Cease

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Dear Biddy,

At this time of the year I recall the explosion of the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From 6 August 1945 as a human race we entered into a new stage of human development. Far from the kindness and warmth of a peat fire in County Clare the sounds and smells of charred bodies took the shape of a mushroom and we were never the same again. Not the exclamation mark to silence and define destruction’s tipping point, this cloud continues in the atmospherics around us. The great pilgrim and pacifist, Brother David Steindl-Rast writes in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: “Since August 6, 1945, no one can deny that all of us belong together in this spaceship Earth.”

When you are in the same boat with your worst enemy, will you drill a hole into his side of the boat?’ Elissa Melamed

I rise this morning to join my breath and silence with others participating in Cease – an innocent, harmless action of doing nothing. (Cease comes from the French word to yield.)

I yield to peace and seek from the silence to yield, indeed harvest out of the stillness, more stillness to share. An antidote to the frenzied fear manifesting itself in the conflicts around our planet. While we have been free of a nuclear attack, the wars, acts of terrorism and hate ripping us apart embodied in the blood of those on the front lines  – their bodies deposited in the bank of inhumanity. Militarism is only a part of the story, poverty and fear are in the mix. Cease is one response. I am sure Biddy, you too had times when you did nothing to do something.

Cease

Studying the psychology of terrorism urges us to find the hope in the fear – and right now with our world on the brink once again, fear seems to have inoculated itself against hope. Paralysis sets in as the images of masked men marching in and out of towns as maps are marked in yellow and red and children fall to the ground in front of the people who love them the most.

Being still and sending all the love I can muster to others in the boat might be the best I can do. The pervading nationalism that unfolds with every step towards the centenary of ANZAC seem to be creating a pathway leading to shores where young lives are sacrificed by the old men in suits and combat fatigues.  A long bow does not have to be drawn to see where this can lead, surely we have been there, done that?

This week I heard Andrew Bovell, one of Australia’s greatest playwright’s and screenwriters launch a young man’s first book. The book: Here Come The Dogs. The man: Omar Musa. Using his book to hit his hand to claim the space of the artist to reflect back to the rest of us what is going on was like a clap of thunder. Thor had spoken. The thunder clap had been preceded by rain in Bovell’s speech, preparing the ground for and opening us all up for what was ahead. It was an exquisite essay.  Omar is generous and demanding, he is inviting us into his world of an Australia that is invisible to me. I know that the single clap was a call to cease fire too. A call to action to name and claim, shame and share what actions we all need to take to get closer to wholeness and further away from the disintegration and fallout of the mushroom cloud that separates us from one another.

The simple reality that we are all in the same boat is central to me.  First introduced to oikumene when working with church leaders in the 1980s it remains a touchstone for  me – this common household we inhabit called planet Earth. We are the housekeepers and right now we aren’t doing a great job.

Oikumene term derives from the Greek οἰκουμένη (oikouménē, the feminine present middle participle of the verbοἰκέω, oikéō, “to inhabit”), short for οἰκουμένη γῆ “inhabited world”.

Andrew Bovell and Omar Musa reminded me once again of the vitality of the artist to help us keep house. Cease is reminding me there are times to sit still, times to be mindful. This is the time to connect to our most sacred responsibility as housekeeper. Lest we forget: The clouds are reflected in still waters.

By a lake in Sweden

By a lake in Sweden

Hurdles

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Dear Biddy,

Jumping over the hurdles of life is an oft used metaphor, as is running your own race and getting to the end in one piece. As a child hurdling was my favourite athletics event, if you saw me now you wouldn’t think so! When you knocked one over you just kept going, despite the bruise and the time set back. Keeping going despite the hurdles in your way was the main lesson I learnt. I missed the lesson of being fit and agile to clear each stall with confidence and speed. I didn’t miss the lesson to get to the end requiring gritty tenacity and a clear vision that the end is always in sight even if there are obstacles in the way. Good lessons Sally Pearson reminded me of this week with her Commonwealth Games appearance.

Obstacles are there for a reason – the intentionality of the even spaced hurdle to climb over causes the athlete to learn about pace, speed, breathing and coordination. Most of the everyday hurdles are not evenly spaced out in life – some crowd together so you don’t even have time to catch your breath and others so far apart by the time you reach them your level of fitness has dissipated and you can barely step over them. Fitness of mind and spirit has a lot to do with how you can manage the metaphorical hurdles of life as they occasionally pop up like traffic spikes from an invisible force underfoot.

Immovable, cold and determined to shred you in your tracks; the agile and the innovative deftly manoeuvre around these to keep going with a minimum amount of blood on the tracks. Having a cheer squad around you always works for me and I am grateful to those who get the spikes out of the way, help me see them in the first place and who soothe the injuries that they cause.

My hunch Biddy is that your hurdles were both physical and metaphysical too – and that the inner work you practiced in deep communion with your beloved space in County Clare kept you in a conversation of creating and co-creating overcoming hurdling techniques. The elixir of life contained in your little blue bottle a potion to get over and around hurdles.

A hurdle is really a temporary fence, trying to keep something in or out.  Jumping the hurdle defies its temporal meaning and its purpose. By clearing the fence you are leaping over time and containment. You are seeking a freedom and a certainty that the finish line is yours and is in sight. The certainty in which a star athlete like Sally Pearson showed us this week is an aspiration rarely achieved in every day life and comes wrapped with a coach, a team and a bank of skills and energy built up over years of hard work.

The blue bottle from which I sip is a deep well. I drink in and am soaked by sunshine and hail, a horizon beckoning me to come closer, a landscape ageing and unfolding its revelations as each day sets. And in the knowledge that hurdles are not always evenly spaced, bruises are inevitable, I am not fit, there are times when hurdles will masquerade as spikes and come out of nowhere. I am wrapped by a cheer squad living in my blue bottle, and coaches that call me on and through and over hurdles as I stumble or successfully clear a temporary fence.

Hurdles

Hurdles

Disturb and Disrupt

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Dear Biddy,

You had a bit of a reputation of disturbing the norms by some unconventional approaches to love and life and who you served and how they repaid you for the gifts you offered them. The fundamental exchange of services and goods for money was one of the greatest challenges you offered others, requesting non-monetary exchanges thereby offering an economy with relationships and whisky I suspect as currencies. The way these currencies converted in the market exchange of County Clare are hidden from the view of this correspondent, although I suspect the custodians of law on earth and in the heavens – the police and priests – found the evidence they went looking for when it suited them.

I have had a bit of a reputation of being disturbing over the years. I am someone willing to interrupt normal or familiar arrangements to bring some new piece of information to light or discover a hidden gem amongst a deluge of data. I quite like the times I can be forensic, and love it when the dots can be joined and a new piece of the puzzle makes a picture complete. So it is with our spiritual practices, being disturbed can help define and clarify what might have been hidden or clouded. I had one such experience this week when a little child led a small group of pilgrims around her house to bless each lintel and honour, name and claim the sacred space we gathered. This little person held the order of service to her heart, not yet able to speak the words, her silence when called for, spoke like a chorus of angels. She guided the hands of those who needed to be held, welcomed and farewelled us all with dignity and grace. She set the standard of inclusion of the stranger and the guest. There is a blessing I love to invoke and this was one of those times it came to mind: May the peace of Christ continue to disturb you. I was blessed and disturbed into being more peaceful.

Being disruptive is central to the journey, not content to kick over a few pebbles on the path disturbing them from their resting place on the road, to really disrupt is something else again; it is to re-route the road altogether. Disruptive actions break paths, they fracture and create whole new ways altogether. The successful entrepreneur and enterprise doesn’t just disturb, they disrupt. I can be very disruptive – especially when the inner child is dancing or the recalcitrant teenager is in full flight. Being disruptive is endowed with meaning these days and there is a lot I like about the reclamation and use of this word in the world of innovation. After all, isn’t all innovation disruptive?  The peacemaker disrupts by taking off her legs to show survival to girls who are lost and frightened that the light at the end of the tunnel is beyond metaphor.  The deacon dispenses holy oils from Jerusalem and a blessing that transcends time and space as bombs fall in Gaza and those gathered in a kitchen unknowingly contribute disturbing invisible energy to displace evil of the other side of the planet. Parents beg the media not to trade their pain for ratings.

There has been a lot this past week to disturb and disrupt fellow pilgrims.

Blessed are those who disturb and disrupt
For they shall midwife the future.

The almond blossom’s are impatient for the spring so come early to disturb and disrupt the winter.

The almond blossom’s are impatient for the spring so come early to disturb and disrupt the winter.

Both Sides Now

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Dear Biddy

Harvest and gratitude walk hand in hand for me this week.

I entered a room and found old friends and deep roots that I thought were dormant now arrayed with green shoots: each one watered by the kisses and hugs that followed. Being reminded of your tribe, by finding so many in the room where you share a common heritage and have perhaps in some way contributed to each other’s futures, has been a blessing from the week.

,The day ends with a singing Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and the full circle concludes with tears of gratitude that I could experience a harvest on this most amazing of days.Reverberations came from the past and the future in the single moment of the reconnections occurring in the echo chamber. It started on the footpath with a chance encounter of a former colleague with whom I had shared many a laugh, longing and frustration! We worked together in the most challenging of places and like soldiers who can only talk to other soldiers who shared the same trench. We connect at a deep and immediate level as if time has stood still. And then my footsteps take me to the echo chamber itself. A building once at the heart of the financial business of a city long gone where Australia’s most famous cricketer made his living and is now home to the exchange of ideas. My role in this transition, while small, was significant such is the invisibility of a political apparatchik. And then the doors open and the eyes and hearts connect with hugs and more hugs, stories flowing one after another out of every single tea cup and every darting glance around the room. I am moved by so many moments and receive blessings – an introduction to a new face is preceded with a glowing reference; a quick directive is made to embed the future in the next conversation; a death notice from the person I sit alongside of, a high five from a twitter novice I have known for three decades … it goes on and on … a veritable cascade of connections. I am bursting at the seams of the generosity and kindness of memory and echo.

Whatever next steps are taken, I know I take them easily as they land on solid (and sacred) ground and the paths we make we will be making together.

The day ends with a teenager singing Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and the full circle concludes with tears of gratitude that I could experience a harvest on this most amazing of days.

Puddles

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Wellington Boots

Wellington Boots

Winter brings a mixture of icy stones, fresh air, star filled nights and cuddly moments in front of the fire – all the elements unite. At first glance the earth seems to be in retreat but when the skies open the expansiveness becomes visible as clouds are reflected in the puddles as I get my feet wet. Getting your feet wet is often about having a go, a first try. When winter arrives and I get my first seasonal feet wetting, I wonder what new journey this step is preparing me for. The pilgrim’s job is to keep walking and paying attention to the path, and an invitational puddle deserves attention.

Puddles form because there is a hollow or depression in the surface that allows the water to gather – they capture the offering of the sky and hold that space until the sun evaporates the water, or the earth soaks it up or a person stomps and splashes it around – and sometimes a combination of all those factors.

Puddles are small. Each puddle has its own unique shape. There is a puddle in front of my house, it fills up each day of winter rain. It keeps its shape and everyday offers the invitation: step over or step in. Some days I get myself wet intentionally and other days by accident. When I step into the puddle, I notice my shoe hasn’t been able to resist this element and my foot gets wet. My whole body shudders from the combined effects of the cold, icy and muddy water. Factoring in the puddle, I take extra precautions next time we meet so to avoid this wintry contamination. The puddle has taken me for a fool and when I laugh there is a ripple on the surface smiling back at me.

We all have childhood memories of playing in puddles and the pleasure of jumping and hearing the squelch of mud and splashing our friends dancing around after a shower or even in the pouring rain. Simple pleasures gifted from the sky. I remember a time when the back door of our home housed, in military precision, a battalion of industrial yellow Wellington boots. The laughter of those children (now adults) echoes, as I land my foot in today’s puddle and today’s steps add to the pilgrimage.

 

 

Unearthed stones

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Dear Biddy,

In the introduction to an anthology (The infinite Dirt) I am just published in (very happy to be able to write that) the editors wrote that they had arranged the poems in a way that in a single sitting the reader would be able “to unearth the stones in the pattern we have laid.” And indeed that was true as the a beautiful pattern emerged from the pages that had previously been hidden and the invitation to look once again at other stones in my life making pathways and summoning me to walk in new ways over stones and with a pebble in my shoe as well.

This time last year I had finished a week on The Burren and learnt more about taking baby steps and appreciating the landscape at one with all the elements. With wind and rain and good company, with a lilt in voices around me and an Air in my heart I was blessed by every stone. That landscape that you would have known so well Biddy, blessed and caressed me, held me and pushed me to new places. I am so grateful for those days. Invisible offerings from the visible continue to take hold and unfold.

In the boardroom this week I invoked the phrase from Spanish poet Antonio Machado – ‘se hace camino al andar,’ or ‘you make the way as you go’ – as we set about our work for the future with new leadership, new budget, new plans. I love bringing poetry into decision-making spaces and it is a challenge I am setting myself to do more often, partly inspired by David Whyte’s work mine host in Ireland last year. Poetic language is fresh and wild, leaving spin doctors reeling as they can’t contain the emotive power of poetry that cuts through familiar phrases or weasel words.

Zebra Finch Men's Group - Kura Yerlo

Zebra Finch Men’s Group – Kura Yerlo

The gift of well-chosen words to support your own steps as well as your fellow travellers is one to receive with deep thanks, especially on the days when there are no words adequate to mark the moment. Silence has its place too. In my past week there have been two contrasting moments of endings marked – one with silence and one with words. An Aboriginal elder asked a group of us to be silent for a minute to mark those who had passed through the space we were in. With dignity and the sounds of the waves in the distance, we stood in the soft winter rain in a circle and joined our breaths with the universal one and soaked up the memories and allowed the air to get into our lungs. From there I went with a few others to paint stones. The second moment was a series of stories of past conquests and a public betrayal of peers over champagne and shiraz. The room full of ghosts invoked to score points and to stamp the past passport of all of those gathered to close a chapter. Stories filled both spaces and what was left said and unsaid in both said more than what was unsaid and said.

The patterns emerging from the stones laid and the path I walk contain the stories of those path and yet it is still my path, the one I make by walking it. I have friends walking the camino right now, and for me everyday is the walk of the pilgrim and I travel in great company.

 

 

FINISTERRE

The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn’t let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water’s edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves.

(c) David Whyte 

 

 

Litany

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Dear Biddy,

There is a saying in the Slow Food movement that says: Shake the hand that feeds you. It is an invitation to connect with the producers of food in your local region and something I am lucky enough to do every weekend at the Willunga Farmers Market. It is a place that feeds my soul. A cornucopia of Mother Earth’s love harvested and transformed by the work of human hands. It is a weekly blessing in my life.

I am fed in so many other ways too. Connections and conversations rooted in history matched alongside seeds recently scattered on the surface, both landing on the fertility of the space we create together under the canopy of the great southern sky.

This week I have shook many hands that feed me – producers of ideas, distributors of passion, builders of nests, weavers of webs and makers of mulch and muck – all feeding me in their own way. In a logistics chain love dispensing network sometimes you are a supplier and other times a distributor. The karma returns has the capacity to skip a generation too – paying back and paying forward can happen simultaneously. Offspring wear the consequences of being from the same stock.

I will not clean the house while there is love to be made and poems to be read and conversations to be had.

The Slow Food movement links the pleasure of good food with commitment to community and environment, and each time I sit at a table or tablet I am fed one way or another and am in good company.   I prefer real-time table moments to virtual tablet ones but they both serve to nourish me. When I give thanks it seems to be an endless litany. I am grateful for being fed and I am having a feast.

Cape Town Labyrinth

Cape Town Labyrinth

Litany of A Pilgrim

By the ancients                                I am fed

By the babes                                    I am fed

By millennial tweets                         I am fed

By sister sadness                              I am fed

By sister surprise                              I am fed

By invitations                                   I am fed

By salted caramel tarts                     I am fed

By Lucia’s minestrone                       I am fed

By Billy Bragg                                   I am fed

By Bruce Springsteen                       I am fed

By facebook posts                            I am fed

By gentle touch                               I am fed

By mischievous laughter                  I am fed

By Mary Oliver                                 I am fed

By travelling companions                 I am fed

I am fed                                          I am fed

(c) Moira Deslandes, 2014

 

 

To Solstice

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Dear Biddy,

Today is the winter solstice, from now on every day will get longer and colder. It is a time to go inside, deep, to incubate and hibernate. In the dark spaces of rest and interiority new shoots will form and find their way from the underworld towards the sunlight. The cycle of the seasons are a constant reminder of the great narrative driving our human and planetary story.

I wonder how you marked the winter solstice Biddy? December heralds a time of renewal, where dreams are midwifed to birthed in the spring. A time to bury in the ground what needs to be hidden and decay to feed new life.

I once wrote that I want jonquils planted on my grave as they flower in the winter time and I want my life is a sign of hope. The heady perfume of the jonquils in the garden this time of year forecast the spring long before any other signs.

Showered with beams of light in the smiles and laughter of those I have met on the path between my home, the market and the high street of Willunga this day will keep me warm through the dark and long night. The solstice is a half-way mark in our journey through the tunnel, and at this half-way mark, we can take stock. The word solstice comes from the Latin duet of words – sol meaning sun and sistere meaning to stand still. The experience of time standing still is what the solstice is all about. A time to enter the dark of night and discover what might be in that space.

To echo a recent blog post, I invoke TS Eliot:

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.

This still point may well be the winter solstice – holding the moment where the dance moves crystallise and synthesise – just as the eye of the storm is the quietest place, while all the winds, whirl and swirl around that central fixed point.

In my meditation and yoga practice, thoughts chitter and chatter in my head. I need to adopt a solstice position.

To allow the stillness to come like the sun to shine and stand still for a moment, dispensing light in single beams and to find me stationary soaking up the precious limited light to sustain me through the longest night. To solstice maybe to align with the universe, to stand still long enough to come back into sync with the cycles and the season. A lesson not lost in the hubba bubba that threatens to seduce me to disconnect from the Brother Sun and Sister Moon dance across the sky: I will solstice.

 

M 74, Grand Design, Hubble Telescope

M 74, Grand Design, Hubble Telescope

Poetry and Policy-Making

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Dear Biddy,

I wonder what you would have made of twitter? A quick short messaging exchange that has created its own universe. The number of followers is the currency of the twittersphere, where unlikely celebrities are treasured for their pearls of wisdom and trolls can be found lurking with intent under the cover of either suspicious or overt handles.

Next week I am going to be guest curator for @Wethehumanities and have decided to blend my love of poetry with my professional life in strategic thinking and decision-making. I hope it will be a journey of discover of bards in the boardroom. It has certainly got me thinking about the words you might have used to coax decisions from those in authority. Perhaps a song or a curse held a lyrical line to make sense of the scene and circumstance in which your visitors found themselves in? The great Irish lilt a comfort to a weary travellers ear.

(Back in the twitterspehere, I introduced myself to the twitter community formed around @wethehumanities and the entry on their blog is here.)

My personal favourite line from poetry to guide my decision-making comes from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral:

The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason

Many a time I have used this line as my examen and to check in if the dark side was finding its way out of the cracks into the light. It often is the hardest question of all to answer. With clever intellectual gymnastics, it is possible to find an answer to satisfy the soul and the board room and succumb to the temptation.   Beckett’s temptation was for martyrdom and he came to that place in peace. I believe to be at peace with a decision is a sign of alignment between the heart and the head. Having worked in political settings and getting my grounding for that in the church Murder in the Cathedral served as a primer and provided many lessons of church and state. I am eternally grateful for the introduction to this work in my high school years.

Both poetry and policy making distil an idea and amplify the essence to birth new purpose or insight. Both have the power to bring imagination to public view and cut through and generate new outcomes.   Making sense of what was invisible, whether it be big data or a metaphor, poetry and policy-making have the power to stimulate and challenge.  The juxtaposition of light and dark in this quote below poses the question: is policy making the shadow of poetry?

For poetry, the focus is on the transformation of the aesthetic experience through imagination, with all that implies for the emergence of novel, subtle and complex forms of understanding and coherence. In the world of policy-making, it is the transformation of power relationships and the use of collective energy, namely the emergence of novel forms of social coherence in practice. In this sense policy-making may be understood as the shadow of poetry.

Speaking-Truth-to-PowerBeing able to listen to the conversations and hear the stories that get told in the process of decision-making, is often an invitation to hear an epic journey, a quest, a legend of dragon-slayers and unrequited love.

Hearing these stories and being able to synthesise and draw on the great stories that lie in deep time, mirrored in the meta narrative of what it means to be human, is at the heart of my pilgrimage.

And while not a piece of poetry, a wonderful maxim that wells in my throat some days from the Society of Friends: Speak your truth to power holds the space for poetry and policy making to come together.

Incubating the Future

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Dear Biddy,

Been reflecting on how the future begins in the present, I suspect you may have mused on that thought as well. The idea sown in the dark, take holds in the light and grows towards the sky.   Ideas can take a while to incubate and I am quite fond of the notion on incubation giving time and light and a bit of heat – to get an idea to germinate.

Incubate comes from latin and means to lie down on and apparently once had the sense of sleeping in a sacred place or temple for oracular purposes.

To sleep on it as an expression maybe has the same heritage?

The potential of a prophetic announcement being the result of sleeping in a sanctuary has appeal for this pilgrim. The future is made by the path we walk today and what begins in a little clearing can transform into a place with definition and clarity.

As Robert Frost says: “two roads … I took the one less travelled by …” by taking a particular road, whatever one it is, bending through the undergrowth, will reveal what is already there when we arrive.

I listened to the 2014 Commencement for University of Texas today and the Navy Seal commander shared his advice to the graduates for the future difference they may make in the future, by taking one road or another, that has the capacity to change the lives of others. I am not a fan of the military or the lessons they might want to share with us. I prefer choices to be made don’t take us down a warpath; however the basic lessons of life offered from his life of service as a warrior, do offer insights into the kind of future to which we may all aspire. The decisions we make in this moment are ones that have the capacity to bring the future into the present. Making a bed is a sign of hope that you will be back that night to sleep safely and in the warmth and comfortable knowledge you have made something worth coming home to. Joining your voice with others to sing a rousing chorus is an act of communion in times of adversity – and I have certainly been sustained by that act on many occasions. Singing along with Peter, Paul and Mary in their rendition of We Shall Overcome has medicinal properties and gives me a booster shot when nasty fear and anxiety bacteria try and infect me.

I believe little actions in the present make a difference to the future and bring the future into the present. This morning my shoes were shined by an octogenarian who believes that the casual conversation between wax, polish and elbow grease have the power to change the world. Over many years his quiet activism has also raised thousands of dollars to support asylum seekers settle in Australia. A different kind of polished shoe lesson to the one offered by the Navy Seal instruction, and one more real to me from this warrior of peace. Just as the Gum flowers in winter, the eschatology of simple acts: making a bed or polishing shoes we are at one with the past, present and yet to come.

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#FuturePresent

In a world close at hand,

Held by the heart,

Incubated by a good night’s sleep,

While angels keep vigil:

Seeds sown in the dark,

Bloom in the morrow

Of the morning sun.

(c) Moira Deslandes, 2014