Sunday, March 31, 2013

Camille A. Balla: "Breaking Through"

Driving to the next hurried errand
with a list swimming in my head,
I brake for the web-footed family—
not crossing the road,
but walking tall in a single straight line
headed in the opposite direction—
five dark gray long-necked profiles
observing the slow lane,
cars behind them crawling.

I hear myself exclaim delight
at this sweet, slow-moving sight.

A sunny sermon
quietly breaks through—
not citing lilies of the field
or birds of the air
but a family of geese—
right here on the blacktop.

"Breaking Through" by Camille A. Balla, from Simple Awakenings. © Linebyline Press, 2010.

Photography credit: Detail from "I Love That Traffic Stopped for This Family of Geese," by V'ron, 2008 (originally black and white).


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wislawa Szymborska: "Miracle Fair"

Commonplace miracle:
that so many commonplace miracles happen.

An ordinary miracle:
in the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.

One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.

Several miracles in one:
an alder tree reflected in the water,
and that it’s backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.

An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.

First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.

Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.

A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.

An additional miracle, as everything is additional:
the unthinkable
is thinkable.

"Miracle Fair" by Wislawa Szymborska, from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, translated by Joanna Trzeciak © W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.

Photograph: "Holding Hands," by Cminik, 2010 (originally black and white).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Tony Hoagland: "The Word"

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 from someplace 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.

"The Word" by Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin. © University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

Photograph: Unknown (originally color).


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Denise Levertov: "Witness"

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

"Witness" by Denise Levertov, from Selected Poems, edited by Paul A. Lacey. © New Directions, 2003.

Photograph: By Zapalote Photography (originally color).


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi: "Birdwings"

[image deleted at request of artist on 9/21/23]

Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.

Expecting the worst, you look, you look, and instead,
here's the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.

Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.

Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
                                                                            and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
as birdwings.

"Birdwings" by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, from The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. © HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ruth Moose: "The Crossing"

The snail at the edge of the road
inches forward, a trim gray finger
of a fellow in pinstripe suit.
He’s burdened by his house
that has to follow
where he goes. Every inch,
he pulls together
all he is,
all he owns,
all he was given.

The road is wide
but he is called
by something
that knows him
on the other side.

"The Crossing" by Ruth Moose, from 75 Poems on Retirement, edited by Robin Chapman and Judith Strasser. © University of Iowa Press, 2007.

Photograph: Detail from "Snail Crossing," by Robin Loznak, 2012 (originally color).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Naomi Shihab Nye: "Observer"

I watch how other things travel
to get an idea how I might move.
A cloud sweeps by silently,
gathering other clouds.
A doodlebug curls in his effort to get there.
A horse snorts before stepping forward.
A caterpillar inches across the kitchen floor.
When I carry him outside on a leaf,
I imagine someone doing that to me.
Would I scream?
In the heart of the day
nothing moves.
No one is going anywhere
or coming back.
The blue glass on the table
lets light pass through.
Something shines
but nothing moves.
I watch that too.

"Observer" by Naomi Shihab Nye. No other bibliographic information available. 

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Charles Bukowski: "a song with no end"

when Whitman wrote, "I sing the body electric"

I know what he
I know what he

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can't cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as

"a song with no end" by Charles Bukowski, from The Night Torn with Made Footsteps. © Black Sparrow Press, 2001.

Image credit: Unknown (originally color).


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Richard Schiffman: "Watching the Birdwatcher"

She peers through a pair of binoculars
into a treetop lit with day’s last blaze,
where some bird alights unseen by me.
Her gaze poised so tremulous and light,
as if resting upon a twig—looking, looking
at the bird that we don’t see. The bird in the tree,
and the seer of the bird sharing for the stainless present
the same slender branch. She stands stock-still.
Expecting nothing. Neither bird, nor bird watcher, nor air
are moving. Nor I, as I watch her, as she watches the bird—
all hung weightless and timeless and spaceless. Perched
upon this dimensionless brink. The twig could not bear
any more load than this bare awareness. If, therefore,
you would not spook the bird, nor snap the twig,
nor shatter this spun glass globe of air, then alight upon
the world like air, like breath. And do not linger any longer
than this bird watcher who now strolls off, the bird still hidden,
still lost in shadow. Forgetting the bird, forgetting herself.
Dissolving like an apparition into twilight’s final bay.
Only this poem still holding on. Foolish poem
grasping at the ungraspable world.

"Watching the Birdwatcher" by Richard Schiffman. First published in In Posse Review, Issue 25.

Photograph: Detail from "Woman Birdwatching" by Ariana Murphy (originally color).


Friday, March 22, 2013

Carl Dennis: "String Quartet"

Art and life, I wouldn't want to confuse them.
But it's hard to hear this quartet
Without comparing it to a conversation
Of the quiet kind, where no one tries to outtalk
The other participants, where each is eager instead
To share in the task of moving the theme along
From the opening statement to the final bar.

A conversation that isn't likely to flourish
When sales technicians come trolling for customers,
Office-holders for votes, preachers for converts.
Many good people among such talkers,
But none engaged like the voices of the quartet
In resisting the plots time hatches to make them unequal,
To set them at odds, to pull them asunder.

I love the movement where the cello is occupied
With repeating a single phrase while the others
Strike out on their own, three separate journeys
That seem to suggest each prefers, after all,
The pain and pleasure of playing solo. But no.
Each near the end swerves back to the path
Their friend has been plodding, and he receives them
As if he never once suspected their loyalty.

Would I be moved if I thought the music
Belonged to a world remote from this one,
If it didn't seem instead to be making the point
That conversation like this is available
At moments sufficiently free and self-forgetful?

And at other moments, maybe there's still a chance
To participate in the silence of listeners
Who are glad for what they manage to bring to the music
And for what they manage to take away.

"String Quartet" by Carl Dennis, from Unknown Friends. © Penguin, 2007. 

Image credit: Unknown (originally black and white).


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tom Hennen: "In the Late Season"

At the soft place in the snowbank
Warmed to dripping by the sun
There is the smell of water.
On the western wind the hint of glacier.
A cottonwood tree warmed by the same sun
On the same day,
My back against its rough bark,
Same west wind mild in my face.
A piece of spring
Pierced me with love for this empty place
Where a prairie creek runs
Under its cover of clear ice
And the sound it makes,
Mysterious as a heartbeat,
New as a lamb.

"In the Late Season" by Tom Hennen, from Darkness Sticks to Everything. © Copper Canyon Press, 2013.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Billy Collins: "Japan"

[Curator's note: This poem was inspired by a classic haiku by Taniguchi Buson (1716-84): "on the one-ton temple bell / a moon-moth, folded into sleep, / sits still." Translated from the Japanese by X. J. Kennedy.]

Today, I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again.

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of the painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It's the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on its surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our head.

"Japan" by Billy Collins, from Picnic, Lightning. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.   

Photograph: Detail of a haiga by Ray Rasmussen (originally color). A haiga is a haiku presented with an image.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Psalmist and Stephen Mitchell: "Psalm 1"

Blessed are the man and the woman
    who have grown beyond their greed
    and have put an end to their hatred
    and no longer nourish illusions.
But they delight in the way things are
    and keep their hearts open, day and night.
They are like trees planted near flowing rivers,
    which bear fruit when they are ready.
Their leaves will not fall or wither.
    Everything they do will succeed.

"Psalm 1" from A Book of Psalms: Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew,  translated and adapted by Stephen Mitchell.  © HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.

Image: "Autumn Harvest," oil on canvas by unknown artist (originally color).


Monday, March 18, 2013

Jane Piirto: "Tomorrow, Today, and Yesterday"

the 3-year-old, wanting to know what day
it is asks everyday what day it is
we tell her Tuesday or Saturday etcetera
then she asks what day it will be
tomorrow and we go through the naming
of tomorrows in order
chanting the future like a litany

tomorrow is when she wakes up
in the morning and when we tell her
we'll go shopping tomorrow she
remembers yesterday and informs us
that it is tomorrow that today is
yesterday that therefore the time is
always now to do what we plan to do

"Tomorrow, Today, and Yesterday" by Jane Piirto, from Saunas. © Mayapple Press, 2008.

Image credit: Unknown, though it may be by E. H. Shepard, the illustrator of A. A. Milne's Pooh books (originally color).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rita Dove: "Testimonial"

Back when the earth was new
and heaven just a whisper,
back when the names of things
hadn't had time to stick;

back when the smallest breezes
melted summer into autumn,
when all the poplars quivered
sweetly in rank and file . . .

the world called, and I answered.
Each glance ignited to a gaze.
I caught my breath and called that life,
swooned between spoonfuls of lemon sorbet.

I was pirouette and flourish,
I was filigree and flame.
How could I count my blessings
when I didn't know their names?

Back when everything was still to come,
luck leaked out everywhere.
I gave my promise to the world,
and the world followed me here.

"Testimonial" by Rita Dove, from On the Bus with Rosa Parks: Poems. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.  

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Larry Schug: "Mending Mittens"

Mending my leather mittens
for the third time this winter,
I sew them with waxed string
made to repair fishing nets,
hoping they’ll last
until the splitting maul rests
against the shrunken woodpile
and the hoe and spade come out of the shed.
Suddenly I find myself praying.
Blessed be those who have laced together
the splits at the seams of this world,
repaired its threads of twisted waters.
Blessed be those who stitch together
the animals and the land,
repair the rends in the fabric
of wolf and forest,
of whale and ocean,
of condor and sky.
Blessed be those who are forever fixing
the tear between people and the rest of life.
May we all have enough thread,
may our needles be sharp,
may our fingers not throb or go numb.
May each of us find an apprentice,
someone who will take the needle from our hands
continue all the mending that needs to be done.

"Mending Mittens" by Larry Schug. No other bibliographic information available. 

Photograph: "Silver Needle and Golden Thread" by CarbonNYC (originally color).

Friday, March 15, 2013

John Brantingham: "Putting in a Window"

Carpentry has a rhythm that should never
be violated. You need to move slowly,
methodically, never trying to finish early,
never even hoping that you'd be done sooner.
It's best if you work without thought of the
end. If hurried, you end up with crooked
door joints and drafty rooms. Do not work
after you are annoyed just so the job
will be done more quickly. Stop when you
begin to curse at the wood. Putting in
a window should be a joy. You should love
the new header and the sound of
your electric screwdriver as it secures
the new beams. The only good carpenter
is the one who knows that he's not good.

He's afraid that he'll ruin the whole house,
and he works slowly. It's the same as
cooking or driving. The good cook
knows humility, and his soufflé never falls
because he is terrified that it will fall
the whole time he's cooking. The good driver
knows that he might plow into a mother
walking her three-year old, and so watches
for them carefully. The good carpenter
knows that his beams might be weak, and a misstep
might ruin the place he loves. In the end,
you find your own pace, and you lose time.
When you started, the sun was high and now
that you're finished, it's dark. Tomorrow, you
might put in a door. The next day,
you'll start on your new deck.

"Putting in a Window" by John Brantingham, from Putting in a Window. © Finishing Line Press, 2005.

Photograph: "Neon Hammering a Nail," neon art by Jeffery Sideshow (originally color).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pat Schneider: "Lessons"

I have learned
that life goes on,
or doesn't.
That days are measured out
in tiny increments
as a woman in a kitchen
measures teaspoons
of cinnamon, vanilla,
or half a cup of sugar
into a bowl.

I have learned
that moments are as precious as nutmeg,
and it has occurred to me
that busy interruptions
are like tiny grain moths,
or mice.
They nibble, pee, and poop,
or make their little worms and webs
until you have to throw out the good stuff
with the bad.

It took two deaths
and coming close myself
for me to learn
that there is not an infinite supply
of good things in the pantry.

"Lessons" by Pat Schneider, from Another River: New and Selected Poems. © Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mark Strand: "My Name"

Once when the lawn was a golden green
and the marbled moonlit trees rose like fresh memorials
in the scented air, and the whole countryside pulsed
with the chirr and murmur of insects, I lay in the grass,
feeling the great distances open above me, and wondered
what I would become and where I would find myself,
and though I barely existed, I felt for an instant
that the vast star-clustered sky was mine, and I heard
my name as if for the first time, heard it the way
one hears the wind or the rain, but faint and far off
as though it belonged not to me but to the silence
from which it had come and to which it would go.

"My Name" by Mark Strand, from Man and Camel. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Photograph: "Watching, Waiting," by Melissa Petrie, 2011 (originally color).


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kirsten Dierking: "In the Produce Aisle"

In the vivid red
of the fresh berries,
in the pebbled skin
of an emerald lime,
in the bright colors
of things made
to be transitory,

you see the same
you find in your own
delicate flesh,
the lines fanned
around your eyes
charming like
the burnish
of plums,

your life like
all the other
fragile organics,
your soft hand
hovering over
the succulent apple,
you reach for it,
already transforming.

"In the Produce Aisle" by Kirsten Dierking, from Northern Oracle. © Spout Press, 2007.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Monday, March 11, 2013

David Whyte: "What to Remember When Waking"

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents,
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?

"What to Remember When Waking" by David Whyte, from The House of Belonging. © Many Rivers Press, 1996.

Image credit: "Window View—Golden Mountain Morning," oil painting by L. Skylar Brown.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Stephen Levine: "An Echo of Wang Wei's Reply to Vice Magistrate Chang"

Growing old I love the quiet that used to
disturb me. I have distance on my life.
The boast and pity of self-regard
have fallen somewhat behind.
Heading home, the home I carry with me,
I settle into the clouds. On the mountain
I sit quietly in a sage meadow
visited by the same bees that make lovers
of flowering bushes.
I become part of the golden comb hidden
in the hive humming with delight.

"An Echo of Wang Wei's Reply to Vice Magistrate Chang" by Stephen Levine, from Inquiring Mind, Fall 2010.
Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Barbara Crooker: "Hope"

Winter sunlight, fool's gold, pours in the south window,
fails to warm. Weak as tea, pale as bone, insubstantial
as dust on a mantle, water falling over stone.
The ground outside, hard, white as the hospital bed
where my friend waits after her marrow transplant,
hoping her white count will rise. I watch birds at the window—
sparrows, titmice, finches—the plain brown, the speckled,
the ordinary, no flashy travelers up from the tropics,
where winter is a verb, not a state of the heart.
I go out to fill the feeder, feel silky grain slip
through my fingers: millet, proso, corn. Little birds,
little angels, singing their small song of consolation.
A thin drizzle of sun slips through clouds,
a strand of hope against the icy odds.

"Hope" by Barbara Crooker, from The White Poems. © Barnwood Publishers, 2001.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Friday, March 8, 2013

Alison Luterman: "I Confess"

I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocadoes in her basket,
beaming peace like the North Star.
I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes the earth burn and turn on its axis—"
But we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.”

"I Confess" by Alison Luterman. No other bibliographic information available.\

Photograph: "Portrait," by daskar, 2006 (originally color).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Naomi Shihab Nye: "The Traveling Onion"

It is believed that the onion originally came from India. In Egypt it was an object of worship––why I haven't been able to find out. From Egypt the onion entered Greece and on to Italy, thence into all of Europe. –– Better Living Cookbook

When I think how far the onion has traveled
just to enter my stew today, I could kneel and praise
all small forgotten miracles,
crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,
pearly layers in smooth agreement,
the way knife enters onion
and onion falls apart on the chopping block,
a history revealed.

And I would never scold the onion
for causing tears.
It is right that tears fall
for something small and forgotten.
How at meal, we sit to eat,
commenting on texture of meat or herbal aroma
but never on the translucence of onion,
now limp, now divided,
or its traditionally honorable career:
For the sake of others,

"The Traveling Onion" by Naomi Shihab Nye, from Contemporary American Poems, edited by Kay Ryan. © People's Literature Publishing House, 2011.  

Photograph: "Slice of Red Onion," by unnamed blogger at (originally color and horizontal).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wendell Berry: "To Know the Dark"

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

"To Know the Dark" by Wendell Berry, from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. © Counterpoint, 1999.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).