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--Work in the invisible world at least as hard as you do in the visible--
 


--Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide     from beyond--


--The door to spirituality truly must be opened from the inside-- 

I just completed a four-week class on the life and work of Jalalud’din Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet. Rumi is not new to me. I first discovered him as a teenager and have been reading and loving his work ever since. Isn't it amazing that he remains, after more than seven centuries, the most popular and well-read poet in the world. Rumi believed that art both heals and transforms. He believed human beings were sent into the world to do a particular work specific to the person. We all have many branches and we spread out in thousands of different ways. Rumi asks us to remember “the deep root of your being.” 

For me, that deep root is writing, especially poetry. I know this by my behavior. Whenever I wake up with a poem, or the seeds of one, inside my head, I go straight to the kitchen table, still in my pajamas, pull out a notebook and start to write.  I keep writing until there is nothing left inside me. 

Sometimes this process goes on for hours and I will end up with 50 different drafts. And once I get it right, I feel ecstatic. So happy I want to become a whirling dervish, dance around and sing. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is what it feels like to be in touch with the deep root of your being. 

The following poem is the first one I’ve written since taking the Rumi class. I woke up with the image of the dandelion and how it propagates itself--blazing yellow flower--cottony ball tumbling into wind--and the following spring, another blazing yellow flower.  From there, my mind leapt to my children, the death of their father--his cremation, his ashes and the box that held them.  


It was interesting for me to see the subtle influences of the Rumi class in this poem--(its facilitator was one of those guides sent to me from beyond). My original title was “Cremation”. It didn’t feel right. The title needed to reveal something about the poem not completely obvious from the content. When I shared it with my daughter (who often acts as a midwife to me during the birth of a poem) we came to realize this one is about transformation and the fluent nature of time-- past, present, and future. It's about Samsara—the Sanskrit word that refers to the theory of death, rebirth and the cyclicality of all life. Something Rumi was very familiar with and was part of his teachings. 

Where Time Touches Eternity                                          

At the crematorium, a man in a black suit,  

yellow rosebud tucked into his lapel,
hands her a mahogany box carved with sailboats.
“It’s heavier than it looks,” he warns.
“Six pounds, thirteen ounces.”

In the first photo pasted in her baby book,
she is swaddled in a pink blanket,
six pounds, thirteen ounces,
cradled in the crook of her father’s arm.
His face, often stern, is soft,
frozen in wonder as he greets the last
of his five children—the daughter who
thirty years later will mother him
as he moves from professor to toddler--
like a birthing gone backwards.

She will walk him through a meadow of
dandelion blossoms—tiny yellow suns that blaze  
and bow with the breeze. For a summer moment,
she’ll pause to weave daisy-chain necklaces and
with a boy’s heart he’ll greet honey bees fat with pollen,
then turn his attention to one flower gone to seed--
a cottony bubble to carry his wishes into the wind.

Though she would always be his child,
he could no longer place himself between
her and the rest of the world, no longer weather
the first blows for her. But for seven years, she
stood up for him, believed her love could save him.

As she straps the box onto the passenger seat,
she hears his voice, as she has many times.
She now knows the dead never stop talking.
This time he says, “Let’s go for ice cream.”

She laughs out loud and pulls into Baskin-Robbins
for his favorite—a double strawberry waffle cone.
Later, she’ll find the tree where he carved their names,
scatter some ashes into the wind—her wish that he,
like the dandelion, might blow across the hillside,
replant himself, then rise up and take a bow.





Picture
John Martin Taedu Clayton blowing his wishes into the wind
 
 
I’ve often said I don’t know how I feel about something until I explore the experience in writing. This was never truer than when I visited the Famine Memorial in Dublin, Ireland. Like most of us, I learned of the Great Irish Potato Famine in a high school history class. But I had no idea how moved I would be to see those seven bronze statues rise out of the cobblestones beside the Liffey River. 

I also toured the nearby Jeanie Jackson (one of the coffin ships used to transport the starving immigrants to Canada and America) and learned so much more about the famine and the plight of those immigrants. They were called "coffin ships" because nearly half of the immigrants died before arriving at their destination. Ireland lost one-third of its population in the mid eighteen hundreds due to starvation and immigration. After touring the ship, I returned to the nearby Memorial.

Both moved and ashamed, it was all I could do to keep my composure. This time, the futures of the individuals those statues represented spread out and came to life in front of me. I wanted to believe everything they ever were was still here in the immeasurable mystery of time and space. I wanted to believe I could grasp the details of their lives, feel what they felt. But I knew it was impossible. Still, I needed a way to understand more fully—to tell their stories. Those feelings didn’t release their hold on me until I wrote the following poem.  



This I Can Only Imagine

At the Famine Memorial in Dublin

Together six bronze statues rise, alone,
like pawns on a chessboard of cobblestones.
Tattered and barefoot, they clutch bulging bags
to their chests: a crocheted blanket that once
wrapped an infant daughter, 

love poems from a dead wife, 
work boots for a new life in America.

A dazed father struggles to keep pace,
mouth frozen in a silent scream.
An unconscious child flops over
this father’s shoulders like a sack of potatoes.
The emaciated family dog

trails his master toward the harbor,
only to be left behind.

For two seasons, men and women,
like these, harvested blighted potatoes,
too black and mushy for consumption,
carried wicker peat baskets from the bogs for heat.
They sold their last pigs and chickens to pay rent
and planted again, praying for a good harvest.

Winter came—colder than any before.
While their spouses and children died of famine fever,
they collected broth from Quaker soup kitchens 

until demands couldn't be met and they closed.
Landlords, silos filled with grain for export to England,
evicted the potato farmers--

leveled their thatched-roof cottages.

Burdened with dreams, they boarded “coffin ships”
by the thousands, in search of refuge in America.
For forty-seven days, each time an Atlantic wave hit,
their ships creaked and leaned.
On deck, they breathed fresh air, but when storms came
and sea water sloshed onto the deck,
they were forced into the hold, ate stale biscuits,
drank tainted water and slept, ten to a bunk--
the smell of vomit and diarrhea. 

More than half died and were thrown overboard.

No Statue of Liberty lifted her torch in this new country
that did nothing but exploit and mock,
house them in tenements and post
“No Irish Need Apply” 

in shop windows and factory gates. 
Would it have mattered,
comforted them to have known,
the great-grandson of a potato famine immigrant
would one day be elected President?

In the Memorial’s forefront, the statue of a woman, 

hands over her heart, gazes 
into the cloud-streaked sky as if beseeching
a God in whom she can no longer believe. 
Beside her, the River Liffey splits
Dublin into north and south.
As their voices rise up from the harbor,
the sky gives way to a gentle rain that falls,
like a blessing, on their bronze feet.

Susan Clayton-Goldner