Sunday, March 22, 2015


     Finn took the one-inch square, rainbow-striped bag from his shelf, pulled open the drawstring and turned it over. Six matchstick, painted wooden figures fell into his small hand. She watched him delicately picked up one at a time to look at.  “What are those?” she asked, as she reached for the little scroll that fell out with them. 
“They’re worry dolls, Nonna!” Finn said in a tone suggesting that she should have known exactly what they were. She read out loud from the paper scroll.  According to legend, Guatemalan children tell their worries to the dolls and place them under their pillows at night. The worries are gone by morning.  
Give me a few dozen, she thought, but said only, “I didn’t know that. Shall we put some under our pillows tonight?  
"Of course we should!”
When it was time for bed, Finn picked out three of the tiny figures for himself and gave her three. Grandmother and grandchild each whispered their worries to the dolls and placed them under their pillows. Then Nonna opened the evening story book and read until Finn’s eyes began to close.  
She should have been tired enough to sleep too. But, as was her  habit before sleep (if sleep came at all) all the things there were to worry about crowded her mind: her husband’s progressing disease; her friend’s terminal illness; her regrets about all the things she might have done, or done differently, or not done at all! Then, she might think, as she lay, warm, safe and comfortable, that all over the world, random violence, pain and suffering happening in war zones, in cities, towns.  As if that weren’t enough to keep her awake she might also turn to the way her body felt with the effects aging, or even increasingly aware of the inevitability of her own death, until she might say out loud, Why do I do this?  
What were the three worries she had whispered to the dolls? She didn’t remember.  She also wondered if more people than she might imagine were also worrying at this moment, or did she alone have such a negative state of mind by nature? 
The sensual body and the sharp mind fading and dulling. With more life behind her than in front of her, she tried to come to terms with all the losses: of friends, family, youth and beauty and energy. Motivation for looking ahead and welcoming  each challenge with strength was weaker. The progression of her husband’s Parkinson’s was quickly diminishing his health and former self. Then there was her forgetting a word here, a name there—the sad sense of slowing down, taking more time to do things that had once been done without a thought, and with facility and speed. She feared, but hoped that these were not the beginning of the “A” word disease.
She recalled that her father used to go out with his shirt inside out, and how he once got into his car and found himself in the back seat. She remembered noticing how slowly her mother was walking, with an obvious sense of caution and uncertainty, and her admirable attempts to “keep up.” She herself continued to do all the things she had always done, but with an increasing awareness of the effort, not only to accomplish them, but also to appear as though nothing were different.  She would, for instance, try now, as her mother once did when walking, to keep up with younger people. Was she more upset if her family noticed and asked if she needed help, or if no one noticed?
In a recurring dream she stood at the top of a long stairway she had to descend.  It open on both sides and each individual stair impossibly steep, with no way down or out. 
When she got to this point where thoughts wound themselves into self-perpetuating loops, she tried to give herself a prompt to initiate another of her evening rituals: counting her blessings. It was a noble effort to displace the worries with all the things be grateful for, which, in reality, were very many. She and her husband had been together and still loved each other after 45 years. They were in good health and lived comfortably. Both of her sons had both found creative work which they enjoyed and could make a living at.  She still had her dear friend whose enthusiasm for life, even as she prepared for death was an inspiration. She had interests and projects which kept her from boredom and despair. Her grandchildren were healthy and happy, and the greatest joy to her.
She so looked forward to and loved being with her family. There she was welcomed, useful and valued for the love and warmth she both gave and received.  Worries hovered more on then periphery, as Finn’s joy and interest in everything lifted life above the ordinary into another realm.  And he was pleased to have her near him too.  “I love you, Nonna,” he would say, sometimes with his eyes closed, ready to drift off into the angelic state of sleep so visible on a child’s face. 
At bedtime the next night, Fiinn called to her, “Oh, Nonna, look the worry dolls!  He reached under her pillow to gather the others.  The, with wide eyes, “Hey, but I still have my worries; they didn’t go away.  He told his  fear of dreaming the house was on fire.  She felt that twinge of compassion one feels for children when they begin to realize that there is no magic. “Well, it did say it was a legend, didn’t it Nonna?”
“Yes, yes it did,” she agreed, with more of a sense that she was the child and he the adult, “but a worry does not mean the thing you are worried about is going to happen,” but she didn’t entirely believe that herself. She knew of people whose worst fears were realized, and how they had to bear a sorrow she could only imagine.
They decided anyway that they would tell the dolls their worries and try again tonight. “Nonna, I am afraid to go to sleep and have bad dreams. Dreams, dreams go away.”
“Well, we know what we will have to do for that?”
“Nonna Go to the other side of day, right Nonna?” 
After stories and songs, if Finn still felt uneasy, they would sit up on the bed and begin the incantation. Finn got into the cross-legged position.  “Close your eyes and relax, like you're a stick of butter melting in a pan. Now, Let’s go to the other side of day. Take three deep breaths. Slowly, in and out, in and out, in and out. To add an air of mystery and magic to the ritual, she chanted part of a Latin prayer she had to memorized as a child, “Agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi” (Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world). The words were accompanied by hand gestures that Finn would imitate, pushing day away in the all seven directions, ending with two hands over the heart. Then silently she said the rest of the prayer to herself “dona nobis pacem (grant us peace.)
“I feel better, Nonna.”
Nonna looked at the boy with tears in her eyes, “Nonna has to leave tomorrow, and I’m very sad. I won’t see you for a while, and I’ll miss you so terribly.” 
“You’re leaving tomorrow, Nonna?” 
“Yes, sweetie” 
With his blue eyes wide, he looked straight into hers, “Well, Nonna, it’s not tomorrow now! 
She felt her heart would stop.
Then they lay down holding hands and listened to the quiet. After a few minutes, Finn was asleep. It’s not tomorrow now, indeed. Why did she place her worry and sadness on him, as though he were her very own little worry doll?  
       Instead of his taking on her worry, though, he nullified it with the wisdom, clarity and truth of innocence.Yes, she thought: It’s not tomorrow now, and it’s not yesterday; it is here and nowShe fell asleep recalling a forgotten-until-now quote from her youth: “For the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

Thursday, September 25, 2014


“If there had been only one Buddhist in the woodpile” 
That cynical idealist, realist poet of the people once pondered
Substitute Waco, Texas with any or all senseless, complicated, absurdity of violence
Before then, until now and way beyond tomorrow. 

If Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess, protector of all, had been in the woodpile in Iraq
Would the children have been saved--the Christians, Yazidi, Sunni,
four young men whose own mothers could not save them? 
Barbarians took her name in vain and perverted her purpose

Could any power have prevented mass murders, carnage, brutality? 
It didn’t, it hasn’t, it couldn’t
Only consciousness can
Not Bodhisattva- or saint-like consciousness
But the tiniest bit of wonder before the infinite universe
A modest intimation of the human spirit
One glimpse of beauty and goodness of life and love,
a capacity of compassion for the other--
Her fear and suffering, his sorrow and joy
For just a moment.

That glimmer of consciousness might have asked: 
"With my life, here and now, what will I do? 
What do I wish to bring into being, to experience? 

Supreme power over everything and everyone?
Shedding blood of innocents with the arrogance of zeal?"

Their answer was, “yes.” The men of war have ever said thus: 
“I will assert and secure my power over the weak and helpless
Through terror, torture, rape and murder
Wearing black masks to cover our mocking faces of defiance
Speaking only threats with hearts of stone."

Such is the history of the world--a "nightmare from which we are trying to awaken"
And what will the warriors rule over--these modern hoards at the gates of civilization--
Chaos and devastation?
Keeping watch, lest the same thing befall them
Born of the pain and malice they engendered in others

And nations’ military deus ex machina descend upon them
While the Buddhist and we wait and meditate--

Clapping one hand

Monday, September 1, 2014


Parts of me are missing
I don’t know what they are or where to look for them
I only sense sometimes--the gaps, the spaces that keep me from wholeness
standing under the stars last night, the tide coming in, the wind blowing, restless
preferring the familiarity of my small room
where I am not reminded of parts I cannot name in the dark mystery of the infinite. Why?
I fold the laundry, wash out the green glass, sweep the leaves from my doorway, put everything in its place
except the fragments of myself--out there somewhere, or in here
so near, but deeper than I can see or go.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

For Boo

Mary "Boo" Budash - Crossed the Threshold in May 2014

You, poised at the bank of the Seine, alone
like a country girl innocent in blue 
Madone de la rivière you seemed
full of grace

We did not know you then
but sensed in the friend and poet you became
the beauty and goodness emanating from you--in that image.

Your inward gaze, the water's serenity
flowing from and to
that moment you left us
all that transpired and transformed along the way
visible to us now

Tuesday, July 22, 2014


Dreaming light and waking in the dark - We
Perpetually relive the Fall
Eternally recreate Creation 
Receive revelation
both asleep and awake - all

Lost in the belly of a whale
Riding a bull over ocean swells
Lying in rushes under the weight and white of a swan
Traveling the arduous path to the underworld
Emerging into starlight.

Amid polarities hope and despair
shame and pride have we trod the earth--an armed race

With fire to illuminate or incinerate.

It’s all true for you and me (and everyone we know)

Look, and see if is not so.
Forever, deep within
We have carried images and experience
of paradise, of exile and a longing to return

Isn’t this why we became human in the first place?

Monday, June 16, 2014

On This Ground

      It comforted Nora to think that, on the very ground he took his last breath, Indians had once danced. She didn’t find that out until later, after the burial, after staying inside all summer and fall, wondering if she had somehow imagined it all.  She had slept on the sofa since that rainy evening, waiting for him to call, to see him walk past the front window, to open the door for him when he came home.
When she arrived at the accident scene that night, she saw the chalked outline of his body on the street.  She reached for the grey sweatshirt among his personal effects given to her just an hour before at the hospital, where she had identified her son: car keys, a cigarette lighter, a wallet, an iPod, some change, and an arrowhead he always carried with him. She pulled the sweatshirt over her head, holding the hood to her face and inhaled.  Then she lay down on the wet, leaf-strewn road and sobbed.
     Did he suffer? Did he think of her, call out, pray in the last moments, or was he already unconscious when he hit the pavement?  Did he know he would die, hope he would live?  Nora lived with those questions, spoke them in the middle of the night, wrote them down over and over. Then one morning in late December she awoke to that grey stillness before snow remembering that now, after the winter solstice, there were longer days ahead. Then, it came to her so clearly: today she must go to that place again, where the chalk outline had long faded and no trace of metal shards or shattered glass remained. 
     Only burning grief remained, which still surprised her whenever she awoke--morning or night, but this morning she would be moved. It would be a long walk, but she would go.  This morning she had to give over to time and reason.  He will not call; he will not walk up the front path. He will not come home, no matter how long I lie waiting on the sofa.  She went to pull the shades down on the front windows and locked the door.  
      When her daughter called, Nora said, “I am taking a walk this morning.”
     It was a revelation to Addie. She was partly elated that her mother was doing anything other than what she had done for the past months, and partly concerned at this sudden change. “That’s great, Mom.  How about if I come over and we can walk together like we used to?  It's really cold and windy today, and snowing off and on already. Maybe we should wait until tomorrow”
      “I know, I know, but It'll be fine. I have to go today. I'm leaving now for Three Island Cove.”
      “Mom, wait! I'll be right over, really. Don’t go without me. I should be with you,” 
      “No, don’t worry. You’ve been telling me to do something different, and now I am.” She hung up the phone before her daughter had finished.
      “I want to go with you.”
      Nora was sorry she had even told her daughter where she was going and hoped she would not just show up.  She wanted to be alone. She knew it had been hard for Addie too, but grief was a private affair to protect and not share with anyone, not even her own daughter, “her favorite,” as Andrew would say. 
     She went into his room, where all remained as it had been the night he left and never returned: curtains drawn, clothes on the unmade bed, shoes on the floor, CDs; empty cigarette packs, matches and batteries on the table beside his bed.  Laundry she had folded for him was still on the dresser. The job applications and resumes on his desk reminded her that, in his slow, deliberate way, Andrew had been ready to make a change in his life.  
     Every morning since his death, she would open his door whisper in a good morning, and every evening a good night, but not today.  She went straight for the box she had placed in one corner of the room. Taking out the grey sweatshirt, she held it close to her once again, lifted it to her lips for a moment, then slipped it on. She hurried to the hall closet to grab a coat, hat and gloves and stepped out into the cold.
     She felt she was emerging into a new world, but looking around thought, it’s really just the old world I don’t recognize, where people have been living their lives, going places and doing things as usual. For her, there was no “usual,” no place to go, and no life either to live.  Grief was her world--deep and vast, with no exit. With her head down, against the wind, she watched the snow flakes sparkle a moment on the sidewalk then disappear. Icy branches moving in the wind, and her quickening breath were the only sounds. As her stride widened, she became aware of her pounding heart and her breath frosting into mist in front of her. Everything is so quiet, so white, so pure.   
     Disoriented by the openness of this forgotten environment, she had a sense of her changing inner landscape--unwanted and unwelcome. As she began the ascent up the steep hill, there seemed to be a thread being cast backwards in time, attaching itself to images, people, events, places--connecting her with her son.  She wanted to turn around and run back to her safe, familiar place of stasis. But the intensity of her experience was compelling, with intimations of truths, both light and dark. Somehow, she knew that only by physically moving forward, could the past be revealed and lead her to the present, and maybe beyond.  What was that feeling of expanding and contracting at the same time? It was as if the long days and nights of sameness, the ritualized sorrow had prepared the ground for all that came out of her now.  
     Something was shifting--what, to where or how, she couldn't tell. Though her grief was still palpable, underlying everything, there was also a distraction from it.  No longer did it overflow, gushing in torrents so that she felt each moment she was about to go under, breathless and suffocating.  Her focus went to each new strand of thought, feeling, and memory, all weaving together, without the power to stop it, had she wished to.
     In the quiet, deserted street, passing the houses and trees still lit with holiday lights, she was remembering her lost child had been unwanted at first, coming many years after Addie, whose arrival had justified all manner of pain. It was a redemption of her past transgressions--nothing else was needed. 
     I don’t know why, but when Addie came, it made me feel normal and whole again. She brought me down to earth, put things into perspective. But, Andrew, more than anyone or anything else, forced me to reach down in myself.  I had to build up things I didn’t even know I had.  Addie was a beautiful gift. She took away the darkness and made everything light and bearable.  The joy she gave me took away my burden of guilt and shame, or displaced it. Or did I just trade one myth of sorrow for another of redemption.
There I go again, making things too dark or too light. Matt told me that, and I knew it was true, though I didn't let him know that he knew me that well.
     The widening circumference of memory touched many truths, exposed illusions, brought things into focus.  Andrew had was a contented baby, but was less responsive to affection.  He didn't like to be held.  He was dreamy, independent, willful and often irritable, which tried her patience.  More than that, though, as he grew, it’s was as if he were asking her to change herself in order to see who he was, to find what he needed, which was hard--maybe impossible. 
     I failed Andrew in every way. With Addie, I felt I’d always known who she was and what she needed. It was easy.  But I took on Andrew as “my task,” which his father took no part in initiating or directing.  He wasn’t interested in my one-woman show. I excluded Matt--everyone and everything else.
     Andrew, who began to show early on that, while he may not have been “awake,” as she felt, he had extraordinary insights about the essence and purpose of things, knew more than she did in some ways. He was a puzzle and paradox.  His intuitive, sensitive nature engendered in her a love as deep and wide as the love she had for Addie, but an uneasy love. Something was asked in exchange.  She was convinced his inherent wisdom was meant to guide her, and his father to--something, maybe self-knowledge, which she thought they both lacked. His father did not allow it, but Nora thought she had.
     Of course, Andrew was also a gift, but he forced me to look into the darkness, own it, and find some light in it. She   had attempted to set things right and took up her task, which left Matt out. She had been unable to admit her regret at having  left him, convincing herself that she had to concentrate on her life’s work. At the steepest stretch of the hill, it came to her that she did not have to leave and she missed him terribly. 
     That's me! creating my own Greek tragedy.  I thought Matt stood in the way. I put Andrew above all things.  I thought Addie had lifted my burden, but I just placed it on Andrew who carried it to his death. I tried to put it on Matt too, but he refused it.  It wasn't his, so why shouldn't he? And Andrew bore it all--my hovering, his father’s leaving, our move away from the only home he had ever known. He resented me for all of it, and couldn't forgave me. 
     "Can you forgive me now?" she whispered into the wind.
     By the time she reached the place she both dreaded and longed to be, a perfect imagination had been formed--perfect, in that it was whole, woven in reverse from moments in time, expanding outward to encompass the lives of mother and son--and a family. When she came to rest, she noticed a sign on the side of the road, one of those placards noting some bit of history. How had it eluded her notice until now? She had driven past it many times, but seldom walked the hill in the year they had lived in town.
     In an instant, she felt herself engulfed in love, small but integral within her creation, which held everything that was and is and would be.  She both saw and became the bare trees, the grey sky, the snow flakes around her and this ground--where Andrew was lost.  
     She read: "SAMUEL DE CHAMPLAIN. Due east from here on July 16,1605, the Sieurde Monts sent Samuel de Champlain ashore to parley with some Indians. They danced for him and traced an outline map of Massachusetts Bay."
     Nora stood for some time looking up at the sign. She bent down to touch the ground.  Something extraordinary had taken place here long ago--an exchange, a sharing, a trust, a true meeting.  In this place, strangers had arrived, met other souls who danced to welcome them on a foreign shore. They shared their knowledge of the land, which also lived inside of them. It was right here also that another soul, one whom she had striven to know and become more like. He had joined the others who had lived long ago. Time, just another illusion. We are all here. It is then, and now and tomorrow.
How long she stood in this reverie of her own creation, in the light of the knowledge the placard had shed, who knows?  She turned, glanced back once, as a few snow flakes floated down like feathers.  Feeling the cold more than before, even though the wind had subsided, she began to walk quickly downhill.  She saw Addie coming toward her smiling and waving, making her way amid the lights twinkling from the trees and houses along the still, quiet street.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Measure of the Universe

  In Genesis, God spoke the world into being.  In the New Testament, we have “In the beginning was the Word.” We are given these imaginative truths that speech or sound has formative power, bringing substance into being and that, “The Word,” or “Logos” has always been. We also find in Shelley’s epic play, Prometheus Unbound, that Prometheus, a demigod who stole fire from the gods also “gave man speech, and speech created thought, which is the measure of the universe” (II.iv.72-73). What these two sources suggest is that language is a mediator between humanity and divinity.
Language is what separates us from the other sentient beings, not only in its ability to simply communicate information or feelings, but also through its many subtle and nuanced layers (rhythms, sounds, evoked images, and associations), language creates meaning and, thus, thought. In this way, language can build and expand our consciousness and conscience.
Although I am not a member of an organized religion, I was brought up in Catholicism until the age of 10.  I am grateful for those early experiences which helped create a foundation for my inner life—experiences of seeing, hearing and feeling beauty.  The interior of the church inspired awe and reverence: the soft, matte whiteness of the marble alter; the gleaming red votives; the forms and fragrance of flowers; light streaming through the warm colors of the jeweled stained-glass.
I loved Saturday confessions, sitting quietly in the darkened church, where each sound echoed through the gaunt space.  In the presence of the figure on the cross, the somber saints and silent angels, there was something strangely familiar. I felt at home in wonder, which the Greeks tell us is the beginning of wisdom.
I listened on Sundays, Holy Days and at funerals to the liturgies, prayers and hymns. I recall my first apprehension of the spiritual—being lifted above the ordinary in profound insight, although I could not have put that name to it back then. It came through one of the Latin prayers that we also recited in English. Once heard, it reverberated through and in me (and still does): Dómine, non sum dignus, ut inters sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanábitur anima mea.
Oh, Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof. Only say the word and my soul will be healed. 
“Only say the word and my soul will be healed’” was a revelation to me as a child, as it is now: that words can and do heal, that they shape wisdom-filled thoughts and have a life which I can breathe in! Such word-thoughts impart a sense of hope and renewal, are felt as light, and can be called upon again and again as a source of comfort, strength, and even of actions I might not otherwise take, had I not been inspired by them.
As an adult, I found a life inseparable from layers of language as an English teacher and writer, grounded in the “trinity” of language: power, beauty, and meaning, which long ago planted a seed within me. I imagine that, if such a thing could be observed, the palest shade of green would have been seen through the thin shell of my young soul—ever so pale, but green, green and growing.