Lisa Gill


as a Lotus

Letters to a
Dead Trappist

128 pages

6 x 9 inches

ISBN: 1-888809-33-7




Originally given an old copy of Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation by a friend’s mother, Lisa Gill began a series of 14 line poems which meticulously transcribe her own spiritual reckoning. As a response to Merton’s life and echoing the resonance she found in a world-view which included Christian contemplative life as well as Eastern religions and political work, she has fashioned a testament driven by a “hard-ass” sincerity capable of seeing her own distinct life. With a hunger that fallibility makes for receptivity and an eye which stays true to the bone, these poems lead toward the deep nature of immediate landscape and psyche with a capacity for perceiving their connectedness. A resolution exists here that poetry is indeed a calling—a journey of consequences where one keeps asking questions while pulled by a sense of Presence. Thomas Merton acts as inspiration as well as a friend for such dialogue, someone to hold her to scrutiny and not allow the glossing over of what’s real. In turns terrifying, funny, fierce, and transcendent, any one of these poems would reward a day’s meditation, yet it is impossible to stop reading them one after the other. Spare and lush at the same time, they work together like a tapestry of ever deepening revelations. Take nothing for granted, open the door, notice everything—know yourself, know poverty, doubt, ecstasy. For Lisa Gill every day is the first and last day of the world. Brilliant and uncompromising, this book will certainly appeal to anyone drawn to the sensibilities of Merton or the beauty of language at the service of inquiry.


Red as a Lotus like life is a peaceful mystery—a book that reaches and while it’s reaching, the reader’s mind wakes and the body wakes, and the tingling world exists as language and right next to it. It’s sort of a prayer and a love letter and something to keep next to the bed and the toilet and on your writing desk. Damn, she’s good. Maybe she’s talking to Thomas Merton, but Lisa Gill wrote it for me.

—Eileen Myles

Red as a Lotus is a revelation. Its spiritual economy, its sense of character and place, and its fierce linguistic playfulness invite comparisons to Annie Dillard and Emily Dickinson. Like Thomas Merton, to whom these poems are written, Lisa Gill is a pilgrim of the inner life, willing whenever possible to live in a solitude that goes against the grain of our time.

—Alan Davis

This book is a testament to a rare kind of spiritual courage, one that is aware of its own unsteadiness, and because of this it is never pompous. It is a courage cloaked in humility, a courage violated by every doubt and suffering, a courage of almost hostile tenderness—and a sincerity that can rip you to shreds. Lisa Gill is not content to merely occupy a world, or even simply observe it. She must dismantle the world, and the assumptions that sustain it, down to the barest bolts and put it all back together again. We are left with the same world at the end of the book, but our awareness is forever altered.

—Mitch Rayes


Lisa Gill has just written a dazzling little journal of poetic meditations, Red as a Lotus: Letters to a Dead Trappist. Living alone in a little trailer by an alfalfa field with a copy of Thomas Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation, she’s woven a delicate basket of direct address to her dead monk muse (and the brilliant poet of Cables to the Ace), a Dickinsonian attention to simple lyric details, and a postmodern assemblage artist’s splash of imagery.

— Art Goodtimes


Red as a Lotus:
Letters to a Dead Trappist

by Lisa Gill

A Review by Jessica Powers

Lisa Gill wrote Red as a Lotus during the two years that she lived alone in a trailer next to an alfalfa field and while reading Thomas Merton’s book, Seeds of Contemplation. Merton claims, “The purpose of a book of meditations is to teach you how to think and not to do your thinking for you.” So she started writing letters to this Catholic monk, a man who died before she was even born. She couldn’t help herself. Simply reading and living where she did drew the letters out of her.

She begins:

Dear Thomas,
I write because we have something in common,
not death though that might work metaphorically,
rather what’s in our chests: your sternum and
my sternum are so similar I find myself hopeful.
Perhaps life can be endured despite this nasty bone.

She ends with an explanation that she’s been studying Chinese, and is curious about the word “zizijiao,” which she thinks means:

…the cry of a girl
who’d prefer to be a bird or a monkey but can’t. So she contemplates sandpipers, hoping at least to figure out how to move when moving,
and how to be still when still, body mind and tongue consensual.

In between the beginning and end, Gill’s poetry whispers the wisdom of mystics and monks— daily meditation. She tells Merton no end of secrets she learns from the desert:

“Perspective is shifty as a coyote,” and “This part, where you learn / to dig, is not easy…. / You begin to hunger / for harvests. You begin to search for what’s sustainable.”

She’s lonely, but it’s the sort of loneliness sought in order to find strength. She wishes, unaccountably, to be pulled over by cops, or maybe by “William Carlos Williams, so I could be seen for who I am.”

Gill’s honesty and simplicity tug at what makes all of us human, and what makes us all long for something outside ourselves.

from NewPages

Lisa Gill is an award-winning fiction writer, poet, performance artist, and community organizer. She lives near Moriarty, New Mexico.