Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Vastness Within


For the joy of creating purely for pleasure, without necessity or deadline, and for finding language to express truths which make me breathe easier, I picked up off my shelf Lightning Paths: 75 Poetry Writing Exercises by Kyle Vaughn. I purchased it years ago after Krista Tippett recommended it, but I had never truly explored it. Yesterday afternoon on the back porch seemed like the right time.

The first “exercise” was to be inspired by Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”  The task: “Write a poem in which thirteen small sections reflect different ways we might see something.”

Using Stevens’ format and even some of his language (especially parts V and XIII), I wrote about the “largeness within” that has stuck with me ever since I finished Sue Monk Kidd’s The Book of Longings. There’s a line in Anna’s incantation bowl that has been swirling around my soul ever since I read it: “Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it.”

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Vastness Within


My words and smile go forth beyond me,
but it is the vastness inside of me that
breathes deep and blows magic into the world.


We think we have seen the ocean,
But our eyes fool us into contentment.
Eighty percent of the majesty is below the surface.


At the sound of its waves, the leisure-starved
Close their eyes and breathe for the first time in months.


The vast ocean and my limited frame are one.
There is only one reality, and it is ours to explore.
This is our little secret.


I do not know which to prefer,
That which I can never know
Or that which is within reach,
The mystery of the depths
Or the feel of water lapping on my toes.


Packed bags, stuffed with tomorrow’s laundry,
Carry all the beach gear home, after serving its annual purpose.
Is sand still in between my toes?
I glance out the window to catch one final glimpse.
An ache grows deep inside.
How do you keep existing while I live all year without breathing?


O disconsolate land-locked captives,
Do you know that the vastness lives inside of you?
Your wonder is packed away with the sand shovel,
Even though there is still an opportunity for snorkeling out in the deep blue within.


I know one hundred and fifty ways to get a three-year-old to sleep.
I know one hundred and fifty ways to help a congregation make a decision.
I know not where I begin and end, but I know You
And that is more intense wisdom than can ever be explored in one lifetime.


When I close my eyes, I can still hear the ebb and flow of the water.
It whispers of all the peculiar, spectacular beings
Which continue their work while I sleep.


At the sight of every color ever seen,
And some never seen, radiant upon the water,
The wounded are healed,
The murdered revived.


A mother scans the water with anxious eyes, looking for her son.
Spotting his alighted eyes and hands splashing God’s handiwork,
She breathes deeply until the next wave comes.


My lungs expand with a prolonged breath.
The ocean must be settling.


It was morning all day long.
The waters breathed deep.
I am home, at last, and will
never be able to be found.

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