Poems by Rachel Holstead

Poems by Rachel Holstead



On those difficult days, when a frontier looms,
decisions seem called for
and the armies of your mind muster
and set off on a headlong gallop
towards the horizon,

they make so much noise
that the heart's soft voice
is drowned out,
and kick up so much dust
that compassion's anchor loses purchase.

The faster the armies gallop,
the farther away the horizon seems,
the bumpier the path
and the cloudier the dusty air

and we trip over innocent rocks
and trample innocent plants
and startle quietly grazing flocks,
causing them to scatter
and become embroiled in our turmoil.

But if we can persuade the horde
to slow a little
– that stopping a while will help
rather than hinder –
perhaps we can sit by the side of the track
and let the dust settle
and the noise die away.

And somehow, we find ourselves
where we need to be
– which is here –
and we can set anchor again.

And when, out of the silence,
the soft voice of our heart speaks,
it has all the answers we need.


Keep it close,
that moment when your heart tugs
and your eyes well.

To feel the world's sorrow
is also to feel its joy.

Allow moments to expand
to hold all they have to show us.

Slow your step,
so the ground where you are
can be washed by your tears.

Then watch,
as the slow pale light that follows
and the whole world sparkles,
like sunshine after rain.

Stop and stand

Stop and stand
on your own patch of ground
– where your feet are.

Really stand there,
all of you – body and mind.

From this place
comes all your wisdom,
comes every answer
that is possible
for you to know
right now.

* * *

And when you see hurt,
hold tight to your sword
and know that you cannot fix another.

Instead, bear witness with the ground
to that other body,
to all its found and unfound wisdom.

And when you think
‘I want to take your suffering’
just stand.

And when you think
‘I want to take your pain’
just stand.

And when you think
‘I cannot bear to stand here, I have to do something’
just stand.

And if you really must do something,
then remember love
and breath it
and be it.

And let the seams of your soul
soften and melt away
so the boundary
between me and you
is no longer there
and we are both love
and witness to love,
ground and standing feet,
question and answer.

Let me hear you

Let me hear you.
Speak your heart
and empty out those dark corners.

Words unspoken
cannot bring joy.
Let them dance,
even if their steps first falter.

Trust that what emerges
will be warmed by the sun,
will be sheltered from the wind
by my listening.

Let words that have been furled
tighter and tighter inside
emerge and stretch and sway.
Watch them lighten

and feel your heart lift
as their weight eases
and they flow out into the world
like butterflies, to land or float away.

Let them go
and see your soul dance
to sweet silence
in the hallowed space that remains.


My heart is as big as the island of Ireland,
its edges sheer cliffs and infinite rocky shores.
Inside, there is hummocky land, vast expanses of bog
and pockets of lush pasture.

And everywhere, there are jewels,
small fluttering birds, lustrous grasses, tiny blossoms.

My heart is full of jewels
that catch the light of each moment
and shine its spectrum
back out into the world.


Imagine sitting on the mountainside,
the whole world spread out before you,
the tide ebbing and flowing,
waves whispering on the shore
or crashing on rocky outcrops,
weather sweeping in from the west, or east,
obscuring parts of the landscape
or changing the colour of everything,
sheep wandering in the fields below,
ships like specks on the horizon.

Sit here and tell me
that you are the centre of things,
that the thoughts in your head
are so important that they change
the face of the world.

Watch the slow rhythm,
the constant change
that happens without you doing anything at all,
and feel the comfort of this.

Sit and be curious, and pay attention,
so that when you choose to join the dance,
you will have no illusions about being
the centre of it,
but can skip lightly and skillfully
along its myriad paths.

Spring Poem

for Eddie, and in homage to Micheál Fanning

Anxious moments these,
watching lambs take
faltering first steps
in the field below the house.

Impossible to accept
that nature takes her course
– anxiety leaps
with each stumble of tiny hooves
each hop of the preying bird.

Trust instead
the wise man down the road
who tempers anxiety with calm,
concern with care,
as he shepherds his growing flock.

Me, I sweep the floor,
untousle the bedroom
and make breakfast
– tending my own small flock
of cat, man and soul
the best I can.

The real world

Try living in the real world.
Cut out the escapes
into fiction and fantasy,
into wanting and dreaming,
and open your soul to what is around you
in all its irrational glory.

Can you face that gap
between letting go
of all that you cling to,
and facing that
from which you have hidden?
No small task –
an uncomfortable spotlight
on yourself at centre stage.

But in this great unentangling
of heart and mind,
can you find joy
in those simple things
that lie around you?
Can you meet
the tender heart
of the stranger you pass?

How can I explain
those moments of joy and gratitude
that well in the midst of your suffering?
No lack of care or compassion –
what privilege just to be alive with you,
to offer even a morsel of comfort.

And if joy is even here,
then trust that it is everywhere
in this real world of suffering and impermanence
if we care to look it
and ourselves in the eye.

Thank you

for Ann Marie

Thank you for telling me your sorrow,
for sharing that tender flower in your heart.

Would that I had the sense to have listened all day,
but the world confounds and confuses
and I could not have been better than I was.

But you were raw and true
and you waited for me.
Thank you.


The cloud lifts
and the mountain is suddenly white,
merging with grey-black sky and light.

Everything changes
– bare branches suddenly adorned with blossom,
scarlet amaryllis outrageous in bloom

and now the sky
– lilac and lavender –
and, already, the snow melting and fading.

Let go of clinging
and join the dance.
Let soft body and supple mind
join the ongoing flow of life.

Each moment
– of glory or despair –
is just as it is,
as long as it is,
and it passes.

Be the flow, the movement,
the flicker of light on the hillside.
Be in every now, not just this now,
be the music and the dance.


We seek safety in control,
in putting things in place
in setting things up
in holding on tight.

But really, the world will turn as it will
and all we must do is grow older
and, someday, pass away.

And the more we pretend
that this is not so,
the less time we have for really living.

Can it not be beautiful,
this slow tuning in with the world,
this slow settling into our skin,
this careful tending of the light within?

By feeling this raindrop,
we are alive.

By watching that wave break
and hearing its sound on the shore,
we are alive.

By watching the sun come up
and hitting the snow on the mountain,
which is not how it was yesterday
and is not as it will be tomorrow,
and is only now,
we are alive.

Let us not find ourselves at the end
thinking ‘what happened?’
but just be here, and here, and now, and now
each moment deepening our wisdom
and refreshing our hearts.


Give yourself the gift of your attention.
Catch the whirlwind rush
and gently, calmly, set it aside.

Sit still and watch its flurries
echo inside you.
Stick with the stillness
and find calm in your breath.

And as the flurries dissipate,
find the knot inside
whose tight curling, tense clinging,
is at the centre of it all.

And sit and still sit
and know that, in time,
the knot will unfurl, release,
and there will be space again.

And space becomes your gift,
encircles everything,
slows the pace,
lets the light in.


Look how the colour has come back
into the world
– one night's rain enough
to awaken new growth.

Do you remember how it is
to be soft?
Like a young child
before the strains of the world
grow into her bones.

Look at that river of shining blue
that meanders across the bay.

How is it to flow through this world,
curving gracefully with its currents?

Look at the cat's warm body
in the sun on the windowsill.

Let us be animal again,
awake to the light and the rain and the warmth,
soft and alive and blessed.

Human I

Give people space to be human.
Loosen the nooses of judgement
we tie around each other
– prejudging imagined actions.

Give yourself space to see how things are.
Look through the lens of love and compassion
– see suffering for what it is
and the actions born of it.

Set aside your need to be right
and instead, recognise that ache
as the creaking of the heart's doors
as they struggle to stay open.

Allow the pain of unmet desires
– for closeness, agreement, support –
and outside that narrow focus,
find other unexpected treasures.

Give yourself time
for the slow dawning of truth and wisdom
and feel the warm glow of light
when it arrives.

Human II

Ditch the mechanical illusion, the digital vision.
We humans cannot go faster than our hearts allow,
than the bellows of our lungs will pump.

Take this as a comfort –
that so many expectations
are unreal, unattainable,
laughable even.

We are human
and our power is in being ourselves,
in nurturing our hearts,
in nourishing our bodies and minds.

And if speed is required,
it comes from clear minds,
strong bodies and open hearts,
not from ticking clocks
or endless machines.

Be fierce in your humanity.
Be devoted to this life.
Be light on this earth.


Lost in thought,
I am jolted into the present
by two horses
bucking and kicking across a field,
by a boat
traversing a silvery blue shower in the bay,
by clouds
swooping like pregnant swans on Brandon.

How can I lock myself
in the box in my head
in a world of such magic and wonder?

What need for altars
when such wondrous reality
bucks and kicks
and demands my attention?


You can't make it perfect.
Life has a habit
of popping up to remind you of impermanence.

Be graceful in letting go,
in releasing that perfect dream.
Let yourself come gently down
to reality, to how it really is
and to the constant change
that happens whatever we do.

Set your feet on the ground again
and let yourself flow with the earth's turning.
There is no perfection but this dance
with all its colours,
nothing to do but the living and letting go
of every moment.


I am tired
of living in niches within niches.
I want to be out in the open,
free to feel the fullness
of the wind, the light, the rain.

To touch the earth
and not just marvel
but dig in and become it
and nourish and grow
and be nourished and grow
and learn.

And to have the space
to find the space around my heart
which gives space to see
that there is space for everything.

And not shut out, put off or shrink away
but to open wide, let in, stand firm.

And to find strength
from the roots in my feet
that go deep down into the earth
and touch the magma at its core.

And to go into the dark and be still
and to find the flame
and bring fire into this world
and to open my eyes and be awake.

And to know, then, no tiredness,
only brimming calm.
No walls, only infinite space.
No fear, only infinite love.

Air dancing

On the beach yesterday,
a massive wind
blew spray from wave,
sand from shore,
the very particles of being.

We are nothing more
than a momentary
assemblage of atoms,
forming and reforming.
Nothing but a movement
of air and matter
blown by the currents
of the universe.

Yesterday, the wind blew me asunder
leaving nothing but air dancing
on the shore
and I was nothing
but emptyness and connection.

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