Christine Valters Paintner

Easter Sunday seems a good day to share a poem from Christine Valters Painter, poet, Benedictine oblate, teacher, mystic, pilgrim. I have a row of her books on my shelf, and highly recommend her workshops and retreats. Last spring her virtual retreat with its emphasis on lectio divine and sacred time saved me from my initial despair over the pandemic. (And I have to admit to getting lost just now in her poetry videos.)

This poem is from Dreaming of Stones (Paraclete Press, 2019). I love how it walks with us from darkness to light, and its series of questions.

“The Duty of Delight”
(after Dorothy Day and John Ruskin)

This poem is held together by heartache,
by the sour smell of sorrow hovering,
thick dust and thinned soup,
the old pillowcase keening-damp,
the swift armada of black clouds.

Even while I write this,
bodies are burned alive in cages,
put on view for the world to see,
bodies are piled in unmarked pits,
or broken by a terrible hunger.

How to remember even the possibility of delight
late one evening after hours of bagging groceries,
the baby crying now, electricity shutting off.
Someone, somewhere is shredded
and scattered by secret wounds.

Perhaps this is life’s most exalted and exacting task,
holding the hard edges against the soft wonder,
or seeking the consolation of nature’s indifference.
Even the flame turns to ash,
even the ash is fodder for roses.

What can I do but gather constellations in my arms
like sprays of Queen Anne’s Lace?
What can I do but track a creature untamed,
deep into the thick forest?
What can I do except slip open the rusty, lichened gate?

What can I do but read poems before breakfast,
and allow my walking to become a fanfare?
My heart beats like a frog on a hot August night,
while the river rushes past like a herd of wild horses,
and I fall off the ragged edges of the map of known things.

This poem is held together by joy,
even when standing still
we are always rushing east toward the light,
hopeful to meet the sun again soon
soaring in pink perfection.

–Christine Valters Paintner


“What can I do but gather constellations in my arms?”

[Featured Photo by Dan Hamill from Pexels]


Abbey of the Arts

I’m blissed-out and and blessed. My daughters and their SO’s are coming to dinner. Hubby is in the kitchen (cooking up a storm). I woke up very, very early and put in two hours on my novel, then I had a long walk early this morning in the crisp cold air under blue skies. (Now, to bake pies!)

And — on the heels of two wildly successful readings last weekend, I discovered that my feature at Abbey of the Arts had gone “live” — so nothing but thanks, thanks and more thanks in the writing department. (I hope you’ll explore the entire Abbey site — it features the work and wisdom of poet and teacher Christine Valters Paintner and I’m confident you’ll agree that it’s a treasure.)

Then, taking a moment this morning to catch up on email — I found this delightful poem at a blog I follow, The Poetry Department…aka The Boynton Blog. 

The Poet in Paris

Yes, that would be me — on my way to France for the very first time, using my very-seldom-used passport and packing my poems and leaving tomorrow morning! I’m traveling with my friend, poet and photographer Francine E. Walls (whose poem you may remember from a few weeks ago), and we’ll begin with a week in Chartres, for a workshop with Christine Valters Paintner. Then it’s on to Paris, and what Francine promises to be a fabulous introduction to the City of Light.

My daughters dared me to zip-line off the Eiffel Tower, and although they were responsible for my kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland, some dares you just don’t have to take.

Anywho, this is just a quick post to let you know I now have a better excuse for not being caught up with the blog. Over the next two weeks, you can follow me on Instagram to see daily highlights.

Here’s a poem in the meantime:

Mirabeau Bridge

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
          And lovers
    Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain
         The night is a clock chiming
         The days go by not I
We’re face to face and hand in hand
         While under the bridges
    Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes
         The night is a clock chiming
         The days go by not I
Love elapses like the river
         Love goes by
    Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent
         The night is a clock chiming
         The days go by not I
The days and equally the weeks elapse
         The past remains the past
    Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
         The night is a clock chiming
         The days go by not I
Guillaume Apollinaire. “Mirabeau Bridge” from Alcools, English translation copyright 1995 Donald Revell and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Source: Alcools (Wesleyan University Press, 1995)

Where am I? What is this place?

I’m a pretty busy person. Despite my teaching schedule this quarter, I’ve managed to get away for poetry weekends and readings. I’ve met friends for coffee or lunch (if they could drive to Everett!). But there’s something about my mother’s final days, about her death, about her burial and her memorial that has made me I feel as though I’m driving through a long tunnel. I’m aware that there’s a world “out there,” and yet to get through these days and weeks I’ve had to focus on staying in my lane and moving forward. There’s light, somewhere up ahead, but no scenery or detours or flashy billboards to entertain or distract me.

This morning (Friday, when I drafted this) I have been reading some poems — getting ready to do a Veteran’s Day poetry unit for my daughter’s fifth grade class — and this poem by D. H. Lawrence twice crossed my path. I think there’s a message for me here, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

The White Horse

The youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent they are in another world.

–D. H. Lawrence

What we know about tunnels is that they feel dark and endless, but they do end. Tunnels are thresholds. They lead us to what comes next. In her book, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred, Christine Valters Paintner calls thresholds, “liminal times when the past season has come to a close but there is a profound unknowing of what comes next.” She continues:

“Thresholds are challenging because they demand that we step into the in-between place of letting go of what has been while awaiting what is still to come. When we are able to fully release our need to control the outcome, thresholds become rich and graced places of transformation. We can become something new when we have released the old faces we have been wearing, even it means not knowing quite who we are in the space between.”

I don’t know quite who I am just now. I want to stand still in this place, to be silent. I want to let all that is becoming, come.