Flames

[Image Description: grainy black and white photo of a woman with medium-length straight hair. The picture shows her from the shoulders up, wearing a white shirt against a black background. The image is sideways with her head toward the left side of the frame. Her face is turned to the side, with shadows obscuring the side of her face and her eyes looking back toward the camera.]

The mirror reflects my eyes,
the same dark-rimmed irises,

but behind them are flames, heart on fire,
burning away what is not me.

Inherited facades turning to ash
while I wait to see if I’m a phoenix

or a moon or a tide
or the whole damn sky.

Imperfections

[Image Description: in the foreground, grass, foxtails, clover, and wild chicory that commonly grow on roadsides in rural Ohio, with a farm field covered in morning mist and the morning sun in the background.]

Imperfections vining out,
uncontained, unwanted, unwieldy,
unable to keep unseen,
multiplying in growing awareness.

Inability to bridge divides within and between.
Impossibility of accomplishing the to-do list.
Incapable of letting go things undone.
Incredulous over ideals unachieved.

Empathy, humanity, second chances,
offered freely to others,
don’t apply to self
in the darkness of comparison.

And yet, even roadside weeds,
are magic, dew-drenched,
incandescent,
bathed in morning light.

Wondering now what could
become of imperfections no longer
shielded from compassion,
allowed to transform in a new day’s sun.

Germination

[Image description: photo of a small, square flowerpot with a gray base and brown top border, filled with old, dry potting soil.]

Finding myself once again
lost, adrift, unsure what to do with
all these unknows collected along the way.

Scattering chaff,
what I hope is chaff,
then combing through remnants
for anything useful.

Schemes to get back to myself failing,
remaining dormant, resorting to deep breaths
to ward off despair.

All attempts to restart unable to thrive,
like seeds in last year’s potting soil,
refusing to germinate without renewal.

Spiraling, possibly out of control,
possibly back around
to deeper knowing of a truth
that saved me from myself before.

Obscuration

[Image Description: a black and white photo showing ominous black clouds, in a monster-mouth shape, around the crescent moon.]

In Thursday’s waning dusk
the jaws of an oncoming storm

swallowed the side-smile moon,
lightning giving glimpses

of the monster expanding
until the sky was devoured too.

I know she remains in place,
unaffected by the clouds

growing between us in the night,
yet I feel her obscuration as an absence.

Alone now, my pace quickens
to reach home before the tempest overtakes me.

Answers

[Image Description: view of canyon formations at Grand Canyon Nation Park, with a trail edge and some scruffy shrubs in the foreground, and a background of sun streaming through clouds, with a quote at the top that reads “And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke]

Rilke told us to live the questions,
but these days they burn and sting
and run ever onward,
undeterred,
not unlike the sunscreen sweating into my eyes
or the ants traversing the back of my hand
and creases of my knees
as I kneel in the sun pulling weeds
from my sad excuse for a strawberry patch.

What the ground ivy didn’t choke,
the chipmunks and deer had for breakfast
one of the weeks (or months) this Spring
I was too busy to give it my attention.

Now, I should be doing other,
more productive things,
but I’m determined to salvage
the few, meager plants that remain.

Pulling up vines and dead leaves,
pondering the win-lose ways
society has been organized absent caring attention
and who is on the losing end
and if there is any way to salvage
the life we’re sharing on this earth.

Structures and power keep giving some people more
and they take it because they can
while so many and the planet suffer.

We choose political and ideological sides,
refusing to give an inch until there’s
no room for compromise,
no space for mediation,
no appetite for finding another way.

I don’t like the thought
of having to concede anything
that’s important to me
but I wring my hands at the
planetary and political and societal disasters
unfolding and at all we’re losing
and I long for anything
that might start us in a new direction.

And today I bake in the Summer heat,
blinking away SPF 30
and trying to brush ants away without crushing them
and thinking about the questions
I might be too stubborn
or too much of a coward to live,
and longing for all the answers I don’t yet know.

Trauma

[Image Description: Photo of rock formations in Canyonlands National Park with a cloudy sky in the background and a car side mirror in the left foreground showing a reflection of a woman (me) sitting in the passenger seat of the vehicle wearing a black tank top and sunglasses]

Freeing, after decades thinking this is who I am,
how I’m flawed, knowing now the ways trauma
deforms, diminishes, defines,
not the person, but responses.

Finally seeing internal debates
resolve from how-could-I questions
into compassion for the ways I learned
to be quiet, to go along, to play a part required by others
to keep myself safe from what I could not control.
Clarity cascading over what I now long to transform.

Freeing, yes,
but trauma and its implications
can’t be shed like a garment,
one swift motion over the head,
tossed in a rubbish bin and carted away
with other unwanted things.

It’s interwoven.
Intertwined.
Entangled with
parts of myself I might want to keep
if only I could tell the difference.

That’s the tricky part, though,
left wondering, sorting,
trying to determine
which parts stemmed from trauma
and which parts are really
me.

Casting about for answers,
wondering what will be left
or if I’ll unravel entirely,
until the effort, the noise of it,
finds me craving silence.

Not silence like a wall, a stone, a word unsaid.
Silence like a seed, a bloom, a leaf unfurling
to draw the sun’s rays.
Silence that shapes, expands, refines,
until I can name my true self for myself.
Out loud.

Moon Walk

[Image description: a nearly full moon shining from behind silhouetted trees and layered clouds.]

Be still. And know.
The wisdom says.
Good wisdom, stillness.

But some nights my skin is too jumpy
and knowing seems too far away.
I have to move, to walk,

to push past the door
and the neighbor’s floodlights
and the tallest trees

and take step after step up the dark path until I can see.
Her.
There.

Close, relatively speaking.
Her satellite beams shimmering through the night
as they have for millennia

while people long forgotten gazed at her light.
I marvel at the way she gazes back
from among stars or clouds.

Shifting, watching, breathing,
awareness expanding to the motion of
seas and orbits and how we’re each, somehow, both small and needed.

Some knowing arrives in stillness, without seeing.
And some seeing leads to greater knowing,
in the right light.

Contemplation

[Image description: full frame of backlit, swirling storm clouds]

Eyes closed, yet
mind still prone to wander,
flounder, forget why I even started.

Not my intention to practice silence
the way rain falls from the sky.
Sometimes far too long between.

Sometimes far too much
at once to be absorbed, pooling,
ponding, where once was only dust.

Steady, is my intent.
Anchored, moored, awash,
continuous flow, leaving silt to settle.

Instead, dustbowl mind, swirling,
whirling while I search for calm,
realize, return, resettle.

Time passes, waiting,
suddenly aware, full presence,
taste of possibility,

a sliver more assurance that
there could be a God and if there is,
she is here, in me, in everything, and she is Love.

Finding

[Image description: Blue sky filled with billowy white clouds, behind a line of trees, with a field of grass and wildflowers in the foreground.]

In what some consider
heretical musings,
dangerous thinking,
playing with fire
on slippery slopes,
asking for censure,

I find space for questions unwelcome
within either/or constructs
of other people’s god.

I find insights
previously obscured
by certainty that stifled
doubts along with creativity.

I find explorations
and longings
formerly restricted
to a certain collection of words.

I find companions
willing to clasp hands,
jump,
free fall,
enjoy the vastness,
the beauty,
the tenderness,
the wild wilderness
that beckons within,
that knows without seeing,
that new life is what we’ll find.

Wary

[Image description: dirt path through a woods with green undergrowth on either side, sunlight streaming through the trees.]

Wary of myself these days,
unsure if I’m sculpting feelings into words
or shaping words around my feelings.

Knowing letting go
creates a void that’s hard to name
in someone else’s terms.

Inhaling, try to conjure
semblance of truth
from fragments of what’s lost.

Sitting in the silence
that I once thought of as God
and finding

hesitation,
exhalation,
invitation

to new words
to save my own soul
from paths that aren’t for me.