Sunday, February 28, 2016

Practising Dying

Learning from Trees

If we could,
like the trees,
practice dying,
do it every year
just as something we do—
like going on vacation
or celebrating birthdays,
it would become
as easy a part of us
as our hair or clothing.

Someone would show us how
to lie down and fade away
as if in deepest meditation,
and we would learn
about the fine dark emptiness,
both knowing it and not knowing it,
and coming back would be irrelevant.

Whatever it is the trees know
when they stand undone,
surprisingly intricate,
we need to know also
so we can allow
that last thing
to happen to us
as if it were only
any ordinary thing,

leaves and lives
falling away,
the spirit, complex,
waiting in the fine darkness
to learn which way
it will go.

Grace Butcher

From here.

Morning Poem

Listen. It’s morning. Soon I’ll see your hand reach
for my watch, the water will agitate in the kettle,
but listen. Traffic. I want your dreams first. And
to slide my leg beneath yours before the day opens.

Wait. We slept late. You’ll be moody, the phone
will ring, someone wanting something. Let me put
my hands in your hair. Who I was last night I would
be again. This is how the future holds me, how depression
wakes with us; my body shelters it. Let me
put my head on your breast. I know nothing lasts.

I would try to hold you back, not out of meanness
but fear. Oh my practical, my worldly-wise. You
know how the body falters, falls in on itself. Tell me
that we will never want from each other what we
cannot have. Lie. It’s morning.

Robin Becker

One Place to Begin

You need a reason, any reason—skiing, a job in movies,
the Golden Gate Bridge.
Take your reason and drive west, past the Rockies.
When you’re bored with bare hills, dry flats, and distance,
stop anywhere.

Forget where you thought you were going.
Rattle through the beer cans in the ditch.
If there’s a fence, try your luck—they don’t stop cows.
Follow the first hawk you see, and when the sagebrush
trips you, take a good look before you get up.

The desert gets by without government.

Crush juniper berries, breathe the smell, smear your face.
When you wonder why you’re here, yell as loud
as you can and don’t look behind.
Walk. Your feet are learning.

Admit you’re afraid of the dark.
Soak the warmth from scabrock, cheek to lichen.
The wind isn’t talking to you. Listen anyway.
Let the cries of coyotes light a fire in your heart.
Remember the terrible song of stars—you knew it once,
before you were born.

Tell a story about why the sun comes back.

Sit still until the itches give up, lizards ignore you,
a mule deer holds you in her eyes.
Explain yourself over and over. Forget it all
when a scrub jay shrieks.
Imagine sun, sky, and wind the same, over your
scattered white bones.

John Daniel


Song with no end

when Whitman wrote, "I sing the body electric"

I know what he
I know what he

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can't cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as

Charles Bukowski

Monday, February 15, 2016

A river in the trees

Listening to the wind in the trees, especially during this beautiful leaf-falling season here, being amazed at hearing the sound of water up above - one of my favourite things.

The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.
Us, listening to a river in the trees.

Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lantern (Faber and Faber 1987)

Sunday, February 14, 2016


How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.
Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.
Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender, language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.
Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.
When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

You can now read poetry.

Pamela Spiro Wagner

Humility is an acquired taste

"As I have gotten older, I have become less confident and maybe more honest.

The economy is too complex; we can’t measure the interactions of all its various pieces with any precision. We don’t have enough data, and we don’t understand how things fit together. We are drunks looking for our lost keys under a lamppost not because that’s where we lost our keys but because that’s where the light is.

We should be humbler and more honest. Our empirical studies are very imperfect. We often hold the views we do because of ideology and principle. Then we find some evidence that supports those views. We ignore the rest … An awareness of reason’s limits is a caution sign to remind us that we’re not as smart as we think; we’re not perfect truth seekers.

We’re flawed. Recognizing our flaws is the beginning of wisdom. Many things look like nails that do not benefit from being pounded. That should induce caution and humility for those with hammers …

Humility is an acquired taste. Once you come to like it, it’s a dish best served hot. It’s amazing how liberating it can be to say “I don’t know.”

Russ Roberts


"Perhaps if people were encouraged to draw something everyday, they'd talk a lot less. They'd begin to appreciate the importance of silence, of observation, of not getting entangled in the outward appearance of things.

By watching a pencil slowly follow the contours of the subject, they would learn to edit out the superfluous and the unnecessary; they'd perhaps learn to not just see things but also comprehend them."

Anvita Lakhera

In Silence:

The impulse to be lyrical

"The impulse to be lyrical is driven by the need to be no longer constrained by oneself. As poems have testified for centuries, we become lyrical when we suffer, when we love.

But like poems themselves, we exist because of constraints — cultural and linguistic ways of organizing experience that allow us to imagine we know who we are.

Why, when we’re driven to be lyrical, are we gratified by familiar patterns, formal patterns made by breaking words into syllables, structural patterns made by conjoining words with other words?

Why do we imagine we may be liberated by unfamiliar patterns, patterns whose novelty depends on patterns we already know?

Why, having experienced the pleasure of a lyric poem, do we bother experiencing it again? Why, when we’re in love, can the repetition of an experience feel more fulfilling than the discovery of it?"

Lyric Knowledge
Ideas of order in poetry

James Longenbach

For You, Friend

this Valentine's Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock,
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;

so that the weak, mid-February sun
(whose chill I will feel from the face
of the clock) cannot in any way
lessen the lights in your hair, and the wind
(whose subtle insistence I will feel

in the minute hand) cannot tighten
the corners of your smile. People
drearily walking the winter streets
will long remember this day:

how they glanced up to see you
there in a storefront window, glorious,
strolling along on the outside of time.

Ted Kooser

The Ubiquity of the Need for Love

I leave the number and a short
message on every green Volvo
in town

Is anything wrong?
I miss you.

The phone rings constantly.
One says, Are you bald?
Another, How tall are you in
your stocking feet?

Most just reply, Nothing’s wrong.
I miss you, too.

Come quick.

Ronald Koertge

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I cradle your heart

Two Tendernesses

while I shovel
and fold clothes and wash
bowls and chop
yellow peppers, all day with both hands
I cradle your heart


while I am walking
you are all around me,
you go on as far as I can see —
I have no stars to offer you,
you hold me, anyway

Rosemerry Trommer


"...unless that underground level of the self is preserved as a verified and verifying element in your make-up, you are going to be in danger of settling into whatever profile the world prepares for you and accepting whatever profile the world provides for you. You’ll be in danger of molding yourselves in accordance with laws of growth other than those of your own intuitive being.

The true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your lives. True to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally and keeps us most reliably connected to one another.

Calling a spade a spade may be a bit reductive but calling a wooden spoon a wooden spoon is the beginning of wisdom. And you will be sure to keep going in life on a far steadier keel and with far more radiant individuality if you navigate by that principle."

Seamus Heaney


"I have come to understand, hard-won things mean something entirely different. Better.

The thing about struggle, is that it inversely affects entitlement. It engenders gratitude and increases value. It gives shape and provides context. And yet we live in this culture that espouses ease and convenience above all else."

The Happiest Day

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.

My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn't believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.

I didn't even guess that I was happy.

The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.

So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.

If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

Linda Pastan



Not knowing
how to pray, I learn to practice

Nine Common Places of Wonder
Rosemerry Trommer


What Love Cannot Do
January Gill O'Neil

It cannot save itself when it expires
like a tire’s slow leak. It cannot bring back
the greediness of youth

mouth on mouth,
skin on skin, that gnawing,
that longing you carried

until the next time
and then there is no next time.

You never see it coming but always see it leaving.

It waits by the door, bags packed,
full of stones from your life.

What it can do is mark
the distance between Point A and Point B,

which feels like a galaxy,
every star you ever wished upon
imploding before your eyes.

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