Meditation: Waking — Sandra Kohler


The boon of air: dry, cool, moving. Today,
nothing on the calendar except the garden.
I should seize the day. The breeze picks up,

lifts leaves, rustles through boughs. Maybe
I’ll weed the borders, inspect the tender buds
of the lilies, their carefree bloom. How to

fit it all in. We die trying. The dead are dead,
the living not always living. Buddha woke up
and wondered why we all don’t. It’s hard,

it hurts – even for a few minutes. Then the
waste sad time before and after. The breeze
has woken. I am beginning to make a garden.

It demands more of me than I give it. Am
willing to give? Choose to give? Growth is
slow, hard, tentative. I am and am not

talking about the garden. What blooms
around me is only partly of my making.


I come in after deadheading the roses, wondering
“How do you learn to deadhead your life?”
To know what bloom is spent. In the garden

what is blooming, what spent is always clear.
Attention. Pay attention. As I watch from my
window, the breeze rises, moves through trees,

moves the trees. There is no way to distinguish
movement of air from movement of leaves, twigs,
branches, boughs, their swaying. The breeze is

seen only through its effect on trees, boughs,
branches, leaves, a cloth hung on the neighbor’s
clothesline. I imagine I hear the breeze but what

I am hearing is branches, boughs, twigs, leaves,
fabric: the fabric of sound the breeze creates.


On a trip that first takes me through the city
where I was born and grew up, then the one
where I lived for the next thirty years, a journey

through the first fifty years of my life, I know
travelling that the past is not past, the dead
dead. Give me one cup of the wine we drank

on your Pennsylvania terrace; on the cortijo
patio in Andalucia’s sunset; outside that bar,
our favorite, on late afternoons in Nafplio;

at the edge of the Grand Canal in Venice one
evening. Wait. Beautiful in all her guises,
spring has not run dry even though we will.


Heraclitus’ fragment 95: “The waking have
one world in common. Sleepers meanwhile
turn aside, each into a darkness of his own.”

For Buddha, those of us who only seem to
be awake are embraced by a common world:
the realm of illusion, unreality’s darkness.

If we wake as he calls us to, will we
find ourselves together or alone?


In the children’s church, at meditation.
Is the silence assent, absence? I don’t know.
Not knowing is absence and the possibility

of presence. It’s something and nothing. It’s
the light. One patch of it on a white wooden
panel seems to be both full of itself and out

of itself, above itself. Words are distraction,
enemy; they bring the mind into the mind,
making the mind conscious, self-conscious,

aware of self and other, all that is and is not
present, ghost past, fantasy future, maya.
The whirl and swirl of it, pain and noise

and cruelty and grief; beyond them
something unnamed into whose
presence silence brings me.


In dream I arrive at what’s supposed to be
the intersection of great highways, but there’s
no road, it’s a vast stretching grassland, meadow

rising in the distance to hills, like Umbria’s
Piano Grande, here not umber, muted like
California’s coast, gray-green-blue, lit with

a light otherworldly yet purely natural. I
wake knowing I’ve seen all our lives suddenly
from afar, above, the vicissitudes of life itself,
know we will suffer them, live through them.


Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May, 2011 from Word Press. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November, 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past forty years in journals including Masque and Spectacle, Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Slant, The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Tar River Poetry.