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QUINTESSENCE

Rewaking

Ladyslipper
THE REWAKING
Sooner or later
we must come to the end
of striving

to re-establish
the image the image of
the rose

but not yet
you say extending the
time indefinitely

by
your love until a whole
spring

rekindle
the violet to the very
lady's-slipper

and so by
your love the very sun
itself is revived.


- William Carlos Williams

The theme of renewal this month - of spirit, heart, and mind - has a beautiful resonance. The limning of new green on the tree branches outside my study speaks to the budding within of hope and expectation. There is something about spring that nudges us to get on with it. To pluck our rusty dreams up and tinker them back into play. To rethink the impossible or the challenging and build a bridge to somewhere. To throw the window open and breathe deep of sunshine and the dazzling colors of spring.

This poem by William Carlos Williams is a favorite. "The Rewaking" reminds me that some essential essence of life and joy may be re-found through the mysteries of love. That perceived reality and the invisible real dance in many robes of perception, and the presence of happiness reshapes all things. The poet speaks of love as a force of nature, capable of reviving even the sun. And so we pause, and notice the new violet in the garden. We rekindle joy, restore what weariness may have caused us to believe forever lost, and come again to "the image the image of the rose."
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As It Should Be

My two beloveds, Kate and David, 2008

SOLSTICE MOON
- by G. Scotford Miller

Outside the window
the full moon
shines though the clouds
and yet
always waxing or waning,
is never truly full
but for a fleeting moment.

And yet
the perfect companion
is always present.
Above
or
below the horizon,
always as it should be, present
or waiting.

Concealed or revealed,
perfection
the constant companion,
more common than many
appreciate.

I know.


Winter Solstice. And indeed, as we mark the beginning of winter the days end early in deep velvet dark. What I love about northern winter is the still, enfolding quiet. The hush on the landscape that snow brings. I appreciate the clarity. The crisp, sharp edges of cold. The glittering white, steel gray, slate blue beauty. Nature's delicate craftsmanship, revealed in the embroidered crystals within a single snowflake, the hoar frost on the cattail. The marine hues of winter sunsets that remind one of the secret interiors of abalone shells.

The holiday song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" has become one of my very favorites over time. As my children have grown, left home and begun their own lives, their gathering at the holidays holds a special meaning. Where once sentimental and traditional Christmas festivities were for the children, now I feel they are for parents -- those of us who have gently let our children go. The holidays bring the joys of family back home, at least for the holidays.

In Solstice Moon, the poet reminds us that the promise is always present...concealed or revealed. I like to think the bonds of love between couples, families, friends, people and their pets -- any love you can imagine -- are the poet's constant moon, always present, even in the comings and goings of busy lives, distance or separation. We are linked at the heart, my friends. A timeless and limitless bond. Geography and years matter not.

So rest in joy. As the poet writes, life is always as it should be. It is our task to keep our eyes on the horizon and our lives warmed by hope.

Love to you all this holiday season.
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When It's Very Cold

STOPPING BY THE WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


This famous and beloved Frost poem is one my great uncle kept earmarked in a book of poems in his sprawling white farmhouse -- the family homestead on the Palouse. I remember the book of poems well. And my uncle, reading in the winter by the lamp on the reading table next to the picture window. Indeed, the woods, lovely, dark, and deep, are as familiar to those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest and the rolling hills of the Palouse as New Hampshire and the northern woods were to Frost, and you, wherever you may look out on the trees of winter.

I love the imagery in this poem. The cold quiet. The slight flurry of snow swirling through the trees, the impatient horse jingling his harness. One can see the frosted breath of man and horse in the air. The long fields of white, the village in the distance. Together we pause, and reflect. And eventually, begin again to make our way.

These times are grave and dark, my friend. There is no denying the dire state of the world and all that is not good. But today, I ask you to linger, to stop by the woods on your hectic way and deeply feel the quiet. Enjoy the beauty of what you see. Let us be thankful for the constancy of nature, the seasons, and the warm embrace of those we love. Can you hear the bells of the days to come? The promise of tomorrows? And miles to go before I sleep... Yes. But there is this moment. Today.

THINGS THAT ARE GOOD IN COLD WEATHER --
PJs
Hot Drinks
Fireplace
Hoar Frost
Creaking wood
Crisp air
Mittens
Furry pets
Animal tracks in snow
Soup
Books

A friend chimed in with
Knitting projects
Perry Mason reruns on the television

Another added --
Old radio
Working in the shed
Strumming my guitar
Roasting something in the oven

And more --
Ice Skating
Reeds on the banks of frozen ponds
Quilts
Cozy sweaters
Thick socks
Icicles
The call of geese
Sledding
The silhouettes of trees

Perhaps today you can build your own list, or feel free to add to mine. Enjoy the pause. There's such beauty in winter time. Joy, right where you are. I see you there, standing by your window with your coffee, gazing out at the snowy cold. Hello.



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Becomes You


THE NAPE
by David Mason

In the cidery light of morning
I saw her at the table
reading the paper, her cup
of coffee near at hand,
and that was when I bent
and brushed the hair from her nape
and kissed the skin there, breathing
the still surprising smoothness
of her skin against my lips -
stolen, she might say,
as if I would be filled
with joy of touching her,
I the fool for love,
and all that history carried
back to me in the glide
of mouth on skin, knowledge
of who she is by day
and night, sleeping lightly,
rocked in gentle privacy,
or outside in the garden
probing earth and planting.
We had been this way for more
than twenty years, she
leading a life of purpose
rarely stated, and I
just back from somewhere else.
I brushed my lips on her skin
and felt her presence through me,
her elegant containment
there in the cidery light.


I talked with a friend recently who had moved across the Pacific and was feeling raw and lost in a distant land, about when the expatriate ever feels part of the unknown, at home in the unfamiliar landscape.

Eventually, I said, the new becomes you. Meaning, I suppose, that if one inhabits the strange long enough, it ceases to remain strange. The unfamiliar becomes, in time, painted in memories and recognition. The dream no longer a surprise but an experience one has walked before. The adopted reality resides parallel with all other known realities. A part of who the self is now, and therefore, no longer alien.

I meditated on my walk in the soft white fog of this winter morning, thinking about this process of smudging the borders of identity. The way we push personal boundaries forward when we welcome new experience. How we grow the curled and speckled exoskeleton that surrounds us; creating larger and more beautifully complex whorls simply by absorbing change and accommodating the unfamiliar. A hermit crab, when it outgrows its home of mortared sand and shell, departs for larger spaces. In time, the new boundaries become the old: the crab adapts to the room available. Are we not also designed to grow into the spaces and frontiers we give ourselves? Built to incorporate the challenges and loves and landscapes and languages we make personal?

This poem, The Nape, by David Mason, is about the way long love becomes familiar. How the wondrous strange and unknown evolves, and all that history, the gentle privacy, as Mason describes it, pierces through in a single touch, felt, her presence through me. I imagine the human soul, porous as papyrus, absorbing the inks of a lifetime of experience. Each human story unfurling in all the wrong turns, spices, songs and wisdoms of the other. Discovered in the surprise of a kiss, in the return and the departure.

Familiar begins at the edges of the unfamiliar. Eventually, the new becomes you.
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Some Things


Going into the Quintessence archives, I wanted to repost this essay from four years ago. It feels timeless to me, and appropriate to the season and events of history, both personal and within the world. As you gather at Thanksgiving tables, please know what matters is here, in your heart. I send you my very warmest blessings and love.

Simple Truth
November 25, 2012

Some things
you know all your life. They are simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter, and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.


- from "The Simple Truth," Philip Levine

The beauty of love is that it is capable of great patience, tremendous tenacity, it stretches, it attaches, it slowly builds like bone in the body. It has been a journey, for me, this life. And in the becoming there is miracle. The gestation of new forms of connection and partnership, of family. Evolving into new ways of being, grafting new shapes onto the lives we lead. It is the simple truth to say living is a cycle of ever-becoming. And while neither easy, nor pristinely beautiful, nor perfect in process, this becoming is perfect in intent. It carries the seed of joy, grounded in the earth, the heavens, and self.

The human heart is a warrior and a monk. And it speaks a simple truth. Belong.
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One Wing of the Silence

Ortigia, Sicily

XLIV
by Pablo Neruda

You must know that I do not love you, and that I love you,
because everything alive has its two sides;
a word is one wing of the silence,
fire has its cold half.

I love you in order to begin to love you,
to start infinity again
and never stop loving you:
that's why I do not love you yet.

I love you, and I do not love you, as if I held
keys in my hand: to a future of joy -
a wretched, muddled fate -

My love has two lives, in order to love you:
that's why I love you when I do not love you,
and also why I love you when I do.


The last heat of summer glances off the hard enamel sky and the late summer grasses are bleached the color of dust. All the tender green on the trees has been leached away by the hungry sun. I walk the bluff, thinking about the human heart and our desire to protect it, and keep its secrets, and yet somehow remain open and willing to trust.

We yearn to be in a state of love yet fight against the vulnerability of surrender as does the drowning man combat the surf. The heart seems to always be searching. Turning over each leaf, each stone. I once thought this search was uninformed, reflexive, blind. I suspect it is anything but. In time we learn to trust the instinct at our core and to translate what the heart has found.

The human heart takes the hand and leads the way when rightness is present. Rightness meaning alignment. When the centeredness of our being resonates as a whole. No division of soul versus ego, or mind versus emotion. Think of how the willow switch vibrates over the course of hidden water, so too does the heart divine love. The human brain seeks reassurance in equations, spreadsheets, cross-lists, the satisfaction of endless rationales: the heart vibrates within us like the tuning fork at perfect pitch.

Heart and mind are frequently at odds. We make mistakes, omissions, blunders of innocence, and sometimes ignorance. We extricate ourselves from things our brains advised but our hearts never blessed, things our egos crave when our hearts fold closed. Perhaps, and worst of all, we leave behind the very thing the heart most desires because the mind is not convinced. There is no harmony of self.

Under the soles of my shoes, red dirt rises in little dust devils that settle on the dry leaves of the trees along the trail. The mistakes of my heart are also as dust rising from my steps. They both mark passage and are the mark of time. Footprints through life. What comes of our hunger for love, is in the end, a matter of interior mystery and personal history. The answer for each of us lies in the place our steps begin and end.

A word is one wing of the silence.
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Riding the Dream

"Riding the Dream," Cross-Country America, 2016

This week's post is in special honor of two extraordinary guys. My first husband Kenneth Grunzweig, and, his best friend, Perry. Ken died of lung cancer in 2003. A lifelong marathoner and long-distance cyclist, his unexpected illness and death was a shock and a terrible loss. Perry had been friends with Ken for most of their San Francisco years, and he is the godfather of our daughter, Kate. On May 7th, Perry and his fellow adventurers embarked on a cross-country cycling challenge: Los Angeles to Boston. Perry is riding in honor of Ken, an incredible tribute to their friendship.

Briefly, here is an excerpt of Perry's letter to his cycling mates, friends, and our family:

As an introduction, my name is Perry. I am 68 and Durango, Colorado has been my home for the last 20 years.

This bicycle thing got a hold of me at a young age when I ordered a new 10 speed bicycle from Birmingham, England. Shortly thereafter I achieved my Boy Scout Cycling merit badge and it was all down hill from there, so to speak.

The seed for a bike ride across America was planted by my very best friend and bicycle buddy, Ken. He and I were on a three week self-contained bike tour from Missoula, Montana to Jasper, Alberta. We were resting somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, looking at our 50 pound bicycles, when Ken said to me, " Ya know Perry, we could take a credit card and a change of clothes and motel our way across the country without all this shit we are hauling with us." We shared that dream and talked about it every once in awhile, but sadly, Ken died of lung cancer before we could make that ultimate ride.

Ken died, but the dream did not. So with Ken in my heart, and with a photo of him front and center on the head tube of my bicycle I am going to ride our dream in his honor and in his memory.

My efforts to ride across America have been recognized by a private philanthropist, who, upon my successful arrival in Boston, will make a donation to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (lungcancerfoundation.org)

My family and friends have been very supportive, some are amazed, and some think I should have done ride this 30 years ago.


I know you will understand when I tell you how moved I am by Perry's undertaking and fundraising in Ken's name. How deeply honored my kids and I are by Perry's tribute. Indeed, this ride is just the thing Ken would do. When Kate was born, he made her a tiny personalized American Express card. She had his heart, his wallet, and a ticket to her dreams, he said with a chuckle. Often, especially on a family camping trip, Ken would muse that his real idea of roughing it was the "nearest Hilton in the woods." In a summer during high school my son cycled with an adventure group across the country - porting his gear and supplies, camping coast to coast - something he would have done with his father had they the opportunity. David is cheering Perry on. We all are.

I know Ken will be Perry's guardian on his adventure. Keep him out of trouble and make sure he has fun. Ken, always funny, deeply loyal, adventurous, and courageous, knew how to cherish and protect the ones he loved. He also knew how to have a good time - even if he had a famously terrible sense of direction and zero skills as a camp cook, the man could be counted on to bring a great wine. He was the wit and laughter of the party. As you may know, Ken is the central subject of my 2008 memoir, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE.

So here's to you, Perry. You've got the Rocky Mountains over your shoulder by now. And here's to the end of lung cancer - to all cancers. We lose too many of those we love too soon.
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Life With Soap and Needles


I see you washing my handkerchiefs,
hanging at the window
my worn-out socks,
your figure on which everything,
all pleasure like a flare-up,
fell without destroying you,
again,
little wife
of every day,
again a human being,
humbly human,
proudly poor,
as you have to be in order to be
not the swift rose
that love's ash dissolves
but all of life,
all of life with soap and needles,
with the smell that I love
of the kitchen that perhaps we shall not have
and in which your hand among the fried potatoes
and your mouth singing in the winter
until the roast arrives
would be for me the permanence
of happiness on earth.


- "Not Only the Fire," Pablo Neruda, THE CAPTAIN'S VERSES, 1952

This stanza, from a longer poem by the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, is subversive, subtle. The poet moves from love note to his lover into an intimate song to the same woman, the woman he has made his life with - "little wife of every day." I think often of this phrase and its aching tender recognition of the dignity of daily life. The hours, or perhaps years, past the fiery affair filled by the plain, sweet mundane. Neruda's recognition of his own joy in the simple wrenching domesticity of his life asks me to consider my ordinary tasks today.

Today's list of things to do is nothing fancy. My heart is not in them but is instead thinking of words and pages, the revising and editing I've still to complete. At the top of my list, dealing with bills that are due, then gathering the last of the tax data, followed by a trip to the post office to forward on packets of mail to my kids. A drop off at the dry cleaner, the return of an item to a store, and oh yes, getting in a work out. A chunk of time. A chunk of time not writing.

I read the list again, slowly this time. Where is the love here? In everything. Dropping this passport in the mail for a trip to South Korea and Japan will thrill the recipient, the tax help marks a new graduate's first professional job, the rose-patterned dress to return nonetheless reminds me of spring. I think of my family, their dear faces, the laughter and moments together. Aren't these humble tasks Neruda's "worn-out socks," the "hand among the fried potatoes," my celebration of "life with soap and needles"?

Hello chore list, little wife of every day. There is life to be lived here.
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Nothing Is Lost

Wedding Day, February 18, 1989

Permit me a moment, will you, of reflection and tenderness. Share with me the memory of a great and kind man. On this date, twenty-seven years ago, I married Kenneth Grunzweig. Were he still alive, tomorrow would be his 73rd birthday.

There were many years between us. As if Ken traveled the world once, and then traveled it again just for me. Ken's charm and brilliant wit were legendary. His inner grace and his capacity for compassion and loyalty endure in the hearts of those who knew him or called him friend. Since his passing, in 2003, I find comfort in the knowledge our children tenderly honor him; and that they have lived their lives in a way he would be proud of. I am grateful for the beautiful imprint of exuberant joy he left upon our souls.

The hidden pearl in the oyster, a marriage is nurtured in mystery. Its secret intimacies unique to its ways, and redolent in this sensuous imagery from Barbara Howes.

A LETTER FROM THE CARIBBEAN
by Barbara Howes

Breezeways in the tropics winnow the air,
Are ajar to its least breath
But hold back, in a feint of architecture,
The boisterous sun
Pouring down upon

The island like a cloudburst. They
Slant to loft air, they curve, they screen
The wind's wild gaiety
Which tosses palm
Branches about like a marshal's plumes.

Within this filtered, latticed
World, where spools of shadow
Form, lift and change,
The triumph of incoming air
Is that it is there,

Cooling and salving us. Louvres,
Trellises, vines -music also-
Shape the arboreal wind, make skeins
Of it, and a maze
To catch shade. The days

Are all variety, blowing;
Aswirl in a perpetual current
Of wind, shadow, sun,
I marvel at the capacity
Of memory

Which, in some deep pocket
Of my mind, preserves you whole-
As a wind is wind, as the lion-taming
Sun is sun, you are, you stay;
Nothing is lost, nothing has blown away.


There is grief. Disoriented yearning. The stunned understanding of wordless truths life sings deep in our souls. My love letter to this man, my warrior of fierce heart, became the memoir published by Broadway Books in 2008, "The Geography of Love." This was our story, the landscape of unforgettable relationship. And his story, a road of stunning loss, and courage. But where does the wounded heart turn?

DECADE
by Louise Gluck

What joy touches
the solace of ritual? A void

appears in life.
A shock so deep, so terrible,
its force
levels the perceived world. You were

a beast at the edge of its cave, only
waking and sleeping. Then
the minute shift; the eye

taken by something.
Spring: the unforeseen
flooding the abyss.

And the life
filling again. And finally a place
found for everything.


Something new roots slowly: a raw unfamiliar perspective. One that is not grief. Dark and strong as steel and forged from loss, yes. But also rare, intricate and fine. Frost on a windowpane. The human heart, a dragonfly in amber. Through the years I have grown stronger in my conviction that all living energies are connected, and nothing is truly lost. Memory, indelible if fleeting, will always find us. . . a scent in the air. We have only to know love.


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An End to Old Regret

Provence, France

I thought of all the pain and how we met
Late in our lives yet lavishly at ease,
Having assumed an end to old regret..."

- from "The Balcony," May Sarton, 1980

Old Regret. Losses carried forward. Sorrow chipped away over the passing years, perhaps by forgetfulness or forgiveness. Bitter sorrow buried intact in the back of our mind. Large hearts of darkness. Is there an end to old regret?

These few lines of May Sarton's poem "The Balcony" expose rich layers of meaning. One voice, of a couple, of a certain age perhaps or world weariness, acknowledging the accidental accumulated joys and pains of life. Words that hint to the years past, to damaged relationships, losses. Perhaps longed-for opportunities swept away with the passage of time. "The Balcony" ends with this final tribute, And out of deprivation, a huge flower. Exquisite image. The heart, in its layered translucent suffering, fully comprehended. From the wisdom of acceptance, extravagant beauty.

There is a thread of durability in Sarton's observer. How is it we find within ourselves the strength and desire to carry on? To begin again. To start over from the disappointments of the past. John F. Kennedy once described his father after the elder man's stroke, saying, "Old age is a shipwreck." From Sarton's words, perhaps old age is neither the limit nor the context. We are always beginning. Over and again. In life, in work, in love. The passage of time has worn the lines on our foreheads, to be sure. But time - lost, burnt, wasted, empty, wronged, violated, hurt - needn't be the melody of the heart. I love the thought that once regrets are released and thrown over our shoulders, we blossom, "lavishly at ease."

Mistakes have their ends. Beginnings follow. The bridge between them? Acceptance. Ease on into your day, leaving your regrets behind you. You may find cupped in your hands a bloom of startling joy.

THE BALCONY
by May Sarton /after Baudelaire

Lover of silence, muse of the mysteries,
You will remember how we supped each night
There on your balcony high in the trees
Where a heraldic lion took late light,
Lover of silence, muse of the mysteries.

The big dogs slumbered near us like good bears;
The old cat begged a morsel from my plate,
And all around leaves stirred in the warm airs
Breathed from the valley as the red sun set.
The big dogs slumbered near us like good bears.

I thought of all the pain and how we met
Late in our lives yet lavishly at ease,
Having assumed an end to old regret
In the eternal presence of the trees -
I thought of all the pain and how we met.

There every night we drank deep of the wine
And our love, still without history,
Yet the completion of some real design
Earned with much thought, muse of the mystery.
There every night we drank deep of the wine.

While out of deprivation a huge flower,
The evening's passion, was about to bloom.
Such intimacy held us in its power
The long years vanished in a little room,
And out of deprivation, a huge flower.


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