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January is a month to reflect. Poetry opens the ion trail, the tracks. With thanks to Arthur Sze.

Comet Hyakutake
by Arthur Sze

Comet Hyakutake’s tail stretches for 360 million miles—

in 1996, we saw Hyakutake through binoculars—

the ion tail contains the time we saw bats emerge out of a cavern at dusk—

in the cavern, we first heard stalactites dripping—

first silence, then reverberating sound—

our touch reverberates and makes a blossoming track—

a comet’s nucleus emits X-rays and leaves tracks—

two thousand miles away, you box up books and, in two days, will step through the
invisible rays of an airport scanner—

we write on invisible pages in an invisible book with invisible ink—

in nature’s infinite book, we read a few pages—

in the sky, we read the ion tracks from the orchard—

the apple orchard where blossoms unfold, where we unfold—

budding, the child who writes, “the puzzle comes to life”—

elated, puzzled, shocked, dismayed, confident, loving: minutes to an hour—

a minute, a pinhole lens through which light passes—

Comet Hyakutake will not pass earth for another 100,000 years—

no matter, ardor is here—

and to the writer of fragments, each fragment is a whole—


It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out — no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

~ William Stafford ~

(The Way It Is)

We, in the northern hemisphere, are turning toward fall, shorter days, longer nights, craving foods that are orange, rich with vitamin A, to nourish our eyes.

A bird just chirped outside my window with a message given and received. Time. Tier time.

My son and his wife are moving to England for a year, and I am aware of stretching the moments of this next 28 days, of building a scaffold of support.

I think now of the neck of the giraffe. The giraffe has seven vertebrae, as do we, and yet, each one of theirs can be over ten inches long. The giraffe’s heart is 2 feet long and weighs about 25 pounds. Its lungs can hold 12 gallons of air. In this moment, I’m envisioning myself as a giraffe with a long, flexible neck, a huge heart, and lungs moist with care. I find myself in tears these days, tears liquid with love.

My son is making a film and, through it, I feel myself in the workings of his mind, as he once was in me. I am touched, punctured perhaps, as with the song of the little bird this morning. And so this poem comes, brought from a bird, reminding me to trust and continuously build and replenish an inner nest.

Inner Nest

Bird drops notes outside my window,
ear cups thimble
air woven in tiers

I am savoring an article by Tony Hoagland in the American Poetry Review where he discusses the poetry of Marie Howe, Jane Hirshfield, and Linda Gregg.

As we’ve discussed here, writing poetry can put one in touch with the stirrings within and can stir a deeper resonance with what connects perception to the view outside.

Hoagland writes:

“A spiritual poet is one seeking alignment with the laws of creation; with that which is above and beyond the human. In our era, even to remember such parameters exist is difficult when the priority and scale of the manmade proclaims itself from every TV and cell phone conversation.”

Today I am the dance of spring.

Plants reach to stroke the notes left by birds.

I am invited by Jane Hirshfield to be porous.

The Supple Deer

The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer:

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

– Jane Hirshfield

Here is Mary Oliver with just one of her many poems on the importance of mindfulness and appreciation for this world we share.


Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

~ Mary Oliver ~

(Why I Wake Early)

I am reading Experiencing Hildegard: Jungian Perspectives by Avis Clendenen. It is a beautiful book, an interactive book. Clendenen suggests we each keep a journal as Hildegard of Bingen did in the 12th century and record with words and drawings what is going on with us, as Carl Jung, influenced by Hildegard, also did in his Red Book, a journal of his musings and drawings, visions and mandalas.

Clendenen suggests:

Imagining your journal as a Red Book, allow an image of the infinite to emerge from within and release the image onto the page without self-consciousness or self-censure, but in free-flow form. For example, you may want to sit quietly in a favorite peaceful place to simply listen or choose an ordinary object in nature to contemplate in silence, while holding the question, “What am I noticing?” Just let what happens happen without thinking about it.

My refrigerator is not receiving cold air from the freezer, so I have been instructed by Gill, the repairman, to put a toothpick or chopstick in the “defuser baffle” to hold it open, until he can put a new baffle in tomorrow. To do that, I need a small compact mirror. In searching through drawers for a mirror, I come across a book I treasure, The Booklover’s Birthday Book, purchased at the Metropolitan Museum of Art many years ago. The copyright is 1984 and that sounds about right.

Over the years, I’ve written quotes that appeal to me into the book. I don’t know the author but I love this:

To write and to create is to focus on your center. Centered, your life does not frenetically pop, but slowly you change into the elements and live in two realms.

It is the new year, the year of the Rabbit to the Chinese, and many of us are renewed in our vows for health and inner and outer exploration.

I am reading a book by Clare Cooper Marcus, Iona Dreaming, The Healing Power of Place, A Memoir.

I came to this book because of my need for place, because of my understanding that Mount Tamalpais and my home are part of my healing. I didn’t realize when I began her book that Clare had also been through cancer treatment. I recommend the book for anyone but especially those who have been through treatment and want to delve within to understand. I also recommend it to those who may be searching for or who have found their place.

In the book, she quotes Deena Metzger on the value of writing. Why do we write, or why might we?

Deena Metzger in her book Writing for Your Life:

In the process of writing, of discovering our story, we restore those parts of ourselves that have been scattered, hidden, suppressed, denied, distorted, forbidden, and we come to understand that stories heal. As in the word “remember,” we re-member, we bring together the parts, we integrate that which has been alienated or separated out …. self discovery is more than gathering information about oneself …. It alters us. We re-store, re-member, re-vitalize… Writing our story takes us back to some moment of origin when everything was whole ….

In Breast Strokes, we demonstrate the power of writing, writing through illness, friendship, and pain. I’ve been reading Experiencing Hildegard by Avis Clendenen, a book about a woman who wrote, painted, and sang, a woman who recorded her worth.

I resonate to this quote by Richard Rhodes in O’Shea, Note to Self, p. XX

The process of writing is always a healing process because the function of creation is always, always, the alleviation of pain – the writer’s first of all and then the pain of those who read what she has written. Imagination is compassionate. Writing is a form of making, and making humanizes the world.

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Cathy and Jane started writing together during Cathy's illness, and that writing became a blog, which then became a book!

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