Monday, December 27, 2010

Eternity, William Blake



He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.

by William Blake, from The Complete Poetry
and Prose of William Blake, 1997

Monday, December 20, 2010

Footnote To Howl, Allan Ginsburg

Hello Poets,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti promised to publish Allan Ginsberg's poem Howl after it was read to a stunned audience on October 7, 1955 at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. Since Howl was too short to make a entire book, Ginsberg completed Part II and Footnote which follows below. 
In response to Ginsberg's reading, Michael McClure famously wrote: "Ginsberg read on to the end of the poem, which left us standing in wonder, or cheering and wondering, but knowing at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America..."

Footnote To Howl

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
     Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
     The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
     and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody's holy! everywhere is
     holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman's an
The bum's as holy as the seraphim! the madman is
     holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is
     holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
     Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cas-
     sady holy the unknown buggered and suffering
     beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks
     of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop
     apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana
     hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy
     the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the
     mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the
     middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell-
     ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria &
     Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow
     Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the
     clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy
     the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
     locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucina-
     tions holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
     bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
     kindness of the soul!

by Allen Ginsberg, from Howl, 1956

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lighthouse, by Jane Hirshfield

Hello Poets,
Jane Hirshfield captures the slow dance of consciousness in image and metaphor, there and then gone. 
Take your time, read it several times over, commit it to memory. There is much depth and simple beauty here.


Its vision sweeps its one path
like an aged monk raking a garden,
his question long ago answered or moved on.
Far off, night-grazing horses,
breath scented with oatgrass and fennel,
step through it, disappear, step through it, disappear.

by Jane Hirshfield, from The Wisdom Anthology
of North American Buddhist Poetry
ed. Andrew Schelling, 2005

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Journey, by Mary Oliver, from Dream Work


The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.

by Mary Oliver, from Dream Work, 1994

So long as you haven't experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.
   - Goethe

Monday, November 29, 2010

Allegiances, by William Stafford

Hello Poets,
As the nights lengthen, I turn to Bill Stafford's poems. They nourish with their common wisdom and everyday joy.
Bill famously wrote a poem every morning before sunrise. Allegiances is from his 1970 volume of the same name and I can imagine him this cold, dim morning sitting down in the dark before everyone wakes and writing these simple truths.
Best to you all,


It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.

Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked—
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders:—we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

by William Stafford, from Allegiances, 1970

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Third Body, by Robert Bly

The Third Body

A man and a woman sit near each other, and they do
  not long
At this moment to be older, or younger, or born
In any other nation, or any other time, or any other
They are content to be where they are, talking or not
Their breaths together feed someone whom we do
  not know.
The man sees the way his fingers move;
He sees her hands close around a book she hands to
They obey a third body that they share in common.
They have promised to love that body.
Age may come; parting may come; death will come!
A man and a woman sit near each other;
As they breathe they feed someone we do not know,
Someone we know of, whom we have never seen.

by Robert Bly, from Eating the Honey of Words, 1999

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lines Written In The Days Of Growing Darkness, by Mary Oliver


Lines Written In The Days Of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to say,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

through the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

by Mary Oliver, from New York Times, Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Low Road, by Marge Piercy

Hello Poets,
What's unnerving after the recent election is the atomized, isolated, knocked down feeling of being clobbered. But the vanquished are also strangely at liberty to look forward to a new beginning, unencumbered by the ruinous missteps that led to defeat.
As Marge Piercy knows, it happens one person at a time and grows from there.

The Low Road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

by Marge Piercy, from The Moon is Always Female, 1980

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Wind Blows Through The Doors Of My Heart- Deborah Digges

Hello Poets,
When Deborah Digges died in the spring of 2009, at the age of fifty-nine, she left a gathering of poems from which this is taken.
It speaks of a disturbing inner wind, a change of seasons gale that touches everything, leaving no settled thing the same.

The Wind Blows Through The Doors Of My Heart

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the mantle smashes birds' nests, teacups
full of stars as the wind winds round,
a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows
or is blown through the rooms of my heart
that shatters the windows,
rakes the bedsheets as though someone
had just made love. And my dresses
they are lifted like brides come to rest
on the bedstead, crucifixes,
dresses tangled in trees in the rooms
of my heart. To save them
I've thrown flowers to fields,
so that someone would pick them up
and know where they came from.
Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.
Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother's trousseau.
It is not for me to say what is this wind
or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.
Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead
the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,
no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.
It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.
But we will never lie down again.

by Deborah Digges, from The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Envoy, by Billy Collins

Hello Poets,
I'm not a writer, but if I was, my first book would be sent out into the dark world with similar feelings. 
Billy Collins, thanks goodness, is an exceptional writer. This was the last poem in his 2008 collection, Ballistics. 


Go, little book,
out of this house and into the world,

carriage made of paper rolling toward town
bearing a single passenger
beyond the reach of this jitter pen,
far from the desk and the nosy gooseneck lamp.

It is time to decamp,
put on a jacket and venture outside,
time to be regarded by other eyes,
bound to be held in foreign hands.

So, off you go, infants of the brain,
with a wave and some bits of fatherly advice:

stay out a late as you like,
don’t bother to call or write
and talk to as many strangers as you can.

by Billy Collins, from Ballistics, 2008

Monday, October 11, 2010

Towards A New Renaissance, by Rachael Boast

Hello Poets,
The remarkable Scottish English poet Rachael Boast writes a note to a friend.
How many such seekers do we know?

Towards A New Renaissance

Dear Friend with a crescent moon above your door,
I have heard that you are overcome by poetry,

that you are afloat somewhere inside the world’s great
sorrow, with the language of love as your compass.

You have been gone a long time, a white sail
full of clear sky, and no land in sight.

One such as you will become an ocean unto itself
because you learn and live your craft well.

Don’t forget to report back to us - I have a feeling
the universal winds are sensitive to words.

by Rachael Boast, from The Heart as Origami, 2005

Monday, September 27, 2010

Miracles, Walt Whitman


Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge
      of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at
      night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining
       so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread
       with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim — the rocks — the motion of the
      waves — the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

      by Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1892 (death bed edition)

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Hand, by Jane Hirschfield

A Hand

A hand is not four fingers and a thumb.

Nor is it palm and knuckles,
not ligaments or the fat's yellow pillow,
not tendons, star of the wristbone, meander of veins.

A hand is not the thick thatch of its lines
with their infinite dramas,
nor what it has written,
not on the page,
not on the ecstatic body.

Nor is the hand its meadows of holding, of shaping-
not sponge of rising yeast-bread,
not rotor pin's smoothness,
not ink.

The maple's green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.

A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.

Unanswerable, humming like bees, it rises, swarms, departs.

by Jane Hirschfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt, 2001

Monday, August 30, 2010

Four Poems In One, by Anne Porter

Hello Poets,
Anne Porter finds dread certainty in an uncertain world. This is the last stanza.

Four Poems In One

We know little
We can tell less
But one thing I know
One thing I can tell
I will see you again in Jerusalem
Which is of such beauty
No matter what country you come from
You will be more at home there
Than ever with father or mother
Than even with lover or friend
And once we’re within her borders
Death will hunt us in vain.

by Anne Porter, from An Altogether Different Language, 1994

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hello Poets,
Let's not press strangers to explain themselves. Naomi Shihab Nye says serve tea and wait. 
We have much to learn about hospitality from Arab culture.

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine Nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

by Naomi Shihab Nye, from 19 Varieties of Gazelle, 2005

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Sane Revolution, by D.H. Lawrence

Hello Poets,
D.H. Lawrence had it right. Revolutions are about having fun.
Enough of this stony-faced, sober seriousness. Stop working so hard and things will change radically.

A Sane Revolution

If you make a revolution, make it for fun,
don't make it in ghastly seriousness,
don't do it in deadly earnest,
do it for fun.

Don't do it because you hate people,
do it just to spit in their eye.

Don't do it for the money,
do it and be damned to the money.

Don't do it for equality,
do it because we've got too much equality
and it would be fun to upset the apple-cart
and see which way the apples would go a-rolling.

Don't do it for the working classes.
Do it so that we can all of us be little aristocracies on our own
and kick our heels like jolly escaped asses.

Don't do it, anyhow, for international Labour.
Labour is the one thing a man has had too much of.
Let's abolish labour, let's have done with laboring!
Work can be fun, and men can enjoy it; then it's not labour.
Let's have it so! Let's make a revolution for fun!

by D.H. Lawrence, from Selected Poems, edited by Keith Sagar, 1972

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Real Work, by Wendell Berry


The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Wild Iris, by Louise Gluck

Hello Poets,
Louise Gluck's poems seem to come from the direct center, shimming but grounded, prophetic and real, a genuine voice for our times.

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

by Louise Gluck, from The Wild Iris, 1993.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Letting Go Of What Cannot Be Held Back - Bill Holm

Hello Poets,
We lost Bill Holm, the great Minnesota poet, last year. I still miss him, his love of islands, music and the dark prairie earth. Here's a poem he would want us to remember.

Letting Go Of What Cannot Be Held Back

Let go of the dead now.
The rope in the water,
the cleat on the cliff,
do them no good anymore.
Let them fall, sink, go away,
become invisible as they tried
so hard to do in their own dying.
We needed to bother them
with what we call help.
We were the needy ones.
The dying do their own work with
tidiness, just the right speed,
sometimes even a little
satisfaction. So quiet down.
Let them go. Practice
your own song. Now.

by Bill Holm, from Playing the Black Piano, 2004

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Summer Day, Mary Oliver

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

by Mary Oliver, from House of Light, 1990

Monday, July 5, 2010

Hafiz: Absolutely Clear

 Absolutely Clear

Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God

by Hafiz, from The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz,
translated from the Persian by Daniel Ladinsky

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tune, by Kay Ryan

Hello Poets,
Few ask as compelling questions as Kay Ryan. Here's one on the endless passings, big, blue and deep.


Imagine a sea
of ultramarine
suspending a
million jellyfish
as soft as moons.
Imagine the
interlocking uninsistent
tunes of drifting things.
This is the deep machine
that powers the lamps
of dreams and accounts
for their bluish tint.
How can something
so grand and serene
vanish again and again
without a hint?

by Kay Ryan, from The Niagara River, 2005

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cottonmouth Country, Louise Gluck

Hello Poets,
As yet no poems lament the death and destruction on-going in the Gulf. No poems illuminate the oily mysteries of life and death in deep water. Now isn't NYC post 9-11 when poems where taped to lamp posts.
This poem, from Louise Gluck's first book of poetry, may point the way.

Cottonmouth Country

Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras.
And there were other signs
That Death wooed us, by water, wooed us
By land: among the pines
An uncurled cottonmouth that rolled on moss
Reared in the polluted air.
Birth, not death, is the hard loss.
I know. I also left a skin there.

by Louise Gluck, from The First Four Books of Poems, 1995

Thursday, June 17, 2010

'Dust' by Dorianne Laux


Someone spoke to me last night,
told me the truth. Just a few words,
but I recognized it.
I knew I should make myself get up,
write it down, but it was late,
and I was exhausted from working
all day in the garden, moving rocks.
Now, I remember only the flavor -
not like food, sweet or sharp.
More like fine powder, like dust.
And I wasn’t elated or frightened,
but simply rapt, aware.
That’s how it is sometimes -
God comes to your window,
all bright light and black wings,
and you’re just too tired to open it.

by Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry, 1994

Monday, June 7, 2010

Rebus by Jane Hirshfield

Hello Poets,
Jane Hirshfield works life's damp clay, taking up our many shortcomings, piecing together its colors and tastes, seeking out its obscure language with a question.
A rebus is one those puzzles in which words are represented by pictures and letters.


You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.  
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,  
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.  
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,  
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus- slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life-
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?  
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,  
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.  
The anvil leans into its silence.  
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Salt, Given Sugar, 2001

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Dance - C.K. Williams

Hello Poets,
C.K. Williams spins a yarn from one of those roadside places, catching a gesture in the fading light that embraces unconscious desire, mending what we didn't think was broken and connecting us to the wide, sad world. 

The Dance

A middle-aged woman, quite plain, to be polite about it, and
   somewhat stout, to be more courteous still,
but when she and the rather good-looking, much younger man
   she’s with get up to dance,
her forearm descends with such delicate lightness, such restrained
   but confident ardor athwart his shoulder,
drawing him to her with such a firm, compelling warmth, and
   moving him with effortless grace
into the union she’s instantly established with the not at all
   rhythmically solid music in this second rate cafe,

that something in the rest of us, some doubt about ourselves, some
   sad conjecture, seems to be allayed,
nothing that we’d ever thought of as a real lack, nothing not to be
   admired or be repentant for,
but something to which we’ve never adequately given credence,
which might have consoling implications about how we misbe-
   lieve ourselves, and so the world,
that world beyond us which so often disappoints, but which
   sometimes shows us, lovely, what we are.

by C.K. Williams from Repair, 1999

Monday, May 17, 2010

Never To Forget - Arundhati Roy

To love.
To be loved.
To never forget your own insignificance,
To never get used to the unspeakable violence
and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated
or complicate what is simple.
To respect strength, never power.
Above all, to watch.
To try and understand.
To never look away.
And never, never to forget.

   Arundhati Roy, from The End of Imagination, 1998

Monday, May 10, 2010

Trapeze by Deborah Diggs

Hello Poets,
This dark and captivating poem by the late Deborah Diggs paints a cloudy picture one is not likely to forget, of life at the edge and everything timelessly flying by.


See how the first dark takes the city in its arms
and carries it into what yesterday we called the future.

O, the dying are such acrobats.
Here you must a take a boat from one day to the next,

or clutch the girders of the bridge, hand over hand.
But they are sailing like a pendulum from eternity to evening,

diving, recovering, balancing the air.
Who can tell at this hour seabirds from starlings,

wind from revolving doors or currents off the river.
Some are as children on swings pumping higher and higher.

Don’t call them back, don’t call them in for supper.
See, they leave scuff marks like jet trails on the sky.

by Deborah Diggs, from Trapeze, 2005

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Dharma Story

Hello Poets,
Deep time pushes consciousness to its limits, demanding a true account of what's before our eyes. Thus when walking in the woods, two poets are better than one, with the second reminding the first that unknowing is the source of wisdom. 
The following story is told by Dharma teacher Wes Nisker.

A Dharma Story
"Gary Snyder was once camping with fellow poet Lew Welch in the Mendocino redwoods. 
As they looked up at trees that were hundreds of years old, Snyder said, 
"I’ll bet the trees are thinking that we humans are just passing through." 
Welch looked around and replied, 
"And the rocks around here must be thinking that those trees are just passing through."

Wes Nisker, from Inquiring Mind, Vol. 26 No. 2, Spring 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mark Strand: The Night, The Porch

Hello Poets,
if we can find sacred distance from our troubling minds, Mark Strand seems to be saying, doors open and what we seek vanishes as quickly as it appears.
So let the spring wind blow you about, as it has me the past few days.

The Night, The Porch

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves. This is the crux
Of the matter, which is why even now we seem to be waiting
For something whose appearance would be its vanishing --
The sound, say, of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf,
Or less. There is no end to what we can learn. The book out there
Tells us as much, and was never written with us in mind.

by Mark Strand, from New Selected Poems, 2007

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marge Piercy: To Have Without Holding

Hello Poets,
Marge Piercy on the difficult dance of love. Keep dancing, moment by moment.

To Have Without Holding

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can't do it, you say it's killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor's button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.

by Marge Piercy, from The Moon is Always Female, 1980

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bird (by Pablo Neruda)

Hello Poets,
As I prepare to do battle with birds this spring - Canyon Towhees, House Finches, Curved Billed Thrashers, Shrub Jays - making meals of tender seedlings and ripening fruits, I remember what Alan Chadwick once insisted, "You miss the whole point of the garden if you fail to notice the birds."
Pablo Neruda becomes bird, sings as a bird, views the world from above and gives us this poem.


It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.
The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through which the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air –
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography –
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.
I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

by Pablo Neruda, from Fully Empowered, 1962
translated from the Spanish by Alastair Reid

Monday, April 5, 2010

Watching Dogwood Blossoms Fall In A Parking Lot Off Route 46

Hello Poets,
August Kleinzahler is not easy to read. He jumps around celebrating the mundane weird world with a gentle hand that leaves the both reader and the poet on the side lines.
As Stephen Burt in the New York Times Book Review wrote ". . . he never says more than he should, rarely repeats himself and keeps his focus not on the man who speaks the poems (and whose personality comes across anyway) but on what that man sees and on what he can hear.”
Maybe that's what we need, crystal clear egoless comprehension as the first step to wise action.
Full disclosure: I spent my high school years off Route 46, smelling those same benzene fumes.

Watching Dogwood Blossoms Fall In A Parking Lot Off Route 46
Dogwood blossoms drift down at evening
             as semis pound past Phoenix Seafood
and the Savarin plant, west to the Turnpike,
             Paterson or hills beyond.
The adulterated, pearly light and bleak perfume
             of benzene and exhaust
make this solitary tree and the last of its bloom
              as stirring somehow after another day
at the hospital with Mother and the ashen old ladies
              lost to TV reruns flickering overhead
as that shower of peach blossoms Tu Fu watched
               fall on the riverbank
from the shadows of the Jade Pavilion,
               while ghosts and the music
of yellow orioles found out the seam of him
               and slowly cut along it. 
by August Kleinzahler, from Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, 2008

Monday, March 29, 2010

Prayer Is An Egg - Rumi

Hello Poets,
It's spring, the spade stands ready, the seeds are waiting.
Rumi warns of the danger of delay and denial.

Prayer Is An Egg

On Resurrection Day God will say, “What did you do with
the strength and energy

your food gave you on earth? How did you use your eyes?
What did you make with

your five senses while they were dimming and playing out?
I gave you hands and feet

as tools for preparing the ground for planting. Did you,
in the health I gave,

do the plowing?” You will not be able to stand when you
hear those questions. You

will bend double, and finally acknowledge the glory. God
will say, “Lift

your head and answer the questions.” Your head will rise
a little, then slump

again. “Look at me! Tell what you’ve done.” You try,
but you fall back flat

as a snake. “I want every detail. Say!” Eventually you
will be able to get to

a sitting position. “Be plain and clear. I have given you
such gifts. What did

you do with them?” You turn to the right looking to the
prophets for help, as

though to say, I am stuck in the mud of my life. Help me
out of this! They

will answer, those kings, “The time for helping is past.
The plow stands there in

the field. You should have used it.” Then you turn to
the left, where your family

is, and they will say, “Don’t look at us? This conversation
is between you and your

creator.” Then you pray the prayer that is the essence
of every ritual: God,

I have no hope. I am torn to shreds. You are my first and
last and only refuge.

Don’t do daily prayers like a bird pecking, moving its head
up and down. Prayer is an egg.

Hatch out the total helplessness inside.

by Rumi, from The Soul of Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, 2001

Monday, March 22, 2010

Shakespeare's Fifteenth Sonnet

Hello Poets,
Shakespeare's Fifteenth Sonnet was tacked to the wall where master gardener Alan Chadwick died 30 years ago, amid spring bouquets at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in California.
Alan's spade and digging fork were placed on either side of the doorway.
(From Gardening at the Dragon's Gate, Wendy Johnson's superb garden guide and memoir.)
-      -       -

Sonnet 15

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
   And all in war with Time for love of you,
   As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

by William Shakespeare
from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, 1936