…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
EIGHT WAYS OF LOOKING AT A YELLOW CHRYSANTHEMUM
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
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!
SPRING JOURNAL AND CALENDAR OF DAYS
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!
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.
Hooplah! Verily! Tra-la! And sing cuccu!
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.
Suddenly, without warning, everything is growing.
April 23. Will Shakespeare's Birthday
We make a Seder and say ancient words: blood, fire, pillars
of smoke and IT HAPPENED AT MIDNIGHT!
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.
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.
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....
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.
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.
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
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.