Browsing Category "Poems"
25 May
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Soon Now

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
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on The Body Listens

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
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Nowhere, nowhere!

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
where was the end that was already
Where was the flesh that thinned and
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
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on The Ground of Being Waits

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
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Banging Away

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
Posted in: Books, Poems
By    Comments Off on Soon Enough

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. 

19 Apr
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on How to Stand

How to Stand

So OK, now I’m back from the 2-month retreat, getting ready to go off again to graduate from the CDL program, and meanwhile part of my front porch needs rebuilding because it got knocked over when the new steps were being put in (the cost of which will be almost half the cost of the new steps) and my 90-year-old father (who has always had a very hard time taking in what was being said to him, even back when he didn’t need a hearing aid) is insisting that I not go with him to the doctor (even though the last time he didn’t understand what she’d said to him about getting a CAT scan) and beyond that, the new administration is dropping giant bombs on Syria and pretending to send warships to the Korean Peninsula, plus I’m still having trouble getting in and out of my car because my left knee absolutely will not bend the way it used to. Etc. Etc.

So what is there to do, but to learn how to stand in the middle of it.

by Mark Nepo

The Mystery needs
authentic souls to bear
witness to it, the way
matter needs atoms to
hold it together, the way
blood needs cells to keep
it alive. So I no longer ask
why but how. Not the
mechanical how. But how
to stand on nothing like
an atom in the center
that is everywhere.

12 Apr
Posted in: Poems, Retreats, Talks
By    Comments Off on Live in the Layers

Live in the Layers

Another one of the talks from the retreat that I’ve been re-listening to (and will probably listen to again and again) is this one by Phillip Moffitt, mostly dealing with the topic of “not-self” (anatta), which as Phillip says, is one of those understandings that are non-conceptual, that have to come to us through direct experience, that for a long time just don’t make any sense because it’s something “we just don’t know — until we do.”

So it’s one of the teachings that we have to talk about by talking around. Which is where poetry comes in. Here’s the poem Phillip quotes, by Poet Laureate Stantley Kunitz, who wrote it when he was 89:

The Layers
by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angles
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to it’s feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In the darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes. 

5 Apr
Posted in: Poems, Retreats
By    Comments Off on What I Learned on Retreat

What I Learned on Retreat

People want to know what I learned on retreat. I want to tell them, but it’s hard. How do I say it — that I learned there is love in the world….that the world IS love….without sounding sappy? Or sentimental? Or just plain stupid?

I can’t.

So I turn to the poets.

Aimless Love
by Billy Collins

This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.

In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval  battle.

This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.

The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.

No lust, no slam of the door–
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.

No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor–
just a twinge every now and then

for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.

But the heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.

After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,

so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone. 

26 Jan
Posted in: Poems
By    Comments Off on Now That The Walls

Now That The Walls

For today, this poem by Mark Nepo:

Now That I Feel

how little time there is, I’m
falling in love with everything:
the stranger whose name I’ll
never know, and the crow
pecking at the half bagel
she left for him.

Now that the walls I didn’t
know were walls have come

down, I want to care for
everything. And the sun
warming in all directions
without preference is
showing me how.

Today my heart aches,
not because something is
lacking, but because the love
I’ve carried all along is bursting
through all the gates of choice.