Conversations I had with local flora and fauna on Monday, December 10th

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Walnut tree – are you a walnut? 

My forestry is less refined 

without leaves. 

Your ancient bark is so deeply ridged –

I want to fold myself inside

and learn from you

the slow pace of winter sap rising. 

 

Is there a minute network 

of chattering fungi beneath my feet?

My tree book suggests there is,

but you are a newly reborn forest, 

so recently returned to life from clear cut ground. 

Has your speech returned?

We silenced you because

we didn’t know what we were doing. 

But I am listening now. 

 

I was walking too loudly –

I’m sorry –

cracking ice and branches and frost. 

But now I’m stopped and waiting and still,

and you can come out again, 

chickadees and sparrows 

and whatever bird you are,

nearly infinitesimal,

almost hidden by the branch you land on. 

Hop, scuttle, peck. 

A bright yellow stripe

crowns your tiny head,

and I’m not sure that I have ever seen you before. 

Genus? Species?

For the first time ever,

it occurs to me 

to ask you what you call yourself. 

 

Equine companion,

who rode through here sometime last week,

might you have left your piled gift

somewhere easier to get around?

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O, great mystery!

A canyon of color 

contained in a mushroom. 

You are a bearer of worlds. 

 

The river breathes. 

More slowly than humans,

and even than the green things,

but there is a rhythm,

in and out,

and I can see it in the ice on the flood plains –

in the layered ice rings around your trunks,

and the cracked lines dipping in the sheets of ice above your roots,

proof of water levels moving

up and down,

expanding high,

and compressing low,

like lungs,

water like air,

the earth a body,

where a flood is not a disaster,

but a deep breath in.

 

You really wanted to see that bridge,

my own dear self,

and when one way was blocked

by thunder-cracking ice

with slowly breathing water pulsing beneath it,

you came this way. 

Was it worth it?

On most paths,

the mud is frozen

in space and time

with prints preserved

of human, deer, horse, raccoon,

and maybe occasionally

a dog.

But this path,

this leaf-strewn,

mud-caked, 

water-widened way,

is quickened by the breathing river,

and your feet sink into the loam,

muddy water rising over your grey suede boots. 

Cold feet. Potentially ruined shoes. 

It wasn’t so much that the bridge was worth it,

was it, my own dear self,

but that the setting sunshine,

and the sliding black river,

and the maple leaves still hanging,

were calling for a witness. 

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Let my people go

(In honor of Holy Week’s Table Turning MondayI offer this liturgy of (in)justice.  This was originally a sung and spoken-word piece I did for a class presentation on the theology of anthropology.)  

 

When Israel was in Egypt’s land

Let my people go

Oppressed so hard they could not stand

Let my people go

 

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

to let my people go.

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the riverside

that runs with the blood of the mined-up earth

shining oil and topsoil run-off

dry-throated children crouch on the shores

with plastic pails they gather in life and death

and we, the blood-letters

don’t have to watch

their illness fester on the banks of the river of life

they ask for no parting of the water—

only a clear cup to drink

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the city of tents

where a young girl kicks at a ball of rags

and tries to bury the sound of gunshots

in the swift, strong movement of muscle

sit with her there

and do not try to explain away

the horror she hides in the catch in her smile

give her that cup of cold, clear water

but don’t expect to be rewarded with the return of innocence

stolen by the greed built into our daily commute

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the prison cell

where a tattooed man holds his head in his hands

and weeps

because he was a prisoner long before he got here

and yesterday during visiting hours

he saw his daughter’s face for the very first time

and he was afraid

afraid of the chains he saw growing around her tiny ankles

chains that snake through the houses of my neighborhood

and end at my doorstep

 

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

to let my people go.

 

Go down, Moses,

way down to the path that leads to the tree of life

fall down on your knees in the dust of the earth

where I buried my hands and wondered

how can such fertile ground

shape such barren people?

Tell me, Moses, how I got here

And tell me, please, where all this is going

Tell me plagues have to do with freedom

Tell me the price of the firstborn was worth it

But most of all, Moses, tell me I am going with you

 

Show me a God who stretches out her mighty arm

and scatters our expectations

a God who holds our hearts and softens them

to each other

to Herself

 

Go down, Moses,

Way down to Egypt’s land.

Tell old Pharaoh

to let my people go.

 

Tell me, Moses

what do I do

when I discover that I am not in Egypt

I AM Egypt

 

Let my people go.