The Philadelphia Orchestra, Broadcasting on television, Is playing Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6 In an otherwise empty Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall— Empty, without an audience, Because of the virus that has changed the world In weeks, days. Right behind the orchestra are the empty seats Mother, Daddy, and I held as our season tickets.
Beethoven, Daddy’s favorite. As I listen, my emotions rise, fortissimo, Chords of pain, Waves of feeling riding waves of magnificent sound Carrying a magnificent, hard-to-believe-it-ever-was past.
When I was a little girl, Daddy played a recording of Beethoven’s 6th for me, Narrating the story told As the symphony’s movements unfold.
I feel and see moving toward me in silent procession, Now crowding together in their joyous, Suffocatingly sad throng, My life’s vast gifts of miraculous memories.
The virus is devouring the planet For us who took meandering, Nearly at will, As the way our world spun; We who are blessed With generous measures Of strength and possibilities Wandered our neighborhoods And far beyond As means allowed And inclination prompted.
But now a trip to choir practice Is an act of courage, daring, Perhaps irresponsibility, Endangering others, Harming those I love.
How could a time, Decades, have been When for us— The blessed ones Not living, or enduring, In famine, poverty, infirmity, Subjugation, or war— Only time and budget impeded Our exploring the globe?
And now we avoid trains and planes, Restaurants and theaters, Gatherings at church and school, And touching one another.
Throughout the eons, Lives have been transformed, Darkened or destroyed; We feared Earth’s annihilation By inundation or asteroid, But our present world and ways Are trampled by a microbe Unheard of when the old year Stepped away a season ago, Ceding time and space To a new decade holding hope Now dying, But seeking resurrection.
The shades-of-blue oriental rug Now in a church classroom, The classroom where our choir practices, Is, I feel, I sense with my spirit’s eye As well as my eyes for physical sight, The rug that for all the decades After the braided rug of my childhood Covered our den floor at home, The room in our little white house Where my mother and father and I Shared dinners on our card table, Night after night, When I visited from other states, When I lived back home again, Home where I still remain In my heart.
Just before the house was sold,
The rug was sold
And seems to have found its way
To the room where the choir I love
Sings melodies and harmonies
For the church that is now
My spiritual home.
Living on our rug at Christmas,
We three hung stockings on our fireplace,
No matter our ages,
With blue-and-white tiles in the red-brick hearth,
With Daddy’s mother’s painting above the mantel—
The painting hangs in my bedroom now.
We rested our feet
On the pretty rug
As Mother sat facing the fireplace,
With Daddy across from her,
And I in between,
And after our Quaker-silence grace,
We shared our days,
Analyzed our dreams,
And one Friday night
Ate our last meal together.
On the rug’s patterned loveliness,
Wrote letters and journals,
Sang songs at the piano:
“Let the Sunshine In”
And “The Church in the Wildwood.”
On the blue-hued rug,
I was not always happy,
Often not the way I wish to have been,
Kind and serene,
But inviolate love
Lived always in that room.
At choir practice
I stare at the rug,
Searching for evidence
Of the years
It decorated and cushioned our lives,
Giving us its beauty;
Though tangible signs elude me,
Because I feel our love
Still held in the fibers of the carpet.
Perhaps I am mistaken:
Maybe our family rug
And the rug in our church classroom
Are not the same;
Even if such is truth,
I visit weekly in choir practice,
The rug offering ringing memories,
Speaks to me saying
My journey on into the years
Continues warmed and made beautiful
Through love unchanged by loss and time.
As my friend and I drove to church,
Meandering on a road offering trees and loveliness,
We saw ahead an imposing being
Resting on an overhanging bare branch.
A raccoon first came to mind—
Such was the creature’s size—
But then we saw and understood
The white beaked head,
Eyes searching sustenance:
The only bald eagle I have seen
Out of the sky
In all my decades of living and wandering nearby.
The eagle gave the best of the day’s sermons: Our world, God’s world, Embraces eagles and humans, Oceans and cities, Elk and agriculture, Hunted elephants and hungry children; The choice is not between such as you and such as we; The choice is between Reverence for God’s creation— Care for the Earth and air— Between that and nothingness.
We hear from a wise Franciscan,
“Pray as you can,
Not as you cannot.”
And I translate,
“Write as you can,
No longer as you cannot,”
Or barely manage
And with suffering.
Writing, like singing,
Is my prayer.
I sing with joy,
Insouciant in spite of my small,
But in writing
I seek my voice’s power.
So I am to “write as I can write,”
But how is that?
It is not as I have written,
And not as I have so far
Prayed for my writing,
Begging to be of service,
Begging to count,
Craving to take my place,
To find my place.
It is not as I have sought the means
To earn my keep,
To stop staggering
A few paces from the edge.
And so how can I finally write?
What that I have considered,
Pondered, and explored
Is of my soul,
And what is of yours, and yours,
And only mine as I think
It ought to seem?
How can I write
In order, finally,
To share the prayer of words
From my own spirit and being,
My own days and meaning?
 Our Franciscan teacher was quoting the Benedictine priest John Chapman (1865-1933).
I can set out again, Even at seventy— Just now I resisted Writing “seventy,” Fearing others will see Me as less Than I think I am Or try to be.
I walk fast, Dance, Make a point Of lifting, Bending, Being the go-to kid— Happy I can, Glad to help, And with something to prove To me, Working to be needed, Wanted, Included, Useful, Not left out.
So much is behind: Though I do not know The time ahead, I understand the difference Between potential And impossible.
But yes, I can set out each new day Better ready for the journey Than I have been before; The decades Nourish seventy: Years of stumbling And years of blessings Give a measure of guidance— Where to explore And where not to step again— Offer endurance, Acceptance, Optimism, Courage, Joy Discovering, Embracing New and familiar vistas Gracing Whatever is still to come.
I am twelve, Loving summer camp With its quests Unexpected and new, Its routines and scenes, Moose Pond in the morning mist— A wide lake in spite of its name— The cloud wisps decorating Pleasant Mountain, Honeymoon and Japanese Islands Present unseen, Loving summer camp especially this summer Because I have a best friend, Louise; We explore, discuss, absorb The Maine woods and our unfolding lives.
Excursions and camping trips Are my pinnacle delight; For some, we paddle across or down our lake; For others, we ride, singing, In the open wooden-gated back of a truck, Sometimes to a distant lake or river That will carry our canoes to our sleeping cove, Other times to a single day’s new source of happiness.
As on the day we campers climb Over the face of a garnet hillside Collecting beauty from the center of the Earth.
I love rocks—geology has risen high Among the fascinations That will rise and fall and rise in new forms Across the eras of my life.
I am jubilant Tapping on the cliff In the warm Maine sun, Loosening treasures, Small rocks sparkling with deep-red gems To carry home with me at the end of summer In a footlocker weighing three times Its going-to-Maine weight.
Back home I am snared in the unhappiness of junior high; My Maine rocks join the granite boulders in our backyard.
As my years continue, Rocks give way to new passions— Folk music, the great apes, ice skating, literature— I live a floating life, Grasping the possibilities in view, Leaving left-behind possibilities on the shores of memory.
I meet rapids And create whirlpools where none are intended; I flail against benevolent waters Because they are not the waters I seek Or believe I need to find.
After journeying to distant shores Seeking elusive settling, I return eventually to Delaware, To our little white house.
Daddy shows me he has kept my loveliest garnet rock, Stored safely against our sheltering home.
Now the garnet-filled rock carries in its crystals Twelve-year-old me Held among the eons its gems have shone Within and on the surface Of our miraculous Earth.
My rock carries within itself Its ancient molten infancy And refracts the Light To bathe my ephemeral now With insight outside of passing time.
The girl I was is not lost But held inside of me; The future I wanted but did not find Forms strata in my knowing, In the strength I have to share.
God’s garnets in my hand Shine their peace-giving glow On who I was, Who I am, And who I still can be.
Were you walking by the water to watch the waves and the shore birds? Were you worried, angry, lonely, Peaceful, reflective, in love? Where was Adam? Did he help you with the cooking? What did you long for in your life— A pretty face? Appreciation? A kinder man? Bright children? A room of your own, or the 115,000 BC equivalent? Likely the possibility of warmth, ample food, and shelter was sufficient dream. I want to know If you worried about dying, If growing older was a curse or a relief, If your children minded you, If you asked yourself the point of living. I wonder how you passed the time, How you spoke and dressed, What you thought about when you woke in the morning, What kept you awake at night. Were the myths already in place— That you were created from Adam to be his, That too much willfulness in a woman is dangerous to a man, That women are weak and easily swayed by a glib tongue? Did you bother to rebel? Something of your physical self is in every woman, and every man, too, But we women of 1,170 centuries later Also share your eternity. When we wander along the beach Thronged with people, sullied by debris— The ocean still grand and powerful— You walk with us, The solitary mother of all women, The young girl at the beginning of time, The woman who has seen all ages and carries us each inside of her.
Notre Dame de Paris burned today, France’s cathedral, the world’s cathedral, And mine, A place of the soul, the heart, my heart Burning with the toppling spire, Collapsing roof, Melting glass, And now-charred altar.
Parisians sang hymns As ferocious flames Flew embers of what had been Across the City of Light, Nearly extinguished tonight.
I was in Notre Dame de Paris On a January Sunday— The 2nd, according to my journal— Forty-seven years ago; The organ’s melodies and harmonies Billowed into the vaulted roof, Through the rose windows, Along the flying buttresses, Into the Paris evening, And then a priest chanted Mass.
I was twenty-two that evening And had craved French and France At least since I’d been nine, And there I was: Paris and her cathedral Welcomed me to a world Where desires turned into possibilities, And then became true.
I wrote in my journal that 2 janvier 1972, “C’est les fois comme ceci quand je voudrais être catholique.” And this week I will turn Catholic, Five days after Notre Dame has burned.
Perhaps from a city, a world, of prayers, The walls and towers of our cathedral Still stand; I hear the organ has been saved, And some of the art, Perhaps a rose window; Already hope has returned: Notre Dame de Paris Will one day again be whole, Not as it was, But remembered, honored, Resurrected.
I, too, am not as I was, But I carry my weeks in Paris, My visit in Notre Dame, Within me as I make my way, Burned and illuminated, Through time.
Just as the first flames ate into the spire, I finished my turn as the day’s leader For our French literature class Of lifelong learners whose love For the language and culture Still burns, Lighting our aging lives.
And above my bureau Hangs my father’s drawing Of Notre Dame de Paris Beyond the Pont Neuf.