Little Altars Everywhere



Though your friends and family
will likely try
to save you from it,
yours is nobody else’s
business or responsibility.


You cannot cause,
manufacture or manipulate it.
It comes, if at all,
as gift to be received
with gratitude.


Hope to receive it
and prepare by giving away
what you least want to lose.
On this point
Jesus and Buddha dance.


Refuse to carry the burden
of maintaining it.
That’s unnecessary baggage,
will betroth you
to a boulder and a hill.


If you receive some,
scatter it like seed.
Sharing assures preservation.
As with manna,
held tight, it rots.

– Bonnie Thurston, “Five Precepts on Happiness”

Little Altars Everywhere

I am tired of my dreams’ dark interiors
and the family ghosts who inhabit them.
It is July, and the man I love has brought home
Bing cherries and watermelon, the way my father used to
when I was a child, bags of groceries
jostling each other in the back seat of the station wagon,
daughters running out to the driveway
to carry them in with both arms. Downstairs, the rooms
sing, laughter and sun moving easily
from one to the next, a jar of white peonies
on the kitchen sill, a tawny cat
stretched out in glory on the dining room table.

Clink of ice cubes in tea,
hoops of wetness on coasters,
I will bring back these small things,
the freckles on my mother’s arm,
how the neighborhood was golden
that hour after supper, when the table was cleared
and there was nothing to regret. I will empty
this moldy hurt from my heart
until light fills its chambers, until there is room
for everyone from that house to enter
and know they are welcome.

– Francine Marie Tolf, “Summer Poem”

Little Altars Everywhere


One morning
we will wake up
and forget to build
that wall we’ve been building,
the one between us
the one we’ve been building
for years, perhaps
out of some sense
of right and boundary,
perhaps out of habit.

One morning
we will wake up
and let our empty hands
hang empty at our sides.
Perhaps they will rise,
as empty things
sometimes do
when blown
by the wind.
Perhaps they simply
will not remember
how to grasp, how to rage.

We will wake up
that morning
and we will have
misplaced all our theories
about why and how
and who did what
to whom, we will have mislaid
all our timelines
of when and plans of what
and we will not scramble
to write the plans and theories anew.

On that morning,
not much else
will have changed.
Whatever is blooming
will still be in bloom.
Whatever is wilting
will wilt. There will be fields
to plow and trains
to load and children
to feed and work to do.
And in every moment,
in every action, we will
feel the urge to say thank you,
we will follow the urge to bow.

– Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “One Morning”

Little Altars Everywhere


Peace is an odd word for the bubble of all there is
breaking repeatedly on the surface of the heart,
but I know of no other. The Native Americans
come closest; nothing between inner events
and what to call them. I see you and you always
glow. Why not call you One-who-shines-like-a-
sun-upon-first-meeting. Why not call the moment
of doubt and fear: Dark-point-spinning-loose-
that-presses-on-the-throat. Why not call the
moment of certainty, the fleeting moment
when everything that ever lived is right
behind my pounding heart, why not call
that moment: Beat-of-the-thousand-wings-
of-God-inside-my-chest. When I feel love so
deeply that I can’t bear it, when I feel it so much
that it can’t be contained or directed at any one
thing or person, why not call it: The-stone-at-the-
bottom-of-the-river-sings. Why not call you: The-
Why not call this miracle of life: The-sound-that-
– Mark Nepo, “Utterance-That-Rises-Briefly-From-The-Source”

Little Altars Everywhere

Over and over we break
open, we break and
we break and we open.
For a while, we try to fix
the vessel—as if
to be broken is bad.
As if with glue and tape
and a steady hand we
might bring things to perfect
again. As if they were ever
perfect. As if to be broken is not
also perfect. As if to be open
is not the path toward joy.
The vase that’s been shattered
and cracked will never
hold water. Eventually
it will leak. And at some
point, perhaps, we decide
that we’re done with picking
our flowers anyway, and no
longer need a place to contain them
We watch them grow just
as wildflowers do—unfenced,
unmanaged, blossoming only
when they’re ready—and mygod,
how beautiful they are amidst
the mounting pile of shards.

– Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, “The Way It Is”