Rings and Whorls

Around the redwood, a fairy ring emerges – 
children of the parent tree, now scorched
to two-hundred feet and still showing sprouts.
Its growth rings will show damaged days.
Like the whorls of my aging fingerprints.

I wrote elsewhere about the similarity of fingerprints and tree rings. They are not really as similar as they might appear. Fingerprints stay very much the same, while trees create a new ring each year and they vary quite a bit, showing fire, drought, competition for sunlight or nutrients, and damage by natural or human causes. But still, looking at them side by side they do seem to have some connection.

I do like the word “whorls” which means a pattern of spirals or concentric circles and is used in describing and identifying fingerprints – and seems like a good word to describe tree rings too.

tree rings — fingerprint

The Thing with Feathers Flies Away

The bird who recently built its nest
in the drainpipe is either very optimistic –
or foolish. I feel that hopeful optimism
is foolish in these darkly troubling times.
Maybe the thing with feathers is optimism.

bird in pipe

The title and final line here is a nod to Emily Dickinson’s poem in which the thing with feathers is hope in the form of a bird who seems unabashed by any troubles around it.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church

but you spend this Sunday      with me,
on the spring garden bench      reading poems
from your small hand-sewn fascicles,      never published,
but for here and now,      where God
preaches     –    and the sermon is never long.

reading garden

This poem recalls – and borrows lines – from Emily Dickinson, whose poems I was reading this morning.

Emily Dickinson,
poet of the interior life,
poems were written quietly in a room of her own,
often hand-stitched in small volumes,
then hidden in a drawer.
She died without fame,
only a few poems were published in her lifetime, and those anonymously.
All of the poems were later published
at first altered by editors or publishers according to the fashion of the day,
rather than in the unique style that Emily intended for them.

The volume I was reading is The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Reading Edition which has 1,789 poems with Dickinson’s spelling, punctuation, and capitalization intact.

Might I but moor – Tonight – With Thee

Fast and flimsy sex and still not
able to sleep, but she has fallen –

under the covers to the other world.

I move down the cold, dark passage
where every move I make echoes twice.


I was reading about Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who prepared the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s poems in 1890. He wrote to his co-editor: “One poem only I dread a little to print – that wonder ‘Wild Nights,’ – lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. . . . Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted.”

That comment made me look at the poem again and think about Emily – that virgin recluse – fantasizing in her room one night when she couldn’t sleep.

Emily’s poem:

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the Winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor –
Tonight – With Thee!

Emily Dickinson


Maybe after we die we go to
another place that’s exactly like this one
and things continue without interruption. I’m still
writing a poem, drinking coffee, and wondering
why we’re here, there, why we’re anywhere.

heavenly light
Photo by Adam Kontor on Pexels.com

It is safe to assume that you have given some thought to the idea of an afterlife. It goes by many names in philosophy and religion. Is there “life after death”? What will be in the “world to come”?

You probably have pondered the possibilities of whether or not some essential part of you continues to live after the death of your physical body. It can be called the soul or spirit of an individual. Or is that essence combined with others and so its identity is lost? On the other extreme, is the idea that after life comes nothingness.

That latter idea figures into Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series, After Life, His “after life” is not an afterlife. The character, Tony, is an atheist. You live, you die and that’s it. It sounds depressing and the series can be tough (especially in the first episodes of the first season) because Tony can’t deal with the death of his wife and seems to blame the world. But as the series continues (it has three seasons), Tony changes. Life becomes better. Though oblivion after death is a depressing idea, it also means that you need to cherish the life you have and try to make it better for those around you. Tony slowly discovers that and I found the last episodes to be incredibly uplifting and the entire series to be perceptive and also very funny. That is a rare combination and a tough balance to maintain.

Tony’s friend Anne is someone he meets at the cemetery. She sits on the same bench where both of them think about and sometimes talk to their lost spouses. Anne has a very different attitude towards loss than Tony and she certainly influences and encourages Tony’s life changes.

ANNE to TONY: “Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not. There’s that lovely thing: “A society grows great when old men plant trees, the shade of which they know they will never sit in.” Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end… I had the most wonderful life with Stan. And I have all those memories. That’s what we are anyway, really, memories. And Stan had a wonderful life, too… and he’s not in any pain. Doesn’t even know it’s over. I do. But I’d rather live missing him than for him to live missing me. That’s how much I love him. I wouldn’t change anything. If I went back and changed one thing I didn’t take, I might lose something that that bad thing eventually took me to. You shouldn’t regret anything or think: “Well, if I went back, I might do this or I might do that.”