Margaret Stetler

BARDO …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 roomsurrounded by hummingbirds. I hear you smiling. A ruby-throatedzips by, buzzing, humming. In Virginia, crows caw, cricketsounds cease, signaling the end. In Texas she’s dying. Willyou 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’thave to come back again!” But I don’t know the distant healingsymbol. Will you show me? You don’t need it. Focus onyour love and intent. I pray for the Buddha in me toreach out to the Buddha in her. But how can I —can she—lovea 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 twicea gentle cough, a burst of breath, legs swimming and goodbye.In this between time, I’ve fallen into a nest of demons, cavedin 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 turningof flesh to dust, I’m saved by a tiny heartbeat, a flameof iridescent red and emerald green; standstillwings whirring. 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 mirrorsthe sun's diffuse rays. 2. According to an 11th Century Japanese Herbal Gather the young shoots, flowers, stems and roots attheir peak. Dry and reduce to a fine powder. Take threetimes a day for one hundred days. In a year, grey hairwill return to its natural color. In two years, new teethwill 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'smane. Unlike a daisy, the chrysanthemum neversays, "Loves me, loves me not," but chants, "Holdtogether" and "Stay." 4. Sixteen Complete Rays The chrysanthemum is a widowed matriarch surroundedby sixteen devoted children. In life, they crown her andcling to her. When she dies, they die with her. 5. A Luscious Drink In a rectangular box from Shanghai, little dry, yellow-whiteheads. In a brown clay pot, hot brew topped with licoricebark, gnarled hawthorn and honeysuckle curls. Fan thespirit-filled steam from cup to nostrils. Sip the citron-coloredliquid. 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 shatteredmy dreams. On the desk, a photograph: the man's face tornaway, only hands hold a girl-child. Bending, the womanwrites: I am more withered than the chrysanthemum'sdying flowers. 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, anactor-peddler carries the Four Seasons on a flower stand: WinterPlum, 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-viewingparty in Shofuin's house where host and friends drink from tiny cups andwalk among chrysanthemums. In 1820, Issa's third son dies. In 1822,his fourth son and beloved wife. His next two marriages, doomed, and in1827, his house, burns to ashes. Marking this year of my lifefirecrackers, a paper lionand a single cryfrom 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! March 9. My father's spring letter arrives. He tells me the other dayhe spied a speck of orange near the backyard shed. Whenhe 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. March 20. Hooplah! Verily! Tra-la! And sing cuccu! March 25. 7 am. I lift the dead, packed leaves off the flower beds.7 pm. Line bright-colored Gurney seed packets in rows onthe 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 firstSunday after the first Full Moon following the Vernal Equinox. April 1. Suddenly, without warning, everything is growing. April 23. Will Shakespeare's Birthday We make a Seder and say ancient words: blood, fire, pillarsof smoke and IT HAPPENED AT MIDNIGHT! April 28. Our Wedding Anniversary Thinking of our Quebec honeymoon: a cold spring wind blowingoff the St. Lawrence, fragile birds made by nuns in the Old City,a bedroom behind a red-leather double door. May 1. Plant marigolds, zinnias, cosmos, nasturtium, Love-Lies-Bleedingand moss rose. Hollyhocks, comfrey, Basket-of-Gold and shootsI can't tell from weeds are already growing. May 3. DREAM: I find, in my house, a pair of birds in a cage. I haven’t fedthem 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.... May 8. I let the tomatoes that my neighbor lady grew for me die.After a brief search, I find new plants in the supermarket and putthem into the ground. May 26. My friend throws a party on her fortieth birthday. Friendsgive her sexy negligees and a trip to the Poconos. She isplanning to have her first baby. June 11. The mimosa tree blossoms, then loses all its leaves. It'sbeen struck by a ground wilt and is dying. The birdhousemy father built hangs from bare boughs.M. Stetler, Spring Journal, p. 3 June 21. I throw the I Ching coins and receive “Resolution” changingto “Possession in Great Measure.” Danger comes from a seedof evil in your own self, the oracle tells me. You must weed yourheart like a garden, freeing yourself of encumbrances, taking carenot 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.