I say to my breath once again
come from in front of me
go away behind me
row me quietly now
as far as you can
for I am an abyss
that I am trying to cross.
– W. S. Merwin
Riding Out at Evening
At dusk, everything blurs and softens..
from here out over the long valley,
the fields and hills roll up
the first slight sheets of evening,
as, over the next hour,
heavier, darker ones will follow.
Quieted roads, predictable deer
browsing in a neighbor’s field, another’s
herd of heifers, the kitchen lights
starting in many windows. On horseback
I take it in, neither visitor
nor intruder, but kin passing , closer
and closer to night, its cold streams
rising in the sugarbush and hollow.
Half-aloud, I say to the horse,
or myself, or whoever, let fire not come
to this house, nor that barn,
nor lightning strike that cattle.
Let dogs not gain the gravid doe, let the lights
of the rooms convey what they seem to.
And who is to say it is useless
or foolish to ride out in the falling light
alone, wishing, or praying,
for particular good to particular beings
on one small road in a huge world?
The horse bears me along, like grace,
making me better than what I am,
and what I think or say or see
is whole in these moments, is neither
small nor broken. For up, out of
the inscrutable earth, have come my body
and the separate body of the mare:
flawed and aching and wronged. Who then
is better made to say be well, be glad,
or who to long that we, as one,
might course over the entire valley.
over all valleys, as a bird in a great embrace
of flight, who presses against her breast,
in grief and tenderness,
the whole weeping body of the world.
– Linda McCarriston
The Family Is All There Is
Think of those old, enduring connections
found in all flesh–the channeling
wires and threads, vacuoles, granules,
plasma and pods, purple veins, ascending
boles and coral sapwood (sugar-
and light-filled), those common ligaments,
filaments, fibers and canals.
Seminal to all kin also is the open
mouth–in heart urchin and octopus belly,
in catfish, moonfish, forest lily,
and rugosa rose, in thirsty magpie,
wailing cat cub, barker, yodeler,
And there is a pervasive clasping
common to the clan–the hard nails
of lichen and ivy sucker
on the church wall, the bean tendril
and the taproot, the bolted coupling
of crane flies, the hold of the shearwater
on its morning squid, guanine
to cytosine, adenine to thymine,
fingers around fingers, the grip
of the voice on presence, the grasp
of the self on place.
Remember the same hair on pygmy
dormouse and yellow-necked caterpillar,
covering red baboon, thistle seed
and willow herb? Remember the similar
snorts of warthog, walrus, male moose
and sumo wrestler? Remember the familiar
whinny and shimmer found in river birches,
bay mares and bullfrog tadpoles,
in children playing at shoulder tag
on a summer lawn?
The family–weavers, reachers, winders
and connivers, pumpers, runners, air
and bubble riders, rock-sitters, wave-gliders,
wire-wobblers, soothers, flagellators–all
brothers, sisters, all there is.
Name something else.
– Pattiann Rogers
For the graduates of the University of Arizona.
This morning we gather in gratitude for all aspects of sacredness:
the air, the warmth of fire, bodies of water, plants, the land,
and all animals and humankind.
We gather to honor our students who have achieved the extraordinary
accomplishment of earning doctoral or master’s degrees.
We gather to honor their parents, grandparents, children,
family members, and friends who have traveled with them
on their path to success. They have traveled far distances to be here
this morning: we honor their devotion.
May we remember that holiness exists in the ordinary elements of our lives.
We are grateful for a homeland that has always thrived
on a glorious array of people and their diverse cultures, histories,
and beliefs. We acknowledge the generosity of the Tohono O’odham
in granting this land on which we learn, teach, celebrate
accomplishments, and sometimes mourn losses.
May we always cherish our ancestors as we prepare for the days ahead.
May we remember that we exist because of their prayers and their faith.
We are blessed with distinct and melodious tongues.
Our languages are treasures of stories, songs, ceremonies, and memories.
May each of us remember to share our stories with one another,
because it is only through stories that we live full lives.
May the words we speak go forth as bright beads
of comfort, joy, humor, and inspiration.
We have faith that the graduates will inspire others
to explore and follow their interests.
Today we reflect a rainbow of creation:
Some of us came from the east, where bright crystals of creativity reside.
They are the white streaks of early morning light when all is born again.
We understand that, in Tucson, the Rincon Mountains are our inspiration
for beginning each day. The Rincons are everlasting and always present.
Those who came from the south embody the strength of the blue
mountains that encircle us. The Santa Ritas instill in us
the vigorous spirit of youthful learning.
Others came from the west; they are imbued with the quiet, yellow glow of dusk.
They help us achieve our goals. Here in the middle of the valley, the ts’aa’,
the basket of life, the Tucson Mountains teach us to value our families.
The ones from the north bring the deep, restorative powers of night’s darkness;
their presence renews us. The Santa Catalina Mountains teach us that,
though the past may be fraught with sorrow, it was strengthened
by the prayers of our forebearers.
We witnessed the recent fires the mountains suffered,
and in their recovery we see ourselves on our own journeys.
We understand that we are surrounded by mountains, dziił,
and thus that we are made of strength, dziił, nihí níhídziił.
We are strong ourselves. We are surrounded by mountains
that help us negotiate our daily lives.
May we always recognize the multitude of gifts that surround us.
May our homes, schools, and communities be filled with the wisdom
and optimism that reflect a generous spirit.
We are grateful for all blessings, seen and unseen.
May we fulfill the lives envisioned for us at our birth. May we realize
that our actions affect all people and the earth. May we live in the way
of beauty and help others in need. May we always remember that
we were created as people who believe in one another. We are grateful,
Holy Ones, for the graduates, as they will strengthen our future.
All is beautiful again.
– Luci Tapahonso
And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’ll make me a world.
And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!
Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!
Then God himself stepped down—
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.
Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas—
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed—
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled—
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.
Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.
Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!
Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.
Then God sat down—
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
– James Weldon Johnson, 1871 – 1938
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
– Edwin Arlington Robinson
Why the Geese Shrieked
In our home there was always talk about spirits of the dead that possess the bodies of the living, souls reincarnated as animals, houses inhabited by hobgoblins, cellars haunted by demons) My father spoke of these things, first of all because he was interested in them, and second because in a big city children so easily go astray. They go everywhere, see everything, read profane books. It is necessary to remind them from time to time that there are still mysterious forces at work in the world.
One day he told us a story that is found in one of the holy books. If I am not mistaken, the author of that book is Rabbi Eliyahu Graidiker, or one of the other Graidiker sages., The story was about a girl possessed by four demons. It was said that they could actually be seen crawling around in her intestines, blowing up her belly, wandering from one part of her body to another, slithering into her legs. The Rabbi of Graidik had exorcised the evil spirits with the blowing of the ram’s horn, with incantations, and the incense of magic herbs.
When someone questioned these things, my father became very excited. He argued: “Was then the great Rabbi of Graidik, God forbid, a liar? Are all the rabbis, saints, and sages deceivers, while only atheists speak the truth? Woe is us! How can one be so blind?”
Suddenly the door opened, and a woman entered. She was carrying a basket in which there were two geese. The woman looked frightened. Her matron’s wig was tilted to one side. She smiled nervously.
Father never looked at strange women, because it is forbidden by Jewish law, but Mother and we children saw immediately that something had greatly upset our unexpected visitor.
“What is it?” Father asked, at the same time turning his back so as not to look upon her.
“Rabbi, I have a very unusual problem.”
“What is it? A woman’s problem?”
Had the woman said yes, I would have been sent out of the room immediately. But she answered: “No, it’s about these geese.”
“What is the matter with them?”
“Dear Rabbi, the geese were slaughtered properly. Then I cut off their heads. I took out the intestines, the livers, all the other organs, but the geese keep shrieking in such a sorrowful voice …. ”
Upon hearing these words, my father turned pale.
A dreadful fear befell me, too. But my mother came from a family of rationalists and was by nature a skeptic.
“Slaughtered geese don’t shriek,” she said.
“You will hear for yourself,” replied the woman.
She took one of the geese and placed it on the table. Then she took out the second goose. The geese were headless, disemboweled‑in short, ordinary dead geese. A smile appeared on my mother’s lips.
“And these geese shriek?”
“You will soon hear.”
The woman took one goose and hurled it against the other. At once a shriek was heard. It is not easy to describe that sound. It was like the cackling of a goose, but in such a high, eerie pitch, with such groaning and quaking, that my limbs grew cold. I could actually reel the hairs of my earlocks pricking me. I wanted to run from the room. But where would I run? My throat constricted with fear. Then 1, too, screamed and clung to my mother’s skirt, like a child of three.
Father forgot that one must avert one’s eyes from a woman. He ran to the table. He was no less frightened than 1. His red beard trembled. In his blue eyes could be seen a mixture of fear and vindication. For my father this was a sign that not only to the Rabbi of Graidik, but to him, too, omens were sent from heaven. But perhaps this was a sign from the Evil One, from Satan himself?
“”What do you say now?” asked the woman.
My mother was no longer smiling. In her eyes there was something like sadness, and also anger.
“I cannot understand what is going on here,” she said, with a certain resentment.
“Do you want to hear it again?”
Again the woman threw one goose against the other. I And. again the dead geese gave forth an uncanny shriek—the shriek of dumb creatures slain by the slaughterer’s knife, who yet retain a living force, who still have a reckoning to make with the living, an injustice to avenge., A chill crept over me. I felt as though someone had struck me with all his
My father’s voice became hoarse. It was broken as though by sobs. “Well, can anyone still doubt that there is a Creator?” he asked.
“Rabbi, what shall I do and where shall I go?” The woman began to croon in a mournful singsong. “What has befallen me? Woe is me! What shall I do with them? Perhaps I should run to one of the Wonder Rabbis? Perhaps they were not slaughtered properly? I am afraid to take them home. I wanted to prepare them for the Sabbath meal, and now, such a calamity! Holy Rabbi, what shall I do? Must I throw them out? Someone said that they must be wrapped in shrouds and buried in a grave. I am a poor woman. Two geese! They cost me a fortune!”
Father did not know what to answer. He glanced at his bookcase. If there was an answer anywhere, it must be there. Suddenly he looked angrily at my mother.
“And what do you say now, eh?”
Mother’s face was growing sullen, smaller, sharper. In her eyes could be seen indignation and also something like shame.
“I want to hear it again.”
Her words were half pleading, half commanding.
The woman hurled the geese against each other for the third time, and for the third time the shrieks were heard. It occurred to me that such must have been the voice of the sacrificial heifer.
“Woe, woe, and still they blaspheme …. It is written that the wicked do not repent even at the very gates of hell.” Father had again begun to speak. “They behold the truth with their own eyes, and they continue to deny their Maker. They are dragged into the bottomless pit and they maintain that all is nature, or accident ……
He looked at Mother as if to say: You take after them.
For a long time there was silence. Then the woman asked, “Well, did I just imagine it?”
Suddenly my mother laughed. There was something in her laughter that made us all tremble. I knew, by some sixth sense, that Mother was preparing to end the mighty drama that had been enacted before our eyes.
“Did you remove the windpipes?” my mother asked.
“The windpipes? No …. ”
“Take them out,” said my mother, “and the geese will stop shrieking.”
My father became angry. “What are you babbling? What has this got to do with windpipes?”
Mother took hold of one of the geese, pushed her slender finger inside the body, and with all her might pulled out the thin tube that led from the neck to the lungs. Then she took the other goose and removed its windpipe also. I stood trembling, aghast at my mother’s courage. Her hands had become bloodied. On her face could be seen the wrath of the rationalist whom someone has tried to frighten in broad daylight.
Father’s face turned white, calm, a little disappointed. He knew what had happened here: logic, cold logic, was again tearing down faith, mocking it, holding it up to ridicule and scorn.
“Now, if you please, take one goose and hurl it against the other!” commanded my mother.
Everything hung in the balance. If the geese shrieked, Mother would have lost all: her rationalist’s daring, her skepticism which she had inherited from her intellectual father. And I? Although I was afraid, I prayed inwardly that the geese would shriek, shriek so loud that people in the street would hear and come running.
But alas, the geese were silent, silent as only two dead geese without windpipes can be.
“Bring me a towel!” Mother turned to me.
I ran to get the towel. There were tears in my eyes.
Mother wiped her hands on the towel like a surgeon after a difficult operation.
“That’s all it was!” she announced victoriously.
“Rabbi, what do you say?” asked the woman.
Father began to cough, to mumble. He fanned himself with his skullcap.
“I have never before heard of such a thing,” he said at last.
“Nor have I,” echoed the woman.
“Nor have I,” said my mother. “But there is always an explanation. Dead geese don’t shriek.”
“Can I go home now and cook them?” asked the woman.
“Go home and cook them for the Sabbath.” Mother pronounced the decision. “Don’t be afraid. They won’t make a sound in your pot.”
“What do you say, Rabbi?”
“Hmm … they are kosher,” murmured Father.
“They can be eaten.” He was not really convinced, but he could not now pronounce the geese unclean.
Mother went back to the kitchen. I remained with my father. Suddenly he began to speak to me as though I were an adult. “Your mother takes after your grandfather, the Rabbi of Bilgoray. He is a great scholar, but a cold‑blooded rationalist. People warned me before our betrothal…. ”
And then Father threw up his hands, as if to say: It Is too late now to call off the wedding.
– Isaac Bashevis Singer