What is prayer if not
the tree in winter
before the budding,
the frozen river
before the crack of the thaw,
the egg in the incubator,
the child—nose pressed against 
the window—waiting…
the still red coal awaiting 
the poker’s stir,
the icicle longing 
to melt and flow into the river,
the monk in his cell.

What is prayer if not 
the horizon 
before the rosy finger of dawn,
the still cold air on the banks of the Rio Grande
before the winging snow geese lift off,
that heaviness of breath
before the monsoon,
the hunger in the belly,
the dissonant chord—unresolved,
oh, the ache of it all,
the water not yet wine.

There were some that I loved, 
but they didn’t love me.
Then you said: “Look! Stand here!” 
and we looked at the light.

You noticed it first.
Sunlight glowed red reflecting off the red rock mesas.
I thought how every evening the sun shines off the rocks
yet goes unnoticed. Who thanked the flower in July,
when she offered her breast to the bee?
I thought, Nothing is wasted, ever. 
Even the deepest crevices 
of the red rock mesas reflect light 
when the sun sweeps over their surface 
like a broom. Oh, every crumb 
is swept up-not a crumb of love
is wasted, ever. In summer, the roots 
of plants tangle to crack 
rock and absorb the light of sun.

So in winter, rocks mirror light.
See how the disheveled red rock 
bares herself like a chrysalis 
revealing her colors!

In summer, when we climbed
the white cliffs, swallows had moved in
and built nests on the rockface,
and we watched cliff swallows 
dive and tumble through air.

As we ascended the mesas, 
our footsteps barely left a trace. 
Now our dreams, battered as a nest 
in winter storm, hang by a thread. 

Oh the bee is petulant, but the petal,
though now a memory, has sent 
her love letter to the world:
In the hive, the honey:
beneath the rock,
the seed.

Angels fracture the dome of sky like rock shattering ice.
Shepherds eye the chorus, bewildered, by heaven’s strange lullaby.
Thick are the branches that block our way.
Restless feet, and hunger, the measure of our days.

But hope startles like the song of a canyon wren.
Roots carve a crib for the desert stream.
A stable gives berth to tired travelers.
A child’s midnight cry is the unraveling.

Shepherds’ rough hands cradle holy mystery:
The boy child of Mary, and the rough carpentry
Of burl and sap, manger and nativity.

Midnight rustle of wings, doves perching in the rafters—
Where shepherd and child meet, love and longing gather.             
Even the dove, resting in the rafters, murmurs gently, ever after.

The rock does not cling to the river, 
but yields
to snowmelt.

Rain surges to fill the emptiness:
the hollowed out space
of our tracks—
the bowl of the earth
where we slept,
the bed of our pitched tent.

Where would we be
if we didn’t keep losing ourselves—

to each other,
to the days we left behind?

Everything that escapes our grasp—
the fish in the river,
the breath we exhale—

returns, I’m told.

Even the sea returns to shore
like the swing of the pendulum,
as she licks her wounds.

Will we recognize the fog 
as last year’s puddle
as transpired sweat
as a little ghost of ourselves?

Remember how the clouds
gave themselves up.

Then do likewise

Like Alice, I have been falling
and my feet still haven’t touched ground.
Like a golden ball flung toward the horizon
I fall without a sound.
See me shapeshift into ribbons
with arms wide as the sun.

Deep inside the earth’s core,
magma buckles and mountains peak.
Give me a lever long enough, wrote Archimedes,
and I could move heaven and earth.

See how the universe expands into the darkness,
carrying with it light beyond the Milky Way?

As we drive west across the Continental Divide,
neither smoke of wildfires nor soot of car exhaust
can block the muted rose of the sun’s rays, 
last hurrah before nightfall. Oh the shadows
are always with us as they seek to block the light,
yet ribbons of pink and peach persist,
lingering on the horizon.

Like abalone or mother of pearl,
we are both castaways—
the sun’s ray on cold rock of earth—
the marine shell stranded on distant shore,
deep indigo of the ocean
now shipwrecked on the sandy beach,
muted colors of pink and peach unfurled
in the contours of the abalone shell:
a distant mirror of the sun.

Along the rain-soaked trail 
next to the wild strawberries,

I balance my backpack 
to reach for tasty red fruit, 

each crimson berry 
small as a thimble. 

The act of foraging,
a balancing act:

Next to me: 
fresh bear tracks.

Second Meadow
I don’t know how to distinguish flowers 
by their sweetness 
save by following the bee. 
In a field overflowing 
with flowers, the Indian paintbrush 
grows in shades of scarlet, purple, 
pink, and cream, and I follow 
the bee to the sweet spot: 
the cream-tipped stalks, 
and where the bee sucks, 
there suck I.

Amanita muscaria alongside Elk Creek Trail in Colorado’s San Juan Wilderness
In the tent, chaotic dreams emerge,
like pikas darting from their den.
Was that an airplane flying overhead,
or traffic? I hear a crash. “He’s dead,”
someone cries. Car doors slam. 
Feet scurry down the slope 
from the isolated highway. 

Flashlights shine, illuminating the walls of the tent. 
“Wake up! Wake up!” the voices cry. 
“Can we borrow your phone? 
We need to report an accident.” 
I know we’ve left phones behind in a locked car.
No service here in Colorado’s San Juan Wilderness,
and the nearest road 
is more than 8 miles
from our tent site.

In my dream, I ask my husband
for his phone. I shake his arm.
His eyes open, and I ask:
“Are you okay? 
Did you hear anything? 
See anyone?”

Roused from my dream, awakened from our sleep,
we shed sleeping bags, like cocoons.
We unzip the tent, then step out.
Stars shimmer across the meadow-—
Second Meadow—-as it arches its sinuous back
for two miles alongside Elk Creek Trail.
The stars are luminous and thick
as fireflies from my childhood.

Soon, it’s back to the tent.
We zip closed the screen behind us,
but the moon’s reflected light 
penetrates the opaque fabric
of our tent, thin sail hoisted on a meadow,
like shining from shook foil.

I knew a lady who sat outside
a mut hut concession, opposite 
a marsh where breezes blew 
palm fragrance in her face, 
to wait for alms. She leaned 
against a neem shade tree 
whose roots exhausted soil. 
I think she kept a garden of her own, 
although her fingers may have been 
misshaped for tilling earth. 
At any rate, she needed change 
for pharmacy antibiotics; 
passing on my way to church, 
I’d drop coins into her hands.

I remember Sunday mornings 
spent in a baobab’s shade, 
clapping and signing of converts, 
a young man telling gospel, 
but most of all, a leper-lady 
whose fingers curled with leprosy 
like soft peeled bark. Her 
fingers could not feel my hand 
or anything that came their way. 
I wish I had the healing gift. 
All I could do was spare pennies 
for those outstretched hands, 
roses where no thorns are.