This week I am thinking about spring– the cyclical return of the warblers, the eastern bluebirds making their nest, and the first glimmer of color in crocus and wild iris. On a walk in the winter-woods in March, when song was absent, there was all at once a noise in the air that was new. It was too early for cicadas, and too late for sleigh bells, what was it? The spring peepers! Those tiny tree frogs that begin their chorus in early spring. And what follows are the robins, cardinals and mockingbirds that begin to sing again.
The exultation of spring was partnered by an unexpected call that someone dear and close to my heart had fallen seriously ill. How do I hold both of these experiences? What did William Stafford really mean when he said welcome whatever comes?
This is perhaps the key to "the world's fullness". This, I believe, is what the cave painters understood: that in birth and death, there is a proximity to immanence. Their paintings, from over 40,000 years ago, retain a power and freshness that is timeless.
And this is why, for many ages, it has been said that the makers, the artists, make an attempt to find a bridge between what is visible and what is invisible.
Our forsaken language, our poetry, our world of art, often lack this primary connection with the mystery of immanence– of being on this spinning ball, this planet that we did not create, that circles the sun. Whatever your beliefs are, the humbling awe of not knowing from where we come, or whither we vanish– is the primary mover of making. The Creator, the beginning, infinitely retreats into unknowable darkness. All we know is that the miracle of the making of this earth is not from our hands.
It is the reaching into Mystery, propelled by a deep desire for contact and meaning, that fuels the need to make a mark, to leave a trace...to notate, to inscribe, to register, to write, to draw, to paint, to sing, play... *
The best poets and makers are mediators of this intangible presence. There is a deep love and reverence for the world, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. Mediation is made possible through attentiveness to the ordinary: to the old oak tree, a chair, or a mockingbird's ability to improvise a poem from surrounding sound.
The vastness of the galaxies, the knowledge that our planet is not the center of the universe, and the awareness of our short stay here is what fuels authenticity and power in art. These moments of grace, of being touched by the Unknown – or even misfortune, are what put me back on track. I feel my way back into my work.
I Follow the Chorus
I wander in the winter-quiet woods,
searching for a poem. It’s almost
hopeless– the mockingbird sings
serenely forming verses
from the surrounding sounds.
The spring peepers awake.
First they echo cicadas, then bells.
They summon from the smallest pond.
I follow the chorus through
the meadow–already wild iris
in bloom– announcing winter’s close.
Spring’s covenant draws near.
I did not know my sister was sick.
Spring and death fold into one face–
a resounding choir. Reaching for words
dread and bliss keep reversing places.
What brings you closer to the power behind your work? How do you find ways of expressing joy and loss? I'd love to hear from you.