Weeding the Labyrinth and Finding the Poetry

This weekend my daughter, her friend and I participated in the Whidbey Institute work party.  She wanted to weed the labyrinth as her job, so I joined in.  There will be photos of the workday and I believe her holding up a worm on the Whidbey Institute page (on the blogroll to the right) at some point.

Whidbey Institute Labyrinth photos from the man who helped build it.

Here you can learn about sacred geometry, and can find a labyrinth near you with the Labyrinth Locator:  Labyrinth Society

Or walk a Virtual Labyrinth with your computer mouse!

I liked weeding the labyrinth so much that I started an intention to spend some of my 1-hour off weekday work schedule doing this as a piece by piece process.  If you can gain spiritual connection and solve problems by walking the labyrinth, surely you can by weeding it!

The problem I am trying to resolve is, “Where did my poetry go?”  Other than a select few poems for individuals, I have not been able to hear the poetry muse in 20 years.  So, in honor of National Poetry Month’s final day, I have decided to post all my poems not lost from my computer crash of 2010 in this blog post.  All were written when I was age 19-24, but there were many more now disappeared into the ether.

Lizard Shoe

Beaded, sparkling yellow-blues,

peacock feather swirls —

a work of art on a Ked.

Speared on a stick from tongue to tail,

the shoe leaned against its cement post

under the freeway over-pass,


immovable, an art exhibit for passers-by,

a voodoo icon

waiting for some part in a curse.

~ ~ ~

Inner Twins

Mute Sister muses

on the cacophony of desert:

bone-sand decaying

under lizard-freeways,

ravens seeding tumbleweeds,

mallow and buckwheat sprouting,

wild rice grass swaying

wind       wind      wind

Mute Sister thinks she owns time,

having captured sound;

stands and listens, absorbing

orchestras of lightening

and stars.

Spoken Sister speaks a ballet

of words, aerated words

like water bubbled from

a fish’s mouth —

sharp urchin-spined words,

words sprinkled in classrooms

showered over lecture-halls —

octopus words uncurling


Spoken Sister connects

people, contains her power

and readies her spray

like a humpback whale.

Sometimes Mute Sister listens,

collects her tears in a pool,

and contemplates swimming.

~ ~ ~


I want to create something whole

with the musics and shades and fibers

of my life.  So

I am listening to a loom.

Shuttle shushes through woof,

beater clanks toward weaver

compacting warp,

and I am listening.

I want to dance with thousands

of hands from thousands of years

in the brilliance of color,

threads touching.

A chickadee’s voice outside,

a perpetual grocery list,

sweat-darkened laundry resting

in its basket, the weaver’s longing

for home — all find a place in the cloth.

I want to create something whole

with my life, so I am listening to a loom.

~ ~ ~


I wish I could knit you a poem

like the sweaters that fly

from my hands remembering

the silk of your fingers

embrace as you pulled me through

stiff motion unlearned

until the yarn could wrap around,

under and through

its own loops.

Each loop replays

your hands’ grace

the angle of gulls’ wings open;

your long hands that knew

the shapes of years

of Birthday cakes, plum tarts, and surprise

cookies just warm like the storybooks said.

You wove stories of war, of leaving

Germany, of surviving growing;

giving as if to compensate

for what you also shared with me

and no one else:  a curve in the spine.

You were cased in plaster one summer for this,

and hung from doorways while brothers teased

your dangling feet.

I acquired a plastic shell to keep the world out

for four years breaking

free one hour each day.

The last stitches your hands

held the week you stopped living

with cancer, are a patchwork of saved colors:

Squares that cover me in winter

and help remind me whose fingers

pressed into mine, leaving

the gift of keeping

others warm.

~ ~ ~

Foreign Film

Who will tell me when to get off this train?

I am standing, swaying with the world

swishing, flashing past

futon-draped terraces,

tenements and trees,

frame after

frame —

In the train car womb

people wait limp for the motion to slow.

Doors slide and people wake to be

ushered out by invisible hands.

I am not so sure when to leave.

My instinct grew in a different place.

Who will tell me when to get off this train?

My dreams hold dry,

over-exposed, human-free land

stretching to blue expanse of air everywhere.

Now I stand

in these black shoes,

swaying with the world

flashing past

frame after

frame —

~ ~ ~

Bullet Rice

They died all around him of starvation.  “Bullet rice,” they called it.*

Like the wind you run

Through the jungle

Between bullets

Fearing sleep

In train car dark

Scaling ancient trees in seconds

Reaching the river’s cold edge

That can hide you

Like the fish

You catch in one

Quick grasp.

You find the camp people,

Your weakened heart a thread.

They fly you

To us for a second life.

Doctors label you 14,

And make you exist

Assigning a new heart,

A birth date.

Too-small bones

Betray the years behind your eyes.

Your recovery defies

American laws of medicine

(Our missing chemical is always the spirit).

Sleep runs you into

Valves clicking in plastic dark.

You are 18

Washing dishes in a Mexican restaurant.

Going to high school


From all the ART

Inside you.

Nine brothers and sisters

Whisper in your ear


Their voices rise

Into Khmer Rouge bullet screams.

Your eyes ask

Why Me?

Why am I alive?

My friend, you are alive.

You have been the wind.

* “What These Eyes Have Seen,” Northwest Magazine, November 1, 1987, p.36.

~ ~ ~

Salt Black

A large black sea lion

Rolled on shore

Might be nothing

More than death.

Circling the body

Step by step,

I satisfy some scientist in me.

Watching the blue-black eye

Turn white, I stand

One moment longer,

Noticing cowlicked hairs

Begin to catch

Sand grains in the wind;

Small ear flaps limp

On the smooth, bulky head;

Flippers pressed the wrong way.

I leave

The way I came,

Sliding up a dune

Through stands of

Salt grass bending.

I follow deer tracks

Until, knowing I am watched,

I stop

And turn my head right

To see a smaller gray seal

Shuddering cold

Against the dune,

Two black eyes questioning.

I step forward–

Wanting to push it back

Thinking the seal will surely die

This far from the tide–


When I realize

It was my eye that had moved,

Not the seal.

Letting a warm drop of salt roll,


Driftwood cannot shake.

~ ~ ~

Kamakura Series

I.          Junipers hold fast

roots four hundred years past seed,

China to Japan.

II.         Water purifies

each finger dipped and drying.

Release for the soil.

III.       School boys crouch to feed

pigeons in the temple square.

The senko pot burns.

IV.       Inside the dragons’

garden; breathless steps to reach

cackling, grinning beasts.

V.        Kencho-ji Temple,

student artist at the gate;

black crows urge me home.

~ ~ ~

Two Top Buttons Fell

Portland’s public Reading Room is shelter from

Oregon’s cold winter days;

downtown where you are

always trying to get up.

My high-back, hard-wood chair

brings me to the edge of Medgar Evers’ life story,

marching on Selma’s streets with N double A C P,

Seeing people overcome the hound dogs’ bark,

reading words of freedom-love, life-love, blood-love.

Your tired scarf and maroon wool hat

frame your pride-lined face.

Across the broad yellow table,

your brown salvation coat gapes at me

where two top buttons fell.

Veins in your thumb strain as you move a page.

Your eyes look only down over Time magazine glare.

Glossy red runs there between dark skin

and South African dirt.

I want to teach you to see the words

on that shelf behind your back.

Bright lights in this room

remind us to belong out of the cold;

only closing time pushes you back

to the frosted bench to wait.

Every day you understand

how to sit near the words

and meditate on full color.

No story can explain

how you know that blood speaks.

~ ~ ~

For Emily

I intended to find your address,

to write all the words I had saved

for you these seven years.

I intended to meet you half-way —

But the fall —

I did not see that trail, the cliff, those rocks;

the canyons

sing red, red songs

in your honor.

I wonder if the sage and pinon know.

I intended to find your address.

Instead I read those seven years

in a newsletter —

You married and graduated

with a degree in physical therapy,

watched a husband die from a brain tumor,

and two years past grief you entered the

Park Service to give yourself to the land

and you met the person your heart needed to heal.

When you took that step

he was greeting his parents at the airport

flown in to meet you —

Your life was 90 years in 26

as if your foot knew the outline of that step

and the slide of those rocks.

You taught how to see

the whole in the blind girl shoved in high school halls,

how to hear the life of the quadriplegic in his words,

how to wander into truth by feeling differences,

like rubbing stones.

You taught how to turn the pain of those four years

in a spine-straightening brace,

turn the pain over to a group so we could place

the hurt in the middle of a circle

and say, “This is our difference”

and will make us strong

and will make us know.

The song you strummed from the campfire

stays with me

as if I found your address

in the air I breathe when I walk

in the leaves or in desert sand

smelling earth,

knowing truth

you knew.

~ ~ ~

To Real-Timers (After Gwendolyn Brooks’ “To Black Women”)


where there is stifled time —

no spacious hours for colors and words, no

adrenaline rush, no shining muse, no heartfelt conversation —


Continue under the work places of the world!

The cruel phones, the supervisory commands,

telecommunications and envelopes fat

as the paycheck wizard.

It has been a

long week, with fatigue, headache and dizzy-spells.

You have surprised some

You have not agreed to follow

through every order given by those

in higher position, the language thieves.

Earth remains in your hands and you remember

stretched roots.

Your own rhythms.

The whisper of leaves.

And you shape and then fling your newness.

~ ~ ~

Fireflies for my Father

On this last, Labor Day visit, your father drives me past his “Avenue of Flags.”  Your mother is almost gone, and I want to hold a firefly’s light like the screened summer porch evenings of your one-doctor town.  You are capturing every word you can use to assemble a history for your children, imagined grandchildren.

Pen and paper are your ears’ extensions, because the lymphoma is spreading.  Your mother is dying.  You are going back to Illinois, back to Virginia, back to your mother’s farmhouse near Little Rock, her date with Fulbright, her courtship with Grandpa, his second-place design for Boston’s City Hall.

Your father destined his own retirement home, your mother’s infirmary, your childhood house, and acres of blooming pears, Jonathan apples, a glorious peach, rolling lawns and wooded hills milkweed-rich; the pond you fished, the garden once seeded by Grandma’s palms:  Corn, tomatoes, allium and parsley.

You grew despite your youth restricted each year to a hospital bed in struggle for breath, despite the burden in the nickname, “Doc”, despite sermons and all the white-spired walls, rolling farms with identical barns and silos facing the road.  You sought freedom on those perpendicular lanes of speed, where you could restitch the terrible symmetry of your landscape.

You defined a self despite the Buddy Holly glasses and mirrored hairstyles of your county school.  You grew despite the jockey’s grimacing black face on doorsteps.

You fatefully chose a baby sister who once adopted, could not be returned.  She sharpened your mother’s vision as the source of Opportunities, a place of work for slow ones, a place free of labels.

I tell you, now I need to walk, fast and far after three days of ‘Country Kitchen’ salad bar, after retirement home air, trying to be heard above hearing loss, trying to be your father’s short-term memory.

You make an exception.  You will walk without destination this once.  We enter dusk’s ambiguity on a dirt road straight through eye-level corn. Cricket sound reverberates, corn tops glow like moon, but the sky is moonless.  An ocean of universal time at high-speed–stars birthed and dying in a series of seconds in our eyes, in front of and behind our moving feet.  We walk the purposeless road an hour.  I want us to always remember this light palpable as generations, temporal as goodbye.

~ ~ ~

The Anniversary of my Strangeness

I commemorate the occasion with candy corn

vertebrae on a chocolate cake,

pulled to the side like some fault-line

in the frosting; a keyboard snaked

like a river, sounding zany, twisted tones.

In visits to the Albuquerque Prosthetic Clinic–

men of war need limbs, bought parts,

while I stood wrapped in plaster, drying hot,

arms out like a scarecrow, waiting for the saw

to split my casing.

The technician was kind, explaining how a cast saw

stays away from skin.  But my stomach

did not know the difference.

A week later I am fitted, the brace

transformed into an inch of plastic and Styrofoam,

springing brass brackets and Velcro-leather straps

that can be tightened between meals.

An adjustable door in the back, pressures

my right scapula to conform

my independently-thinking spine.

Four times I completed the plaster ceremony.

My choice: Refuse the brace for the sake of boys

and a swim team, and grow always leaning–

or, live in a shell to hold my spine in its 35-degree

curve until the bones stop their growth.

Four years spent, twenty three hours each day in its grip.

I bumped off walls,

got elbowed in a crowd and reveled in surprised glares,

heard every knock-knock joke in the book

by well-meaning friends testing my nerves.

Unable to bend at the waist,

my fingers could dance

between black and white on stage

and people listened, eyes closed.

I could have been the hunchback

of Notre Dame and the audience

would not have seen me or themselves

listening to my sound.

Music poured from my fingers,

washing me, carrying me

from my body in its case.

Two, then four, then six hours a day,

the piano spoke my anger, my tears.

I didn’t know I was praying.

~ ~ ~

New Mexican Playground

We tasted string-loop lollipops

from the bank teller counting heads

inside our green Ford wagon,

asking Mother about her day.

We cut clothing and shoe-box homes

for our Barbie alternatives:  the Boopsie

doll and red velveteen dog, a garage

sale find with our allowed ten cents.

Our back-bends and somersaults and headstands

won prizes under Hyder Park elms.  We harvested

dandelion leaves for dinner salads, marigold

seeds for planting.  We asked trees and clouds

for answers–Will I be famous when I grow up?

Will we have Dad’s Cream of Mushroom soup again

for dinner?  Will an  ice age wipe out my life?

A small-scale miner in sand, I dredged

a horseshoe magnet for hours, competing for

the weight of its sluffed, black fuzz.

We attempted to fly the garbage bag kite

in a windstorm, we roller-skated on basketball courts,

cement over sand, plucked goat-head

burrs from our wheels.

We knew summer theater–

Ant lions slaying minute, black prey

in a desperate slide down the pit,

the drama of the chase–lizards dismembered

bleeding blue tails in our hands.  And often,

a line of parents held us above the schoolyard

wall to listen to the twilight lightning

and witness the silent storms.

~ ~ ~


About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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