As if the one tree you love

The Preacher
– Gerald Stern

As if the one tree you love so well and hardly
can embrace it is so huge so that with-
out it there might be a hole in the universe
explains how the killing of any one thing can
likewise make a hole except that without
its existence there was neither a hole nor not a hole
I said to my friend Peter and after he left
I walked to the tree again and put my arms
around the trunk or almost did for I was
embracing it preparatory should I say
to its dying for it was one of the many
dying trees along my river mainly
sycamore and locust—

you must tire I
said to Peter always hearing the same
trees sung the same words singing, the same
heart breaking I said and con permissione
I will change trees though I am almost eighty
now, but what the hell, there probably are
others along the river, though there was a point
when social security was kicking in I didn’t
go to the palms nor did I go to Boca
to traffic in herons nor did I go to Miami
where my people walk around in scary
black suits and hats perched over their other hats
just in case and just in case nor did I
go to California nor stay in Iowa nor
buy a farmhouse in the Pioneer Valley
south of Brattleboro, thanks God, thanks God—

and Peter interrupts me remembering a
squirrel in Iowa that bit all the daisies,
a mad squirrel of sorts but certes no madder
than our own hot shots with their squirrel rifles killing
squirrels from two miles up at wedding parties
of all things, of all things—

and that’s what you
mean by a hole in the universe, isn’t it, Peter
asks and he remembers the garden we built
and what we planted, how I went to the K-Mart
and bought the cardboard planters and plastic trays
and how we built a fence—give way to groundhogs
ye black potatoes and brown tomatoes, and ah
the railroad ties there planted in gravel and it
was a hole he dug—I came home one day and
he was into it up to his knees—

and Peter is
tall, and he remembers the cosmos, I the
delphiniums, but both of us hated that squirrel,
eating a daisy on the highest limb of
my apple tree, the one that died, and she just
laughing and giving us the finger, and on my
cell phone he remembers how we drove to
the kingdom of used lawn mowers, I on the way
yelling out the window to every mower
of hill and valley, how much will you take for
that lawn mower, that lawn mower, for
there is progress, n’est-ce pas, isn’t there
Peter, I used to hate green grass but now I
almost adore it, and what about the holes in
Europe and Asia I ask—

what of the holes in
this or that heart, he says—

I say repair it!

He says, and are you going to plant a Berber,
clever of hand, to cut the colored marble
and know how it looks a distance of five miles
as in that notebook you scratch away with your black
and red ballpoint you are so proud of, just like
the Berber chipping away knowing in your knuckles
what it will look like when it’s finished, each scratch
critical though it’s not as if you were writing
by the laws of Plato—perish the thought—it is
what it is—and you will look at it, you and me,
and say “that’s right,” not even, “that’s what I had
in mind,” for it is your knuckles that write, still blessed
by suppleness, if not your hips, if not
your knees, God bless your knees, God bless the cartilage,
God bless the ligaments—you with your hole in the universe,
so weird and extreme.

Peter says this, and he
and I trail off and since he gave me a tape
of Leonard Cohen with a voice so deep it shook
my red Honda, I thought therein did it lie,
something about Vienna, something Brooklyn,
her torn blue raincoat—or his—I can’t get the gender
right, the facts don’t add up, it’s Jane and it rhymes
with Lili Marlene, that famous lamppost, the same
nostalgia, his song or hers, Peter loves the turn
and does his preacherly voice, we have just half
a minute or so to talk and throw sentences
at one another, “no-one knows what it means,”
that is his favorite, “no-one can understand it,”
“we walk around in a fog,” I say that,
“and live in a mist,” “we are in a Russian
sweat house, climbing the bleachers, breathing pure steam.”
“It’s like the smoke,” he says, “in a Chinese painting,
there are the mountains and there is the hut you’ll live in,
you barely can see the trees in the little gorge
left side of the hut, the green intense,
the tops of fir trees almost touching the steep
broken path;” “it’s like living in a cloud,”
I say, “though the sun is shining, whatever that
means, when you’re healthy and money in your pocket,
and walking five miles an hour by your favorite
body of water it’s hard to remember the cloud,
you are so sure of yourself.”

“What made you think
of a hole the way you did?” he asks.

“My figures
always start with the literal and the spreading
is like blood spreading,” I say, “and as for for the wound it
comes from growing up with coal, the murder
of everything green, rivers burning, cities
emptied, humans herded, the vile thinking
of World War I and II, the hole in England,
the hole in Germany, and what we can’t en-
dure, the hole in Japan, Truman, the third
assistant baker’s helper, he should pick at
his harp in Hell, when I read about
Tamurlane, say, and how he piled up the heads,
and David and the Moabites, he made them
lie down to see who was longer or shorter and put
half of them to death, it had to do with
ropes, he may have piled up skulls for all
I know, and Samuel the prophet loved him to pieces,
and Herman Cortez and Genghis Kahn, but also,
I hate to say it, private Sharon, pig
Ariel, and the Lebanese jaunt, a massacre,
as I remember—let’s not forget the names,
Sabra and Shatila”—

“It’s justice you want,
isn’t it?” quoth Peter.


RIP, Mary Oliver

screen shot 2019-01-18 at 8.23.58 amMy story contains neither a mountain, nor a canyon, nor a blizzard, nor hail, nor spike of wind striking the earth and lifting whatever is in its path. I think the rare and wonderful awareness I felt would not have arrived in any such busy hour. Most stories about weather are swift to describe meeting the face of the storm and the argument of the air, climbing the narrow and icy trail, crossing the half-frozen swamp. I would not make such stories less by obtaining anything special for the other side of the issue. Nor would I suggest that a meeting of individual spirit and universe is impossible within the harrowing blast. Yet I would hazard this guess, that it is more likely to happen to someone attentively entering the quiet moment, when the sun-soaked world is gliding on under the blessings of blue sky, and the wind god is asleep. Then, if ever, we may peek under the veil of all appearances and partialities. We may be touched by the most powerful of suppositions — even to a certainty — as we stand in the rose petals of the sun and hear a murmur from the wind no louder than the sound it makes as it dozes under the bee’s wings. This, too, I suggest, is weather, and worthy of report. – from Long Life, Essays and Other Writings


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Nightfall – Brad Leithauser

In Iceland, in early January,
when dusk begins at dawn,
alone in a wind-whipped shack,
I kneel as though cowering
before my little stove door.
Nights are immense, and my coal is black
as night.
A geologist
in his lab might be able to say,
within a million years or so, just
when and where the coal’s towering
source-plants were laid down;
I only know, while waiting for
the room to warm, it was very
long ago, and far away.

A Note -Wislawa Szymborska

Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;

to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;

to tell pain
from everything it’s not;

to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;

and if only once
to stumble on a stone,
end up drenched in one downpour or another,

mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

and to keep on not knowing
something important.

Rumi – Imagine a man selling his donkey

Imagine a man selling his donkey
to be with Jesus.
Now imagine him selling Jesus
to get a ride on a donkey.
This does happen.

Jesus can transform a drunk into gold.
If the drunk is already golden,
he can be changed to pure diamond.
If already that, he can become the circling
planets, Jupiter, Venus, the moon.

Never think that you are worthless.
God has paid an enormous amount for you,
and the gifts keep arriving.

Vin Santo

that New Year’s Eve
we stood on the hill
above the vineyard

watching fireworks
rise above the lake
from Pieve to Anghiari

later in the stillness
of the barn the cat chasing
our shadows on the wall

a moment so full
if today we could talk
we’d agree we had no better

earlier at the bar in Caprese
Michelangelo we couldn’t decide
what to drink to the new year

vin santo an old man said
holding up his glass
certo vin santo


Most nights I can see the lit steeple
of the church where I was baptized.
I returned there only to play basketball
or Friday night dances where once
I may have kissed a girl named Cheryl.

I was a little kid in another church
not five miles from where I sit, playing
with the glass eyes of my mother’s
mink stole, when the church PA
picked up an AM station spinning
Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon,
so let us pray, “you’ll never know
how  great a kiss can feel.” Amen.

My father’s funeral was in the Lutheran church
across Auburn Street from my junior high.
During prayer, my grandmother whispered,
“wouldn’t it be nice if he popped open
that lid and said – just kidding?”

The year before, I was married there
on a rainy night in June.
God was stern then. Still,
it would have been nice.


Photo: Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception,
Portland, Maine – September 2018


The true seeing is when
there is no seeing – Shen Hui

the pigeons
of exit 3
have lived

on a powerline

they may fly alone
to dust a wing
or feather

but once they flew
like starlings
above a river

while you
watched darkly
through a rear
view mirror

black and grey birds on wire during daytime

Photo by Pixabay on

The Man Watching – Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after 
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes 
that a storm is coming, 
and I hear the far-off fields say things 
I can’t bear without a friend, 
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on  
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age: 
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,  
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!  
What fights with us is so great.  
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,  
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,  
and the triumph itself makes us small.  
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.  
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament: 
when the wrestlers’ sinews  
grew long like metal strings,  
he felt them under his fingers  
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel  
(who often simply declined the fight)  
went away proud and strengthened 
and great from that harsh hand,  
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.  
Winning does not tempt that man.  
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,  
by constantly greater beings.

                –Translated by Robert Bly

(on his birthday, December 4, 1875)

Windy Day 1