Mother Maple

These little maple leaves,
now breaking forth from bud
stretching their arms with
first cry will
soon toddle on tree, will
soon be schooled in photosynthesis, will
soon branch out and then
then settle down; life
made in their shade until at end
they blaze in glory and fall to fate:
fodder for humus; toil for humans.

What is tree to leaf?
Is she mother? Is the end of
each branch to womb? Does tree
portend leaf’s coming, being, going?
Or is tree like God? Or do the two merge?

I put my hand to trunk
and feel earth, intuit strength, know
life flowing to me like energy incognito;
life from womb in whom is
caring, Kraft, creation.

Akin to Earth

Yesterday was the spring equinox. It was a glorious and gorgeous day and although a good bit of it was spent inside marking, at one point my wife came in to pull me out to see snow drops raising their holy hooded heads from the ground. I wandered over to the corner of the yard to see how my little bur oak tree is doing, and bending down I could see some buds starting to form on it. Walking back to the house, I notice our backyard maple tree crying sweet tears of joy at the turning of the earth towards the sun. Everything seemed to be waking up.

The day before, I was looking out of my office at this same yard as I was preparing for noon-day pause at “chapel.” It was online and this was the Friday in which we do “Settlers’ Work,” pondering how those who are not Indigenous can educate ourselves around the reality of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, and the Calls for Justice from the national report on MMIWG. We always begin this time with a land acknowledgement, remembering that the land on which Laurier and Luther are located were deeded to the Haudenosaunee with the Haldimand Tract of 1784. This was also traditional territory of the Anishinabeg and Neutral Peoples. As I do this, I often think about a lesson I am learning from the land. On Friday I mentioned that we often talk as if mother earth is waking up in the spring, and suddenly it struck me like a ton of bricks that this same mother earth is falling asleep on the opposite side of the globe! She is waking up and falling asleep at the same time.

I am increasingly informed by the idea that this earth is our relative, our mother – as per Indigenous perspectives. And this invites us to imagine that in some ways we are like the earth, if she is our mother. Interestingly other worldviews share this perspective of our being imaged after the earth. The ancient Greeks considered the human to be a micro-cosmos. And the Hebraic name for the original, mythic male was Adam, derived from the word for dust, or dirt, and the name for female was Eve, derived from the word for life. Humans are living dirt. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We are akin to that from whence we came and to whither we go.

The earth wakes and sleeps at the same time. How about us? How might we experience this simultaneous arrival and departure; taking up and setting down; being born and dying? I suppose this is evident in every transition in life: from being a babe to being a child to being a teenager to being a young adult to being a not so young adult to being an elderly adult. Each stage is leaving behind and a coming to. There is both death and life in birth, life and death. This is the paradox of our existence. Paradox means contrary to opinion, or in opposition to how things appear: death is a being born just as surely as being born is a dying, since life itself is a journey of death and death is a journey of life. Of course we are taught to fear death by many forces. But our mother teaches us that dying is not the end of life but its transitioning into a new form, a point well illustrated in the lessons of Lent, a time of marking the dying in life as life in dying.

Aching to be Earth

Falls ebbs away in
this turning season. The
leaves no longer sing, now
aching to be
earth.

This gathering at
forest floor of raw
dying is primal, the
smell is sui generis, an
olfactory echo of the
odor of earth and birth
both, replete with
whiffs of bird’s
song and
the aroma
of being green: shot
through with chlorophyll, racing to leaf’s skin

And now this once verdant
blush lies at the feet of this
sylvan source
of life
of death
and everything
in between.

To everything there is a season…

These Arms

My arms grow longer the
older I get. My
hands droop closer to
the dirt that will
one day vest
me.

So, too, these longing
arms reach higher
to the sky,
grasping
after the sun:
the heart at the hearth
of humanity.

When these arms are long enough
they will wrap me round thrice:
for the self I was

now coming to be

and then at rest, disarmingly.

Working Edges

This last Saturday night my wife and I went to The Mayors’ Dinner in Kitchener, a fundraising event for the Working Centre, a not-for profit organization in our community that addresses issues of poverty and unemployment. This happens every year, and a person or group of people, is given special recognition. This year the recipients were Arleen Macpherson, Gretchen Jones, and Jennifer Mains, all who work or have worked with St. John’s Kitchen. My wife and I have gone to a few of these fundraising events, but I was especially interested because I have had students that have done volunteer placements at St. John’s Kitchen. A few years back one of the Community Service Learning coordinators and I visited the site, and chatted with Gretchen, who keeps thing moving on a daily basis.

I still remember the visit well. We biked there from the University, Rebekah leading the way as we wound our way through a kind of back street route from point University to point Kitchen, in Kitchener. We locked up our bikes and said hi to a few clients on our way up the brightly painted stairwell, and into the well lit, vibrant, second floor of 97 Victoria St. N that houses the kitchen, the dining hall, and offices for some health care there. We sat and visited with Gretchen, who told us a bit about the program, and then expressed thanks for the volunteer work done by students. Of course, I already knew from student feedback that they received more than they gave at this volunteer site. For many students, their experience at St. John’s was a life changer, in important ways.

Many of them had never had experience working with marginalized people, and so this experience reconfigured the world they knew. They came to see that there are not simple solutions to problems like homelessness. They came to see that people in need do not need charity, but deserve dignity. They came to see that where their world ends is where other people’s worlds begin. This experience took them to the edges of their lives, where they started to work at important questions: who am I? what is my place in the world? where is God in this?

At the dinner on Saturday, Gretchen and others from the Kitchen spoke, and told some very moving stories: accounts of varied experiences that were miraculous in many ways. We also were introduced, via video, to some of the volunteers and guests of the kitchen, who opened to us the Reign of God, for those with ears to hear. We began to see the face of the Kitchen, painted with stories of broken people reaching out to care for broken people and so creating community. At the end of the evening, I rejoiced at having been given another snapshot of what it looks like to live in community, where truth makes things messy and hope makes people patient.

We have to be patient to work at the edges, where we discover ourselves anew in the experiences of growth, being stretched and strained in ways that remind us that the human condition is change: from cradle to coffin we are moving from life to death and from death to life. These two feed on each other, and so there is no food that does not entail death in giving life. Food is the marriage of life and death, and St. John’s Kitchen is one place that preaches the sermon that we are what we eat: the community of life and death that works at the edges, that works on its edges.

I’m Turning a Phrase

My pen tends
this word and that as
seed in need of
field – aching for a
place to land and
fertilizer to lavish it
with a just-so adverb or
participle or preposition, as the
case may be.

I’m turn a phrase like
soil in spring; I’m upending a potato
hill in autumn, pregnant with pause, as
my hoe, my pen leads my hand
away from knowing and into
Dirt: life’s cradle, death’s bed.

And then I breathe…

What am I to do with this
sharp this hard gift this lack
of time – edge of knife limning
me as I strain to discern
which pressing possibility
decidedly speaks
my name.

Some days, I
step back and ponder my
choices, my being chosen. I see me,
for a time, as a haggard, ragged man
– not always so aware
of my surroundings
as I wish
I were.

But then and now, robin
sings me awake his
head cocked his
fluttered wings wetting in bath and
I see my life, I see my eyes
and then I breathe…

Penned Again

No sleep in this pen so
it calls me again,
late in the night.
I cannot but do its
bidding as it scratches
me across this page.  No
sleep now – with me
strewn blue across white – not
quite bruised but certainly
bent into shape
of poetry.

 

I am ink.
I am lettered.
I am poem,
the page now my home
until I am virtually
transfigured and
become the
sighting of your eye, the
curving of your tongue,
an echo
in your ear.

Slip into Life

Write please write.
Push the pen until it bursts
solar flares on white;
bend it
until it leaks God
until it bleeds sky and soil.

Do not be content with
anything less than what
blinds you. Gaze
beyond your reach
waiting on shades to teach
your eyes your soul your fingertips
to feel for what is needed.

Sit
for a time
in the dark
and breath
rhythmically. In
your breath is
an echo of
death and
on hearing it
you slip
into
life.

In this now…

In this now
I am utterly
where I am:
under blanket,
fire near,
pen ready,
and you at hand.

I descry
your eye
on mine
amid these
words that
I scratch.
Gazing out
from the unformed

white light of page

your sight reframes

my seeing and so my so

very important priorities
collect as refuse
at feet.
 

You call and I collapse,
dying to be a full moon fogged –
softened and softening:
a full stop’s
negative.