Monday, June 30, 2014

Donna Hilbert: "Gravity"

What binds me to this earth
are the hands of my children,
as I hold my mother
holding her mother
back to the mother
who begat us all.
This is gravity.
This is why we call the earth Mother,
why all rising is a miracle.

"Gravity" by Donna Hilbert, from Deep Red. © Event Horizon Press, 1993.

Art credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer (originally black and white).


Sunday, June 29, 2014

C. P. Cavafy: "Ithaka"

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

"Ithaka" by C. P. Cavafy, from Collected Poems. Translated from the original Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. © Princeton University Press, 1992.

Art credit: "Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus—Homer's Odyssey," oil on canvas, by Joseph Mallord William Turner (originally color).


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Samuel Menashe: "Rue"

For what I did
And did not do
And do without
In my old age
Rue, not rage
Against that night
We go into,
Sets me straight
On what to do
Before I die—
Sit in the shade,
Look at the sky

"Rue" by Samuel Menashe, from Samuel Menashe: New and Selected Poems, edited by Christopher Ricks. © The Library of America, 2005.

Art credit: Untitled digitally manipulated image, perhaps by Jack Smyth (originally color).

Friday, June 27, 2014

Curator's Note: Wise, or Not Too Wise?

Some readers weren't pleased with today's selection, given the poet's fabrication. I understand that. Using the words of Morgan was definitely a risk, and I pondered hard before posting them. Perhaps I erred, but please hear my reasons, of which these were primary:

(1) I wanted to use this opportunity to clear up the attribution. I'm troubled by the fact that Morgan's poem is still being widely circulated as the words of a real (and aboriginal) poet. I wanted to help correct this, especially so that a fabricated representation of aboriginal culture couldn’t continue to be promoted as true.

(2) I wanted readers to wrestle—mindfully—with the notion of whether wise words might still be received as wise despite their source. For I do believe that, despite the fabrication, there is an amount of wisdom in Morgan's writing.

As I said, this selection was risky. But I feel that I would do it again, and perhaps be the wiser by explaining my choice.

Care to respond?

Deep peace,

Marlo Morgan: Untitled ["Forever Oneness"]

Forever Oneness,
who sings to us in silence,
who teaches us through each other,
Guide my steps with strength and wisdom.
May I see the lessons as I walk,
honor the Purpose of all things.
Help me touch with respect,
always speak from behind my eyes.
Let me observe, not judge.
May I cause no harm,
and leave music and beauty after my visit.
When I return to forever
may the circle be closed
and the spiral be broader.

Untitled ["Forever Oneness"] by Marlo Morgan, from Mutant Message Down Under. © HarperCollins Publishers, 1995.  

Art credit: Untitled painting by unknown aboriginal artist (originally color).

Curator's note: Much controversy surrounds Morgan's book, especially due to its fabrication of Australian aboriginal culture. This poem, which the fictional "aboriginal poet" named "Bee Lake" reveals in the book as a "ritual chant" of "[her] people in the Outback Nation," is now widely disseminated online, usually attributed to Bee Lake, who isn't a real person. The words are not without power; hence, their popularity. I chose original aboriginal artwork to companion them as an expression both of regret and respect toward the native peoples of Australia who felt violated by Morgan's work. You can learn more about the controversy surrounding Morgan and her book here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tere Sievers: "These Things A Prayer"

As a child, I had a patron saint,
St. Theresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower.
the saint of small things:
a washed dish, raked leaves,
clothes hung on the line,
these things a prayer.

Sometimes I remember
that my life is like all others,
the past gone, the present here,
the future, what future?
Sometimes I remember
to look for the present
under the pepper tree.

There I find a green prayer
in the rustle of leaves,
a brown one, as silent bugs
burrow in dry earth,
or white, like the cat,
stretched warm in the sun,
still, on the stone wall.

"These Things A Prayer" by Tere Sievers. Published here by poet submission. © Tere Sievers.

Art credit: St. Theresa of Lisieux as a child by unknown photographer (originally black and white).


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dana Gioia: "Words"

The world does not need words. It articulates itself
in sunlight, leaves, and shadows. The stones on the path
are no less real for lying uncatalogued and uncounted.
The fluent leaves speak only the dialect of pure being.
The kiss is still fully itself though no words were spoken.

And one word transforms it into something less or other
illicit, chaste, perfunctory, conjugal, covert.
Even calling it a kiss betrays the fluster of hands
glancing the skin or gripping a shoulder, the slow
arching of neck or knee, the silent touching of tongues.

Yet the stones remain less real to those who cannot
name them, or read the mute syllables graven in silica.
To see a red stone is less than seeing it as jasper
metamorphic quartz, cousin to the flint the Kiowa
carved as arrowheads. To name is to know and remember.

The sunlight needs no praise piercing the rainclouds,
painting the rocks and leaves with light, then dissolving
each lucent droplet back into the clouds that engendered it.
The daylight needs no praise, and so we praise it always
greater than ourselves and all the airy words we summon.

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

Art credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer (originally color).


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Marin Sorescu: "Descent"

When you are ill you weigh more.
Your head sinks into the pillow,
Your bed curves in the middle,
Your body drops like a meteorite.
“He’s so heavy,” say the relatives,
They turn you on the other side
And nod meaningfully. “He weighs like the dead.”

The earth feels its prey
And concentrates upon you
Its colossal force of attraction.
The iron in you hungers to go down.
The gold in you hungers to go down.
The gravitation of the whole world has its eyes on you
And pulls you down with unseen ropes…

You look like the bell the peasants
Take down before their exodus, burying it very deep,
Marvelling at the sight of the bell digging its grave,
Eagerly biting the dust.

You are all lead
And unto yourself
You have become exceedingly all-important,
Surrounded by endless mystery.

"Descent" by Marin Sorescu, from Hands Behind My Back: Selected Poems.  Translated from the Romanian by Gabriela Dragnea, Stuart Friebert and Adriana Varga. © Oberlin College Press, 1991.

Art credit: Detail of "Imprint from George's Head on His Pillow," by Tim Marlow (originally color).

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mark Hartley: "Be Still"

while you worry about what each note means,
the band plays on.
you are running from a dog
who only chases because you run.
turn and face him.
though you hear the buzzing of the bee grow louder
be still.
do not fear a sting you have never felt,
you just might be a flower.
do not worry
about things falling into place.
where they fall
is the place

"Be Still" by Mark Hartley. Published online at Attentional Fitness Training, February 22, 2008. © Mark Hartley.

Art credit: "Musical Note of Water," photograph by (originally color). Caption: "A blue musical note made of water floating on a music sheet line."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Nancyrose Houston: "The Letter from Home"

The dogs barked, the dogs scratched, the dogs got wet, the
dogs shook, the dogs circled, the dogs slept, the dogs ate,
the dogs barked; the rain fell down, the leaves fell down, the
eggs fell down and cracked on the floor; the dust settled,  
the wood floors were scratched, the cabinets sat without
doors, the trim without paint, the stuff piled up; I loaded the
dishwasher, I unloaded the dishwasher, I raked the leaves,
I did the laundry, I took out the garbage, I took out the
recycling, I took out the yard waste.  There was a bed, it was
soft, there was a blanket, it was warm, there were dreams,
they were good. The corn grew, the eggplant grew, the
tomatoes grew, the lettuce grew, the strawberries grew, the
blackberries grew; the tea kettle screamed, the computer
keys clicked, the radio roared, the TV spoke. “Will they ever
come home?” “Can’t I take a break?” “How do others keep
their house clean?” “Will I remember this day in fifty years?”
The sweet tea slipped down my throat, the brownies melted
in my mouth. My mother cooked, the apple tree bloomed, the
lilac bloomed, the mimosa bloomed, I bloomed.

"The Letter from Home" by Nancyrose Houston, from Wake Up In Brightness: Poetry & Prose by Students 2008-2009. © Seattle Arts & Lectures, 2009.  

Art credit: "Mimosa Flowers," photograph by chicken.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Jim Brown: "Summer Solstice 2006"

The whole year ‘round, from my front porch
(except for days-on-end of snow clouds, rain clouds)
I watch the sun set behind every bump and dip
of the mountain skyline, from north of Mt. Eddy
to south of Castle Crags.

Tonight, a few hours before summer solstice,
I stand just outside my front door and note once more
the sun’s intersection with the skyline, hidden
behind the slender trunk of our neighbor’s cherry tree.

The door and the tree establish themselves
as cardinal points of observation
for this annual event.

After I am gone, my successor
might continue the observance, and so on
until the cherry tree, the house, are gone.

Long after the age of human observers
the Eddies and the Crags will shift and crumble
and be gone, but the planet will continue
tipping one way, then another, as it circles
the sun, the ancient one that subsumes
all we are and all we know.

The earth, the sun, in far off temporal frames
we cannot imagine,

will themselves be gone.

                                                But what of this joy?

"Summer Solstice 2006" by Jim Brown, from Language Be My Broncho. © Psychosynthesis Press, 2012. Presented here by publisher submission.

Art credit: "Sunset, Mount Eddy, California," by Tim Corcoran. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sue Ellen Thompson: "Leaning In"

Sometimes, in the middle of a crowded store on a Saturday
afternoon, my husband will rest his hand
on my neck, or on the soft flesh belted at my waist,
and pull me to him. I understand

his question: Why are we so fortunate
when all around us, friends are falling prey
to divorce and illness? It seems intemperate
to celebrate in a more conspicuous way

so we just stand there, leaning in
to one another, until that moment
of sheer blessedness dissolves and our skin,
which has been touching, cools and relents,

settling back into our separate skeletons
as we head toward Housewares to resume our errands.

"Leaning In" by Sue Ellen Thompson, from The Golden Hour. © Autumn House Press, 2006.

Art credit: Detail of a photograph by Ovation Images Photography (originally color).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

W. S. Merwin: "The New Song"

                                  For some time I thought there was time
                                  and that there would always be time
                                  for what I had a mind to do
                                  and what I could imagine
                                  going back to and finding it
                                  as I had found it the first time
                                  but by this time I do not know
                                  what I thought when I thought back then
                                  there is no time yet it grows less
                                  there is the sound of rain at night
                                  arriving unknown in the leaves
                                  once without before or after
                                  then I hear the thrush waking
                                  at daybreak singing the new song

"The New Song" by W. S. Merwin, from The Moon Before Morning. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014.  

Art credit: "Wood Thrush Singing," by Sue Barth (originally color).


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Craig Arnold: "Very Large Moth"

Your first thought when the light snaps on and the black wings
             clatter about the kitchen       is a bat

the clear part of  your mind considers rabies       the other part
             does not consider       knows only to startle

and cower away from the slap of  its wings       though it is soon
             clearly not a bat but a moth       and harmless

still you are shy of it       it clings to the hood of the stove
             not black but brown       its orange eyes sparkle

like televisions       its leg  joints are large enough to count
             how could you kill it       where would you hide the body

a creature so solid must have room for a soul
            and if  this is so       why not in a creature

half  its size       or half its size again       and so on
             down to the ants       clearly it must be saved

caught in a shopping bag and rushed to the front door
             afraid to crush it       feeling the plastic rattle

loosened into the night air       it batters the porch light
             throwing fitful shadows around the landing

That was a really big moth       is all you can say to the doorman
             who has watched your whole performance with a smile

the half-compassion and half-horror we feel for the creatures
             we want not to hurt       and prefer not to touch

"Very Large Moth" by Craig Arnold. Published by Poetry, October 2013. © Craig Arnold.

Art credit: Photograph of a black female witch moth, perhaps by Michael F. O’Brien (originally color).


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Julia Fehrenbacher: "What I've Learned from the Dark"

It seems we must be stripped
of the skin
of all we think beautiful
before we open to the kind of beauty
that can't go away.
It seems sky must pour
and howl like it will never stop
before we notice the smile
of our own forever sun. It seems
we must hunt with starving
hungry eyes before we know
this belly is and has always been
full. It seems this wall
deep in the center must be hammered down
before we let soft, breathing hands
curl in around us. Each drop
of dark carries
with it a candle of holy
light—with each miracle breath
we are invited to turn toward
the nearest whispering spark
and, like momma bird sheltering her baby—like a pebble
in stream's safe lap—

"What I've Learned from the Dark" by Julia Fehrenbacher. Published here via poet submission. © Julia Fehrenbacher.

Art credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer (originally color).


Monday, June 16, 2014

Mark Halliday: "Summer Planning"

My father and I on the sofa talked about summer plans,
would he drive from New York to Ohio?
It seemed doubtful (he was eighty-six)
and he said We'll see what comes to pass.
For a minute we were silent.
He said, That's an interesting idiom, isn't it.
To come to pass. "It came to pass."
There's a feeling of both coming and going
at the same time.
Yeah, I said. I wondered what movie we might see.
He said, It's quite different to say "It happened"—
that sounds like a stop, like a fixed point.
But "It came to pass"—there's almost a feeling of
"It came in order to pass."
Yeah, I said, that's right.
He said, You get a sense of the transience of everything.
Yes, I said.
Cleo the black cat lay snoozing across my father's legs.
My father stroked her gently.
I finished my raspberry iced tea.

"Summer Planning" by Mark Halliday, from Jab. © University of Chicago Press, 2002.  

Art credit: Detail from untitled photograph by kimeveruss. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

William Stafford: "Listening"

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

"Listening" by William Stafford, from West of Your City. © Talisman Press, 1960.  

Art credit: Untitled image (#3 of 4) by unknown photographer.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Arlene Gay Levine: "Here Is the Road"

Here is the road: the light
comes and goes then returns again.
Be gentle with your fellow travelers
as they move through the world of stone and stars
whirling with you yet every one alone.
The road waits.
Do not ask questions but when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.

"Here Is the Road" by Arlene Gay Levine, from Wishing You Well: "Prayers and Poems for Comfort, Healing, and Recovery. Edited by June Cotner. © Loyola Press, 2005.

Art credit: Untitled image of the Sufi dance of life, by unknown photographer (originally color).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Billy Collins: "The First Night"

The worst thing about death must be
the first night.
                        —Juan Ramón Jiménez

Before I opened you, Jiménez,
it never occurred to me that day and night
would continue to circle each other in the ring of death,

but now you have me wondering
if there will also be a sun and a moon
and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set

then repair, each soul alone,
to some ghastly equivalent of a bed.
Or will the first night be the only night,

a darkness for which we have no other name?
How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death,
How impossible to write it down.

This is where language will stop,
the horse we have ridden all our lives
rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff.

The word that was in the beginning
and the word that was made flesh—
those and all the other words will cease.

Even now, reading you on this trellised porch,
how can I describe a sun that will shine after death?
But it is enough to frighten me

into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon,
to sunlight bright on water
or fragmented in a grove of trees,

and to look more closely here at these small leaves,
these sentinel thorns,
whose employment it is to guard the rose.

"The First Night" by Billy Collins, from Ballistics: Poems. © Random House, 2011.
Art credit: "Glowing Thorns," photograph by Michael Fletcher, May 26, 2005 (originally color). Caption: "Thorns from our rose bush lit by the setting sun."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Richard Schiffman: "Hope (A Zen Perspective)"

Hope is not about some future meadow.
Hope is not a triumphal march toward some brighter,
bloodless field. Neither is it lighting a candle
or cursing the darkness or calling the glass half full.
It is this half-empty tumbler turning cartwheels
above the chasm. You, for example—
poised above your own private precipice,
bruised and bloodied, sifting through the ashes
of ten thousand burnt offerings.
Don’t scatter those ashes; don’t stuff the corpses
into body bags just yet. Don’t launch a fleet
of skyrockets to cheer up Gehenna. Don’t pretend
that you’re still hungry, like those battle-blind birds
pecking for seeds between the corpses.
Hope is not an appetite for this or that concocted future.
It is the present seeking itself, the present—
unlearning the past, agnostic of the future—
breathing, in its chains, like the sea.

"Hope" by Richard Schiffman. Published online by The Other Journal: An Intersection of Theology and Culture, May 12, 2010. © Richard Schiffman.  

Art credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer (originally color).


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Krista Lukas: "Morning"

The stillness, the radio’s news,
the scent of rain. My neighbor
bending to pick up his newspaper
in its orange plastic bag, tossed
on the step. The cars all
heading this way or that,
a fine spray beneath their wheels. Vapor
rising from sidewalks, and the light
of the eastern sun, slanting long, as if
there’s all the time in the world.

"Morning" by Krista Lukas, from Fans of My Unconscious: Poems. © Black Rock Press, 2013.

Art credit: "Water Spray Behind a Rolling Tire," photograph by D. Plocher and F. K. Browand, 2010 (originally black and white).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Alicia Ostriker: "Dear God"

It used to be
I would fall to the floor and press my forehead to it
in moments of despair

I would say help me
help me

but listen
I am ok
though I just now found myself pressing my forehead
to the carpet of my stairs

about the waters in the flooded cities
poisoned by oil spill, chemicals, the dead
about the survivors forever traumatized
dear god
I am alive I am alive
help them


"Dear God" by Alicia Ostriker, from The Book of Seventy. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.

Art credit: Untitled image (# 17 of 37) by Tim Wimborne / Reuters (originally color). Caption: "Oil swirls around vehicles submerged by flood waters in an industrial area of Brisbane [Australia] on Jan. 13 [2011]."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pablo Neruda: "Ode to Enchanted Light"

Under the trees light
has dropped from the top of the sky,
like a green
latticework of branches,
on every leaf,
drifting down like clean
white sand.

A cicada sends
its sawing song
high into the empty air.

The world is
a glass overflowing
with water.


"Ode to Enchanted Light" by Pablo Neruda, translated from the Spanish by Ken Krabbenhoft and published online by Peaceful Rivers (date unknown).

Art credit: Untitled image by unknown photographer (originally color).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Marilyn McEntyre: "Biology: Course Review"

If you forget what axons do,
or how a virus invades a cell,
remember this—

that light becomes food.
That the seasons rhyme,
a different word each time

turning soil into living song.
That all things work together.
Even death. Even decay.

That this is the way
of the world we got: what is given
grows by grace and care

and knows what it needs.
That life is strong, and precarious,
full of devices and desires.

That what we hold in common
may not be owned. Control
is costly. Close attention

is the reverence due
whatever lives and moves,
mutant and quick and clever.

That our neighbors—
the plankton, the white pine,
the busy nematodes—

serve us best
in reciprocal gratitude:
what they receive, they give.

The way the heart accepts
what the vein delivers and sends it on,
again. Again.

"Biology: Course Review" by Marilyn McEntyre. Published on the poet's website (date unknown). © Marilyn McEntyre.  

Art credit: "Veins in the Body," manipulated photograph by vonvanity (originally color). Caption: "some effects using the trees outside my house."


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Birago Diop: "Sighs"

Hear more often things than beings,
The voice of the fire listening,
Hear the voice of the water.
Hear in the wind
The bushes sobbing,
It is the sigh of our forebears.

Those who are dead are never gone:
They are there in the thickening shadow.
The dead are not under the earth:
They are in the tree that rustles,
They are in the wood that groans,
They are in the water that runs,
They are in the water that sleeps,
They are in the hut, they are in the crowd,
The dead are not dead.

Those who are dead are never gone,
They are in the breast of the woman,
They are in the child who is wailing
And in the firebrand that flames.
The dead are not under the earth:
They are in the fire that is dying,
They are in the grasses that weep,
They are in the whimpering rocks,
They are in the forest, they are in the house,
The dead are not dead.

"Sighs" by Birago Diop, as presented in A Companion to African Philosophy, edited by Kwasi Wiredu (translator from the French unknown). © John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

This poem ("Souffles" in French) is found in various forms online, sometimes entitled "Spirits." A longer version of the poem in both French and English can be read here.   

Art credit: Street art painted in Senegal by Christian Guemy (C215) and photographed by StreetArtNews (originally color).


Friday, June 6, 2014

Maya Angelou: "A Brave and Startling Truth"

Curator's Note: While on a break this past week from managing the project, I learned of the death of Maya Angelou. I offer this tribute post in her honor, grateful for the ways she blessed the human community through her writing, her teaching, her struggling for peace and human rights, and so much more. Here she reads her poem "A Brave and Startling Truth" at the commemoration of the United Nations' fiftieth anniversary (1995). It's a long poem, as public poems tend to be, but every word is worth our attention. May we all "come to it."

Note: If you can't see the viewer below, click here to watch the video.

Dedicated to the hope for peace, which lies, sometimes hidden, in every heart.

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

"A Brave and Startling Truth" by Maya Angelou, published as A Brave and Startling Truth. © Random House, 1995.

Video credit: United Nations, published on May 28, 2014.