The church tonight was and was not my church;
I am making my home there,
Even as corners and entire rooms
Not yet my dwelling place.
A kind acquaintance greeted me
In my now-familiar pew
Before the organ told of time for quiet
And the small procession gathered.
I knew the crucifix rose
In the dark beyond the window;
Jesus as he lived inspires me,
As failingly as I follow,
More than Jesus as he died.
The priest spoke to us of speaking up
For right as we understand,
Of nurturing the saint within.
I loved singing the hymns:
Hymns and a sermon, a homily,
These are church enough for me,
Along with friends,
Who are my sanctuary.
For me, August is a month of change. It is a time of coming to the world and growing older, of awakening to sun-filled hot, blue mornings filled with blossoming, burgeoning life. And also for me, August is a month of meeting loss and death.
I was born in August, and on the August day that I marked fifty-five years of life, my infinitely dear father died. In the years I lived in the North Country—in Maine and in New York near the Canadian border—August was a time of transition for Nature, too. Wind stirred the lakes, a few leaves turned red before their time, and most nights called for warm blankets and flannel nightgowns.
In “North Country August,” autumn tunes up its season of change. In this poem, I welcome the coming of autumn’s pared-down beauty. I will never cease grieving my losses, above all my parents and other dear ones who have gone on ahead. Yet while I struggle to keep the confident outlook of the poem’s last stanza, I vow to embrace its peace and optimism, as best I can.
North Country August
A large brown duck with orange feet stands on a log by the creek
And then swims upstream against the current.
In the smooth water, a perfect duck looks back at her.
Crows call between the dead trees of the swamp.
Reeds and low brambles hold an early fall dryness,
While the scraggly petunias in window boxes still remember spring.
A monarch butterfly tastes purple phlox.
Chattering chickadees fly in to feed on sunflower seeds.
The sky is clear, but the mountains are lost in haze.
The Earth waits for change.
Along the fence roses bloom, with buds forming
As if the month were still July.
Would I want to live in July forever?
August is Earth’s send-off to subtler days ahead.
How lovely it will be to sleep soundly under my blanket.
Already the Sun is setting earlier,
With evenings that give more time for reflection,
Fewer demands to be out doing.
One glorious fall morning, the snow geese will fill the sky
From horizon to horizon.
Then snow crystals will sparkle in cold December air,
And mists will rise until the lake is frozen.
The first reawakening will be the birds on a March morning.
Ice will boom in the warming Sun,
And the seagulls will congregate on the flows by the ferry channel in glorious reunion.
The silent flight of herons, with their long dancers’ legs, will herald summer,
Spread before us once again.
I was born in August.
Each year of my life closes then.
But as my season of birth,
August is the beginning for what is still to come.
My spring will not return in this life.
Yet I choose not to see August as summer’s end.
It shall be my passage into vivid autumn colors,
My transformation into the clarity of September’s blue skies.
I shall warm myself in the cool evenings by my own fires
And by the fires of losses turned into memories
And regrets into experience.
I will, like the roses of autumn, bloom in beauty and tranquility
With no thought of the frost to come.
I meditated this morning,
Listening to Andrea as I did twenty years ago
—“Una furtive lagrima,” “Che gelida manina,” “Addio, fiorito asil”—
When his place in my life was new
And the world, too, was fresh
In spite of my incapacities
To be as I wished,
To be as I might have been.
Those mornings I heard sweet Mother
Dressing in the adjoining room,
Beyond the wall against which I leaned;
By that hour dear Daddy was in the kitchen,
Preparing breakfast for us three—
We shared our home:
Are we together now?
I tell myself,
“Not only are we three still one,
United in every place and time,
But my beloveds reside in joy,
In peace and absolute fulfillment.”
Am I correct,
Or am I the remnant, alone
Until my days run down,
Maybe in another twenty years?
And what then?
I see now why I’d avoided meditation
And why I ration music:
Both bring me into this moment, yes,
But also within the moments, the years,
When I was whole,
Or might have been
If not for the hollow places
I allowed to grow within.
If truly my mother, father, and I remain as one
And they are themselves, in bliss,
Then I will meditate and live inside
The loveliness and possibilities
Of life as it goes on:
My shining, treasured friends,
The things I love to do and learn,
Spring rebirth, summer evenings, autumn frosts, and winter quietness,
The chance to find my ways to serve,
The challenges through which the soul
Can strengthen and gain wisdom.
Others seek conviction of God;
I seek assurance of my parents’ eternal being;
They are my sunshine, my moonlight and starlight,
The beauty and pulse of the universe.
The day gushed rain
And then gave mild blue skies
With a rumor of coming cold
Not felt in the air
But read in the fading leaves
Dying before frost
Could open their colors.
I walk in meditation
And the world rolls away;
Sometimes Alone sneaks in
And I shutter my chakras
Of energy and empathy,
Feeling myself unworthy.
Torrents of worry teach:
Take one step
And then another;
Repel the rumbling landslide
Of menacing possibilities
Stirring up duststorms
Of what-if and what-have-I-done;
Neither evade what must be
Nor fear the yet-to-come;
Rehearse plays, not troubles;
I will honor the day,
Doing what I truly can,
Releasing the rest
Until such time
As it steps forward,
When I respect myself,
I sharpen my vision
For others’ struggles
And others’ goodness:
And God is always within.
Rolling landscapes glide past my inner eye
As Hawk and Owl sit on my shoulders:
I long to hug them to me;
Heron flies ahead.
I swim in a buoyant pond of light;
“Tell shared histories,
Instead of the histories of one—
One person, one group, one way of being.”
All my beloveds on the other side
Gather in a dark woods;
I see their silhouettes and shadows
And greet each soul by name:
A welcoming community of love.
And then the heart of the gathering glows:
My mother and father, my everything.
I visit treasured souls still at home on Earth
And seek their healing according to their needs.
Consciousness becomes tangible;
I push and guide it with my open hands,
Sending it to loved ones present and beyond;
I savor the heft of creation’s consciousness
Against my palms that are helping it to flow
On and on,
Circling the Universe.
I request insight and intuition.
A woman of African ancestry appears;
She is my age, and her hair is short and white;
I wonder if she is a guide
And ask her to be a friend.
We gather near evening to honor two-hundred years
Of Quaker worship in our Meetinghouse,
Two-hundred years of listening within these walls,
Of waiting on the Lord,
For That-of-God-Within to speak
And to urge speaking,
Of First Days On the handsome, uncomfortable benches
On the simple and beautiful wooden floor,
Of seeking spiritual gathering
Bringing each within.
I know little of the Quakers two centuries past,
Only their stories told in First Day School
And the fact of men and women dividing
In early Meetings for Business:
Desiring equality without men’s domination;
Otherwise the history accompanying me at sunset
Is the history I lived.
As dusk nears
I return to childhood within these walls;
I hear the ministry of Weighty Friends,
Their timbre and cadence,
The “thee” and “thou” a few still spoke,
The names now heard as forebears.
We children sang before Meeting for Worship,
And after, all sang together:
“As we leave this friendly place,
Love give light to every face.” I loved the singing more than silence.
We rarely sing now.
In the peaceful twilight
I see my parents
As my father clerks our Meeting for Business,
As my mother’s ministry radiates that of God within,
As we three worship on the bench we always chose.
I slip into the years
When children came to our home
To create treasures to sell
At the fair held each November;
And then I was Mary or an angel in the Christmas play;
On Easter, we children gave everyone pansies;
In First Day School
We formed salt maps of the Holy Land;
Our Bibles were presented when we were nine—
I chose the King James Version— Faith and Practice was a gift for high-school graduation.
Today’s children in our Meeting
Have their own traditions,
But few of them are mine,
And the adults’ traditions
Are—for me—loosely fitting,
Around me in the darkening Meetinghouse,
I see Friends who are friends
And others who are strangers;
That mine is the older generation now;
My peers serve the congregation and our neighbors,
But I do not:
My life is elsewhere;
The Meeting kindly welcomed me,
Returning after time and alienation,
But I remain a ghost from another era.
 Quakers traditionally refer to Sunday as “First Day.”
 “As We Leave This Friendly Place,” lyrics by Vincent B. Silliman, 1935.
Faith and Practice is a book containing Quaker principles and queries for contemplation.
Owl, Hawk, and Heron—
Fly with me to the mild woods,
The welcoming leaves and flowers
Along a Pleasant Mountain trail;
In a clearing I find Brother Simon,
A friend I knew in Italy;
We dance holding hands;
Francis and Clare make the circle four,
And songbirds rest on our shoulders.
As we dance, our numbers grow
Until all the world’s people sway on the melody,
While the Earth spins in our circle’s center.
Above us, the Sun waltzes with the Moon;
Our dear ones in spirit smile in witness.
Alone again, Simon and I hug in comradely caring,
Tearful but comforted.
And then Simon, too, is gone;
Lifted into trance on the drumbeat,
I remain with everyone.
Twirl me through the mist
Into the darkness
Under the stars;
Swirl through the heat waves
Cooling under the Moon;
Reach up with me
Your lead, your warmth,
Profound and reassuring;
Flowing, drifting on summer,
I close my eyes
And fly on feet floating on triple meter,
Curling once more
Into encircling melody.
How did I grow so old,
I, who was meant to stay sweet and young forever
And studied hard to be an excellent child;
I am sorry that through my lack of vigilance
I have become what I am not prepared to be.
(Note: My parents never tried to keep me a child, but I tried to find my place out in the world by being a good girl—in spite of a rebellious streak.)