they get up in the morning
and begin to find things
and they fling themselves
into a rage about
a rage that lasts until
where even there
they twist in their
not able to rid their
of the petty obstacles
they feel set against,
it’s a plot.
and by being constantly
angry they feel that
they are constantly
you see them in traffic
at the slightest
you feel them
they are pressing
at your back
walking on your
they are impatient to
they are everywhere
actually they are
never wanting to be
they lash out
it is a malady
an illness of
the first one
I saw like that
and since then
I have seen a
wasting their lives
tossing their lives
by Tony Hoagland
She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It’s six-thirty in the morning
and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the cross beam of the porch,
windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she’s trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.
She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it—the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
because it wasn’t there.
No one, including me, especially anymore believes
till death do us part,
but I can see what I would miss in leaving—
the way her ankles go into the work boots
as she stands on the ice chest;
the problem scrunched into her forehead;
the little kissable mouth
with the nail in it.
to make the clouds pause in the mirror
of my waters, to be home to fallen rain
that finds its way to me, to turn eons
of loveless rock into lovesick pebbles
and carry them as humble gifts back
to the sea which brings life back to me.
I felt the sun flare, praised each star
flocked about the moon long before
you did. I’ve breathed air you’ll never
breathe, listened to songbirds before
you could speak their names, before
you dug your oars in me, before you
created the gods that created you.
Then countries—your invention—maps
jigsawing the world into colored shapes
caged in bold lines to say: you’re here,
not there, you’re this, not that, to say:
yellow isn’t red, red isn’t black, black is
not white, to say: mine, not ours, to say
war, and believe life’s worth is relative.
You named me big river, drew me—blue,
thick to divide, to say: spic and Yankee,
to say: wetback and gringo. You split me
in two—half of me us, the rest them. But
I wasn’t meant to drown children, hear
mothers’ cries, never meant to be your
geography: a line, a border, a murderer.
I was meant for all things to meet:
the mirrored clouds and sun’s tingle,
birdsongs and the quiet moon, the wind
and its dust, the rush of mountain rain—
and us. Blood that runs in you is water
flowing in me, both life, the truth we
know we know: be one in one another."
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983.
The earth, and every common sight
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more...."
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From (the Mystery), (which) is our home...."
Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.
All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows' ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There's a business
like show business.
There's something new
under the sun.
Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There's rest for the weary.
There's turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.
Some days I know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when I go
take it with me.-Ron Wallace
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes a circle of light for everyone
and then no one outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything-
shapes and fires, animals and myself,
how easily it gathers them! -
powers and people-
and it is possible a great presence is moving near me.
I have faith in nights
"I don't have the strength
To wring out another drop
Of the sun."
And the poem will often
By climbing onto a barroom table:
Then lifts its skirt, winks,
Causing the whole sky to
― شمس الدین محمد حافظ / Khwāja Šams ud-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī, The Gift
By John Hall Wheelock
In the quiet before cockcrow when the cricket’s
Mandolin falters, when the light of the past
Falling from the high stars yet haunts the earth
And the east quickens, I think of those I love –
Dear men and women no longer with us.
And not in grief or regret merely but rather
With a love that is almost joy I think of them,
Of whom I am part, as they of me, and through whom
I am made more wholly one with the pain and the glory,
The heartbreak at the heart of things.
I have learned it from them at last, who am now grown old
A happy man, that the nature of things is tragic
And meaningful beyond words, that to have lived
Even if once, only once and no more,
Will have been – oh, how truly – worth it.
The years go by: March flows into April,
The sycamore’s delicate tracery puts on
Its tender green; April is August soon;
Autumn, and the raving of insect choirs,
The thud of apples in moonlit orchards;
Till winter brings the slant, windy light again
On shining Manhattan, her towering stone and glass;
And age deepens – oh, much is taken, but one
Dearer than all remains, and life is sweet
Still to the now enlightened spirit.
Doors are opened that never before were opened,
New ways stand open, but quietly one door
Closes, the door to the future; there it is written,
“Thus far and no farther” – there, as at Eden’s gate,
The angel with the fiery sword.
The Eden we dream of, the Eden that lies before us,
The unattainable dream, soon lies behind.
Eden is always yesterday or tomorrow,
There is no way back now but back, back to the past –
The past has become paradise.
And there they dwell, those ineffable presences,
Safe beyond time, rescued from death and change.
Though all be taken, they only shall not be taken –
Immortal, unaging, unaltered, faithful yet
To that lost dream world they inhabit.
Truly, to me they may come no more,
But I to them in reverie and remembrance
Still may return, in me they still live on;
In me they shall have their being, till we together
Darken in the great memory.
Dear eyes of delight, dear youthful tresses, foreheads
Furrowed with age, dear hands of love and care –
Lying awake at dawn, I remember them,
With a love that is almost joy I remember them:
Lost, and all mine, all mine, forever.
* * *
And so, it has come to this...for me...the vagrant (but penitent) pilgrim. I dream of the woman who smells like Heaven…who smells "like angels oughtta." I dream of the woman with the smoldering eyes...the woman who filled me with such incredible delight.
Although I realize my dreams will never come to be incarnate, I know she will always be mine, all mine...forever.
I am the wave of the ocean
I am the murmur of the billows
I am the ox of the seven combats
I am the vulture upon the rocks
I am a beam of the sun
I am the fairest of plants
I am a wild boar in valour
I am a salmon in the water
I am a lake in the plain
I am a word of knowledge
I am the point of the lance of battle
I am the God who created the fire in the head"
-Amergin, 1700 BC
by Hayden Saunier
A dog and I stare at each other
from our separate cars, waiting for our people to return.
He’s a shepherd mix, big head, big ears,
like me, he’s riding shotgun.
Heat blares inside my car,
exhaust plumes from the pickup truck he’s in,
so I know he isn’t freezing but I don’t know
if he’s a he or a she, so I just think he.
He watches doors slide open and closed, open and closed.
So do I.
We look at each other, then back to the doors and I wonder
who will come back first—his owner or my friend?
I watch the doors, then the dog. I watch
two girls walk to their car, chuck frozen A-Treat soda cans
out of the dented trunk, make room for beer.
I look back to the doors, then the dog, and I see
a man in the driver’s seat—his owner has come back!
But I can’t see the dog.
I want to see the dog.
I want to see that he’s happy he won,
even though he didn’t know there was a contest,
even though he might not be a he,
I want to know he loves his owner, even though
I am assuming all this, I assume things, I assume, I do.
I assume he’s a he, I assume his owner loves him,
I assume my friend is coming back,
(milk, she said, just milk).
The man in the truck sits head down, cap down,
rolling a smoke, or checking his phone but
something’s not right. I watch.
I see the stripe on what I think is the man’s cap
turn into the collar on the dog,
and I realize it’s the dog in the truck, not a man in the truck,
it’s still the dog, like it’s still me, waiting,
only he moved over to the driver’s seat. If he’s a he.
I’ve confused a dog and a man. Oh god, I think,
I’m getting carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty heat vent,
but that’s when my friend gets back in the car
with milk, bread, jello, toothpaste, laundry soap.
She begins a story about some guy at the checkout counter
as she backs the car away from the dog
and the truck and the doors and I’m suddenly sad now,
that churned-up-torn-inside-the-chest-feeling sad
because we’re leaving and I wish I hadn’t won,
I wish he’d won, but he didn’t, I won,
and he might not be a he, and I keep twisting, looking
back, hoping for a glimpse of the owner,
but no one’s walking toward the dog in the truck
who could get carbon monoxide poisoning,
and there’s nothing I can do
but watch as long as I can,
because I need to know that he’s all right,
because we were the same back there,
we were the same.
that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many.
We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers.
All the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity.
And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness." — “Of the Empire"
by Kristal Leebrick
I remember our breath
in the icy air
and how the northern lights gathered
in a haze at the horizon,
spread up past the water tower
then vanished into the dark.
I remember that January night in North Dakota:
We left the dance,
the hoods of our dads’ air force parkas zipped tight,
our bare hands pulled into the coat sleeves.
into the wind
down the drifting sidewalks of our eighth-grade lives
to the brick-and-clapboard row houses on Spruce Street.
We ducked between buildings
and you pulled me close.
A flickering light from someone’s TV screen.
A kitchen window.
Your fingers tracing my face.
Your hair brushing my eyes.
Your skin, your lips.
I remember that January night in North Dakota,
but I can’t remember your name.
over the French roast, oily perfume rising in smoke.
And when I enter, you don’t look up.
You’re hurrying to pack your lunch, snapping
the lids on little plastic boxes while you call your mother
to tell her you’ll take her to the doctor.
I can’t see a trace of the little slice of heaven
we slipped into last night—a silk kimono
floating satin ponds and copper koi, stars falling
to the water. Didn’t we shoulder
our way through the cleft in the rock of the everyday
and tear up the grass in the pasture of pleasure?
If the soul isn’t a separate vessel
we carry from form to form,
but more like Aristotle’s breath of life—
the work of the body that keeps it whole—
then last night, darling, our souls were busy.
But this morning it’s like you’re wearing a bad wig,
disguised so I won’t recognize you
or maybe so you won’t know yourself
as that animal burned down
to pure desire. I don’t know
how you do it. I want to throw myself
onto the kitchen tile and bare my throat.
I want to slick back my hair
and tap-dance up the wall. I want to do it all
all over again—dive back into that brawl,
that raw and radiant free-for-all.
But you are scribbling a shopping list
because the kids are coming for the weekend
and you’re going to make your special crab cakes
that have ruined me for all other crab cakes
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!”-Hughs
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.-L.Clifton
I had, periodically, suffered from considerable
pain on that side, in my painting arm,
but in this instance there was no pain.
Indeed, there was no feeling.
My doctor arrived within the hour.
There was immediately the question of other doctors,
various tests, procedures—
I sent the doctor away
and instead hired the secretary who transcribes these notes,
whose skills, I am assured, are adequate to my needs.
He sits beside the bed with his head down,
possibly to avoid being described.
So we begin. There is a sense
of gaiety in the air,
as though birds were singing.
Through the open window come gusts of sweet scented air.
My birthday (I remember) is fast approaching.
Perhaps the two great moments will collide
and I will see my selves meet, coming and going—
Of course, much of my original self
is already dead, so a ghost would be forced
to embrace a mutilation.
The sky, alas, is still far away,
not really visible from the bed.
It exists now as a remote hypothesis,
a place of freedom utterly unconstrained by reality.
I find myself imagining the triumphs of old age,
immaculate, visionary drawings
made with my left hand—
“left,” also, as “remaining.”
The window is closed. Silence again, multiplied.
And in my right arm, all feeling departed.
As when the stewardess announces the conclusion
of the audio portion of one’s in-flight service.
Feeling has departed—it occurs to me
this would make a fine headstone.
But I was wrong to suggest
this has occurred before.
In fact, I have been hounded by feeling;
it is the gift of expression
that has so often failed me.
Failed me, tormented me, virtually all my life.
The secretary lifts his head,
filled with the abstract deference
the approach of death inspires.
It cannot help, really, but be thrilling,
this emerging of shape from chaos.
A machine, I see, has been installed by my bed
to inform my visitors
of my progress toward the horizon.
My own gaze keeps drifting toward it,
the unstable line gently
like a human voice in a lullaby.
And then the voice grows still.
At which point my soul will have merged
with the infinite, which is represented
by a straight line,
like a minus sign.
I have no heirs
in the sense that I have nothing of substance
to leave behind.
Possibly time will revise this disappointment.
Those who know me well will find no news here;
I sympathize. Those to whom
I am bound by affection
will forgive, I hope, the distortions
compelled by the occasion.
I will be brief. This concludes,
as the stewardess says,
our short flight.
And all the persons one will never know
crowd into the aisle, and all are funnelled
into the terminal."
there was the simple understanding that
to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk
was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember
what we have forgotten,
that the world is meant to be
~Terry Tempest Williams
she’s wonderfully light on her feet,
prancing from blossom to blossom in toe shoes,
rehearsing, we’re told, for a debut appearance in Mexico.
But how can that be possible,
when this one has taken an entire afternoon
just to make it from one end of the garden
thirty feet to the other, flouncing along,
touching each leaf that she wants to remember?”
And so you call your best friend
who’s away, just to hear his voice,
but forget his recording concludes
with “Have a nice day.”
“Thank you, but I have other plans,”
you’re always tempted to respond,
as an old lady once did, the clerk
in the liquor store unable to laugh.
Always tempted, what a sad
combination of words. And so
you take a walk into the neighborhood,
where the rhododendrons are out
and also some yellow things
and the lilacs remind you of a song
by Nina Simone. “Where’s my love?”
is its refrain. Up near Gravel Hill
two fidgety deer cross the road,
whitetails, exactly where
the week before a red fox
made a more confident dash.
Now and then the world rewards,
and so you make your way back
past the careful lawns, the drowsy backyards,
knowing the soul on its own
is helpless, asleep in the hollows
of its rigging, waiting to be stirred.
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he’s gladdest to hail.
We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.
It wouldn’t be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
and the ones whom we grudged
their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain…
So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again."
one below the other, one easier to hear, the other
lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard
yet always present.
When all other things seem lively and real,
this one fades. Yet the notes of it
touch as gently as fingertips, as the sound
of the names laid over each child at birth.
I want to stay in that music without striving or cover.
If the truth of our lives is what it is playing,
the telling is so soft
that this mortal time, this irrevocable change,
becomes beautiful. I stop and stop again
to hear the second music.
I hear the children in the yard, a train, then birds.
All this is in it and will be gone. I set my ear to it as I would to a heart."
(1934 - )
(To remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill -- more of each
than you have -- inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
by Billy Collins
Today I was awakened by strong coffee
and the awareness that the earth is busy with whales
even though we can't see any
unless we have embarked on a whale watch,
which would be disappointing if we still couldn't see any.
I can see the steam rising from my yellow cup,
the usual furniture scattered about,
and even some early light filtering through the palms.
Meanwhile, thousands of whales are cruising
along at various speeds under the seas,
crisscrossing one another, slaloming in and out
of the Gulf Stream, some with their calves
traveling alongside-such big blunt heads they have!
So is it too much to ask that one day a year
be set aside for keeping in mind
while we step onto a bus, consume a ham sandwich,
or stoop to pick up a coin from a sidewalk
the multitude of these mammoth creatures
coasting between the continents,
some for the fun of it, others purposeful in their journeys,
all concealed under the sea, unless somewhere
one breaks the surface
with an astonishing upheaval of water
and all the people in yellow slickers
rush to one side of the boat to point and shout
and wonder how to tell their friends about the day they saw a whale?