Christine Valters Paintner

 Crossing the Divide

She walks, as if from a dream, into your life,
ribboned hair unraveling, brown eyes
like cups of tea, come to whisper
a secret into your trembling ear.

You try hard not to listen, clinging
to your calendar, your achievements, 
your loneliness, until the silver ache 
of it all spreads through your limbs

and she holds out her hand across
the ravine, and you see how the chasm
is not empty, but filled with a rushing
river, and you can swim until

you become fish and flow, until
you are the ancient stream
emerging from stone,
until her face becomes yours.
 


Peace Comes from Dropping Slow” 
(after WB Yeats)
 
Do you count your heartbeats
hoping for a million more?
Or number your breaths, sharp and quick?
Or the steps you take across
this glorious earth?
 
Until one morning you see how time
is fleeting but also impossibly slow?
That time is best counted in moments:
sips of wine spreading gladness
through your limbs, blush
of breathless conversation
while embers glow, waiting
to be stoked and set aflame.
 
  “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved” 
(after Nazim Hikmet)
 
I never knew how much I loved
heavy rain on a Sunday morning
curled in bed with coffee
a Morse code tapping the windows
telling me I have no reason to leave.
 
I didn’t realize how much I adored
peonies until one May afternoon
I spent four hours photographing
the bouquet you brought me
for no reason on our dining table.
 
I never knew how much I cherished
the alchemy taking place in kitchens
until I mixed wheat and yeast together,
felt it sticky in my hands,
and from the oven emerged bread.
 
I didn’t know how much I loved
this sagging body of mine,
until one day the mirror showed
me not scars and marks, but a story
of what it means to endure.
 
I never knew how much I loved
the forest until I walked so far
and so long my arms were coated
with moss and my life became
a fairy tale written in the snow.
 
  Handless Maiden
 
The world conspires to sever our hands
a hundred different ways, leave us
unable to embrace, to reach,
to tell us at least it wasn’t your head,
be grateful for that.

You’re still alive and allowed roam free,
and instead of staying to live an artificial life
fed from false riches, you choose 
to go into the forest,
her long branches all around you
the scent of damp earth fills your nostrils.

You somehow know once you’ve lost the path
you’ve found your way into the dark pulsing
heart of life, to the place that does not sever
but offers healing as freely as a rushing spring,
cold and brisk on a hot summer day,
and you try to drink it all but realize
there will always be more water
than you can take in.

The overflow is the point,
and you kneel down in front of it,
in your deepest bow, head tilted to earth,
hands re-grown and submerged in the icy rush;
and you remember this is what it is to be loved,
to drink from love, to swim in love
like the sea that suspends you,
to breathe it in like summer’s first lilac
carried on the breeze.
 “Where Are You From?”
 
I stumble over this pleasantry each time,
born in Manhattan, raised among
steel spires and yellow cabs, parents
long dead, no siblings either,
west coast dweller for twenty-one years,
first in San Francisco, foggy summers
and bridges in every direction,
Seattle beckoned with forests
and sea, I learned to love the rain,
until Europe called, Vienna
where my father’s ashes are buried,
red streetcars, imperial presence,
finally to Galway, Ireland,
on the edge of the Atlantic, fierce winds
each winter and rain that buckets
and lashes, stories by the fire,
stones that hold prayers and sing,
far from American shores,
the Otherworld so close.
 
  Every Day Has Its Dog
 
Dog of Monday
rolls in grass, legs flail like salmon in a cage
Dog of Tuesday
bows deep before me, calls for frolic
Dog of Wednesday
wet nose directs my hand to fur, chin, ears, belly
Dog of Thursday
curls nose to toe, black crescent on blue blanket
Dog of Friday
dreams of the chase, taste of feathers on sleeping tongue
Dog of Saturday
            tail wags at homecoming, a tiny flag in heavy wind
Dog of Sunday
            leans against me, sighs, eyes large and brown.

Christine Valters Paintner is an American poet and writer living in Galway, Ireland. She is the author of twelve books of nonfiction on creative process and contemplative practice and her poems have been published in many journals including Crannog, The Galway Review, Tiferet, Anchor, Spiritus, and The Blue Nib. Her first collection of poems, Dreaming of Stones, is published by Paraclete Press. You can find more of her writing and poetry at AbbeyoftheArts.com.

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