The Thoughts We Cannot Say

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A hundred thousand birds salute the day:–
        One solitary bird salutes the night:
Its mellow grieving wiles our grief away,
        And tunes our weary watches to delight;
It seems to sing the thoughts we cannot say,
        To know and sing them, and to set them right;
Until we feel once more that May is May,
        And hope some buds may bloom without a blight.
This solitary bird outweighs, outvies,
        The hundred thousand merry-making birds
Whose innocent warblings yet might make us wise
Would we but follow when they bid us rise,
        Would we but set their notes of praise to words
And launch our hearts up with them to the skies.
~Christina Rossetti

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It is hard work to feel morose in May –
yet with so much blooming blight
and wild reckless tweets and twittering
drowning us all –
Should such din and clatter
weigh heavily,
I seek a lightening of spirit
to rise far above,
launching my heart to the skies.

 

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The Humblest Things

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The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely.
~Louisa May Alcott

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And as you sit on the hillside, or lie prone under the trees of the forest, or sprawl wet-legged on the shingly beach of a mountain stream, the great door, that does not look like a door, opens.
~Stephen Graham from The Gentle Art of Tramping

That great door opens on the present, illuminates it as with a multitude of flashing torches.
~Annie Dillard (in response to the above quote) from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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Ever since I started noticing
how beautiful are the most humble things
and the most humble people,
I realized the great door opened to me
is the door of my own home
and my own happiness.
I need go no further than my own back yard.

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Leaf and Leaf Parted

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I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night,
in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe
of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit…

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him,
entangled him, not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight,
unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me,
eyelid and eyelid of slumber.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Moonrise”

 

I drowse too much through
the gifts offered up each day,
my eyelids closed
to the slightest seed release
or how the light plays
on the edge of shadow.

I sleep when
the curtain parts to
reveal the moment
when heaven visits earth.
My head nods
and I miss it.

 

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The Secret Hallowing

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This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass glowing, this young spring.
The secret hallowing is come,
Regenerate sudden incarnation,
Mystery made visible
In growth, yet subtly veiled in all,
Ununderstandable in grass,
In flowers, and in the human heart,
This lyric mortal loveliness,
The earth breathing, and the sun…

~Richard Eberhart from “This Fevers Me”

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The headlong rush into spring
in mere weeks
when grass grows a foot in a week
and buds that appear gently expectant
explode with color-
this is a hallowing of life
lying dormant over long winter months.

It is beyond my understanding
beyond my imagining
beyond being left breathless by the transformation,
each fevered breath
that could be,
but isn’t,
my last.

 

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In a Daze, Dancing

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I go my way,
and my left foot says ‘Glory,’
and my right foot says ‘Amen’:
in and out of Shadow Creek,
upstream and down,
exultant,
in a daze, dancing,
to the twin silver trumpets of praise.

~Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

Every day should be a day of dancing,
of celebrating the fact we woke afresh,
a new start.

If I’m honest, not much feels new.

As I stumble about in my morning daze,
readying myself for the onslaught to come,
I step out and mumble “Glory”
and then “Amen”
until I really feel it
and believe it
and live it out.
Amen and Amen again.

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Infinity in the Palm of My Hand

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To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the Palm of your Hand,
and Eternity in an Hour.

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light 
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night 
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day

~William Blake from “Auguries of Innocence”

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To fall head long into the depths
of a dandelion puff ball,
captured in its intricacy,
a seeded symmetry
lined with delicate dewdrop drizzle.

To know the cosmos is contained
within the commonplace,
the God of Light and Living Water
no further away
than my back yard
and the palm of my hand.

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Slants of Light

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I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.  The lights of the fire abated, but I’m still spending the power.  Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared.  I was still ringing.  I had my whole life been a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

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I like the slants of light; I’m a collector. That’s a good one, I say…
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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Ever since reading about the “The Tree of Lights” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1975, I’ve been keeping a look-out  for special slants of light. Like Dillard, I want to be “lifted and struck”, to resonate in a new awareness, no longer blinded, to see everything in a sharper focus.

It can happen unexpectedly.  The first time was in an art class in 1980.  My artistic ability was limited to stick figures so a doctor friend and I decided to take her high school art teacher husband’s evening “Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain” class at Lakeside School in Seattle.  Robert Fulghum was an unorthodox teacher—not just an artist, but a Unitarian pastor, a story teller, and a musician.  He was, in his entertaining and inimitable way,  able to teach us how to look at the world in terms of shadow and light, solid and air, space and density, patterns and plain.  He put a drawing of an old cowboy boot, hung upside down in front of the class, and asked us to draw it that way.  We were not to think “boot”, but to think of it as lines and shadow, empty space and full shape,  dark against light.

I drew by focusing on the small detail rather than my expectation creating a recognizable “whole”.  At the end of class, Fulghum asked us to turn our drawing right side up, and as I turned the paper around, I was astonished that I had created a distinctly recognizable cowboy boot, my first real drawing.  It stayed on my refrigerator for four years.  I was so proud that I had been taught a new way to “see”.

Not long after, Fulghum wrote a little meditation on what he had learned in kindergarten for his church’s weekly Sunday bulletin.  That bulletin somehow found its way to the desk of Washington State Senator Dan Evans, who read it into the Congressional Record.  From there it was reprinted, passed around and eventually made it home in the school backpack of a publishing editor’s son.  That mother, going over the school papers, sat down to read “All I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum and set out, in pre-Internet days, to track down the author — not an easy task.  He soon received a call from her, and the first thing she asked was “do you have anything else like this you’ve written?”   The answer was an emphatic “yes” from a pastor with years of sermons and church bulletins in his files.  His first book of collected essays was published a year later.   His life was never the same, turned upside down just like his flipped cowboy boot drawing.

I keep looking to collect a new “slant of light” but they are elusive because I’m blinded to them most of the time.

Maybe, just maybe,  I could see more clearly with the world upside down…

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