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Margaret Stetler



…bardo is a… juncture when the possibility of liberation,

or enlightenment, is heightened. — The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying      


You answer your cell.

Not at home, where are you?


I’m in Arizona in a room

surrounded by hummingbirds.


I hear you smiling. A ruby-throated

zips by, buzzing, humming.


In Virginia, crows caw, cricket

sounds cease, signaling the end.


In Texas she’s dying. Will

you help me send Reiki?


I’ve tried to cup her in my hand,

visualize her spirit and chant,


“Go out the top so you won’t

have to come back again!”


But I don’t know the distant healing

symbol. Will you show me?


You don’t need it. Focus on

your love and intent.


I pray for the Buddha in me to

reach out to the Buddha in her.


But how can I —can she—love

a self swarming with cells that


don’t know how to die?

We are all dying. Eagle, fox,


manatee, primrose, plover.

Lady cat’s tumor burst, she stayed


a while, eye to my eye, then twice

a gentle cough, a burst of breath,


legs swimming and goodbye.

In this between time, I’ve fallen


into a nest of demons, caved

in to the illusion that horns and


howling, grasping hands are real.

But you — you — are in a room


surrounded by hummingbirds.

And inside the clamor, under


the web of tears, in the turning

of flesh to dust, I’m saved 


by a tiny heartbeat, a flame

of iridescent red and


emerald green; standstill

wings whirring.





1. Winter Solstice


Yellow pheasants stop their cries. Tigers start to pair.

In the eleventh month, the chrysanthemum mirrors

the sun's diffuse rays.



2. According to an 11th Century Japanese Herbal


Gather the young shoots, flowers, stems and roots at

their peak. Dry and reduce to a fine powder. Take three

times a day for one hundred days. In a year, grey hair

will return to its natural color. In two years, new teeth

will replace those that have been lost. And in five years,

a man of eighty will be a boy again.



3. Chrysos Anthos: Gold Flower


Unlike the rose, it smells like an antidote to love.

Unlike hothouse tulips, its petals are fixed as a lion's

mane. Unlike a daisy, the chrysanthemum never

says, "Loves me, loves me not," but chants, "Hold

together" and "Stay."



4.  Sixteen Complete Rays


The chrysanthemum is a widowed matriarch surrounded

by sixteen devoted children. In life, they crown her and

cling to her. When she dies, they die with her.



5. A Luscious Drink


In a rectangular box from Shanghai, little dry, yellow-white

heads. In a brown clay pot, hot brew topped with licorice

bark, gnarled hawthorn and honeysuckle curls. Fan the

spirit-filled steam from cup to nostrils. Sip the citron-colored

liquid. Smell wet wood burning.



6. In the Language of Flowers: Love Slighted


An aging woman sits straight-spined in a ladder-back chair.

In her lap, a poem written by a man. It says: You shattered

my dreams. On the desk, a photograph: the man's face torn

away, only hands hold a girl-child. Bending, the woman

writes: I am more withered than the chrysanthemum's

dying flowers.



7. Pictures of a Floating World


On a courtesan's broad sleeve: crests of waves, billowing clouds,

yellow chrysanthemums. On the center sheet of a triptych, an

actor-peddler carries the Four Seasons on a flower stand: Winter

Plum, Spring Cherry, Summer Peony, Autumn Chrysanthemum.

On a sliding door, an old man gazes at the moon.



8. Journey and a Box of Talismans


On September 16, 1819, the poet Issa attends a chrysanthemum-viewing

party in Shofuin's house where host and friends drink from tiny cups and

walk among chrysanthemums. In 1820, Issa's third son dies. In 1822,

his fourth son and beloved wife. His next two marriages, doomed, and in

1827, his house, burns to ashes.



Marking this year of my life

firecrackers, a paper lion

and a single cry

from a human throat:

I throw beans at demons!





March 6. INSECTS AWAKEN (According to the I Ching Daoist

                                                                                    Book of Days)


I am inspired to write a poem by words that astonish me:

insects awaken.  I never knew they were asleep!


March 9.


My father's spring letter arrives. He tells me the other day

he spied a speck of orange near the backyard shed. When

he focused his binoculars, he was looking at seven robins.

What a lucky sign!


March 15. "Beware the Ides of March" (from Julius Caesar)


Our local politician drives a 12-inch kitchen knife through his heart.


March 20.


Hooplah!  Verily!  Tra-la!  And sing cuccu!


March 25.


7 am. I lift the dead, packed leaves off the flower beds.

7 pm. Line bright-colored Gurney seed packets in rows on

the dining room table and draw a map of this year's garden.


March 30.  Easter Sunday


I read in the Sunday paper that Easter is always the first

Sunday after the first Full Moon following the Vernal Equinox.


April 1.


Suddenly, without warning, everything is growing.


April 23. Will Shakespeare's Birthday


We make a Seder and say ancient words: blood, fire, pillars



April 28.  Our Wedding Anniversary


Thinking of our Quebec honeymoon: a cold spring wind blowing

off the St. Lawrence, fragile birds made by nuns in the Old City,

a bedroom behind a red-leather double door.


May 1.


Plant marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, nasturtium, Love-Lies-Bleeding

and moss rose. Hollyhocks, comfrey, Basket-of-Gold and shoots

I can't tell from weeds are already growing.


May 3.


DREAM: I find, in my house, a pair of birds in a cage. I haven’t fed

them for years, yet they’re still alive. I find two foxes in a container,

hardly breathing. Other animals: a toad, a mouse, one without feet,

one without a tail.  I wake and write about the animal parts of myself: 

deformed, stunted, coming alive....


May 8.


I let the tomatoes that my neighbor lady grew for me die.

After a brief search, I find new plants in the supermarket and put

them into the ground.


May 26.


My friend throws a party on her fortieth birthday. Friends

give her sexy negligees and a trip to the Poconos. She is

planning to have her first baby.


June 11.


The mimosa tree blossoms, then loses all its leaves. It's

been struck by a ground wilt and is dying. The birdhouse

my father built hangs from bare boughs.

M. Stetler, Spring Journal, p. 3


June 21.


I throw the I Ching coins and receive “Resolution” changing

to “Possession in Great Measure.” Danger comes from a seed

of evil in your own self, the oracle tells me. You must weed your

heart like a garden, freeing yourself of encumbrances, taking care

not to destroy vital, new growth. If you are open and yielding,

relationships will flower. It is time to discover yourself!



MARGARET STETLER thinks of herself as a Buddhist Quaker but rebels against “names” for one’s spiritual life. She believes in the transformative, healing, even life-saving power of poetry. She teaches a creativity workshop to help others find “the writer/artist within,” and lives in old-town Winchester, Virginia with her artist/teacher husband and three well-loved felines.