The Sunday Poem: Lisa Gill... Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist, XVI & XIX

In his Seeds of Contemplation, Catholic monk Thomas Merton wrote, "The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you." Living alone in a trailer next to an alfalfa field, Lisa Gill wrote back. Red as a Lotus consists of 100 poems dedicated to Merton, who died in 1968.


Like life, Red as a Lotus is a peaceful mystery--a book that reaches and while it's reaching, the reader's mind wakes and the body wakes, and the tingling world exists as language and right next to it. It's sort of a prayer and a love letter and something to keep next to the bed and the toilet and on your writing desk. Damn, she's good. Maybe she's talking to Thomas Merton, but Lisa Gill wrote it for me.--Eileen Myles


XVI.


One of my grandmothers got caught reading the newspaper
upside down. Can you blame her? What’s written there makes
you think the whole planet’s topsy turvy, yet most of us
only blink at poverty and war because we have to, closing
our eyes is involuntary. My grandmother though, she tried
to turn the entire world on its head and instead got carted right off
to doctors. They operated to remove a brain tumor and fix her
world view. During surgery my father surmised God would let
his mother live when he saw the sky change colors. And she did live,
though I suspect he only saw what happens most days, a sunset
or a sunrise, which makes me wonder if it takes some sort of lesion
for this species to see what’s really going on. Perhaps my grandma’s
skewed vision, corrected like a straying sheep, was an opportunity
for all of us to reassess what we find so right-side-up in this world.


XIX.

When I placed a stone on my tongue, a friend told me
not to be too hard on myself, as if the stone were in my hand
and I was using it to bash my head. But my mouth is not gored,
wind and sand have worn the stone’s edges smooth, so I did not
try to explain, and the rock in my mouth didn’t even whimper.
I have been talking for decades now, and maybe my voice
is nothing in the sea of words, just one more small abrasion
but my friends’ ears must be ringing and what have I said?
If silence is more awkward than speech, it is because finally
we feel the weight that is always on our tongues. So I am
a slow learner and need a reminder to become quiet and
even then, my thoughts run like a deep spring. If I cannot go
into the desert to become a hermit, I will take the desert
into my mouth and begin to practice with friends.

--Lisa Gill


Poetry submissions are welcome. Email theditchrider@gmail.com. The whole Sunday Poem series is available from the front page of the DCF by clicking on The DitchRider in the left-hand sidebar. Poems early in the series are archived under "previous post" at the bottom of The DitchRider blog.

Views: 20

Comment by Margaret Randall on November 15, 2009 at 7:38am
Lisa, it is wonderful to see and reread these poems here, powerful and to the point as they were when I first devoured them in your book. Merton still has so much to teach us, as do you. The first poem flashed Eduardo Galeano's El mundo patas arriba before my eyes. Your grandmother's image, reading the newspaper upside down, will be with me for a while... no need to keep close the "system's" corrective strategies: they bombard us daily and from every direction. Your work is so valuable to me, Lisa. Thank you.
Comment by Barelas Babe on November 15, 2009 at 10:06am
I think about the meaning of silence quite a bit these days, Lisa, and your poem, with its crisp imagery, has started my thoughts a whirring. As you note, the cacophony of thoughts drowns out the external silence. I am especially taken by your merging of silence with the presence of friends. Thank you for sharing your poems with us on DCF and at so many Albuquerque venues - the city is richer for your presence.
Comment by Ben Moffett on November 15, 2009 at 10:16am
Perhaps Emily Dickinson felt that her words would never be heard, but they are recited somewhere every day,despite the fact that they were not much noticed during her lifetime. You seem to be off to a much faster start.
Comment by Merimee Moffitt on November 15, 2009 at 10:26am
Lisa, I love the first lines and phrases and everything that follows like a good day the beginning to the end, in both You are a comforting poet, a soft inspiration, a gentle teacher (newspapers, stones)--poems about stuff, things that are keys to our locks, just sitting around in our everyday.
Comment by JeSais on November 15, 2009 at 11:45am
Lisa, how nice to relish your words, to roll them around in my mind this Sunday morning......
Comment by lisa gill on November 15, 2009 at 3:30pm
Thanks all and especially the ditchrider! Gratitude,
Comment by Rich Boucher on November 16, 2009 at 8:49am
"Perhaps my grandma’s
skewed vision, corrected like a straying sheep, was an opportunity
for all of us to reassess what we find so right-side-up in this world." -

My goodness, Lisa, this hit me like a ton of bricks.
A ton of them. Your writing is moving, and hard to forget.

Thank you,


Rich

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