Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sarvam Annam

A Poem for My Daughter

It seems we have made pain
some kind of mistake,
like having it
is somehow wrong.

Don’t let them fool you—
pain is a part of things.

But remember, dear Ellie,
the compost down in the field:
if the rank and dank and dark
are handled well, not merely discarded,
but turned and known and honored,
they one day come to beds of rich earth
home even to the most delicate rose.

God comes to you disguised as your life.
Blessings often arrive as trouble.

In French, the word blesser means to wound
and relates to the Old English bletsian

to sprinkle with blood.

And in Sanskrit there is a phrase,
a phrase to carry with you
wherever you go:

sarvam annam:

everything is food.

Every last thing.

The Navajo people,
it is said,
intentionally wove
obvious flaws into their sacred quilts …


It is there, they say,
in the “mistake,”
in the imperfection,

through which the Great Spirit moves.

Work on becoming a native of mind, a native of heart.
No thought, no feeling, could ever be “bad.”

It’s just another creature
in the bestiary of Buddha,
the bestiary of Christ.

Knowing this,
knowing this down to the marrow,
could save you, dear one,
much needless strife.

Remember that wild and strange animals
paused to drink at the pond
of the Buddha’s mind
even after he saw
the morning star.

...To laugh …

To be shameless, wild, and silly …

To know—fully, headlong,
without compunction—the ordinary magic
of our beautiful human bodies …

these seem worthwhile pursuits, life-long tasks.

By way of valediction, dear Ellie,
I pass along some words
from our many gracious teachers:

Eden is.

The imperfect is our paradise.

All is grace.

Teddy Macker

My post:

The people I love the best

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy

Risking ourselves


In our longing is the foundational human instinct that we are essentially here to risk ourselves in the world: that we are a form of invitation to others and to otherness, and that we are meant to hazard ourselves for the right thing, for the right woman or the right man, for a son or a daughter, for the right work or for a gift given against all the odds.

And in all this continual risking the most profound courage may be found in the simple wish and the everyday willingness to be happy along the way…"

David Whyte

On the day the world ends

A Song On the End of the World

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

Czeslaw Milosz
Translated by Anthony Milosz

A Belief in Goodness

"To me it seems to be important to believe people to be good even if they tend to be bad, because your own joy and happiness in life is increased that way, and the pleasures of the belief outweigh the occasional disappointments.

To be a cynic about people works just the other way around and makes you incapable about enjoying the good things."

Isaac Asimov on Optimism vs. Cynicism about the Human Spirit
Why cynicism is, above all, a disservice to our own happiness

As Mary Oliver said:

"....only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one."


These are dark times. Rumors of war
rise like smoke in the east. Drought
widens its misery. In the west, glittering towers
collapse in a pillar of ash and dust. Peace,
a small white bird, flies off in the clouds.

And this is the shortest day of the year.
Still, in almost every window,
a single candle burns,
there are tiny white lights
on evergreens and pines,
and the darkness is not complete.

Barbara Crooker

There are no edges to my loving now

The clear bead at the center changes everything.
There are no edges to my loving now.

You've heard it said there's a window
that opens from one mind to another,

but if there's no wall, there's no need
for fitting the window, or the latch.

Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
Translated from the original Persian by Coleman Barks


I love poems that go with paintings.

Not just on the wall—
the writing’s on the sky,
the river, the bridge, your hands.

Wouldn’t you love to believe
all those blue and red lines
make a map, and if only
you could read those lines,
you might know where to go
from here? Yes, we’re lost
and wrinkled and surely doomed,

but god, in this moment
between concerns, isn’t it beautiful,
this place where we wander,
this hour when gold gathers
just before the plum of night?

Rosemerry Trommer

Painting by Meghan Tutolo:

Where the grain lies

​​"...At first Anders continued to tell her what he knew, under his breath. Sometimes he was a tourist guide, sometimes a sawmill manager. He could, for instance, have told her about Defects in Timber. ‘Cup shake’ is a natural splitting between two of the annular rings. ‘Star shake’ occurs when there are fissures radiating in several directions. ‘Heart shake’ is often found in old trees and extends from the pith or heart of the tree towards its circumference.

….When the heart breaks, he thought, it splits like timber, down the full length of the plank. In his first days at the sawmill he had seen Gustaf Olsson take a piece of solid timber, drive in a wedge, and give the wedge a little twist. The timber broke down the grain, from end to end.

That was all you needed to know about the heart: where the grain lay. Then with a twist, with a gesture, with a word, you could destroy it.”

Page 37, ‘The Story of Mats Israelson’, from ‘The Lemon Table’, Julian Barnes

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


The Cornucopia

Grapes grow up a difficult and
sloped terrain. A soft line of poplars
shimmer in the disappearing light.
At midnight, the poor move
into the train stations of Italy,
spread out blankets for the children,
and pretend to the police they have tickets
and are waiting for a train.

The statue of Bacchus is a contrast
with his right hand holding a shallow but
wine-brimming cup. His left hand
reaches easily into the cornucopia
where grapes ripen and burst open.
It is a vivid dream: to wake
from the statue's grace and life force
to the suffering in the streets.

But the truth is the cornucopia
is open to all who are alive,
who look and feel the world in
its pristine beauty -- as a dragonfly
hovering in the sunlight over clear
water; and who feel the world
as a luminous world -- as green plankton
drifting at night in the sea.

Arthur Sze


No Promised Destination

She asked him if he was a man of vision,
And he said no, not in the traditional sense.
He didn’t have visions of changing the world.

Instead, his visions were far smaller:

He liked to get up in the morning and look
At his lover sleeping beside him,
Her face in perfect repose,
Her hair scattered like sea weed.

He liked to watch tea powder swirling
In boiling milk; it evoked distant galaxies.

He liked to work through the day
At something he liked, in the knowledge
He had a book waiting for him back home.

He dreamed of quiet contemplation,
And of quiet, hungry love.

These are my visions, he said.
I used to wonder if I needed
To think bigger but lately
I have come to love ordinary life.

No promised destination seems necessary
For the person who finds the infinite
In a cup of tea,
In the breast of a lover,
In a passage in a book.

Philip John


The Way it Is

One morning you might wake up
to realize that the knot in your stomach
had loosened itself and slipped away,
and that the pit of unfilled longing in your heart
had gradually, and without your really noticing,
been filled in--patched like a pothole, not quite
the same as it was, but good enough.

And in that moment it might occur to you
that your life, though not the way
you planned it, and maybe not even entirely
the way you wanted it, is nonetheless--
persistently, abundantly, miraculously--
exactly what it is.

Lynn Ungar

All that love


 For three and a half hours,
the man in 25 D and I
sit beside each other
and do not speak.

Somewhere, I like to imagine,
is a woman who wishes
that it were she
who got to be the woman
sitting in 25 E. I wonder
what she is doing right now,
perhaps twirling a strand
of her hair and remembering
the way his voice warms
when he says her name.

It occurs to me
that in every seat is a human
who loves and who wants
to be loved. A plane
of lovers, we are,
all of us politely minding
our elbows, traveling
with our seatbelts low
and tight across our laps.

And though we’ve never
met before and will likely
never meet again, and though
we may not even speak
to each other as we fly, just
think of it, all that love
traveling across the country
through a turbulent sky.

Rosemerry Trommer

Flowers in Stony Places

I had this poem stuck on my wall all throughout my student days, at all the places I stayed.

"I am simple-minded.  I need to be reminded of certain things over and over again.  Although I do not believe that it is the function of poetry to set out to instruct or edify, I do believe that a good poem can embody human truth -- the truth of what it means to make one's way through the World as a unique soul, touching, and touched by, others.

                            An Epilogue

I have seen flowers come in stony places
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worst horse at the races,
So I trust, too.

John Masefield

Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Tony Harrison

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Laden branches, bright rivers

Seeing, in Three Pieces

Somehow we must see
through the shimmering cloth
of daily life, its painted,
evasive facings of what to eat,
to wear? Which work
matters? Is a bird more
or less than a man?


There have been people
who helped the world. Named
or not named. They weren't interested
in what might matter,
doubled over as they were
with compassion. Laden
branches, bright rivers.

When a bulb burns out
we just change it--
it's not the bulb we love;
it's the light.

Kate Knapp, 'Wind Somewhere and Shade'

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Slow Dance

Some days I can go nearly an hour
without thinking of the taste
of your mouth. Right now, I’m at school
watching teenagers fidget through a test.
Outside, the sky is smoky and streets are wet
and two grackles step lightly in yellow grass.

Two weeks ago in Atlantic City
I stood on the boardwalk
and looked out across the water –
the railing was cool, broken shells
dappled the beach – I had been
playing the slot machines
and lost all but a dollar. I
tried to picture you in Paris,
learning the sound of your new country
where, at that moment, it was already night.

I thought maybe you’d be out
walking with the street lights
glossing your lips, with your eyes
deep as this field of water.
Maybe someone was looking at you
as you paused under the awning
of a bakery where the smell
of newly risen bread buttered the air.

I remember those suede boots
you wore to the party last December,
your clipped hair, your long arms
like the necks of swans. I remember
how seeing the shape of your mouth
that first time, I kept staring
until my blood turned to rain.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Don't Worry

Things take the time they take. Don't worry.
How many roads did St.Augustine follow
before he became St.Augustine?

'Felicity', Mary Oliver

What's wrong with Maybe?

The World I Live In

I have refused to live
locked in the orderly house of
reasons and proofs.
The world I live in and believe in
is wider than that. And anyway,
what's wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn't believe what once or
twice I have seen. I'll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.

Mary Oliver, 'Felicity'

Phone Therapy

I was relief, once, for a doctor on vacation
and got a call from a man on a window sill.
This was New York, a dozen stories up.
He was going to kill himself, he said.

I said everything I could think of.
And when nothing worked, when the guy
was still determined to slide out that window
and smash his delicate skull

on the indifferent sidewalk, “Do you think,”
I asked, “you could just postpone it
until Monday, when Dr. Lewis gets back?”
The cord that connected us—strung

under the dirty streets, the pizza parlors, taxis,
women in sneakers carrying their high heels,
drunks lying in piss—that thick coiled wire
waited for the waves of sound.

In the silence I could feel the air slip
in and out of his lungs and the moment
when the motion reversed, like a goldfish
making the turn at the glass end of its tank.

I matched my breath to his, slid
into the water and swam with him.

"Okay," he agreed.

Ellen Bass

There is nothing more pathetic than caution


There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.

Your heart is beating, isn't it?
You are not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life
even, possibly, your own.

'Felicity', Mary Oliver

How can this be, but it is



From 'Felicity', Mary Oliver

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing
there is a field. I will meet you there.


Everything That Was Broken

Everything that was broken has
forgotten its brokenness. I live
now in a sky-house, through every
window the sun. Also your presence.
Our touching, our stories. Earthy
and holy both. How can this be, but
it is. Every day has something in
it whose name is Forever.

I Don't Want to Lose

I don't want to lose a single thread
from the intricate brocade of this happiness.
I want to remember everything.
Which is why I'm lying awake, sleepy
but not sleepy enough to give it up.

Just now, a moment from years ago:
the early morning light, the deft, sweet
gesture of your hand
reaching for me.

No, I'd Never Been to this Country

No, I'd never been to this country
before. No, I don't know where the roads
would lead me. No, I didn't intend to
turn back.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A bridge in the familiar dark neighborhood of my mind

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Last summer I found a small box stashed away in my apartment, a box  filled with enough Vicodin to kill me.

I would  have sworn that  I'd  thrown it away years earlier,  but apparently not.

I stared at the white pills blankly for a long while, I even took a picture of them,  before  (finally, definitely)  throwing  them away. 

I'd been sober  (again)  for  some years  when  I found that box, but every addict  has  one — a  little  box,  metaphorical  or  actual — hidden away.

Before I flushed them  I held them in my palm,  marveling that  at  some  point in  the  not-so-distant  past it seemed a good idea  to  keep a  stash of  pills on hand. 

For an emergency, I told myself.  What kind of emergency? What  if  I needed  a root canal on  a  Sunday  night? 

This little  box  would  see me through until the  dentist  showed  up  for  work  the next  morning. 

Half  my brain  told  me  that,  while  the other half  knew that  looking into that  box  was  akin  to  seeing  a photograph of myself standing on the  edge of a bridge, a bridge in the familiar dark neighborhood of  my mind,  that  comfortable  place  where  I  could  somehow believe that fuck it was an adequate response to life.

Nick Flynn, "Philip Seymour Hoffman" from My Feelings, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Things to Believe In

Things to Believe In
Patricia Monaghan

trees, in general; oaks, especially;
burr oaks that survive fire, in particular;
and the generosity of apples

seeds, all of them: carrots like dust,
winged maple, doubled beet, peach kernel;
the inevitability of change

frogsong in spring; cattle
lowing on the farm across the hill;
the melodies of sad old songs

comfort of savory soup;
sweet iced fruit; the aroma of yeast;
a friend’s voice; hard work

seasons; bedrock; lilacs;
moonshadows under the ash grove;
something breaking through.

And the only innocence is not to think

I have no philosophy, I have senses…
If I speak of Nature it’s not because I know what it is
But because I love it, and for that very reason,

Because those who love never know what they love
Or why they love, or what love is.

To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think…

Fernando Pessoa

Nevertheless, live

The Second Sermon on the Warpland
For Walter Bradford

This is the urgency: Live!
and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.

Salve salvage in the spin.
Endorse the splendor splashes;
stylize the flawed utility;
prop a malign or failing light—
but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth.
Not the easy man, who rides above them all,
not the jumbo brigand,
not the pet bird of poets, that sweetest sonnet,
shall straddle the whirlwind.
Nevertheless, live.

All about are the cold places,
all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft—
all about are the stormers and scramblers but
what must our Season be, which stars from Fear?
Live and go out.
Define and
medicate the whirlwind.

The time
cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face
all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.
Whose half-black hands assemble oranges
is tom-tom hearted
(goes in bearing oranges and boom).
And there are bells for orphans—
and red and shriek and sheen.
A garbageman is dignified
as any diplomat.
Big Bessie’s feet hurt like nobody’s business,
but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny, stands in the
     wild weed.

In the wild weed
she is a citizen,
and is a moment of highest quality; admirable.

It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud.
Nevertheless, live.

Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.

Gwendolyn Brooks

A Seizure of Happiness

"For more than half a century, beloved poet Mary Oliver (b. September 10, 1935) has been beckoning us to remember ourselves and forget ourselves at the same time, to contact both our creatureliness and our transcendence as we move through the shimmering world her poetry has mirrored back at us — an unremitting invitation to live with what she calls “a seizure of happiness.”

Mary Oliver on Love and Its Necessary Wildness

I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Thrity-one Spells

Which one to try first?
In the book of spells
I do not find the one
that helps you forget
what you want
to forget. There is one
for making the bees
come out midwinter
and another to make
the walls speak what
they’ve seen. There’s
a spell for making
minutes go slower, and
a spell to turn a woman’s
skin green. But no spell
to forget what we wish
not to know. There are
thirty-one spells for
forgiveness, though.

Rosemerry Trommer

Friday, September 18, 2015

Your homecoming will be my homecoming

"...Because limbic resonance and regulation join human minds together in a continuous exchange of influential signals, every brain is a part of a local network that shares information.

...All of us, when we engage in relatedness, fall under the gravitational influence of one another's emotional world, at the same time that we are bending their emotional world with ours. Each relationship is a binary star, a burning flux of exchanged force fields, the deep and ancient influences emanating and felt, felt and emanating.

...The limbic transmission of Attractors renders personal identity partially malleable - the specific people to whom we are attached provoke a portion of our everyday neural activity. ... We would scarcely imagine that identity could be as fluid as the seas that the supposed self rides on.

E.E Cummings paints a lover's power to render identity in this way:

your homecoming will be my homecoming -

my selves go with you, only i remain;
a shadow phantom effigy or seeming

(an almost someone always who's noone)

a noone who, till their and your returning,
spends the forever of his loneliness
dreaming their eyes have opened to your morning

feeling their stars have risen through your skies....

Page 142, 'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Then, the smell of woodsmoke

A Separate Time

In the years since I saw you on Sunday,
I left my home and walked out across the earth
with only my occasional luck and knowledge of cards.

I met men and women constantly dissatisfied,
who hadn't learned to close their hands,
who sewed and patched their few words
fashioning garments they hoped to grow into.

There were winters sheltered in a cabin beneath pines.
There were frozen rivers and animals crazy with hunger.

But always I saw myself walking toward you,
as a drop of water touching the earth immediately
turns toward the sea. Tonight I visit your house.

In the time precious to newspapers and clocks,
only a few days have passed. The room is quiet.

Looking into your eyes, I become like the exile
who turns the corner of the last cliff and suddenly
stares down into the valley of his homeland,
sees the terraced fields and white-roofed houses
grouped on the hillside. Then, the smell of woodsmoke
and a woman calling her husband in for the night.

Stephen Dobyns


It is difficult to get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably day by day
For lack of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower and Other Love Poems: That Greeny Flower

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A relationship is a physiologic process

"Dozens of studies demonstrate that solitary people have a vastly increased rate of premature death from all causes - they are three to five times likelier to die early than people with ties to a caring spouse, family, or community.

With results like these backing the medical efficacy of mammalian congregation, you might think that treatments like group therapy after breast cancer would now be standard. Guess again. Affiliation is not a drug or an operation, and that makes it nearly invisible to Western medicine.

Our doctors are not uninformed; on the contrary, most have read these studies and grant them a grudging intellectual acceptance. But they don't believe in them; they can't bring themselves to base treatment decisions on a rumored phantom like attachment.

The prevailing medical paradigm has no capacity to incorporate the concept that a relationship is a physiologic process, as real and as potent as any pill or surgical procedure."

Page 80, 'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Spiegel im Spiegel

Best stress-buster ever, this piece. On repeat.

Spiegel im Spiegel
Nicola Beneditti

Be Not Defeated by the Rain

Unbeaten by the rain
Unbeaten by the wind
Bested by neither snow nor summer heat

Strong of body
Free of desire
Never angry
Always smiling quietly

Dining daily on four cups of brown rice
Some miso and a few vegetables

Observing all things
With dispassion
But remembering well

Living in a small, thatched-roof house
In the meadow beneath a canopy of pines

Going east to nurse the sick child
Going west to bear sheaves of rice for the weary mother
Going south to tell the dying man there is no cause for fear
Going north to tell those who fight to put aside their trifles

Shedding tears in time of drought
Wandering at a loss during the cold summer
Called useless by all

Neither praised
Nor a bother
Such is the person
I wish to be.

Kenji Miyazawa
Translated from the original Japanese by Hart Larrabee

A father's love is milk and sugar, two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief

Have You Prayed?
Li-Young Lee

When the wind
turns and asks, in my father's voice,
Have you prayed?

I know three things. One:
I'm never finished answering to the dead.

Two: A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father's voice,
his mother's voice . . .

Or maybe he's seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?

When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father's voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father's love

is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what's left over

is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.

And patience? That's to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.

And wisdom? That's my father's face in sleep.

When the wind
asks, Have you prayed?
I know it's only me

reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth's wish and earth's rapture, and blood

was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It's just me

in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?

Strange. A troubled father. A happy son.
The wind with a voice. And me talking to no one.

The Small Country

Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation
when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten.

And what could capture cafuné, the Brazilian Portuguese way to say
running your fingers, tenderly, through someone’s hair?

Is there a term in any tongue for choosing to be happy?

And where is speech for the block of ice we pack in the sawdust of our hearts?

What appellation approaches the smell of apricots thickening the air
when you boil jam in early summer?

What words reach the way I touched you last night—
as though I had never known a woman—an explorer,
wholly curious to discover each particular
fold and hollow, without guide,
not even the mirror of my own body.

Last night you told me you liked my eyebrows.
You said you never really noticed them before.
What is the word that fuses this freshness
with the pity of having missed it?

And how even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us,
even in this small country of our bed,
even in this language with only two native speakers.

Ellen Bass

Limbic Resonance, or the Ancient Ability to Read Minds

"...Within the effulgence of their new brain, mammals developed a capacity we call limbic resonance - a symphony of mutual exchange and internal adaptation whereby two mammals become attuned to each other's inner states. It is limbic resonance that makes looking into the face of another emotionally responsive creature a multi-layered experience. Instead of seeing a pair of eyes as two bespeckled buttons, when we look into the ocular portals to a limbic brain our vision goes deep: the sensations multiply, just as two mirrors placed in opposition create a shimmering ricochet of reflections whose depths recede into infinity.

Eye contact, although it occurs over a gap of yards, is not a metaphor. When we meet the gaze of another, two nervous systems achieve a palpable and intimate apposition.

So familiar and expected is the neural attunement of limbic resonance that people find its absence disturbing. Scrutinize the eyes of a shark or a sunbathing salamander and you get back no answering echo, no flicker of recognition, nothing. The vacuity behind those glances sends a chill down the mammalian spine.

...To the animals capable of bridging the gap between minds, limbic resonance is the door to communal connection. Limbic resonance supplies the wordless harmony we see everywhere but take for granted - between mother and infant, between a boy and a dog, between lovers holding hands across a restaurant table. This silent reverberation between minds is so much a part of us that, like the noiseless machinations of the kidney or the liver, it functions smoothly and continuously without our notice.

...It seems a strange irony that we need science to rekindle faith in the ancient ability to read minds. That old skill, so much a part of us, is not much believed in now. Those who spend their days without an opportunity for quiet listening can pass a lifetime and overlook it altogether.

The vocation of psychotherapy confers a few unexpected fringe benefits on its practitioners, and the following is one of them. It impels participation in a process that our modern world has all but forgotten: sitting in a room with another person for hours at a time with no purpose in mind but attending. As you do so, another world expands and comes alive to your senses - a world governed by forces that were old before humanity began."

Page 63 - 65,  'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Saturday, August 15, 2015


And you tethered me home

A Poem for Jennifer, after Hiromi Ito

My father died.
I opened the door and there you stood

tall and slender as light.
Gift in your hands: muffins you baked.

Your eyes between green and blue and gray.
Like the sea. Like winter sky.

You knew grief’s hunger, rooting deep.
You knew—

    That winter I moved away,

day after day of snow and black ice.
Schools closed. Roads closed—

    sadness rooted deep.

And you mailed a box of persimmons,
three rows of orange suns. I cradled

each one, set them in a wide glass bowl.
Their light filled the kitchen.

Their light filled my throat, stomach.
I mean to say, You saved my life.

I wanted to leave this Earth: too long
too cold. Darkness shaded my eyes.

And you tethered me home.
I mean to say twice -

Andrea Scarpino


Wordless Love Note

Once when you two were leaving a party, you stood behind her as you both waited for the elevator. You were still only getting to know each other. Suddenly her hand came around behind her back. You wondered what she was up to. Then you realized she was trying to locate your hand. Her forefinger found your thumb and pulled.

And it felt like blood from every corner of your body had rushed to your thumb to receive her magnet finger.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Evolution is not an upward staircase. And why we write/read poetry

Evolution is not an upward staircase

"Many people conceive of evolution as an upward staircase, an unfolding sequence that produces ever more advanced organisms. From this perspective, the advantages of the neocortex - speech, reason, abstraction - would naturally be judged the highest attributes of human nature.

But the vertical conceptualization of evolution is fallacious. Evolution is a kaleidoscope, not a pyramid: the shapes and variety of species are constantly shifting, but there is no basis for assigning supremacy, no pinnacle toward which the system is moving. Five hundred million years ago, every species was either adapted to that world or changing to become so. The same is true today.

We are free to label ourselves the end product of evolution not because it is so, but because we exist now. Expunge this temperocentrist bias, and the neocortical brain is not the most advanced of the three [the reptilian brain, the limbic brain, and the neocortex], but simply the most recent.

Poetry, a bridge between two brains

.....Because people are the most aware of the verbal, rational part of their brains, they assume that every part of their mind should be amenable to the pressure of argument and will. Not so. Words, good ideas, and logic mean nothing to at least two brains out of three. Much of one's mind does not take orders. "From modern neuroanatomy," writes a pair of neuroscience researchers, "it is apparent that the entire neocortex of humans continues to be regulated by the paralimbic regions from which it is evolved.

...A person cannot direct his emotional life in the way he bids his motor system to reach for a cup. He cannot will himself to want the right thing, or to love the right person, or to be happy after a disappointment, or even to be happy in happy times. People lack this capacity not through a deficiency in discipline but because the jurisdiction of will is limited to the latest brain and to those functions within its purview.

...Only the latest of the three brains traffics in logic and reason, and it alone can utilize the abstract symbols we know as words. The emotional brain, although inarticulate and unreasoning, can be expressive and intuitive, Like the art it is responsible for inspiring, the limbic brain can move us in ways beyond logic that have only the most inexact translations in a language the neocortex can comprehend.

...And so people must strain to force a strong feeling into the straitjacket of verbal expression....Poetry, a bridge between the neocortical and limbic brains, is simultaneously improbable and powerful."

Page 32 - 34, 'A General Theory of Love', Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D., Richard Lannon, M.D.

Saturday, August 8, 2015




The hitch-hiker I
remember best
was someone you
might call a hobo.

Lord knows what he'd
been through, to receive
a gift that some folks get
who've borne so much.

He traveled light.
He owned a little pack,
a little dog;
that's all.

I drove for fifty miles
before he turned
his head to me
and said,

“I think
I'll get out here.

I like the way
the grass looks,
way up
on that hill.
The way the light
falls on it.”

Max Reif

Each day

In the Middle

of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.

The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time

to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day I look out the window,

green summer, the next, the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,

our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning's quick coffee

and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies

twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail, a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,

Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,

sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.

Barbara Crooker

Opening upon Starlight

Winter Stars

My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, and with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them,
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.

Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed…

If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes & shining, I can imagine, now it’s end—
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that the elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.

I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.
And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.

I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.

Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—
Which may be all that’s left of you & me.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.

That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.

Larry Levis


I haven’t written a single poem
in months.

I’ve lived humbly, reading the paper,
pondering the riddle of power
and the reasons for obedience.
I’ve watched sunsets
(crimson, anxious),
I’ve heard the birds grow quiet
and night’s muteness.

I’ve seen sunflowers dangling
their heads at dusk, as if a careless hangman
had gone strolling through the gardens.
September’s sweet dust gathered
on the windowsill and lizards
hid in the bends of walls.

I’ve taken long walks,
craving one thing only:

Adam Zagajewski

The Sound of a Train

Even now, I hear one and I long to leave
without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step
onto the platform and reach for
the porter’s hand and buy a ticket

to some other life; I want to sit
in the big seats and watch fields
turn into rivers or cities. I want to eat
cake on the dining car’s

unsteady tablecloths, to sleep
while whole seasons
slip by. I want to be a passenger
again: a person who hears the name

of a place and stands up, a person
who steps into the steam of arrival.

Faith Shearin

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Acquisition of Language

From 'Strange Behavior, Tales of Evolutionary Neurology', Harold Klawans, M.D:

"...While improved hunting implements could assure a better supply of food, and therefore a decrease in infant mortality (the key to true Darwinian biological superiority), it is difficult to ascribe to such a technological advance any changes other than a mere increase in numbers. Certainly not man's cultural explosion, nor the development of language.

So if it wasn't "man the hunter" who was responsible for the explosive biological advantage of modern humans, what was?

Our advantages over other species are most probably due to the development of a complex language. And women are far more likely to have played the more significant role in this than men. Women were the ones who did the tough job: raising the juvenilized children in caves or any other environment and teaching those children what they needed to know to survive in the world while they were still dependent, weak and slow.

Teaching survival to the juvenilized infant depended on language. Language gave the human the distinct advantage for survival. And over a million years or two, the result was the evolution of brains selected for acquisition of language and other skills during the period of prolonged juvenilization."

Page 35

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tell me your story

" Sunday morning in 1971, Lewis was summoned to a terrifying scene. A man was holding a loaded gun on his family, threatening to kill them and himself and anyone else who got in the way. Lewis walked right into the man's house, sat down beside him, and said quietly: "Tell me your story."

Ten hours later, the man gave him his gun.

The truth buried in this drama gets to the very heart of Crisis Center work: each of us has a story, each of us has a loaded gun that we aim at ourselves. After hours, or years, of talking, the story can at last be told in its fullness, and the gun can be laid down.

The story has both happy and sad chapters, and parts if it may be forgotten. Sometimes it takes an outsider to help remember or clarify it. Lose your story and you lose the pageant of your life."

Page 23, 'A Slender Thread, Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis', Diane Ackerman


"The Pleiades, an open star cluster, sparkles in the constellation Taurus. ..Although I can't see it with the naked eye, I know a "brown dwarf" lives there, a faint denizen of deep space too large to be a planet but too tiny to be star. Brown dwarfs, which form from a collapsing cloud of gas and dust, are suns that for some reason didn't ignite into leaping infernos. Frigid to the core, not bright enough to see, they're only detectable because of their abundant lithium.

Lithium, the chemical manic-depressives take to stabilize their moods. I bet manic-depressives would enjoy knowing they share an elemental chemistry with huge objects in the far reaches of space, wondrous objects located and defined by their use of lithium."

Page 157, 'A Slender Thread, Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis', Diane Ackerman

If you have ever gone to the woods with me

How I Go Into the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone,
with not a single friend,
for they are all smilers and talkers
and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree.
I have my ways of praying,
as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone
I can become invisible.

I can sit on the top of a dune
as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned.
I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me,
I must love you very much.

Mary Oliver

Some deaths are polite and quiet

In a Hospital

By the side of an old woman
who is dying in a corridor
no one stands

Staring at the ceiling
for so many days already
she writes in the air with her finger

There are no tears no laments
no wringing of hands
not enough angels on duty

Some deaths are polite and quiet
as if somebody gave up his place
in a crowded tram.

Anna Kamieńska

Holding the world together

There are so many unsung heroines and heroes at this broken moment in our collective story, so many courageous persons who, unbeknownst to themselves, are holding together the world by their resolute love or contagious joy.

Although I do not know your names, I can feel you out there.

David Abram

Our stories, and our evolving self

"Our stories help us understand a terrifyingly confusing and dangerous world, most of which is a riddle. For the world to feel safe, we need to make sense of it, especially when we encounter setbacks and misfortunes that shatter our confidence.

Telling anecdotes to friends,  we reveal our true natures, we're not just offering the what and when of our lives.

How was your trip? someone asks. The answer gives more than the whereabouts and the weather. It includes encounters, small triumphs, accidents, embarrassments, revised attitudes. Anecdotes alert our friends and loves ones to our basic values, biases, qualities, and concerns - and also how those vital pieces of identity are changing over time.

The more we learn about ourselves, the more we revise the facts to fit our evolving sense of self. As the vocabulary of life changes, we need our memory to say something fitting, something that makes sense in a newly ordered world.

How we tell the story influences how we feel about ourselves. Change your story and you change your identity."

Page 233, 'A Slender Thread, Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis', Diane Ackerman

The Enemy

"...Storr sees in Churchill's story a classic relationship between depression and hostility, in which an emotionally deprived child resents his deprivers but can't risk showing any anger or upset, since he desperately needs the very people who are torturing him.

Depression results from turning that hostility against oneself.

Sometimes such people aim at opponents in the outside world. As Storr observes, "It is a great relief to find an enemy on whom it is justifiable to lavish wrath."

In Churchill's case, "fighting enemies had a strong emotional appeal to him....and when he was finally confronted by an enemy whom he felt to be wholly evil, it was a release which gave him tremendous vitality."

Page 183, 'A Slender Thread, Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis', Diane Ackerman​

An Innate Sense of Value

"...For most of his life, he (Winston Churchill) crumbled under the repeat blows of a depression so familiar, loud, and unshakable, that he called it his "Black Dog" - I suppose because it hounded him. It had its own life and demands, was uncompromisingly brutal, and became a monstrous family member to be reckoned with.

It seems to have been an affliction he shared with a number of his ancestors, including his father, who suffered from what was described as "melancholia". A small, feeble boy, bullied at school and neglected by his remote, glamorous, high-society parents, Churchill grew into a dynamo of a man packed with energy, assertiveness, bravery to the point of recklessness, a tough attitude, extreme ambition, plentiful ideas, willfulness, aggression alternating with compassion, artistic tastes, egomania, and a yen for daring adventures.

The deprivation he felt as a child may well have fueled his ambitions, but, having no innate sense of value, he was easy prey for the armies of depression that plagued him throughout his life.

..In psychiatrist Anthony Storr's fascinating character study of Churchill, he argues that in 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, it took a bold conviction for Churchill to rally the British people, but "it was because all his life, he had conducted a battle with his own despair that he could convey to others that despair can be overcome."

...For the last five years of his long life, Churchill sat in a chair staring at a fire, partly paralyzed by a stroke, wholly demoralized by depression. He stopped reading, he rarely spoke. The Black Dog finally caught up with him and pounced, flattening him under its rough weight.

But what a dynamo he had been, so inventive, so courageous, so resilient. A history-making, difficult life."

Page 183, 'A Slender Thread, Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis', Diane Ackerman

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Forget meaning, practice being

"...Bare attention, Buddhism calls it, a pinnacle of meditation, a path to freedom from pain and suffering - not by fleeing the world, but being fully available to it.

Disponibilité, André Gide named a related attitude. (Availability, Receptiveness, in French)

Phenomenologists label their version of "bare attention" phenomenological reduction. But it's interesting how many of the world's religions and philosophies urge us to live in each silvery moment, while resisting the temptation to skim over, take for granted, or ignore the impromptu sensations that give life its vigor.

Forget meaning, this attitude says; practice being.

Feats of disciplined awareness wouldn't be necessary if we weren't in such a hurry to die and shed the burden of the senses, those permanent houseguests that keep us tipsy or tormented throughout our lives. Slow down, our sages advise, slow all the way down to the pace of stone and shadow.

How long can you watch sunlight flash across threads of spider silk stretching between two limbs of an evergreen? How long after the tree appears to be full of tinsel? Can you observe it longer than that, with continuous pleasure and surprise, but without remembering a Christmas? Without planning gifts or visits? This is the tinsel test.

Poets tend towards bare attention naturally, and are usually able to address one facet of the world with such devotion that, as Blake described it from the depths of his own supple vision, it is possible to "see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour. (

Page 266, A Slender Thread, Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis', Diane Ackerman

Friday, July 10, 2015


Wanting Sumptuous Heavens

No one grumbles among the oyster clans,
And lobsters play their bone guitars all summer.

Only we, with our opposable thumbs, want
Heaven to be, and God to come, again.

There is no end to our grumbling; we want
Comfortable earth and sumptuous Heaven.

But the heron standing on one leg in the bog
Drinks his dark rum all day, and is content.

Robert Bly

This constant good, this saving hope

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.

Nancy Shaffer, 'Instructions in Joy'

En Route

En Route
Adam Zagajewski

1.  without baggage

    To travel without baggage, sleep in the train
    on a hard wooden bench,
    forget your native land,
    emerge from small stations
    when a gray sky rises
    and fishing boats head to sea.

2.  in belgium

    It was drizzling in Belgium
    and the river wound between hills.
    I thought, I'm so imperfect.
    The trees sat in the meadows
    like priests in green cassocks.
    October was hiding in the weeds.
    No, ma'am, I said,
    this is the nontalking compartment.

3.  a hawk circles above the highway

    It will be disappointed if it swoops down
    on sheet iron, on gas,
    on a tape of tawdry music,
    on our narrow hearts.

4.  mont blanc

    It shines from afar, white and cautious,
    like a lantern for shadows.

5.  segesta

    On the meadow a vast temple—
    a wild animal
    open to the sky.

6.  summer

    Summer was gigantic, triumphant—
    and our little car looked lost
    on the road going to Verdun.

7.  the station in bytom

    In the underground tunnel
    cigarette butts grow,
    not daisies.
    It stinks of loneliness.

8.  retired people on a field trip

    They're learning to walk
    on land.

9.  gulls

    Eternity doesn't travel,
    eternity waits.
    In a fishing port
    only the gulls are chatty.

10.  the theater in taormina

    From the theater in Taormina you spot
    the snow on Etna's peak
    and the gleaming sea.
    Which is the better actor?

11.  a black cat

    A black cat comes out to greet us
    as if to say, look at me
    and not some old Romanesque church.
    I'm alive.

12.  a romanesque church
    At the bottom of the valley
    a Romanesque church at rest:
    there's wine in this cask.

13.  light

    Light on the walls of old houses,
    Passerby, open your eyes.

14.  at dawn

    The world's materiality at dawn—
    and the soul's frailty.

Everybody needs to be understood

"You know what everybody needs? You want to put it in a single word?

Everybody needs to be understood.

And out of that comes every form of love.

If someone truly feels that you understand them, an awful lot of neurotic behavior just disappears — disappears on your part, disappears on their part."

Monday, June 22, 2015

When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone

When one has lived a long time alone,
one refrains from swatting the fly
and lets him go, and one hesitates to strike
the mosquito, though more than willing to slap

the flesh under her, and one lifts the toad
from the pit too deep to hop out of
and carries him to the grass, without minding
the poisoned urine he slicks his body with,

and one envelops, in a towel, the swift
who fell down the chimney and knocks herself
against window glass and releases her outside
and watches her fly free, a life line flung at reality,

when one has lived a long time alone.

Galway Kinnell

Monday, June 8, 2015

This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The Orange

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange—
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I got a half.

And that orange, it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park.
This is peace and contentment. It's new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all the jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I'm glad I exist.

Wendy Cope

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What was said

This is what Jesus said
to the deaf man: Ephphatha.

Be opened. This is what Jesus said.

This is what a painter said of love:
he said, Love is paying attention.
This is what the painter said.

Another, I forget who, said,
You can trust the present. That
is what she said. And as for faith,
one says, It is a verb, another says,

It is resting in the gamble, while for another
it is traveling miles and days
to that great and final lion
to be consumed — what an honor! —
consumed to the very bones.

Teddy Macker, This World, 2015


Man at the End of Something

Admit the day’s veering toward something
else, the tiny flag of your heart inverted.
Admit the pause between words, wearing
away at the febrile. Admit jealousy, the want
for what you have if you didn’t have it.
Admit hunger. And an absence of which
you are far too aware. Admit the necessity
of breathing, the sound of several thousand
humming birds in torpor, ruby throats
pinched against their breasts. Admit sorrow,
which is the only heirloom that lasts.

Admit the deity, hallowed be his hollow
name. Admit change, but not so much
its progress or lack thereof cannot be seen.
Admit intrigue. Admit hangnail. Admit lovely,
how it casually and often passes you by.
Fail, because you won’t find respite.
Recourse, only as an occupation for the hands.
Reject delicate because you have walked
on glass for reasons. Admit deduction,
how easy it was to itemize. Then possibility,
but limit it to the aroma of an orchid, wilting.

John Hogan

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Tilicho Lake

In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.

Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.

Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow
the true shape of your own face.

David Whyte

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Consider the Space between Stars

Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.

Linda Pastan

On Feeling Young

"It was only in my forties that I really began to feel young. By then I was ready for it. By this time I had lost many illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity."

"With this attribute goes another which I prize above everything else, and that is the sense of wonder. No matter how restricted my world may become I cannot imagine it leaving me void of wonder. In a sense I suppose it might be called my religion. I do not ask how it came about, this creation in which we swim, but only to enjoy and appreciate it."

"If you can fall in love again and again… if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical… you’ve got it half licked.”

Curiosity and Wonder as Religion: Henry Miller on Growing Old, the Perils of Success, and the Secret of Remaining Young at Heart

Monday, April 13, 2015

You Loved A Woman Once

She told you of childhood summers, mayflies trembling
beside the bridge of her nose, hunting frogs. Skinning them
on a brick, the house smelling like their small, fried legs.

All she wanted was for you to carry her home in a canoe
with paddles, life vests, a flare. You promised
to teach her how to swim when she was in your arms.

Your own body, broken into so many times, became a clear lake
for her to bathe in. Remember pulling the one tiny, suckering
leech from below her neck, the pale collarbone Braille it left.

You said the boat was her shoulder in your mouth, even when
you couldn’t bear her epaulets of freckles, even when nothing
but a body would do and there was no body but her own.

Below her—lily pads, dragonflies, the worms
dug up last summer and thrown from the dock to see fish
rise in a boil—now all snapped raw in the frozen pond. And speaker,

coded “you"—what about the light straining through her dampened
hair, will you catch it in your jaws? There’s the smell of paper
on her skin and you pressing her body like a flower in a book.

Keetje Kuipers

Valediction, on Arriving in a Distant Land

I am not one to travel with no destination. No city or continent
charms me with the vague glee of flight. Nor would I go alone,
for every day, we wake warmth to warmth, your breath in my ear,

my hand on your thigh. Yesterday, the planet bowed before us,
and cool distance clarified a curve measurable in miles, in feet
pacing dutifully through the world. I’ve crossed deserts and seas,

rivers and peaks from which the waters flow, the sun westering
and a moon pierced by sky while morning melts into noon. All
space intensifies, blue, absolute, definite and dismal, magnified

by our finite human measures when we mark our roads with signs
and lines and lights that regulate. Even now, with old mountains
at my back and a thin river lost in a valley of dust, I am with you.

The rays from stars cascade through darkness limitless and lit
too little. Light is slow beside the speed with which my thoughts
turn to you. And no world is large enough to come between us.

Eric Paul Shaffer

Vanishing years, filled with light

Consider the Space between Stars

Consider the white space
between words on a page, not just
the margins around them.

Or the space between thoughts:
instants when the mind is inventing
exactly what it thinks

and the mouth waits
to be filled with language.
Consider the space

between lovers after a quarrel,
the white sheet a cold metaphor
between them.

Now picture the brief space
before death enters, hat in hand:
vanishing years, filled with light.

Linda Pastan

Lessons in being here


"Mindfulness practice, of whatever sort, calls us home to where we are, and helps us abide there. It helps us pay attention. It helps us inhabit our lives instead of just going through the motions.

One of the best tools in mindfulness practice today, as it has been for millennia, is poetry. Why? Because the very act of reading a poem cultivates mindfulness. To fully experience any poem, we must stop whatever else we’re doing and give it our full and gracious attention, start to finish, just as the poet did when writing it.

...If all good poetry deepens our engagement with “this moment we have,” as Rukeyser believed, certain poems do so in especially memorable fashion, because their makers have brought to their topics not only exceptional craft but extraordinary awareness.

Whether these poems demonstrate what mindfulness is, or recount an experience of it, or offer advice on how to practice it, all of them show us how to be more present in the living of our lives. They are exquisite lessons in being here."

Lilac opening, ship lights

"Let me begin by telling you that I was in love.

An ordinary statement, to be sure, but not an ordinary fact, for so few of us learn that love is tenderness, and tenderness is not, as a fair proportion suspect, pity; and still fewer know that happiness in love is not the absolute focusing of all emotion in another: one has always to love a good many things which the beloved must come only to symbolize; the true beloveds of this world are in their lover's eyes lilac opening, ship lights, school bells, a landscape, remembered conversations, friends, a child's Sunday, lost voices, one's favorite suit, autumn and all seasons, memory, yes, it being the earth and water of existence, memory."

Truman Capote, 'Other Voices, Other Rooms'

The lightest touch

Lines To Be Put Into Latin

The lightest touch
if it is gently giv-

en can yield as much
affection as a deep

embrace, soft as a
glance, swift as a

drop of rain, light
as a leaf, I give

you these again.

James Laughlin

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Only the terrible blessing of the journey


Then you shall take some of the blood, and put it on the door posts and the lintels of the houses . . . and when I see the blood, I shall pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

—Exodus 12:7 & 13

They thought they were safe
that spring night, when they daubed
the doorways with sacrificial blood.
To be sure, the angel of death
passed them over, but for what?
Forty years in the desert
without a home, without a bed,
following new laws to an unknown land.
Easier to have died in Egypt
or stayed there a slave, pretending
there was safety in the old familiar.

But the promise, from those first
naked days outside the garden,
is that there is no safety,
only the terrible blessing
of the journey. You were born
through a doorway marked in blood.
We are, all of us, passed over,
brushed in the night by terrible wings.

Ask that fierce presence,
whose imagination you hold.
God did not promise that we shall live,
but that we might, at last, glimpse the stars,
brilliant in the desert sky.

Lynn Ungar

There is so little left

Rondeau Redoublé

There is so little left. The room is bare.
She’ll strip his sheets and blankets by and by —
only this morning he was sleeping there.
The light is pouring from a hard white sky.

She’ll write to him, perhaps he will reply?
He’s better off, she knows, God knows, elsewhere.
She’ll be all right, she told him cheerfully.
There is so little left. The room is bare.

His smell’s still hanging in the chilly air,
his motorcycle boots are propped awry,
helmet abandoned on the basket-chair.
She’ll strip his sheets and blankets by and by.

Make a fresh start. Do something useful. Try
to avoid that stunned and slightly foolish stare
the mirror offers her maternal eye.
Only this morning he was sleeping there.

He’s left a paperback face downwards where
he gave up reading and she lets it lie.
That’s not his footstep coming up the stair.
The light is pouring from a hard white sky.

She stacks up papers, pulls the covers high,
faces the glass now, plucks the odd grey hair,
flicks away cobwebs, dusts off a dead fly,
feels and tries not to feel her own despair.
There is so little left.

Dorothy Nimmo

These days are best when one goes nowhere

Against Travel

These days are best when one goes nowhere,
The house a reservoir of quiet change,
The creak of furniture, the window panes
Brushed by the half-rhymes of activities

That do not quite declare what thing it was
Gave rise to them outside. The colours, even,
Accord with the tenor of the day—yes, ‘grey’
You will hear reported of the weather,

But what a grey, in which the tinges hover,
About to catch, although they still hold back
The blaze that's in them should the sun appear,

And yet it does not. Then the window pane
With a tremor of glass acknowledges
The distant boom of a departing plane.

Charles Tomlinson

Sunday, April 5, 2015


dear love,
you dream in the language of dodging bullets and artillery fire.
new, sexy diagnoses have been added to the lexicon on your behalf
(“charlie don’t surf,” has also been added to the lexicon on your behalf).

in this home that is not our home, we have mutually exiled each
other. i walk down your street in the rain, and i do not call you. i
walk in the opposite direction of where i know to find you. that we
do not speak is louder than bombs.

there are times that missing you is a matter of procedure. now is
not one of those times. there are times when missing you hurts. so
it comes to this, vying for geography. there is a prayer stuck in my
throat. douse me in gasoline, my love, and strike a match. let’s see
this prayer ignite to high heaven.

Barbara Jane Reyes

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Talk to me

"In his exquisite taxonomy of the nine kinds of silence, Paul Goodman included “the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear.”  And yet so often we think of listening as merely an idle pause amid the monologue of making ourselves clear."

"...Speaking calls for risk, speaking calls for a sense of what one has to lose. Not just what one has to gain."

"...Some people use language as a mask. And some want to create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not. Yet from time to time we are betrayed by language, if not in the words themselves, in the rhythm with which we deliver our words."

"...I wanted to get people to talk to me, in a true way. Not true in the sense of spilling their guts. Not true in the sense of the difference between truth and lies. I wanted to hear — well — authentic speech, speech that you could dance to, speech that had the possibility of breaking through the walls of the listener, speech that could get to your heart, and beyond that to someplace else in your consciousness."

How to Listen Between the Lines: Anna Deavere Smith on the Art of Listening in a Culture of Speaking
Maria Popova

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Late March

Late March

Again the trees remembered
to make leaves.
In the forest of their recollection
many birds returned

They sang, they sang
because they forgave themselves
the winter, and all that remained
still bitter.

Yet it was early spring,
when the days were touch and go,
and a late snow could nip a shoot,
or freeze a fledgling in its nest.

And where would we be then?
But that’s not the point.

Do you think the magpie doesn’t know
that its chicks are at risk,
or the peach trees, their too-frail blossoms,
the new-awakened bees, all that is
incipient within us?

We know, but we can’t help ourselves
any more than they can,
any more than the earth can
stop hurtling through the night
of its own absence.

Must be something in the sap,
the blood, a force like gravity,
a trick called memory.
You name it. Or leave it nameless
that’s better—

how something returns
and keeps on returning
through a gap,
through a dimensional gate,
through a tear in the veil.

And there it is again.
Another spring.
To woo loss into song.

Richard Schiffman

On the Nature of Daylight

Max Richter: On the Nature of Daylight


Listen. At 6 in the morning, when all is still, you can hear the honge flowers falling, like the first drops of approaching rain.

Inside you, vault opens behind vault, endlessly

Romanesque Arches

Inside the huge Romanesque church the tourists jostled in the half darkness.
Vault gaped behind vault, no complete view.
A few candle flames flickered.

An angel with no face embraced me
and whispered through my whole body:

"Don't be ashamed of being human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that's how it's meant to be."

Blind with tears
I was pushed out on the sun-seething piazza
together with Mr and Mrs Jones, Mr Tanaka, and Signora Sabatini,
and inside them all vault opened behind vault endlessly.

Tomas Tranströmer, 1931-2015
from New Collected Poems. Translated from the original Swedish by Robin Fulton

All that is life

You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti

From here:

We wake as if surprised

Object Permanence
(for John)

We wake as if surprised the other is still there,
each petting the sheet to be sure.

How have we managed our way
to this bed—beholden to heat like dawn
indebted to light. Though we’re not so self-
important as to think everything
has led to this, everything has led to this.

There’s a name for the animal
love makes of us—named, I think,
like rain, for the sound it makes.

You are the animal after whom other animals
are named. Until there’s none left to laugh,
days will start with the same startle
and end with caterpillars gorged on milkweed.

O, how we entertain the angels
with our brief animation. O,
how I’ll miss you when we’re dead.

Nicole Sealey


"Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future.

To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply, and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.

To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on.

Whether we stay or whether we go - to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made."

David Whyte, 'Consolations'

The many ways of going on and on...

Calling Card
Kristjana Gunnars

the many small ways of being human

removing rust from old windowsills
sandpapering blue paint off the railing
then paint that has peeled off in straggles

once again shining silver goblets never used
once again wiping rain off the veranda tables

moving rose buses from one spot to another
planting another lilac tree in place of the one lost
yet again watering the everdrooping fuchsias

an endless core of small services
observations on daily life forever incomplete

the many ways of going on and on...

From here:

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