So wild flowers will come
up where you are.
You have been stony for
too many years.
Try something different.
I have nothing to give you, nothing to carry,
some words to make me less afraid, to say
you gave me this.
Memory insists with its sea voice,
muttering from its bone cave.
Memory wraps us
like the shell wraps the sea.
Nothing to carry,
some stones to fill our pockets,
to give weight to what we have.
~ Anne Michaels, from “Memoriam,” in The Weight of Oranges/ Miner’s Pond
Mid-July, and the beets are ready
Their green tops waving to us
From the garden,
Calling us to sink our fingers
into the warm earth,
grasp the dark red globes,
Shake the sandy loam free,
revealing coarse jewels,
their true beauty known only
to those who know.
In the kitchen, a knife awaits,
Pot of boiling water
A blue bowl.
Crusty, lined skin slides off
Under our fingertips
As we rinse and rub,
Rough turning to smooth
Almost too beautiful
Stay, I said to the cut flowers.
They bowed their heads lower.
Stay, I said to the spider,
It reddened, embarrassed for me and itself.
Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does, obedient for a moment, soon starting to tremble.
Stay, to the earth, of riverine valley meadows, of fossiled escarpments, of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back with a changing expression, in silence.
Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered, Always.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound.
We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, and comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves,
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Your father died on Christmas Day.
When you heard the news
you walked out
into the snow
stepping in footprints
his boots had made
the day before,
finding a glove
he had dropped
on his way to the barn.
Too young to attend
defying adult judgment
you sprawled in the hayloft,
chin resting on mittened hands,
watching the coffin being hoisted
from hearse to shoulders
in front of the Congregational church
The next fall
claiming you needed
your mother sent you
away from home –
away from grandmother’s
warm homemade doughnuts and
the quiet ticking of the hall clock —
to military school.
What did you learn?
March in straight lines
Be on guard.
Sleep with one shoe under your pillow
to fend off dark midnight advances.
When you graduated in ’46 you enlisted.
Too late to fight, you
Shipped out in December
on a troop ship to Japan
to join the Army of Occupation.
At sea, loudspeakers blared
Bing Crosby crooning
“I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
~ from The Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, 1994