Friday, January 31, 2014

Barbara Crooker: "Ordinary Life"

This was a day when nothing happened,
the children went off to school
without a murmur, remembering
their books, lunches, gloves.
All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
in the squares of light on the floor.
And lunch blended into naptime,
I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
one of those jobs that never gets done,
then sat in a circle of sunlight
and drank ginger tea,
watched the birds at the feeder
jostle over lunch's little scraps.
A pheasant strutted from the hedgerow,
preened and flashed his jeweled head.
Now a chicken roasts in the pan,
and the children return,
the murmur of their stories dappling the air.
I peel carrots and potatoes without paring my thumb.
We listen together for your wheels on the drive.
Grace before bread.
And at the table, actual conversation,
no bickering or pokes.
And then, the drift into homework.
The baby goes to his cars, drives them
along the sofa's ridges and hills.
Leaning by the counter, we steal a long slow kiss,
tasting of coffee and cream.
The chicken's diminished to skin & skeleton,
the moon to a comma, a sliver of white,
but this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard cold knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift,
and the stars turn on,
order themselves
into the winter night.

"Ordinary Life" by Barbara Crooker, from Ordinary Life. © ByLine Press, 2001.  

Image credit: "Stacked," oil on panel, by James Neil Hollingsworth (originally color).

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hafiz: "The Sun in Drag"

You are the sun in drag.
You are God hiding from yourself.
Remove all the “mine”—that is the veil.
Why ever worry about
Listen to what your friend Hafiz
Knows for certain:
The appearance of this world
Is a Magi’s brilliant trick, though its affairs are
Nothing into nothing.
You are a divine elephant with amnesia
Trying to live in an ant
Sweetheart, O sweetheart
You are God in

"The Sun in Drag" by Hafiz, from The Gift: Poems of Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master. Purported to be translated from the original Persian (Farsi) by Daniel Ladinsky. © Penguin Compass, 1999.

Please note that Ladinsky's "translations" are controversial, considered by many to be less Hafiz than Ladinsky himself. 

Photography credit: "Hidden Sun," by biglaur (originally color).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Czeslaw Milosz: "Faith"

The word Faith means when someone sees
A dew-drop or a floating leaf, and knows
That they are, because they have to be.
And even if you dreamed, or closed your eyes
And wished, the world would still be what it was,
And the leaf would still be carried down the river.

It means that when someone’s foot is hurt
By a sharp rock, he also knows that rocks
Are here so they can hurt our feet.
Look, see the long shadow cast by the trees;
And flowers and people throw shadows on the earth:
What has no shadow has no strength to live. 

"Faith" by Czeslaw Milosz, from The Separate Notebooks: Poems. Translated from the Polish by Renata Gorczynski, Robert Hass, and Robert Pinsky. © Ecco Press, 1984.

Photography credit: "Fall Floating Downstream," by Daniel Johnson (originally color).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Saadi Youssef: "Attention"

                                    Those who come by me passing
                                    I will remember them,
                                    and those who come heavy and overbearing
                                    I will forget.

                                    This is why
                                    when air gushes between mountains
                                    we describe the wind
                                    and forget the rocks.

"Attention" by Saadi Youssef. Translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa. Published in Paris Review (Spring 2000).

Photography credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer, found at this link (originally color).

Monday, January 27, 2014

Portia Nelson: "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters"

Chapter One
                                   I walk down the street.
                                              There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
                                              I fall in.
                                              I am lost.... I am helpless.
                                                        It isn't my fault.
                                   It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two
                                   I walk down the same street.
                                              There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
                                              I pretend I don't see it.
                                              I fall in again.
                                   I can't believe I am in the same place.
                                                       But, it isn't my fault.
                                   It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three
                                   I walk down the same street.
                                              There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
                                              I see it is there.
                                              I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but,
                                                       my eyes are open.
                                                       I know where I am.
                                   It is my fault.
                                   I get out immediately.

Chapter Four
                                   I walk down the same street.
                                              There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
                                              I walk around it.

Chapter Five
                                   I walk down another street.

"Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson, from There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery. © Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2012.

Image credit: Untitled image by unknown artist, found at this link (originally color).


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Stephen Levine: "Half Life"

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream
barely touching the ground
our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

"Half Life" by Stephen Levine, from Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace. © Larson Publications, 2007.

Image credit: Detail from untitled abstract painting by Jean Theobald Jacus, 1924 (originally color).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Janine Pommy Vega: "Which Side Are You On?"

Where does my anger come from
            at the laziness, the prosaic?
How many times will you enter a room
          and leave it vacant: in and out,
in and out, visiting a temple of possibility
           and never leave a gift on the altar?

Come down to the river of your own soul, we are    
here, the yellow helmets you see are so many
suns on the horizon, going down and coming up
in no particular time sequence or order.
         When one flower opens, Kabir says,
dozens open. I'm digressing.

Every time you visit yourself without
             respect, you lose. Without love,
Read the coins you've thrown down into the dirt,
          they spell integrity. You recall those
early moments in
your young life when you sang. And we were
             witnesses—if not then, now. We can
             see you
outside the ordinary, grab onto a miracle and
understand it was no more you than the

Oh, so that's it, finally:
No more you or me than that mountain
         there. And no mountain either.

                   Which side are you on?

                                       Eastern C.F., Napanoch, NY,
                                       June 6, 1996

"Which Side Are You On?" by Janine Pommy Vega, from Mad Dogs of Trieste: New & Selected Poems. © David R. Godine Publisher, 2000.

Photography credit: "Wreckage around Keansburg Amusement Park, NJ due to Superstorm Sandy," by © Logan Mock-Bunting, 2012 (originally color).

Friday, January 24, 2014

Nina Corwin: "What Morning Looks Like"

Another dawn poem. A virgin Thursday
morning that sparkles and blushes before
falling to the spatterings of day.

I'm starting a journey, dragging my suitcase
and carry-on bags to the taxi stand
at the corner. It's an hour before the earliest

alarm I know. Before the street lights shut down
at the tired end of their shift; when the air bites
crisp and clean. Before the turbulent machine of day

accelerates into full throttle. An orange cab
pulls up, driver devout as desert sand,
serenity riding in the passenger seat.

I slide into the back, give my destination.
He glances at my face in the rear view mirror.
I can see only his eyes, the dark oasis

of them. It seems as if we're sharing
a secret, though we are not. Red streaks
begin to reach along the horizon.

Obviously he and dawn are old acquaintances
having peered into each other's blinking,
bloodshot eyes a time or two. Can't remember

the last time I was out at this hour, I say
reaching for conversation. I ask him what time
his day starts and he tells me 4 a.m.

So then I ask what 4 a.m. looks like and he says:
It looks like anything else. It looks like God.
He accelerates easily. An occasional car rolls toward us.

Headlights nod as they pass.

"What Morning Looks Like" by Nina Corwin. Published online at the e-poets network (date unknown), where the poem is said to have first appeared in Flyway.  

Photography credit: Detail from "Close Up of a Taxi Driver's Eyes in Rearview Mirror of His Cab," by Jim Richardson (originally color).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Nura Yingling: "Step Six and Step Seven"

Let me be where I am.
Let this bread, this morning, be their own ceremony.
Let me pass the gilt mirrors without looking.

When the lead mouth of fear clamps onto mine
and blasts her wind of rope and iron filings into me,
let my breath be forgiveness returned for her black sadness.

Let poems be cups of praying
made for holding silence.

"Step Six and Step Seven" by Nura Yingling, from for Holding Silence. © BlazeVOX, 2013.  

Image credit: "Hovis Bread and Knife," painting by Alan Gwynne-Jones, 1945 (originally color).


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

D. H. Lawrence: "Maximus"

God is older than the sun and moon
and the eye cannot behold him
nor voice describe him.

But a naked man, a stranger, leaned on the gate
with his cloak over his arm, waiting to be asked in.
So I called him: Come in, if you will!––
He came in slowly, and sat down by the hearth.
I said to him: And what is your name?––
He looked at me without answer, but such a loveliness
entered me, I smiled to myself, saying: He is a God!
So he said: Hermes!

God is older than the sun and moon
and the eye cannot behold him
nor the voice describe him:
and still, this is the God Hermes, sitting by my hearth.

"Maximus" by D. H. Lawrence, from The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence. © Wordsworth Editions, 1994.

Image credit: "Hermes," oil on canvas, by Salvador Dali, 1981 (originally color).


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Izumi Shikibu: Untitled ["Although the Wind"]

                                                  Although the wind
                                                  blows terribly here,
                                                  the moonlight also leaks
                                                  between the roof planks
                                                  of this ruined house.

Untitled ["Although the Wind"] by Izumi Shikibu, from The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, edited and translated from the Japanese by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani. © Vintage Classics, 1990.

Photography credit: Untitled image by Lexie in NZ (originally color).


Monday, January 20, 2014

Edgar Lee Masters: "111. Ernest Hyde"

My mind was a mirror:
It saw what it saw, it knew what it knew.
In youth my mind was just a mirror
In a rapidly flying car,
Which catches and loses bits of the landscape.
Then in time
Great scratches were made on the mirror,
Letting the outside world come in,
And letting my inner self look out.
For this is the birth of the soul in sorrow,
A birth with gains and losses.
The mind sees the world as a thing apart,
And the soul makes the world at one with itself.
A mirror scratched reflects no image—
And this is the silence of wisdom.

"111. Ernest Hyde" by Edgar Lee Masters, from Spoon River Anthology. © The Macmillan Company, 1916.  

Photography credit: "Scratched Mirror," by Chris Schmalz (originally color).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Laura Davies Foley: "The Offering"

These woods
on the edges of a lake
are settling now
to winter darkness.
Whatever was going to die
is gone—
crickets, ferns, swampgrass.
Bare earth fills long spaces of a field.
But look:
a single oak leaf
brown and shining
like a leather purse.
See what it so delicately offers
lying upturned on the path.
See how it reflects in its opened palm
a cup of deep, unending sky.

"The Offering" by Laura Davies Foley. © Laura Davies Foley. Published here via poet submission.

Photography credit: "Leaf on the Water," by Noemy009 (originally color).   

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bertolt Brecht: "Everything Changes"

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.

"Sometimes" by Bertolt Brecht, from Poetry and Prose. © Continuum, 2003.

Image credit: "Warli Painting about Life Cycle," clay on cotton fabric, by unknown artist, found at this link (originally color).

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dana Gioia: "Entrance"

Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight,
Out of the room that lets you feel secure.
Infinity is open to your sight.
Whoever you are.
With eyes that have forgotten how to see
From viewing things already too well-known,
Lift up into the dark a huge, black tree
And put it in the heavens: tall, alone.
And you have made the world and all you see.
It ripens like the words still in your mouth.
And when at last you comprehend its truth,
Then close your eyes and gently set it free.

(After Rilke)

"Entrance" by Dana Gioia, from Interrogations at Noon: Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2001.

Photography credit: Detail from "Angel Oak Tree," by Amy Tyler Photography (originally black and white).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Suheir Hammad: "talisman"

it is written
the act of writing is
holy words are
sacred and your breath
brings out the
god in them
i write these words
quickly repeat them
softly to myself
this talisman for you
fold this prayer
around your neck fortify
your back with these
may you walk ever
loved and in love
know the sun
for warmth the moon
for direction
may these words always
remind you your breath
is sacred words
bring out the god
in you

"talisman" by Suheir Hammad. Published online by (date unknown).

Image credit: "Amulet, 11th century, Fatimid, Egypt," ink on paper (originally color). Note from source: "Centuries before block printing was introduced in Europe, the technique was used in the Islamic world to produce miniature texts consisting of prayers, incantations, and Qur’anic verses that were kept in amulet boxes. The text on this amulet is in the angular kufic script. The six-pointed star, a familiar symbol in Islamic art, is usually called `Solomon's seal.'"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

David Whyte: "The Winter of Listening"

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

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.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous

Silence and winter
has led me to that

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

"The Winter of Listening" by David Whyte, from The House of Belonging. © Many Rivers Press, 1997.

Photography credit: Detail from "Seeking Warmth: A Kashmiri man warmed his hands over a fire on a street on a cold morning in Srinagar, India, Wednesday," by Fayaz Kabli/Reuters (originally color).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Meister Eckhart: "Love Does That"

All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries
about things that bother only

And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.

Once in a while a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
than that,

he looks into the burro's eyes and touches her ears

and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,

because love does

Love frees.

"Love Does That" by Meister Eckhart, from Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, edited by Daniel Ladinsky. Translated from the German by Daniel Ladinsky. © Penguin Books, 2002.

Photography credit: Untitled image by Mike Allegra (originally color).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wendell Berry: "How to Be a Poet"


(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.   
Make the best you can of it.   
Of the little words that come   
out of the silence, like prayers   
prayed back to the one who prays,   
make a poem that does not disturb   
the silence from which it came.

"How to Be a Poet" by Wendell Berry. Published in Poetry (January 2001). 

Photography credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer, found at this link (originally color).


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Nancy Shaffer: "Because We Spill Not Only Milk"

Because we spill not only milk
Knocking it over with an elbow
When we reach to wipe a small face
But also spill seed on soil we thought was fertile but isn't,
And also spill whole lives, and only later see in fading light
How much is gone and we hadn't intended it

Because we tear not only cloth
Thinking to find a true edge and instead making only a hole
But also tear friendships when we grow
And whole mountainsides because we are so many
And we want to live right where black oaks lived,
Once very quietly and still

Because we forget not only what we are doing in the kitchen
And have to go back to the room we were in before,
Remember why it was we left
But also forget entire lexicons of joy
And how we lost ourselves for hours
Yet all that time were clearly found and held
And also forget the hungry not at our table

Because we weep not only at jade plants caught in freeze
And precious papers left in rain
But also at legs that no longer walk
Or never did, although from the outside they look like most others
And also weep at words said once as though
They might be rearranged but which
Once loose, refuse to return and we are helpless

Because we are imperfect and love so
Deeply we will never have enough days,
We need the gift of starting over, beginning
Again: just this constant good, this
Saving hope.

"Because We Spill Not Only Milk" by Nancy Shaffer, from Instructions in Joy: Meditations. © Skinner House, 2002.

Photography credit: "Splatter," by 2happy (originally black and white).


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Michael Cope: "Tea Ceremony"

To this cup, I pay homage.
To the designer of this cup,
to the workers who made this cup,
who mined the ores, I pay homage.
To the workers who dug the clay,
ground the glazes, the farmers
who fed those workers I pay homage.
To the great cycles which give us
clean air, clear water, to all living things,
all the earth, I pay homage.

To this tea, I pay homage.
To the growth in the bud,
to the cells exchanging
air, water and light, I pay homage.
to the workers who grew, tended,
picked the tea, who packed, transported,
distributed the tea, I pay homage.
To the great cycles which give us
clean air, clear water, to all living things,
all the earth, I pay homage.

To this water, I pay homage.
To the rain which falls,
to the rivers, the dams,
the builders and plumbers, I pay homage.
To the oceans and the sun,
the great trade winds
and the world’s turning, I pay homage.
To all the cycles which bring us
clean air, clear water, to all living things,
all the earth, I pay homage.

"Tea Ceremony" by Michael Cope, from Scenes and Visions. © Snailpress, 1990.  

Photography credit: Detail from "How to Pray the Japanese Way," by © Kalandrakas | (originally black and white).

Friday, January 10, 2014

Curator's Note: I Bow to You

My friends, I scarcely know what to say.

Our "change jar" is overflowing. Your generosity astounds me. Yesterday, instead of working on my novel-in-progress, I did little more than write thank-you notes, one after another after another, to readers across the United States, Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, Australia—country after country. Our community of readers is even more widespread and diverse than I knew, and the outpouring of your donations for A Year of Being Here has been nothing short of wondrous. The project is now on solid footing.

I scarcely know what to say. So I will simply put my hands together, and bow deeply.

Toyohiko Kagawa: "A Prayer"

I want to be ever a child.
I want to feel an eternal friendship
for the raindrops, the flowers,
the insects, the snowflakes.
I want to be keenly interested in everything,
with mind and muscle ever alert,
forgetting my troubles in the next moment.
The stars and the sea, the ponds and the trees,
the birds and the animals, are my comrades.
Though my muscles may stiffen, though my skin may
wrinkle, may I never find myself yawning
at life.

"A Prayer" by Toyohiko Kagawa, from Songs of the Slums. Translated from the Japanese by Lois Erickson. © Cokesbury, 1935.

Image credit: "Rain," by unknown artist, found at this link (originally color).


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Curator's Note: A Penny for the Jar?

Friends, my original "labor of love" is in full bloom. Our community of readers at A Year of Being Here has grown so fast in one year that it has exceeded my technical ability to distribute the poems. My modest tools, all of them free, no longer suffice for such a crowd. Therefore, I've had to choose: quit, or upgrade.

I never considered quitting. I just plunged ahead, trying to find solutions to the problems. And I've found them, thanks to kind souls answering my endless questions. But these solutions will come at a cost I hadn't foreseen. Beware of labors of love that take over your life....

So, with reluctance, and at the urging of friends, I've decided to invite our community of readers to help sustain this project by donating through a tip jar, located in the right sidebar on this site.

Let me be clear: I don't want to profit off the remarkable poetry (and artwork) I'm posting here. I'm well aware of my role. I'm here to serve the poets (and the artists). I'm here to serve the poems (and the art). I neither seek nor deserve any compensation for doing this. But the truth is, the service I'm performing is becoming somewhat expensive.

Here's my pledge: I'll be a wise steward of whatever donations are made to the project. No donation will ever be required of any reader. No dollar amount will ever be suggested to any donor. Any "lucky pennies" dropped (via PayPal) into the tip jar—or "change jar," as I prefer to call it—will be used to defray operational expenses, so that this project can flourish.

Why do I prefer calling it a "change" jar? First, because I believe that these expenses can be met by modest donations. Small change, not big bills. Second, because I believe that mindfulness teaches us how change is built into the nature of What Is—and what is happening, happily, with this project is just more evidence of that. Finally, because I believe that the more mindful we and other people become, the more the world within, around and beyond us changes for the better. "Change" jar, indeed. Drop in your pennies, and something will happen. It always does.

As I'm writing this, having just set the change jar on the tabletop of this site, somebody has already dropped in a donation. Some dear reader from Down Under, in Australia. How wonderful. I'm laughing out loud.

As Muriel Rukeyser said, "Flower   flower   flower   flower .... "

Julia Donaldson: "I Opened a Book"

I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I've left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I'm wearing the cloak, I've slipped on the ring,
I've swallowed the magic potion.
I've fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

"I Opened a Book" by Julia Donaldson, from Crazy Mayonnaisy Mum: Poems. © Macmillan Children's Books, 2005.

Image credit: "Storybook," by © Jeannette Woitzik (originally color).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Curator's Note: In Case of Hiccups....

If you're an email subscriber to A Year of Being Here, or would like to be, this message is for you.

Due to the increasing unreliability of Feedburner, my automated email subscription service, I'm likely going to switch to an alternative called FeedPress. I'll make every effort (with FeedPress's help) to make this transition as smooth as possible.

I'm not certain when the transition will happen, but it will probably be soon. My hope is that your subscription will continue uninterrupted, but I wanted you to be aware of the upcoming change in case there are hiccups. (A spoonful of peanut butter works well for those, by the way....)

If you're among those who have at some point tried to subscribe by email without success, I think this transition will provide a remedy. Stay tuned. I want you to be included in our reading community and am very grateful that you brought the problems with Feedburner to my attention.

Thanks in advance for your forbearance and patience during this transition.

W. S. Merwin: "To the New Year"

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

"To the New Year" by W. S. Merwin, from Present Company: Poems by W. S. Merwin. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007.  

Image credit: "Palo Verde and Mourning Dove," acrylic painting, by Peter Mathios (originally color).