(Bethany Spring Retreat Center, New Haven, Kentucky,
We sit in circles
and ponder the significance of birds,
the red-tailed hawk riding the sky above the old farmhouse,
the bobwhites with their two-tone call
that Brother Paul now hears so rarely,
the great firebird spreading its ashen wings
just above the west horizon that first early evening,
reflected in the dregs of the drained lake.
We’re the last band of seekers in this place,
the house sold off to the distillery next door
as a bed & breakfast with no meditation room,
no portraits of Jesus or Merton or Buddha.
The air thick with benediction,
we embrace our fate as punctuating spirits
completing a circle, the last in a line of poets and pilgrims
that goes back half a century.
Some of us are young, sprinting down the shaded lane
or giggling with our Berea classmates late at night.
At least one of us wonders if this climb upstairs on a bad knee
might be his last in this world.
Still there’s time to consider the meaning of trees—
from the benefits of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing
to the silver poplar shedding its nightgown in the yard,
and down the road this autumn afternoon
the great sycamore at the Abbey of Gethsemani,
its naked torso the color of bones, its outstretched arms
sheltering us as we lie on the dying grass,
its fingertips testing the wind.
Back at the house we attune ourselves to the quiet.
Sounds that might have been lost in the cities we came from
reach us here: the distant cock crow
announcing one more morning,
the low toll of the Vespers bell
that rolls down the hill and lodges in our spines,
and the long high chime with which we close our final circle,
reverberating in the thin space between this world and the next.
(for Libby Falk Jones)