Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Gift

Time wants to show you a different country. It's the one
that your life conceals, the one waiting outside
when curtains are drawn, the one Grandmother hinted at
in her crochet design, the one almost found
over at the edge of the music, after the sermon.

It's the way life is, and you have it, a few years given.
You get killed now and then, violated
in various ways. (And sometimes it's turn about.)
You get tired of that. Long-suffering, you wait
and pray, and maybe good things come - maybe
the hurt slackens and you hardly feel it any more.
You have a breath without pain. It is called happiness.

It's a balance, the taking and passing along,
the composting of where you've been and how people
and weather treated you. It's a country where
you already are, bringing where you have been.
Time offers this gift in its millions of ways,
turning the world, moving the air, calling,
every morning, "Here, take it, it's yours."

William Stafford, 'The Way It Is'

Receiving the river's grace

The Want of Peace

All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman's silence
receiving the river's grace,
the gardner's musing on rows.

I lack the peace of simple things.
I am never wholly in place.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.

 Wendell Berry

Don't be afraid

Strong in the Rain
Kenji Miyazawa
translation by Roger Pulvers

Strong in the rain
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow

He is healthy and robust
Free from desire
He never loses his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips
He eats four go of unpolished rice
Miso and a few vegetables a day

He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs
His understanding
Comes from observation and experience
And he never loses sight of things

He lives in a little thatched-roof hut
In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove

If there is a sick child in the east
He goes there to nurse the child
If there’s a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says, ‘Don’t be afraid’

If there are strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He plods about at a loss during the cold summer

Everybody calls him Blockhead
No one sings his praises
Or takes him to heart

That is the sort of person
I want to be.

Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]

ii Gloria

Praise the wet snow
falling early.

Praise the shadow
my neighbor's chimney casts on the tile roof
even this gray October day that should, they say,
have been golden.

the invisible sun burning beyond
the white cold sky, giving us
light and the chimney's shadow.

god or the gods, the unknown,
that which imagined us, which stays
our hand,
our murderous hand,
and gives us
in the shadow of death,
our daily life,
and the dream still
of goodwill, of peace on earth.

flow and change, night and
the pulse of day.

Denise Levertov


"I used to have an anger so big it would fill up any house. I used to feel so hopeless that I was like Tom Thumb who has to hide under a chair so as not to be trodded on.

Do you remember how Sindbad tricks the genie? Sindbad opens the bottle and out comes a three-hundred-foot-tall genie who will kill poor Sindbad stone dead. So Sindbad appeals to his vanity and bets he can't get back in the bottle. As soon as the genie does so, Sindbad stoppers the neck until the genie learns better manners.

Jung, not Freud, liked fairy tales for what they tell about human nature. Sometimes, often, a part of us is both volatile and powerful - the towering anger that can kill you and others, and that threatens to overwhelm everything. We can't negotiate with that powerful but enraged part of us until we teach it better manners - which means getting it back in the bottle to show who is really in charge.

This isn't repression, but it is about finding a container. In therapy, the therapist acts as a container for what we daren't let out, because it is so scary, or what lets itself out every so often, and lays waste to our lives.

Page 34, Why be Happy when you could be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

For what else might happiness be

Jane Hirshfield

I think it was from the animals
that St.Francis learned
it is possible to cast yourself
on the earth's good mercy and live.

From the wolf who cast off
the deep fierceness of her first heart
and crept into the circle of sunlight
wagging her newly-shy tail
in full wariness and wolf-hunger,
and was fed, and lived;

From the birds
who came fearless to him until he
had no choice but return that courage.

Even the least amoeba touched on all sides
by the opulent Other, even the baleened
plankton fully immersed in  their fate -

For what else might happiness be
than to be porous, opened, rinsed through
by the beings and things?

Nor could he forget those other companions,
the shifting, ethereal, shapeless:
Hopelessness, Desperateness, Loneliness,
even the fire-tongued Anger -

For they too waited with the patient Lion,
the glossy Rooster, the drowsy Mule, to step
out of the trees' protection and come in.

Page 45, 'The October Palace'

How to Regain Your Soul

Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead.

Put down your pack.

Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine.

Suddenly, anything could happen to you.

Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings
to be you again.

William Stafford


Mulberry trees are a big part of my childhood memories, the taste and stain of them, the way their delicateness bursts in your mouth. And their tight-bunched shape, darkening from green to red to black with ripeness. I've rarely ever seen them afterwards.


You traced this simple gesture with your hand:
you raised it to your face,
you stretched it towards my window,
as I was driving: I looked,
and against the hazy morning
light I counted them:

eight, eight mulberries with outspread branches
like the tail of a stuffed peacock,
a procession along the line
of our gaze, so perfect
that for a moment I forgot
time-tables and connections
and I slowed down to comprehend
how one might say of eight trees in a row,

'Look, how beautiful!' just as you said,
even if they had not decided to be that way, how everything
might just be a chain of senseless alternation,

and how a gesture of the hand and a smile
are enough to make, out of eight trees
in a row, an illusion of redemption.

Massimo Gezzi, Excerpts from 'The Moment After'

Translated from the Italian by Damiano Abeni and Moira Egan


Maybe it wasn’t greed that destroyed
Midas but simply a failure to account for how
irrevocable are the consequences of desire.
Later, his gold daughter aflame in the garden,
he cried, ‘That wasn’t what I meant’ and
'I didn't know' but, by then, it was too late

just as one who describes himself as falling
in love is already at the end
of that trajectory. And when teams
of oceanographers search for affordable
ways to concentrate the gold finely dispersed
in seawater, they don’t think
of what will happen if they find the method
or of their predecessors bent over athanors
on the Rue des Halles and Goldmaker’s Lane in Prague.

None of us is likely to ask what can be
put back, what returned to, as we gather and go,
and yet, late at night, after the affair,
we yearn for the process
that would render the loved face mundane
and still the atoms moving in a pattern
that moves us forever.

Aleda Shirley

Gathered to his ancestors

Suicide Prevention Hotline
after Lu Yu
One late afternoon in April David strayed into the Mississippi everglades
and was gathered to his ancestors in relative silence 

– We never knew his last name

At a nondescript December sunrise Jason took flight over the metallic limbs
of his red Kawasaki and smashed against the vandalized walls
of a Tennessee highway rest stop     

 – He couldn't hear us calling

After a long night just north of Tallahassee DC turns off the monitor
walks past the fish stands to the docks,  leans against the giant columns
and watches as the ocean's green hills hurl themselves into the twilight 

− When his phone rings he takes his sweet time answering.

Stanislaw Borokowski, Translated from the German by Chris Michalski

So Much of the World

So much of the world exists
without us

the mountain in its own steepness

the deer sliding
into the trees becoming
a darkness
in the woods' darkness.

So much of an open field
lies somewhere between the grass
and the dragonfly's drive and thrum

the seed and seedling,
the earth within.

But so much of it lies in someone
standing alone at the edge of a field
with a life apart

feeling for a moment
the plover's cry
on the tongue

the curve and plumb
of the apple bough
in limb and bone.

So much of it between
one thing and another,

days of invitation,
then of release and return.

Gregory Djanikian

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Coherence, not disintegration

"I often hear voices. I realize that drops me in the crazy category but I don't much care. If you believe, as I do, that the mind wants to heal itself, and that the psyche seeks coherence not disintegration, then it isn't hard to conclude that the mind will manifest whatever is necessary to work on the job,

We now assume that people who hear voices do terrible things; murderers and psychopaths hear voices, and so do religious fanatics and suicide bombers. But in the past, voices were respectable - desired. The visionary and the prophet, the shaman and the wise-woman. And the poet, obviously. Hearing voices can be a good thing,'

Going mad is the beginning of a process. It is not supposed to be the end result.

Ronnie Laing, the doctor and psychotherapist who became the trendy 1960s and 70s guru making madness fashionable, understood madness as a process that might lead somewhere. Mostly, though, it is so terrifying for the person inside it, as well as the people outside it, that the only route is drugs or a clinic.

And our madness-measure is always changing. Probably we are less tolerant of madness now than in any period in history. There is no place for it. Crucially, there is no time for it.

Going mad takes time. Getting sane takes time."

Page 170, 'Why be happy when you could be normal?', Jeanette Winterson

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Things are such

Things are such, that someone lifting a cup,
or watching the rain, petting a dog,

or singing, just singing - could be doing as
much for this universe as anyone.

Jelaluddin Rumi


Maybe it wasn’t greed that destroyed
Midas but simply a failure to account for how
irrevocable are the consequences of desire.
Later, his gold daughter aflame in the garden,
he cried, ‘That wasn’t what I meant’ and
'I didn't know' but, by then, it was too late

just as one who describes himself as falling
in love is already at the end
of that trajectory. And when teams
of oceanographers search for affordable
ways to concentrate the gold finely dispersed
in seawater, they don’t think
of what will happen if they find the method
or of their predecessors bent over athanors
on the Rue des Halles and Goldmaker’s Lane in Prague.

None of us is likely to ask what can be
put back, what returned to, as we gather and go,
and yet, late at night, after the affair,
we yearn for the process
that would render the loved face mundane
and still the atoms moving in a pattern
that moves us forever.

Aleda Shirley

From the tide pool to the stars

“…it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical outcrying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable.

This is a simple thing to say, but the profound feeling of it made a Jesus, a St. Augustine, a St. Francis, a Roger Bacon, a Charles Darwin, and an Einstein. Each of them in his own tempo and with his own voice discovered and reaffirmed with astonishment the knowledge that all things are one thing and that one thing is all things—plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time.

It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

John Steinbeck, Log from the Sea of Cortez (not yet read)

May Mornings

May Mornings
Denise Levertov

May mornings wear
light cashmere shawls of quietness,
brush back waterfalls of
burnished silk from
clear and round brows.

When we see them approaching
over lawns, trailing
dewdark shadows and footprints,
we remember, ah
yes, the May mornings,

how could we have forgotten,
what solace
it would be in the bitter violence
of fire then ice again we
apprehend – but

it seems the May mornings
are a presence known
only as they pass
light stepped, seriously smiling, bearing
each a leaflined basket
of wakening flowers.

I'm looking for courage

Louise Gl├╝ck

You want to know how I spend my time?

I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I'm never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact

I'm looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already

the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music.

You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.

Or was the point always
to continue without a sign? 

There's light, we learn, and there's Light

Cake Walk
Charles Wright

Invisible, inaudible things,
Always something to hanker for,
since everything's that's written
Hankers alongside with them,

The great blue heron immobile and neck-torqued on the fence post
A negative pull from the sun-swept upper meadow...

Eleven deer in a Mark Morris dance of happiness
Are lighter than light, though heavier
if you blink more than once.

There's light, we learn, and there's Light.

To do what you have to do - unrecognized - and for no one.

The language in that is small,
sewn just under your skin.
The germs of stars infect us.

The heron pivots, stretches his neck.
He hears what we do not hear,
he sees what we're missing.

The deer walk out the last ledge of sunlight, one by one.

The point is not to surrender

It's This Way
Nazim Hikmet

I stand in the advancing light,
my hands hungry, the world beautiful.

My eyes can’t get enough of the trees—
they’re so hopeful, so green.

A sunny road runs through the mulberries,
I’m at the window of the prison infirmary.

I can’t smell the medicines—
carnations must be blooming nearby.

It’s this way:
being captured is beside the point,
the point is not to surrender.

To Dream in Different Cultures

"When Doug Hollan arrived on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi for his anthropology dissertation fieldwork in a rice farming village, his Toraja neighbors wanted to take turns sleeping with him and his wife.

The rural Toraja almost never sleep alone. They sleep in wood frame houses with little furniture and flimsy room dividers, and they sleep on the floor together in groups, sharing blankets and huddling close for warmth. And so the Toraja have “punctuated” sleep. They wake often as others turn and get up in the night, or when a child calls out or another adult can’t sleep and starts to chat. Mr. Hollan never heard anyone complain about this."

To Dream in Different Cultures

Teahouse Poems

In Japanese Zen, it’s sometimes said that there are four kinds of Buddhist practice. One is priest practice, one is monastic practice, one is layperson’s practice, and the fourth is “teahouse practice.” Teahouse practice is the practice path of the old woman who runs the teahouse by the side of the road. No one knows why they like to stop there for some green tea and a small sweet cake. The fragrance of the tea, the freshness of the cake, are good, but nothing special. The old woman wipes the wooden counters with a clean, soft cloth and the wood glows a little, and each person who enters is met with a friendly and slightly curious look. “Who are you?” the look says, and “What can I bring you?” and something in it is also like the look of the truck stop waitress who calls everyone “Dear,” and means it. If she also sees far into them, it is into who they are just as they are.

Writing poems is a teahouse practice, for me. A way to look at my own life, and the life of us all, and find them larger, more spacious, and more multi-directional than I had realized, and more dear."

Jane Hirshfield

Dark and deeper dark

The heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking
it is necessary to go through
dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.

Stanley Kunitz,  from 'The Testing Tree'


"I empty myself with light
Until I become morning."

Charles Wright, from 'Littlefoot'


Happiness old as water

By the Front Door

Rain through the morning
and in the long pool a toad singing
happiness old as water.

W. S. Merwin

What we see is what we are

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.

Ernst Haas

The prayers that are made out of grass

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

'Mindful', Mary Oliver, from 'Why I Wake Early'

How It Adds Up

There was the day we swam in a river, a lake, and an ocean.
And the day I quit the job my father got me.
And the day I stood outside a door,
and listened to my girlfriend making love
to someone obviously not me, inside,

and I felt strange because I didn’t care.

There was the morning I was born,
and the year I was a loser,
and the night I was the winner of the prize
for which the audience applauded.

Then there was someone else I met,
whose face and voice I can’t forget,
and the memory of her
is like a jail I’m trapped inside,

or maybe she is something I just use
to hold my real life at a distance.

Happiness, Joe says, is a wild red flower
plucked from a river of lava
and held aloft on a tightrope
strung between two scrawny trees
above a canyon
in a manic-depressive windstorm.

Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it—,

And when you do, you will keep looking for it
everywhere, for years,
while right behind you,
the footprints you are leaving

will look like notes
of a crazy song.

Tony Hoagland

There is a lake somewhere

Why I Am Happy
William Stafford

Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens

I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
That lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.

And I know where it is. 



You must take up the world’s whole weight
and make it easier to bear.
Toss it like a knapsack
on your shoulders and set out.

The best time is evening, in spring, when
trees breathe calmly and the night promises
to be fine, elm twigs crackle in the garden.

The whole weight? Blood and ugliness? Can’t be done.
A trace of bitterness will linger on your lips,
and the contagious despair of the old woman
you spotted in the tram.

Why lie? After all rapture
exists only in imagination and leaves quickly.

Improvisation – always just improvisation,
great or small, that’s all we know,
in music, as a jazz trumpet weeps happily
or when you stare at the blank page
or try to outwit
sorrow by opening a favorite book of poems;

just then the phone usually rings,
someone asking, would you like to try
the latest model? No thank you.
I prefer the proven brands.
Grayness and monotony remain; grief
the finest elegy can’t heal.

But perhaps there are things hidden from us,
in which sorrow and enthusiasm mix
non-stop, on a daily basis, like the dawn’s birth
above the seashore, no, wait,
like the laughter of those little altar boys
in white vestments, on the corner of St. John and Mark,

Adam Zagajewski

Snow is falling

Migration is a subject that fascinates me, not so much for the reasons, but for what it does to your concept of Home, the Center, your sense of belonging. During two very cold depressing months in Canada, I spent a lot of time reading up about the immigrant experience in newspapers, and talking to immigrants, in the suburbs of Toronto, the world's most multi-ethnic city. Most of them spoke about how, before landing in Canada, they never knew how harsh the long winters could be, and what the lack of sunshine could do to them.

I remember telling this Argentinian taxi driver who got so engrossed in telling me his story of regret that we got lost, that no, I would never trade sunlight for all the money in the world. And I mean it. (But then, I don't have to flee poverty, persecution, war, I have choices.)

And oh yes, the Arctic tern fascinates me no end. This poem reminded me of stories I haven't told anyone in years, and which, therefore, are fading.

- for Cathy

Snow is falling, snagging its points on frayed
surfaces. There’s lightning
over Lake Ontario, Erie. In the great central
cities, debt accumulates along baseboards
like hair. Many things were good
while they lasted.

Long dance halls
of neighbourhoods under the trees,
the qualified fellow-feeling no less genuine
for it. West are silent frozen fields and wheels
of wind. In the north, frost is measured
in vertical feet, and you sleep sitting because it hurts
less. It’s not winter for long.

In April
shall the tax collector flower forth, and language
upend its papers looking for an entry adequate
to the sliced smell of budding

The sausage man will contrive
once more to block the sidewalk with his truck,
and though it’s illegal to idle one’s engine
for more than three minutes, every one of us will idle
like hell.

After all that’s happened. We’re all
that’s left.

In fall, the Arctic tern will fly
12,500 miles to Antarctica as it did every year
you were alive. It navigates by the sun and stars.
It tracks the earth’s magnetic fields
Sensitively as a compass needle and lives
on what it finds.

I don’t understand it either.

From 'Pigeon', by Karen Solie

"Home was the centre of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one was nearest to the gods in the sky and to the dead in the underworld. This nearness promised access to both. And at the same time, one was at the starting point and, hopefully, the returning point of all terrestrial journeys."

John Berger - 'And our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos', 1984

I will walk home alone with the deep alone

I Am Going To Start Living Like A Mystic
Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusty snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage – silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Cassia javanica, the pale pink and white gentleness offsetting the harshness of our summers, the delicate blossoms covering the branches like ornaments on a wrist.

The sprinklers are on in the park, gently pushing down the bright red whirl of the gulmohar flowers against dry fallen leaves, crimson against brown.

The searing heat burning away all the flimsy layers of protection built up over the self, to justify continuation, waking up in the morning, facing an uncaring world. April, the cruellest month*. Aprils, that punctuate our downward spirals.

*    *     *     *    *     *

“But who will catch the catcher in the rye?” That was his last message, she said, before he walked into the sea.

“A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.”**

*    *     *     *    *     *

The frangipani turns headier in the heat, all its moisture drained out to retain only the concentrated essence of its fragrance. 

The crucifixion re-enacted every summer, the devout waiting for the end of His suffering and the glory of His rebirth. The lingering evening heat spreads the fragrance of the frangipani over them, when they come out of the church. A reminder that summer, at least, will resurrect every year.

*    *     *     *    *     *

Reciprocity, the most difficult thing of all, he said. To still be sure of one’s existence, in a world that does not reciprocate, when the mirror reflects nothing.

I have often longed to lay my head on the shoulder of the stranger next to me on the tube, he said, just to feel accepted in the circle of the living. There are days my eyes fill up looking down into my book, because the need is so strong. When I was a child, a kind woman once allowed me to put my head on her lap and sleep, while the long-distance bus hurtled through the darkness, and my family ignored me. I search for her on the tube, all over the world.

"...The desert is not remote in southern tropics,
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother."***


*  The Burial of the Dead. From 'The Wasteland', T.S.Eliot
** ​Part IV: Death by Water. From 'The Wasteland', T.S.Eliot
*** Choruses from 'The Rock', T.S.Eliot          

Coming to This

We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry  
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.  
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.  
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.  
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

Mark Strand

Saturday, May 3, 2014


The toilet clogs, and a man takes up the plunger and the snake
and tackles it.
He moves the plunger up and down, as if he was
plunging his woman, or himself.

He feeds the snake into the hole and rotates it.
Elbow grease, foul air, the diagnostic phrase rubber gasket disintegration.
He likes this job
because no one else would want it,
because a man feels comfortable with shit.

He goes at it in the same way
that he does his life,
unable to tell
exactly what is going on down there
in the interior,
banging his head
against the outside, forcefully,

yet happy with the work, knowing that in some sense
it suits him perfectly —
his willingness to sweat, his stubbornness, his freedom
from the need to understand.
Good man. Good man. Good man.

Tony Hoagland


"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."

Carl Sagan in 'Contact'

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