Hope by Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Hope

So much talk of discouragement these days as we weary of all that goes on that is difficult to endure in this beleaguered world. This is why I turn to poetry, where I can always find images of beauty, of joy, of hope, as in this poem by Lisel Mueller.

She describes the many hidden places hope may be found – dark corners, mushroom gills (I must admit I’ve never looked there), in the starry heads / of dandelions turned sages, on the green wings that sail from the tops of maples. Hope can also be found in the many-eyed potato, in earthworm segments that regenerate, in the happy wag of a dog’s tail, in the first breath of a newborn.

It is the singular gift / we cannot destroy in ourselves no matter how hopeless we may feel, how tiny the flame of hope though when it is gone, so may be life. It is the argument that refutes death, reminding us that there is more that we cannot yet know. Hope is the longing for what we desire, as essential as blood to our bodies, the serum which makes us swear / not to betray one another.

There are so many metaphors for where we can find hope, this most necessary element of life. In other words, it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Before Sleep I Go Outside by Jeanne Lohmann

What is more beautiful than Orion and the stars
seen through the bare limbs of an oak?

What too is more beautiful than winter clouds in a rush
over the face of the moon, when the mind gives way

and the supple body slows, the heart grown ready
to make the experiment: to be lifted and stretched

by measureless new dimensions? All that I have said
and heard recedes, pulled into space where there are no

words, my head quiet and at rest, leaning back
against a corner of the garage, under this night sky

and the far stars where my thirsty eyes drink as from
a pitcher that pours and pours and does not empty.

Before Sleep I Go Outside

Perhaps a little cold for going outside these nights, but I have done it in winter just to see the stars which never fail to awe me. I appreciate Jeanne Lohmann’s quiet way of asking what is more beautiful than Orion and the stars seen through the bare limbs of an oak? And the repeated question in what too is more beautiful than winter clouds? What, indeed?

With the moon and clouds and stars, the mind gives way / and the supple body slows, letting the heart be lifted and stretched / by measureless new dimensions. Surely you have felt that heart opening, body softening that comes with gazing up at the vast night sky, that immeasurable world so far away yet appearing so close.

In this place, all else recedes, pulled into space where there are no / words. Here our minds can grow silent, reflective as we drink these stars as from / a pitcher that pours and pours and does not empty. Such a gorgeous image! Here is the bottomless source of wonder and beauty, filling us with peacefulness before sleep. If the curtain of clouds is pulled back tonight, look up, even through your frosted window for the magic of the winter night sky.

Holding the Light by Stuart Kestenbaum

Gather up whatever is 
glittering in the gutter,
whatever has tumbled 
in the waves or fallen 
in flames out of the sky,

for it’s not only our
hearts that are broken, 
but the heart
of the world as well.
Stitch it back together. 

Make a place where
the day speaks to the night
and the earth speaks to the sky.
Whether we created God
or God created us

it all comes down to this:
In our imperfect world
we are meant to repair
and stitch together 
what beauty there is, stitch it 

with compassion and wire. 
See how everything 
we have made gathers 
the light inside itself
and overflows? A blessing.

Holding the Light

Kestenbaum’s poem chose itself to be the first offering for this new year, a poem that is in itself a blessing. He urges us to gather up all that which is found in the gutter, the waves, the sky, to do this because it’s not only our / hearts that are broken / but the heart / of the world as well. Our broken hearts, the heart of the world, both need mending. We must take these broken pieces and stitch it back together.

This we do because day to night, earth to sky, God or no god, what matters is this: we are meant to repair / and stitch together / what beauty there is. And there is so much beauty to be found in both the world and in our hearts. We are called to do this with compassion for the suffering in this imperfect world, to use the wire of suppleness and strength and deep love.

Then he asks us to see the light gathered within each thing and how it overflows, the way morning sunlight pours over everything in its path. That light, when we hold it, grows, expands and blesses us all. This is how we repair the brokenness of our collective hearts, stitch together our beautifully flawed world. May we each carry light going forward into this new year, a year as Rilke said, “full of things that have never been”.