Little Altars Everywhere


There is a friend who is older than birth
who danced with you before you had a body,
a friend who stays close to your life, the way
heat stays close to a flame.  Can you feel it?
I know it’s hard.  I often turn and it’s gone.

But you may have seen it in the glow
that remains for those few seconds after you
turn the lights off.  Or in the ache that beats
in your blood after you turn away
from something you love.

We each have a friend older than birth,
more patient than the ocean, more giving
than the rain, a place of safety
waiting like a nest of song whenever
we are ready.

All we have to do is put down the many
things we believe we have to carry, put down
everything we’ve worked for, not deny it or
curse it, but simply undo our grip, simply
untie our need to have it last.

If we can’t, the friend will wait
until we die, when it will carry our pain
like seed into God, the way the song swallows
smoke when no one’s looking.  But while alive,
if we can find what’s alive, the friend will
stretch its honeyed thread between our
heart and eye to sweeten what we know.

Yes there is a friend older than birth
who dislikes mirrors, but adores windows.

And when you look upon something with
love and close your eyes, the trace of light
you see is the litmus of the Divine, and all
you love, all you see with love, all you hold
in your heart after love–all are images that
the friend carves on the cave of your soul, for
the times you fall down and are forced
to look within.

– Mark Nepo, “The Friend”

Little Altars Everywhere

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,
soon enough the seas will sink your little island.
So while there is still the illusion of time,
set out for another shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
Give away all your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid.
Someone knows you‘re coming.
An extra fish has been salted.

– Mona (Sono) Santacroce, “Sono’s Death Poem”

Little Altars Everywhere


Some gods say, the tiny ones
“I am not here in your vibrant, moist lips
That need to beach themselves upon
the golden shore of a
Naked body.”

Some gods say, “I am not
the sacred yearning in the unrequited soul;
I am not the blushing cheek
Of every star and Planet–

I am not the applauding Chef
Of those precious sections that can distill
The whole mind into a perfect wincing jewel, if only
For a moment
Nor do I reside in every pile of sweet warm dung
Born of earth’s

Some gods say, the ones we need to hang,
“your mouth is not designed to know His,
Love was not born to consume
the luminous

Dear ones,
Beware of the tiny gods frightened men
To bring an anesthetic relief
To their sad

– Hafiz, “Tiny Gods”

Little Altars Everywhere


Bring me your pain, love. Spread
it out like fine rugs, silk sashes,
warm eggs, cinnamon
and cloves in burlap sacks. Show me

the detail, the intricate embroidery
on the collar, tiny shell buttons,
the hem stitched the way you were taught,
pricking just a thread, almost invisible.

Unclasp it like jewels, the gold
still hot from your body. Empty
your basket of figs. Spill your wine.

That hard nugget of pain, I would suck it,
cradling it on my tongue like the slick
seed of pomegranate. I would lift it

tenderly, as a great animal might
carry a small one in the private
cave of the mouth.

– Ellen Bass, “Basket of Figs”