Little Lights

The December darkness chills us
as the clouds have moved away.
Thank God for all the little lights.
A blessing, these strings and streams
of light, these marshes of brightness
in longer nights that bear the fall away.
No pumpkins now but here’s
the consolation of electric grace.

Oh Lord, there is sorrow without solace
but that night brings out the multicolored
dreamland of your Advent.


J. Kyle Kimberlin
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Saint John and The Frog

I was thumbing through an old poetry notebook of mine from 25 years ago. In an unfinished poem, I found a reference to this passage from the texts of Saint John of the Ladder.

It wants to be shared. What am I gonna do, post it on Facebook?

When we draw water from a well, it can happen that we inadvertently also bring up a frog. When we acquire virtues we can sometimes find ourselves involved with the vices which are imperceptibly interwoven with them. What I mean is this. Gluttony can be caught up with hospitality; lust with love; cunning with discernment; malice with prudence; duplicity, procrastination, slovenliness, stubbornness, wilfulness, and disobedience with meekness; refusal to learn with silence; conceit with joy; laziness with hope; nasty condemnation with love again; despondency and indolence with tranquillity; sarcasm with chastity; familiarity with lowliness. And behind all the virtues follows vainglory as a salve, or rather a poison, for everything.

Saint John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26, “On Discernment”

now thoroughly small and dry

It is a dry time. Good Friday comes and The Garden is behind us. Cast out and hunkered down in the dust, thirsty, in denial.

This scrap went into my notebook tonight:

The well is dry.
We have sat by it all night
wondering about the secret
answers far below
afraid to ask questions.


And this is from my long-ago book, Finding Oakland.


I went to find a creek
today   a stream   a ditch
any water moving
They gave up the habit
with the end of spring
No reason to cut earth
batter rock   carry mud
another year

Most died of boredom
In the trickle of summer
its not worth the trouble
Some went in glorious
any reason to live
is a reason to die

A few by their own hands
The act prepared
in the quiet heart
alone   with the sound
of flies only
Draining mostly through
small holes punched
in the dust


Here in the long, dry riverbed of Time, we need rain. We need kindness. We need to turn from the unreality of self interest in these unreal, indehiscent days.

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Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

– T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

A Terrible Thing


The Angel

It is a terrible thing to run dry, to be a man
caught out in the open under the great arcs
of light and darkness. In such places,
nothing but thirst will remind you of human desire;
nothing but the thought of God will recall your name.
I don’t know it. I can’t say where you came from
or where you dreamed you might be tomorrow.
I know only this step and not another.
The next step and none after that. 
Turning back brings no more hope than pressing on.
There is no water here.
I don’t know why you came at all.

The Crow

I have a beautiful song for you, don’t you understand?
No. You hear only Caw and Caw Caw, but that’s because
you don’t have ears. No fault of mine!
I can sing, fly, hop on the ground in the sun,
and tear apart those who have died.
My kind keeps things cleared away, and the song we have
is lovely because it knows the secret moments of a day.
The song contains time, and you can’t even take that
in your hands. It skips away and flutters, then it soars.

The Tree

I have my ally: The wind comes to find me,
flying for a thousand miles. We are in love
but the wind cannot stay.
The rain when it comes feels wonderful to me.
There is so much to love in my world.
I believe I love the water most of all.
Everything wants to touch me, to hold and caress
and I feel strong. I reach up for God and He is there.

We die as we live, silently and in peace.
Even in death we do not fall, but wait for the wind
to circle round the world again and ease us down.
So I am not afraid of you. 

The Dog

My life is a dance of ten or fifteen years, and I love
to hear my voice ring out into the all-too-silent world.
You can say so much with your silence, like the wind,
but a dog is a turning leaf and a sound.

There is a long river of light when the day gets old
and I grow tired, thinking of my food and where I sleep.
I am not afraid because the pack is with me.
I do not rest alone.
But you will, Man, and it makes me sad.
I have seen our tracks in the dust up ahead,
where they go from many to few, to two then one.
Mine don’t go on very long, but I have no words to tell you this.

The Angel

I could bring you thunder and rain without warning,
to rise and rush high in the scarred earth
and sate the dying filigree of trees.
But you would never ask Heaven for that.



Kyle Kimberlin

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Dread and Sympathy

… On writing into the unconscious.

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”  – Annie Dillard*

I chuckled effetely when I read this. I know about those visits, those bleak hours in the dim facility. You have to trudge far down the Formica-crusted hall, under flickering fluorescent, to Room 404: cohesion not found, please verify your path.

Get it? … Now that’s a little bit funny, right there.

Some of us write, not just to tell a story that we know and can tell, but to explore the unconscious, to give names and form to obscure emotions, to say the unsayable.

It’s not easy because it’s not fantasy, not entirely. We write ourselves so much, you know? And when the ink flows or the keys clack, we don’t always like what we find.

What can I tell you? Nobody confronts the pit and prune juice of his soul – and takes good notes – while watching puppies in a sunny park. It’s a night shift job, no way around it. So I should quote Cormac McCarthy, from The Crossing, because it happens to be the book on my desk right now.

It had ceased raining in the night and he walked out on the road and called for the dog. He called and called. Standing in that inexplicable darkness. Where there was no sound anywhere save only the wind. After a while he sat in the road. He took off his hat and placed it on the tarmac before him and he bowed his head and held his face in his hands and wept. He sat there for a long time and after a while the east did gray and after a while the right and godmade sun did rise, once again, for all and without distinction.

Keep the faith.

*Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989); Props to Poets & Writers .

What is Essential

Last night I was reading All The Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner. It’s an amazing novel, literate and deep.

So I was clicking my Kindle along contentedly, having a cup of tea, when I came upon this passage:

“I was beginning to comprehend it then, and I have not repudiated it now: that love, not sin, costs us Eden. Love is the carrier of death — the only thing, in fact, that makes death significant. Otherwise it is … a simple interchange of protein.”

Oh dear, I thought, a hit. A palpable hit. It’s going to cause a poem. What I wrote is not really on point, more tangential. But I wonder, if love gives death its meaning, then what gives love meaning? Isn’t it the soul alive, aware of itself with respect to life? And isn’t the soul on a restless journey? And where is it trying to go? 

To My Soul

I say to my soul child hush,
you have caused enough pain.
Be still and watch the birds.
See how they disappear
at sundown, looking for home.
Or maybe they carry it with them
in ways that we cannot even,
being human, comprehend.

Be still and know that God Is
so we are not, and if trees
can stand for a thousand years,
you can sit for a moment,
drinking water in the shade.

My soul will only misbelieve
and long for the rhythm of oceans,
how the storm comes bringing
the destruction of change.
Still, quietly, I sit here
and wait for forgiveness.

Kyle Kimberlin
October 2013

Tonight I found this quote on a friend’s poetry blog. I read it years ago and had forgotten it, but remembered somehow. I would have guessed the idea of “I say to my soul …” was from Rumi, or maybe Antonio Machado. Maybe so, but here it is in Eliot. The subconscious learns.

“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

— T.S. Eliot

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Happy New Year

In my last post, I promised to ponder ways to stop the year 2011 from ending prematurely. I failed as always. The clocks struck midnight, the neighbors’ kids made a bit of noise, and I went to bed.

December 31 always arrives for me with a feeling that reminds me of high school: If I could just turn back the clock a bit, I’d do better on the final exam. No really, this time I’ll study more! Not that I did badly in school, but I could have done better. And I doubt I’m alone in the belief that if time would just slow down, I could do better in my life today.

The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down,
You can’t let go and you can’t hold on,
You can’t go back and you can’t stand still,
If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will.
— The Grateful Dead

Such existential angst makes champagne contraindicated.  I’m glad to say, if nothing else, that I woke this morning free of  hangover. And despite having a nastyass cold, I went for a walk in the sunshine out on the bluffs.

Bluffs 20110125_01

So it goes. So we find our consolations where they are. For me, that means January 1 should remind me that I am a by the grace of God a Christian man, and by my actions a great sinner.

I guess my point is that if we’re going to assess and take stock, undertake a fearless and thorough moral inventory or something less than that, it’s good to start with the basics. Remembering first what’s at the core.

Here’s a little video. Really, it’s music with a picture to look at while you listen. Some might recognize it as the icon of The Holy Trinity.

Here’s an alternative picture.


The music is cool, because it’s the Valaam Monastery Choir in Karelia, Russia, but they’re singing the 103rd Psalm in English.

Whatever you find at your core, the light in me sees the light in you. God bless. And let’s just forget this whole New Year’s Day thing, remembering Matthew 6:34: “ Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Or as they say in certain other rooms, One Day At A Time.

A Call to Celebrate Sanity

Robert Bly is one of my favorite poets. He has shared the top of my list since probably 1985. I love his poems. I love his delivery. I cherish his sanity. It is so with all of those who inform our lives.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence?

Watch and listen to this.


What is it about the ones whose lives are meaningful to us? What do they have that we need, and need to emulate? I propose that we are seeking clarity, a sense of our place and time, perhaps a tesseract to who we’ll be and to those who’ve raised us up.

I’ve always loved the first sentence in the anonymous book, The Way of a Pilgrim. “I am by the grace of God a Christian man, by my acts a great sinner.” That’s clarity.

My grandfather used to tell me, “stay in the boat,” and that was clarity.

John F. Kennedy said,

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

The passage of a half century has turned that inside out. It’s not that the government is afraid to let us see the truth. It’s that the people are afraid to face it. We are a nation afraid of each other, not to even mention everybody else. We are afraid of the religions of our neighbors. And fear is not the opposite of courage. Indifference is the opposite of courage. Fear is the opposite of clarity, of truth, of sanity.

I am a Christian, not afraid of Muslims, or Jews, Buddhists, or Hindi. I love them and wish them peace. I’m not even afraid of the Westboro Baptist Church, though it makes me sick and I promise you it is no real church at all. I know this by a simple shibboleth: there is nothing in what they do or say that points toward Christ.

This week we have, many of us, been fixated on the personal implosion of a man who has lost his mind. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of this group of audacious lunatics, whose greatest and most ardently held tenet of faith is that they’ve figured out who and what God hates. Those people are insane. They have forgotten the face of love.

There are two things I know about God. First, that there is a God and I’m not Him. Second, that God is love.

With that I invite you, gentle reader, to join me in a search for simple clarity, whatever it looks like to you. Let’s choose one word, then another, and put them in their order. Let’s remember the faces of our loved ones, thankful that someone held our hand when we cried, hopeful for someone to do it again when we die. Because another favorite poet, William Stafford, had this moment of clarity:

Your good dogs, some things that they hear
they don’t really want you to know —
it’s too grim or ethereal.

And sometimes when they look in the fire
they see time going on and someone alone,
but they don’t say anything.



If I have hurt you, but I know
I have hurt you and left your love
withering like doves stunned
on wires, through countless days
of incredible sun, forgive the sun.

I have wandered off again,
looking for the perfect way
to make amends. I can’t imagine
finding it, except that you might
fly away and leave the wires

trembling and bare. 

Kyle Kimberlin
December 29, 2010*


Wiser men than myself have counseled the wisdom in taking personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admitting it. I’m sure they didn’t mean that coming face-to-face with one’s defects of character on an annual basis would be sufficient, and I hope no one thinks I’ve truly been so remiss. Still, as the year of entropy and disaffection yawns to a close, it seems fitting and proper to sweep the sidewalk just a bit. To the foregoing new poem, I would add just a bit.

I am a sinner who does not expect forgiveness. But I am not a government official.
— Francis Wolcott, Deadwood

No, that doesn’t seem quite right, normatively. I’ll try again.  

I am by the Grace of God a Christian man; by my actions, a great sinner.
– The Way of a Pilgrim, anonymous, Russia, 19th century

That’s better, because … you know … I offer my sincere contrition, gentle reader, if I have offended, this year. So I do hold out hope for absolution. Feel free to confer it in the comments. Bogdaproste. Many thanks for that, and for your attention in 2010.

pilgrim (Large) .


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