Browsing Category "Poems"
15 Jun
2017
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All That We Live Blind To

In celebration of Tracy K. Smith, our new Poet Laureate!

The Largeness We Can’t See
by Tracy K. Smith

When our laughter skids across the floor
Like beads yanked from some girl’s throat
What waits where the 
laughter gathers?

And later, when our saw-toothed breaths
Lay us down on a bed of leaves, what feeds
With ceaseless focus on the leaves?

It’s solid, yet permeable, like a mood.
Like God, it has no face. Like lust,
It flickers on without a prick of guilt.

We move in and out of rooms, leaving
Our dust, our voices pooled on sills.
We hurry from door to door in a downpour

Of days. Old trees inch up, their trunks thick
With new rings. All that we see grows
Into the ground. And all we live blind to

Leans its deathless heft to our ears
and sings. 

7 Jun
2017
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It Was Like This

Tonight, at 9:30 pm St. Louis time, Pauletta’s family, friends and fellow sangha members will gather to acknowledge and bless her passing by chanting together. I can’t be there in body, but I will certainly be there in voice.

In the mean time, I offer:

It Was Like This: You Were Happy
by Jane Hirshfield

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent–what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness–
between you, there is nothing to forgive–
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts,
sometimes persimmons.

***

(painting by Pauletta ChancoKnowing When to Stop)

2 Jun
2017
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Always Ready to Burst Forth

Picnic, Lightning
by Billy Collins

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lighting) when I was three.
— Lolita

It is possible to be struck by a meteor
or a single-engine plane
while reading a chair at home.
Safes drop from rooftops
and flatten the odd pedestrian
mostly within the panels of the comics,
but still, we know it is possible,
as well as the flash of summer lightning,
the thermos toppling over,
spilling out on the grass.

And we know the message
can be delivered from within.
The heart, no valentine,
decides to quite after lunch,
the power shut off like a switch,
or a tiny dark ship is unmoored
into the flow of the body’s rivers,
the brain a monastery,
defenseless on the shore.

This is what I think about
when I shovel compost
into a wheelbarrow,
and when I fill the long flower boxes,
then press into rows

the limp roots of red impatiens–
the instant hand of Death
always ready to burst forth
from the sleeve of his voluminous cloak.

Then the soil is full of marvels,
bits of leaf like flakes off a fresco,
red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick
to burrow back under the loam.
Then the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue,
the clouds a brighter white,

and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone,
the small plants singing
with lifted faces, and the click
of the sundial
as one hour sweeps into the next.

30 May
2017
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Waiting

Understanding Leaves
by Mark Nepo

The leaves do what we can’t.
They wait their whole lives.

At first they dream of air
and wait to slip from wood.

Then they dream of openness
and wait to stretch in light.

Then they dream of thirst
and wait to soften in the rain.

At last they dream of nothing
and simply unfurl.

Photosynthesis is how this waiting
is described in the physical world.

The mystery of waiting is what
turns light into food.

To wait beyond what we think
we can bear is how things
within turn sweet.

25 May
2017
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Soon Now

I got word last night that Pauletta Chanco, who just graduated from the CDL program (in which she was a vibrant presence, even with stage 4 breast cancer) has now entered into the final stage of her dying process.

So for today, I am posting one of Pauletta’s recent works-on-paper, titled Rebirth Pastel 3and this poem by Jane Hirshfield:

Not One Moment of This a Subtraction

all day the daylight coming over the sill
like a wagon
drawn by invisible big-hooved horses working hard

soon now your breathing will climb inside it, go with it away

all your mountains and rivers
your cities and memories
doing their silent handsprings inside it

***

May you come to the end of suffering, dear Pauletta.
May you be free.

22 May
2017
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The Body Listens

The Night House
by Billy Collins

Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging a sickle through the tall grass–
the grass of civics, the grass of money–
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.

But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.

And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.

And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,

resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.

Which is why the body–that house of voices–
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,

to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.

17 May
2017
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Nowhere, nowhere!

When I Was Young and Poor
by Mary Oliver

When I was young and poor,
when little was much,
when I was nimble and never tired,
and the hours of the day were deep and
long,
where was the end that was already
committed?
Where was the flesh that thinned and
stiffened?
Nowhere, nowhere!
Just the gift of forgetfulness gracious
and kind
while I ran up hills and drank the wind

time out of mind.

11 May
2017
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The Ground of Being Waits

In the Spaces
by Mark Nepo

Even as a teenager, when left
by my buddies on a night beach,
the heavens opened their ancient
hollow and I wandered in the
safety of wordless spaces.

Though we have to return to
the world, the ground of being
waits in the glint of brick and
the steam rising through
an open window.

I’m thankful that life has
broken my impatience
beyond repair.

10 May
2017
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Banging Away

No Things
by Billy Collins

This love for everyday things,
part natural from the wide eye of infancy,
part a literary calculation,

this attention to the morning flower
and later to a fly strolling
along the rim of a wineglass–

are we just avoiding our one true destiny
when we do that, averting our glance
from Philip Larkin who waits for us in an undertaker’s coat?

The leafless branches against the sky
will not save anyone from the void ahead,
nor will the sugar bowl or the sugar spoon on the table.

So why bother with the checkered lighthouse?
Why waste time on the sparrow,
or the wildflowers along the roadside

when we all should be alone in our rooms
throwing ourselves at the wall of life
and the opposite wall of death,

the door locked behind us
as we hurl rocks at the question of meaning
and the enigma of our origins?

What good is the firefly,
the droplet running along the green leaf,
or even the bar of soap sliding around the bathtub

when we are really meant to be
banging away on the mystery
as hard as we can and to hell with the neighbors?

banging away on nothingness itself,
some with their foreheads,
others with the maul of sense, the raised jawbone of poetry.

***

And some, I would add, with their hands in their laps, attending to their breath.

2 May
2017
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Soon Enough

One of the benefits of having to lie flat on my back for most of the day, which is my tried-and-true method for relieving my back (along with stretching exercises and anti-inflammatory meds), is that I can listen to lots of different kinds of on-line dharma, including this Tricycle podcast of an interview with Andrew Ostaseski about his new book, The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, in which he recites (by heart) this end-of-life poem written by one of his hospice patients, Suno:

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray.
Soon enough the seas will sink your little island,
So while there is still the illusion of time,
Set out for some other shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
So give away all of your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid,
Someone knows you are coming.
An extra fish has been salted.