Mystery and Manifestations

Image by NASA                         1
… Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness….

… We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want….

             —tao te ching (trans. Stephen Mitchell), Harper & Row (1988).


Star light, star bright
first star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.

                  — English language nursery rhyme

We invite you to spend time in contemplation with these words from wise ones. Then join in the conversation with your own poetic response.

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

About Margaret D. McGee


  1. Autumn is turning into winter. Overhead, space between the leaves widens; underfoot, the carpet thickens. One lone hummingbird has decided to winter-over. I see her at the feeder most every day. Her sisters and cousins are streaming down the California coastline to warmer climes. Bingo and I need a flashlight for our early-morning walks.

    morning silence
    the light held in dewdrops
    on a bare branch

  2. a seed
    in the darkness of soil
    a blooming flower

    • Carolyn, I especially like “in the darkness of soil” in this poem.
      In this version, the haiku jumps from one season to another. What would you think of cutting “in” in the 2nd line and adding “holds” to the third line, keeping it in the present moment?

      a seed
      the darkness of soil
      holds a blooming flower

      • There are too many syllables in the third line.

        • Carolyn, you’re right that my version breaks the short-long-short pattern. And you know … the more I look at your version, the more I like it. Your “in” has the “holds” meaning. So … there you go. Keep it!

  3. Catherine McNabb says:

    Many people dread the long dark days ahead but I always look forward to it. I feel it is time for introspection, a gathering in and rest. Having said that I am a big fan of lights. I love the warm glow of the Christmas lights and it is the one part of decorating I really love. The contrast of the dark makes the lights shine brighter. The lights allow me to send a message to all of cheer, welcome and celebration.

    • Marybeth Bland says:

      I am feeling mixed emotions these days. Nickel is set to depart next Sunday and Friday to arrive the day after. Last night, nickel came into our bedroom and in his dog way asked me to sleep in the guest room with him. I wonder if he know what will happen.

      my black dog
      shakes his collar
      I awake

    • Marybeth, I like the way this simple, direct haiku juxtaposes with your mixed emotions.
      Will be thinking of you, Nickel, and Friday all through Advent.

    • Thanks, Catherine — I agree. I like both the darkness and the light. Can’t have one without the other!

    • Catharine,
      Your comment evoked warm memories for me. One year we spent November and much of December in Norway. It was a dark cold time to visit but the Norwegian love of light made it wonderful. We stayed with my husband’s cousin, Marit who especially loved light. She lit candles in early morning and had small electric lights swaged in all the windows. These lights burned all the time but we were all very careful about making sure the candles were extinguished when leaving the house or going to bed.

      In the previous summer a young cousin died tragically and on this day we were going to the churchyard cemetery to light candles in glasses for a celebration of his life and other deceased family members. It was difficult to light the candles so we all huddled in a circle around the person lighting the candle. The candle was then placed in small metal holder at the gravesite. Graves were stacked in Norway so one candle served more than one person. Standing there it mattered not that I spoke broken Norwegian and they spoke broken English, that we lived miles apart and I that I didn’t know the people in the graves. It was such a feeling of oneness with the earth and those before us.

      chattering teeth
      in a cold wind
      warm hands

      • Thanks, Carolyn, for sharing your story in this evocative haibun. I especially like how language was no barrier to the small community formed in this ritual of remembrance.

        And poets — Carolyn also sent me a photograph of the church where they lit the candles. I’ve posted it in the Poet’s Gallery, which you can view through a link in the sidebar.

  4. Marybeth Bland says:

    in the old pot
    hangs a purple bean
    missed in Falls harvest

    • Marybeth, I like the purple bean in the old pot. Is the pot part of a container garden?

      • Marybeth Bland says:

        Yes. I wonder how I missed it. It is so large. Maybe it blended in with the foliage abd now the limbs are bare.

        To add to my worries they are talking of snow flurries next Saturdsy and snow on December 10. In between nickel retires and Friday arrives. Whenever I tell people there are not many days until Friday comes, they ask me which Friday I am talking about.

        One word
        Means two things
        my word

        a bundle of joy
        a yellow lab

  5. Marybeth Bland says:

    I want to change my haiku

    One word
    two meanings
    my word

    a bundle of joy
    a yellow lab

  6. Marybeth Bland says:


    When he arrives I will say, thank God, it is Friday. Too bad he is arriving on a Monday. . And it is like having a baby. Everyone wants to know when they can come over. What toy should they bring. And like the mother of a new baby I must say we need time to bond ,. Call before you come.

  7. words form
    out of the the ink well
    starry night

    • haikucircle, what a great juxtaposition … the words forming from the darkness of the inkwell, and the stars across the darkness of the night. Makes me think — do my words hold light? I think of others’ words that bring light to my life. Thanks for sharing this.

      • Margaret ~ thanks for the comment…I am a firm believer that our words hold light and love your connection. I’m reminded of this: “In the beginning was the Word…in Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…”

  8. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    from the dark earth . . .
    night-blooming cereus blossoms
    reach for the stars

    • CaroleAnn, I like this image very much. Especially like “night-blooming,” and the introduction to a new flower, which I looked up! The flowers are white and remind me of stars.

      Haiku purists might object to “reach for” in the third line, as bordering on anthropomorphism. Something like “echo the stars,” or another approach that suggests an objective relationship between the stars above & the flowers below, might help. But I am not such a purist that I object — just saying others might.

      • CaroleAnn Lovin says:

        Margaret —

        Since the blooms are on vines, how about:

        from the dark earth . . .
        night-blooming cereus blossoms
        twine towards the stars

        • Yes, CaroleAnn, that solves the anthropomorphism. But I have to say that I like the sound and simple language of “reach for the stars” better. Haiku emphasizes the use of natural language, and “reach for” is more natural-sounding than “twine towards.”

          Here’s a little nit-picking: if it were my poem, I might cut “the” twice:

          from dark earth…
          night-blooming cereus blossoms
          reach for stars

          What do you think?

          • CaroleAnn Lovin says:

            Margaret —

            At first I didn’t like your revision but then I repeated the poem a bunch of time ’til I got the rhythm of it . . . Later on, though, when I repeated the poem again, the second “the” snuck back in!
            The poem seems to want to be:

            from dark earth . . .
            night-blooming cereus blossoms
            reach for the stars

          • CaroleAnn, I like it!

  9. I must say, I really enjoyed reading everyone’s haiku this time around.

    My mind went in two directions with this one. When I first thought of mystery and manifestation (or sign) I though of the eucharist, which is both. So I wrote this:

    locked in a gold box
    the small white host
    and darkness

    But I’m at school now and all my thoughts are taken up by how to make gradeschool children into better readers. I think of the boy who was in my resource room minutes ago:

    manifests so slowly
    hidden in dark eyes

    • Kathy, I like the imagery, especially the use of color, in the first haiku very much. I’m wondering about “locked.” Maybe that’s accurate … but I confess it makes me a little uncomfortable to think of the host locked in anywhere.

      On the second one, I can see how your school experience inspired the poem, but I feel there’s not enough imagery in the poem itself to make it come to life. It gives your thoughts about your experience, but without the explanation, it doesn’t convey an experience to me.

      Might help to anchor the poem in place. Then I have an idea who the dark eyes belong to. Here’s a start, and I’ll punt the finish to you:

      grade school library
      dark eyes […]

      I used “library” for simplicity’s sake, but you could put in resource center if that works better for you.

      • You know, as I was closing my computer I thougt “locked is realy the wrong word. It sounds punitive, when really there is something holy about the eucharist being enclosed in sacred darkness. But then the next group of kids came in and I lost the thought. Glad you caught it.

        tucked in a gold box
        the small white host
        and darkness

      • I don’t know if there is really a haiku in the seconde one. It might be one of those that are more for me to capture a moment rather than create a great poem. But here’s another go.

        his dark eyes scan
        struggling to decode
        I hold my breath

        Oh! So much education jargon in that one! I don’t know . . . one more try.

        resource room –
        he struggles to read
        I hold my breath

        Meh . . . I like the Eucharist poem best. Thanks for the tips.

        • Kathy ~ I really like what you are attempting here…here’s something you might try as you revise and contemplate the poems you are seeking to write: 1) How might the poem look if you removed “I” from them? What would need to change? How might it draw more of a picture which invites others into the experience? 2) Is there a way to bring nature into your observations? I find this always helps with writing a haiku ~ although I think you are capturing some of the essence of senryu. Great to read your work this morning ~ have a great day.

        • Kathy, I’m with haikucircle — I like what you’re trying to do. And I agree with you that the resource room poem isn’t quite a haiku … yet. Thanks for sharing your creative process!

          • Thanks haikucircle and Margaret. I’m glad that you think the poem may have merit. I was about to give up. Let me take it to my morning meditation tomorrow and see what happens. I’ll return in a day with either a revision or a white flag.

          • Okay, third try’s the charm. My meditation took me in a different direction, but I played with the words and ideas this morning over breakfast and here’s what I have.

            he can read
            but he holds his words like breath –
            wait for the exhale

            I like that is illustrates how painful it is for him to hold in the words, but he really has to mull them over for so much longer than his peers. But he has to exhale, and he always does come up with the words when given enough time. Oh, but it’s often maddening waiting for him to finally get them. Not very haiku-y; perhaps a senryu?

          • Kathy ~ it is wonderful to see you revise and revise ~ this will only lead to better poetry and better living and seeing! Here is my suggestion ~ show and don’t tell…one simply way to employ this in the above poem is to consider removing the word “like” and instead paint a picture of what you have in mind. Great work.

          • Kathy (and haikucircle) in this case “like” didn’t bother me (though it’s true that similes generally aren’t used in haiku). I was thinking of suggesting you cut the second “he”! Two he’s and a his were too much for me.

            he can read
            but holds his words like breath–
            wait for the exhale

            It’s interesting that the “he” in this poem could be any age. I can picture an older man…

            Yes this is probably more senryu than haiku. I like very much where you have gone with this poem, Kathy. Thanks!

          • Well, thanks for pushing me!

            I like both suggestions.

            he can read
            but each word is a held breath-
            wait for the exhale

            By the way “he” just left my room. My principle was observing me today said I did beautifully with a difficult student. I think that writing this poem forced me to put into words the way I see him. The poem went from hidden ability, to me holding my breath while he tries to read, to him holding his words in, but wanting to get them out. In the process I myself went from trying to dig out the ability, to holding my breath impatiently as he reads, to just waiting – giving him room to “breathe.” I think this is why I like haiku so much, because when you work at it; it can affect the way you see the world.

            Thanks for your patience and wisdom.

          • Oh wonderful ~ I love everything about this post…indeed, this is why haiku matters!

        • Brad Offutt says:

          Kathy, I have been so deeply moved by this ongoing story. Your words, and your caring, encourage me so much! One of my ongoing prayers is that there be more teachers like you. I know the joy of seeing a learner start to get it, and the brief agony of wondering if “it” will be gotten!
          And – I really like the eucharist poem. But it is not dark in there at all really. After all, in truth, “hoc est corpus meum…” May this Advent be full of light for you.

  10. water in the pot
    turns into wine
    first miracle

  11. Marybeth Bland says:

    I enjoyed the process and like the result

  12. Marybeth Bland says:

    At dawn
    two robins eat
    a huckleberry feast

    • Nice image, Marybeth.
      Lucky robins. Everything’s frozen around here!

      • Marybeth Bland says:


        Every year I wonder when the birds will start eating the huckleberries. They started yesterday. It seems frozen ground is usually what starts it. I will look at the date last year.

        • Brad Offutt says:

          Marybeth, thank you for the image of robins happy with what they have. May these next two days end in joy for you too.

  13. Brad Offutt says:

    I’ve been mulling something over for weeks now – one of “those” special moments that beg for expression. It doesn’t really work well for classic haiku, but trying to express it has already been a most valuable exercise. So here’s how it is now; maybe it will continue to change and grow.

    Venus shines so bright,
    born again in frigid air –
    God’s reminder

    • Brad, I have been enjoying Venus too in the past week — as big and bright as I’ve ever seen her.

      You’re right that this poem doesn’t follow haiku conventions (at least as they are generally followed today … it’s amazing how “conventions” evolve over time!) but I like the image.

      The last line is a little puzzling … not sure at first what it’s reminding me of. Being born again? That being born again can come “out of the cold”?

      For me, the last line could be left off all together, and the focus put on the image itself. “born again in frigid air” is powerful & evocative on its own.

      • Brad Offutt says:

        Margaret, I think I was trying to get too much in, or to use too many words. Here’s what was/is in my head. As you know, the Greeks call that “star” (planet) Aphrodite. So in some poems I’ve called her that too. But we Americans know her as Venus and I didn’t want to introduce any more “strangeness” than necessary. For reasons I cannot explain, I am drawn to Venus. She is a stable point in the night sky no matter where I travel. She is dependable and beautiful too, like my Sandy. But you know how moved I am by the Christmas season. It is my favorite time of the year. I believe in the incarnation and for me it is the one greatest miracle of love and caring ever to take place. The “God’s reminder” was a flawed attempt to express how seeing December’s Venus makes me remember the timelessness of the nativity story and the importance of the Star. What about:

        Venus shines so bright –
        nativity in frigid air

        • Thanks for sharing your creative process, Brad. I like the revision. It evokes the star of the Magi, which didn’t happen (for me) in the earlier version.

        • Brad…wonderful to see your process here and I really like the revision. I am also reminded of Venus as the “bright morning star” ~ a title used for Jesus as well! This to me heightens the scene of the nativity that you bring to our attention.

          • Brad Offutt says:

            Thanks, Margaret and Haikucircle. Haikucircle, I’d not thought of this part of the Venus tradition. Lots to think about!

  14. joe proctor says:

    every day
    at five o’clock
    her voice

    • Joe, I really like this. So simple. The poem doesn’t say explicitly whether the voice is welcome or dreaded, but the feeling that comes across to me is of a familiar, and welcome voice.

      • joe proctor says:

        Thanks Margaret. Always appreciate your comments. I’m going on retreat next week to Gethsemani (Thomas Merton’s monastery) and hope to merge haiku writing with meditation and journaling.

        Merry Christmas,


  15. Buying gifts for each other was not our strong suit! It seemed there was always something wrong with whatever we purchased — we already had it, it didn’t fit, the reasons went on and on. Then one holiday season I found the perfect gift – a beautifully packaged wine making kit for only five dollars. I just knew it was for him! I took my package home and wrapped it in beautiful blue paper.

    Finally the day to open gifts came. He was thrilled. He put the kit in the garage cabinet where it remained until the next holiday season. Again I wrapped up the kit and gave it to him. We had a good laugh over the regift. I gave him the kit for several years. I varied the packaging from year to year. Figuring out which package held it was a wonderful holiday mystery.

    his clothes
    in the good will box

    • Oh, Carolyn, this one really hit home. I chuckled reading the prose, then gasped when I read the haiku, and tears came to my eyes. Very powerful haibun. Thanks for sharing.

      • Can you believe it will be three years tomorrow and I didn’t think I could make it through the first day. I guess the years have filled my clay pot with unknown strength and courage. This site has been one of my saving graces. Thank you Margaret!

    • Brad Offutt says:

      Carolyn, me too – I’m with Margaret and couldn’t say it any better than she did. Beautifully written – thank you.

  16. Thanks Marybeth!

    I have been wondering how you and the new dog are doing, I hope all is well.

  17. Marybeth Bland says:

    My néw dog was delayed. He is arriving Thursday night. He was born and raised in MI. They will drive him to the airport in Chicago to board his flight. He will land in Seattle this Thursday night . The trainer will bring him to my house Friday morning. Friday arrives on Friday . The 13th no less

    Snug in his kennel
    a yellow lab sleeps
    at home we wait

  18. Dear Poets — For those of us who have been following the saga of Marybeth, the retirement of her service dog Nickel, and the advent of her new companion dog, Friday — Marybeth sent me a photo of Friday, and I have posted it in our Poet’s Gallery.

    You can go to the Poet’s Gallery and see Friday through this link:

    Or, there’s a link to the Poet’s Gallery in the sidebar on the right side of this page (scroll up to see it).

    Thanks, Marybeth, for sharing Friday’s picture. We are sending our best wishes your way.

  19. Marybeth
    Congratulations on getting your new dog Friday! He is beautiful.

  20. Marybeth Bland says:

    Friday is still a puppy. He turns two in March. We are working on him going to his mat wheb people come to thr door and picking things up I drop. Also working on his bonding with me

    He reminds me of a toddler who is into everything. Like toddlers he wants to explore. He smells our carpet every morning. Maybe nickels smell is still there. Like a toddler everything is new to him. Last night he saw something different.

    glass windows
    reflect my dog
    he barks

  21. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    Wrote this awhile back in respopnse to quotes but with all the holiday hoopla just getting to post it now!

    star light gathering. . .
    in the emptiness
    of the deepest pot

    • CaroleAnn, this is lovely. I especially like the way “pot” brings to mind the “bowl of sky,” but takes me to a new place. “Pot” is such a plain, direct little word. Very haiku. And “the deepest pot” combines that plain simplicity with the vastness of the cosmos. Nice.

  22. Poets, I have news to share with you. I’ve accepted a job at 1Energy Systems, a green energy company. I’ll be writing a variety of things for them, from software documentation to marketing material. They are a small start-up company, creating products to help utilities store and manage electricity produced from green sources such as wind and solar. I think it’s good work, and will make a positive difference in the world.

    It will also greatly effect my time, especially during the work week. I plan to continue posting a new Lectio+Haiku passage each month. I’ll respond to postings when I can. My responses to a week’s postings might happen all at once over the weekend. I know you’ll understand. Please continue to share your inspirations! And please continue to comment on each other’s work. The conversation is truly a gift to all.

    I’m happy and excited about my new job. It’s good to be paid!

    God bless us every one,

  23. This morning I awake to a world covered with white. I jump out of bed and slip on a jacket and sneakers for the trip to the paper box. On the way I say hello to the girls – the deer herd. The herd’s presence in my yard use irritate me to no end but now I accept it as one of the things I cannot change so I might as well enjoy it. I look around at the silent world and enjoy the dazzling kaleidoscope of colors created by the neighbors’ Christmas lights. I see a couple up the street throwing snowballs for their dog to catch. The woman makes an errant throw and hits her husband instead. He squeals with the cold impact. She laughs. I feel like an intruder in their fun so I quietly make my way back to the warm house.

    I wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a most joyous New Year.

    in the snow
    hungry raccoons

  24. Marybeth Bland says:

    snowy rooftops
    adorned with Christmas lights
    rain starts to fall

  25. Brad Offutt says:

    I was down on the Oregon coast working last week, on our 47th anniversary. Sandy came down to join me. We love the condo/hotel we stayed in, partly because I have gotten to know the staff so well. They are truly wonderful people and make guests feel like family.

    cards, confetti, wine
    welcome us back to our room –
    unexpected love

  26. CaroleAnn Lovin says:

    star bright *
    thankful for God’s love
    this night

    Wishing y’all Peace, Love and Joy all year through. . .

    — CaroleAnn

  27. glowing embers
    in the fireplace
    ouch says santa

  28. star light *
    thankful to be here
    looking up

  29. first star
    in the silent night
    herald angels sing

  30. here’s a new haiku w/haibun & haiga that fits the prompt @

    • Beautiful, haikucircle — the image, prose, and poetry each carry their weight, each supporting the other without duplication. I especially like the turn that the haiku takes, bringing in the generations. It made me think of God’s promise to Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.”

  31. Marybeth Bland says:

    Haikucirccle I loved the Haikun and Haiga so relevant to me as a child. Until one day my older brother said what I was wishing upon was a satellite and not a star. Wishes do not come true with satellites. I disagreed.

    The sky darkens
    street lights go on
    up above magic begins

  32. Marybeth Bland says:

    My Quaker meetinghouse is nestled inside a field filled with conifer trees and birch trees. Often during our worship we hear birds sing and spot wildlife passing by . Today was a little different outside

    we sit
    In silent worship
    a sapsucker joins us

    as we rise
    It’s wings open

  33. Marybeth Bland says:

    I just realized I used the word worship twice. This one has been hard to compose. I will keep the paragraph but change what is written after

    we sit
    a sapsucker joins us

    as we rise
    it’s wings open

    • Marybeth, I love this unconventional picture of worship, and the melding of human and nature. Especially like your use of the word “nestled” in the prose, and the name “sapsucker” in the poem.

  34. HAIBUN CCCIV: beginning
    I woke with a chill upon my feet and headed downstairs. I built a fire and made coffee. I entered a space of comfort and beauty. In the quiet of the dawn I heard the fire breathe.

    a bend in the trail
    footfall upon fallen leaves
    under open sky

    • haikucircle, I especially like the prose in this haibun. Love the simple sentences!
      Interesting contrast, to go from the intimate, enclosed feeling of the prose, to outdoors & the open sky in the poem. Wasn’t sure I liked it on first reading, but I’m warming up to it. “footfall upon” feels a little awkward to me, along with the “fall” echo. Did you decide against “footsteps on”?

      • Margaret…Thanks so much for this comment and interaction. I appreciate how you have sat with it as well. I am actually a bit delighted that “footfall upon” feels a bit awkward to you as it fits perfectly in my mind the tension and yet excitement that comes with the unknown that can be found around the other side of a trail. The footfall and fall echo as you call it was indeed intentional. I wanted to emphasize this concept of fallen as it applies to the leaves as well as the spiritual state and that within that fact that we stand within that reality there is above us another reality ~ i.e. the open sky. Footfall works for me as I think it gives both the image of a step as well as this idea of the fallenness that rests within each of our steps. Within this is a subtle connection with the prose as it pertains to the idea of ashes falling upon ashes as the fire burns. The haiku and prose then work in parallel as the dawn is another image connected with the open sky along with rebirth and the idea of eternity. Herein lies a liturgy or cycle of journeying into the mystery.

  35. sunrise
    murmuring coals
    on the fire grate

  36. Blessings of Christmas-to-Epiphany to all you poets!
    You might have noticed — I just posted a new Lectio+Haiku for January, and for the birthday of the new year. Hope to see your new inspirations there.