Just Started: Wendell Berry, The World-Ending Fire


I’ve been reading Wendell Berry for thirty years. Because I am narrow-minded, I often read the same things by Wendell Berry over and over again.

The poem, ‘The Slip’, which offers perspective and hope  at times of loss, and which has been of practical spirit-use to me many times, would certainly be on the list if I was only allowed ten poems on a desert island.

In prose I’ve read his essay ‘The Loss of the University’ scores of times, absorbing and re-absorbing its information. I read that essay in Standing On Earth, a book every reader should own, just for that essay. Oh, let’s change everything, please. In the contemporary university, he writes,

Literature ceases to be the meeting ground of all readers of the common tongue and becomes only the occasion of a deafening clatter about literature. Teachers and students read the great songs and stories to learn about them, not to learn from them.

That simple distinction  between ‘about’ and ‘from’ has been reverberating in my mind and actions ever since I first it. Over and over, I read.

I have bought Standing on Earth ten times and given it away to others.

My friend gave me this new collection – the essential Wendell Berry, edited by Paul Kingsnorth – for Christmas. Last night  – aching from my weekend of hard gardening –  I picked it up from the bedside table and began to read the first piece in the book, ‘A Native Hill’. I seemed to have read it before but when I checked it wasn’t in Standing on Earth.  I think I might have read it at Christmas, but  forgotten to write about it.  Writing helps memory.  How good it is to have a friend to push me out of my narrow, repetitive reading habits.

The essay is about the decision to return to Kentucky, to the place of Berry’s birth,  and live there for the rest of his life.  Berry wanted to be a writer. Where should a writer be in the USA? Why NYC, of course.  And having got there and found the literary world, and a job at NY university, Berry changed his mind and  headed back home, a move seen by some as perhaps a perverse decision and a poor career move. But back home, and a home he had chosen, as in commitment, as marriage, as planting, he found himself rooted deeper than ever before.

I began more seriously than ever to learn the names of things – the wild plants and animals, the natural processes, the local places – and to articulate my observations and memories. My language increased and strengthened, and sent my mind into the place like a live root system. And so what has become the usual order of things reversed itself with me; my mind became the root of my life rather than its sublimation. I came to see myself as growing out of the earth like other native animals and plants. I saw my body and my daily motions as brief coherences and articulations of energy of the place, which would fall back into it like leaves in the autumn.

I don’t have time to read this paragraph today. Except to note that I was profoundly moved by the thought of  ‘brief coherences’ of daily action, by those ‘articulations of energy’.

That, I thought is why I long to be able to steady into habit instead of being chaotic. That is why  I love gardening. I may do it in an unstructured way, but it  this growing world has lots of its own rhythms, rhythms of season and structure, colour and habit, which seem to pull me into a kind of order, too.

euphorbia martinii.JPG
Euphorbia Martinii

Trying to Get Better at my Handiwork

crochet 2.JPG
Hhm, you’re going to have to undo this one…

Confidence, trust, belief. These are core necessaries for a creative life, even a crazy destructive one with life-threatening flaws. When Billie Holiday was singing, when Jimi Hendrix played, they had confidence, trust, belief in their handiwork. It was off stage, when not performing, that they crumbled. They felt bad when not in the creative moment. Perhaps, I don’t know,  they also felt bad in the creative moment but if so, something else was also present which overpowered the bad feeling and made them – watch them perform – feel great.

Members of Shared Reading groups often report ‘increased confidence’  but I ask  myself what is meant by that? It feels like the  word itself hides a wooly concept that I can’t quite bring into focus. When I look it up in the Etymological Dictionary I learn that word originally had to do with trusting another person and only  later became about trusting oneself:

c. 1400, “assurance or belief in the good will, veracity, etc. of another,” from Old French confidence or directly from Latin confidentia, from confidentem (nominative confidens) “firmly trusting, bold,” present participle of confidere “to have full trust or reliance,” from assimilated form of com, here probably an intensive prefix (see com-), + fidere “to trust” (from PIE root *bheidh- “to trust, confide, persuade”).

From mid-15c. as “reliance on one’s own powers, resources, or circumstances, self-assurance.”

Interesting to see that the three words I started with are all here. These things are about a stance in relation to experience: when we  have little trust and don’t believe good will happen then it is hard to face the problems life throws at us with confidence. But if we start with “assurance or belief in the good will, veracity, etc. of another,” then we are  more likely to develop “reliance on one’s own powers, resources, or circumstances, self-assurance.”.  It can work the other way: learning to trust yourself can lead to learning to trust others.

Whatever ‘confidence’ is, or stands for, it is vital for resilience, for  the ability to keep going in the face of failure, defeat, hard knocks. How to I know? I know from my own mistakes and down-falls.  And so as not to go too deeply, too publicly, into the really terrible mistakes,  I turn your attention to my handiwork. My crochet. Which is a metaphor for other more important handiwork: relationship with family, friends, work. Myself. Human makings. And, as my mentor said, oh dear.

But first, let’s read a poem.  I’ve written about George Herbert’s Elixir here before (search The Elixir  or George Herbert in the box to the right) but it’s always worth re-reading. Remember, I’m not a Christian and I have to translate whatever GH means into something I can understand. The key problem for me at the outset is  to make ‘my God and King’ into something real.  I mentally cross Herbert’s words out and think ‘teach me blurry x shaped hole that means fine, whole, overwhelmingly powerful force for good  in the universe’ Not as concise as Herbert’s formulation, I think you’ll agree. Much simpler if I could just use the word ‘God’.

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

The lines I wanted to think about today are:

Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.

I like this reminder that very small, apparently insignificant things count and become good, or even great, when done well or with loving good will.  The room is fine but so is the action of sweeping. But I notice now that the first word of this poem is its key word, ‘teach’. You have to learn this stuff! It don’t come natural. That’s certainly true for me.

And now I’m thinking about how, in the beginning,  learning is completely natural…

Baby: watching everything, trying  and failing, observing, copying, trying, failing, trying again, experimenting, trying again.

Adult: not trying and not learning.

What on earth has happened? We lose the willingness to make mistakes, and for a variety of reasons.

To return to my crochet.

Hmm. When my mentor held the square(ish) artefact pictured above in her outstretched fingers and examined my work with a critical eye I was transported to the many appalling lessons in Domestic Science (cookery, needlework) I endured or caused havoc in  between the ages of the 11-15.  They were always telling me I’d have to undo it.

Whatever I’d done, to be frank with you, it was usually a mess.  I didn’t mind the mess, but I hated being told off for it and I resented scruffy the look of my handiwork in their hands, criticised, misunderstood, unloved.  Of course, even then, the handiwork was a metaphor, wasn’t it, for me?

When my mentor stretched out the holey mess of my crochet,  I knew what she was going to say, as my stomach churned in memory of school,  but I also felt pleased, even glad. Yes, she was right, I would have to undo it  and do it again.  It was, I had to concede, pretty bad.  I had pulled the wool over my own eyes by telling myself in a childish way that it wouldn’t matter, but as soon as I saw her holding it, I knew it did matter and that I would have to do it again.  This is confidence.

Where did the confidence come from?  This is a confidence I had never had at school, which meant I could not learn at school and no one could teach me (a couple of  English teachers excepted). I think it came from  knowing I have in the past tried to fix things and sometimes succeeded (and not just this, other, more serious things).

Also, from knowing that the mistake wasnt a serious one – it’s only crochet!

Also, that as my mentor said, she’d learned from experience, blankets generally work out.

Also, that I can live with making things that are slightly wonky. (I’m the opposite of a perfectionist and find  ‘it’ll do’ is mostly a life-enhancing motto).

I had confidence because I  could bear the shame of making a mess of it, because it wasn’t serious and because I  believed I could probably more or less fix it.

But what if it had been more serious – if my mentor had been  finding gaping holes in the way I run The Reader?  Or the way I’ve brought my children up, or care for my  relatives?  The shame of not having done something well in those cases is tightly bound up in my sense of self and of self-achievement, in my own estimation of who I am. It’s hard to take criticism when it seems to get to the heart of you.

But why? Don’t I still need to learn ?

The holes need unpicking.  You have to start again.  And that’s  where confidence, trust, belief matter.  To accept the criticism – there really is a hole there and it really does matter – you have to have the confidence that  you can have a go at getting it fixed. When the hole is in your self, sometimes that is hard to believe.

At those times, I like to read  The Slip by Wendell Berry  – particularly  these lines:

Where the imperfect has departed, the perfect
begins its struggle to return.

I do believe in the possibility of ‘the perfect’, and I keep trying to clear the imperfect (yes, yes, often very imperfectly in the more serious areas) to make way for something better. In this case, a better, though far-from-perfect and not-quite-square:

crochet 1

Minding My Business: Wendell Berry’s take on Literature, Ray Dalio’s Principles and William Stafford’s Ritual To Read To Each Other

The Reader R Black

It’s all business at the moment.

I’m gearing up for a new financial year, a new planning year, a new make-the-organisation-again year at The Reader and I am working on organisational thinking things, which also require writing  and reading but not of this readerly-blog-sort. Most of my early morning time is being spent on business books and organisational thinking. Some of that organisational thinking  needs poetry, and a poem  I often turn to at work is William Stafford’s ‘A Ritual To Read To Each Other‘.

There are many copies of the poem on the internet and I’m using the one at  The Poetry Foundation.

Trying to translate everything I learn from my life in literature  into my work as the Founder and Director of The Reader is a difficult task but surely, it is the task for me? If The Reader isn’t made out of reading I don’t know what is.

If The Reader’s mission is a reading revolution, what is the post-revolutionary world? A world informed by, shaped by, made new by what we can learn from reading great books. It’s easy to say ‘a world’, but so much harder to make one. In a small way, I want to make that world at The Reader.

Before the advent of The Reader (the organisation, the movement and Calderstones all started with The Reader magazine, which is twenty-one this Spring)  the main thing I had to make from my engagement with literature was myself. There were ripple effects  on my students, too, I believe, but those ripples were much  harder to judge than the effect of literature on me, which I know from inside. Making a self is a lifetime task, as reading and tussling with T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets has taught me:

And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious.

At some point long ago, when I still worked in a university, I read Wendell Berry’s essay, ‘The Loss of The University’  ( find it in the collection of essays Standing on Earth) and realised what was wrong with literary studies. I don’t have the book here at home (it’s in the office) so cannot check the quotation, but essentially  Wendell Berry argues that literary scholars teach students to learn about works of literature rather than from them.  I’d not been an ‘about’ student or teacher, but I’d never put my instinct on this into words until I saw the words Wendell Berry used. That was key moment of shocked recognition. Now I carry that formulation with me : don’t learn about it, learn from it. You get the literary, rather than the historical, experience that way.

I want to use what I have learned from forty years of reading literature to make a good organisation that does good work, and works well.

But the difficulties of organisation-making are immense. Since I’ve been working on The Reader I have developed a massive respect for anyone who gets any kind of business /organisation/ project off the ground. A garden centre, a new building,  a plane ticket, the Olympics. Because  everything is so complicated, compromises must always be made – plastic bottles or glass bottles? –  and short-cuts must be taken, but which short-cut is a readerly organisation willing to take? You’ve deadlines to meet: will you cut out the day’s reading or your one-to-one with a sadly troubled colleague or will you miss the  bid deadline and potential income? (Clue: cut the one that will still be do-able tomorrow).

Let’s take a straightforwardly contentious issue: what’s fair in  terms of pay? This is a massive unsolvable problem and for years I’ve been tempted towards a simple solution: pay everyone the same! But that’s not fair, because some people put in more than others, some shoulder more responsiblility, some are highly valued in the outside-world-markets of skills. And, yes,  the organisation must exist within the terms of the outside world, even as  things I have learned in my life in literature tell me to build a new and better world. So it’s always a case of  compromise and adjust, work out  what’s the nearest thing to fair that fits the situation and meets legislation. Or you can just copy what most people/other organisations do.

This is what William Stafford might mean when he talks about ‘a pattern  that others made’:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
and following the wrong god home we may miss
           our star.

These patterns that others made – from payscales to  maternity leave entitlements to meeting agendas to dresscode – are everywhere and are the norm in the world. They may cause massive loss of  potential and misdirection. For William Stafford this all begins at a personal, individual level. Do we know each other? Do you know the kind of person I am?

I wonder about ‘kind’ here: does it mean ‘type’, or almost ‘species’ ?

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
How well do you have to know someone to know the ‘kind of person’ they are? I try using the phrase  – Jane is the kind of person who thinks everyone getting the same amount of money is the answer to pay inequality/thinks eating together at work matters/would like to have a communal song every morning/always wants people to have another chance, right up to the wire/thinks you can use great literature to help build an organisation/will change her mind.
This is not very deep or very personal – most people  I work with  will know most of the above, though have to admit, have not had the courage to mention my longing for a song.  And there are other  things I haven’t added to this list, for reasons  of reputation. But do we even mostly know stuff at this level, openly ? Is it openly acknowledged?  Possibly not because look how quickly, in the next stanza, things fall apart.  (and the stuff I haven’t mentioned – how open might I or my colleagues be about that?)
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
storming out to play through the broken dike.
We start off at quite a superficial level, possibly (‘if’) not knowing the kind of person we’re talking to and then we hit the word ‘betrayal’. This isn’t merely superficial ‘kind of’ knowing, is it?  What we know or are willing to have known matters.
The betrayal is only ‘in the mind’  – you don’t say it or let it be seen –  but  still, a betrayal is a big thing.
Like the shrug –  you’d think it was not  much. You’re just letting something go, can’t fix everything, can’t get everything right.  Next thing you know, the ‘fragile sequence’ is broken.
What is that ‘fragile sequence’? It’s certainly connected to ‘god’ and ‘home’ : perhaps it’s something to do with how we behave or how we be our (whatever they are) selves? Pehaps it is the civil contract of being adult with each other? For when the fragile sequence breaks, it’s our more primitive selves that come to the fore:
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
storming out to play through the broken dike.
Small things lead to big. Bit of a shrug,  then someone is in a mess and suffering the patterns of behaviour laid down in childhood – the shouting, the storming, the trauma.
These thoughts  were already with me when I read Ray Dalio’s Principles over the Christmas break, have been, because of this and other works of literature, with me for years. When I started reading Principles there was the same kind of recognition  I had had with the Wendell Berry all those years ago. Dalio’s a money man, a markets analyst and he runs one of the most successful companies in the world. What could he have to offer The Reader, to old pay-everyone-the-same-Jane?
Principles begins with the kind of person Ray Dalio is – he wants us to know  that before we get into business together.  The book is in two halves – parts 1&2 about Ray and the kind of man he is and what he believes about life, and  then part 3, work principles.
His basic  message for me is life is evolution:  live, suffer, work out what went wrong, try to fix it.
I believe that everything that happens comes about because of cause-effect relationships that repeat and evolve over time. At the big bang, all the laws and forces of the universe were created and propelled forward, interacting with each other over time like a complex series of machines that work together: the strucuture of the galaxies, the make-up of Earth’s geography and ecosystems, our economies and markets, and each one of us. Individually we are machines made up of different machines – our circulatory systems, our nervous systems, and so on – that produce our thoughts, our dreams, our emotions, and every other aspect of our distinct personalities. All these machine are evolving together to produce the reality we encounter every day.
It’s a trouble for me that Ray Dalio uses the word ‘machine’ in exactly the same way that it is a trouble for me that George Herbert uses the word ‘God’.  I have to use my translating mechanism in both cases, and in  exactly the same way – don’t get hung up on it. Just accept he’s different (the kind of person he is) and that he still has a lot to offer me. What has the most to offer? His analytic skills  and willingness to arrive at truth are remarkable.
See Ray Dalio’s TED talk  here.



The American Scholar, Wendell Berry, Bion’s groups and no more Parrots

unknown plant growing from wall on seashore
Unknown plant growing in a wall at the shore, Kotor Bay, 22 July

Yesterday I reread the Emerson’s  ‘The American Scholar’ , thinking of Bion but also of Wendell Berry’s tremendous and for me hugely significant essay, ‘The Loss of the University’ (buy a pdf download here for $3 but there’s also a volume here.). Berry argues that with no unifying language (e.g. religion, poetry, literature) a university becomes a mere technical college where ‘skills’ can be taught to distinct professions, but the  making of human beings, which ought to be the  role of the university, ceases.

I think  it is absolutely true that making human beings is not the province of  modern universities and nothing could be further from modern curricula at all levels than asking students to think about what makes a good human being. We need  to imagine what the study of literature could do for  humanity.  Oh but what vision that would take.  ‘Without vision,’ writes Emerson, quoting the Bible, ‘the people perish.’

Trying to put together  some of these thoughts which really need a week  to emerge into something thoughtful and considered, and  here can only be  short lumpy little notes to self so I don’t forget I was interested in this…

This is an old idea – is it an ancient  Jewish story  about light being broken into fragments of sparks? –  but I was struck, because of the Bion thought about a group being, as it were, a human alphabet, a-z,  with everything you might humanly need spread about between or amongst individuals.  Emerson writes:

…the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man,—present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parceled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk and strut about so many walking monsters,—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.

In this distribution of functions the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.

How to fix this broken state? Not that the  breakage into fingers itself is a bad thing – some specialisation is  good because we can’t be good at everything and need to practice hard at some few things…but as soon as we have broken into specialists, then a weird  compulsion to degenerate begins to be the main force. We saw this in the nineteenth century when  factory workers became ‘hands’. And we see it  when scholars know  little or nothing of the world, or accountants can’t see or care about the human cost of money movements, or politicians only care about politics and so on.

How to fix?

A strong vision of what it means to be human, to care about  the human world,  to practice humanity… once all this was cared for  in that corner of reality called ‘religion’  (and for some, I know, it still is…) An education that taught us to think of ourselves as one body would help.

The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered.

To have the  human overview – ‘Man on the Farm’ instead of ‘farm labourer’ –  people must have ways of coming together,  gatherings.  As Wendell Berry argues, literature is a language that might perform such gathering for us.  For that to happen we’d have to give  parroting. Scholars would need to become humans amongst humans, speaking not to each other only in specialist lingo but to all in the universal tongue, Man Thinking:

the scholar is the delegated intellect. In the right state he is Man Thinking. In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking.

Alas, that has not got me very far.

Time’s up for today.  I’m starting to read  a new novel, My Brilliant Friend. Wish me luck.

Terror and loveliness

I was in London yesterday when the attack occurred on Westminster Bridge. I was there to meet Bristol MP Thangam Debbonaire, and was waiting in the reception of no. 1, Parliament Street, next door to Westminster Tube and Portcullis House when it happened.

I didn’t hear the shots or even notice noise outside – only, suddenly, as I sat there next to the security section, realised that the external doors had shut and  the security guys were saying very firmly to someone,  ‘No, you can’t go out. Something’s happened.’

‘I’ve got to go and vote,’ said an MP. ‘Can I go the back way?’

‘No, Sir, there’s been an incident.’

People began to fill up the reception area. ‘There’s been a shooting,’ someone said. Everyone remained very calm.

Thangam’s constituency  assistant, Jonathan Downing, there for his first day in Westminster, came to find me and took me up to Thangam’s office on the third floor.

We stayed there for the next four hours as the Westminster Estate went into lock-down. For half an hour or more we had no idea what had happened, though the words ‘terrorist attack’ were used and ‘shooting’. Some announcements were made over a tannoy system within the building, ‘Stay in your offices’.

Out of the window, which was sideways on to Parliament Green I could see a crashed car, police, people in white crime scene suits, and what I now realise were injured people or bodies on the pavement.

Jonathan brought me a glass of water.

Bev Archibald, Thangam’s office manager, made me some tea. We watched the news. Rang our relatives. Waited. The corridors of the building were silent and empty when an hour or so later I went to the loo.

Gradually because of the news on the office TV we began to understand what had happened. Thangam texted from where she was locked in the House of Commons Chamber. A party of Bristol schoolchildren were here today, could Jonathan find out if there were all right?

Hours later, there was an announcement that the catering staff  had made food and everyone was invited to come downstairs to the cafeteria to eat. We walked past the nursery where children who had not been picked up were being settled to sleep by nursery staff.  In the cafeteria it was oddly moving to see hundreds of fried eggs set out…It is a time of terror. We are all afraid.  What can you do? You can fry eggs. You xan settle the babies to sleep. You can bring water. You can feed the hundreds of people in this building. You can remain calm and hospitable to me, an out of town visitor.

Thank you to the police, always polite, helpful, good- humoured whenever I have been to Westminster, yet living with the daily threat. Thanks to the security teams, the cooks and cafe workers, thank you, Jonathan and Bev, thank you, Thangham, thanks the man coming out of an office as I was heading to the loo who said ‘Are you ok?’ rather than ‘Where are you going?’

Two poems for today, but no time to read them. 

First George Herbert, really here in celebration of those fried eggs, an act of care, civility, decency. Second, Wendell Berry, because of the scars.

The Elixir
Teach me, my God and King,
         In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
         To do it as for Thee.
         Not rudely, as a beast,
         To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
         And give it his perfection.
         A man that looks on glass,
         On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
         And then the heav’n espy.
         All may of Thee partake:
         Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
         Will not grow bright and clean.
         A servant with this clause
         Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
         Makes that and th’ action fine.
         This is the famous stone
         That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
         Cannot for less be told.


George Herbert


The Slip

The river takes the land, and leaves nothing.
Where the great slip gave way in the bank
and an acre disappeared, all human plans
dissolve. An awful clarification occurs
where a place was. Its memory breaks
from what is known now, begins to drift.
Where cattle grazed and trees stood, emptiness
widens the air for birdflight, wind, and rain.
As before the beginning, nothing is there.
Human wrong is in the cause, human
ruin in the effect–but no matter;
all will be lost, no matter the reason.
Nothing, having arrived, will stay.
The earth, even, is like a flower, so soon
passeth it away. And yet this nothing
is the seed of all–the clear eye
of Heaven, where all the worlds appear.
Where the imperfect has departed, the perfect
begins its struggle to return. The good gift
begins again its descent. The maker moves
in the unmade, stirring the water until
it clouds, dark beneath the surface,
stirring and darkening the soul until pain
perceives new possibility. There is nothing
to do but learn and wait, return to work
on what remains. Seed will sprout in the scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal.