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The Largest Possible Life

for Ruth and Gladys

Building a fire, love;

bent low

over a flame

I am afraid of.

Coaxing passion

from dry twigs

and dead leaves,

the failures of the past, dirty fingers,

and a moment of sunset

huge orange

hangs in one eye--

in my breast a sun

which, if I could see it, if I could

know it, would

light the world

with love. Then,

an unexpected memory

of my mother in the car, snow piled

along the gray streets

of Massachusetts. It was my sixteenth year

and we were fighting a life

and death struggle over my desire to give

myself away completely to love before

I had a self to give.

There she was, my block, my barricade,

my iron grate, my broken door--our one shared

passion, to hurt each other into truth, and

it was the millionth skirmish

of our everyday war when she said

"I don't know if I've ever loved anyone,"

and began to weep. Monks sit

in the middle of fires

they set themselves. They let

their bodies bloom

into suffering,

in the hope that, like this, they will open

someone's heart.

What do we have to

see, how close do we need to live by the

beautiful terrible flame of this world,

flame of ourselves, which is

the same thing?

How much anguish do we need to pour

from cup to cup, drink of melted rubies,

underwater food of the fevers that live

in our blood, in the light of our eyes

where infinite tears are waiting and still

you say, "Light a white candle," and I do, asking

whoever it is, Teach me to surrender

this mind that grasps at shadows

when the whole house is ablaze, when the only thing left

is to leap, carrying the impossible

weight in my arms, into

the heart of our fire, to melt and to bloom.

Originally published in Storming the Gates; women write about spirituality


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