I once thought love is the mightiest word but now I think perhaps the mightiest word is hope. Oh, we love so freely, and with abandon. We are so prodigal with our love. But hope is the stubborn fortitude of the bud holding on through frost and ice. It’s the steadfastness of tree roots carrying nutrients to the trunk and branches of the tree, though its bark and branches are already alight with lightning strike or forest fire. Oh, I want to be a vessel for the sap. I want to be a seed in the sharecropper’s hand. I want to be the jellied eggs of the spadefoot toad there tucked in the shaded patch of the puddle, and waiting— in this drought-stricken land—waiting for thunderclap. Or, if nothing else remains, I want to be that faint flame—cupped in your hands—coaxed to life with your breath.
Little victories: It’s the first steps that matter most— the bud on the twig, not the flower, the nearly imperceptible shadow on the grass before the heel lifts off the springy soil. See on the wall next to the entryway door, the small beakful of mud and twig that clings to the wall like soil to a rootball— that twig and tiny portion of mud, not yet a nest but still more than clay and twig, and no longer without life.
Even when you can barely hope, Even when your heart is hardened as a fist, Even when you cannot breathe, Listen— The flowers of the field, The birds of the air are breathing for you. Even the seeds deposited in the dark earth of your heart are splitting open . . . and the birds perched in the eaves have already deposited a song, hidden in the egg’s rich yolk.
It starts little by little—-a bit of windblown dust, the rain, gentle at first, and then rainstorms. Next comes the ice and the thaw cracking apart the rock, oh the dust settles, the wind blows, and alcoves form, little hollowed chambers, pulsing with light. Out of the rock, shelter, like a hollowed ribcage, emerges. Oh, you could sing in here, a lovely song, a sad song, just choose your register. And soon the alcove echoes with the song of the cave swallow, and then the song of the canyon wren, whose appearance is as rustic as the robe of a Franciscan friar, but whose song is as beautiful as the sweetest song of Solomon. And the canyon wren’s song never ceases, not even in winter. Oh, what does the canyon wren sing? Beautiful liquid notes, a rounded rock or pebble thrown into a pool of water after the rainstorm, rockfall, downslope, snowmelt rushing over red rocks in the canyon, think of chimes, or lost loves. But what does the rock wall of the canyon sing-- only heart- break over rock worn down by wind and rain.
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 continuously, 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.