For Christmas, my love made a booklet of the last year’s blog posts, and presented it to me. The last entry in the booklet showed me in a hoarfrost meadow in Alaska, marking the two-year anniversary of my final radiation treatment. So now I’m on the other side of those two years, and the other side of my winter transition to Hawaii, out of the hoarfrost and into the salt spray of a wild, windy, rocky coast. And we are on the other side of the Mayan calendar’s end, the Solstice, winter holidays, preparing for the new year. What does it mean? A page in my calendar is titled “unexpected blessings,” and another speaks of “changes we may anticipate and those which may take us by surprise.”
December this year was a month of shattering and sorrow on this earth, of storms and violence and loss. Right now blizzards are bearing down on humans and animals and birds in the Midwest, pushing eastward. Trees are crashing down. Some people’s time on earth, ends abruptly, unexpectedly. It’s been a month, too, of prayers and the painful, brutal first steps toward healing which always come, the days after the funeral, which don’t feel anything like relief. Looking back at the last two years, I see that healing is like that. It sounds nice, soft on the tongue, but in reality it’s lonely and harsh. A healed tree displays its old wound. It’s gnarled. We gnarl our way out of grief, too.
I talked to my cousin today. In the last few years, she’s lost her only sibling, a brother, of a sudden heart attack, and her mother, of pancreatic cancer; she died in October. My cousin, a social worker, has taken care of others her whole adult life. She never had kids, but helped raise her brother’s kids, who lived in the same house as she and her mother. She says she feels the love of her extended family. But there is a process only she can go through and know, the process of coming to terms with being, as an old gospel song says, an “orphan girl” on this earth. There is no comfort anyone can offer for that. The healing path is private, a long walk through rugged terrain, picking up along the way truths, like stones, which fill your backpack. You emerge sun-and-wind-burnt, sinewy, weathered, stronger surely for all you’ve carried, maybe more self-contained.
Since December, I’ve begun a new daily writing practice, a series of prayer-poems. In Alaska, in mid-winter, sunrise takes at least two hours. The sun doesn’t crest the mountains across Kachemak Bay until after 10 am. It’s the ideal time to write. At first, I thought of those poems as separate from this blog, but today, I’m reminded to question holding back. This is where I am now, and these prayer poems have something do with healing. And they are an exploration of the thing we call “praying,” what it means to me. And they represent the stones I gather in my backpack. So I will begin to post them here. The older I get, the more so many things seems beyond my control. But I don’t wish to throw up my hands in despair, or become passive or indifferent. Sometimes, the only gesture left to is prayer. And to me, the poems that matter in my life are forms of prayer. It’s what I do with my worries now. And writing, poetry or prose, for me is the way I know to answer the question I started this post with: “What does it mean?”
This is the first in the series:
Morning stacks up in parallels – inlet,
a flat-topped mountain, cloud-strips,
of sand. Light arrives in bands
at 9, hues like faint scent marks. But this is still the hour
before I want there to be, before any prayer,
any please, gods: just a mountain dusted in pale
blue talcum (as in light as powder). That’s all.
Before any if, the wishful, before the arrival
of need or dread: the letter, the word, even you,
these many weeks (due on the noon plane),
and I, in solitude, this hour just prior,
(day as yet without
prognosis, anniversary of no one),
watch hues elide into blue
of a shadow I remember
pooled at the base of a tree
in deep winter, north of here,
memory I peel
off moonlit boreal snow and carefully
glue to this incipient
sky, line by line.
Lay it down like a wing-track.
Until a soul can’t hold
any longer, and cracks, crying its tiny please,
between as-yet black branches
(the way bird song bursts, a prayer) don’t let anything
begin or be just yet. Please day,