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Clear Water

Clear water for the well
must first 
run fast
like you, it
rushes, stumbles over boulders
in the  way
tin cans rusted
weeds and roots
rotting
under broken bridges
failed dams flooded
your obstacles
thickly mud-filled
darkened
In stagnation 
you sink
surprised by the lotus
before the flow downstream
swept clean 
under the sun
clear water 
arrives
stilled
where you’ve stopped
on the bank 
to see.

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Inspired Writing Workshop: The Wisdom of Transformative Stillness, Leonard Cohen, Pico Iyer, Pablo Neruda

*Not only for experienced writers. Join in even if you don’t think you can write!. You will surprise yourself!

Dear People,

During these trying times, it can help to be inspired by wisdom, humor and profound observations. For those who do not know me: I am a published writer, and have been teaching writing at the college level for the past twenty years.  I’ve always found inspiration for my own writing from writers and thinkers, and so am offering these workshops to inspire your own thinking and writing.

In this workshop, we will read short inspiring selections from many wisdom traditions then discuss one of these before we write. Some of the excerpts will be philosophical, some disturbing, some comforting, others just playful or funny.

Our writing will be whatever we are inspired to write after our discussions. Sharing what we write will be optional, but encouraged. I will also offer writing guidance based on Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and others.

Here is an example of a quote we might discuss and write about:  If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

When: Each Sunday September 5-26,  3:00 PM – 4:15 PM

Cost:  Sliding scale according to need, from $20-$50.

If interested, please reply to this blog or to andapeterson@yahoo.com

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Brutus, Gus, a Slime Mold and Me

Bruts head shot at beachIMG_0781

The Western mind draws a sharp boundary between humans and the rest of the world….for the Western mind, it is hard to recognize mind in animals, whereas for the Japanese mind, it is hard not to do so.~~Semiotician Yoshimi Kawade, written in 1998

That quote gets me to thinking…

Brutus, the lab mix that I often dog sit, sends me love with a look. He and I look directly, usually silently, into each other’s eyes each time we want to tell each other something. It’s simple. Direct. Clear. A type of mind reading. I’ve learned from dogs and cats how much can be said by the eyes.

With Brutus and Gus, the tiger-striped cat, words are seldom necessary even though I use them out of habit. Brutus and Gus hear me make sounds. Brutus looks at me patiently until I make myself clear.; Gus is less patient and will walk off unless I add a treat to the sounds.

I think, that people need dogs and cats for more than the unconditional love (well, conditioned as for Gus the cat)—we get sick and tired of talking.

Or we can’t stop talking around people and can only be quiet with our pets. Words are hard to come by. The right ones. Words can be so difficult to find. Those we speak are often the ones we repeat out of habit; they aren’t the words available, or even appropriate often, in the present moment, if we took the time to notice those.

People don’t listen for the most part. Dogs listen. They learn the meaning of words.directed to them. When I say “car” or “beach”  or “cookies” to Brutus, he comes to a happy attention. Have we learned any language from other animals in the same way?

Our words come from minds filled with past and future, so how accurate are they? How wise? Meanwhile, my stock and trade is, ironically, words; I’m a writer and a teacher. However, I’ve been investigating the mind in the way of the as a Buddha and I am starting to see its limitations.

Intelligence in Nature, An Inquiry into Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby,  an anthropologist, is filled with words for 243 pages. Since they are written instead of spoken, they have been carefully chosen and re-thought many times; writing can be a more clearway to use words than speaking. Narby writes about the intelligence he and other scientists, have discovered in creatures great and minuscule (like nematodes). “A slime mold,” he writes,” in a maze has the capacity to apprehend its situation and act on its knowledge.” He makes the point that there are more forms of intelligence than we ever dreamed of. A Western mind has to overcome hundreds of years of the myth of human intellectual superiority.

Recently I read in Narby’s book that “Information of one kind or another is consistently circulating in nature, in particular in the form of biochemical molecules. The world is streaming with signs. Not so long ago, some people considered the use of signs a specifically human trait.”

All this is to say, that I am searching as I write: what is nature telling me? What is it I am missing? Can I become better at reading the signs life is posting? We’ll see…

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Inspired Writing: From Silly to Wise–A Four Week Workshop*, or “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.” ― Einstein

*Not only for experienced writers. Join in even if you don’t think you can write!. You may surprise yourself!

water-fire-abstract-black-backgroundphoto from Google photos

Dear People,
During these trying times, it can help to be inspired by wisdom, humor and profound observations. For those who do not know me: I am a published writer, and have been teaching writing at the college level for the past twenty years.  I’ve always found inspiration for my own writing from writers and thinkers, and so am offering a workshop to inspire your own writing.

In this four week workshop, we will read short inspiring selections from many wisdom traditions as well as by humorists, chefs, visual artists, philosophers, comedians, fiction and non-fiction writers and poets, then we’ll discuss one of these before we write. Some of the passages will be philosophical, some comforting, others just delightful, playful or funny.

Subjects will range from food to furniture from silly, to spiritual.

Our writing will be whatever we are inspired to say after our discussion. Sharing what we write will be optional, but encouraged. I will also offer writing guidance based on Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and others.

Here is an example of the types of passages we could consider:

“As you unfold as an artist, just keep on, quietly and earnestly, growing through all that happens to you. You cannot disrupt this process more violently than by. looking outside yourself for answers that may only be found by attending to your innermost feeling.”~~~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Here’s another: “You have to stay in shape. My mother started walking five miles a day when she was 60. She’s 97 now and we have no idea where she is.” ~~George Carlin, comedian

The first session will be free. If you choose to continue, the cost will be $60.00 for the four week workshop.

Begins once per week October 1st-November 5th (day and time be determined) via Zoom (instructions will follow)

If you are interested, please email me at andapeterson@yahoo.com, or leave a comment here.

 

IMG_0116

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What kind of courage do we need? We must accept reality in all its immensity…the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to meet the strangest, most awesome and most inexplicable of phenomena.~~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The Courage We Need is

to stand alone
on the dance floor.

The courage we need is
to stay steady

as we feel the foundation cracking

to see clearly
through lies
thick as heavy blankets
as the sleepers
pretend wakefulness.

The courage we need is
to refuse
the safety
of the trance.

The courage we need is
to love with a broken heart,
shed fears like leaves,
bend, bow
and continue.

https://www.paypal.com/biz/fund?id=QTNFPBXT5AGDE

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Chicago, for Fred Hampton and Larvell Henderson, my Irving School Classmates


Today my hometown music
sets the groove
for the dance
soul sway
joy drum
beats
saxophone 
shouts
in this coffee shop.


I remember
Chicago rhythm
and blues
how the projects
loom over expressways
the “El” clatters
shakes the rattling windows 
of a tenement
screeching to a scheduled stop
from the eleventh floor, a five-year-old watches 
big-eyed
as below cars speed
downtown
the refrain “Stand by me…”  
fills the air from somewhere near
before the deafening roar of the train
passes the boy
I feel the
faith
not mine but
unshakeable
his brother waiting
sitting on the stoop
at noon
      job denied
one more time.

In third grade Fred and Larvell were my friends.
When I was ten
Larvell's mother was shot.
When I was twenty,
Fred was shot in his bed.

In my car, Marvin Gaye sings
“Makes me Wanna Holler, Throw up Both My Hands…” 
on the radio.
I feel faith between the notes, love
not mine, but
from a distance, mine too  
as I drive to the South Side
singing, weeping
with Marvin
to my job at the welfare
warfare office.


















































































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Who Will Explain?

The brown-eyed children,
under silver blankets
that sparkle like Christmas tinsel
or gleaming party gowns
worn at country clubs,
sleep on the cold, cement floor
but do not understand
the wire cages,
their loneliness
the long, hot walk
through the desert.
Do they wonder,
as children will,
what they did wrong?

Who will explain
to them

this land that hates them,
these people who sleep
on silk sheets
walk on marble floors,

washed by brown-eyed women,
take cool rides
in shiny new trucks
through the desert

like cruel-eyed matadors

immune to the pain

of the bull,
drunk on their comforts.

Who can explain
why these people
never wonder
what they did wrong?

Featured

The Dog Says Sit

Words mask meaning
which rises in silence
comes clear
with the attention,
the patience
of a dog.
We know this
but refuse to trade our talk
for wisdom.

Those who stop to still themselves
know how dogs know:
see the others’ eyes shift
flutter like a bird taking flight
how the mouth tightens
the shoulders rise.

Though we sit close to each other
we hear
from a distance.

Featured

Tender Work


Work with what you are

If you are a fawn
at dusk
you will
stand still as wood
in a field of tall green grass
at the edge of a forest
your dark eyes wide open
watching sparrows
flit and fly home
through the twilight.

If you are a fawn
your soft brown ears
upright will catch sounds
of wind through the pines.

If you are a field mouse
you will
scurry, slipping between
wildflowers
fawn hooves.

If you are a human
you will
see the fawn, the pines, the wildflowers
feel you breath as wind,
how your heart beats as
bird mouse, fawn
then and only then

your tender work
is done.

Featured

Tinney Creek

Tinney Creek, St. Petersburg, Florida

Tinney Creek runs past
under
and despite
the TJ Max
CVS, Target.

It travels back and forth
from Tampa Bay
rises and falls daily with the tide
feeds Egrets, families of Muscovy ducks and Mallards
who seek tiny prawns, mud crabs, bugs.

Feathery Java fern
rounded Moneywort
grow in it’s rich mud,
abundant
as if this was still The Garden.

Between snaking highways,
Dollar Stores
gas stations
condo buildings
Taco Bells
the creeks and their residents
carry on
as if this was still The Garden.

Down the busy street a ways
atop a pole advertising Beer and Low-Cost Cigarettes,
an osprey has built a roomy nest,
designed in the contemporary open sky plan.

A lone Roseate Spoonbill sometimes visits Tinney Creek
always in company with her Egret.
I watch as
Spoonbill lifts it’s comical Dr. Seuss face
twitches its white and rosy feathers
lowers its wide paddle-like beak into brackish water
sweep, sweep 
side to side
poke, poke.

The ducks, Ibis, Egret, crows and I claim
this creek and the remaining
Royal Palms, oak trees, iridescent sunsets
as ours.

“I used to see many Roseate Spoonbills here once,”
a neighbor tells me.
My heart aches 
as regularly
as it beats
these days
at these all too familiar words:

There were many here
once. 

At night, arriving home,
my headlights sweep over the banks of the creek 
lighting up a line of ducks, like fat-buddhas
heads curled into their downy breasts
asleep despite ambulance sirens,
the roar of traffic.

At dawn they will wake 
waddle like drunks
raise their chicks,
the Osprey will hunt,
the Spoonbill and Egret will visit
I will marvel at how they float and splash
and the creek
feeds us all
as if this is still the Garden.

Featured

To Practice Seeing: a Chapbook

To Practice Seeing

poems by Anda Peterson

Acknowledgments:

Nest appeared in Salt Creek Journal, a publication by the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, April 2018

Circumnavigation appeared in Sky Island Journal, June 2018

Table of Contents

Mermaid Visits Congress…..pg 2

Echocardiogram…..pg 4

Pushaw Lake, Maine, Late August…..pg 6

Lagoon…..pg 7

Requiem for a Dharma Bum Jack Kerouac, read on the occasion at the anniversary of his death at the Flamingo Bar, St. Petersburg, Florida…..pg 9

Nest…. pg 12

Tea Ceremony…. pg 15

Einstein, Buddha and Picasso Walk into a Bar…. pg 16

Chihuly Glass #1…. .pg 19

Chihuly Glass #2…..pg 21

Advice from a Live Oak…..pg 22

Boyd Hill Symphony….. pg 25

Circumnavigation…..pg 27

Tinney Creek, St. Petersburg…..pg 30

Tinney Creek 2…..pg 31

A Good Personality or the Play’s the Thing (with apologies to the Bard)……pg 33

Inhale…..pg 35

For Pema Chodron, Bob, and Margaret…..pg36

Surrender……pg3

From The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen:

“Is there anything I can do to win an immortal soul?”

“No,” said the old woman, “unless a man were to love you so much that you were more to him than his father or mother; and if all his thoughts and all his love were fixed upon you…then his soul would glide into your body and you would obtain a share in the future happiness of mankind. He would give a soul to you and retain his own as well; but this can never happen. Your fish’s tail, which amongst us is considered so beautiful, is thought on earth to be quite ugly; they do not know any better, and they think it necessary to have two stout props, which they call legs, in order to be handsome.”

Mermaid’s Visit to Congress

It hurts to walk on land.

Once we dreamt

how glorious it would be

above the ocean

in the land of their power

Once we sang

to guide men home

from their foolhardy voyages

the battles they waged against

the tides, the swells

of mountainous waves.

We all sang our warnings,

Whale sang and dolphin sang.

Now we know.

Each step is a shock,

like walking on shards of glass.

We hear

the cries of those

who walked this way before us,

who forgot how it was

to glide freely

under sunlit water shimmering overhead

among playful fish.

How we wore seaweed dresses

as we danced in the deep

rising like arrows through the water

with dolphins and whales.

We sacrificed our mermaid tails

our shining fish scales

the fields of water flowers

our coral castles

for promises

made of mist.

Echocardiogram

What is the sound of water?

No, I mean, really…

Who can know more than this:

a rhythm

a beat, a pulse

that rises and falls

after the downbeat of thunder

when rain sounds

like fingers snapping

foot tapping

on the roof

until the swell of a deluge

builds to a crescendo

and ends gentle

with the slow brushing beat of a snare drum.

The musician searches for a cadence

plays the tempo

set by water

the full orchestra of a hard monsoon

or jazz bounce of raindrops,

single notes struck on a piano.

I heard the sound of water

during an echocardiogram.

then I knew

the gurgling beat of my heart

keeps time

with the whole great ocean

Pushaw Lake, Maine

It is late August

The bee flutters about a dandelion

gains its footing and does its work.

A man stands steady in a boat fishing

on the quiet lake.

The hammock, under two maples,

sways in the breeze.

I write these pictures

to capture the last days of summer.

This is a fool’s errand of course

Like trying to anchor the clouds.

But I persist

because I am in love with this moment

like a monk bent over his sand mandala

adding pinpricks of color in a corner of the whole.

He practices impermanence

the one lasting certainty.

The long-lived log

the swing of the ax

solidity split.

So I set these images

one word at a time

bent over the page

with reverence for:

The swimmer in the lake

who does a slow crawl through the evergreen water

the tall pines above her watching.

The black ant who climbs over the boulder.

A loon who rises with a haunting call

and geese

who talk a blue streak in passing.

For now, just now

I walk under the light of the moon

down the path to the fire pit

a full moon

will soon empty itself

become a sliver, a crescent

new.

Lagoon, Martha’s Vineyard

Here on an empty stretch of saltwater lagoon this gray morning

my bare feet scoured by gold-brown sand
I walk mindful of the footprints of dogs and sharp shells, rocks, mud.

I come to meditate

which is simply just to stop

to practice seeing.

Damp translucent and neon-green strips of seaweed

stretch along the shoreline.
The lagoon lies still

under the smoky-pale sky

its calm speaks of a welcome respite from visitors

as if its heartbeat is steady again
so I feel an intruder
I will be quiet, walk slowly
take a seat on a weathered green bench.

It is high tide
a few days after a new moon
(said to inspire new beginnings).

A swan appears on the silver water,
looks my way.
A mate nowhere to be seen.
I whisper an invitation.
I hope she will come to me
teach me about her solitude
but, no, she is only here
to remind me to be graceful and careful

to glide

serenely alone .

She bends her long neck like a ballerina

darts her beak into the water to catch a minnow.

She will navigate this lagoon
following the movement of the tides

the moon and starlight.

To begin anew

is all she knows.

Requiem for a Dharma Bum Jack Kerouac

Read on the occasion at the Anniversary of his Death

Flamingo Bar (where he drank his last) St. Petersburg, Florida

Buddha Jack

sitting at the bar

buying drinks

for your demons

though you knew yourself

also as a jewel in Indra’s net

caught in illusion

yet clear minded

your contradictions

poems spilled on the barroom floor.

You hungry ghost

you beautiful man/boy, Jack

trapped between dharma-love and whiskey-death

on the road

to ruin

on the road

no arrival the right one.

America broke your heart

when it showed

it’s slave owning, lynching

money-loving-self.

In such a land

you were misunderstood

they loved your uncontrollable thirst

thought you dropped out

so cool man

lauded you for coolness

so cool man

jazz played the longings

you expressed for them

you seduced them

dark-eyed handsome man

they wanted to talk poetic in smokey bars with you

but go home sober

while you fell down the stairs pissing

shaking with the D.T’s

vomit and blood gushing from your mouth.

Far out. Far out

they applauded your shining, cascading words

like jazz

spilling out

breaking grammar

and rules

You were misunderstood

They thought you said nothing matters but sex

Like it was so far out

how far out you went

spirit searching

in a soulless America with your lost boys

high on themselves and you.

Jack, your Buddha brother

went to the edges too

as seekers often do.

Siddhartha the sensual and bejeweled

then Siddhartha the starving monk

traveled every road

until he stopped

got off the bar stool

went to the forest

weary and done

like you are now

woken from the dream of being

and that is far out

so far out, man

so cool

so cool

Nest

To practice seeing

I choose an empty nest

fallen to the sidewalk

built into a Tillandsia,

the “air plant” that hangs from the branches of trees

round, bowl-like

A perfect scaffolding.

The plants tentacles intertwine

Round and round each other

The cardinal needs only scoop out the center.

For this, dear architect, did you use your clawing feet?

Your beak?

Both?

The cleverness of your construction should not surprise me

but I am human.

I have so many questions.

The answers are mapped in the mind

of a small, smooth feathered head which

pictured the design

remembered

shapes, sizes, textures

arranged each element

composed it all

into a unified utility.

How long, how difficult was the construction?

Thin, sliver twigs needed to be bent,

Bits of grape vine collected

Then inserted into the Tillandsia,

Threaded through the curls of grape vines

The stitching secures dry, flaky particles of Live Oak seedpods.

This builder knows how to balance beauty with practicality.

I attempt

to practice the same day by day.

What was next indicated in your plans?

Perhaps, you decided

To lift dry, gray Spanish moss

Lacy string by lacy string

carried in your beak, flitting back and forth

on labored wings

Nest to branch

branch  to nest

you knew that

moss matted down, then mixed with dirt

makes a sturdy stucco

Was this an ancient knowledge inherited from

Your dinosaur DNA?

To the stucco, lodged as if glued is

A one-by-one inch square of plastic netting from a bag of fruit.

Architect, this raises more questions.

How was the perfect size of plastic netting located, then chosen?

Was this serendipity?

Or was it a memory of a bright white, crisscrossed thing you spied from the air?

This plastic web has little function.

Did it thrill or amuse you?

Who can say it didn’t?

And why did you place this swatch of netting

On only one side of your nest?

Was this a statement?

A signature?

Who can say it wasn’t.?

Or was it for fun?

Do you like fun like I like fun?

Who can say you don’t?

Woven between the Spanish moss, Tillandsia fibers and the fragile twigs

are three strips of cotton from an old cloth bandage.

Was this only for comfort?

Do you like the softness against your face?

Like I like softness?

Who can say you don’t?

Six strips of silver tinsel from an old Christmas tree

are inserted at the top of the nest.

Are you making a case for beauty?

Is this a sign of aesthetics in a life otherwise dominated by survival?

Like mine?

Who can say it isn’t?

The tinsel is fragile, not material for construction

but sparkles,

sparkles!

in the sun.

Do you and I both delight in things that shine?

Who dares to say you don’t?

Like any clever architect

You balance beauty with practicality.

I attempt the same

day by day.

I never knew all this about you

Your jokes, your artistry

Until you stopped my mind one day

and opened my eyes

when I found your home.

Tea Ceremony

The steam from Thich Nhat Hanh’s teacup

rises
as a cloud

returns to earth

as rain
to quench the thirst

of tea leaves.

Thay teaches
how clouds appear in teacups
and how

to drink

moonlit rain.

Picasso, Einstein and Buddha Walk into a Bar…

Picasso takes a swig of whiskey and says

there is blue in the horse

Einstein agrees.

Buddha nods.

Yes, blue is in the horse.

If you look beyond muscle and haunch,

Buddha says, sipping his tea,

you will see

atoms that sparkle like a million small diamonds.

Einstein smiles

and drinks his beer.

Picasso says,

they want me to make sense

draw the mouth on the face

they say, where it belongs

they don’t want the eyes on the forehead

they tell me to look at statues

to understand the body.

Einstein and Buddha laugh.

“That’s a good one!” Einstein says

“As if we aren’t particles,” Picasso says

“As if our cells are static.”

“As if we are solid bodies,” Buddha adds.

At this their laughter grows uproarious

the customers look askance.

Einstein says,

“Did you hear the one about the two monks who pointed at a gingko tree and a cyrpess?

One of them said to the other:

‘They call those just trees! and the two monks fall on the ground laughing.’”

“Good one!” the three agree.

The customers shake their heads, concerned.

Since they sound so crazy

and one of them is wearing a sheet and no shoes

another hasn’t combed his hair for days

the three are thrown out of the bar

onto the street

accompanied by a gingko tree and a cypress

all arm-in-arm

they stroll into the night

sparkling.

Chihuly Glass #1

A Chihuly glass shell

is formed,

as are we all,

by a sacred geometry

etched precisely

by water and fire.

These secret equations

that set the exact beat

of our hearts

might be understood

by calculating

the blazing suns

of eons

saltwater tossed rocks

ground to sand

turned hard and translucent by time

curled and bent

to correct angles

surfaces divided

into harmonious parts

fragile as glass

smooth as the bone

of a seashell

or your spine.

Chihuly Glass #2

This is the mystery

of energy enough to ignite

colored shards of glass

into a fountain

of blue and red

yellow and orange

into a fused stillness.

The same mystery

waits

in the candle wick,

the match

the dry kindling.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way…As a man is, so he sees. ~~William Blake

Advice From a Live Oak to the Owner of the Mercedes Floating Down the Street in Miami

Listen,

says the Live Oak,

Yes, you there

in front of your winter home in Florida

watching your Mercedes float

like your yacht

down the avenue

You seem surprised

that concrete crumbles under your feet.

Nearby, as if in a dream,

you hear someone saying words like

limestone, aquifer, rising sea levels

But you do not understand any language not spoken in banks.

You shouted your mantra

Fix it! Fix it!

Let me explain.

This is how you got here:

You looked at me through blinders and called me a tree.

Then you named me:

Live Oak.

You wrote the name down in a book

as if it was truth.

I became a fact

to dismiss or use.

That was your first mistake.

When you cut me and my sap ran

you did not recall

the stickiness of your own blood.

So, I knew that our reunion would have to wait

until we had no choice.

You were too busy

conducting a war against

all that stood in your way.

You dug mines

drained swamps

smothered the soil with cement

slashed the forests and fields

forced water where it did not want to flow.

Your hand shakes now

as you grab at your pockets

for your rosary of coins.

You watch the news:

Coyotes leap over the walls of guarded houses.

Panthers roam the yards.

Alligators traverse your golf club.

Black bears rummage through your trash

swim at their leisure in your Olympic-sized pools.

Your homes are hidden behind steel gates

but the animals still enter

they know these woods and marshes

have mapped the paths in their veins

feel the contours of the land in their hearts.

For the first time, you hear the alarms.

Your senses open like a deer’s listening for the hunter’s next step.

Listen

You mowed when it was time to sow.

Demolished what it was time to save.

You understood only how to ravage

but not how to prune.

Listen

You did not see who shared these places with you.

That was your biggest mistake:

Yet, if you look east, west, south, north, up to the stars, down to the valley

you will see that what they call you is not what you are.

Your name is only a thing on paper

our roots, our veins inseparable.

Listen

to what speaks quietly

in both of us:

Live

live

live

Against this cosmic background, the lifespan of a particular plant or animal appears, not as drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change. ~~Rachael Carson

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St. Petersburg, Florida

This land feasts on fire and flood

where lightning strikes

scrub pines flare like torches.

Crackling pine needles

play a fiery staccato.

Snakes, squirrels, mice

(who’ve learned from their elders)

burrow together in tunnels

built by the able gopher tortoise.

The truce between predator and prey will hold

below the conflagration

as mouse and snake listen together

to the racing current of flames overhead.

They wait for a drenching deluge

to cool the charred tree trunks.

Grasses turned to ash

(a rich burnt compost)

will nourish sandy soil

needle thin stalks will push up through dank mud

towards the steamy sun.

Soon thickly green

vines wind around vines.

Branches cross one another, reach

in every direction.

After fire and rain

Mockingbirds, thrush, kingfishers, hawks

call out emphatic declarations

while under darkened canopies of oaks

frogs and turtles sleep.

Upon the humid air floats

A symphony of scents

honeysuckle, magnolia, fiddlewood,

rise in sweet crescendos

In the thorny brush

a rustling

as mouse jumps

from the grasp of snake

white clouds, backlit by the sun

grow into mountains

portend the next fire

the next flood

and gopher tortoise casts a wary, wise eye skyward.

Circumnavigation

Really there is no edge

from which to fall.

We are like ancient sailors

still

trembling at the horizon.

Everything is a circle

your eye, the earth

the path is not straight

as you come round

and return

as we do

as we all do

to where we started

which may look like

A mandala

constructed

of your recollections

in hues of every color

collected

in circular order

the stories

we spent our lives

repeating

looking for

the conclusion

but finding instead

A Sufi dancing in a circle of light

round of white

skirt

Whirling

Spinning

Precisely

Like a planet

and the sun

illuminated circumferences

all circadian rings of light

that cross over

over

And around

the globe.

Like the

deep round sound of the

drum, or the

singing bowl struck awake

its overtone

resonating

Resounding

Like the echo

floating in a canyon

gliding up and down

the rocky basin

returning to its origin.

Tell me then

what you fear.

Tell me,

where is the beginning

of this moment

or the end

of the ocean?

Tinney Creek

Tinney Creek runs past

under

and despite

the TJ Max

CVS, Target .

I live next to Tinney Creek,

across from a mall

along with the ducks, egrets, and crows

and the occasional hawk.

Tinney Creek

travels back and forth

from Tampa Bay

rises and falls with the tide

feeds Egrets,  families of Muscovy ducks and Mallards

seeking tiny prawns, mud crabs, bugs.

In the muddy bank grow

feathery Java fern

rounded Moneywort

verdant, abundant

as if this was still The Garden.

despite

the insults of a styrofoam cup,

a plastic bag.

Here

between snaking highways,

Dollar Stores

gas stations

condo buildings

Taco Bells

Here

hawk has built a nest atop a pole

advertising Beer and Low-Cost Cigarettes.

The ducks, Ibis, Egret, crows and I claim the remaining

palms, oak trees, creek, iridescent sunsets

as our home

Tinney Creek #2

Low tide at Tinney Creek brings

a rare pink-and-white-feathered surprise.

The Roseate Spoonbill

sweeps its ladle-like beak

through the shallow water

ignoring the styrofoam cup floating past

Urban detritus

comes and goes with the tides.

The Spoonbill lifts it’s comical Dr. Seuss face

to me for a moment then

twitching its white and rosey feathers

lowers its wide bill into the water

sweep, sweep

side to side

poke, poke

with open paddle mouth

for shrimps and insects.

The Spoonbill is  a  “gregarious bird” according to the website

“who spends time with other large wading birds,”

It arrived with an egret

now at its side

and likely enjoys the company

of the Muscovy ducks

resting like plump buddhas on the grass.

“I used to see many Roseate Spoonbills here once,”

a neighbor says.

My heart aches

as regularly

as it beats

these days

at the all too familiar words.

There were many

once.

And yet

The Roseate Spoonbill came

to Tinney Creek.

And at night, arriving home,

my headlights sweep over the creek

lighting up a sweet stretch of sleeping ducks

despite ambulance sirens

the roar of car engines.

At dawn they will wake

to waddle like drunks

and raise their chicks

though hawk will seek them.

The creek still feeds them all

And so

My heart resumes its song.

A Good Personality or The Play’s the Thing (with apologies to The Bard)

I usually congratulate people when they tell me, “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

~~~Eckhart Tolle

Did Buddha have a good personality?

We would like to think so.

Without it who would he be?

How would he feel without it?

Free?

Perhaps.

Let out of identity prison?

The prison

constructed, cemented

as he was constricted in his crib.

Conflicted adult

arrives on the stage

having learned his lines

face thick with make-up

mask in place.

The audience enthralled

the performance was so real!

So authentic! Like real life!

I really believed he was…they say.

Would Buddha have been a star

of the stage and screen?

No. He’d be a flop.

Most certainly.

Look

He forgot the role

he was assigned

misplaced the script

left his costume at home.

On his way to the theatre

Buddha got lost in the forest

Still trying to wake up

until he finally heard

suffering—his alarm clock

then

his personality shed like his actor’s mask

bare-faced, he knew

If we only trust what our eyes can see

we will believe the play is the only thing

and a mirror is a window.

Inhale

notice

hands on keyboard
shoulder aches

a crowd of thoughts,
elbow each other.

they are like drunks

shouting trash talk

thinking they makes perfect sense.

A car backfires
a mindfulness bell of sorts,
reminds me to breathe

Until ideas, images, words

grab me by my breath, 
hold me hostage 
and I am lost

pushed and pulled

between yesterday, tomorrow.

Then I inhale

reminded

again,
again

after the exhale
in the pause

before the next breath

that flickering moment

that quick bright peace
is real.

For Pema Chodron and Bob and Margaret

Even though Bob and Margaret, lost both of their children

even knowing such tsunamis

are unpredictable

sometimes I still think I stand firm on this

shifting earth

my plans laid out like railroad tracks

viewpoints arranged like books on a shelf

where I can reach them quickly

to prove their validity

(when necessary, of course)

absolutely.

What’s up is up

and down is down

It’s obvious.

I see the clock

I know the time.

I don’t need a weatherman…

Certainties crowd out

my senses

but I don’t mind

I navigate by thought alone.

It’s religious, a sustaining belief

in what I cannot see

what is ephemeral,

my thoughts and assumptions,

In those my faith is absolute.

Then I step out of my bunker

away from the tracks, the bookshelf

I go to the beach, let’s say.

Nowhere important at all

not like the places where my mind is in demand

where I use my thought-training

like a karate master.

I am barefooted

so it begins

first reminded

of my body

as toes grip sand

then, beyond my control

a deep breath rises and falls.

More senses open

seeing and hearing

causing a

slight imbalance

brought on by

the sight and sound

swooping, circling, crying sea gulls

the wide vistas, the vast sky

I stand at water’s edge

dig my feet into the heavy wet sand

anchored, safe again

until the sand slips

beneath my feet

effortlessly carrying what seemed
my dense body

and I sink

an inch
deeper
weightless
no viewpoint to grab

to steady me

pushed off the track

unsettled

pulled by the tides
like a pebble.

Surrender

is like

grinding out the last cigarette under your boot heel

this time for good

this time for good.

Like leaving the key on the table

and shutting the door

that door

quietly

tightly.

Surrender is like a fist opening

the grip loosening

from how it should have been.

Surrendering

is like untying yourself from the chair

to discover you tied it

you can stand upright.

Tear-washed eyes

are willing now clear enough

to see

the wider horizon.

an angel put its arms around your shoulders

and you felt held

and you are certain

it was real.

Surrender then

is a lavender sky at dusk

a sweep of feathery light

illuminating

spaciousness.

Like a River, Like a Wolf

That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

That got me thinking…

We are segregagated not only from diverse humans, but also from wilderness.

I am dog sitting downtown in St. Pete, Florida. My view is a city street, a gated condo, high-rises in the distance. There is also the park and Tampa Bay a few blocks away–pretty, but tamed. A stiffened, stifled kind of beauty. The only wildness left are the trees, the birds, the fish and occasional dolphin in the bay. Our downtown is more tree-friendly than most cities, so the bay and trees are it’s saving grace. A reminder of what is missing.

Unless we can afford to travel to it, many of us city dwellers have never been in wilderness We do not understand it, we have never gotten to know it, and so we fear it and belittle it, as is true of all segregation. Just as we force out diverse populations, we do the same with meadows, plains ,animals, mangroves, wetlands, sand dunes. In so doing, we expose ourselves to the threat nature feels from us, we are surprised by it’s push back to survive. What is unbalanced, will be balanced regardless of our wealth. The result of our need to control and tame results in poisoned manicured lawns, weirdly box-shape shrubs, flowers of one kind restricted to small mounds. All man-made, nature excluded.

What does all this cutting and pasting of wildness done to us? What I see downtown is linear and orderly, meant to make us feel secure, protected. I do not feel safe, only contained. Feeling policed and restricted by the rigid concrete and steel city squelches creativity; writers seek retreats from this in coffee houses with art on the walls, music playing, all reminders of the more rounded, integrated, nurturing spaces we lack.

Natalie Goldberg coined the phrase wild-mind to describe the creative process. A wild-mind flows like a river, making its way past boulders and branches of the controlling ego, of perfectionism, of the man-made. Creativity explores wilderness, trusting the directions given by that spirit. The creative spirit is in the miracle of grass growing without our planting. From wilderness we learn the power of mystery, of growing, blossoming, adapting according to life’s urging. We breathe only because the live oak breathes. Our cities have asthma, our breath is constricted.

Dukkha

In the Zen tradition, dukkha is often translated as “suffering,” although more often it means dissatisfaction or the nagging sense that something is off, or sometimes even existential angst. It seems that dukkha is discussed more explicitly in American Zen than it commonly has been elsewhere in the Zen world.~~Konin Cardenas, “Understanding Dukkha,” Lion’s Roar 2017

That got me thinking…

Dog sitting is my part time job. While walking Paco, the Min-Pin-Chihuahua mix, in  the sauna-like humidity of Florida summer,  I was experiencing dukkha, because my bum hip hurt and I was uncomfortable. I was also feeling guilt about my cat, Gus, home alone even though I went back daily for a few hours with him. Then there were the nagging questions common to dog sitters: what did I need from home that I forgot and what did I leave at the other condo that I need at home.

I happened upon an acquaintance, a resident of the building where I was staying. “How are you doing these days,” I asked. She answered “Going to Maine soon. I just bought a condo in Portland.” And I felt the hammer of dukkha come down hard on my mind. Envy. Dissatisfaction. 

As everyone knows, Buddha said life is full of suffering. What people misinterpret is what he meant by suffering. in addition to suffering death, disease and old age, there is the suffering brought on by our desires. This suffering is called Dukkha and is less about actual suffering, but more about unease, a sense one doesn’t have all they need. It’s about being attached to certain outcomes, desires and being disappointed when they don’t come to fruition. It’s also about the niggling little irritations, the small pains, the irritations of bad traffic or bad weather, aversion to inconvenience and craving for pleasure. And change. Most people will avoid change like the plague. We wait until our ass is on fire before we finally change what the problem may be. Dukkha can be defined as difficulties.

Some of my friends are on vacation in cool, beautiful places. Some even have lovely second homes in those places. They have financial well-being. I have Dukkha.

I’m not proud of it. I’m not homeless, I just have a lower income than my better-off friends. I don’t have much to complain about. 

Like so many others in the United States, I suffer from dissatisfaction. It arises out of a belief that I should be happy. That something is wrong with my life if I am not happy. This is the burden we inherit from the myth of the American Dream. We suffer from having too much and not enough. We even have the house, the car, the income we are told will make us happy, and yet…

So…because I am a writer, I write to face and understand things. I have ample opportunities to practice lessening the impact of dukkha on my life because I am an American. What helps other than writing? Seeing through the myth of the need for constant happiness. 

Try the attitude of accepting difficulty instead of getting aggravated by it. It’s a lot more peaceful.~~Rick Hanson, Phd. from “Just One Thing”

Alan Watts and Gus

To understand music, you must listen to it. But so long as you are thinking, “I am listening to this music,” you are not listening.~~Alan Watts

That gets me thinking…

Gus jumps up on the window sill. A bird or fly has flashed past.

I find myself gazing out the window with him, notice the sky, the clouds, but in the next second I have left–gone into the past or the future. My body sits in the chair, but I don’t know it. I am looking at the sky, but do not see it. There are sounds outside, but I do not hear them. Gus is tuned to the vista, its colors, shapes, movement. I am not here.I come back to the present with a start–as if an alarm went off to wake me. I do not know what alerted me to life again, but usually it is nature or some creature. We acknowledge that we need dogs and pets for their unconditional love (well, maybe conditioned in Gus’s case…) but we may also need them because they bring us into the present. They offer us their presence in a way most humans cannot, see us as we are now, not as we were or could be.

I stroke Gus’s soft fur and come back into my body as I notice his warmth on my lap. Gus, I think, must always sense his body and mine. I, however, do not inhabit my body while I am lost in thought, and I am almost always lost in thought.

Gus and other creatures, it seems to me, are examples of minds that are in tune with the “primary consciouness” that Watts describes here and that Buddhists would recognize as an awakened mind:

The “primary consciousness,” the basic mind which knows reality rather than ideas about it, does not know the future. It lives completely in the present, and perceives nothing more than what is at this moment. ~~Alan Watts

What if the present moment is full of pain or grief? Ahh…That is for the next blog…

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Watching with Meeko and Brutus

With Brutus at His Water Place

Brutus is a big, bulky lab mix with a weight problem, but he is also graceful. And slow. 

He is a slow walker who usually trails behind me.. It’s not that he is too old or sick to walk. He is just slow. Periodically he stops to say, with  his big brown eyes, “Which way now?” However, when we are heading for his special  water place he becomes a fast dog trotting in front of me, pulling me down the blocks across a small bridge, and through the neighborhood to a street that ends at the bay

He climbs down the crumbled pavement into the water, over the stinky piles of seaweed until the water covers his belly, then stops. He stands and gazes out into the bay, occasionally turning his head to check that I am still there. His tells me how much he loves this place. He says he wishes we would come here daily.  I hear him. We all know how clearly dogs can speak. I take a breath and follow his lead into the present moment: sky, water, seaweed, dog. Peace plenty.

Mindfulness with Meeko

If you came to this earth as thousands of cells that want the experience of  being an American Eskimo dog, you are snow-white and have a fan-like tail. You are alert to the smallest gnat that flits past. Your ears stick up straight and open, so no sound can escape your hearing. You zoom around your big yard on dainty, thin legs and feet, but you are not a dainty soul. You take no guff from passers-by, especially other dogs, and bark in short bursts of passion.

You are like Buddha in that you dwell in the present moment and watch life with exquisite mindfulness. Your ears twitch, small black eyes search and scan the air, the ground. You love the outdoors where everything is happening, almost too much to take in. You love being outside so much that you leap into the air at the closed kitchen door until I open it.

Meeko  and I love being outside, looking around. Nature reminds us to stop.Be attentive. It says here is beauty, check it out. Here is life living itself, notice. A yellow butterfly flits past Meeko’s black nose. A mockingbird swoops down to keep us away from her nest. A lot is happening but humans in houses tend to miss it all.

The exact balance of sun, air, living and decaying things settles us. Where can there be more peace than here where Meeko and I are held in the hammock of nature? No hurry, no achievements. Just being.

Contemplating Wisdom, Featuring Gus and Brutus, et al

Bruts head shot at beachIMG_0781

The Western mind draws a sharp boundary between humans and the rest of the world….for the Western mind, it is hard to recognize mind in animals, whereas for the Japanese mind, it is hard not to do so.~~Semiotician Yoshimi Kawade, written in 1998

That quote gets me to thinking…

Brutus, the lab mix that I often dog sit, sends me love with a look. He and I look directly, usually silently, into each other’s eyes each time we want to tell each other something. It’s simple. Direct. Clear. A type of mind reading. I’ve learned from dogs and cats how much can be said by the eyes.

With Brutus and Gus, the tiger-striped cat, words are seldom necessary even though I use them out of habit. Brutus and Gus hear me make sounds. Brutus looks at me patiently until I make myself clear.; Gus walks off unless I add a treat to the sounds.

I think, this is one of the reasons that people need dogs and cats—we get sick and tired of talking.

Or we can’t stop talking around people and can only be quiet with our pets. Words are hard to come by. The right ones. Words can be so difficult to find. Those we speak are often the ones we repeat out of habit; they aren’t the words available, or even appropriate often, in the present moment, if we took the time to notice those.

People don’t listen for the most part. Dogs listen. They learn the meaning of words.directed to them. When I say “car” or “beach”  or “cookies” to Brutus, he comes to a happy attention. Have we learned any language from other animals in the same way?

Our words come from minds filled with past and future, so how accurate are they? How wise? Meanwhile, my stock and trade is, ironically, words; I’m a writer and a teacher. However, I’ve been investigating the mind in the way of the as a Buddha and I am starting to see its limitations.

The book Intelligence in Nature, An Inquiry into Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby,  an anthropologist, is filled with words for 243 pages. Since they are written instead of spoken, they have been carefully chosen and re-thought many times; writing can be a more clearway to use words than speaking. Narby writes about the intelligence he and other scientists, have discovered in creatures great and minuscule, like nematodes. “A slime mold,” he writes,” in a maze has the capacity to apprehend its situation and act on its knowledge.”

He makes the point that there are more forms of intelligence than we ever dreamed of. A Western mind has to overcome hundreds of years of the myth of human intellectual superiority.

Recently I read in Narby’s book that “Information of one kind or another is consistently circulating in nature, in particular in the form of biochemical molecules. The world is streaming with signs. Not so long ago, some people considered the use of signs a specifically human trait.”

All this is to say, that I am searching as I write: what is nature telling me? What is it I am missing? Can I become better at reading the signs life is posting? We’ll see…

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After Listening to Tiokasin Ghosthorse

Name yourself the Lakota way

see how

streams reflecting sunlight

run in your veins,

stars shine

on your brow.

Go to the forest the Lakota way.

hear roots

whisper wordless

under the the soft-handed canopy

holding you as you 

sleep.

Know this boulder the Lakota way

and you will understand 

something solid

Is not

but glows and glitters

with light

like your bones 

like boulders,

that by constant motion joined,

speak your name.

wonder

 Wonder

Pomegranate
Each sweet seed counted
Equally in its pod
Magically mathematical

Lotus 
blossoms arranged
In a circular dance
Rising from mud
Open in time
As if to music

Tiger cat
Stripes half inch by half inch
Up the tail
Gold and white 
Like wedding rings.