I Stand in Winter’s Teeth

Joy is on the brain today. Not happiness; I don’t qualify right now. But joy, or what I have called “reliable consolations” — that’s a topic worth these pixels I’m printing it on.

Yesterday I had (in the midst of a difficult day), the opportunity to sit for an hour and half with about 20 other earnest and sensitive, intelligent souls, and talk about joy.*

We agreed that we couldn’t quite agree on a definition. We agreed that joy is complex, and doesn’t take the same shape for all. We agreed it’s not happiness.

Someone said joy is a reprieve. Someone said it’s grace. Someone said maybe we try to stuff too many huge and contradictory things into this little word. I said maybe one reason joy is such a good thing is because it’s too big for us to hold. It’s a challenge, and an invitation.

No one said: joy is holy. I’m thinking that out loud for the first time just now. But I think we were reaching for it, collectively.

A Camaldolese monk told me once that most of the time, we meet God in very small things. A great conversation, a blossom we’ve been watching for days that suddenly opens, a satisfying meal, et cetera. Small moments of transcendence. (He also said: don’t go looking for the big moments. They’ll find you when it’s time, and they’ll be A Lot. Don’t borrow trouble.)

Those small moments — I realized as I left that conversation — are the reason I compose. They’re the force, the experience, the absolute yes that I write poems in response to. Even my darker pieces are a reaching-out to joy when I am desolate. A reaching toward the consolations around me. The holy challenge.

What am I trying to say? As usual, I illustrate it better in poems than in prose. I wrote a whole book that’s just a reaching out to reliable consolation. My next book is that too, though very different. Every writer has a topic or a struggle or a place or a need that beats with our hearts and pulses in everything we pen.

So I’ll end with a poem.


Some days, my access to God is just
to watch the ragged, bleeding edge of sunset
blur and shimmer into pink and scalloped waves.

Shore must be forming too, hidden
in the universe between two folds of night.
As clouds have swallowed the brave and waxing moon.

Heel-toe to rainslick
plane-tamed cedar

I stand in winter's teeth
and I say


*And poetry, and spiritual practice — which is what we were all doing there in the first place, in a 4-week gathering hosted by Poetry Forge and helmed by Chris LaTray, a human I’m always pleased as punch I get to call friend.

5 thoughts on “I Stand in Winter’s Teeth

  1. I am chastened by your words. And invited, How can I welcome the holy to speak more boldly in my poems? Here’s one for you.

    After Michaelmas

    Windchimes sound
    in the still dark morning

    The dim air announces itself
    an hour before the sun


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