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“To Be Still Enough” & “Where Music Comes From”

Two Poems

To Be Still Enough

Perched on the high Himalayan
slopes of cloud-shrouded Darjeeling,
this gracious old hotel, built
in 1887 as the summer residence
of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar,
with its wide-plank wood floors
and musty overstuffed chairs
sitting beside the glowing coal fire,
calls unexpectedly to mind
a remote place and time –
8,000 miles and decades away
in Litchfield, Connecticut
where my grandmother lived.

Peaceful House – built the year
before the American Revolution,
of white clapboard, with green shutters,
wood plank floors and overstuffed
chairs sitting beside a crackling wood fire;
dooryard maples flanked the front walk
and a grassy backyard tumbled
down through the woods to where
the Goshen River wound its way
to a beaver pond and spilling
over the log dam flowed
downward toward the sea.


I have lived several lifetimes
since I last wandered through
those woods and along the river,
yet I seem to remember
that once I succeeded
in being still enough
for long enough to
glimpse a beaver.


That may have happened
only in my imagination, though,
from the distance of four decades, 
I wonder whether imagining
isn’t as good as actually having seen –
I’ve forgotten so much of my life
and the sense of wonder
and gratitude is equally
rich a blessing either way.


I know there’s a great deal
for which I still must make amends –
none of us passes harmlessly
through this life, no matter
how pure our intentions –
which is why sitting high
on the Himalayan slopes I’m so grateful
to be reminded of Peaceful House
and of Grandma. She loved me
so easily, so openly,
so unconditionally, so lightly
that when I was with her I
only ever wanted to be better.


Even now, as I sit in distant
Darjeeling decades after her death
and hear the haunting call to prayer
of a muezzin emerge from the cloud-shrouded
minaret of a nearby mosque
and imagine her beside me,
I want to be better.


I’ve only ever wanted my life
to be a prayer (except, of course,
for when I’ve forgotten,
which, to be honest,
has been far too often).
I’m at an age where
what matters most to me is
to make each breath a prayer,
the event of a lifetime filled
with gratitude, wonder,
commitment, surrender.


They say if the clouds clear
in Darjeeling you can see
rising into the breathless sky
the snow-capped heights of
Kangchenjunga – the Five Treasures of Snow.
But the clouds don’t clear
and sitting in the glow of a coal fire
I have only faded photographs
and my imagination.


Litchfield, Darjeeling or anywhere else,
whether I actually saw a beaver or not,
whether the clouds burn away or not,
whether a grandmother long passed away
can be present in a different world and time
or not, the mystery is there in each moment
if only we will be still enough
for long enough to be filled with wonder
and endlessly grateful.



Where Music Comes From
            for Gwhyneth Chen

I’m not sure where music comes from
but I know you are. 
I’ve seen you settle yourself
onto a piano bench –
deeply-rooted as a mountain
rising into thin air – then pausing,
flow over the keys like a willow
caressing the surface of a stream,
the music of the universe yearning
to be drawn out of the piano,
out of your being,
out of thin air…

                        …and filling the thin air –

the rush of stream over rocks
the whip of wind through cascading willows
the brightness of afternoon sun in summer
the warmth of baking earth
the silent sound of golden poppies
invisibly unfurling as day shines night away.


They call it playing and I suppose it is
playing, as the Buddha played
once he had awakened
and saw so deeply
beyond the veil of illusion
into the heart of being.


You have journeyed there, I imagine,
because I have no other way
to comprehend your playing
except to believe it is born
anew in each instant
in that mysterious universe
where music comes from
inside your heart.


Both poems are from Light Reading – Poems from a Pilgrim Journey, a collection currently in search of a publisher.

Charles P. Gibbs     ©