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

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