That One Comfortable Chair
Beside the low oak table
Clear now of all clutter so
The beauty of the honey oak glows,
Ready to receive
News of thresholds ahead waiting for me.
I cannot know in advance
What will be born with ink
Flowing from the fountain pen
At first like a hesitant stream and then a river.
A table cleared, empty, readied,
A heart listening in silence, longing for what will appear that is whole hearted.
So I can begin again each day,
With an open table and
An opened page and readied pen.
What will they see and feel and speak?
And what will come forth from somewhere deep,
An unexplored corner
A presence hiding for years until it is safe to come out,
A voice waiting to speak but also waiting to be asked?
Could the photographs that surround me
Tell me of my unfolding?
Can these moments
Created when I was wholeheartedly focused,
Reveal what today I will turn away from
Because I cannot give myself wholeheartedly?
I want to remember where I long to saunter and to hear the mysteries.
I want to remember where I can write without interruption.
The day begins in
That one comfortable chair
Surrounded by moments of contentment.
I am trusting that in the silence
I’ll be led from who I am
Into the person I have yet to become.
© John Holliger 2014
The White Quilt of Fog
Sometimes you need the road ahead to disappear into white fog.
Sometimes you don’t want to see the horizon.
Sometimes a fog descends around you with such soft grace, without any hint of its coming… It is what you have longed for, without knowing.
In this fog it is a relief to lose your sight and not see the horizon.
Such moments are an unexpected reprieve, a yearning to one of the mysteries who alert you to those helpful voices who rush in and fix you.
The blessing of such fog is its tender blindness to everything and everyone
Except the ones who cherish you, the ones you treasure, the one to whom you most want to be attentive, you.
Into this gentle blindness the world companions you,
becomes the gift of silence with you,
listens for the one song of the one bird,
the one squirrel rustling her leaves… just so…
as if hurriedly recovering from a dream.
Now you ask that one question you have avoided, because now the lightly feathered fog has become a down-filled quilt, inviting you to wrap yourself within.
There is a time of awakening beyond your choosing… a rustling of leaves…
And then you fold the quilt of your life… just so…
And begin again, walking deeper into the white, unknown horizon.
Memories Waiting to Awaken
They arrived from the North after 10pm or so,
with a tiny crew guiding the vessel into the little harbor.
Thousands of tons of iron ore hidden in the hull.
The tug boat appeared magically,
strings of lights out-lining her shape,
glowing sprightly, reds and yellows and whites.
A joyful blast of her worn horn announced to the whole town, “She’s here!”
Shortly, men in identical overalls and ethic caps appeared, unshaven, adrenalin and testosterone and endorphins,
slapping backs and wiry hugs,
every hand gripping a Stanley Thermos, the companion in this trade.
Most had arrived in one of the several great migrations with hopes not possible in the worn out villages they left behind.
Beside the dark vessel four angular arms on shore descended,
flexing like Octopus arms into the deep wombs,
Arms lit with starry strings of light, glowing
as the arms creaked and scraped
with the power of Popeye’s can of spinach.
After hundreds of tons pounded into the waiting line of ore cars,
The silence was eerie.
The black iron horse, invisible in the shadows,
Send a forward jolt with fierce force,
A bone cracking rippled down one car after another,
Shaking the earth,
the massive Octopus arms,
Rocking the behemoth
Moored against the curving dock.
Do doubt remained: “Time to leave.”
Exhausted bodies sauntered and then
collapsed into worn out automobiles.
Out of the shadows the train pulled the unrehearsed voices,
Grinding wheels against rails, twisting locks between cars
Until turning the corner
As did the red tail lights into clouds of black dust,
Leaving the stillness of the brightly outlined Octopus arms behind.
The lumbering train led the way with one eye rotating
Reading the path ahead through the darkness of night to a waiting Pittsburg.
In those years at the first sound of the tug boat
I was a young boy eager to drag his dad out of bed.
Pleading, I had to capture the magic of
the blurring lights reaching into the black holds.
Captivated by the creaks and scraping and grinding music,
excited to see my photographs of these holy mysteries,
hundreds of my neighbors,
immigrants from an exotic place called Sicily,
so lucky and happy to move America, their new home.
The stars and tiny lights floating in the oceanic black night of Love,
A mystery of rhythms and loyalties I depended on,
Everywhere in my town I was on solid ground, I thought.
So many memories pulsing like waves within
Appearing, unexpectedly, in the rhythm and chaos of stars and
tiny lights of Harrisburg, January first, 6:30 am,
12 degrees, 30 knots of wind, and clear, clean air.
We lay down our memories unconsciously,
in an order amidst chaos
we cannot explain--
But for all of us, memories vibrate love and joy, sadness and loss,
heartbreak and forgiveness.
Always, and sometimes more so, in unfathomable ways,
memories resonate like tuning forks
Catching our easily distracted attention and holding us still.
And the rich giftedness of our lives awakens us like the Buddha’s
awakening to the fullness of life,
Like those memorable, humbling paradoxes about a different Way to live
Jeshuah passed on from his own inherited, resonating memory.
When something like a tuning fork vibrates so much
I am awakened in a new way.
I do best to put everything aside and be still and listen.
There is mystery in this moment, calling out to touch and love.
I’ll bet you do something similar when the wave passes through you
and resonances awaken within.
I no longer have those first photographs.
I did not cherish those memories and those photographs as I do today.
The photograph of Harrisburg at night across a still Susquehanna River,
The midnight, moonlit mist near Beaver Run,
Do sing down in my heart of a trust and confidence that endure.
John Holliger ©2014
Forget the News… Tell me something I don’t know.
…. a word, a memory, something about you that is tender and close, a word you would never email or text or even encrypt against the NSA. Tell me something you will entrust into my heart’s care and protection, and only when we are in each other’s presence.
Forget the news. Tell me a word I don’t know about you.
A word. The ancient people would go into the desert and ask a man or woman who lived there, for “a word.” Where is that man or woman to be found today?
To live in the desert was to have journeyed down into oneself to the other side of your own horizon, and not to have gone crazy, but returned with a wisdom that had been wrestled from the tightest grip of the unknowable mysteries who inhabit the wilderness. That’s what it meant to live in the desert, and that’s not Sonora or Taos. The wilderness is the address where you live. How does one find such a man or woman of wisdom today?
In those years leaving the city for the wilderness, one knew where they lived. One just knew… didn’t have to ask.
Entering the cave, the escapee from the city bowed in silence, and sat and sat and became focused, leaving everything behind. Then one asked, longingly, for a word, not literally “one word,” but a word, a phrase, a thought which had been rent from the grip of the unknowable presences who also lived in the wilderness… a word which created “a tear in reality for spiritual energies to pour through.”
Forget the news. Isn’t this what we long for? …a word we can live wholeheartedly.
Sitting together in silence and in trust … a word comes forth from the Un-Nameable One, the Beloved, the One Who Has No Opposite. Silence once again… for the word to take root and begin to sprout. Now, without words, both know when… They bow. The person backs away with respect and gratitude for the gift given, slowly turns, and returns home.
Today as then students and adults are praised for parroting back what is already known, what the teacher has said. The teacher fills the margins of the report with praise or blame for the quality of parroting.
Once a student waited after class with her report in hand. There was nothing written in the margins, no praise, no blame. Nothing.
When she was alone with the teacher in this wilderness, she exclaimed that she has always been superior at remembering and spitting back everything her teachers had said. She waved her paper with empty margins, no praise, no blame, no ego rewards, all blank. She had never experienced this before. Isn’t this what you wanted, like everyone else?
Ignoring her plea William Stafford said I want you to tell me something I don’t know, something that no one in this class knows anything about. And I make this promise, if you tell me something I don’t know, I will give your writing my complete attention. I will ask you questions about the tender threads you tell me. I will follow your clues, your tentative word so I can go with you, where you are going. Here, you lead the way, not me.
One question will unfold and lead to another and another, and off we go.
Tell me something I don’t know, something no one in the class knows. And I promise you that I will listen, take notes of what you say. By our listening with great care we come to belong to each other, and we will see your horizons move as naturally as the unfolding of a flower’s petals, just as they were intended to open.
Forget the news. Tell me something I don’t know, a word from deep within you, a memory you’d only want to tell me in person, so we both will be present to each other, in a focused, undistracted way.
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
And I don’t know the kind of person you are
A pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
… the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
From “A Ritual To Read To Each Other”