First, they perch on the front porch lamp. Then, they smuggle mud and twigs to lay masonry: each plucked twig, an expenditure of wings, each mud bead, stucco that trusses sprig to sprig. On tiled steps, their cup spills, the overflow of twigs that don’t fit, the clay slip of pearls that drop from beaks. Watching the nest grow, I don’t sweep discards. Each dry blade of straw is long as a tailfeather. Each clod of clay, an opaque pearl. Swooping and diving through air, the barn swallows catch insects on the wing, then scoop mud for the nest without once touching down. They are restless creatures of feather and flight. Day’s end, the barn swallows perch again on lamp and nest, and peer at me through clerestory windows. Looking within and without, in each other’s lives we see the detritus of misfit straw and misfired clay, that multiply like loaves and fishes. Yet, in each scrappy act, we see that love is restless once the work’s begun, that love meanders like a stream until its task is done.
Love is like a river. When blocked by debris it forges a new route. When it appears frozen on the surface, it moves still below the surface of the ice, swift as fins on a fish. Love is like a river. Love holds nothing back but gives all, rounds every corner. Hoard love in a Hoover dam of thirst and you damage the entire ecosystem. Yet the beaver tames the river just long enough to raise its young, then lets the river unwind. Everything depends on the river. Love is like a river. When you are hot, it soothes your ankles. When you are lost, the river says: “Follow me.” All of life, and even the earth itself, depends on the river. Because the river loves all, it nurtures both trout and blue heron. The river holds two opposing elements in its mind and resolves any conflict by giving itself over and over, drop by drop over to the hard heart of the rock, so that even bedrock, worn down by the river, is softer than the human heart. The river folds itself between a rock and the hard place of your heart—that parched watering hole— where love crafts the riverbed. Love is a river.
The axe is a mighty wedge. It can splice trees to fell logs for a home. The beaver’s tooth is a wedge. It shapes rivers. The wedge in your heart, well, let it be a ship wedge. For the ship wedge bears a ship—heavy as the grief of the Titanic—effortlessly, and then releases it at one stroke, and launches it, and sends it off to sea.
I was profligate with my prayer, Casting it into the water like food for ducks, And it went unanswered. Now I have it packaged neatly Into the mustard seed Small enough to slip Through the eye of the needle.
It doesn’t matter how much you love, Only that you love. You’ve seen how Everything swells, the bud into bloom, the thin lip of the new moon into the radiance of a full moon, spilling into the small pond. For love strikes where it will, if you are willing to receive it. It doesn’t matter how much you love, only that you are open to love, like a sail, hoisted to the mast, ready for the windfall, poised to ride the waves, precariously. It doesn’t matter how much you love, Only that you love, through thick and thin— Even when you are hollowed out as the drill hits the bone: The shadow recalls the light. The thorn, the fragrance of the rose. And when love seems cold as cinders, remember how the iron prod sparks the ember that still glows red. For love strikes where it will, if you are willing to receive it.
The words of a poem should dovetail like wood panels of a finely crafted cabinet. The words of a poem should glide, effortlessly, like a finely tuned drawer. In the box canyon where a canyon wren has nested, the canyon wren’s song glides across the canyon seamlessly like water over rock: each note articulated and composed with a craftsman’s precision. Even so, it isn’t the melody you remember. It’s the way your heart sang out. All along the song was within you but the bird gave it wing.
The hand that lights the wick is lightning. The breath that extinguishes the flame is rain.
Sun filters through ponderosa and melts snow, like a flame burning the wax that pools around the wick.
Bethlehem, USA, December 2020 It was a busy night. We admitted 15. There are no beds anywhere, and everyone went to his own town to register. We admitted one young Covid-positive mother with pre-eclampsia to labor & delivery, and she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. There are flight delays due to weather. It was 6 degrees Fahrenheit last night. It was a busy night, and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. We’re worried about our patients in tents. With the winds and snow, tents are quite stressed. But the Ursid meteor shower lit up the night, and suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Before we air-lift patients to the University, we need to call ahead to see if they meet criteria, so Joseph went to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. The broken door to the ER lets in the cold and damp. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. It’s cold. There is no room anywhere. Cars arriving for drive-through testing idle before dawn as they queue and create a bottleneck for ambulances, but the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem to see this thing, which the Lord has told us about.” It was a busy night. Snow fell and dusted the trees as if it were just another Christmas. Foot traffic is heavy, and sidewalk’s paisley patterns announce winter’s austere hours: So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Even though there are no open beds remaining, we might still find a way to accommodate one more. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
The gods took note. Everything recorded or sung on Mount Olympus was whispered first below. A child on a mother’s knee heard it first. During the Spring of womanhood, the mother was Ceres. Her child was a dangerous spinning top for whom she risked Hades, ready to stop time in its tracks. In Summer, the second season, Cassandra emerged. She knew all and had seen all. Under sails that flapped like gulls’ wings, her eyes pierced storm clouds and saw destruction. She knew Ceres was wrong, That no one can stop time. The halting of time in winter is an illusion. Even Atlas knows the world spins on his shoulders. Then with the arrival of Fall, the woman, like Calypso, held to all she loved until, like ocean water, it slipped between her fingers, like leaves from the trees, or the loves she lost. Winter was Penelope’s season. Though not a goddess, she knew above the rest that anything of value is worth the wait.