Browsing Category "Poems"
30 Jul
Posted in: Poems
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When the Light Goes Out

The Uses of Sorrow
by Mary Oliver

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift. 

18 Jul
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Radiant Zigzag Borrowing

My back is much better today, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay at the computer for too long, so I’ll just take it easy and post this photo and quote from Radiant Zigzag Becoming, which is a lovely blog by my fellow Burma traveling companions, Jason and Jessica, which chronicals their continuing travels around the world (in this case, it’s a post from Provence).

“You see, for me that God of the clergy is as dead as a door-nail. But does that make me an atheist? Clergymen consider me one — so be it — but you see, I love, and how could I feel love if I were not alive myself or if others were not alive, and if we are alive there is something wondrous about it. Now call that God or human nature or whatever you like, but there is a certain something I cannot define systematically, although it is very much alive and real, and you see, for me that something is God or as good as God. You see, when in due course my time comes, one way or another, to die, well, what will keep me going even then? Won’t it be the thought of love?”

— Van Gogh, at 28, in a letter to his brother Theo


11 Jul
Posted in: Books, Poems
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Meditation On Walking

Today’s post is from Verses from the Center, written by Nagarjuna (2nd century C.E.), translated by Stephen Batchelor. (The pronoun change is mine.)


I do not walk between
The step already taken
And the one I’m yet to take,
Which both are motionless.

Is walking not the motion
Between one step and the next?
What moves between them?
Could I not move as I walk?

If I move when I walk,
There would be two motions:
One moving me and one my feet–
Two of us stroll by.

There is no walking without walkers,
And no walkers without walking.
Can I say that walkers walk?
Couldn’t I say they don’t?

Walking does not start
In steps taken or to come
Or in the act itself.
When does it begin?

Before I raise a foot,
Is there motion,
A step taken or to come
Whence walking could begin?

What has gone?
What moves?
What is to come?

Can I speak of walkers,
When neither walking,
Steps taken nor to come ever end?

Were walking and walker one,
I would be unable to tell them apart;
Were they different,
There would be walkers who do not walk.

These moving feet reveal a walker
But did not start her on her way.
There was no walker prior to departure.
Who was going where? 

8 Jul
Posted in: Books, Poems
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The Usefulness of What Isn’t

Today’s post from Ursala Le Guin’s wonderful new translation of the Tao Te Ching.

11. The Uses of Not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful. 

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

7 Jul
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Breathe Air. Drink Water.

I’m almost to the end of Ursala Le Guin’s wonderful novel/imaginary-anthropology-report/love-letter-from-the-future, titled Always Coming Homeand I’m reluctant to move on.

So I’ll post this little snippet, a poem called The Writer to the Morning in Up The Hill House in Sinshan, by Little Bear Woman (one of the residents of Le Guin’s inspiring future/past world.)

Those who want fighting, let them smoke tobacco.
Those who want excitement, let them drink brandy.
Those who want withdrawal, let them smoke cannabis.
Those who want good talking, let them drink wine.
I don’t want any of those things at this moment.
Early in the morning I breathe air and drink water,
because what I want is clarity and silence
and one thin line of words on the white paper
drawn around my thoughts in clarity and silence. 

23 Jun
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It’s All Amazing

A very good friend of mine sent me this newsletter (thanks, Honig) from the Yong Kang Chinese Medicine Clinic, which is located in Kirkwood (which is amazing, when you think of it….that a Chinese medicine clinic would be in Kirkwood….I mean, how much more mainstream can you get!).

The newsletter was written by my friend’s acupuncturist, Michael Max, who is taking a three-to-four month sabbatical at Upaya Zen Center. His article, Slowly, Slowing Arrive, would definitely be worth re-posting here. But instead, I’ll post the poem he quotes by Mary Oliver, in its entirety, since the newsletter included an excerpt.

When Death Comes,
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes like the measles-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is is going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I thing of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth. 

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world. 

9 Jun
Posted in: Poems, Talks
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Please Bring Strange Things

I listened to another great talk last night, this one given by Greg Scharf, in which he offers this strange and beautiful poem as a blessing:

Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge
by Ursal K. Le Guin

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arches of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your in-breathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one.
Walk mindfully, well loved one.
Walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home. 


(image from Stella’s Tarot)

4 Jun
Posted in: Poems, Talks
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One more poem from Jack Kornfield’s talk (the one I posted about yesterday).

This World
by Mary Oliver

I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
beautiful silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold. 

3 Jun
Posted in: Poems, Talks
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I just listened to a wonderful talk by Jack Kornfield. I mean that literally — it is a talk full of wonder — in which he offers an “Invitation to Mystery”…. to that which the Victorians translated as Enlightenment, but which he prefers to call Awakening, or better yet, Seeing the World with a Sense of Wonder. You can listen to the talk by clicking here. (There’s a minute or so of silence near the beginning of the talk. Don’t worry. Just keep listening.)

Jack tells lots of wonderful stories in this talk, including stories about his time with Ajahn Chah and about his own Awakening experiences — the “breaking of the spell of ordinariness,” as he calls it. He also talks about his divorce and the new relationship he is in. And his past illness, which was quite serious, and not entirely gone. I couldn’t begin to do these stories justice by summarizing them here. You’ll just have to listen to the talk!

As further incentive I offer one of the poems he quotes (although he doesn’t mention the title.) It’s by Bridget Lowry:

In the strange, early evening half-light we sit.
In the cloudiness of our questioning, we sit.
In our madness and our clarity, we sit.
In the midst of too much to do, we sit.
In the warm arms of our shared sorrow, we sit.
In community and in loneliness, we sit.
In sweet exhaustion, we sit.
In the blazing energy of being alive, we sit.

Here with the singing coyotes and the crows,
With each electric bird song
And the rippling breeze and the dry grasses,
Here with the cobwebs and the moon
And the muddy and dusty road upon us…

Us in the sound,
And the sound in us.
Us in the world,
And the world in us. 

23 May
Posted in: Poems
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Sit Down Wherever You Are

I spent a lovely day today sitting and walking and sitting and walking (and eating) at the home of my friend, Lisa, who lives out in the country, where she not only has a screened-in porch, but also a whole separate screened-in building, (plus a big stone patio, a deck, and several walking paths, etc.) where she hosts a weekly sangha…as well as regular days of silent sitting-and-walking, like the one today.

We started with a poem:

Forget About Enlightenment
by John Welwood

Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be,
Not the saint you are striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You are already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out,
Touch in,
Let go.


Thanks, Lisa!

(image: Young Girl on a Balcony over the Ocean, by Henri Matisse)