A Looming Book of Soul Fragments

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2023

By Robert C. Koehler

Confession: I have a few books out there that no one knows about because I haven’t written them . . . well, finished them.

I’ve talked in previous columns about “wrestling with infinity” — the match I always lose — by which I mean, picking a subject too large to reduce to words and eventually getting hopelessly lost in it, e.g.: shifting human consciousness, transcending what we think we know, truly creating peace (whatever that is).

So welcome to my latest attempt to circumvent infinity. The book I’m aiming at is a collection of the poetry I’ve written over the past two decades, but not exactly. It’s not really a “collection” of anything — art objects on display in glass cases, meant to be admired — and the poetry (and other stuff) I would include I think of essentially as “soul fragments”: bleeding pieces of personal truth.

And the point of the book is to enter the present moment with the reader, to revere life together, to tremble at its wonder, to look into the eyes the unknown . . . with the help of something I call the Blue Pearl.

A second confession: I admit it, I’m a jewel thief. I came upon the concept “Blue Pearl” many years ago, in a book called Meditate, by Swami Muktananda. He describes the Blue Pearl as something found at a deep stage of meditation: “a tiny blue light, the light of the Self.

“The Blue Pearl is the size of a sesame seed, but in reality it is so vast it contains the entire universe. . . . (It) lights up our faces and our hearts; it is because of this light that we give love to others.”

Fascinated as I was by this, I considered myself a total mediocrity when it came to meditation, and knew I would never reach a level where I might somehow grasp the Blue Pearl. But a decade later, something happened. My wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.


By the time it was discovered, it had metastasized throughout her gastrointestinal system. She was given four months to live — case closed, nothing can be done. The doctor we talked to in the wake of her surgery was stunningly emphatic, so much so that I wrote in my journal afterwards: “At this point my image of Western medicine is of a mason jar with the lid closed tight, all the facts in there stale and hopeless. They want Barbara inside that jar and inside that jar she’s going to die.”

We had no choice but to reach beyond this medical certainty in every way we could — to reach for alleged miracles, and to savor every day, every moment. And, oh my God, I needed a real role to play. I asked Barbara if I could be her “spiritual advisor,” whatever that might mean. She concurred. We joined the Cancer Wellness Center, read the same books, looked at treatments beyond the world of conventional medicine (some doctors tread there) . . . and I thought about the Blue Pearl.

Indeed, I just took it — smashed the window, reached in and seized it, brought it into my life and Barbara’s life. I could never have seized the Blue Pearl if it hadn’t been for the shock of the medical diagnosis, which shattered not some window in a museum of world religions, but an inner window of self-doubt and false awe that could just as easily be called intimidation. I don’t quite know what I seized, maybe no more than three words: “the blue pearl.”

But as I felt Barbara’s mortality looming, kicking around in the next room — as I felt my own mortality for the first time — a sense of urgency lit up. This is all we’re going to get. And it was the life around me that began to glow, infused by some precious secret about how much life is worth that the dying pass back and forth to one another.

Barbara survived beyond the diagnosis. She lived nine months — months that were difficult and pain-ridden, but also amazing beyond, beyond words. After her passing I started writing poetry. The narrative of my life was interrupted, shattered. I could only write poetry, for the first year or so that I was a widower. I wrote about her life. I wrote about cancer. I wrote about our 12-year-old daughter. I wrote about whatever I encountered — the beauty of wet snow, the StreetWise salesman at the train station who pleaded: “Pray for me.” I wrote about a ceiling leak. I wrote about my dad.

So these are the soul fragments I want to clump into a book: sparkling blue pearls, perhaps, each of which tries in its own way to turn a moment sacred, to turn life’s every moment sacred. Here, for instance, are the final lines of a poem called “The Blue Pearl”:

. . . In the lifeless parking lot
my wild heart,
so big and wanting
happiness, a cure for
cancer or just five years
five years to perfectly
love my wife, stops,
lets go of itself,
bears for an instant
the silver-streaked now
of truth,
now now only now
and always now
she is alive
and I am alive
and that’s my miracle
and it’s enough.