poetry

Inhabiting Wonder

BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY, MILL VALLEY, CA, SEPTEMBER 2004

BOOK DESCRIPTION

Bread for the Journey International breadforthejourney.org is a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing the natural generosity of ordinary people. In 2004, they published two books of Mark’s poetry, sold exclusively through BFJI as a fundraiser. Inhabiting Wonder has been assembled from many years of teaching and reading around the country and abroad. Its 50 poems are set in four sections: The Keepers of Kindness, Letting What Is Shine, The Work of Presence, and
Staying Awake.

EXCERPTS

The Deeper Chance

Mira is our dog-child.
And though we held her as a pup,
she has a need to be held
that comes from beyond us.
And though I sat with her
when she was the size of a loaf of bread,
sat on the kitchen floor staring into
each other’s eyes, she has a need to stare
that comes from a place beneath
the awkwardness of humans.

These days, she seems, at moments,
a furry naked thing that never looks away.

Now, I understand: God made the animals
as raw breathing elements, each closer
in their way to one aspect of being.

And that the friction of time on earth
might have its chance to make us wise,
God made the animals speechless.

We’ve learned that Mira in Spanish
means to look. And lately, she licks us
awake and stares deep into us, as if to say,
Get up. Don’t look away. Admit
you need to be held.

To Sprout an Ear

I remember—
years before cutting my feet
in search of a path—sitting
on my immigrant Grandmother’s
hospital bed, watching her wince
as they put gauze
on her bed-sore heels.

I remember—
years before saving my golden retriever
from drowning—watching a co-worker
cry for his dead dog, trying to understand
how he could love an animal
more than a person.

I remember—
years before having to start my life over—
racing down a farmhouse road
in the middle of the night
to see my father-in-law’s proud eyes jut
as the barn he built thirty years before
was burning to the ground.

It was only later
that I felt their pain, and even more,
their true joy in caring for things.

I realize, step by step,
that the earth isn’t large enough
for those who turn away.

Just what does it take
for life to show its roots—
only the breakdown of everything
that parades between our hearts.

If I dare to hear you,
I will feel you like the sun
and grow in your direction.

Blessedly

After a large snowfall,
a young poet came to my door.
He seemed a younger version of myself.
After a while, he finally asked
about greatness and fame.

He was wild-eyed and, underneath
everything everyone had told him
to strive for, I could see his
snow-like soul.

So I said, “Let’s go for a walk.”
I put on my boots, as my dog
jumped in the car, and we drove
to a pine forest that few knew of.
He talked the whole way.

We hiked the perimeter at first
and I listened until
he ran out of words.

Our steps slowed and I hoped
he would see that we were on a path
that someone had cleared
before he was born.

My dog kept running ahead,
then looking back, to make
sure we were coming.
Now neither of us said a word.

When we entered the rows
of sixty foot pines, we could
hear the tops creak, and I hoped
he would see that we were in a forest
that someone had planted long
before I was born.

My dog led us off the path till
we came upon a cross made of broken
limbs, staked between the pines. It
was covered with snow, the way
pain if left in the open is
softened by prayer.

It seemed obvious that we would
never know who had staked the cross
or who had planted the pines or
who had cleared the path.

Our cold breath clouded and merged
and I smiled deeply to know that
this is how it is.

On the way back, I was lost in
the crunch of my boots in the snow.

When I stopped, he was fifty yards back,
watching me get smaller. It was then
I knew he understood.

So I turned and kept walking
into the white field
that covered
all names.

REVIEW

“Mark (and his poetry, for they are as one) has been a loving friend, guide, muse and teacher for countless grateful audiences around the world. Wherever I speak, if I read one of Mark’s poems I know to bring many copies, for I will inevitably be asked by hungry listeners for something to take home. Here, finally, are two glorious collections of Mark’s poetry, some familiar and beloved, some new and refreshing. They are a string of pearls, a daisy chain of gifts, blessings and treats for the heart. May you find some comfort here.”
Wayne Muller, author of Learning to Pray, Sabbath,
and founder of Bread for the Journey

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