Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning my Shirt by Ross Gay

No one knew or at least
I didn’t know
they knew
what the thin disks
threaded here
on my shirt
might give me
in terms of joy
this is not something to be taken lightly
the gift
of buttoning one’s shirt
slowly
top to bottom
or bottom
to top or sometimes
the buttons
will be on the other
side and
I am a woman
that morning
slipping the glass
through its slot
I tread
differently that day
or some of it
anyway
my conversations
are different
and the car bomb slicing the air
and the people in it
for a quarter mile
and the honeybee’s
legs furred with pollen
mean another
thing to me
than on the other days
which too have
been drizzled in this
simplest of joys
in this world
of spaceships and subatomic
this and that
two maybe three
times a day
some days
I have the distinct pleasure
of slowly untethering
the one side
from the other
which is like unbuckling
a stack of vertebrae
with delicacy
for I must only use
the tips
of my fingers
with which I will
one day close
my mother’s eyes
this is as delicate
as we can be
in this life
practicing
like this
giving the raft of our hands
to the clumsy spider
and blowing soft until she
lifts her damp heft and
crawls off
we practice like this
pushing the seed into the earth
like this first
in the morning
then at night
we practice
sliding the bones home.

Ode to Buttoning and Unbuttoning My Shirt

This poem tickled my fancy as they say, just showed me a different way of looking at buttons and hands and shirts. Ross Gay speaks of the joy of buttoning and unbuttoning his shirt, this gift not something to be taken lightly, though of course, most of us do. How even our shirts are gendered, buttoning left to right or right to left – who ever thought that up?!

He moves in his stream of consciousness way from the car bomb slicing the air / and the people in it, to the honeybee’s / legs furred with pollen. Such disparate images of the world and yet he holds the two ends of destruction and creation, the other days / which too have / been drizzled in this / simplest of joys.

Then he speaks of untethering his buttons from his shirt which is like unbuckling / a stack of vertebrae / with delicacy – such an embodied image. And the tips of his fingers with which I will / one day close / my mother’s eyes. How seldom do we contemplate what tasks our fingers will be called to perform. The delicacy of practicing giving the raft of our hands to a spider or pushing the seed into the earth – more ways we can use these hands.

Perhaps this poem can call us to pay attention to what we are doing with our hands in this moment, at any moment of the day, the openings and closings of our lives.

Twilight by Louise Glück

All day he works at his cousin’s mill,
so when he gets home at night, he always sits at this one window,
sees one time of day, twilight.
There should be more time like this, to sit and dream.
It’s as his cousin says:
Living—living takes you away from sitting.

In the window, not the world but a squared-off landscape
representing the world. The seasons change,
each visible only a few hours a day.
Green things followed by golden things followed by whiteness—
abstractions from which come intense pleasures,
like the figs on the table.

At dusk, the sun goes down in a haze of red fire between two poplars.
It goes down late in summer—sometimes it’s hard to stay awake.

Then everything falls away.
The world for a little longer
is something to see, then only something to hear,
crickets, cicadas.
Or to smell sometimes, aroma of lemon trees, of orange trees.
Then sleep takes this away also.

But it’s easy to give things up like this, experimentally,
for a matter of hours.

I open my fingers—
I let everything go.

Visual world, language,
rustling of leaves in the night,
smell of high grass, of woodsmoke.

I let it go, then I light the candle.

Twilight

As you may have heard, last week Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize for poetry, no small recognition of her work. ‘Twilight’ is the first of her poems that I heard, spoken at a poetry retreat I attended some years ago, the first in a collection called A Village Life. Something about the atmosphere she created with her words captured my imagination and has stayed with me.

Right in the first stanza she tells us in the cousin’s voice: There should be more time like this, to sit and dream. And then, Living—living takes you away from sitting. She had me right there – the incompatibility of sitting and dreaming with what we call living.

The seasons visible through a squared-off landscape / representing the world – can you not see this through a window of your own, and how it changes? Not the world but a representation of the world which is all we can ever see wherever we are.

Then everything falls away – what we see, hear, smell until sleep takes this away also, where we can give it all up for a few hours, letting it all go. This lovely Visual world, language, / rustling of leaves in the night, / smell of high grass, of woodsmoke. So evocative, dream-like yet in the present.

Finally what we each can do: I let it go, then I light the candle. Lighting a candle to this calm moment of reflection. May you make time to sit and dream in the midst of this living.

Instructions for the Journey by Pat Schneider

The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
politicians, cataclysms, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
after a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.

And if all that fails,
wash your own dishes.
Rinse them.
Stand in your kitchen at your sink.
Let cold water run between your fingers.
Feel it.

Instructions for the Journey

I’ve admired Pat Schneider for awhile now and was saddened to learn of her recent death so I want to share one of her poems with you.

All poems of life instructions are naturally unique and I appreciate the simplicity of this one. Don’t grieve for the skin you have outgrown, left behind The way the world, too, sheds its skin. Though at times it feels like nothing changes, in truth, each day the world is new. There is a self you are becoming, wet, raw, unfinished, that is always waiting for you as you move forward in your life. Trust it, she is telling us.

It is easy to lose this tenderly / unfolding moment she warns us, this gentle or perhaps sudden transformation to our becoming. Look for it, listen for it, pay attention: the first green blade / after a long winter… the first clear tone / in a place where dawn is heralded by bells. These are the moments we can notice, the moments we can feel our own unfolding.

And then, if all that fails, you can stand at your kitchen sink washing your dishes – as Thich Nhat Hanh tells us ” wash the dishes to wash the dishes”, just that. Let cold water run between your fingers. Feel it. Try it – leave that outgrown skin behind. Be where you are.