Licking a Wound

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Now wind torments the field,
turning the white surface back
on itself, back and back on itself,
like an animal licking a wound.

A single green sprouting thing
would restore me . . .

Then think of the tall delphinium,
swaying, or the bee when it comes
to the tongue of the burgundy lily.
~Jane Kenyon from “February: Thinking of Flowers”

 

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Turning the page on the calendar today doesn’t fix anything.  The arctic wind is blasting frozen again, snow is in the forecast, the skies practically crackle cold.

I’m like a dog tormented by my own open and raw flesh, trying my best to lick it healed, unable to think of anything or anyone else, going over it again and again:  how tired I feel, how bruised I am, how high the climb I must make, how uprooted I feel, how impossibly long it will be until I’m warm again.

Even now green sprouts try to push up even while molested by ice.  Soon fresh blooms will grace the barnyard and I will be distracted from my own wound licking.

It’s February and it’s a northeaster.

<*sigh*>

The cold never bothered me anyway…

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Birdsong Bereft

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Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods.  Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death.  Even the sun has gone off somewhere…

Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head.  
~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”

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Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer.   The usual day-long serenade of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering from the treetops,  the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.

In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth.    The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.

But there are no longer birdsong arias;  I’m left bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wakes me at 4 AM in the spring.

And no peeper orchestra tuning up in the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.

It is too quiet, a time of bereavement. The chilly silence of the darkened days, interrupted by gunshot percussion, is like a baton raised in anticipation after rapping the podium to bring us all to attention. I wait and listen for the downbeat — the return of birds and frogs tuning their throats, preparing their symphony.

May their concert never end.

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A Blessing Just to Be

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Before the adults we call our children arrive with their children in tow
  for Thanksgiving,

we take our morning walk down the lane of oaks and hemlocks, mist
  a smell of rain by nightfall—underfoot,

the crunch of leathery leaves released by yesterday’s big wind.

You’re ahead of me, striding into the arch of oaks that opens onto the fields
  and stone walls of the road—

as a V of geese honk a path overhead, and you stop—

in an instant, without thought, raising your arms toward sky, your hands
  flapping from the wrists,

and I can read in the echo your body makes of these wild geese going
  where they must,

such joy, such wordless unity and delight, you are once again the child
  who knows by instinct, by birthright,

just to be is a blessing. In a fictional present, I write the moment down.
  You embodied it.
~Margaret Gibson “Moment”

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I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
~Jane Kenyon “Otherwise”

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On this day,
this giving-thanks day,
I know families who surround loved ones
fighting for life in ICU beds,
more families struggling to find gratitude
in their pierced hearts
from loss of a child in an overturned school bus,
or their gunned down police officer son/husband/father,
or their soldier coming home under a flag.

It is the measure of us, the created,
to kneel grateful, while facing the terrible
and still feel loved and blessed,
to believe how wide and long and high and deep
is His love for us,
we the weeping, the broken-hearted.

 

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Damp All Through

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Early morning, everything damp all through.
Cars go by. A ripping sound of tires through water.
For two days the air
Has smelled like salamanders.
The little lake on the edge of town hidden in fog,
Its cattails and island gone.
All through the gloom of the dark week
Bright leaves have been dropping
From black trees
Until heaps of color lie piled everywhere
In the falling rain.
~Tom Hennen “Wet Autumn” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.

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There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

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Even when the load grows too heavy,
weariness rolling in like a fog to
dampen all that was once vibrant,
even then

~even then~

there awaits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.

We will be filled;
we will be restored;
the load will lighten.

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Late Summer Hay Fields

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A second crop of hay lies cut   
and turned. Five gleaming crows   
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,   
and like midwives and undertakers   

possess a weird authority.

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,   
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.   
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod   
brighten the margins of the woods.
Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;   
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.
~Jane Kenyon from “Three Songs at the End of Summer”
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By now the fields have survived
A first, and even second cutting
Mowed and tedded
Raked and baled, scalped clean then
Rained upon in spurts and spells.

The grass blades rise again, reluctant-Certain of the cuts to come;
No longer brazen, reaching to the sky
With the blinding bright enthusiasm of May and June endless days,
But shorter, gentle growth of late summer golden sunsets.The third cutting sparse and short as thinning hair
Tender baby soft forage, light in the hands and on the wagon
Precious cargo carried back to the barn;
Fragrant treasure for vesper manger meals
A special Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve gift.

Once again the fields are bare, aching for cover
Which comes as leaves rain and swirl in release,
Winds buffet, offering respite of deepening winter
Snowdrifts, blanketing in silent relief and rest
Until patiently stirred by melting soaking warmth
To rouse again, reaching toward the light.
~EPG

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The Rough Made Smooth

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All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind….
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.
~Jane Kenyon “Wash”

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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”

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I grew up hanging clothes outside to dry on a clothesline on all but the rainiest stormiest days.  It was a routine summer chore for our family of five–there was almost always a load or two a day to wash and hang outside, then to gather in and fold into piles before the air and clothes grew moist with evening dew.  I would bury my little girl face in the pile of stiff towels and crispy sheets to breathe in the summer breezes–still apparent when pulled from the linen closet days later.

Over my adult years on this farm, we’ve not had a consistent spot for our clothesline so I had gotten out of the habit of hanging them up wet and pulling them down dry.  We finally decided the time had come to use less dryer energy and more solar energy, so the line went back up a few years ago.

I’ve discovered modern bath towels are not meant for clothesline drying–they are too plush, requiring the fluffing of a dryer to stay soft and pliant.  On the clothesline they dry like sandpaper, abrasive and harsh.  I heard a few complaints about that from my tender-skinned children.  I decided it is good for us all to wake up to a good buffing every morning, smoothing out our rough edges, readying us for the day.

We live in a part of the county up on an open hill with lots of windy spells, but those breezes carry interesting smells from the surrounding territory that the drying laundry absorbs like a sponge.  On the good days, it may be smells of blooming clover from the fields or the scent of apple and pear blossoms during a few spring weeks.  On other differently-fragranced days, local manure spreading or wood stove burning results in an earthy odor that serves as a reminder of where we live.  It isn’t all sunshine and perfume all the time–it can be smoke and poop as well.

The act of hanging up and gathering in the laundry remains an act of faith for me.  It is trusting, even on the cloudy or chilly days, that gravity and wind and time will render all dry and fresh.  And thanks to those line-dried bed sheets and those sandpaper bath towels, I’ll surely end up buffed and smoothed, my rough edges made plain.

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Care and Feeding of a Writer

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Be a good steward of your gifts.
Protect your time.
Feed your inner life.
Avoid too much noise.
Read good books,
have good sentences in your ears.
Be by yourself as often as you can.
Walk.
Take the phone off the hook.
Work regular hours.

~Jane Kenyon from A Hundred White Daffodils

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There’s nothing “regular” about the hours I work and I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to obsessive commitment of my time.  My phone is attached to me day and night for good reason.  I don’t read enough, don’t particularly enjoy being alone, don’t spend enough time walking nowhere in particular and am immersed in the noise of life.

Since I have flunked care and feeding of a writer, I am taking a remedial course this week at the Festival of Faith and Writing @Calvin.   Maybe I’ll see you there.

In the meantime,  I cleave to good sentences in my heart and the cadence of good phrases in my ears.  It’s what a good steward of words must do.

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