Friday, May 31, 2013

David Wagoner: "Old Man, Old Man"

Young men, not knowing what to remember,
Come to this hiding place of the moons and years,
To this Old Man. Old Man, they say, where should we go?
Where did you find what you remember? Was it perched in a tree?
Did it hover deep in the white water? Was it covered over
With dead stalks in the grass? Will we taste it
If our mouths have long lain empty?
Will we feel it between our eyes if we face the wind
All night, and turn the color of earth?
If we lie down in the rain, can we remember sunlight?

He answers, I have become the best and worst I dreamed.
When I move my feet, the ground moves under them.
When I lie down, I fit the earth too well.
Stones long underwater will burst in the fire, but stones
Long in the sun and under the dry night
Will ring when you strike them. Or break in two.
There were always many places to beg for answers:
Now the places themselves have come in close to be told.
I have called even my voice in close to whisper with it:
Every secret is as near as your fingers.
If your heart stutters with pain and hope,
Bend forward over it like a man at a small campfire.

"Old Man, Old Man" by David Wagoner, from Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems. © Illinois Poetry Series, 1999.

Image credit: "Wise Old Man," painting by Andrew Judd (originally color).


Thursday, May 30, 2013

e. e. cummings: "let it go—the"

let it go—the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise—let it go it
was sworn to

let them go—the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers—you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go—the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things—let all go

so comes love

"let it go" by e. e. cummings, from Complete Poems 1904-1962, edited by George James Firmage. © Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1994.  

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Samuel Menashe: "Here Now"

Now and again
I am here now
And now is when
I’m here again

"Here Now" by Samuel Menashe. Published in Poetry, September 2009. 

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ellen Bass: "If You Knew"

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked a half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

"If You Knew" by Ellen Bass, from The Human Line. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Monday, May 27, 2013

Yusef Komunyakaa: "Facing It"

My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't,
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman's trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

"Facing It" by Yusef Komunyakaa, from Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems. © Wesleyan University Press, 2001.

Photography credit: "Vietnam Wall Reflection," by Josh Partin, 2005 (originally color).


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Philip Booth: "Talk about Walking"

Where am I going? I'm going
out, out for a walk. I don't
know where except outside.
Outside argument, out beyond
wallpapered walls, outside
wherever it is where nobody
ever imagines. Beyond where
computers circumvent emotion,
where somebody shorted specs
for rivets for airframes on
today's flights. I'm taking off
on my own two feet. I'm going
to clear my head, to watch
mares'-tails instead of TV,
to listen to trees and silence,
to see if I can still breathe.
I'm going to be alone with
myself, to feel how it feels
to embrace what my feet
tell my head, what wind says
in my good ear. I mean to let
myself be embraced, to let go
feeling so centripetally old.
Do I know where I'm going?
I don't. How long or far
I have no idea. No map. I
said I was going to take
a walk. When I'll be back
I'm not going to say.

"Talk about Walking" by Philip Booth, from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. © Viking Press, 1999.

Image credit: "Going Home," painting by Becx (originally color).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Peter Mayer: "Holy Now"

[Curator's note: Today, the poetry of a singer-songwriter. Watch Mayer perform it in concert.]

When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
And pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

When I was in Sunday school
We would learn about the time
Moses split the sea in two
Jesus made the water wine
And I remember feeling sad
That miracles don’t happen still
But now I can’t keep track
‘Cause everything’s a miracle
Everything, Everything
Everything’s a miracle

Wine from water is not so small
But an even better magic trick
Is that anything is here at all
So the challenging thing becomes
Not to look for miracles
But finding where there isn’t one

When holy water was rare at best
It barely wet my fingertips
But now I have to hold my breath
Like I’m swimming in a sea of it
It used to be a world half there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now
Everything, everything
Everything is holy now

Read a questioning child’s face
And say it’s not a testament
That’d be very hard to say
See another new morning come
And say it’s not a sacrament
I tell you that it can’t be done

This morning, outside I stood
And saw a little red-winged bird
Shining like a burning bush
Singing like a scripture verse
It made me want to bow my head
I remember when church let out
How things have changed since then
Everything is holy now
It used to be a world half-there
Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down
But I walk it with a reverent air
‘Cause everything is holy now

"Holy Now" by Peter Mayer, from Million Year Mind. © Midwest Artists, 1999.

Image credit: "Wondering Child" by unknown artist (originally color).


Friday, May 24, 2013

Julie Cadwallader-Staub: "Blackbirds"

I am 52 years old, and have spent
truly the better part
of my life out-of-doors
but yesterday I heard a new sound above my head
a rustling, ruffling quietness in the spring air

and when I turned my face upward
I saw a flock of blackbirds
rounding a curve I didn't know was there
and the sound was simply all those wings
just feathers against air, against gravity
and such a beautiful winning
the whole flock taking a long, wide turn
as if of one body and one mind.

How do they do that?

Oh if we lived only in human society
with its cruelty and fear
its apathy and exhaustion
what a puny existence that would be

but instead we live and move and have our being
here, in this curving and soaring world
so that when, every now and then, mercy and tenderness triumph in our lives
and when, even more rarely, we manage to unite and move together
toward a common good,

we can think to ourselves:

ah yes, this is how it's meant to be.

"Blackbirds" by Julie Cadallader-Staub. Published by The Mennonite, November 3, 2009. © Julie Cadallader-Staub.  

Photography credit: A large blackbird flock in Illinois' Starved Rock State Park, by Dan Dzurisin (originally color).


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi: "That Lives in Us"

If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they will never harm another, and they will come to find
they hold everything you want.

If you put your hands on this oar with me, they would no longer
lift anything to your
mouth that might wound your precious land—
that sacred earth that is your body.

If you put your soul against this oar with me,
the power that made the universe will enter your sinew
from a source not outside your limbs, but from a holy realm
that lives in us.

Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and the future?
The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities
will find no rest.

Be kind to yourself, dear—to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.

"That Lives in Us" by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, from Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, edited by Daniel Ladinsky. © Penguin Books, 2002.

Photography credit: Untitled image shot in Vietnam by Lex Linghorn (originally color).


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ruby R. Wilson: "Birthday Sunrise"

A faint glow on the eastern horizon
gets brighter
as if someone were blowing on ashes
lights up more ash clouds
until there is no doubt
the fire is lit
the day will come
from yesterday’s coals.

The orange clouds
look like birds
until the sun hits my eyes
and bathes me in light
too bright to watch anymore
reflected in the concentric circles
of my coffee cup
through the hot vapor cloud
of my breath.

Two hundred twenty-nine people
were killed in an airline crash this morning.
Who is glad that I am alive

"Birthday Sunrise" by Ruby R. Wilson. © Ruby R. Wilson.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dorothy Walters: "Don't Make Lists"

Every day a new flower rises
from your body's fresh soil.
Don't go around looking
for fallen petals
in a fairy tale, when you've
got the golden plant
right here, now,
shooting forth in light from your eyes,
your awakening crown.

Don't make lists, or explore ancient accounts.
Forget everything you know
and open.
"Don't Make Lists" by Dorothy Walters, from Marrow of Flame: Poems of the Spiritual Journey. © Hohm Press, 2000.

Photography credit: Anasazi plant deity from a wall painting in northern Arizona (c. 1200 B.C.E. to 1300 C.E.), photographer unknown (originally color).


Monday, May 20, 2013

Jimmy Santiago Baca: "This Day"

I feel foolish, 
    like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs 
    when I run by them.  
                   Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,   
                    no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They've never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
                    In their mindless
                    fluttering about
                    filled with nonsense, 
                         they tell me how they
                                 love the Great Spirit,            
                     scold me not to be self-pitying,
                     to open my life
                     and make this day a bough on a tree
                     leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
                     and with day the river runs                       
                                  carrying all that falls in it.            
                     Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,            
                     Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
                     leaning over the river eternity
                     and fuss about in its branches.

"This Day" by Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Spring Poems Along the Rio Grande. © New Directions, 2007.

Image credit: Unknown (originally color).


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Arnoldo Garcia: "A Meditation on Breath"

[Note: The last two lines of this poem were edited on June 14, 2013, at the request of the poet, who had pointed out a textual error in a comment. We apologize to Mr. Garcia and thank him for the correction.]

I breathe in rain
I breathe out green
I breathe in wind
I breathe out sky
I breathe in laughter
I breathe out happiness
i breathe in her
I breathe out poetry
I breathe in daughters and sons
I breathe out hope
I breathe in words
I breathe out mountains
I breathe in sage
I breathe out clarity
I breathe in dust
I breathe out the bones of my people
I breathe in oppression
I breathe out liberation
I breathe in fire
I breathe out clouds
I breathe in ink
I breathe out veins
I breathe in Buddha
I breathe out Mexican

"A Meditation on Breath" by Arnoldo Garcia, from Life Prayers from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon. © HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Image credit: Unknown (originally color).


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Robert Francis: "Summons"

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I’m not too hard persuaded.

"Summons" by Robert Francis, from Come Out into the Sun: Poems New and Selected. © University of Massachusetts Press, 1965.

Photography credit: "Slightly Blurred Silhouette of a Hand Behind a Glass," by Kirill Kurashov (originally color).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Jane Hirshfield: "Burlap Sack"

A person is full of sorrow
the way a burlap sack is full of stones or sand.
We say, “Hand me the sack,”
but we get the weight.
Heavier if left out in the rain.
To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error.
To think that grief is the self is an error.
Self carries grief as a pack mule carries the side bags,
being careful between the trees to leave extra room.
The mule is not the load of ropes and nails and axes.
The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.
What would it be to take the bride
and leave behind the heavy dowry?
To let the thick ribbed mule browse in tall grasses,
its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?

"Burlap Sack" by Jane Hirshfield, from After: Poems. © Harper Perennial, 2007.

Image credit: "Pack Mule in Desert," oil painting by Joe Rader Roberts (originally color).


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Malena Mörling: "Visiting"

In the shape of a human body
I am visiting the earth;
the trees visit
in the shapes of trees.
Standing between the onions
and the dandelions
near the ailanthus and the bus stop,
I don't live more thoroughly
inside the mucilage of my own skull
than outside of it
and not more behind my eyes
than in what I can see with them.
I inhale whatever air
that grates breathe in the street.
My arms and legs still work,
I can run if I have to
or sit motionless purposefully
until I am here and I am not here
the way death is present
in things that are alive
like salsa music
and the shrill laughter of the bride
as she leaves the wedding
or the bald child playing jacks
outside the wigshop.

"Visiting" by Malena Mörling, from Ocean Avenue. © New Issues Poetry & Prose, 1999.

Image credit: "Scarlet Dancer," oil painting by Bill Brauer (originally color).


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Anonymous: "Samurai Song, 14th Century"

[Curator's Note: This poem, or song, is sometimes called "The Warrior's Creed." It's found widely on the Internet, in various forms, without indication of source. Whether the poem is actually what its title suggests, I can't say. If you have any information concerning its origins, please share.]

I have no parents:
I make the heaven and earth my parents.

I have no home:
I make awareness my home.

I have no life and death:
I make the tides of breathing my life and death.

I have no divine powers:
I make honesty my divine power.

I have no means:
I make understanding my means.

I have no secrets:
I make my character my secret.

I have no body:
I make endurance my body.

I have no eyes:
I make the flash of lightning my eyes.

I have no ears:
I make sensibility my ears.

I have no limbs:
I make promptness my limbs.

I have no miracles:
I make right action my miracle.

I have no principles:
I make adaptability to all circumstances my principle.

I have no tactics:
I make emptiness and fullness my tactics.

I have no talent:
I make ready wit my talent.

I have no friends:
I make my mind my friend.

I have no enemy:
I make carelessness my enemy.

I have no armor:
I make benevolence and righteousness my armor.

I have no castle:
I make immovable mind my castle.

I have no sword:
I make absence of self my sword.

"Samurai Song, 14th Century" by Anonymous.

Image credit: Sketch by Shamsul Bahari (originally black and white).


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Judy Sorum Brown: "Fire"

makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are
able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only
need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

"Fire" by Judy Sorum Brown, from Leading from Within: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Lead, edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner. © Jossey-Bass, 2007.

Photography credit: One image from the "Campfire Series" by Danielle Foushee, 2012 (originally color).


Monday, May 13, 2013

Jason Shinder: "Alone for the Fifth Day"

When I look at the ocean for a long time, the blue

and restless driven waves, I keep looking, I keep looking,
I keep looking at the waves swaying in the wind

like a metronome, wired for the sound of a sleeping heart,

and I keep looking with the silence of the sun
on the windowpane, and I keep looking and do not stop

looking deeper into waves as if into the middle

of a woman's body, where the soul and spirit
have no human bonds, and I begin never to turn away

from looking though I am frightened but keep looking

beyond what I know until I can hardly think or breathe
because I have arrived, with the need to be me disappearing

into the beautiful waves, reflecting no one, nothing, no one.

"Alone for the Fifth Day" by Jason Shinder, from Stupid Hope. © Graywolf Press, 2009.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sharon Olds: "Looking at Them Asleep"

When I come home late at night and go in to kiss them,
I see my girl with her arm curled around her head,
her mouth a little puffed, like one sated, but
slightly pouted like one who hasn't had enough,
her eyes so closed you would think they have rolled the
iris around to face the back of her head,
the eyeball marble-naked under that
thick satisfied desiring lid,
she lies on her back in abandon and sealed completion,
and the son in his room, oh the son he is sideways in his bed,
one knee up as if he is climbing
sharp stairs, up into the night,
and under his thin quivering eyelids you
know his eyes are wide open and
staring and glazed, the blue in them so
anxious and crystally in all this darkness, and his
mouth is open, he is breathing hard from the climb
and panting a bit, his brow is crumpled
and pale, his fine fingers curved,
his hand open, and in the center of each hand
the dry dirty boyish palm
resting like a cookie. I look at him in his
quest, the thin muscles of his arms
passionate and tense, I look at her with her
face like the face of a snake who has swallowed a deer,
content, content—and I know if I wake her she'll
smile and turn her face toward me though
half asleep and open her eyes and I
know if I wake him he'll jerk and say Don't and sit
up and stare about him in blue
unrecognition, oh my Lord how I
know these two. When love comes to me and says
What do you know, I say This girl, this boy.

"Looking at Them Asleep" by Sharon Olds, from The Matter of This World: New and Selected Poems. © Slow Dancer Press, 1987.

Image: Painting by Katie M. Berggren, 2009 (originally color).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mary Oliver: "Messenger"

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
     equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
     keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
     and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
     to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
     that we live forever.

"Messenger" by Mary Oliver, from Thirst: Poems. © Beacon Press, 2007.

Photography credit: Unknown (originally color).


Friday, May 10, 2013

William Stafford: "Just Thinking"

Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window.
No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held
for awhile. Some dove somewhere.

Been on probation most of my life. And
the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments
count for a lot—peace, you know.

Let the bucket of memory down into the well,
bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one
stirring, no plans. Just being there.

This is what the whole thing is about.

"Just Thinking" by William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 1998.

Photograph: "Traditional Oaken Bucket in Old Stone Well," by Bidouze Stéphane [sic], (originally in color).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Correction to Thursday's Post ("Tangerine")

My thanks to Debby Palmer of Write Mindful for catching my mistaken attribution for Thursday's poem. "Tangerine" is from Ruth Schwartz's Dear Good Naked Morning, © Autumn House Press, 2005. My apologies for citing Rumi! I've corrected the post.

This is not my first mistake, my friends, and certainly won't be the last! I'm glad that you're backing me up.

Ruth L. Schwartz: "Tangerine"

It was a flower once, it was one of a billion flowers
whose perfume broke through closed car windows,
forced a blessing on their drivers.
Then what stayed behind grew swollen, as we do;
grew juice instead of tears, and small hard sour seeds,
each one bitter, as we are, and filled with possibility.
Now a hole opens up in its skin, where it was torn from the
branch; ripeness can’t stop itself, breathes out;
we can’t stop it either. We breathe in.

"Tangerine" by Ruth L. Schwartz, from Dear Good Naked Morning. © Autumn House Press, 2005.  

Image credit: "Peeled Tangerine," oil painting by Justin Clayton, 2005 (originally color).


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Marie Howe: "Annunciation"

Even if I don't see it again—nor ever feel it
I know it is—and that if once it hailed me
it ever does—

And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
within myself,

as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn't—I was blinded like that—and swam
in what shone at me

only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I'd die
from being loved like that.

"Annunciation" by Marie Howe, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.

Photography credit: Unknown.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Denise Levertov: "Looking, Walking, Being"

"The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in."
-- Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking's a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
a way of breathing,

breathing to sustain
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

"Looking, Walking, Being" by Denise Levertov, from Sands of the Well. © New Directions Publishing, 1996.

Image credit: "The Eyes of Senna," oil painting by Bruni Sabian, 2008 (originally color).