Via Basel: Sanctuary, Two Poems
Sanctuary, Two Poems
Webster’s Dictionary defines sanctuary as “a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter.” It can also mean a room in a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held. For me it is more expansive, whether a library or a forest preserve, giving safety and sacredness, two ingredients we are all in desperate need these days. Both my poems transpired in such settings. The first, “Sacred Space,” came out of a poetry assignment in our men’s retreat under the subject “quiet place for you.” The second, lengthier one came about in a meditation retreat early this summer, although it relates to an outdoor experience. For several of my family and friends it may remind them of a video I shared three months ago. If it jars your memory please read it all (maybe twice) before you go to the video. I sincerely hope these poems will remind you of your “sanctuary” and where you go for refuge in the turbulence of life.
An alcove, top of the stairs to the left,
Maybe eight by six feet.
A low, sturdy marble stone table,
Golden metal Buddha head on top.
A few incense sticks hanging around.
Two cushions, waiting, mine and his.
Sometimes I practice alone,
Other times I have company.
So peaceful and quiet,
Especially at ten p.m., just
Before I go to bed
And dream about him
In his own house.
Settled down, solitary cabin.
Second day, meditation retreat.
Nestled inside remote forest,
Vallecitos Mountain, New Mexico.
Taking a break from my practice,
I venture on a trail
Promising a pond if taken.
River carving stubborn boulders
Reveals an abrupt turn of the path.
Climbing the mountain,
I enter a dense forest.
Dry wood and parched leaves
Crackle under my feet.
My weary legs struggle uphill,
The altitude taking its toll
On my breathing, still
Feeling a certain lightness
Contained within slender Aspen
And ancient Ponderosa Pines.
A sudden clearing awakens me—
Small, calm, comforting pond.
Stalks of dry grass surrounding it,
Fallen logs lining one side.
Dark and dense form
Captures my left peripheral vision—
Trembles with fear.
Then leaps with joy.
A scene I could not imagine,
Alone with a black bear in the woods.
Slowly, cautiously, the creature of the wild
Dips its paws in the water
As if testing its temperature.
The rest of its compact body soon
Follows, totally immersed except
For its two perched ears
On its triangular head,
Moving rhythmically up and down,
Skillfully navigating the waters,
Heading into the deep middle,
Turning around, rotating one
Direction then another.
Suddenly splashing playfully
Like a child on her first trip
To a water park, totally absorbed,
Fully present in the moment,
Ignoring me to my satisfaction.
Imbued by its grace, dignity,
And generosity, heading for the shore,
Slipping away in between the trees,
It was gone. I was, too.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.