Luci Shaw, Eye of the Beholder

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: POEMS, Luci Shaw. Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2018, 96 pages, $19 paper,

When I decided to co-teach the Advent & Poetry class last December, someone told me about Luci Shaw, born 1928 and still writing, living somewhat local to me, in Bellingham, Washington. I read a few of her poems on-line, stumbled onto Paraclete (also the publisher of Christine Valters Paintner), liked the cover of Eye of the Beholder, and purchased it.

Some of the poems are overtly religious, some simple prayers of gratitude, quite a few are about nature or family, and some are about writing, a discipline Shaw has practiced for a very long time: “To be a poet you must write / more than you know, hoping it to be true, // that the words will have a life beyond the moment, / taking the shape of their meaning, like rain // filling a bowl” (“Take These Words”).

Sunday morning seems the right day to post one of her poems, and why not one about spring?


Noon, early spring. I tingle with
the promise of warming air, thrusting my hands
up to the wrists in the dark soil of a flowerbed,
willing a root to spring from each of my fingers,
joining me to the humid rot whose smell rises from
underground, where moles with their flat paddle feet
swim the soil, and worms dance, rejoicing.

I await the electric blue of hyacinths, and long for
other perennials to lift radiant flags like
oblations. Even under the last rags of snow
tulip bulbs dream their own vegetable praise—
a field burnished with chalices of pink and red

—Luci Shaw

To learn more about Luci Shaw, visit her website, or Paraclete Press.


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)