Identity: A Poem

Who am I?
Well, Lord, I’m a lover
of roses,
of the color purple
of wildflowers,
wild grasses,
open vistas,
rugged views.

I am, as you made me,
a climber,
a runner,
a dancer —
a girl with big toes
and flat feet.

And I’ve wandered
in countries
old and new —
a pilgrim
on oft trodden roads
and abandoned desert tracks;
a wanderer
in wilderness —
but you have an affinity
for those.

I am a scholar
when it suits me,
a daydreamer,
a passion-seeker.
I am no one
special, and yet —
and yet —

I am your beloved,
of a master craftsman.
I was made of stardust
with the breath
of God.

I am the product
of generations —
men and women who lived
their lives as faithfully
as they knew how
and gave their breath
back, in the end,
to the mystery
that held them.
My eyes, my laugh,
my too-large toes,
an inheritance
from forefathers,
I will never know.
They come to me
as gifts in an unbroken
chain of being.

I am your answer
to the void —
the echo of an eternal
Yes spoken
to the waters
at the dawn of time.
I am a created thing
and I am very, very

Self Portrait: Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House

Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Hide

If I were in Kenya,
this hide would be for watching
animals graze, approach the water,
drink — one would feel small in their presence
and amazed.

That was the kind of hide
I fought in with my brother —
ignoring the graceful movement
of gazelle, the slopping necks
of impossible giraffe. I heard
no birdsong that afternoon, my face
flushed in anger (at what exactly,
who remembers?). There were miracles
happening all around me, and I
as blind as any pharisee.

There are no wonders here
except the mountains — the
midday sun too hot for deer
(though they will come when
the dusk turns the world to purple-
twilight), the birdsong
soft and intermittent, drowned
out by flies and bees — yet
here, too, the wind is in the
branches, the spirit hovers over
the deep, and God cries
in that still, small
voice, Are you listening?

The Hide: Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House

Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Water Lily

The water lily proves nothing —
has nothing to prove.

It floats, it rests, it drinks deep,
it grows, and beauty spills out in every petal.

Iona Esperanza

I wrote this poem during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August. But it seems particularly appropriate for meeting the newest member of my family, my new niece, who is two months old today.


Dusk, and nature has reclaimed
her canvas.

The sun sinks below the purple
mountains (velvet gossamer in twilight)
and the deer emerge, spotted and wary, ears
large and cautious, to frolic on the watered grass.

Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Names of Things

Annie Dillard says that writing is knowing the names of things.

So I ask the birds, the trees, the flowers. But while not exactly
silent, the birds speak no words that I can hear, the trees
seem more interested in magnifying praise than talking of themselves,
and the flowers miss the point entirely.

“Yellow!” They cry. “Purple, pink, white, wine, yellow, white, blue!”

When I tell them those are colors, and not, in fact, their names,
they merely shrug, unconcerned, as though to say,
well, they’re more than enough for us.

And who am I to argue?

Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Lily Pond

Sharp origami petals open in kimono hues —
pastel pinks, yellows, whites.

And just two, at the very back, a rich,
bright wine — I’ll have my dresses made
from those, please.

This is no Monet, this garden —
no soft, impressionist blues, but greens
as far as the eye can see. Dusky desert
shrubs and evergreens, swamp weeds growing
alongside too-tall cattails and yellow
wildflowers on pine-strewn ground.

And one single purple flower by my chair,
as though it knew I was coming and saved
the best seat in the house.

And the wren sings heartily —
is it telling of its joy in lily pads
or just mentioning the coming rain?
Or maybe it, too, is greeting
my arrival with its song.

Why not? After all, I am the bridegroom’s beloved,
and this is mine as well as theirs — I, too,
their sister, a glorious created thing.

Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

A Sonnet for St. Francis

Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, 19 August 2019

St. Francis, shepherd of a humble flock,
Friend of creatures great and small — make of my
Heart a wild place that seeds and vines might grow,
And the timid, shy ones of the earth

Find in myself a home. May it be a
Quiet garden, immersed with light and leaves,
With naught to startle fragile hearts but the
Hum of birds and bees. Oh work in me

To love the earth and all God’s growing things,
To notice love in all its shapes, with paws
And roots and wings. Oh Francis of the humble
Heart, who loved God’s children well, teach me

Your ways great gardener, help me till this
Thirsty soil, till roses grow like wildfire

And nowhere left is fear.

Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Hawks

Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House
Easter Sunday

As I walk these paths —
the delicate pink water lilies
open now to the radiance of the sun,
sheltering goldfish beneath the shadows
of their leaves — welcomed everywhere
by the verdant green, the moving water,
and the silent call of butterflies
delighted in their dance, I am met
by two brown hawks with snowy breasts,
unblinking gaze.

Hail sister, they seem to say,
unconcerned by my passing. We, too, are the Lord’s
creatures. We, too, are kin to a king.


An Ode to Wonder

“Part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love.” –Shauna Niequist


Fall in love with one thing
every day, the poet said. It is
the last great expanse — the unknown
of the human heart. Love is all the adventure
left on this small globe — save the ocean — all
the adventure left in this universe — save the
unplumbable distance between the stars. And isn’t it
much the same? Those galaxies of dark and light,
those mysteries of depth, of height, reminding one
that one is small. That God is big. That wonder
is the only reasonable response to all this
space — all that is unknown, unknowable, and real.


The snow fell today in flurries.
I watched it dance from where I sat on the couch,
the glass doors closed to keep the warmth in,
the white crystals out. But now the mountains
are peaking through the clouds and the sky
is robin-egg blue — and speaking
of robins, one hopped onto the picnic table
where I sat, six weeks ago, drinking a coffee
at a tea shop in the English Lakes. Come to say
hello. To say, we missed you. To say,
you were not forgotten.


I know enough of goodbyes
to know why we close our hearts
behind glass walls built of facts
and science and reasonable explanations —
but there is poetry in truth, for however we arrived
on this planet, and however we leave its shores,
we are an entangled species that knows the world
through touch, through taste, through the sound of our
own breath leaving lungs we did nothing to create.
We know best through proximity, embrace — know the corner
of the world we’ve loved — and know (let us admit it)
little enough else.


I don’t pretend to understand
why an acacia grows so different from her cousin
the redwood. Even less, why the sight of her branches
spread against the backdrop of an African sky
causes my spirit to join her in mute but persistent
song — in longing, in adoration, in strains of Hallelujah.
But I will not do you — do her — the injustice
of explaining it away.


We are creatures made for worship.

Inspired by Reid Carpenter’s “8 Stanzas Are Enough for Now,” Sarah Halvorson’s “Sunrise from Plum Island,” Nikki Giovanni’s conversation with Krista Tippett, and all the poets who remind me to live with my eyes, and heart, and hands wide open.

The Gaze of a Lion | Words of Wednesday

From “Serengeti” by Mary Oliver:

Can anyone doubt that the lion of Serengeti
is part of the idea of God?

. . . the bone-breaker,
and the agent of transformation?
No doubt, in the beginning,
he rose out of the grass

like a fire–
as now he rises out of the grass,
like a fire,
gleaming and unapproachable,

and notices me,
and fixes me with his large,
almost fatherly eyes,
and flexes his shoulders.

I don’t know
anything so beautiful as the sunlight
in his rough hair.
I don’t know

where I have seen such power before–
except perhaps in the chapel
where Michelangelo’s God,
tawny and muscular,

tears the land from the firmament
and places the sun in the sky
so that we may live
on the earth,

among the amazements,
and the lion
runs softly through the dust,
and his eyes, under the thick, animal lashes,

are almost tender,
and I don’t know where I have been
so frightened,
or so happy.

A Couple of Lions

Today, I miss Africa.

Excerpted from Mary Oliver’s poem “Serengeti” in her collection House of Light (1990).