Friday, September 13, 2019

The Necessary Voyage















Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser



When the birds have come to say, “wake and rise,”
I do, gathering my life into a bundle of severances,
resting words of gratitude on the brows of the departed,
some of them in mirrors, my heart used up in this place.

Not of all voyagers get maps or a compass that points
to something other than grief. Some must go without
bearing. Actually, the honest books, sermons, and town
criers say that many and many more are going this way,
just on from somewhere destroyed, hoping with an acrid,
musty hope that there is a healing land before them.
For a man to leave what he loves, there’s a good chance
he’s already died, or begun to and surely will.

Does one remain a citizen of a fallen city?
Shall I ask this of the woodland creatures? Shall I ask it
of my name and those who carried it into the world
before me over long distances because, well, because
love departed the soul of some person and place.

At my desk near a large picture window, I write and
and wonder while listening to the song of birds
who will soon lift and go. What can I inherit of this?
What’s there to make of the necessary voyage when
the land no longer offers a tending embrace.

I don’t know how the birds do it, keeping their glee
about it year after year. We humans aren’t built
like that it seems. Life after life it goes on, the
wretched longing for birth place, for story place,
for the place that made sense of us.

We arrive wounded, betrayed by the gods, weeping,
and impatient to love and be loved again. Looking
around I realize that we are all necessary voyagers.
How do I make my peace with that fact? How
do I reconcile my ability to hang seed for the birds,
but not to provision water in a desert, or a map and
compass to the great ship captain?


(c) 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
Published in Conversations with Mary: Words of Attention and Devotion
Available from major online book retailers

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Saturday, September 7, 2019

I Bow Down















Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser


I bow down.
I bow down to the sky that oversees
the liars and the truthsayers.
I bow down to the earth that conveys
the rich and the poor.
I bow down to the child that will lead
tomorrow and the child that leads
today and the child that must become
an angel because we won’t follow
the children otherwise.

What I stand for is that which
I bow down to:

that which says we’re not done
yet, there’s a lot more to learn
to love.


© 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
Published in Conversations with Mary
Available through major online retailers

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Black Walnut Grove














Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser


My cabin is nestled in a black walnut grove. The grey-black trees stand tall and firm, like guardians. Their thick branches reach out and around, embracing. Lichen, moss, and vines adorn them in a manner that you’re sure is ceremonial. They are trees and not just trees, like in the way that you know you’ve had dreams that weren’t just dreams. I’m getting to that.

The black walnut is an edge species, meaning that it is neither of the forest nor the field. Its role is not to fit quite in. It’s also considered a pioneer species, meaning that it’s one of the first to show up when a place needs healing. It has been widely regarded for its utility: the dark wood—easily worked as hardwoods go—sap sugars, brown dye from the nut hulls, and nut meat and oil, despite the fact that it is one tough nut to crack. Medicinally, among other things, it has been used to address a wide range of skin and gut issues. 

I think I was in my late twenties when the first part of the dream came to me. I’m pretty sure that it was after my mother’s death. So, I would have been twenty-six, at least.

I was listening to a young woman talk about her stepmother. She was saying that the thing she appreciated most about her was her sense of gratitude. Her stepmother was a deeply grateful person. It was like gratitude was what her stepmother lived on—her breath, her sustenance. The young woman went on to say that when she was a child, she didn’t think much about it; it was just the way her stepmother was. However, as she grew older and began to frequent the edges of adult conversations, she started to learn things about her stepmother’s life before she had become her stepmother. Her stepmother’s life, she learned, had been difficult. At times, very difficult. This surprised her and impacted her deeply. She considered herself lucky. She was well loved and supported. To be truthful, she was quite privileged. If her stepmother could be so grateful despite an affluence of dark days, then certainly she could be more grateful for all that she had. She decided to become a grateful person, like her stepmother.

When I awoke from the dream, I thought it beautiful. It felt bittersweet—like something that exists at the interface of sadness and joy. It couldn’t fully occupy either sentiment, but contained both, actively. I was deeply moved by the thought of what it would be like to impart such a gift to a child, how it could transform a life, how it could transform some aspect of the world. I thought: I’m going to be grateful. I’m going adopt gratitude as a way of living. And, so, I did. Well, I’ve been trying my best, anyway.

The scientific name for the black walnut is Juglans nigra. The tree is literally of the gods; juglans is derived from jovis glans, meaning the nut of Jupiter, the king of the gods. In the Autumn, when the leaves are golden and the walnuts begin to crash down on my metal roof, it can feel like the gods are having something of a temper tantrum. Some people hate the trees for this and cut them away from their homes. I learned a long time ago neither to quarrel with nor dismiss the gods. They are usually up to something beyond mortal understanding. Although there has been many a night when the walnuts have awakened me from a deep sleep, a crash, bang, causing me to bolt upright in bed, I adore them still.

I adorn them sufficiently to want to grow their company. In large bushel baskets, I collect all of the nuts that fall in the driveway and on the decks. I then walk the thresholds, tossing the nuts to their destiny at the edges of my farm’s woods and meadow, along the stream courses, and at roadside, wherever they will be able to get sufficient moisture and light. If it wasn’t for my appreciation of their company, they wouldn’t be in this holler anymore. Over the decades that preceded my arrival, loggers removed all but my parent grove.

I think I was in my late forties, maybe fifty, when the second part of the dream came to me. It was short. This time, I wasn’t just listening to the story. I was watching the young woman standing behind a podium, speaking into a microphone, telling the story about her stepmother’s gratitude. People were listening. People were feeling. It was a funeral. It was my funeral. I had been the stepmother.

There’s a certain delight that I feel when I look down and, there before me, I see the first few inches of a young walnut sapling making its way into the world.


(c) 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
From "RidgeLines" (a work in progress)

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Thursday, August 29, 2019

One Guinea for a Second Look



















Art: Mark Collins
https://markcollinsfineart.com/


Their presence is unmistakable:
brightly colored, raucous flocks pecking
and dashing in collective frenzy across
dusty ground. They are of the day that
some god manifested, well, I don’t know.
There are brilliant acts of creation and
there are accidents to be learned from.
Is the telling of either entirely truthful?

~

Life often requires us to take a second
glance at the obvious. His brushes thought
they were going to be doing something
ordinary, but they didn’t. As you can see.
They never do. He’s incapable of observing
things in ordinary ways.

The poet, she found herself wondering
about her dark days of awkwardness, there
was cackling, and what a gift they had turned
out to be. And, a word found her: delightful.

~

So, these fowl birds. Let’s look again.
If I focus, I can see the possibility
of beauty in everything.


© 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
From a book collaboration in progress with artist Mark Collins

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Close Quarters (One)















Art: Mark Collins
https://markcollinsfineart.com/


Things were fine in the nest cavity for awhile.
Specifically, when they were still in their eggs.
But baby birds—these being Northern flickers
of the woodpecker family—grow fast and trees
don’t expand to accommodate. “Move over!”
“You move over!” “Where do you think I can
move to, exactly?” They found some respite
when the weather was good, poking their heads
out from the hole in the swaying pine.  But, oh,
how they wanted to learn to fly so that they
could get away from each other.

“Good riddance!”

~

“Are we there yet?!”

Whenever we made trips to visit the grandparents
my sisters and I would be confined for hours in
the back of Bessie, our white Buick station wagon.
Proximity did not make us closer. No. Quite
the opposite. Space was a limited resource worth
fighting for. “Move over!” “You move over!”
“Where do you think I can move to? Mom!”
Although we didn’t choose to be together, we did,
over time, share in a common antidotal strategy:

“I need to pee!”

~

Find yourself an adult living in a metropolitan
environment and you’ll find yourself using public
transportation. Metro. Bus. It doesn’t matter.
There is a sardine can—that you paid for and rushed
to board—awaiting you and hundreds of strangers
adorned with summer body odor and winter colds.
“Excuse me, could you please move over?” “Huh? No.”
“Where do you think I can move to, exactly?” Ding.
Ding. The door opens wide and it’s every man, woman,
and dragged-by-the-wrist child fleeing, thinking
some form of:

“Oh, thank God for liberty and independence!”

~

It’s not really that funny.
There are seven billion people riding a finite
planet, all of them longing for intimacy.


© 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
From a book collaboration in progress with artist Mark Collins

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

White Pines



















Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser


My little cabin is in what they call a holler. Here, the sun is slower to arrive than on the ridges. I prefer to meet it there rather than wait on the world’s slow turning. Greeting the day is ritual. No, it is more than that, it is ceremony. The trees know this too, and I think also all those shrubs beneath them and the vines that use them to reach up to the heavens. Like me, climbing these mountains.

Often, the deer watch me, branches as masks. Today, it was a young white pine the doe chose. She didn’t know that I knew the fawn was beside her, low in the dry stream bed, but I did. They walked on together and I, alone. What do I make of the rabbits in the grassy meadows? How are there so many, so complacent? Isn’t this fox-certainty, coyote-certainty wonderful in the way that it teaches gratitude for clover and love of a moment?

Back to the white pine. There aren’t many here. Not tall. Not dense. Mostly, they are young and spindly. It’s like the artist had forgotten them and then suddenly said, “Oh, pines! There must be pines.” Then he—or she—fit them into the remaining spaces because they are deserving. Five long needles each, that’s how I know they are white pines. Of course, there are also the memories of buying them—white pines—for the dozen Christmases we were something called a family.

Once—well more than once—I sat with glorious children on a faraway mountain watching the sunset and the stars arrive, confident and twinkling. We counted them in three languages and sang songs that these same stars had taught their ancestors out of necessity. I don’t remember the words, but I remember the laughter and how the night sky was caught up in their eyes. They didn’t know darkness like I know darkness. I prayed they never would.

A walk isn’t finished until the walker has acknowledged at least one great vulnerability and discovered something to be grateful for. I’m not talking about the pines. I am saying that maybe we should be more like artists, rabbits, and our ancestors’ children.


© 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
From "Conversations with Mary" (a work in progress)

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

What's the Vision?



















Photo: (c) Jamie K. Reaser


What’s the vision? What do you want so see?
What happens when there isn’t an answer?
What happens when you’ve lost the trail
and your sense of destiny?

If you don’t like it, that’s fine. I don’t like it either,
some things need to change, but resistance isn’t
an agent, it’s one act. If you stop something from
going there, you need to decide where you want
it to go instead. Where? Where are we going
instead?

Sometimes things need to fall apart. I do sometimes.
It’s the only way to let go and grow. Ask the caterpillars
on the wilting pipevine or the tadpole in the puddle on
the hottest day of the year. Something beckons for
an ending that’s worth all the risks in the world. There’s
another form to be instead.

What’s the vision? What do you want so see?
What happens when there isn’t an answer?
What happens when you’ve lost the trail
and your sense of destiny?

I hear your anger and frustration. I hear the silence
of overwhelm. I hear your pleading for this to stop,
for it to go away. And, that’s okay. No is a worthy
word when its time has justly come. But, yes must
know where and when to arrive and how to map
the way, somewhere.

What’s the vision? What do you want so see?
What happens when there isn’t an answer?
What happens when you’ve lost the trail and
your sense of destiny?

I’ve been listening for an answer, but no one seems
to know that there’s a question. I see you standing
up. I see you sitting down. I see you lying in the way.
Good! And, then? Where are we going? Where are
all of us going? How do we play follow the leader
like this? It’s not the way I remember.

What’s the vision? What do you want so see?
What happens when there isn’t an answer?
What happens when you’ve lost the trail and
your sense of destiny?

What’s the vision? What do you want so see?
What happens when there isn’t an answer?
What happens when you’ve lost the trail and
your sense of destiny?


© 2019/Jamie K. Reaser
From "The Song Book" (a work in progress)

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