How to Make an Altar
Start with an empty space—a nightstand,
a book shelf, an old telephone nook in the wall.
Or maybe start with shells gathered
from Morro Strand, river stones pocketed
from Mt. Tamilpias, acorns and pine needles
from 14016 Quail Run Drive where you folded
white paper bags with your father,
filled them with sand and a single candle,
lined the road with 96 bags from neighbor
to neighbor, waited until dusk to light the Luminaria –
the whole neighborhood coming alive
under your hand. Or maybe start
with a focal object: Buddha folded and bronzed,
Quan Yin draped in porcelain. Add in others –
A Polaroid of your mother as a child
standing in the snow in Blue Eye, Arkansas,
Wonder bread bags taped around her feet
like boots. A sticky-note left on your hotel door
by the teenage elevator boy: You’re a Babe!
Blue feathers, a found silver-hoop earring.
Add in elements: small bowl of ocean water,
fire in a purple candle, incense from the house
in Puerto Rico. Air,
Resist the temptation to cover every surface
with teabag messages. Give a hand-width
space to the unknown. An agreement
with the way of things, the not now but then of things.
Once you have arranged the cartography
of tarot cards, grandfather’s compass, your old
wedding band, sit here. Dance here. Breathe
and bathe here. Use it as you would a horse,
let it take you places, let it haul shit up and away.
Groom it like the beautiful, wild beast it is.
If the fires come, do not try to carry it with you—
Just swing open the barn door and let it go.