Sunday, May 06, 2018

Optimism -- Jane Hirshfield

From Given Sugar, Given Salt

More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs -- all this resinous, unretractable earth.

Another Way to End a Relationship - Demetria Martinez

from Devil's Workshop

If you can't pull it up
By the roots,

Take it out

Of the sun, stop
Watering it.

I Don't Want Love - Demetria Martinez

from Devil's Workshop

    Not love, but something
That, when it loses its green,
Holds its form
Like ocotillo,
Long flutes of cactus
To build a ramada
At the threshold of my house.
My house, my home,
In my name.
When I love myself
As I loved you,
I will invite you in.

Thousands of Feet Below You - Alice Walker

Thousands of feet
Below you
There is a small
Running from
Your bombs.

If he were
To show up
At your mother's
On a green
Sea island
Off the coast
Of Georgia

He'd be invited in
For dinner.

Now, driven,
You have shattered
His bones.

He lies steaming
In the desert
In fifty or sixty
Or maybe one hundred
Oily, slimy

If you survive
& return
To your island
& your mother's
Where the cup
Of lovingkindness
The brim
From which
No one
In memory
Was ever

Gather yourself.

Set a place
For him.

Balance - Dorianne Laux

From What We Carry

I'm remembering again, the day
we stood on the porch and you smoked
while the old man told you
about his basement full of wine,
his bad heart and the doctor's warning,
how he held the dusty bottle out to you,
glad, he said, to give it away
to someone who appreciated
its value and spirit, the years
it took to settle into its richness
and worth. I'm watching again,
each cell alive, as you reach
for the wine, your forearm exposed
below the rolled sleeve, the fine hairs
that sweep along the muscle, glowing,
lifting a little in the afternoon breeze.
I'm memorizing the shape of the moment:
your hand and the small bones
lengthening beneath the skin
as it tightens in the gripping,
in the receiving of the gift, the exact
texture and color of your skin,
and the old man's face, reduced
to its essence. That,
and the brief second
when both of you had a hand on the bottle—
the thing not yet given,
not yet taken, but held
between you, stoppered, full.
And my body is flooded again
with an elemental joy,
holding onto it against another day
in the unknowable future when I'm given
terrible news, some dark burden
I'll be forced to carry. I know
this is useless, and can't possibly work,
but I'm saving that moment, for balance.

Mother of Myths - V.B. Price

From Chaco Trilogy

We read of the Hopi (that’s all we can do)
that the dead are clouds,
that the dead rain down their souls on earth,
that life depends on their essence.

I felt a closing when my mother died,
felt the past had pulled itself from my life;
where she was
now nothing.

              Where did she go?

Is she anywhere more than a sorrow,
more than something gone?

              I am starving for new stories.

I have no heaven for her, no Elysium.
She isn’t waiting, in pillows and poppies,
for curtain calls from the gods,

              She is a memory
              I often forget
              has no memory itself.

But at Hopi
the dead never leave.
Rain is soul.
And the souls of Chaco
sill feed them.
All history’s in the sky,
the crops, their bodies.

              Any meal is a communion.

But my mother and I are as far apart
as I am from faith
in the Fall from grace.

She is like the canyon was on a Tuesday
7,000 years ago, or a Monday just last month,
a detail
in the history of time.

The canyon is
every day it was,
as the species is
every person it has been.

              But she
              is my mother,
              not a day in the shape of stone,
              and I don’t know where she is.

She is not in her bones,
not in her ashes I put in the waves.

She is an idea
I have not yet formed
like clouds unborn in the sea.

              I want her home with me. I want
              death, all death, to be
              a right proximity.

In Chaco, at least, I know
the canyon is
where the past remains.

              I know it is not
              only now.

So can I say
it is time’s common grave,
a mother of myths,
where death conceives, where memory
gives birth to the future?

Can I say she is somewhere there
waiting for doubt to leave?

Running to Wijiji - V.B. Price

From Chaco Trilogy

When you know who you are
you do who you are,
polishing a mountain
without a goal

(There is
There is

At ten,
I did who I was;
I had no choice;
                     knowing and doing were not apart;
and where I was
was as much of myself
                               as what I did.

                               (Now is
                               a holy

Then years of trying
          and coming apart,
polishing stones
not the mountain
          the canyon
          wore me away
so I could see myself
                               singular as rocks,
                               as shadows, clouds
                               as cliff curves, edges,
                               water scars and swirls,
real as skin,
clear as sudden change,
                                         my body
                                         opening to the stars
                                         like Chacra Mesa
                                         on the skull of the world.

Now at 50,
I am the place again.
                               (The front
                               and the back
                               are part
of the same.)

At ten, the place
                    was a forest street
where I did who I was,
          biking to eskape
          tender failures,
sailing through arbors of high ponderosas,
winding like grassy streams
                     through Saturday morning sun.

When you are who you are
you do who you are.
                               (The sacred
                               and the profane
                               are sacred.)

At dawn near La Fajada,
breathing in
the rising light,
                    I am
ten and 50 all at once.
Running through fossil fields of corn,
running the cool space of canyon shade
as one runs memories through the gorge of time,
I see myself
                    in the shadow at my side,
bike rider, now
                               dawn runner
reaching Wijiji
the sun
wildflower light,
          lighting white
over the canyon rim,
over the edge of my brain.
                                         Stunned by God
                                         again and again,
why should I doubt
                               any longer?


Now is
a holy

There is
There is

The front
and the back
are part
of the same.

The sacred
and profane
are sacred.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Getting in the Christmas Spirit by Lynn Ungar

I suspect that I am far from the only one having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit these days. It’s hard to feel all ho-ho-ho when the news is full of the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Aleppo and a string of outrageous and appalling appointments from a president-elect who was voted in under the auspices of a foreign power.

On the other hand, there is something in my little Jewish-UU heart that is reaching out toward Christmas this year. The story of Mary and Joseph traveling because they had to sign themselves onto a government registry. The story of the couple looking for shelter in their time of greatest need. The story of a fragile king who ordered the slaughter of innocents because he couldn’t handle the prospect of a threat to his own power. The story which imagines the nature of the new-born king to be something so different from the despotic Herod that even now we have a hard time imagining what sort of a king could align himself with the poor and the outcast, insisting that power means something utterly unlike the kind of power that the crowned kings tried to grab and maintain at all cost.

I’m not doing well with Santa and jingle bells and presents under the tree, but I might just find my way into the Christmas spirit of a little family finding warmth and comfort in with the friendly beasts. I am trying to work my way eventually to the Christmas spirit of the Wise Men, who trusted that there was something out there—although they didn’t know exactly what—that was worth looking for. Who didn’t really get that this was a totally different kind of king, and brought him presents fit for the kind of king that they understood, but who didn’t walk off in disgust and bewilderment when what they had sought for so long turned out to be a baby, with the kind of power that babies have, not the power of kings.

I don’t know that I will get there, but what I am hoping for, what I am aiming toward, is the Christmas spirit of the shepherds, who have always been my favorite part of the story—partly because I have always found it hilarious. I mean really. Here are ordinary guys doing the most ordinary things, just out on the job, keeping an eye on what needs to be watched. And suddenly the sky is full of angels, and Luke tells us right in the text that they were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? It’s all completely absurd and unbelievable and no one in their right mind (which neither the shepherds nor the sheep probably were in under the circumstances) would have the faintest idea how to respond. Any reasonable person would conclude that the sky was falling and hunker down. But these guys, these plain, extraordinary guys, get their sheep together and go out to look for a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths.

Think about that for a minute. Swaddling cloths are what everybody those days wrapped their babies in. It’s like saying “You will know for a sign when you see a baby in a onesie.” But these dudes were like, “OK, sure, fine. Let’s go see what they’re talking about.” I love that. Also, I am so not there. Not yet. But I think maybe that’s the Christmas spirit I’m looking for. The spirit that in the face of terror and confusion is willing to entertain the possibility that wonder could be in the mix as well. The spirit that is willing to be amazed, and curious and brave enough to say “Let’s go see,” even when the instructions aren’t very clear and you don’t know the road.

Let’s go see. Let’s go see together.

"Time Is a Child Playing" by Richard Lewis

It's summer. School is out. The streets and the parks of New York City have begun to change. Fire hydrants are opened; swimming pools are filled; drinking fountains begin to overflow--and in playgrounds throughout the warming city, sprinklers shower into the air.

For the lucky child a daily visit to one of these sprinklers is not only a way to cool off--it is to challenge the great leaps and boundings of this watery paradise. Some children, too excited to change their clothes, simply dive in, running through the spray until they are soaking wet. Others, in bathing suits, cautiously approach the surging waters and with their empty hands reach out to feel how strong or how cold this oldest of the elements might be. Like sand pipers, the children dart in and out of the sprinkler's splaying waters, constantly inventing ways to outwit its fluid movements. They squirm and hop, they jump and kick, and then suddenly, as if in prayer, they stop in the middle of a large plume of falling water and, looking up, serenely drink in every moment of its playful wetness.

Sitting on a bench nearby, I feel envious that I cannot take part in their abandon, their rightful enthusiasm in being a player with the play of water itself. If William Blake is correct and "Energy is Eternal Delight," then what I see is a field of energy, a field of playing in which these children have let go of our all-too-human constraints. They have become, each in their own way, partners in the play of liquid forces that make these waters alive. Perhaps this interplay of the human and the surrounding elements is part of the genius of childhood. To run with the wind, to play with the sand, to play with water are not merely idle statements of language, but real descriptions of what a child does when he or she encounters these properties. Through this profound gesture of our playing, we enter the life of the wind, sand, and water--or as one eight-year-old, Johnny, recently wrote, "When I am playing I feel like hugging the wind and kissing and singing with the air, pushing the air far away. I am very, very happy."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Good Bones by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use By ADA LIMÓN

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,

black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.

Monday, January 02, 2017

On Disappearing BY MAJOR JACKSON

elated Poem Content Details

I have not disappeared.
The boulevard is full of my steps. The sky is
full of my thinking. An archbishop
prays for my soul, even though
we met only once, and even then, he was
busy waving at a congregation.
The ticking clocks in Vermont sway

back and forth as though sweeping
up my eyes and my tattoos and my metaphors,
and what comes up are the great paragraphs
of dust, which also carry motes
of my existence. I have not disappeared.
My wife quivers inside a kiss.
My pulse was given to her many times,

in many countries. The chunks of bread we dip
in olive oil is communion with our ancestors,
who also have not disappeared. Their delicate songs
I wear on my eyelids. Their smiles have
given me freedom which is a crater
I keep falling in. When I bite into the two halves
of an orange whose cross-section resembles my lungs,

a delta of juices burst down my chin, and like magic,
makes me appear to those who think I've
disappeared. It's too bad war makes people
disappear like chess pieces, and that prisons
turn prisoners into movie endings. When I fade
into the mountains on a forest trail,
I still have not disappeared, even though its green façade
turns my arms and legs into branches of oak.
It is then I belong to a southerly wind,
which by now you have mistaken as me nodding back
and forth like a Hasid in prayer or a mother who has just
lost her son to gunfire in Detroit. I have not disappeared.

In my children, I see my bulging face
pressing further into the mysteries.

In a library in Tucson, on a plane above
Buenos Aires, on a field where nearby burns
a controlled fire, I am held by a professor,
a general, and a photographer.
One burns a finely wrapped cigar, then sniffs
the scented pages of my books, scouring
for the bitter smell of control.
I hold him in my mind like a chalice.
I have not disappeared. I swish the amber
hue of lager on my tongue and ponder the drilling
rigs in the Gulf of Alaska and all the oil-painted plovers.

When we talk about limits, we disappear.
In Jasper, TX you can disappear on a strip of gravel.

I am a life in sacred language.
Termites toil over a grave,
and my mind is a ravine of yesterdays.
At a glance from across the room, I wear
September on my face,
which is eternal, and does not disappear
even if you close your eyes once and for all
simultaneously like two coffins.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Choice - Lynn Ungar


There isn’t a right answer.
There just isn’t. The game show
where the bells ring and the points
go up and the confetti falls
because you got the answer
is a lie. The preacher who would assure you
of how to attain salvation
is making it all up. The doctor
who knows just how to fix
what ails you will be sure
of something else tomorrow.
Every choice will
wound someone, heal someone,
build a wall and open a conversation.
Things will always happen
that you can’t foresee.
But you have to choose.
It’s all we have—that little rudder
that we employ in the midst
of all the eddies and rapids,
the current that pulls us
inexorably toward the sea.
The fact that you are swept along
by the river is no excuse.
Watch where you are going.
Lean in toward what you love.
When in doubt, tell the truth.
–Lynn Ungar

Monday, December 05, 2016

Love After Love - Derek Walcott

The time will come 
when, with elation 
you will greet yourself arriving 
at your own door, in your own mirror 
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart 
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored 
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.

Saint Francis and the Sow -- Galway Kinnel

Saint Francis and the Sow

Related Poem Content Details

The bud 
stands for all things, 
even for those things that don’t flower, 
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;   
though sometimes it is necessary 
to reteach a thing its loveliness, 
to put a hand on its brow 
of the flower 
and retell it in words and in touch 
it is lovely 
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;   
as Saint Francis 
put his hand on the creased forehead 
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch   
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow   
began remembering all down her thick length,   
from the earthen snout all the way 
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,   
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine   
down through the great broken heart 
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering   
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them: 
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

The Soul's Desert - Robinson Jeffers

They are warming up the old horrors, and all that they 
     say is echoes of echoes.
Beware of taking sides; only watch.
These are not criminals, nor hucksters and little jour-
     nalists, but the governments
Of the great nations; men favorably
Representative of massed humanity. Observe them.
    Wrath and laughter
Are quite irrelevant. Clearly it is time
To become disillusioned each person to enter his own
     soul's desert
And look for God—having seen man

Cottonwoods - Lynn Ungar

The cottonwoods are
flinging themselves outward,
filling the air with spiraling flurries,
covering lawns in deepening drifts.
You could not call this generosity.
Like any being, they
let loose what they have
in order to survive,
in order that their lives might continue
in a new year's growth.
The more seeds they send out
on their lofted journeys
the greater the chance
for their kind to flourish.
There is no hesitation.
No one asks how much
they will give. Without words
they know so clearly
that everything depends
on what we call giving,
that which the world knows only as creation.

Blessing the Bread - Lynn Ungar

Surely the earth
is heavy with this rhythm,
the stretch and pull of bread,
the folding in and folding in
across the palms, as if
the lines of my hands could chart
a map across the dough,
mold flour and water into
the crosshatchings of my life.

I do not believe in palmistry,
but I study my hands for promises
when on one is around.
I do not believe in magic.
But I probe the dough
for signs of life, williing
it to rise, to take shape,
to feed me. I do not believe
in palmistry, in magic, but
something happens in kneading
dough or massaging flesh;
an imprint of the hand remains
on the bodies we have touched.

This is the lifeline--
the etched path from hand
to grain to earth, the transmutation
of the elements through touch
making the miracles
on which we unwillingly depend.