Thursday, April 29, 2010




for Patrick Ennis


note: Willow is Patrick’s daughter, a two year old girl who has undergone

two heart transplant operations and recently

as a result of the second transplant contracted cancer.


Two years since your father told me

you had opened your eyes

and your name was Willow.

Good name. Willow. Wise. A muse.

A fountain and a wellspring

lucid with beautiful sorrows

you bring like secrets of water

from your life before

you were embodied in this one.

Do you remember

washing your hair in the stars

when you lingered by the shore

of your own mindstream

like the Swan in the Milky Way?

Two years since your father told me

you had given birth to him

who called to tell me he was a father

as I listened over the cellphone

to the fireflies and lightning in his voice

trying the fact on like different sizes of light.

Your father is angry and dark

and dresses in black

because he’s got a great heart

that’s radically eclipsed by injustice.

And he’s an original artist

who’s just discovered you

like a new colour

that sheds light upon light

when the sun shines at midnight.

In the vast dark brutally impersonal expanses of space

alone and within

he looks up at the stars

he once shot like heroin

and hangs on to you like a candle

realizing all their blazing

is just another kind of blindness

compared to the light you shed.

And all he had to do

from the very beginning

was see as far as the next human.

And since you lit him up like a star

above a magus with a bass guitar

he’s stopped booking one-night stands

in extra-terrestrial mangers.

He sings punk lullabies to you.

Your mother remains an enigma to me

though I have imagined many times

how she must feel

like the heavy blood-bells

of the poppies

poised midway

between a gypsy wedding

and a Calvinist funeral

when she stands over you

and watches you sleep

not knowing

if you can overcome death

all by yourself

deep in the watershed

of your dangerous beginnings.

Right from the start

you needed a new heart

and praise be to science

for compassionate machines

you got one

and lived like a robot

until they took one

from the life-giving dead

and fit it inside of you like a locket

with someone else’s picture in it.

And later they will give you another

when you’ve grown

and forever your blood

will be a red ribbon on a gift

from someone who sleeps

deep inside you

like a good fairy

dreaming under a stone

that she spreads her wings like dawn

from horizon to horizon

in every breath of you

you take for both

to live on past the morning.

And when you die

you will die in each other’s arms

like two crescents of the same moon

that can’t tell its beginnings from its ends

or who was the stranger

and who was the friend.

I haven’t kept in touch with the Buddha

but I’m going to the place

you’re coming from

as we pass each other like bridges

looking for the other side of things

as if there weren’t much of a difference.

Life isn’t our first innocence

and death won’t be our last.

And two years on earth

isn’t time enough to adumbrate

the original wisdom that belongs to all of us

however we lose our minds in the way of the world

looking for what can no more be lost

than light can be lost in space.

We may be many blossoms on your tree Willow

but we all wear the same face

and we all feel the same way

just as music can’t tell the difference

between the joy it shares with agony

or a requiem for the dead

that celebrates the living

from an epithalamion to the sun

that carries its orchard across the threshold

like cosmic seeds in tiny coffins

as if life were the only secret

death couldn’t keep to itself.

And stronger than the tree.

The seed.

That’s why you’ve made it through more

than most strong men could endure.

Every heartbeat has been a throw of the dice

that would terrify Caesar like a Rubicon

too wide to cross

but I can see the chalk on the sidewalk

and it isn’t the outline of a corpse

in a murdered mirror

but you playing hopscotch

with daisies on your socks

as you bend down on one wobbly leg

to pick up the new heart you threw ahead of you

before you jump to the next

like the square of the number one.

Old pond.

Frog jumps in.


Basho wrote that.

And when he buried his seven year old son:

You may have been a dewdrop

in this dewdrop of a world

but even so even so . . . .

And you will come to understand in time

like water in autumn

the thousands of beautiful ways

we have learned to cry here on earth

like lonely birdsong

for things we know nothing about.

The bitter apple of knowledge

ripens into poetry

like an old man

at his daughter’s wedding.

And the serpent looks on with a grin.

But you’re too young to have learned

how to fear your own freedom yet

like a bad bet against circumstances

no one controls.

The trolls haven’t gathered under your bridge

like hydro-bills

to exact the tolls

they demand of your parents

like parking lot fees at the hospital

when they go to see

after each surgery

if God slipped a loveletter

under their door this time

or an eviction notice

that kicks the house of life out of them.

Your father works hard

and your mother is Bethlehem.

And Herod’s doing a body count

of all the future assassins he’s overthrown

like the first born of the aboreal cribs

that give birth to birds and babies

and shamans in the treetops.

And when the wind blows

down will come baby

cradle and all

but you’ve already fallen from the tree

more than once

and featherlesss

managed somehow

to crawl back up into the nest

of a determined heart

that insists on growing wings.

Fly, Willow, Fly.

Let your hair down in the wind

that runs its fingers through it like music

that catches God’s attention quicker than prayer

and makes a more lasting impression.

And even though your father tells me now

the last heart they gave you

has bruised your blood with cancer

and you must fight for your life again

live, Willow, live

to count the rings around your heartwood

like the number of times

you were engaged to spring

before you eloped with the summer

like pale-faced blossoms on their way to Mexico.

Live among the things of the world

you can touch and see

and hear and taste and smell

and cast strange thoughts over

like a spell of fireflies in a wishing well

where the sad magicians dwell

who don’t believe

in the power of their magic

to transform the toad of the world

back into a prince who isn’t bitter

or pull waterlilies like doves

out of the sleeve of a swamp.

You’re the dark queen of dynastic dragons.

You Willow

with your little life

just as it is now

like the small breath

the tiny flame

of a dragon queen

keeping death at bay somehow

like a cosmic fire death can’t blow out.

How strong you must be

to have suffered so much

against the odds

of a body loaded in death’s favour

and what a prodigy of bravery

you must have been in another life

lingering in the shadows of this one  

that even your parents

have learned courage from you.

And already you are more powerful

than any of us

without even trying.

You learn without learning

and wiser than those

who think of learning

as a kind of repentence

for their ignorance

imposed upon themselves

like the fear of really knowing

they call the beginning of wisdom

even at two

you’re the clear eye of the storm

that offers the battered birds

sanctuary and composure.

And you’re the dangerous peace

that your parents

are trying to make with the world

that threatens what they love the most.

So fight, Willow, fight

to keep the light alive in the lamp.

Don’t let the night steal the moon from your window.

Live to know how much space

there is in a human heart

for sorrow and happiness

and how we light our hearth-fires

over the bones of our dead

who rise whole and unbroken as bread

to sustain us in their absence.

Live to know how forgiving the rain is

and how trusting the flowers

and how everything here

has learned to live

like a replay of their passing away

as the only means they have of staying.

Bloom among us Child

like a message in a bottle from God

that he’s still waiting to be rescued

rise up from the depths of your abyss

like the leviathan of a volcanic island

and let the birds bring you seeds

and the tides

wild coconuts.

Learn monkey and tree and star and stone

and how to tell time

by the Big Dipper and the Canada geese

and their return

and the number of times

the undetectable cricket in the grass

fiddles with his legs like the hands of a clock

who’s learned to play the violin badly

and how the further you look out into space

from some isolated farmer’s field

on a night in the autumn

the less you feel alone

as you turn toward home.

Love, Willow, love

like a feather loves the wind

like the sea loves its weather

like a star loves the darkness it’s shining in

like a dream loves the bed of flesh it’s lying in

like the blood loves the heart

like a station on its way

and the mind loves the grape and the vine

it perceives in the eye of the wine

before the arising of signs

has anything to say about why.

Be sky, Willow, and moon,

be water and mountains

that weep like young streams

peaking  on stars like clouds at night

that sweeten their sorrows in the valleys

like pregnant bells of light

planting orchards

planning weddings.

Draw your knees up under you chin

as you did when you were an embryo

and sit on the stone of the world

like a habitable planet of your own

that’s less coffin than cocoon

and lost like a child

in the lucidity of wonder

share with the dragonflies and frogs

those long silent thoughts that go on forever

like sunsets and radio waves

about what we’re all doing here together

as if all we’ve ever had to belong to

were each other

as we all belong to you somehow

and that’s more than enough of an answer for now.