Understanding the Sky

The ravens arrived before daybreak,
awakening me. I moved from my moonlit
bed to the window, my heartbeat the sound
a hammer makes striking emptiness, before
and after. How much easier to embrace
pain than the common miracles of freezing
rain, the fires of smudgy juniper
smouldering across the water
or the mist that stills its whispery music
in my mind. What sound does the wind make
if you don’t name it? Oh my ancestors
you are like clouds with nothing
to keep you from flying, like the running-away
river with no one to depend on. I go outside
understanding the sky is
just as present beneath my feet as it is
up above, and so try to tread
lightly on the crust of this earth, knowing
it is thin. The ravens slope towards the stars,
the black night in their beaks, and I think
Be light, light, light, as I make my way
in darkness to the river’s edge. And then,
from overhead, a branch drooping
with snow, the owl takes flight, swoops
and glides down beside me. Even though
the requiem birds had failed to roust him
from his place of refuge, it is my quiet
uneasiness that causes him to strike
out over the river, to the brighter side.
What brings tears, I do not know, nor grasp
the thief like tendency of tears to disappear,
but I feel graced to have felt the snow
owl’s breath upon my face, as if I no longer need
to go on breathing; I am being breathed.
Be light, I whisper to the wind
as I climb the bank back to my dreaming
bed, nodding at the green bamboo stalk
I used to stake an unruly chrysanthemum
clinging to life in the frozen garden. The going
doesn’t get any easier, but by any name
I’d miss the wind too much to be
parted from this life for even one hard winter.

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