September 11

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“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.”  Thomas Merton

Rushing from shower to sink, I heard the TV
blare its usual chatter of news and advertising
as we made our hurried preparations
for another busy day,
when I saw it:
dark smoke rising into the blue New York sky.

And I stopped, all schedules forgotten, transfixed
by high flames scorching glass and steel.

Calmly, the newsman speculated
about airliners and tragic accidents,
when the passive camera caught it, the black spot
flying straight and sure as a bullet, piercing
the second tower in a shower of orange flame and shattered glass.

This was no accident,then, this morning violence, and I wondered
how many people were already at work when,
pinned by burning jet fuel and melting steel, their busy day
suddenly ceased in searing red pain and numb darkness?

I wanted to go on with my own day,
to hide in the comfort of my routine,
but I could not turn away when I saw jumpers
drop to merciful deaths;

I saw a suited businessman,
pale in white dust, slowly plodding
through a deluge of drifting memos,
clutching his briefcase like a life preserver;

I heard the shrill, muffled
sirens of ambulance and fire-trucks,
lost in the dirty fog of terror.

And I knew in that moment
that we all are New Yorkers,

we all are falling into our dark, quiet center
where, sinless and without fear,
we encounter God, Yahweh, Allah,

The Eternal,

as our shattered bodies rise
through flames of anger
into the pure, cool, forgiving
September air.

(9/11/2011)

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Compassion

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Photo: Tree in Desert by Brian Federle

“What is my new desert? The name of it is compassion. There is not wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid, and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion.” Thomas Merton

I’ll wander with you
in our pain.

Though dry days
and star-drenchd nights
we’ll search the sharp rocks
for pools of cool tears.

Forty days and
forty nights shall we journey
through the wilderness,

to the green oasis
where we’ll flourish — audacious
lilies in hidden springs —

and there
we’ll possess
every good thing.

(13 Oct 2012/ revised 7/31/2018)

On the Razor’s Edge

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Photo: Brian Federle
“Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love.”
― Thomas Merton

Gazing into bright desert space
we see endless highways, distant
mountains we never reach,
sharp hills, steep cliffs
receding
as we move closer,

closer,
to the pacing sun,
creasing dark canyons,
casting amber light
into the gauzy sky —

yet our dark dreams trouble
the faint stars; the reeling planets
throw wide nets over
our haunted, lost souls

when, morning at last,
we begin again,
pursuing the tumbling edge
of this turning globe

believing that
it will never end, will never
end,
will never
end.

At the Death of a Young Girl

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“We cannot find Him unless we know we need Him.” Thomas Merton

I see its raw fury clawing at her hands,
Kissing her sallow face with lies so perfect on silk pillows,
Concealing raw, gaping wounds inside, the insult
The harsh silence, the enforced peace.
I have seen all this before, this beast, this darkness, this indifference
To waves of anguish washing through the room
As her mother weeps, and her father strokes
Her dark, perfect hair.
I see her, and
I know.

But what am I to say to their terror? These children
Look at me, questioning … after all,
I am their teacher…
But why did she die?, well, asthma… breath denied… but why?

I know this insistent knot, this question piercing my gut,
And I want to hide in silence, but questions will not be denied,
And I know their questions, all of them…
So what am I to say to calm their red, flowing eyes,
These, my poor, dark flowers, piercing me with their tears?

Faith.
Yes, read the book to them…Lazarus found out… faith…
Promises were made, now to be made good.
Yes, faith… what else is there but
Faith?
And so we say the rosary,
And we go on.

(12/15/2012)

Abscissa of the Soul

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Photo by Brian Federle: Seagull, New Brighton Beach, 2009

“Once we enter again into contact with our own deepest self, with an ordinate self-love that is inseparable from the love of God and of His truth, we discover that all good develops from within us, growing up from the hidden depths of our being according to the concrete and existential norms laid down by the Spirit Who is given us from God. “  Thomas Merton, The New Man

Go beyond
the surface
of things,
deeper
than thin soil
fecund
in the rain,
but dried to dust
by the summer wind.

Dive head first
into the darkness;
have faith
that someone
will catch you,
that you will
spash into
a warm sea,
that a strong hand
will reach out
and save
your life.

If you wait
for proof
you will find only
a solid stone
at your core.

Death
is like that…
facts dash
your brains,
bring you
to the edge
of nothing.

But faith
will lift you
beyond
your limitations,
will bear you up
on golden wings,
make of you
the Royal Ordinate
of time and space
and you will dance
to the music
of the spheres,
as without fear
you reach out
to your Beloved,
the Abscissa
of the soul.

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Author’s Note: In mathematics, ordinate refers to that element of an ordered pair which is plotted on the vertical axis of a two-dimensional Cartesian coordinate system, as opposed to the abscissa.  on a graph, the “x” coordinate rises or falls on the vertical line, but never moves forward. Alone, it is doomed to fail, to fall to its eventual death because things that do not move forward always die. But with its abscissa, it has forward movement… purpose… life… and can continue to soar into the ether. I am not good at math but quite good at seeing things.

Sunrise

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Photo: Sunrise Orcas Island, 2014.  Brian Federle
“Sunrise is an event that calls forth solemn music in the very depths of man’s nature, as if one’s whole being has to attune itself to the cosmos and praise God for the new day, praise Him in the name of all the creatures that ever were or ever will be.”  Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Oh call me softly
in the morning!
With winter’s sun
paint golden
the pale trees.
In deep waters,
in cool ponds brush my
legs, caress
my tender feet.
Your breath flies
through the green
canyons.
With tongues
of flame
 oh, ravish me!

He Does Not Need Your Sacrifice

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“He does not need our sacrifices,
He asks for our selves.”
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island

Your sacrifice is like
the breath
of the sparrow
in the roiling storm.

It is not needed
but pleasing in its
simplicity.

When you peel away
your small, feathered
soul, when
you stretch your thin
lungs to sing
your hymn of self-
immolation,

remember that
it is not necessary,
no, not at all,

but still pleasing is
the purity of
your song.

(25 Feb 2012)