Browsing Category "Poems"
6 Aug
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But Yes.

Swampy Cree narrative poem
translated by Howard Norman

I stay awake.

I am the poorest one.
I cook bark.
I have bad luck in hunting.
A duck caught my arrow
and used it
for her nest.

I am the poorest one.
I sit in mud and weep.
I have bad luck in hunting.
A goose caught my arrow
and broke it
in two.

I am old, old.
Don’t bring me pity,
but food

3 Aug
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Never Too Late

Starting the Spring Garden and Thinking of Thomas Jefferson
by Gary Snyder

Turning this cloddish soil still damp and cold
with a heavy curved crofters spade
finally I’ve read the life of Thomas Jefferson
here we are about the same age
— eighty — except I’m living alone with my dog
and spading a tiny spring garden
and he had hundreds of workers
on the farm and fixing the house while he
mostly wrote letters and thinking — thinking
true democracy is to help everyone
do for themselves. Which means
we must think with the help of the whole
neighborhood, bullshit detectors in place but
cleanly and clearly forgiving
— to be free is to get past too much lonely stubborn
deluded private thirst for what?
for things? for some small perk?
So give and take. Where was Jefferson in this — I wonder —
whacking clods, tossing clumps of winter grass roots
to the side
scooping out and heeling in some Asian aubergine
— the long thin kind you grill with grated ginger
Everyone free to decide to join in on the work
and the play
empowered to be free of “me”
in a world which both has and has not
hierarchy. But he had slaves
and never thought that through.
& Tom had friends like Madison and Adams
to honestly argue him down and explain
the cracks in his dream;
Now — out on the far west coast of the continent
this rough mountain pine tree land
two hundred years later,
putting another turn on
whatever he thought we could do
Tom Jefferson: never too late,
never be through,
you always can pick up a hoe —
let your people go —

30 Jul
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But First We Must Watch

by Mary Olive

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor, which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logical, who would want it?

27 Jul
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That Which is Exhausted by Vision

Visual Orders (excerpt)
by Jenny Xie


Ancient optic theory dictates that the eye sends
out rays, which touches the object of sight. When
the visual ray returns to the eye, the image is impressed
on the mind. To see, then, was tactile.

That we are touchable makes us seen.



Sight is bounded by the eyes,
making seeing a steady loss.

The presence of the unseen is vaster
than that which is exhausted by vision.

We inhabit this incoherence.

23 Jul
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And So On, And So Forth

by Jenny Xie

Sour tobacco, tofu bowl, bright.
Planks of hollyhock in Anhui,
the way I don’t know could open
months later like a hive.
Hard tide of shame that I thought
had dried out years ago.
Love’s barks grow watery, faint.
I walk the edge of an honest life.
The lash of carnal thoughts, followed
by the thin whip of banal guilt.
Hot yellow lights of cities
where I once pressed, over and over,
up against alternate lives.

Now, I sit. Above a deep ground.
The mind fetches the chatter.

And so on, and so forth.

14 Jun
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Either Way

The Bell and the Blackbird (excerpt)
by David Whyte

The sound
of a bell
still reverberating,

or a blackbird
from a corner
of a

Asking you
to wake
into this life
or inviting you
to one that waits.

Either way
takes courage,
either way wants you
to be nothing
but that self that
is no self at all,
wants you to walk
to the place
where you find
you already know
how to give
every last thing

24 May
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What Disturbs and Then Nourishes

The Winter of Listening (excerpt)
by David Whyte

What is precious
inside us does not

care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born. 

21 May
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It’s All in There

Dharma Town hosted another Retreat-in-a-Box yesterday, so a dozen or so of us got to spend the day getting a little better acquainted with our own heart-mind-body streams by siting and walking (and sitting and walking, and sitting and walking, etc. etc) with instructions and guidance from Jack Kornfield, who read us this poem:

by Carl Sandburg

There is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood–I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun–I got this too from the wilderness and the wildness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I came from salt-blue water-gates … I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with porpoises … before land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced … yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blonde and blue-eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting–I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes–And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart–and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Know-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where–For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

15 May
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Worth Doing

Failing and Flying
by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

10 May
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To Remind You

The Word
by Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list

of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning–to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

–to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.