The poet is the priest of the invisible, the one who paints pictures of the way the air holds still or the way it moves away from the woman in the red dress, walking home from the bus stop beneath the row of old oak trees. The one who orchestrates the sacrament of placing words on empty paper, lets life move through the pen, leap across streams or fly like salmon up their ladders. The priestess who tells us stories about the heart of humankind, the whisper of doubt, the musty scent of secrets uncovered, given over to the day. It is not a small or unimportant task, this working with words, this waving of incense, these footsteps placed one after the other, ink across the page.
[Editor’s note: This is a piece from our spontaneous writing group on August 17th. The prompt was this quote by Wallace Stevens from The Daily Poet book (Two Sylvias Press): “The poet is the priest of the invisible.”]
I am not protesting in the streets because of the pandemic, but I am holding the hope in these acts close. But I’ve been troubled by the angry chanting. Not that people don’t have cause to be angry. Centuries of reasons for rage. Still, I am disturbed by the tenor of things, by what feels like a crossing over, moving away from nonviolent resistance. Wait, I want to say. This is not what Gandhi would want. Not what Martin Luther King would want. This is not what John Lewis tried for in his long, dedicated years of service. (If we keep going in this angry direction, will they all be rolling over in their graves?) I keep thinking we should be singing instead. I lie on my back in the courtyard after chavasana making up lyrics in my head to the melody of “Give Peace a Chance.” Black lives matter, I breathe. Brown lives matter. Queer lives matter. Women’s lives, too. “All we are saying,” I sing under my breath. Now and then I smell smoke from the brush fire near Banning, send up small prayers for all the beings there. The mourning doves glance my way, this strange beast beside them, but they don’t take wing.
Happy house finch chatter
louder than usual
wakes me in my work
I peek around the doorway
to see a dozen of them
sitting on the open louvers
enjoying the cooler air
alive and dear and
charming beyond belief.
I see the mama coyote again. She’s standing just off the creek path as I walk across the street. I stop at the edge of the road to breathe her in. She still looks unwell, but less so, I think. She’s steadier, somehow. Then a pup appears at the top of the bank, scampers over to her, weaves around her legs in delight at their reunion. It eases something inside me to see them together. The pup is happy, and for long moments this is all that matters. Other people come, and the coyotes disappear back into the creek bed. Two days later, I see the pup down below. He stops behind a scraggly bush, aware of my scrutiny, unsure. I step back, use a softer focus in my gaze. He keeps going, trotting along a small trail, ears too big for his head, all youth, energy, intent. For a moment I worry. (My forte.) He is all by himself. But I remember I trust his mama. And there’s nothing unsure about him. Once he decides I am not a threat, he doesn’t hesitate again. He runs along, so upright, a kind of joy in his little body. I realize he knows his way around, and I relax. I watch until his small form disappears into the brush. All day long, I see him in my mind, so grateful for the gift of him. All day long, he makes his steady way along the creek bed again and again, brown fur against the light sand, an enchanting video clip I play over and over inside me, one that never loses its charm.
A moment after the house sparrow flies off with the big feather in his beak, a small male Cooper’s hawk swoops in and lands on the wooden gate, not two feet from where the sparrow sat with his find. This bird always stops my breath, the marvel of his arrival. Today he holds still, his strong talons clutching the tops of the faded redwood boards. He swivels his head, his sharp eyes taking in small movements in the courtyard. He makes the small chirping sounds I love, the ones that feel like conversation or commentary, the ones that make me want to speak bird. I talk to him through the screen door, and he tilts his head to the side as if he’s studying me through the glass. Then in one quick motion he glides below the edge of the gate and is gone.