Lenten Daily Devotionals

Properties of Light

A Poem for Saturday

Mid-October in Central Park, one of the elms
has changed early, burning with a light
grown accustomed to its own magnificence,
imperceptible until this moment when it becomes
more than itself, more than a ritual
of self-immolation. I think of sacrifice
as nourishment, the light feeding bark and veins
and blood and skin, the tree better off
for wanting nothing more. I used to imagine
the chakra like this—a hole in the soul
from the top of the head, where the light of knowing
can shimmer through. In the summer of 1979
I saw that light shoot from my brother’s forehead
as we sat chanting in a temple in Manila.
He didn’t see it pulsing like a bulb in a storm,
but he said he felt the warmth that wasn’t warmth
but peace. And I, who have never been
so privileged, since then have wondered
if we believed everything because not to believe
was to be unhappy. I’ve seen that light elsewhere
—on a river in Bangkok, or pixeled across
the shattered façades of Prague—but it is here
where I perceive its keenest rarity, where I know
it has passed over all the world, has given shape
to cities, cast glamour over the eyes of the skeptic,
so that it comes to me informed with the wonder
of many beings. I can’t begin to say how infinite I feel,
as though I were one of many a weightless absence
touches, and out of this a strange transformation:
the soul ringed with changes, as old as a tree,
as old as light. I am always learning the same thing:
there is no other way to live than this,
still, and grateful, and full of longing.

Eric Gamalinda (b. 1956)

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