Invitation to Poetry: From Dust to Dust

Poetry Party No. 32!  I select an image and suggest a title and invite you to respond with your poems, words, reflections, quotes, song lyrics, etc. Leave them in the comments or email me and I’ll add them to the body of the post as they come in along with a link back to your blog if you have one (not required to participate!)

Lent begins this week.  During the imposition of ashes at the Ash Wednesday service some of us will hear the words “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”  The ashes are a tangible reminder of our temporal bodies.  I love this beginning to the season of conversion and re-ordering of priorities.  The reminder of our mortality is meant to confront us with the preciousness of our days and demands that we ask how we want to spend our time.  “Return to me with your whole heart,” says the prophet Joel in the opening scripture for this service.  Return, renew your commitment, begin again.  This week’s Poetry Party is an invitation to explore through poetic imagery the reality of our shared limits and what stirs in us in response.  How does the awareness of Ash Wednesday shape your commitment for the Lenten season ahead?


as i kneel to receive the ashes
i think of all the times
like dust from my feet
i  tried to shake you
tried to make a break from you
and how  you’ve clung
with ferocious tenacity
unwilling to let me go
til  you’ve blessed me
with a reminder
of  my mortality
and i leave the rail
with a limp

-stacy wills at a magic mom and her mandalas


Wednesday of Ashes

Our footsteps echoed off the soft firm path of years’ debris,
trees fallen on the path, vivisected, allowing pilgrims passage.
Some branches resting on the bottom of the lake, their roots undercut
along the edge of the woods.
February often has these crisp, clear days; days when our bones warm a little,
and the brittle ice on the bird bath breaks early in the day.
Helebores face down as though straining to remember their beginning
before lifting their heads to the sky.
And we trample on through the forest.

Large maple leaves drape themselves like lace parchment
handkerchiefs on the prostrate ferns.
Some fronds will survive the winter, some will succumb to
the cycle we call life;
Some new curled fuzzy fronds will emerge and spring up
awaiting their turn to receive the mantle of handkerchief leaves.
In thier turn, in our turn, as the world turns, as the ground is
turned and churned and plowed and sowed and made a bed for birthing,
We trample on listening  for the echo of our padding feet.

Christine Eleanor Merritt


miércoles de ceniza

sobre la frente
es la mano de Dios
polvo y ceniza


febrero 23, 2009.


from “Roar of the Tigress,” Vol. II

The following meditation is cited from a Zen talk, called “Live Fully, Die Fully,” given at Shasta Abbey in California by the renowned British Zen Master and Abbess, Jiyu-Kennett.
__ __ __

“I recall talking with someone at Blackfriars in Oxford: who was afraid of what his family might think if he meditated. He suggested that maybe if he did just a little bit each day, it wouldn’t upset his family too much. I quoted Martin Luther to him, “If you are going to sin, sin vigorously!” (laughter)
“When [Zen Master] Dogen speaks of life he means our full and true life, not the dream world within which we normally live. And when he speaks of death, he means our full and true death. The moment of fully manifesting this for the first time is the moment of realization, the finding of the non-substantial liberated essence. It is in this way that True Self, or Buddha Nature “causes life and death to come about.” This experience cannot be defined or limited by descriptions, such as large or small, slow or quick. If you would fully live and fully die, you have to experience that non-substantial, liberated essence for yourself, either during life or at the time of death. And if you have not had any ‘rehearsals’ beforehand, it is sometimes a little difficult to recognize it at the time of death, because there are a lot of other things going on. This is one reason why one meditates.”
__ __ __
(submitted by kigen)


Three by St Dufus of Blessed Movements

“Dust, all this damn dust,”
Said God to all the angels.
“I’ll Love them to life!”
Won’t that be wasting your time?
“When is Love a waste of time?”

Dust. All this is dust.
You, him, her, you all are dust.
Wife, husband, kids, pets,
Power, possession, prestige.
All I am, gone in a gust.
Except Thy Love, Beloved.

Touch me and I gasp.
Call me and I sing and dance.
Then your eyes say Love.
O what did Thee see in me,
Useless, ordinary dust.


crackling crispness fills the air
each step takes us further
into our world
we whisper and giggle
like only sisters can
we are allowed
to be silly
to scream
to run
belly laughing
till tears run down our cheeks
we sit
we rest
we take just a moment

~Nichol Newcomb



Where have you gone St. Blaise,
to a requiem in my youth? Come back
find me at the communion rail on a
morning in February preceding school.
In all my confusion I know your sign.

White candles crimson twined
with ivory-headed pins attached,
my neck in clear blessing. From sore
throat to blocking breath. Saint of
swallowing swells, come.

I suffer.

Your enemies
carded* you to death, than beheaded
you. As wool has memory I shall re-
member you. As institutions forget
I shall ritualize you.

-Tom Delmore at Crow’s Perch

*St. Blaise: Protector of throats
*Carded: A wire tooth brush, wool-comb


i have fallen
from the tree
soon to rejoin

-michael dunford


Psalm to ashes
(remember you are dust)

The tender scrape
of a sooty finger, marking me
the way another did, once
with oil, scented with the spice
of new life.

Gray smudges of the sort
my mother scrubbed clean,
until I discovered her worn
thumb stained with the ash
of life.

Feel it, that outer sign
of inner grace: the sacrament
of dirt, that rains into
my eyelashes and settles on
my lips.

(and to dust)

All the world has come
from where all the world
is rushing. But between
we are asked to remember
and to feel.

In a sooty finger the
gentle, powerful hand
of She who bore us and
makes us new out of
the dust.

(you shall return)

-Josephine at Left Turn at Joy


You smile compassionately at my most severe efforts.
You know that they are born of longing and desire.
You know also that they will never take me where I so long to go.

You would consume me.
Inviting me to lay myself
Upon the altar of your tenderness
Until I am ash on the wind.
Ascending into a death
That is more life than my mind will ever comprehend.

Long have I sat and watched
As others took the swan dive leap
Into the great unknown
Whooping with joy in the face
Of fear made powerless
In your Light.

Live, live Rivka.
Live in the death
That is born only in me.

-Rebecca Johnson



when I was young,
I was a bright, plump leaf,
I clung to my branch,
safe, secure, growing strong.
as a confident, poplar leaf,
I danced with each passing breeze.
every sunny day, I danced;
every gloomy day, I hung
dreaming of dancing.
as the summer passed,
my body grew darker green,
but as the autumn chills came,
I felt my tips grew bright –
yellow, orange, then red.
the winds blew stronger,
I couldn’t raise my head to dance.
I simply clung on,
conserving my energy.
then, one October night,
a wild storm broke.
the whole tree waved and shook,
and I knew it was time
for my last dance…

-Claire at Anna’s World


Thank You

Thank you for catching me
when I took that leap of faith.

You didn’t so much catch me
as allowed me to land
in the place where I fell.

You listened while I talked of flight –

no map
no fuel

only wind
and gravity to guide me.

I closed my eyes and took a leap.

When I opened them and took a look,

you were there.

not anxious
not judging

-Linda Lee



The light and shadow of spring, juxtaposed,
incubates the new.

The season, mirrored by life,
renders the invitation to loose permanence.

As surely as a leaf fades, crumbles and disappears,
so a body ages, dies and decays;

for all that, the mark of the ashes serves as liminal threshold,
bearing the promise of resurrection.




Cycle of Renewal

as a tree releases
leaves to the earth
to decay and enrich the soil

may I release
what no longer serves
to decay and enrich my self

-rebecca at The Difference a Year Makes


we, now smudged with ashes
hear others remark surprisedly – “Christians”

clean faced, unmarked
was there no way to recognize us
as Christians before

-Sunrise Sister at Mind Sieve


like dust on molten canvas,
I am. Now
my heart returns to You

-Elizabeth at Mindwhisperings


My Forehead, My Thumb
When it is my forehead
it is the creamed grit and gentle coarseness,
the earthy feel of the dirty smudge
which I must later wash off,
this smeared ash that I feel
the abrasive reminder
that this is what I will return to

When it is my thumb
it is the smooth, resilient skin that I feel
the eyes full of need
and hope and fear that I meet
my hand marring the baby’s unknowing sweetness,
my thumb on elders’ papery skin
it is my voice which murmurs
the poetic reminder of mortality
and I know, amidst all these signs of life,
that we are returning to dust

-ymp at means of grace


when tempted to relate only to
the ashy taste in my mouth
of things left undone, love not expressed
relationships wounded,
words of my spiritual friend echo:
‘what about the light and heat
that were released in the formation of
those ashes?’

and i smile. and know that as I become ashes
i’m also letting off a veritable river of heat and light
my own kind of comet

“We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden.”  – Anonymous

-Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House


Ash, on my forehead

Ash:Forests reduced to

Homes devastated

Bodies burnt

Ash Wednesday



-Mavis at Set the Bird Free



the spring wind blows across my face,
while rustling the remnants of fall leaves that remain upon the ground.
the leaf is given a moment of reprieve before it sinks into the earth.

does it merely rot and die, or
will it gloriously continue the circle of life,
leaving its legacy for generations to come?

-lucy at Diamonds in the Sky with Lucy



In free-fall grace
and with
sweet tumble,
leaves make
gentle assent
to their
Big Crumble.

-Juniemoon from Maine


Love and Dust

The dust of this palm branch is the child of the child
Of the child of the mother
Who welcomed the Redeemer into Jerusalem for the
Great work of the restoration of all things
Of my parents’ parents’ grandparents’ parents
The seed of the blessed mother gave itself to the wind
After that holy day
And rooted itself into the work of love for eternity

As she waved that day
She caught a scent of the one who shared a kind of love
That would be passed on from friend to friend
To child and child’s child for every generation since
Until it came to my mother, my father
Who gifted that love to me
A love which makes me live today
A love which I will pass to my children
A love which has no end

It was a precious, spectacular moment
As she waved and welcomed and praised the Redeemer
This is a precious spectacular moment
As we join in the work of restoration
Of our lives, our world, and our children’s world
As we give ourselves to the wind
Rehearsing the words of our Redeemer
Trusting the laws of love and eternity

-Ben at Journey Something


Dust unto Dust

Has always
left me wondering
who might be
in the shaft
of light
my window.

Moses, Caesar,
my old friend, Marie;

A galaxy
of souls looking
for the head of a pin?

I pass my hand
through the gathering
and barely disturb
the dance
though some motes
cling and join
my day-to-day.

Richard Wells


from dust to dust

Ash Wednesday
cascading memories
Mississippi Delta dirt
Nana’s zinnias
daffodils springing from Salem soil
on to the university greenhouse
begonias in living room flowerpots
digging troughs for tulips on 5th avenue
Heather’s perennials
Nick’s greenery
condo complex landscape committee
Ash Wednesday
liturgy and another memory
I am dust and
starlight and
Jesus takes us back to the garden

-Leah Sophia at This Far by Faith


Ashes and sack cloth
Crosses and discipleship
Repenting and turning back

Bumps and warts
Rough edges and torn pieces
Wrinkles and fragility

Return again, and again,
with all that you are,
with all that you wish you were
and weren’t,
with all your heart,
for my love is sufficient.

All are embraced
in the cross.
All are made new
in my love.
All are held
in my hope.
This is my promise
for the journey.




Dead from the neck up,
Not so bad a place to be.
Living in my heart.

-Rich at Pilgrim Path


Dry and dead now,
her season past,
and yet
in a supreme act
of self giving
this one frail leaf
will nourish the earth
and her gift
will bring forth new life.
Dare we learn her lesson,
through the seasons
of our lives?

-Sally Coleman at Eternal Echoes


I feel the gritty reality of ash
beneath my thumb
ready to be placed
with care upon the head
of person, after person,
standing before me.

Each made in God’s image
Each made from dust
Each with their own
understanding, view, perspective
on what is taking place.

Eye to eye,
soul to soul
words capture a universe breadth

of creedal wondering
and experience.

I offer the priestly words
content to challenge
affirm mortality
offer absolution.

Only when an ash laden thumb
is placed on my head
does the meaning for myself
become clear

I am limited by linear time,
death will come,
yet caught up also
in the eternal pattern of
God’s creating.

-Michaela at Sacred Wells


Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
From dust we are, to dust return.

By caskets standing,
We hear the words
from priest
or preacher..
or from

Melancholy thought it is,
Our lives are frail
and short
and gone
as if
They never were.

When leaves are green and life is new
No thoughts of life’s fragility!
Our bodies feel the green
of life
And live false immortality!

As life goes past and we begin
to feel the brevity of time,
We know the truth
of “dust we are…”
And wait for when
our time
Will come.

Sometimes through fear,
or grief or pain,
Sometimes through darkness
Leaves grow dry
Now life is dim and dust
and ash,
Sweet green becomes a memory.

And as the strength of nascent life
Turns brown and crisp
and fragile, blown
by winds of time and loss and age
Our souls begin
to long
for Home.

As we release
The trees of earth,
Our fragile frame,
“this mortal coil”
From dust we are,
To dust we go,
O Death, your
is cold!

But wait,
This earthly phase is not
Our final place of bursting green!
We feel the surge of life and growth
and green hope of infinity,

Yes, dust we are,
Yet hidden here,
Divine spark of eternity!
To dust we are, to ashes go…

Eternal Tree of Life begins!



and so it was that as
another season passed into the earth,
so should her grandfather.

receiving the news,
she looked out onto the somber landscape,
brittle leaves strewn about the ground
and weathered into ash.

it reminded her of the fragility of life

so she clung more fiercely to the living
and her salty tears
sought to preserve the memories
of what was

of the man
she had known her whole life.

-Kelly at A Walk in the World


i enter my Lover’s humming until
the sanctuary is swollen with singing.
His lips stain with taste.
i am nothing
if not an emptied glass rubbed into song.



Ash Wednesday

From the fires come ashes,
spreading out possibilities
for new growth
in the dark humus of forests.

Our ashes today
also give us an opening
to begin again, sprouting
from the humility within.

Upon looking at
the smoldering of fire,
the destruction in our lives,
out of ash, we rise.

-Pam McCauley


From Dust to Dust

Sin lies, of course,
deep within,
layer upon layer
heavy with dust
like old armour.

Silence echoes
along cold walls,
and the stone floor
weighs my bones.
Have mercy on me.

Andy at A Man Breathing



(c) Christine Valters Paintner at Abbey of the Arts:
Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts

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