Between letters & sounds

Gravity is a force of belonging that every living thing on earth shares. There’s a pull to the center. We feel this when we stand in mountain pose, arranging the physical and energetic sense of ourselves around the body’s plumb line.

It’s a rebar of radiance at the center of each existence.

We feel this in corpse pose as we release the back body into the support of the ground, the front body softening to the sky.

I’ve held on to a postcard, a tinted vintage photograph, showing an American Indian burial, a corpse face up on an elevated platform exposed to the sky. The credit reads: “From the studio of Charlotte M. Pinkerton, Chicago, ILL.” Hanging from the platform is a round, feathered dream catcher and what looks to be a scabbard holding a rifle or sword.

Happy kid in the backyard!

From a young age, I wondered about death and burial customs. I guess I was a weird kid. In my defense, my dad was a professor of material culture (stuff) and his best friend at the university was an archaeologist (dead stuff). They took students, and sometimes my brother and me, on trips to Meso-American sites. My dad also taught film studies and, being four years younger than my brother, I saw campy zombie films at a tender age, in grungy downtown theaters and while waiting out the hours in the back of a summer school classroom full of undergrads.

My mom’s side of the family were “jack” Mormons, meaning they’d flapped the tarp of history to shake off religion.

But the dust of tradition blew back, anyhow, and stuck to them.

I canned produce with my grandmother during hot Nevada summers and was tasked with ironing and setting the table.

Mormons believe that, in heaven, everyone reunites with their loved ones, and everyone is fully grown. That didn’t sit well with my grandmother, who quarreled with her sisters and cousins, left her husband, and felt tremendous guilt over the death of her young son. She was scared right up until the end, and died alone in an assisted living facility, unable to outrun the ghouls of fear, shame and regret.

My other grandmother decided early on that she wanted her ashes scattered at a desert lake she loved, no marker. This appeals to me, too. I’ve heard that Vikings set the deceased on a raft, set fire to it, and pushed it out to sea. It seemed to me – like hair clipped at the salon and swept into a dust bin to be tossed away, or fingernails clipped and deposited in the garbage, or baby teeth that tumble from gums to be set under pillows, removed and replaced with a shiny quarter – that the rest of the corporeal body would just go away, too.

In my childhood neighborhood an abandoned hospital that had once occupied a whole city block became rubble, overrun with weeds. We played there, of course. It was known to the kids as Dirt Hill.

Any kid with imagination wondered about the people who might have died there.

We ourselves buried dead rats there in the somber ritualistic play of childhood before the internet.

The rented brick house on D.C.’s Capitol Hill where I grew up dated back to the 19th century. Digging holes for flower seeds, I unearthed china dolls and bits of metal. During summers at my great aunt’s Utah ranch, we found arrowheads and grinding stones.

Clearly, land continues and, in my mind, those who walk it collapse, dissolve, disintegrate, are picked apart in burial pyres, burned to ash and absorbed by land and water. Or eaten by sharks as in the movie “Jaws,” which I saw as a little kid.

In the first few weeks after moving back to D.C. in 2015, after decades in California, I traveled back to Capitol Hill to a simple park of sidewalk and lawn that had been the weedy Dirt Hill lot. The neighborhood’s changed.

In the more formal city park across the street – where I once sold woven pot holders with my friend Jane (who died in college when struck by a car while riding her bicycle), where I once ran as fast as I could with my good white dog by my side (who also died long since) – there was only one person, a weary-looking man who gathered his belongings when he saw me and moved on.

If years of writing and teaching and meditating have taught me anything, it is that life’s joy is found at the fulcrum of seeming opposites as well as contrasts and conflicts.

We contrive oppositions in order to define. But they are still merely arrangements of a mental board game. The seesaw of past and future, for example, is easier to see, and to feel, after all, memories and hopes dangle at each end, but that still point, the present, is peace.

The old St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in D.C.

On an earlier visit to D.C., before moving back, I accompanied my mom to a service at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, in the city’s southwest quadrant. The church itself was to be razed to make way for condos. We attended on the last day of a long-running homeless breakfast service, and the second-to-last church service. The rector, Martha, conducted a warm, meaningful service that emphasized the need to listen to others’ stories. Before the current building was erected, the parishioners had met at Hogate’s Restaurant. This time, while a new, smaller building was being constructed adjacent to the condos, the community would meet in the common room of an apartment complex and at a neighboring church.

The parish seemed part of this cycle of flowing in and out of the community, and the people seemed untroubled by the change.

Maybe they are established in the spirit of breath, aligned with the rhythms of their neighborhood and their beliefs, able to express the faith that makes a nest in joy. 

I’ve heard it said that the whole world is doing yoga all the time; the yogis are just naming it. If every movement, every word, is a prayer then we can take it with us.

The second time my mom got cancer and it looked grim, I was baptized in the narthex of St. Augustine’s at her request. The community did not know me, but they knew her. The priest welcomed me and talked me through my beliefs, much as the Episcopal priest who had married Matt and me a few years earlier had done. Both priests (gone now) were good guys with senses of humor and a real acceptance of human foibles.

At this church that had welcomed me, as I read and sang the prayers, the links to Buddhism and yoga struck me.

It’s as if we are all bees being nourished by flowers, some the same and some different, and doing our bee waggle to show others where we found the nectar, then going back to the hive to make something of it. 

After this final church service at St. Augustine’s, the rector conducted a closing of the community garden before it would be wiped smooth by a backhoe.

We never know, when we start something, where it will end up.

The only way I have found to make or do anything with a pure heart is to do my best and then surrender.

Like Mary Oliver suggests, “Maybe just looking and listening is the real work. Maybe the world without us is the real poem.”

Maybe spirit, embodied as breath, is the spaces between letters and sounds.

Maybe spirit lives at the bottom of each exhalation, the moment when the swimmer rises for a breath.

Maybe love is just to surrender to our own and others’ stories. Because even our stories aren’t our own. They are just fingers pointing to the moon.

Energy is us

One day, many years ago, while an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley I was walking up Dwight Street from the student co-op in the direction of People’s Park. Maybe I was lost in a daydream, maybe I was thinking about assignments due.

All at once, I stepped into the surprise conjecture that everything in the universe is energy that recombines.

I was an English major who had taken a smattering of classes in South Asian Studies, animal behavior and geography. I knew and know little of physics or philosophy. But I had hiked and camped throughout Northern California and, before that, in my extended home territory of the mid-Atlantic and Appalachia. I’d paid attention to birds and trees, their calls and habits, their leaves and bark.

My grandmothers, who loved the Nevada deserts they called home, drilled in me the notion of the fine web of interconnectivity among all living things.

What I recall most vividly 30 years after the Dwight Street walk, is the sense of understanding developing in synch with my physical progression through space. I could see a tree, and see when it dies and decomposes that everything it was becomes something else. From the soil where the tree moldered, new life arises.

Could it be the same for people? I do not subscribe to the idea of past life experiences or reincarnation as sequential. What I could wrap my mind around was at a human life’s end, the energy that made that person diffuses, rehoming in another body at another place in time.

It may sound far out. I guess it is. I admit to sampling in those days the hallucinogenic drugs unrolled like a red carpet for curious natures like mine at the co-op housing where I set my hat.

In those days, and since, I’ve been driven by facts gathered myself or by others from primary sources and by experiences of a more organic and less intrusive nature.

Recently, I was reminded of that Berkeley morning when reading these stanzas from Yanjnvalkya, an Indian poet of the Upanishadic period, translated by yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein in The Yoga Tradition. It starts,

As a tree, or lord of the forest,

just so, truly, is man…:

his hairs are leaves,

his skin the outer bark.

Verily, from his skin flows blood,

as sap from the bark.

Therefore, when the skin is torn,

blood issues from him,

as does sap from a wounded tree.

His flesh is the inner bark,

his tendons the inner layer, which is tough.

Beneath are the bones, as is the wood.

The marrow is comparable to the pith….

Trees, like people, will die and decompose.

Apparently, by the time most of us notice a tree dying, it has been suffering for awhile. (Sometimes this is true of people, too.) A forest researcher in a news story on climate change explained how a tree has “a kind of heart attack” when dry ground leads to air bubbles forming in the tiny tubes that carry water through the tree.

Human beings have so much power, in the form of information and agency. This scientist’s analogy of the trees’ circulatory systems stopping up like the arteries of a heart serves as a reminder to have more heart, more love in the form of tender attention, for the landscape we inhabit and the landscapes of our bodies.

The gravitational field that holds together the human family is stories.

We yoga students, in group classes and solitary home practice, are bound by the historical landscape of tradition, its many participants through space and time. Even when practicing alone, we’re not alone.

Savasana is such a beautiful word that in the yoga studio we rarely offer the translation “corpse pose.” The posture is said to “reset” the nervous system as it moves into a parasympathetic state. The mind remains alert as the body lets go. In a class’s final minutes, I observe students packed tight in the room, drawn from multifarious places, supine like snow angels stopped mid-sweep, and think of this and that, of standing trees and tumbled ones, of the stories each life cradles. Every body as precious as the figures showcased in a hallowed museum.

Many mammals spend their lives belly down to the ground and die on their sides. We humans abandoned all fours to point faces forward and crowns to the sky.

We think the sky is above us but it’s all around us. Moving forward on an ordinary walk, we’re not much different from a river’s fish. 

Then we stretch out to rest, sleep, make love and die, drawing closer to the earth and farther from the ceiling of sky. Corpse pose recalls that we are this and that: corpus,  the hushed physical body, and our collected desires and experiences that walk us along time’s line. Savasana is a semi-final relaxation for the Final one. Maybe this is why corpse pose, like a 7-Up soda, is the pause that refreshes. We rise from savasana slowly and gently to sit up and face our world, and are glad of it. Asana as practice for the rest of life.

A boy I tutored years ago refused to read the last page of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. “I don’t want it to end,” he said. But we don’t know when we end whether it will really all be over. We read stories. We recite poems. We get up from the floor where we’ve practiced. All this is home practice, practice in finding a home in the body, the dignity of being alive.

Removing the bailing wire of tension

Halfway through her third lesson, a student stopped after practicing a standing twist at the wall and said,

“I never realized how weak I was until I started releasing some tension.”

Elaborating, she explained that she’s worked steadily her whole life, with never more than one or two weeks off at a stretch. She’s approaching 70 now. She is a single parent and a professional, a former flight attendant whose stewardess uniform (“We called ourselves stewardesses,” she clarified) is on display at the Smithsonian.

Having moved to Harpers Ferry to be closer to her daughter and grandsons, she wakes before dawn four or five days a week to catch the commuter train to a government job in D.C. By the time she comes to her private evening yoga lesson, she’s traveled more than 125 miles by car, train and subway and worked a full day. As she rests in savasana, evening sets; she drives home in the dusk.

Tension, she reiterated, has held her together.

She’s learning at this stage in her life to breathe. To fully inhale, to allow exhalations to release shoulders, abdomen, back. As she unwinds with yoga, her back is starting to “tingle.” Other students have told me this, too. It’s not a nerve pain (which could be a warning sign and warrant a visit to the doc) but an awakening, an increased awareness of the surface of the back, of the movement of the skin and fascia.

After she left, as I slid the folded blankets back into the rack and wiped down the blocks we’d used, I thought about how tension compensates for lack of strength. Once we become rigid, with pain, with excessive physical and mental stress, or, as I know firsthand, with grief, it’s so hard to remember how ease and suppleness feel.

Tension is the bailing wire that holds us together when we can’t afford to fall apart.

Tension releases from the inside out. That’s why we typically end a yoga practice with deep relaxation. Such a sweet surrender to rest in savasana and let the body quietly go about its healing.

We talk in Buddhism about creating the causes and conditions for awareness to arise. That’s what all those hours of “sitting” quietly amount to. In yoga, movement and breath, focus and openness, create causes and conditions for The Rest. “Rest,” from “stand” “back.” In resting, we stand back from ourselves.

“Like witness consciousness?” a psychologist asked me once when we talked about qualities of dual awareness of yoga and meditation, how we are actor and audience of the scenes we play out on mat and cushion.

Yes and no.

The sensation of awareness of the internal and external states of one’s body and mind are more analogous to that of the observer.

Noticing what is already known.

Call it the essential self, wisdom within, the reciprocal exchange of breath and breath.

Teaching is graced by moments of insight and my student that night provided one. I will always be able to picture her, her petite and well-traveled body, in the last few minutes of her third yoga lesson: shins placed on a chair bottom, sandbag grounding the shins, back on a thick mat supported by blankets, wrists resting on small sandbags, a soft neck roll under her head, eye pillow temporarily sealing out the light.

Release tension, then build strength. We can’t be strong from hanging on to what no longer serves.

There’s power to be found in the wake of undoing.

Savasana + Robert Bly

Sitting with students as they experience savasana, corpse pose, is one of yoga teaching’s great joys. It reminds me of when I taught school and students slipped into silent sustained reading (s.s.r.).
Each person retreats a bit into his or her own experience, whether of deep rest in the body or of deep absorption in a story, while remaining within a community of shared breath, linked to the commonality of life.
Both savasana and s.s.r. end.  The transition out of savasana into an upright seat, back to the work of the world, the transition away from an enjoyable book to the task of a lesson, are forms of waking up. Activities are resumed with a renewed sense of being alive. A poem provides the experience of being there and here; each reading of a poem a re-awakening.

Waking Up

When he wakes, a man is like the earth
Rolling over, as it rolls at dawn, turning
Jagged mountains gradually and grasslands
Up to the fierce light of space.

Someone in me remembered all night
To breathe on as I slept.
The breath protected me the way the atmosphere
Around the earth protects the earth.

When I was a small boy I like to think
I thought once it would be best to die.
That would make everything better
For others, and knives flew around the house.

At dawn I resemble a soldier who wakes after a battle,
His friends all dead, and himself still alive.
What do I do? I walk through the ditch grass,
Skirting the towns, asking in barns for fresh milk.

– Robert Bly

Note: Poem to be published in Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life, click this link to support the indiegogo campaign to published the book (by April 9, 2015); poem used by permission of White Pine Press

Pair with: savasana

Speak: Allow space between the stanzas to provide a mini rest in time by pausing.

Consider: What do I do with this, as Mary Oliver says, “wild and precious life“?

High school yoga

Guest post: Julie Goldman

I met Julie Goldman in 2007 when we were both teaching in the English department at C.K. McClatchy (CKM) High School. After the students went home, we’d go down to the tennis court to chat as we whacked balls imprecisely across the net. A few years later, Julie transitioned to teaching yoga in the PE Department, five classes a day, totaling two hundred-twenty students. 

Curious about how yoga happens in a high school setting, I asked Julie to share her thoughts. She’s also provided a full class sequence. Julie’s an extraordinary teacher–creative, caring, sincere and funny. Please enjoy her offerings.


Reflections of a high school yoga teacher

A few years back, I got an anonymous note from a student saying, “Since starting yoga, I have been having fewer mental breakdowns.” I taught high school English for six years before switching departments to PE, so personal notes mean a lot to me. Learning to “unplug” and be alone with thoughts, enjoying the silence of a room, simply focusing on breathing are all skills I try to teach the students.

Kids come for a variety of reasons. Some don’t like the competition of team sports, some are already athletes and know that yoga will complement their sport, others are self-proclaimed lazy bones and sign up for yoga because they think it will be easy. (They’re quickly surprised when they realize that this class can be a butt-kicker.)

While this is PE and our main focus is on the physical aspects of yoga, I think that the students are getting more out of the class than just a good workout. Yoga is a chance for students to quiet their minds, slow down and breathe. It is an opportunity to set aside the constant competition and judgment that comes with high school and to focus inward. It is a chance for them to notice the small things, pay attention more and practice mindfulness.

No other yoga teaching job affords this unique situation to have the same group of students five days a week for an entire school year. I get to be a part of their yoga journey, seeing the students develop and grow their practice.  While it is exciting to see a student who has been working on crow pose finally master it, it is even more exciting when a student tells me that they meditated at home after studying for a big test.

Yoga sequence for high school kids

Once a week the students write in journals for the first five minutes of class. This is the time I introduce them to one or two Sanskrit words.  I want them to know these so when they take a yoga class in the community, they aren’t confused and have heard the words before.

Opening and Warm-Up

  • Begin in child’s pose.
    • Count 10 slow breaths as a way of checking in and slowing down, preparing for practice.
  • Cat/cow with spinal balance – extend opposite leg and arm.
    • Remind them to think about how to stay in balance when life is pulling them in opposite directions, stay grounded.
  • Sun salutation
    • A reminder to acknowledge each day as a new opportunity to be present.
  • Down dog – lift one leg, open hips and “flip their dog.”
    • Reminder that we can be playful in our practice as well as in our life.
  • Hover in forearm plank while lifting one leg at a time and bringing knee to elbow.
    • This one is a killer for the abs and teaches them to perservere through difficult situations and not to give up, even when the going gets tough.

Partner Poses

I offer an alternative for anyone who may be uncomfortable being too close or touching another person. There are a few who “opt out” but as the year goes on and they see that these poses aren’t as scary or intimidating as they may have thought; they give it a try. 

  • Partner boat with feet together, holding hands either inside or outside of legs.
  • Seated straddle, back to back. One partner leans back while the other leans forward to their comfort level.
    • This gives them the opportunity to communicate with one another.
  • Sit cross-legged, facing one another with knees almost touching. Extend left leg out. Reach right arm behind back, towards left hip.  Reach left arm across chest towards partners right arm (behind their back).
    • This one is fun to do with a larger group.  Not only does it encourage cooperation and communication, it is a great stretch.
  • Warrior 2 back-to-back
    • Encourages the shoulders to open.
  • Reverse warrior, lunging away from one another holding top hands together, leaning away from one another to deepen the stretch.
  • For those who are up for adventure – double dog. One student comes into downward-facing dog, the other does down dog with feet on the partner’s low back, both partners are oriented in the same direction.

Final Relaxation

Savasana, the most important pose of the day. For some, this pose is a favorite, for others this pose is the biggest challenge because  they have to find stillness. Many of my students tell me that never in their day are they still and quiet, just “doing nothing.”  They are always “doing” something, even if that something is watching TV, checking their phone, etc. After the first few weeks of school, I see a change in them when it comes to final relaxation.  They seem to be embracing it more, seem to finally “get it” a bit more.

 

Accept the Savasana Dare, Right Now

Guest post by Michelle Marlahan

Be comfortable!
Photo by Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan

At It’s All Yoga, a wall of west-facing windows screened by sheer white curtains  gives me a peek, while I am teaching, onto Sacramento pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers passing along busy 21st Street.

One day, as my teacher trainees lay on the floor in the final pose of the practice, Savasana or Corpse Pose, a couple on the sidewalk walked past the studio windows. I watched them peer through a crack in the curtains to look inside. Seeing the people spread out around the room on their backs, the man chirped, “They’re sleeping!” The woman wisely corrected him, “No, they’re doing Yoga.”

His was a logical mistake. People do fall asleep in Savasana. The pose challenges us to be still and quiet and alert and awake.

Yoga is a practice of many things, one of which is attention – being aware of the felt experience of a posture, eating a meal or having a conversation. But being present and alert when we are active and stimulated is different than when we are still or at rest. This is where Savasana becomes so important.

Some yogis believe in a daily Savasana practice. Not after doing rigorous sun salutations or running three miles, but as an essential stand-alone practice.

Learning to be still, quiet and restful while awake can help create balance among the systems of the body, release areas of habitual holding and bring a sense of calm and clarity in the mind which prepares us for times of challenge.

But don’t take my word for it. Try this five-minute dare:

+ Set a timer for five minutes.

+ Lie down on the floor. Let your body spread out – legs can be apart with the feet rolling out, arms can be to the sides of the body with the palms up.

+ If the low back or hips are at all uncomfortable, bend the knees, feet a little wider than the hips, and let the inner knees rest together.

+ For three exhales, let your body weight go completely, as though you are sinking back into a puffy mattress or cloud.

+ For the remaining time, keep your attention in the experience of lying on the floor. You can feel your contact points with the ground, the air and clothes on your skin, or be with the sensations in your body. If your mind wanders or begins a conversation, simply come back to the feeling of your body.

+ Stay alert yet relaxed. Let your body be breathed. There is nothing to do.

+ When the timer goes off, begin some gentle movement – don’t pop right up. Roll to a side and press up to a seat. Feel one more full breath.

 

When you do want to sleep, you just might sleep better!

Michelle Marlahan is Proprietress of It’s All Yoga in Sacramento. 

 

Savasana + Hyesim

Spring! How wonderful that we have a season that shares its name with water. Rest in savasana. Renew with a poem.

Spring Day on a Mountain Retreat

 

A sublime day of blossoms–

strolling, my mind embraces complacency.

 

On a sun-drenched hill, I pick fern brake–

in a shadowed valley, I seek ornamental stones, and a wellspring.

 

Water drips from a marbled mountainside; mist dissipates–

azaleas line a stream; their royal petals low among pines.

 

I sing a cheerful song–

walking, I love the quiet solitude.

 

Hyesim, translated by Ian Haight and T’ae-Yong Ho

Note: previously published in Magnolia & Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim  (White Pine Press, 2012);  permission of Dennis Maloney

Pair with: savasana

Speak: Feel how the poem follows a strolling rhythm as if you are walking along with the poet.

Consider what makes you “sing a cheerful song”?

Sentences

A poem may be a single sentence. Choices in imagery, word order, line endings, rhythm, punctuation and more transform the sentence from an organized idea to a spatial arrangement of sound and sense.

In poems and prose, sentences must be able to stand alone and link together; they have meaning in isolation and, when they are sequenced, expanded meaning through juxtaposition. An effective piece of writing changes the listener or reader, even for a moment. It’s often memorable.

Similarly, an effective asana sequence can be transformative and memorable. Composed of discrete parts linked by transitions, a yoga sequence is analogous to an essay. After all, “essay” originates from “assay,” to try or test. And through yoga practice we try new movements, investigate ranges of motion.  Like an essay, a yoga sequence can be built around a theme or build momentum to a “peak pose,” the equivalent of a key idea.

If a yoga sequence is an essay, each posture is a sentence. Sentence are of types: statements, questions, exclamations, commands. Some yoga postures feel like statements. For example, tadasana. Standing in mountain pose declares presence at the start of series. Tree pose, vrksasana, is a question; one wobbles and wavers, asking “Where is my equilibrium today?” Half-moon pose, ardha chandrasana, brings a smile, an exclamation of joy. What asana could be compared to a command? Savasana. A pose that tells the body unequivocally to relax.

Baddha konasana, cobbler’s pose, is a strong, simple one-sentence poem

like “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost.

Natarajasana, dancer’s pose, is a longer, more

elaborate sentence like Wallace Stevens’s “The Snowman.”

This is That

When I was a girl, my dad amused me by holding his hand palm up, fingers loosely cupped, and asking, “What’s this?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

He turned his palm over, “A dead that.”

Giggles.

This is that. This dead fly wings-down on the windowsill was once that fly, buzzing the room. This beetle, six legs stiff in the air, was once that shiny green bug creeping under the sun.

Savasana is such a beautiful word that in the yoga studio we rarely offer the translation “corpse pose.” The posture is said to “reset” the nervous system as it moves into a parasympathetic state. The mind remains alert as the body lets go. During a community class at It’s All Yoga I observed the people packed tight in the room, drawn from across myriad walks of life, prone on their backs like snow angels stopped mid-sweep and got to thinking of this and that.

Many mammals spend their lives belly down to the ground and die on their sides. We humans abandoned all fours to point faces forward and crowns to the sky. We stretch out to rest, sleep, make love and die. Corpse pose recalls that we are this and that: corpus,  the hushed physical body, and our collected desires and experiences that walk us along time’s line.

Yoga teachers refer to savasana as “final relaxation.” The pose  concludes  asana practice. Really, though, each savasana is a semi-final relaxation for the Final one. Maybe this is why savasana refreshes. We rise from the corpse pose slowly and gently to sit up and face our world, and glad of it.

This and that. Serious or silly stuff?

A helpful cue in savasana is to “release any tension in the jaw.” In that spirit, of loosening our chewing and talking muscles, this riddle from Mother Goose. What is it?

Thirty white horses

On a red hill;

Now they tramp

Now they champ,

Now they stand still.

 

answer: the teeth and gums

 

 

Savasana + Percy Bysshe Shelley

“The Cloud” takes the imagination on a vivid journey as the body calms.

The Cloud

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night ’tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning, my pilot, sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;

Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead;
As on the jag of a mountain crag,
Which an earthquake rocks and swings,
An eagle alit one moment may sit
In the light of its golden wings.
And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardors of rest and of love,

And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aery nest,
As still as a brooding dove.
That orbed maiden with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the Moon,
Glides glimmering o’er my fleece-like floor,
By the midnight breezes strewn;
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,
Which only the angels hear,
May have broken the woof of my tent’s thin roof,
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,
Till the calm rivers, lakes, and seas,
Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,
Are each paved with the moon and these.

I bind the Sun’s throne with a burning zone,
And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl;
The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl.
From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,
Over a torrent sea,
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,–
The mountains its columns be.
The triumphal arch through which I march
With hurricane, fire, and snow,
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,
Is the million-colored bow;
The sphere-fire above its soft colors wove,
While the moist Earth was laughing below.

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pair with: savasana
Listen: This poem is delicious to speak and listen to. The recording is 4.5  minutes long. The Cloud

Consider how a cloud transforms.