Listen by Barbara Crooker

I want to tell you something. This morning
is bright after all the steady rain, and every iris,
peony, rose, opens its mouth, rejoicing. I want to say,
wake up, open your eyes, there’s a snow-covered road
ahead, a field of blankness, a sheet of paper, an empty screen.
Even the smallest insects are singing, vibrating their entire bodies,
tiny violins of longing and desire. We were made for song.
I can’t tell you what prayer is, but I can take the breath
of the meadow into my mouth, and I can release it for the leaves’
green need. I want to tell you your life is a blue coal, a slice
of orange in the mouth, cut hay in the nostrils. The cardinals’
red song dances in your blood. Look, every month the moon
blossoms into a peony, then shrinks to a sliver of garlic.
And then it blooms again.


I want to tell you something, so listen, Crooker tells us. This morning / is bright after all the steady rain – how true is that after so many downpours, the flowers open mouthed or bedraggled but nourished.

Wake up, open your eyes she admonishes us, pay attention to all the possibilities ahead, what is unwritten, unseen, yet to be experienced. The vibrating small insects, especially August’s crickets, tiny violins of longing and desire, singing us songs, singing us into song.

I can’t tell you what prayer is reminds me of Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day which also ponders how we open our hearts. But I can take the breath of the meadow into my mouth, releasing it for the leaves’ green need. Is that not accessible prayer and beauty enough?

She wants to tell us that our lives are a blue coal, a slice of orange, cut hay, the cardinal’s red song – sight, taste, smell, sound, all of our senses alive when we awake and feel deeply.

Finally she paints us the picture of how the moon waxes into flower, a showy peony, then shrinks to a sliver of garlic before blossoming again. And again each month, a continuous prayer of thanks for all that is.

Listen. The world has much to tell us.

Next Time by Joyce Sutphen

I’ll know the names of all of the birds
and flowers, and not only that, I’ll
tell you the name of the piano player
I’m hearing right now on the kitchen
radio, but I won’t be in the kitchen,

I’ll be walking a street in
New York or London, about
to enter a coffee shop where people
are reading or working on their
laptops. They’ll look up and smile.

Next time I won’t waste my heart
on anger; I won’t care about
being right. I’ll be willing to be
wrong about everything and to
concentrate on giving myself away.

Next time, I’ll rush up to people I love,
look into their eyes, and kiss them, quick.
I’ll give everyone a poem I didn’t write,
one specially chosen for that person.
They’ll hold it up and see a new
world. We’ll sing the morning in,

and I will keep in touch with friends,
writing long letters when I wake from
a dream where they appear on the
Orient Express. “Meet me in Istanbul,”
I’ll say, and they will.

Next Time

Ah yes, next time. I think by now I’m pretty clear there will be no next time; there is only this lifetime, this moment. But imagining all the things I might do and be if I lived my life again can point me toward how I live right now. I love how the poet creates this turn around for us that clearly shows us this time, not next time.

I often wish I was more familiar with naming birds, flowers, trees but I can be content with just having their beauty in my days unnamed, just as I can enjoy music without knowing the artist or the lyrics.

Next time I won’t waste my heart / on anger. Now there is something to aspire to remembering, not being righteous, rather to / concentrate on giving myself away. I think that may be the most important line in this poem. If we cannot give our whole selves away in this life, then when??

Next time, no, this time, I tell people that I love them, often and sincerely. And of course I continue to give them poems, chosen for that person or just because you might be touched by them. I do keep in touch with friends because what could be more important, more alive?

I may not get to Istanbul but it is equally important and necessary to me to meet them in the local coffee shop (distancing notwithstanding), to give myself away and receive the generous gifts of others. No need to wait for the next time.

Joy by Stuart Kestenbaum

The asters shake from stem to flower
waiting for the monarchs to alight.

Every butterfly knows that the end
is different from the beginning

and that it is always a part
of a longer story, in which we are always

transformed. When it’s time to fly,
you know how, just the way you knew

how to breathe, just the way the air
knew to find its way into your lungs,

the way the geese know when to depart,
the way their wings know how to

speak to the wind, a partnership of feather
and glide, lifting into the blue dream.


There are so many ways to describe joy, so many ways to see it even when it may not seem present. Here is one way, without ever using the word, that this poet talks about to us about that exuberant feeling of blissful delight.

The first two lines provide a simple image easily visualized. Then it’s as if he is speaking for the butterflies who know that the ending is different from the beginning, that there is a longer story in which we are always transformed. Who does not know the classic metaphor of transformation from homely caterpillar to winged beauty?

Now the poet is speaking to the reader: When it is time to fly / you know how, just as you know how to breathe, the way geese know when to begin their migrations, each of these its own miracle. When it is time for your transformation, you just know how and when to fly, as natural as breathing.

This knowing is effortless, the way wings know how to speak to the wind, this joyful partnership, lifting us into the blue dream. Sometimes, we just know that feeling and are carried aloft, no need to even name our joy, simply to accept it.

I thank my dear friend and poetry ally, Laura, for introducing me to this poem and the poet, who also wrote Prayer for Joy.

Today’s Book of Delights by Teresa Williams

After Ross Gay

He is right; if we choose to look,
we just might believe it’s there
in the first chirp of the day and the body awakening to hear it,
in the black wings weaving through champagne leaves,
in the spark of coffee with the essay that ends
with the words, renovating love,
for gold snails on the busy sidewalk,
for the elixir of friendship in the dark shell of winter,
for each small note from the universe
and its cheerful persistence, even today,
with a new tumor on the back of my dog’s leg,
to encourage delight
in her oblivious exuberance, and let that be
what sustains me.

Today’s Book of Delights

If you haven’t yet read poet Ross Gay’s Book of Delights, you might just want to put it on your reading list. Each short essay is a record of the everyday miracles he observed in his life over the course of a year. He finds wonder and delight in simple things as well as the complex, especially in nature.

The poet Teresa Williams clearly resonates with this way of looking at the world, of finding much to praise – birdsong, our bodies, coffee, the words renovating love, snails, and my personal favourite, the elixir of friendship in the dark shell of winter, lyrical medicine for cold days.

Even with her dog’s new tumor, she is sustained by the cheerful persistence of each small note from the universe. So many ways to experience delight if we are open to notice, perhaps even to practice on occasion an oblivious exuberance to our discontents. We must risk delight says the poet Jack Gilbert, we cannot do without it.

May the small delights the universe continuously offers be yours to discover and let that be what sustains you.