Holiday

Climate change is bad, but
the all-expenses-paid trip you took
to Bermuda today
with everyone else in the Tri-state area
was not bad, really, but good.

How to account for it? Maybe
soak in the rays, extend joyful
islander vibes to the other souls
lucky enough to live here,
and, if you can manage it,
buy no plastic.
And if not, hold more to the heavy weight
of grace than that sin, already wafting away
on the breeze.

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Changes

He woke up one morning, from fitful sleep, to discover he was now an average-sized human. It all felt a bit unreal at first, and he wasn’t really interested in getting up. He was aware of the vast space around him, and a vague loneliness engulfed him. But then, seized by the energy of the day, he swung his legs over the bed and discovered they functioned quite well for the purpose: one quick shake and they were over the side of the bed, and then the feet provided an adequate base for his wobbly body on the floor.

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The Meadow

Dedicated to UU Catskills’ New Members, 2022

Nature is always telling the story
of the individual and the collective

Every solitary blade of grass
in a field of ten billion
grows only to its own inner rhythm;
dances out, on its own terms,
its own relationship to the sun and the rain,
motion and time.

And also: each blade is the meadow
and the meadow is it.
And not just the grass, but all the wildflowers
and lichen and bugs and
clumps of dirt and everything else,
even the little purple flowers that
ought to be in some other field,
according to someone’s reckoning,
a reckoning of which the little purple flowers,
while dazzling with their beauty,
mind not one whit.

Nature is always telling us the story
that to live, alone and together,
is a glorious and chaotic adventure.

Here at the congregation, we live that story
according to our human nature.
We are not asking you to change who you are,
to sacrifice
one smidgen of your own peculiar glory.
We are saying: look to the meadow
of which your glory is an integral part.
Be aware of those around you,
nurture your awareness of the beauty of difference,
do not mistake your own worth
for a dogmatic stamp upon the world.
Look to the glory of the meadow.
Make room, sometimes, for the dance of your neighbor.
If the breeze calls you to it, dance along yourself.

Give of yourself: which is not to say
take away any part of who you really are,
but to live yourself out more expansively,
stretch to the heavens with a selfless joy,
letting go of all that clinging,
knowing that you are the meadow,
you are the earth,
you are the lover and the beloved in this
beloved community of all life,
you are fully and utterly yourself and beyond yourself,
and it is happening right now,
and it is glorious.

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Scheduled Attempts at Delight

In December, the people turn their attention
to joy.
We don’t do it well, of course:
the baubles are tacky, the sales crowded,
we line up in a fifty-minute queue
to see exactly what we already knew was going to happen,
happen just as we knew it would, only less so.

Across the land, our family gatherings miraculously combine
the natural ease of a middle school dance
with the gaiety of the Hundred Years War.

We aren’t stupid, we people.
we know just how bad we are at joy.
Exhibit A, your aunt, in her Christmas sweater
at the edge of the sofa,
fingers clasping her brandy snifter for dear life,
meeting only the old familiar terror in the eye.  

But still, be kind, you old cynic,
and note down
all the times we let a child, at long last,
rule the world.

Because it could be so, so much worse.
Once we devoted ourselves to efficiency,
and we invented the cell phone.

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Safecracker

happiness
can be cultivated
perhaps
boil the kettle for a cup of tea
or go for a walk
or write a twelve-part novel on the love life of the urban sasquatch
and happiness could easily grow
in fact
happiness is a little like crabgrass
it doesn’t take all that much to grow it really
when the sun is in the right quadrant of the sky
or the pertinacious stuff of the sidewalk cracks
is just going to do its thing
no matter
effing
what
ideally happiness can use a little watering
if you have the energy to tilt the can
today
and if not
remember
happiness is also an explosion out of nowhere
and the great safecracker in the sky
has no interest in locking down joy
in its customary places

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The Starting Line of Kindness

The starting line of kindness can be anywhere.
It can begin with good intentions, or boredom, or practical notions.
An overheard word at the bus stop, a dropped grocery bag,
A strange creature limping, a moment’s silence at the hospital room –
All are spurs for kindness. Or they are not.
Kindness can form, like mold, on the edge of a grudge.
A string of unkindnesses, no matter how long,
will admit of its opposite, in a kind of perverse beauty of asymmetry.
The three-time murderer, doing fifty-five to life,
can create the very next kindness of our planet earth.
None of this is fair. None of it makes sense.
Kindness carries its own clock and casts its own shadow.
The world does not know kindness, until it does,
Until the world meets kindness over by the docks and they kiss,
And suddenly the world understands
That it had not been home until now.

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The Classroom of the Gods

The gods, like children,
do not take all that naturally to instruction –
like children, they are only too aware of their own immortality,
and surrender it only under duress.
While staring, past the glass,
at a mountain of leaves
that waits invitingly in the alley behind the refectory,
the gods cast listless ears at the figure
droning out the laws at the board:
entropy this, and futility of desire that,
and so on and so forth, ad infinitum, to the grave.

No one spoke, and then Nature
raised her chubby fingers skyward.
And offered a response.
The word of her response –
if it could be said to be a word –
was Spring, and with that word there was no longer silence
in the lecture halls, and the bells rang out explosions
amongst the hyacinths, and the gods laughed
because the lesson was over, and it was time,
again, to throw themselves into the mud,
purposeless, and free.

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Dirt Wars

Not a lot of people know this, but
when dirt has wars with other dirt,
they threaten to reduce each other to human being.
They may even call each other human being –
or (in a civilized conflict)
they root through the internet
to dig up human being on each other.
At all times, but especially spring,
they try, futilely, to rid their homes
of all traces of human being.
But eventually, they are returned to human being
just as they often say, on such occasions,
with more resignation than pure bitterness,
“We commit this dirt to the movement,
life to life, human being to human being.”

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Shrove Tuesday

In 2022, on Shrove Tuesday,
forty miles of Russian tanks drove into Kiev,
as a global climate report announced that more parts of the planet
would soon be hot, underwater, rife with mosquitos, or extinct.
The pandemic had been going for two years.

It was not a hopeful time. 

But other things can stand in for hope, and take its shape:
kindness, courage, fury at apathy, or time;
we can wear all these when hope no longer fits.

And so the people entered Lent, confident not
in the final score of man’s devising,
but with a note written deeply in their souls,
humming, expanding, burning incessantly like a star.
Even as other fires threatened everything,
the holy fire burned in them,
and their hearts flew off to safety, like doves.

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Dedication

Written on your heart are the words
“This heart is dedicated to _________”
After that comes playing the piano,
or Maude, or the sacred mantra of your children’s names.
Some names have been crossed out, and you can barely make out
the letters beneath all the added lines.
Some names are homes for those who have travelled
away from the restless beating of their own heart.

(Most of the heart is blank space,
and so there is always room
to scribble down some more words,
which is what the days are really up to,
in their own secret hearts.)

The names are written in candlelit suppers
and on the softball field. The names are heated in the microwave
and placed on a table, with expectant hope.
Fingers that know the shape by heart
trace the names each day, and like this
the Book of Life is given away, even as it is read.
And without the giving there is no Book,
only an organ wheezing pointlessly for no one.
 

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