Writing

CAN’T STEP TWICE…

“Can’t step twice into the same river, Professor Herakleitos said.”
Robert Bringhurst

even the salmon, struggling upstream
find in their first bed a new tumble of stones
strange tangle of leaf and silt glitter of gravel
always the language of water alive on the move
always its carving glyphs and signs in walls
that will never fully contain

so we come to foreign places
find wreckage of what once was home

What the body remembers is not enough

Bruised bodies wait hovering over deep pools

feeling for clear currents
the rush and muscled surge to rise beneath our ragged flesh
so tired now nothing left but surrender

Breathe
Breathe through your open wound
be blessed by the source you swim in
retrieve the nourishing steam

taste your own dying

and leap

let the wonder the moving river
carry you on

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NO ONE WHO FALLS…

“No one who falls can rise without help from the ground”
Robert Bringhurst

Green fold of the forest
silent temple of trees
pliant cedar

alder pine and paper birch roots touching
the dead all the fallen
laid to rest in leaf mould, loam and humus black
centuries underfoot the loss

held in twining hands
this stitched weave whispering
refuge ground of being
what is cut and severed still will rise

every breath of the woods confirms
like a sigh in my own bones calling

remember
every wood you have been lost in

and how the ground always rises to meet you

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THE HEART IS A WHITE…

“The heart is a white mountain”
Robert Bringhust

before you a journey

begun before you were born
existing, waiting, flowing toward you

drawing your whole body upslope
because it is there

vanishing

the closer you arrive
to its immensity

a lifetime of walking growing
quiet seeking the trackless

simply to feel
not separate

from this spine
of rock

to touch
emptiness

heart soaring
its hermitage of stone

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THE SEA HAS NO END…

“The sea has no end, in spite of its edges.”
Robert Bringhurst

Saltsour smell of the sea
kelp, fog and wet mists scour shoreline and skin
touch distant stirrings
of another salty cradle
opening me to this world of tides

Why do we never tire
of the cupped shell to the ear
speaking of the sea blood tide
everything passing through
spiraling gyre of our plastic
light and stones hungers
silence and ancestors bouquets of bone
and roses
her footfalls

floating seed
weave of earth and air and
water
washing my feet

universe
waves without end
within without

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HORIZON

The horizon has inspired me all my life.
Two mysteries, coming together
Pulling you to the edge of the world.
Like lovers, sea and sky disappear into each other.
There is not a line, not really
Just the aching sky and the trembling sea
Touching
And all the silent air, full of praise.

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POEM ON APPROACHING THE AFTERLIFE

Before I fall silent, I want to say
do not turn away..
Feed them. Give to them. Be in gratitude
give to the broken and empty.
Give to your own starving heart.
For every hungry ghost, give up your life.
For years now, I have mistaken despair for caring
like many—I have been sleeping.
Wake up!
Do not hesitate because your tender heart is almost gone
we are all killing something
you have this courage
forgive yourself, and go on loving the world.
Accept your gift.
You are the one
who can stretch out your hand in the dark.

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MY PADDLE

MY PADDLE’S KEEN AND BRIGHT
FLASHING WITH SILVER
SWIFT AS THE WILD GOOSE FLIGHT
DIP, DIP AND SWING.
DIP, DIP AND SWING HER BACK
FLASHING WITH SILVER
FOLLOW THE WILD GOOSE FLIGHT
DIP, DIP AND SWING.
MY PADDLE’S DARK WITH BLOOD
MY SOUL IS GRIEVING
FOLLOW THE DOWNSTREAM PLIGHT
DIP, DIP AND SING.
DIP, DIP AND SING THEM BACK
MY SOUL IS GRIEVING
FOLLOW THEIR DOWNSTREAM PLIGHT
SING, SING THEM WHOLE.
MY PADDLE’S KEEN WITH DEATH
BROKEN, EACH ANGEL
TAKE HEART AND BEAR THEM UP
TEND, TEND EACH SOUL.
TEND, TEND WITH GRATITUDE
EACH BROKEN ANGEL
TAKE HEART AND BEAR THEM UP
TEND, TEND EACH SOUL.
MY HEART IS FULL AND SAD
BEAUTY AND DARKNESS
TRUST IN THIS SUFFERING WORLD
GIVE, GIVE YOUR LIGHT.
GIVE, GIVE YOUR LIGHT AND LOVE
WONDER AND BEAUTY
TRUST IN THIS SUFFERING WORLD
GIVE, GIVE YOUR LOVE.

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GRATITUDE not greed

GRATITUDE
n o t g r e e d
W O N D E R
n o t w a s t e.
Not tar torn from tundra,
but boreal beauty,
untouched lakes and speech of streams
not mute songbirds,
but swift flight of waves
cascading silence
Visible holiness of water
tumbling pure wet rivers
like a mouthful of tears
Listen to their names:
GREAT ARCTIC OCEAN DRAINAGE BASIN
NORTHERN RIVERS BASIN
NORTH SASKATCHEWAN
SASKATCHEWAN
LESSER SLAVE
CLEARWATER
KALAMAZOO
ATHABASCA
PEMBINA
McCLEOD
FRASER
PEACE
SLAVE

HAVE
MERCY

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ALL THE THINGS I CANNOT SEE

In my dreams
I read your heart like Braille.
Blind hand in the dark
reaching for you
across the gulf of all transgressions.
In darkness you speak to me
phantom of the night, invisible as the owl’s wing
opening black air, my heart,
beating its silent cipher
together we cross the threshold
of this vast, transparent world between us.
All this space, this amorous breath,
this fierce embrace, this universe
of all the things I cannot see.
Give me insight, bring me stories of the dead
show me their wisdom.
Though blind as the old prophet
I am willing to read your skull with my fingers
for love persists. She leaves traces.
Love is lacunal, alive as the future
curled in the body’s cave.
Love is the one always coming back to you.

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LIGHT ALWAYS COMES

I am surrendered to the geography of the heart
trusting the dark
blood language, breath, flesh and bone, abandoned infinities
stripping my life naked, transparent as first dawn
Trusting the dark
crossing the unknown sea, navigating by rapture,
stripping my life naked, transparent as first dawn
every new night ablaze with all its spacious stars
Crossing the unknown sea, navigating by rapture,
knowing the only wilderness left is my body
every new night ablaze with all its spacious stars
light always comes
knowing the only wilderness left is my body
humble lost country patient for my discovery
light always comes
to the heart prepared to tear her shroud

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I WANT TO SAY TO YOU

I want to say to you
Let go of everything
Be like a ripe plum
thin skinned and full
ready
to fall
I want to say
you need to lose a world to know
nothing is ever lost
Like the wind the heart
holds everything
here, in the gift of
every mourning
rises the black winged bird of
liberation
Listen,
be fearless
there is death
in every birth
dance lightly as petals
returning to the earth
Most of all
I want to say
you were always more beautiful
than you imagined
I want to say to you
You are beloved
You are beloved of the earth.

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ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID

The poet Hafez says; “Give your sight to the blind”.
I am blind to many things. I go on looking, looking, looking.
Painting is my practice. Creativity compels me. I paint and write as one blind, groping toward insight.
I look at simple things. I study light and flowers, the peony, the rose. Inside that one thing, I see all the complexity of the world. When one surrenders again and again to the one thing, there are mysteries that reveal themselves. With sustained attention to the ordinary object, beyond resistance, beyond grasping, I learn to see another world, a more hidden one. Looking closely, looking deeply, the rose opens. The rose opens me to the wonder of the world. Beauty touches me, and for one moment I am made more sensitive, more aware, awakened to a deeper reverence for life.
Poetry too, is my practice. With words I make effort to restore silence, to write with words the unsayable silence at the heart of all things. Every word is a gesture pointing to the quiet holiness of the purely lived moment, the wholeness of each moment. In my Braille paintings I embed poetry into the surface of the canvas as a symbol; the unknown as guide. Blindness is my teacher. Touching the places of my own blindness asks of me courage. I am asked to turn inwards to listen to the voice of guidance found in my heart. I am asked to give of myself, to reach out into the darkness, into the unknown frontier of my consciousness. As an artist, as a person it is my journey to ask difficult questions. Looking deeply, and listening with hands and heart teaches me insight.
With these hands I strive to bring beauty into life and with these same hands I destroy life. These hands are stained. With oil, with bitumen. I struggle with this paradox. I am seduced by the richness of its color. I am using a substance toxic to the land, to the people of the land, and yet in this heart of darkness I have found golden luminosity. How do I make sense of this?
Life is a continuous mystery, a miracle. Wonder and gratitude are my antidotes to despair.
This summer I watched an eagle kill a Canada goose. I was close enough to see the pure white down of its breast feathers turn pink as they were torn one by one from its body. I was close enough to see the bird struggle for its life beneath the eagle’s talons. I was close enough to see that in her last moment the bird turned her head with one eye to the sky and stretched out her neck, laid it down on the earth, letting go all struggle. Was I witnessing a gesture of surrender? Or was I seeing the heart of the universe laid bare, the intelligence and generosity that turns the wheel of life, every life laid down for another? I saw the wild bird offer up its life.Light is the sun’s offering to the world. At the very heart of the universe is a molten core of generosity. The sun is giving of its own body, billions of bits of energy every second extravagantly thrown out into the universe as the gift of light. Ancient sunlight is oil. Oil is plant matter made of sunlight, flowers compressed and decomposed. Without the gift of flowers we could not breathe, we would not be here. Flowers changed the world. With these hands, I bear offerings of painted flowers, flowers made of their own dead bodies.
In my own world of paradox and confusion, blindness and blinding awe for life, I see that speaking of the wound, not turning away, but being willing to bear witness is both gift to myself, and gift to the world. In this sustained practice of awareness, the practice of painting and of poetry, I have learnt that I must be a gift to the beauty I see. It is not enough to live in the world just to take, just to eat. I must be willing to offer my life. I must accept my gift and go on loving the world. Wonder brings me to reverence for all life. Wonder is the paddle I persist in dipping in the waters of life. Though my heart be broken, again and again, yet I must bring it to bear. We are all downstream.

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FORMS OF PRAISE

“My work is loving the world.
Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes
A mouth with which to give shouts of joy.”

From Messenger in the collection “Thirst”, by Mary Oliver

These paintings are my expression of astonishment, my form of praise.
Here is my gratitude for heart and body that feels the beauty of the world.
Here is my attention tuned to the fragile and the ephemeral, my soul in stillness
and in question, listening to these ethereal voices from another realm.
Contained in the fleeting life cycle of a flower I see all the pain and passion,
all the struggle and the ultimate surrender creating the beauty of our own existence.
Like love that blooms in the heart, flowers are fragile envoys of the sacred.
Arising and dying, arising and dying, awakening us to our own rootedness
in the divine.

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TEN THOUSAND FLOWERS

“The waters begin in the mountain snows, but when they flow to the sea, does not part of the mountain reside now in the ocean?”
Stephen H Buhner

In giving of myself to the practice of painting plants and flowers, I have felt the inseparable unity of the world. In devoting one’s attention to a particular manifestation of nature’s beauty the infinite is revealed. At the heart of the flower is the body of the world. The world of the flower is space and form, emptiness and presence, radiating inward and out, unified by a sacred intelligence possessing an intention for beauty. I perceive that the center of all things is spirit. In the shaping of petals, the painting of calyx and corolla, I began to ask myself “What are the limits of the organism?” I began to see that the flower is no more independent of its observer, than of its scent or stem or the soil in which it is rooted. This October past, in picking up the fallen fans of my seedling gingko tree, I heard the echo of 200 million years. I held the wind, golden leaves and the footprints of a dinosaur walking across my palm. I felt the intimate interweaving of the consciousness of all beings. All the whirling energy of the universe, all that I could see and breathe was breathing me, and all this energy was one living, breathing, and intelligent organism. I see that I am no more distinct from the landscape than the flower; we are inseparable. The ruby river of my blood, the cells and bacteria blossoming like microscopic flowers in the hidden chambers of the heart, the million grains of pollen dusting the leg of a bee, the nebulae of sunflower and galaxy: all the world is flowing into itself.

As I write this, I look at the potted blue hyacinth on my desk. Five long leaves rise like the slender fingers of a hand to shelter the flower’s central stalk. Pendulous ovals cluster tightly together, each one whispering to me of spring, each bud closed around the secret of a perfume yet to spill its seduction. I remember that 50,000 years ago, our ancestors the Neanderthals, buried their dead with whole flowers. In their graves were found traces of pollen grains. Left behind, beside them, this trail of dust tells me I am looking now at an ancient version of the blue hyacinth. I look again at the buds of my plant. I see a circle of radiating tears. Each droplet containing a universe of sorrow while holding the hope and promise of a wild, blue, bursting renewal.

“In religious art, the golden flower represents fulfillment, and when a human being tries to symbolize what it is they really want at the end of the line, very often one thinks of a flower. Yet that golden flower isn’t at the end of the line- you are living in it. The radiating petals, the mandala, the great circle of the flower is the galaxy you live in, and the whole universe radiating around you”.
Alan Watts

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THEY SHOULD PUT OUT THE EYES

“They should put out the eyes of painters as they do those of bullfinches, to make them sing better.”
Picasso

Drenched in moonlight
the midnight water is moving
the river to the sea
past the open mouths of
coyotes howling at the full round song of the moon
calling back to herself
all the waters spread beneath her
all the waters inside us
all our inner tides complicit
rising to her round measure of time
appearing and disappearing in her cool silver sphere
this lunar wax and wane true as the shadowed penumbra of our imaginings
wandering our own warm sea like a blind prophet
singing out in this vast emptiness
for us to hear the words of invisible power.
Listen to what calls from the deep well of darkness.
Incorruptible celestial guide lighting our skins
shining bright as coins
closing the eyes of the dead.

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STRETCH OUT YOUR HAND

I want to make you weep for the beauty of a line
I want your heart to break open with the ache of space
I want you to feel the absolute present entering through your skin
your breath, your eyes full of tears.
The way light suddenly streams forth and eternity reaches out its arms from the sky,
the blue heaven and all its clouds.
I want you to know love.
I want you to know the secret
of your own life.
I want you to know the meaning and the mystery
and all the shining splendor of your existence.
But I need you.
I need you to abandon yourself to the mad purity of the living present.
I need you to open your heart.
I need you to stretch out your hand in the dark.

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CEREUS BLOOMS AT NIGHT

Cereus grows patience like a soul.
One whole year guarding the dream within it.
Nothing in its twisted emerald stem to suggest its invisible core
the slow unfolding of petal and sepal,
into sudden explosion of fist-size bloom
trembling under moonlight.

Like all of us,
imperfect in awkward skins
secretly guarding our heart
slowly, slowly unveiling
in the beloved’s reflected light
one delicate membrane at a time.
By love’s courage transformed
we reveal our luminous centre.
Beauty becoming its own light in darkness
Beauty carrying its own death within it.

The cactus has one night of wild rhapsody
Bright burn of truth
consuming past and future.
We live the myth incarnate
over and over.
Each time we blossom
inside the breath of love
we die a little.
Some small piece of us
sacrified to fire
Purifying our inner lead
into the divine white flower.

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SHINING LIKE THE SUN

“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun”
Thomas Merton

The leaves of the sunflowers
bear tremulous witness
to the wind’s passing breath,
each branching green holding a heart
shivering in the shadowed light of evening.
This is the hour when the golden heads
cast vainly for their sun.
All the brightness of the day disappeared
and they hanging forlorn,
not seeing themselves turning into light
where all the shining gold is bursting from their crowns.
Ripe blossoms bright as flares against the coming dark.

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PEONIES

It is said that if you plant peonies too deep
the flower will never find its way to the sun.
Only the aculeate cuneiform of leaves
forever mouthing the lost. But these full,
round, ruby spheres of flame
bursting from green fists
were blind three years,
and now grow and hold in bright bodies
with glow unmistakable as the dying anchorite’s face
of faith and praise turned toward her heaven,
abandoned red stems now curled round
as halos, heaviness dropping your heads
with the weight of rain
to pool the crimson stain of petals
bowing low to kiss the ground
where I see in the dark loam
the faces of women,
those gaelic poets buried
upside down
so no muse would trouble them
in the afterlife.
I am hearing their ossianic chants
trickling down
words like fingers blindly reaching
for the seed that will
always rise.
Lead them back
to the light.

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GRATITUDE

I am listening
With the night falling I am emptying myself into silence
into the tide of darkness I am listening to gratitude
I am saying thank you
I am stopping to remember the slow downbeat of wings
as the great blue heron sailed above the cottonwood trees
I am saying thank you
as the frogs suffocate in the stench of polluted ponds
as CNN broadcasts the news of the dead
I am saying thank you standing by the river
that feeds the distant sea and me
I am bowing my head in gratitude to the indigo hearts of iris
and the man whose deep heart entrusted them to me
I am saying thank you within the noise of beatings
and the cries of the destitute and the lonely
I am giving thanks for bread and the ruby wine
for blood, and poetry of word and nature
the rhythmic arrangement of leaves and language
I go on giving thanks in the knowledge of hatred, cruelty
and the sorrow of what is lost
I give thanks for the kiss given that afternoon my heart was sad and you noticed
I am giving thanks for breath and giving thanks for death
in whose hands the forests are falling faster than the minutes of my life
I go on saying thank you thank you thank you for the transitory and the true
Thank you for the bittersweet beauty of days
dark though it is I thank you
thank you for the light that always comes.

after W.S. Merwin

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STURGEON

How dark the river runs in the early morning still pale with stars. I stand at the edge with my pail of ash, perfectly still. Out there, in the deep, down below the rushing current I feel them. I know their phantom forms. The contour of ancient armor, the bony plates protecting soft white flesh. I see them clearly, though here, at the surface, the river’s skin is thick and oily and I am blind. Each morning I come with my offering of ash and never see one. I like to imagine them. I like the elusiveness of those living fossils unchanged for 250 million years. I like knowing that some things are invisible. I am pulled to the depths, to the bright lure of eternity beckoning from the deep. Sometimes, in my mind’s eye, I see them there, at the very bottom, motionless, silent as monks in their caves. Eyes half closed, their mouths slightly open, breathing the memory of water, all the living current of the world entering them. I imagine them breathing the same sea in all of us. Holding the stone of our suffering in the stillness of their armored bodies like Paleolithic anchors. They comfort me, the beauty of their constancy, the evidence of steadiness, their unchanging nature, ever-changing form in the dark void. Each morning I pour my libation of ashes into the river and remember. I remember what I have been told. There are some of us who, on the black market, will pay thousands of dollars to see the sturgeon’s breast split open. To eat their still beating hearts pulled from the dark waters. I understand that hunger. I know what it is to have to feed the blind ghost in me, ravenous for the indestructible. I know the insatiable desire to be part of that which is surviving, flowing on and on, before me, now, and after me. In me, in all of us, there is the craving. We yearn to be unbounded, to merge with something bigger than us, something holy, something swimming forever in its deep dream. We want to taste eternity. I say; be still. Be silent. Listen way deep inside. Listen to your own beating heart.

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THE RIVER IMAGINES ITSELF

The river imagines itself effortlessly.
Every future moment born
of its healed past
utterly new.
Each wave swallowing the last
with seamless suture
in the sinuous gravity
of its downstream fall
toward the resurgent sphere of the sea.
There is no wound
she will not suffer.
Her skin sweeps everything
away, each small death untraceable.
Every undulation arising transformed,
surrendered to the present
perfection of the moment,
guided by a blind current
feeling its breathless way
through the unmarked,
unbounded waters
of each untrespassed day.

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WINDSEA RUSHES THROUGH…

Windsea rushes through the cottonwood limbs.
Susurration of sound swimming the silver bellied leaves through the tangled net of sky and breeze. All the garden is a seething swell, awake and breathing the singing urgent spires of air. How lush the world is, ripe with beauty and anguish. How mysterious; this vale of vegetation, the rock, the deep embrace of indigo, the glittering blue abyss sheltering us. On this summer’s silk, my own fragile boat of skin sailing buoyant wave of wonder. The red current of my blood mingled with the pale green force of each plant and stem rooted in this vast and trembling astonishment of earth growing us upward to the light. We are all a moving stillness, bright eternity pouring through us.

Everything arising and passing away, even this exhilaration, this sweet seed about to speak from its dark opening.

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LIBERATION

Though Blinded, We Know Love By Its Touch.
They say that love blinds you.
But I think it isn’t love, but how we look at it that blinds us.
Once a star has exploded in your chest, there is no desire to gather back the scattered light. Love lives inside you forever, endlessly sending you its radiance to light the night. That is the nature of stars. They give it up, all of it. Stars are not diminished by their giving. They melt themselves down to the pure white stone.
The distillation of all they ever lived keeps on giving us their light, though their bodies have burst with the giving. And aren’t we all made of light? Aren’t we all ascendants of eternity’s sea? When we can live with the darkness and still rise bright as stars, is not love our liberation?

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FLOWERS AS SUBJECTS

The blossoming of a flower is a temporal event, one bound by the inexorable movement toward death born within the seed, and within each of us. Their eloquence is momentary, a brief soliloquy against their own, and also our, mortality. I choose to paint flowers in all their sensuality and lyricism, their very rootedness in the terrestrial, to speak of the transcendence I feel in their presence. I think it was Jim Dine that said, “Painting is another form of praying”. Painting flowers is for me a gesture of love. It is an act to celebrate in my consciousness the awareness of beauty, the mystery and the wonder of human life. I think all humans are drawn to, and fascinated by flowers. They are with us in all moments of extremity. We offer them at birth, death, anniversaries, and every occasion of ceremony. We offer flowers for hope, for consolation and congratulation.

They surround us at death. Manet painted the bouquets brought to him as he lay dying. Some of Kafka’s last words were instructions written on slips of paper that advised; “Please look and see that the peonies don’t touch the bottom of the vase. This is why they have to be kept in bowls.” And one of the last sentences he wrote: “How wonderful that is, isn’t it? The lilac dying. It drinks, goes on swilling. It cannot be that a dying man drinks.” I isolate the flower in deep space. The darkness of the background is suggestive of the creative tensions and the mysteries that shadow and make luminous my experience of an individual tuned toward the possibility of light. Light is an integral presence in my work. Brightness becomes a tangible, physical presence that is a metaphor for awakening to the presence of the sublime. The physical light is the light of inner potential for transcendence. Though we are part of the beauty of nature’s cycle that marks a passage between youth and age and eventual death, our spirits are free to travel in infinite realms. In a world where it is all too easy to be seduced by the profane, I perceive these paintings as small cultivations of sacred space. A place to feel passionate, surprised and enchanted by the beauty of being alive.

August 27, 2005

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