I will water the plants

“…drinking it all in but
never filling, never filled…”

“This,” Luisa Igloria

I will water the plants when I get home, the nasturtiums’ quivering nonsensical tendrils, the fragrant thyme and globe basil, I will water them when I get home. I will care for these littlest things like I used to tend the altars, cutting wicks and wiping dust with absurd meticulous faithful care. I will water the plants. I will attend to them and drink meaning from my attentions like drinking life from the sun. I will put away the laundry which I washed and dried and folded with the unshakeable conviction that doing so made this day a better day. I will water the plants and put away the laundry and clear the paperwork from the kitchen table. I will do all this. I will slip into the not-cool-enough sheets under my grandmother’s quilt and I will not think about the hour–one or two or three–when sleep might crack like a fragile ornament. I will lay down full with the small tasks of the day counted up like marbles in a sack hanging heavy in my pocket. I will not think about watering the plants again tomorrow, I will only think about their undaunted yearning growth and I will draw a parallel from that and fill with it. I will water the plants when I get home.

“This” is in Luisa Igloria’s latest chapbook, Night Willow, published by Phoenicia.

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a psalm for winter

I cried unto God with my voice,
even unto God with my voice;
and he gave ear unto me.

December. A wind snuffling at the windows and a cold in the bones. The long rain-slick steel of fall has now given way to the white-mottled slate of winter. Snow is falling in a day-long carpet, deepening its pile even now. The solstice approaches, too, the little new year.

I call to remembrance my song in the night:
I commune with mine own heart:
and my spirit made diligent search.

American school, with its dimly remembered but nonetheless institutionalized relationship to agricultural cycles, starts the new year in the fall. Summer in the US is a time of nostalgia, then; the end of the long vacation, and whatever mishaps, adventures, romances, and idylls occupied the season become the stuff of excited first-month-back chatter and communal mythologizing. Summer and its aftermath were an odd combination of personal and public in that way. In Korea the school year began in spring, however, for whatever reasons. I never asked why. But that meant that the rupture and transition between one phase and the next happened in the coldest season, was salted not with sweat or beach-sand, but with the icy burn of snow and under the dark anvil of long nights. Summers are redolent of dandelions and wet grass and ozone after rain. They exude, sprawl over the months with long undressed brown limbs. Winters are enclosed, gestational, interior–and increasingly private, happening for me in solitudes both physical and spiritual. Winters close in on themselves like a light narrowing in a hall. Marking transitions in the winter, rather than the summer, has produced in me an intense interiority and privacy, above and beyond what winter normally provokes.

And I said, This is my infirmity:
but I will remember the years
of the right hand of the most High.

The fall is over. The hectic, embattled, thrilling avalanche of fall is coming to a close. I packed the semester with all that I could stuff into the broad golden mouth of its sack. Now that season has finally fallen slack, and winter has arrived with its end. The tests are taken. The last activities are done. Letters are being sent, parties have been had, a general tidying and dusting of life is underway in the days remaining before the solstice, and for me, a departure to Korea for the month.

Thy way is in the sea,
and thy path in the great waters,
and thy footsteps are not known.

Patterns and habits prevail: I continued to hum Christmas carols every December I spent in a monastery, and outside the monastery, I continue to honor with remembrance an older and slower cycle of the year. I love this lull between solstice and lunar new year. The world still wrapped in cold and dark, the heart still tending toward a stillness and a silence, magnified by and magnifying the held hush outside.

Psalm 77, KJV

In the garden

There is a large bit of garden out behind the Zen Center, owned by a loose family of semi-feral cats and a heckling gallery of birds. A community garden, largely derelict, displays raised beds in the middle of it: some with spindly trellises, most with no memory of former cultivation. A thin plastic shed spills gardening oddities onto the ground, like an installation piece by a post-modern farmer. Once Nathanial, the darling two-year-old who lives next door, got into the installation piece and made it interactive. His mother indulged him until he tried to pry a rusted pitchfork out of the ground.

The cats are shy, the birds are not. How many cats patrol the tangled fen that runs between Yale properties on the upside of the hill opposite us and the community garden, I couldn’t say. They were all feral at one point but a local humane coalition gathered them together, spayed or neutered and vaccinated them, and now provides food, water, and cat-boxes. I think some of the cats, like the thin kittenish orange who limps and twitches his way between the garden and the houses across the way, are simply visitors who take advantage of the free food. Others, like the knobby marmalade who’s too old to care and too slow to run away from me in any case, are certainly permanent residents of the three cat-boxes behind the Zen Center shed. I know there’s a black tom and another marmalade, large and wary, who are also resident. And so too is the little gray and the smaller black who most often occupy the sunny back porch two houses over; but there may be more. They give me berth but seem to be warming up. By that I mean that in six months of hearing me approach to take out the Center compost and scattering once I rounded the corner of the shed, they now watch me for two or three breaths before slinking off to the garden periphery. Except that bony old marmalade. He’s stayed with me most of the afternoon today, although he declined my offer of a guacamole-covered chip. He walked gingerly back and forth behind me, sampling food and water, a sunny ledge and the cat-box. Another couple cats materialized, gazed on me, and crept away again.

The birds. They’re various. I’m not a birder, so I don’t know exactly, but I’ve seen hawks, male and female cardinals, jays, grackles, some medium-sized and several smaller songbirds including a delightful one with a rose breast and a smallish crest, and cedar waxwings. I’ve also heard woodpeckers. The birds steal the cat food. They call across the fens. They make this space remarkable: I can still hear the cars going on Prospect Street, down from the Divinity School, past the chemistry and physics labs, but now they are the background noise. This reverses the usual relationship in this largely urban environment. Right now it’s mostly squirrels argueing in the trees up the hill, bird-song, and the long exhalation of the afternoon.

The wind’s moving the thin branches of the trees over one another, like bony fingers, creaking, squeaking.

I’m thinking of May Sarton, and the Journal of a Solitude I read many years ago. Solitude: what is it, exactly?

The crocuses have come up in plentitude and fullness. I think another four days, and they will begin to lose their petals, their hardiness sunk to tender, fragile mortality. Then the daffodils will bloom, the tulips, but especially the daffodils, all over this city. And then it will be spring, finally, perhaps.

cold mountain (11)

The old paths are quietest. No one whistling to his dog, or (forbid) wearing a crackling radio around his neck. No one bothering to ask the way, no one disturbing the peace. No one to test the waters of your solitude or interrupt your dreaming. No one to intrude on your meditation or pass the salt. No one to bring a bowl of soup or hold the other end of the sheet while you fold it. No one to laugh at your jokes. No one to answer your call. No one to play devil’s advocate. No one to play your advocate. No one to check the rice while you chop the carrots. No one to share a meal in warm silence, no one to notice when you don’t wake. No one to bury your body and pile the cairn, though there’s something to be said for a sky burial; my point is, you’re in your spring now. And that is not all there is.

Another lovely bout with headaches today means I’m not able to post the Chinese of this poem. See the second poem, pg. 42, here for the text.