Dust and Ashes

The bluff at North Beach in Port Townsend, Washington.

The bluff at North Beach in Port Townsend, Washington.
Photo by Alison Hedlund.
(Click on the photo to see it full size. The Strait of Juan de Fuca is behind you.)

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
— Wendell Berry

Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
— Genesis 3:19

In the church calendar, Epiphany turns to Lent on Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 13 this year. Read passage with haiku responses

We invite you to spend time in contemplation with these words from Wendell Berry and from the book of Genesis. Then join in the conversation with your own poetic response.

(The Berry lines are from the poem “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” which can be found in his book The Country of Marriage. The words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are part of the Ash Wednesday service, spoken as a cross of ash is drawn on each person’s forehead.)

You can enter into conversation with this text by adding your haiku response below.

About Margaret D. McGee


  1. turning the compost pile
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    can this ~ ~ ~
    be love ~ ~

    [edited, below, on 7 Feb. ’13]

    all that we do
    by turning the compost–
    can this be love?

    [edited again, Feb. 8]

    compost pile
                   beneath the surface
    love in action

    [and again, Feb. 15]

    all that we do
    when turning compost–
    acts of love

    Note: I added an image to the Poet’s Gallery of a small art piece I did a few years ago, using as a model the bluff at North Beach here in Port Townsend. To see it, scroll up and click on Poet’s Gallery in the sidebar, or follow this link: http://lectiohaiku.inthecourtyard.com/poets-gallery/
    I added that image to go with my friend Alison’s photograph of North Beach, which she’s letting me use to go with the quotes in this post. (Thanks, Alison!)

  2. Such a Perfect Day

    The day dawned bright – a perfect day for friends and me to celebrate my husband’s birthday and spread some of his ashes around our house.

    I placed the urn of my husband’s ashes and the cased flag from his earlier memorial service on the server in the dining room. I surrounded the urn and flag with his pocket watch, pictures, Prince Heinrich hat, and the shells from the twenty one-gun salute at his memorial service. In a grief journaling workshop, I grew sunflower seeds in a pot as a symbol of hope. I used these flowers as the dining table centerpiece. Twenty-one — seven each of red, white and blue –balloons were tied to a chair.

    At two o’clock we gathered in the dining room. I read “Sea Fever” by J. Masefield, “Requiem” by R. Stevenson, “The Promise” by Robert Sexton, and my letter of farewell to my husband at which time I placed a yellow rose by his urn.

    Outdoors, we scattered his ashes and gathered at the flagpole with the U.S and Norwegian flags flying. On the count of three, we released the balloons and shouted Happy Birthday. The balloons took flight and made a formation that looked like his initial. We knew Mr T was with us.

    We finished the day with toasts, food, stories, laughter and tears.

    rose petals and prayers
    blowing in the wind
    ashes and dust

  3. Marybeth Bland says:

    Two years ago my disabled friend slipped out of her wheelchair and caught her neck on a strap. She had just entered her apartment, the door was open. It was Feb and cold. She was not found until two days later. The hospital could not warm her body .
    my friend was a devote mariner fan. By tribute her sister made a paperweight consisting of her remains for all her friends. It was in the mariners team colors

    Ashes mixed with blue glass
    sits upon my mantle
    My dear friend

  4. icicles
    hanging from the eaves
    primroses for sale

    I think this is my definition of optimism.

  5. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    Carolyn and Marybeth– like your haibun…. both very moving!

    I have tried to extend the range of my haiku by writing some haiku sequences. Here’s one where I combined a haiku written a while back to one I recently wrote in response to this month’s Genesis quote… [any comments/suggestions welcomed…]


    at the ol’ church door
    dry leaves gather —
    stepping through dust

    returning to God —
    shaking the dust
    off my soul

    • Hi CaroleAnn,

      I like the image of the dry leaves gathering at the church door. I can picture the doorway as a place where wind gets caught, and so do the leaves. The dry leaves break down into dust. (for me, this connects back to the Wendell Berry quote about the slow accumulation of humus over time.) And it could be that there’s other dust too. Maybe the doorway wasn’t swept this week!

      All that in the first stanza is what make the transition from the first to the second stanza so interesting. In your poem, the poet’s return to God involves both stepping THROUGH dust, and shaking dust off. So that makes me think about how the way back to God could be THROUGH my mortality, and also a process of shaking off the accumulation of all that stands between me & God: mindless habits, defeatism, and so on.

      That’s a lot for six little lines!

      A few comments on craft. For me, the contraction ol’ is distracting. I’d rather see “old” (unless I’m missing something?) And if it were my poem, I’d think hard about cutting the modifier all together. Now, I’m speaking of haiku as a literary form. In the past, the word “old” has been over-used in haiku, as an easy way to evoke poignancy and transience. Today, “old” is rather out of favor among haiku literati. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be used; just means it really needs to be the right word. Does it do what you want it to do? What happens to the poem when you cut “old”? Is there another descriptive word that brings the door more sharply into focus?

      I’m not saying you have to cut it; just give it a close look and think about it.

      My other comment has to do with gerunds, the -ing form of a verb. (Another topic that gets a lot of discussion in haiku critique groups.) Some haiku poets avoid gerunds all together, in part for the same reason “old” is avoided (overuse), and also because the gerund conveys more a state of being than a fleeting moment.

      Once again, I don’t mean to suggest that you can’t use a gerund. (I used one in my opening poem.) But your six lines contain three -ing verbs, which makes the poem feel a little static to me. You might look at the verbs and see if any of them could be in simple present tense. I kind of like “I shake the dust…” What do you think?

      Thanks for sharing this sequence … it’s rich with meaning.

      • CaroleAnn Lovin says:

        Margaret —

        Hi! Thank you for your comments and suggestions. I put ol’/old in the first line to signify that it had been a long time since going to church — both me and the church had gotten older! …but I guess that’s what the second stanza of the sequence says…

        Taking your comments and suggestions into consideration I’ve revised the sequence as follows… better??


        at the church door
        dry leaves gather —
        I step through dust

        returning to God —
        I shake the dust
        off my soul

      • Hi CaroleAnn,

        Yes, I do like that better. But now I’m going to contradict my earlier comment!

        I very much like “I step through dust…” and think that creates both a moment and movement through the moment. Much stronger.

        And now in the second verse, I would kind of like the echo of the two gerunds. With your new first verse, this makes for a better rhythm to my ears:

        at the church door
        dry leaves gather –
        I step through dust

        returning to God
        shaking the dust
        off my soul

        Now, a haiku purist might object to the two gerunds in the second verse, but I like it. I’d cut the second dash, because I don’t feel it’s needed to mark the break, and now the verses have a cleaner look to them.

        Ultimately, what matters is how it looks and sounds to your ears. What do you think?

  6. Marybeth Bland says:

    Wow. I do like the second version better Carolyn. Now Margaret , I read both Carolyn’s second revision and then yours over and over. Is it wrong of me to say I like Carolyn’s line better of shaking the dust? I just like the image this portrays . But maybe there is a third version. Who knows.

    I am still trying to write a haiku about the empty fieds where the strawberries grow in June . I have spring fever.

    • Marybeth, it’s definitely not wrong to say you like CaroleAnn’s line better! It really is a matter of taste. Your comment made me look back at CaroleAnn’s version, and now I’m liking it better than I did the first time. But I’m reading it differently too, with less of a pause between the stanzas.

      This is a rich & subtle poem.

      And I’m looking forward to your poem about the empty strawberry fields.

  7. ‘Neath silent blanket
    Dozing yesterday remnants
    Breath for tomorrow

    • Mary Catherine, this poem conveys to me the feeling of half-wakefulness, with remnants of yesterday floating in and out of consciousness, possibly mixing with dreams. This is an in-between time, taking taking breath for tomorrow. Thank you!

      • Your interpretation fascinates me, Margaret. As I wrote the haiku, I was personifying somewhat that which happens in nature with soil, ashes, etc. That was the sum of it, but you have taken me to a deeper level. In nature, it seems there is also, as you described, a time of waiting – half-wakefulness, dreams – where life may not be evident but nevertheless exists – continues to breathe in waiting and readiness for rebirth. You have taken me to another level of experiencing the Oneness with all creation. Thank you!

      • You’re welcome, Mary Catherine.
        Hurray for Oneness!

  8. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    I’m undecided too! Margaret, while I like your revision with the repetition of the -ing verbs in the second stanza, I also like my revision with the repetition of the ‘I’… ‘I step through…’ and then ‘I shake the dust’… that seems to make a bridge between the two stanzas…
    Hmmmm??? I’ll have to ponder it all for awhile!

    • CaroleAnn, ponder away. My own first impulse is always to drive forward to the point that I can declare a piece DONE. But over the years I’ve found it extremely helpful

    • Oops — my previous reply to CaroleAnn seems to have been cut off when posted. Here’s the complete reply:

      CaroleAnn, ponder away.
      My own first impulse is always to drive forward to the point that I can declare a piece DONE. But over the years I’ve found it extremely helpful (at times revelatory) to be able to suspend done-ness, and just put a piece aside, then look at it again after a few days or even weeks have passed. It’s surprising the clarity that distance can bring.

      • CaroleAnn Lovin says:

        Well, I didn’t really ponder my haiku sequence that much… put it aside and then the next time I read it, it seemed that it should be worded as follows:


        at the church door
        dry leaves gather —
        I step through dust

        returning to God
        He shakes the dust
        off my soul

        [The change is in the 5th line — changed “I” to “He”…] Any thoughts on the change welcomed!

      • Brad Offutt says:

        CaroleAnn, I like the change and the whole shift from specific/physical to metaphorical/spiritual. Dust can really get heavy sometimes…

  9. one more morning
    to wake up with you
    wishful dreams

    • Carolyn, this poem conveys two kinds of dreams to me … daytime dreams that wish for one more morning, and also waking up from a night dream in which the poet experiences that one more morning. I like the double meaning.
      (Also like the way this poem links back to Mary Catherine’s.)

      Thanks for posting.

    • Brad Offutt says:

      Oh, Carolyn, I so understand.

  10. Brad Offutt says:

    This is not a haiku, but I need to say it.

    ashes in Arlington
    under years’ layered covering –
    they are with me still

    And then a “more nearly haiku” from outside this afternoon.

    deer hoof stabbed at speed
    through mulch and loam to clay –
    garden visitor

    • Thanks, Brad. Your first poem conveys the feeling of poignancy and passing time — of what’s fleeting, and what’s not. Very moving.

      In the second poem, I like the image of a deer hoof stabbing through mulch and loam to clay very much … and like its connection to this month’s lectio.

      To me, “stabbed” conveys the image of speed, so “at speed” is redundant. At first I was thinking about cutting “at speed,” but there’s a little problem with “stabbed.” When I first read it, I picture a hoof that has been stabbed by something, such as a knife or trap. So I have to read it twice to understand the image. Even though stabbed is a very strong verb, if it were me, I’d try to go with something else that keeps the image clear. (or cut it)

      The way I read the poem now, “garden visitor” refers directly to the deer. That line’s contribution to the poem is in the setting, by placing me in a garden, which is cool. (I like to know where I am.) But I don’t need “visitor,” since the deer is already there in the first two lines. I wonder if the third line could say something about the garden itself, or maybe the season.

      deer hoof at speed
      through mulch and loam to clay–
      spring garden

      Or something else about the garden…?

  11. Miracle of miracles

    in pouring rain
    we stand along the road
    to see a birthing

    cheers and claps
    fill the air
    a wobbly calf

    Mom and babe are fine!

    • revision of the first

      in pouring rain
      a line of people
      to see a birthing

      • What a wonderful scene — thanks, Carolyn.

        You know, I kind of like your first version better, because it places me in a specific place. I like that it’s by the side of the road, and not in a barn. (In your second version, I would assume a line of people in a barn, possibly at an exhibit like at a county fair. Much more fun & spontaneous by the side of the road.)

      • Margaret,
        I have played with that second line and I keep coming back to my first choice — I like the we because it keeps me a part of the scene. I was so joyful at the birth yet I felt so much sorrow for the cow giving birth in a field in cold rain. In total it was a heart warming gut wrenching scene.

      • Yes, Carolyn, I like the “we” better too. Helps me enter into the poem.

  12. Marybeth Bland says:

    A nudge to my arm
    My lab wants attention
    A moment to pause

  13. Marybeth Bland says:

    I use a school composition book for my nature journal. The cover of this book is filled with the faces of birds. Some of the birds have their beaks open as if singing.

    There is one sentence written on the notebook. The more I read it I believe it Is a haiku. The author unknown. Here is the way I turned it into a haiku

    The birds are singing

  14. Marybeth Bland says:

    My last thoughts before sleep

    Berries all gone
    Robins leave
    No last song

  15. two hearts entwined
    adorn her ears
    his last gift

  16. Marybeth Bland says:

    I have been thinking this morning of Sharon losing hee husband two days ago, then Carolyn and Brads haikus of recent.

    Today I went for a walk my mind heavy. I was searching for crocuses but none had yet to pop up. Then I saw two things

    A large wet leaf
    It lies graciously
    Amongst purple heather

    • Marybeth Bland says:

      I forgot the last two lines

      A large wet leaf
      It lies graciously
      Amongst purple heather

      Spring arrives
      Ever so slowly

      • Thank you, Marybeth, for your thoughts and for the beautiful image of the wet leaf amongst the purple heather. Yes, spring arrives slowly, and still such beauty is all around. We look for one beauty, and see another.

  17. Margaret,

    I have played with this Ohio line since September and the answer has finally come to me

    falling on hard ground
    Ohio Sate football

  18. Brad Offutt says:

    After thinking about my earlier “deer hoof” effort, I’ve realized that what struck me in that moment was the disruption, almost violation, of the garden. The garden wasn’t really hurt much or sullied, but that’s how it seemed to see the “wound.” So…

    garden’s loamy breast
    pierced to its clay-bound heart –
    deer hoof

  19. blazing trail
    through my grass
    forty-eight hooves

    • Gee, I picture 12 deer, linking back to Brad’s poem … but I can also picture 12 sheep, even 12 cows!

      • Sometimes, Margaret, I think all 144 hooves are coming through my grass!

        How about

        blazing trail
        through my grass
        forty-eight deer hooves

        I just finished reading “The Country of Marriage” and I really liked “Her First Calf”
        especially after seeing that birth the other day!

        • Carolyn, if you like that better, I think it’s fine. I didn’t mind having those different images in my mind. Yes, isn’t Wendell Berry great? I went back and looked at “Her First Calf” — a wonderful poem.

    • Brad Offutt says:

      Carolyn, I love the link and this haiku. I “got” deer, I guess because that’s what wanders through our property, along with rabbits and coyotes. Bobcats and the odd cougar are around here too, but we never see them on our place. We once lived where flocks of sheep would pass just outside our fenced yard. I’ll take the deer!

      • Brad
        I like the hoof in your poem! Like the deer, I have lived here so long I am deeply rooted. I have learned to enjoy the liquid velvet eyes,twitching noses and flickering ears. I ignore the hooves and the tail end. There is a little fox that lives in the woods,some coyote, and lots of birds especially eagles here. An eagle got my neighbor’s cat. I thought I was seeing things when I saw that eagle with the cat in his talons but others also saw it. I think age like babies changes everything – I appreciate the wild life — no my life isn’t wild, I mean the animals and birds.
        Happy trails Brad!

  20. Marybeth Bland says:

    Loved everyone’s haikus. We only have raccoons and ocassinsl rabbits at our yard. One time a young rabbit got in the fenced yard but could not figure out how to get out. We assisted. Now I watch birds outside my kitchen window while eating.

    A peanut in its beak
    A raven flys past
    Morning breakfast

    • Marybeth, I like the image of the raven with a peanut in its beak.

      For me, this poem works better if “Morning breakfast” is the first line. Then I picture myself or the poet at morning breakfast, seeing this raven flying past with a peanut in its beak. The raven is having breakfast, too, and I feel oneness with nature.

      When “Morning breakfast” is the last line, then somehow I think it’s referring only to the raven. I don’t put myself or the poet in the scene, and lose that oneness.

      morning breakfast
      a raven flies past
      a peanut in its beak

      What do you think?

      • Marybeth Bland says:

        Yes that does work better.

        I need to come up with a new haiku . I discovered my daffodils are sprouting and have been for a day or two. I look in last years nature journal and saw they sprouted about the same time, the cycle of nature continues even If we are not paying attention.

  21. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    Here’s another “dust” haiku:

    stone keeps sitting
    winds keep blowing…
    dust in the wind

    Is it a haiku though??? The timeframe is a wee bit longer than a “haiku moment”!

    • Brad Offutt says:

      CaroleAnn, for me a haiku moment can bespeak weeks, or years, or eternity, but all bound up in one moment. You make me see the eternal stone abraded by the eternal wind, creating the dust that is an essential element for life. There is a troublesome rock in our back meadow that I have to avoid when I mow. I can’t dig it out because it goes down and down, getting bigger and bigger. The glacier left it and it will erode into earth for many millennia before it’s gone.

    • CaroleAnn, I like the image of the dust in the wind, and the immobile stone. You’re right, the time frame isn’t quite right for the conventions of traditional haiku, but not every poem has to abide by those conventions!

      If you want to make this more “in the moment,” you could go to simple present tense.

      dust in the wind–
      the stone sits the same place
      as yesterday

      That’s pretty different from your poem, and not necessarily any better. Just an example of something a little more “haiku” – like.

  22. low hanging stars
    glittering in the sky
    deep purple shadows

    • Looking at it from this view — too many gerunds?

      • revision

        early morning stars
        hang low on the horizon
        deep purple shadows


      • Hi Carolyn,
        Because low hanging is modifying stars, it’s not technically a gerund. I probably used the term “gerund” carelessly in an earlier comment, to mean any -ing form of a verb, but that’s not technically correct. A gerund is a verb that’s being used as a noun, usually in its -ing form. I probably should have used the term “present participle” to refer to the pesky over-use of -ing verbs in haiku … and sorry for this digression into grammar jargon!

        You could get more in-the-moment by changing “glittering” to simple present tense.

        low-hanging stars
        glitter in the sky
        deep purple shadows

        I like this, or your revision. I like your revision because it sets the time of day. Without that, I imagine that it’s night, probably after dark but before bedtime. I like being set in time. And I like “glitter.” You might have room to get everything in there:

        early morning stars
        glitter on the horizon
        deep purple shadows

        My only problem now is that I can’t tell where the shadows are. For some reason, that bothers me less if the poem starts with the shadows, maybe because then I just instinctively place the shadows close to me.

        deep purple shadows…
        early morning stars
        glitter on the horizon

    • Brad Offutt says:

      I defer to our mentor on gerunds, but I love the picture you make me see, especially the glitter of the stars.

      • I like all the versions really so I guess I will think about this poem for a while but I like the moment — morning as do you and I like the word glitter.

  23. Here is a work over of one of last months.

    wind tossed dinghy
    washes ashore
    lost at sea

    • Marybeth Bland says:

      Carolyn, I your above poem I like the word glitter and deep purple shadows.

      In this poem can you also retype the original? I would like to see the changes. I actually liked the first one.

  24. Marybeth Bland says:

    I went for a walk today after reading my nature journal of 2012. Feb last year was cold but everything seemed on schedule to arrive. So what would I find today?

    Out of nowhere
    They pop out of the soil
    Daffoldill sprouts

    For nature journalists this was the same week as last year. Will the crocuses now arrive at the end of Feb ? I am eager to see. More later

  25. the box
    sinks into the sea
    sailor’s grave

  26. Marybeth Bland says:


    At the time I liked the first version. I felt tossed around due to my broken leg but firmly anchored with friends and community. Now I am anchored and like both.

    • Marybeth Bland says:

      I should add the trainer came today to interview for the successor dog. Nickel is losing his eye sight and will be retiring . It takes a year or more to gef another trained dog. The process is sad and joyful.
      Nickel is going to a friends farm full of rescue alpacas , horses , dogs and cats.
      He will have a wonderful retirement. But I hope it happens no sooner than a year

      My dog sleeps
      A muffled bark
      As he dreams

      needs work. I am writing it AS I type. I wil rethink.

  27. Marybeth Bland says:

    I am always looking at nature. There is so much to see. When we first moved into our house I used to spot a great blue sitting by the pond, it faced our house as if it was watching us . Riding on the bus I would see it from time to time perched on someones roof, I would tell people this , they would reply they never noticed.

    This morning on the bus I again spotted something by a pond.

    Eagle or osprey
    It sits on a stone
    It’s feathers wet and ruffled

    • Brad Offutt says:

      Marybeth, I like the things you see! Do you know Mary Oliver’s poetry? She is a wonderful observer of nature.

    • Marybeth, I like the nature observations, and love it that you are going back to compare with the nature diary from last year. I enjoy doing that too. Sometimes I think that something must be happening earlier or later than last year, then I check my nature diary and see that it’s within a week. Every once in a while we get a stretch of nonseasonal weather, and then something different might happen. But it’s rare.

      And I love the image of Nickel asleep and dreaming. I hope that your year of transition goes well. I’m sure there will be ups and downs, and hope we hear about them.

      • Marybeth Bland says:

        Thanks . I thought everything might br different from year to year but it seems it is not. Yesterday I went for a short walk. Three hundred feet is my walk. Oh but it was so fruitful.

        a dazzling spot of yellow
        brightens the front lawn

  28. so many years
    and all that is left
    ashes and dust

  29. Marybeth Bland says:

    six ducklings
    walk in the middle of the street
    mom duck sits and waits

    This was a scene I saw a few years ago, Watching ducks swimming in the pond today reminded me of this. We live in suburbia where there is little traffic on the road.

  30. Brad Offutt says:

    moonlit conversation
    in forest where no one goes-
    coyote chatter

    • Marybeth Bland says:

      Beautiful. I would love to hear coyote chatter.

      • Brad Offutt says:

        Marybeth, thank you! When I opened our bedroom window about 10:00 at night, first there were a couple of barks and then a whole cross-talk of yipping and barking, with a couple of howls thrown in. It all went on for maybe a minute. Our place includes part of a very deep gully, left by the glacier, running down to Discovery Bay. When the coyotes are in the gully, they echo and it’s really eery. This time they were very clear and very close, in the big, third-growth trees this side of the gully. It was wonderful! Our dog really listened – an old, foreign dialect of her own language. Nickel would have pricked up his ears too!

  31. a little late

    tea and cookies
    at my table
    little girls visit

    Happy Valentine’s day

    • Brad Offutt says:

      And to you, Carolyn.

      • Marybeth Bland says:

        Brad is discovery bay near discovery park in Seattle? I uses to walk there many years ago and sit under this beautiful large cedar tree and read. I use that tree in my meditation sometimes.

      • Brad Offutt says:

        Answering Marybeth’s question, Discovery Bay is one of the two largish bays that extend southward near the eastern end of the south shore of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This is just a few miles before the Strait joins with Puget Sound. Discovery Bay’s water creates the western shore of Quimper Peninsula; Port Townsend is near the tip of that peninsula. The other, more westerly bay is Sequim (say “skwim”) Bay.

  32. presidents
    look down from Mount Rushmore
    granite faces

    Happy Presidents’ Day

    • And happy President’s Day to you too, Carolyn. You poem gives me the feeling that those granite faces aren’t exactly smiling at what they see these days…

      Here’s an old one, with a nod to one of our greatest presidents:

      a split-rail fence crosses over
      fields of summer grass

      • one more?

        no water
        left in the tub
        after he steps in

      • Well … that was a puzzler, Carolyn. I suspected you were still on Presidents, but didn’t quite get it. Was afraid I’d have to ask you for a hint … and then … after a bit of Google searching … I think you’re making a reference to an apocryphal bathtub story about W.H. Taft, our most obese President???

  33. Yes, it could be Taft who had a larger tub installed in the White House or it could refer to Grover Cleveland who got stuck in the tub. Either answer is correct.

    • Brad Offutt says:

      Wonderful! Yet another –

      he proposed the need
      of medicinal beefsteak
      for a music critic’s eye

      • This president was a favorite of my husband. Thanks, Brad, for the poem fun.
        Gotta run — it is my day to do volunteer kp for the Music Live program at St Luke’s.

      • Sticking with Brad’s prez…

        Missouri farm boy…
        worked hard, surprised the pundits,
        and loved his dear Bess

    • Carolyn, you made me laugh! Thank you.

      • Brad Offutt says:

        Margaret, apropos of my prez, he not only loved his Bess but his Margaret too; unfortunately, music critics did not! My mother went to William Chrisman High in Independence with Margaret; Mom was a big fan of Harry but told us that Margaret was rather a snob. In view of the respectable nature of this wonderful forum, I have avoided waxing poetic concerning the other remark my prez directed at the critic in question.

    • Marybeth Bland says:

      Grover Cleveland is a relative of mine. Cousin of my Cleveland’s on my grandmas side.

  34. Hey poets — Brad sent me this link to a Robinson Jeffers poem that echoes some of the themes in this thread. A moving take on the view from the other side:

  35. winter delight
    born yesterday
    gg niece caroline

  36. for the warm welcome
    baby Caroline says
    thank you

  37. Marybeth Bland says:

    Mine is not of babies. But babies are wonderful. My great neice was born in dec.

    I am writing about trees. A former baseball player took his neighbor to court to remove a very tall old tree. It was blocking the ex baseball players view. This player won. The minister did not want to fight anymore so he had the tree removed. A note, the tree was there before the baseball player even bought his house.
    And in the paper that same day was an article about road construction.

    Pines and cedars fall
    Beautiful trees cut down
    Make way for drivers

  38. Marybeth Bland says:

    More on the tree cut down, the minister!s tree

    an old cedar
    now a communion table
    praise to God

  39. Marybeth Bland says:

    To my great neice Kathryn Rose, nicknamed Kat, and to Caroyns neice just born

    Lively babies
    They grace the winter days
    Darkness becomes light

  40. Marybeth Bland says:

    My bone hS grown back sooner than the surgeon thought it would. It was not suppose to be this good unti may. So now I wait for thr last part by the ankle to return. but I can do all I want. I should mention though that it actually takes close to a yea for muscles to get stronger and everything to work right but

    We of certain age
    No bone should grow here
    Wonders it did

    Last line might need work. Older people who know me but not my exact age were surprised my bone grew back. That usually does not happen with people of your age. I thought , my age, is late fifties old?

    Radio on loud
    We dance
    My dog and I

    Rolling down the hall

    Possible spelling with last word

  41. tuned up gassed up
    big red ready to mow
    ugh flat tire

    under the weeds
    in the flower bed
    blue violets

  42. flesh

    one squeeze
    no breath
    the news

  43. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    Margaret and Brad–

    [Sorry I’m adding this at the end but could not seem to add it as a reply to either of your comments…]

    Thank you both for your comments on my revised “Dust” haiku sequence… Margaret, I’m not sure about changing “He” to “Who”… May have to go back into “ponder mode”! Can you give me an idea of your thinking on that suggestion???

    • Hi CaroleAnn,

      Here’s the poem:


      at the church door
      dry leaves gather –
      I step through dust

      returning to God
      He shakes the dust
      off my soul

      On “Who” vs. “He” … I could go either way. Just wanted to bring up the possibility. In my own writing, I try to avoid assigning gender to God when I can. And in other people’s writing, I’m always aware of gender when “he” refers back to God. I’m not offended, and I can get past it … just aware of it. Aware of having to get past it. Distracting. “She” doesn’t help. Unless used deliberately for its own sake, “she” is even more distracting! It’s unfortunate that English doesn’t have a gender-neutral personal pronoun.

      But I can see that in your poem, “Who” comes at a cost. Some of the rhythm is lost. With “Who,” there’s less break between the first and second lines, and the second part of the poem becomes a subordinate rather than an independent clause. With “He,” you have more of a sense of two separate actions: the poet stepping, and God shaking.

      So … like I say, I just wanted to bring it up, see what you thought. Depends on what’s most important to you in this poem.

      Thanks for sticking with this subtle and evocative work, and letting us share in your creative process.

      [P.S. You can nest a comment with others by backing up a bit and replying to the earlier comment that the others were replying to. We have an unusually long comment stream this month. I’ll post a new “starter” poem for March soon, and we can start fresh. Maybe I should be starting new lectio’s twice a month, if they’re going to get this much traffic! Then comments would be easier to track.]

    • Brad Offutt says:

      CaroleAnn, I like your sequence just as it is. I get Margaret’s explanation completely, but for me the cost of “who” is too high. If God is “He” for you, then go with it! Full disclosure – I am very much a Unitarian Universalist and very much a Christian. So I am coming to realize the unimaginable magnitude of God, or the Spirit of Life, or the Ground of Being. But since, for me, parts of the Christian path are so significant, I still call God “Father” in prayer. Your beautiful poem speaks so clearly to me and it says what you feel. If a reader is given pause by gender reference, what a great opportunity to ponder the poem and the poet in that context. By the way, God has shaken dust of my soul often; your poem did it again for me!

      • Thanks, Brad — well said.
        And more from me on this sticky subject in a comment on Carolyn’s latest, below.

      • CaroleAnn Lovin says:

        Margaret and Brad —
        I have to confess a real blooper! Margaret, when you suggested replacing ‘He’ with ‘who’ I thought you were suggesting:

        returning to God —
        who shakes the dust
        off my soul?


        For all the reasons both you and Brad give, I think I’ll leave it as “He”. I like the parallelism of the “I step…” in the first stanza and the “He shakes…” in the second stanza…

        Thanks for all your feedback!

        • Goodness — no wonder you were taken aback, CaroleAnn! Your interpretation of my comment is perfectly understandable — I’m so glad you asked for clarification. This posting/comment format is great is many ways, but also vulnerable to communication breakdowns that wouldn’t happen if we were face-to-face in a classroom.

          So anyway … yes, the parallelism with “He” is good. You’re welcome for the feedback … and thanks again for sharing your work & process.

  44. he, she, and it
    are personal pronouns
    god is all

    • So true, Carolyn!

      And your poem makes me realize that I mis-used the term “personal pronoun” in my reply to CaroleAnn. I said that English doesn’t have a gender-neutral personal pronoun, but that’s not true. I meant to say that English doesn’t have a gender-neutral singular pronoun that can refer back to a person.

      “It” is a gender-neutral personal pronoun. But it’s insulting to use “it” to refer to a person. And even though I might see God as greater than a person — as “all” (your poem), or as the “Ground of Being” (from Brad’s comment), still, it just doesn’t work to use “it” to refer back to God. Even more distracting than “she”!

      I’m in harmony with both your poem & Brad’s comment. It’s probably my technical-writer background that got me so sensitive to pronoun gender. While I was doing technical writing professionally, we could never use “he” to refer back to a single person of uncertain gender. And “he or she” is so awkward. Many work-arounds were devised. So that even today, years later, a “he” always makes my antennae go up.

      In writing sermons and longer prose pieces, my favorite work-around is to simply repeat the word God where I might otherwise use a pronoun. In most cases, that works just fine. Sometimes I’ll use a synonym such as Holy One, Creator, or Beloved, if it works in context.

      None of which really applies to CaroleAnne’s poem. But maybe worth a ponder or two.

      • Margaret, you are an absolute gem!!!!!!!!!!!! A looooong time ago I taught remedial English and some things still send my antennae skyward.

      • Brad Offutt says:

        Fellow poets, below is a link to a poem by Jane Kenyon that seems to me very pertinent to our consideration of personal pronouns. In case she’s new to you, it’s valuable to know that Kenyon was a traditional Protestant Christian in her personal religious practice and also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, battling endogenous depression the entirety of her all-too-short life. I’d also add that in some other Indo-European languages the gender-neutral personal pronoun “it” CAN refer to a person, based on the gender of the noun used to “name” the person. E.g., in German a child is “it” and a young woman can be “it”. In Greek the Holy Spirit (or any spirit) is “it”. In this poem, Kenyon surprises with “it” and leaves us to figure out whom/what she’s talking about.
        The link: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/briefly-it-enters-and-briefly-speaks/

  45. Marybeth Bland says:

    I loved the poem . Thanks Brad.

  46. carolyn says:

    is in the air
    flowering plum blooms

    • Yes, Carolyn! The peepers are starting their songs in the evening … and the red-flowering currant is coming into bloom. Spring is in the air. Thanks for the plum blooms.

  47. Dear poets,

    Ashes … dust … death … birth … Presidents … gardens … bones … babies … birds … church doors … spring blooms. We’ve ranged widely in the human heart and the human condition during February. Thank you for your courage and generosity in sharing your creative spirit.

    So … it’s March 1, and time to start a new conversation. I just posted a new Lectio for the month of March, “A New Heart.” You can get to it through the menu system at the top of the page. Just choose Lectio+Haiku on the menu, and the new post will show up on top of the listing.

    Or, here’s the link to the new posting:

    To receive email notification of all comments, make a comment (add a haiku) to “A New Heart,” then click the box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.”


    I can’t wait to where the creative spirit leads us in March.