where I would go to write
 
There’s a secret staircase behind
a door in the back of a closet
hung with dusty dark clothes; yet
once the door is opened
and I step through
and shut it behind me—
clean light
on white-painted wooden walls
up the narrow steep stairs,
and at the top, a small attic room,
still as breath
in the sweet afternoon,
a deep dormer window to cradle
my small writing desk, smooth wood,
a glint of dust that lingers
in the sun-gold light.
 
The air holds my thoughts
and hands them to me, purposefully,
when my pen is above the page,
when my reverie
has gathered life and guides my words
as smoothly as water
through the dream-thick air. The air
is warm but not too warm; outside,
the tops of trees, bird societies,
sweet honeysuckle breeze.
 
Inside, the kinds of thoughts that
bide their time
in quiet rooms and patiently
share their secrets as freely
with me as they would have
with my grandmother’s
grandmother, also in her
middle years, sitting in a
worn wooden chair
just like this:
 
thoughts of grasses returning
each spring; of warm fresh bread;
of polished moons;
of the thin hollow ache
that spreads and softly swallows my heart
with the same lapping sadness
that rises to the doorstep
of each generation
as we watch
receding ripples where those
we have loved
have silently disappeared
into the depths
of that always-waiting,
all-accepting
mystery.
 
July, 2010
 
Starting off
 
A small, short poem,
little child, barely born,
crawls up to the edge
of my soul
and looks out.
Can I speak?
she asks, her voice
the barely perceptible
rhythm of my breath.
Why not—but first
I must be still enough
to hear as she gently
clears her throat.
 
 
March 2010
 
 
The Equation
 
How silly to be concerned
on one glorious day that
the sky is too bright, the breeze
too sweet, that I somehow
don’t deserve
to be healthy, content, and
gazing out my window
at three deer in a backdrop of green.
 
How short-sighted
to wonder
if life has placed me
too far from the hellish struggles
of anguished mothers
and children wading in garbage
where the sun is hazed
in toxic smoke—
 
because
            I know that
 
garbage can easily
slip into the corners
of my mind
and choking smoke
can rise
in the clearest sky,
and the phone can ring
and change my world,
and moods can turn dark
on a dime,
and the land can be, and is
so thirsty for rain, and I will
grow old.
 
And so
when I feel those moments
flaunting themselves,
a little too gilded and bright,
I need to remember
that somehow
—in a larger
than human reckoning—
 
my gratitude for this moment
is, in itself,
a gift
given back to life
in precisely equal measure
as the gift
that life offers me.
 
 
May 2010
 
 
Kissing a wolf
 
It wasn’t mystical, I wasn’t transported
to animal spirit land. No room for any
of that. What it was: a very large wolf
unquestionably in control.
I had no say.
Enormous fur-covered face pushing
strongly, matter-of-factly into mine;
intense, indifferent yellow eyes
up close; huge scratchy wet tongue
across my bared teeth. Again and again.
This is how we do it; this is what
I do to find out who you are. Then
I walk away. I might come back.
Or not.
“Don’t pull away,”
the sanctuary director advised,
“Don’t close your eyes.
Lean in
with confidence to meet
his energy.
He wants no less
and no more.”
And I wonder:
Can I be as utterly direct and
honest, clear and strong,
when human eyes—up close,
completely present—
meet mine?
 
at Mission: Wolf, September 2014
 
Reconstructing Christmas
 
Long ago, the brightly colored
wooden blocks fell down, the sparkling castle
of sweet anticipation melted
into the years; the exquisite,
otherworldly shiver
of sleigh bells in the distance
disappeared.
 
Yet even as the solid shapes of memory’s magic
began to fade,
we shored them up
with ritual: familiar music, a tree,
shiny ribbons and paper, cookies
left out on a plate.
 
What else fell away?
That silent night, watched over
by reverent, forgetful sheep,
the flutter of departing
angel wings,
the rapidly evaporating
bubbles
of new-born hope.
 
The manger walls
have dissolved. And now:
that softly sheltered haven
of birth
has transformed
into the immense and formless
breadth
of my heart.
 
Now: bright secret gifts,
colored shimmering lights in the darkness,
the sweets that Santa tasted,
faint echo of silvery bells,
 
all bring me back—but not
to a child’s once-yearly thrill;
instead, I return
to this rooted moment where
every daily gift unwrapped: my cup of tea,
sunlight slanting across the floor, deep hush,
a smile—
unfolds in the often-hidden but ultimate
perfection
of this wondrously imperfect life.
 
Christmas Day, 2010
 
 
The rending was the hardest part
 
Almost as if we and us
was a solid unalterable fabric,
and I was being told to rip it and rip it
until it tore in two.
It felt impossible, inconceivable
that the container of us that held
such deep knowing and caring and
had been delicately woven
from so many years and days
of shared experiences
—could dissolve.
 
It had even been a source of pride
on some unspoken level in me—
that the we that we were
was inviolable, the thread so strong
and supple we could stretch it long,
we could follow widely forking trails
and still spring back together,
still inside the reliable container of love,
its walls expanded but intact.

But even in his hugs, those last months,
I had sensed his subtle resistance
and pulling away. That was how
he was trying to tell me
that something had changed—
before he had words
or heart
to say it.
 
For a while
every time I thought I’d sufficiently
ripped the fabric
to pull the last tatters off
and step outside of it, I found
it had closed around me again, invisible
yet seemingly intact.
I guess habits of perception and being
are tenacious
after almost 40 years.
 
Still, little by little,
I understood and began to accept
the yawning chasm between
what I had believed
and what actually was;
and finally, each time a hole
in the weave appeared
and I emerged outside it,
I found myself breathing deeply
in the fresh clear air of the present.
And eventually
the cloth of illusion
did not knit back—
there was nothing around me
but the clean unfiltered space
of this moment
as it is.
 
I can still feel sad.
But now there’s something
else there as well: this open space
brings me quiet joy;
it satisfies me with challenges met;
it feels complete; its mystery
remains intact.
It’s a different kind of assurance,
no longer the powerfully seductive
(sedative) comfort
of the heart-and-mind-made envelope
in which I’d been residing
for so long. It is, instead,
the anchoring knowledge
of being whole in myself,
that wholeness tenderly woven
into the infinitely intricate
fabric of life.
 
June 12, 2016

Room to Grow

 

Now I finally see: The fabric of “us”

was too small.

We didn’t fit inside it together

anymore without compressing

parts of ourselves, without cutting off

air and nutrients

to parts of ourselves

that needed to grow. But

it was such a comfortable and

deeply familiar space, and I was

unable to imagine life outside it. I knew

that it pressed in on me, and even more,

that it pressed in on him.

I hoped we could stretch it

to conform to more expansive versions

of ourselves.

 

But as it turned out, while that

seemingly impermeable but ultimately

illusory fabric dissolved,

we are still both here, within a much larger envelope,

which doesn’t require

the label of “us.”

It holds us and everything else.

 

I don’t need to know in what ways

he has stretched or will grow beyond

what he could when we occupied that

too-small space together. But I can know

that he is held within the larger fabric

of love. And I can see

all the places where my own energy

flows out, like water, into streams of

activity and interest

and curiosity and growth, streams that

long had been at least partly blocked

by my futile efforts at keeping the

sadly fraying edges of our too-small cloak

tucked safely around us. Now

we can each move freely

in the garments of our own being,

and we can still walk together sometimes

or sit together and share where

we each have been.

 

Oct. 3, 2017