IMG_0415I stand within a deeply carved Rouault woodcut

framed at the edge of the habitable world. Ghosts

of saints Columba and Patrick tread here among sheep

and the new lambs. Arms of the sea cradle Ardionra Croft,

tamed over centuries by the same farm family. The house

of stone and thatch rests upon beds of ancient

basalt, serpentine and Iona’s own creamy marble veined

with pale or dark green. Stilts and jackdaws rove

among the sheep grazing on the machair. Farther out

the ferry churns its hourly rounds over the marine blue sound.

Like others who walk here I have come to find something.

If I’m lucky I will know it when I see it. If I’m quiet

I hear the sea’s soft lap on the marbled bay. I wait

seated on the stiff grass, rest my back against a basalt wall, rest

the bird book in my open lap. A wheatear pecks boldly nearby.

 

On the road back to the Abbey

a wedding party led by a piper in his dress Mackinnon kilt

walks to a Celtic lilt: the bride, her father,

her women friends in pancake hats with feathers.

Sea breezes gently lift her hair and ripple the satin

streamers of her bouquet. In the Abbey

she will take her vows to cherish the island boy

who waits with trembling hands for her at the marble altar, wanting

and not wanting the instant when she and the air and the shafts of sun

gleam in the open door and she wafts down the aisle

like the censer’s smoky perfume. In the ancient way

they will craft rooms of stone and thatch, their own croft with lambs.

It is a perfect day for making promises. On this machair, this isle,

theirs will be the fire that never dies away.

IMG_0359“Nothing is exempt from resurrection.”—Kay Ryan

 

At the beginning were three, and three

at the end, thirty years or more after

the scene at the inn.

 

Three from afar, drawn by starlight,

bore precious perfumes and gold

to the site of a birth, a promise

of Paradise. Obedience to signs in a dream

to return a different way, to shield

the child from harm for a time.

 

Years after, three women of Galilee

walked at sunrise to a tomb,

bore spices and oils to tend the spent

body of their friend

amid the silence of the dead.

Imagine their fear.

 

The heavy stone out of place.

(They themselves had seen the seal.)

And inside, the voice, the face

as in a dream, the warning

that no body was there. The brutal

execution suddenly all too real.

Flight their only choice,

no paradise there.

 

The end, the beginning. So curious,

parallel mysteries, a riddle, shrouded

in myrrh and linen, carried

on the wings of a dove.

Hands Holding Seedling, image by adams, courtesy of freedigitalimages.net

Hands Holding Seedling, by adamr/Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Gather everything up:

the tiller and plow; the handfuls

of seeds in an apron pocket.

Hoe until every clod is broken and fine.

Fill every corner with herbs, basil and feathers

of dill, Romanesco turrets, the clarifying sage;

set out tomatoes. Let them

bathe in the garden’s spot of sun,

or in the showers that soon will come;

wait for their fierce thrust toward air.

Everything that was made started with dust,

earth’s and all the stars’—remnants

of a provenance too beautiful

to understand. Only trust

the wisdom of the seeds.

IMG_0387The plane was called Wings of the Morning.

It used fuel to be found only in Uganda.

It was tiny, like a toy, but one said nothing of this

to the pilot, who was the son

of the bishop in Kamina. Wings of the Morning

took its name from a psalm,

guarding us with a promise from an ancient past.

 

We rode low. Over tails of dust from trucks

on the one northbound road. Above towns made of thatch.

Farmers hoeing their ground, quilts of cantaloupe and cassava,

patches small enough to be planted by hand.

Looking up at our passing. Our course

took us over a tree lined river, crisscrossing

the heart of this part of Congo, unseen

by the farmers though they knew it was there,

but from the air heavy, slow moving, twisting like a boa.

A congregation at the airstrip

prayed and sang in Ki-Swahili, and smiled at us.

 

Their prayers carried us back through calm air.

Long afterward, in my room in the Congo night

or home, at last, I could hear their sounds,

familiar and clear as psalms; as impenetrable and divine

as the river’s oily strand.

 

Ki-Luba mask, found at Lubumbashi, DRC, July 2006 (Photo: Linda Beher)

ID-100176172 StarBurst Background SamiublueThe urban inn, unexpected grittiness.

Their exchange of unbelieving

glances, dawning recognition.

Treasures offered,

carried a long way. Calculation of a cost

of the less-traveled road.

Obedience to dreams

as ephemeral as stars. Years to absorb

the import, all-night discussions

at every oasis. Back home

any drift of wood smoke

sharp as incense

would remind them of the allure:

the rough loft,

the mother’s small-town eyes,

her child’s high cry.

 

Image by Samuiblue, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Delete 009They give up their burden of ice

needle by needle. We see them lift their limbs

with the caution of the very old.

The mountain hides its face behind a veil

of light rain, turning from the dimming light

to something more.

Our needs are small but bold in this darkest hour:

if the trees let go, so can we. Give ourselves away

to the wild and perfect night.

ID-1002780Three days before the solstice,

it is snowing again.

The little white lights around the capital

float in a fog of snowflakes,

and the dome rides like a hat of icing

above the sturdy building with its turrets and, below, the park.

 

And in the dark cloister of park closely lie

beds of nasturtiums not mowed, scapes of leaves not raked.

Last night the oak trees there were full of crows. They clustered

like stubborn leaves will, blackened and wild to fall,

but unfallen, before this fitful snow squall

drove them south, or under bridges, where a few sad men

have their hearth of leaves inside an old treadless tire

and the few common courtesies they recall of home.

 

See how they reckon the sweep of the storm, pray

a rosary with bones and tin, urinate away from the fire,

holding coats closed against wind and longing,

and pull hats down over eyes that know

a stretch of Bunches Beach, or the harbor at Port Aransas,

far from here: southern scrapes and twigs caked

with terns and crows and herons, in their lawless sleeps.

 

Image, “Stormy,” by Maggie Smith/Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

This I know: In the early morning, after a night’s light snow,ID-100156760

a small animal has made a track from the bluestone paving

up to the house, but not quite to the house. I can see how

it paused, where there was a mark made when it nosed

at something smaller than itself, breathing so fiercely afraid,

then vanishing, the way the snow and the track vanish,

except in memory, as the sun varnishes them

with a glaze of thin light and air.

(Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

10583790_10204646282378500_8913581254380508096_n“Jacob called the place Peniel because he had seen God face to face.” Genesis 32:30

 

They are tolling

the names again in this dim sanctuary.

The smoke of that long list curls

well into the high corners. Someone sighs,

a long, deep breath, as if settling to sleep

late at night between warm sheets.

Outside a siren wails

in the melting air.

All the voices of the unrescued

moan their prayers through the clogged streets,

like ruach, God’s ancient breath,

warning us to be still and fearful,

as it has for years. Or Peniel,

where some angel wrestles with us in the ruins.

What else could draw me to my knees

in such silence and awe?

 

Here is a clear-zone

between dark and noon,

the gathering place of those who tremble,

the sanctuary of those who mourn;

who walk on. If we hold hands

we will not be afraid.

ID-1001939How lithe is the muscular bicep

of the Cape, how smoothly it thins

to an elegant elbow, the shapely forearm,

the clenched fist at Provincetown.

 

I am near open water; as if all I could see

were the light,

how it glances

down dunes and grasses, covers

the tang of sea air and salt.

 

The wind and tides

drive the shores south. One year,

the scythe of the Atlantic will resize

the curving arm, split it to a few gloved fingers.

Life ends with a sigh;

ephemera remain: The tidal flats

and air, thick with terns,

blank eyed, unhurried, wild.

 

Image courtesy of Federico Stevanin, freedigitalphotos.net

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