February 3, 2010
A Letter to my Niece,
first written in the journal you gave to me, so thoughtfully inscribed, leather bound, easily hand held, about which, if asked, I’d have said that I prefer larger pages, except that this one reminds me of you each time I write, and its too small pages seem to push poems from my pen that might not have otherwise come of it—and at least one letter that might not have been written.
I want to tell you, because I believe you’ll understand, that the writing, the poetry, has become bigger and bigger for me in recent years, not so much as to replace my religious life, nor, as I once thought, to challenge it, as such; rather, I have come to understand it as the core of it all, as my primary practice, principal manner of worship and praise, and so have found it helpful from time to time to be around other writing poets—this being the major change—in order to listen, as most recently, a day ago, to the newly inaugurated Poet Laureate of San Francisco, Diane di Prima, who says that the spiritual dimension of writing lies in its isolation.
I’d just stepped back into the room and caught her comments like fragmented sparks that illumined a centered fullness I’d previously been unable to see, and I take this to mean that there, at the desk, solitary, in the chair or on the couch, there, over the pen and empty page, I am alone with my self, in my self, in its unadorned solitariness, the foundational condition of all humanity—indeed, of all existences; we, each of us, are alone and in this common aloneness are intimately connected with each other; all others and me, connected in the blessed paradox of being fully alone, the recognition of this being the spontaneous banishment of loneliness, the restricted, the crippling, a quiet liberation, experienced similarly in the solitary breathing of meditation, in the singular voice sounding the Buddha’s name, and, I would suppose, in that solitary house of prayer, the human heart and mind, ever opening within the ever present possibility of true and real communication, as Ms di Prima whispered, words resonant with integrity, given with the wish that they be helpful.
Realizing our primal aloneness is not only OK, it is the liberating awareness of our inextricable reliance upon and responsibility for all other beings. This, in the writing. This the sustaining influence of the truth of the matter of our singular and collective humanity, our living and dying, both alone and together. I find myself here, resting in the quiet center of the unending vitality of wonder and gratitude.
What a joy, my young Niece.
Why Now ?
Just as day breaks the edge of night,
we walk through wet grasses, into the hills
overlooking the valley and toward open bay waters,
once contiguous marshlands, vital and giving of life,
then given over to fill and then to a park,
landscaped contemporary industrial.
Last night’s rains run normally dry creek beds full
into culverts now, secreted along their way under the town
no longer cognizant of these ancient voices,
nor the rich conversations of sweet meeting brine
that filled for myriad generations the silence
at the feet of these slopes.
But hints of this music can yet be heard
if you venture to the trails above the canyons
on days like today—on days like today, indeed,
if you go there.
In these times…a poem
Startling behavior for weather
in these parts. Thunder and lightening
at any time of year is a surprise here,
almost unheard of in winter.
Moreover, in recent drought years, where
normal has become consistently deficient,
long-term considerations teeter mostly over a chasm of doubt.
Even so the notion itself, long-term, seems estranged these days,
quick returns being the preferred currency.
As much as anyone, I appreciate the sparkle and clarity,
the cleansing function of shallow running streams, but absent the return
to deeper currents, shallow runs simply dry up.