silver and stones


tanzania-081young girls and boys in Mathare[1]

enjoying a game of soccer

with a ragged ball made

of plastic bags and string


a toddler lounging on a pile

of what happens to be garbage


a young retiree

looking forward to Chinese take-out

because the treatment for his cancer

doesn’t let him keep-down anything else


favelados dancing, drinking pina[2]

to celebrate the end

of another year of life


waves of Asian labour

(each replacing the former, the former now ‘too costly’)

and the gleaming work songs

that the people bring with them


In one arc of the wheel there is    

stunning beauty

In another arc there is always

only the bareness of being




I opened a poem

and like a gull flying from a magician’s hand

there came a song:

some notes for dancing

some measures for catching breath

some endings left hanging

some beginnings never begun

lunging baselines riddling the lungs

and everyone

just barely

breathing with them


I opened a poem

and there flew a song:

a round flash of lightening

without thunder and its sound

like a blink of blazing

in the fading of night,

the pitter-patter of quick light raindrops

on a rooftop just above you

and the splish-splash of quick light raindrops

on a rooftop just next to you


In one arc of the wheel there are intricately changing sounds

with bouts of boom and silence

In another arc there is always

only rain and storming




a woman has no blouse

another blouseless woman

gives her duct tape for her torso


a migrant-Midwest-ranch-hand

makes a home which isn’t really there

but another migrant-ranch-hand knows

that they are both in it


on a day of cold rain

a brother has no transport

to go buy milk and cigarettes

so he places a cardboard box

over his baby-sister’s carriage

and like this, they make their way


an arthritic quadriplegic missing a finger

honours each and every finger she has left

with 3 or 4 rings

of silver and stones


the humour in the Chinese saying

that the dams on the Yangtze River are all made of tofu

to deal with the harshness of frequent  floods


Lacking what we lack, all there is to do is give in one arc of the wheel there is utter emptiness, in another arc, brimming depth




To open our gates

and wait with that openness

to greet what comes

and what we come to


Such stillness requires calm movement

spreading the weight of this waiting

as evenly as possible:


when the trees were bushy

they saw the trees, thick and textured leafy

when the trees were dropping leaves

they saw a mat of mustard-bronze-red

extending from tips of branches

to wheels parked at the tip of a lot in front

when the trees were bare

they saw through to the river, still with milky-ice

in the split moment before Spring

ice having broken to chunks, trees as yet unbudded

they saw the river – lustrous, flowing


These were people who couldn’t  

move from the front window

Still, they saw so much.



is vulnerability

but the weight of patience

waiting in active stillness,

wandering with calm movement

for all that we may find.

And pain, the ultimate patience

the pain that we risk

in opening ourselves,

in giving

It stretches us more porous if we let it.




To make love the lump in our throats.


The poem, an abstraction

The song, a soaring secret:

gull of a grand world

at peace with the still self

and one with the bare

bareness of being.

[1] A large slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

[2] Pina, a common alcohol in the slums (favelas) of Sao Paulo, Brazil.



from breathing for breadth (TSAR: 2005, pp. 118-121)

*photo by Salimah Valiani








2 responses to “silver and stones

  1. hey salimah
    happy new year
    i like the gull imagery…speaking of birds and their magic, i was in a bird sanctuary near my house on jan 1, and as i was talking about death, a great grey owl swooped down and perched itself upon a tree beside me. FUNNY, THIS OWL REPRESENTS DEATH through new beginings, i.e., jan1 new year. i thought it was interesting.

  2. Thanks for the poetry – sparse, simple yet profound in its relations to earth, rock and nature;including those who labour at hard tasks and those who live sparsely;they have survival skills for hard times ahead that many of us who live comfortably do not have.let’s ask them

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