Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
~Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come“
The sun returns
and the tears will dry.
The impression left on my heart
still twinges with every beat.
Eventually, though trampled and toppled,
I right myself to face the rain again.
The truth is, I need it, can’t live without it.
Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?
…These things happen … the soul’s bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses …
The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.
~Jane Kenyon from “Twilight: After Haying”
Celebration is a sign of life in the rubble, the bliss of those arising from an ash heap to walk and breathe again. Heartache is the sight of death in the rubble, the suffering of those trapped and crushed by a roaring force too immense to imagine yet devastatingly real.
Bliss and suffering are bound together like the grasses; we are grasses torn from our roots, ravaged.
Tears flow as they must, wetting the stubble left behind like dew. We weep in sorrow for those lost; we weep in joy for those spared.
What else can a soul do but weep at parting and weep at welcoming?
These things happen, oh yes, these awe-full awful things, they happen.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
~Psalm 103: 15
And once, for no special reason,
I rode in the back of the pickup,leaning against the cab.
Everything familiar was receding fast…
Whatever I saw
I had already passed…
(This must be what life is like
at the moment of leaving it.)
~Jane Kenyon from “What It’s Like”
Moving forward, looking back at what is already passed.
Our children begin coming home today for their summer visits….
The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for.
~Vladimir Nabokov from Speak Memory
I think Nabokov had it wrong. This is the abyss. That's why babies howl at birth, and why the dying so often reach for something only they can apprehend. At the end they don't want their hands to be under the covers, and if you should put your hand on theirs in a tentative gesture of solidarity, they'll pull the hand free; and you must honor that desire, and let them pull it free. ~Jane Kenyon from "Reading Aloud to My Father"
We too often mistake this world, this existence, as the only light there is, a mere beam of illumination in the surrounding night of eternity, the only relief from overwhelming darkness. If we stand looking up from the bottom, we might erroneously assume we are the source of the light, we are all there is.
Yet looking at this world from a different perspective, gazing down into the abyss from above, it is clear the light does not come from below –it is from beyond us.
The newborn and the dying know this. They signal their transition into and out of this world with their hands. An infant holds tightly to whatever their fist finds, grasping and clinging so as not be lost to this darkness they have entered. The dying instead loosen their grip on this world, reaching up and picking the air on their climb back to heaven.
We hold babies tightly so they won’t lose their way in the dark. We loosen our grip on the dying to honor their reach out to the light that leads to something greater.
In the intervening years, we struggle in our blindness to climb out of the abyss to a vista of great beauty and grace. Only then we can see, with great calm and serenity, where we are headed.
Things: simply lasting, then
failing to last: water, a blue heron’s
eye, and the light passing
between them: into light all things
must fall, glad at last to have fallen.
~Jane Kenyon, “Things”
Things we think last don’t.
Light passes between things and us,
a pathway illuminated to something lasting.
We will follow,
falling, failing to last
until lifted at last.
Gladly we become light
How much better it is
to carry wood to the fire
than to moan about your life.
How much better
to throw the garbage
onto the compost, or to pin the clean
sheet on the line,
With a gray-brown wooden clothes pin.
~Jane Kenyon “The Clothespin”
I get easily overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done on the farm in addition to all the usual household tasks, especially on a weekend–grass to mow, flower beds to weed, garden to plant, fences to fix, manure to haul, animals to brush out — the list is endless and there are never enough hours in the day. I moan and whine about it.
Or I can set to work, tackling one thing at a time. A simple task is accomplished, and then another, like hanging clothes on the line: this one is done, and now this one, pinned and hanging to freshen, renewed, in the spring breezes.
At the end of the day (or the end of the weekend), I pull them down, bury my face in them and breathe deeply, knowing how much better I am than before I began.
So much better.
I let her garden go.
let it go, let it go
How can I watch the hummingbird
Hover to sip
With its beak’s tip
The purple bee balm — whirring as we heard
It years ago?
The weeds rise rank and thick
let it go, let it go
Where annuals grew and burdock grows,
Where standing she
At once could see
The peony, the lily, and the rose
Rise over brick
She’d laid in patterns. Moss
let it go, let it go
Turns the bricks green, softening them
By the gray rocks
That lofted while she lived, stem by tall stem,
Blossom with loss.
~ Donald Hall from “Her Garden” about Jane Kenyon
Some gray mornings
heavy with clouds
and tear-streaked windows
I pause melancholy
at the passage of time.
Whether to grieve over
another hour passed
another breath exhaled
another broken heart beat
Or to climb my way
out of deepless dolor
and start the work of
planting the next garden
It takes sweat
and dirty hands
tears from heaven
to make it flourish
but even so
so carefully planted
might blossom fully
in the soil of loss.
Over the last two weeks, the garden is slowly reviving, and rhubarb “brains” have been among the first to appear from the garden soil, wrinkled and folded, opening full of potential, “thinking” their way into the April sunlight.
Here I am, wishing my own brain could similarly rise brand new and tender every spring from the dust rather than leathery and weather-toughened, harboring the same old thoughts and patterns. Indeed, more wrinkles seem to be accumulating on the outside of my skull rather than the inside.
Still, I’m encouraged by my rhubarb cousin’s return every April. Like me, it may be a little sour that necessitates sweetening, but its blood courses bright red and it is very very much alive.