Sometimes, I am Startled Out of Myself by Barbara Crooker


like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

Sometimes, I am Startled Out of Myself

I am often drawn to the work of this poet, something about her quiet way of speaking about the ordinary world, bringing it to my attention. Even the title captures that sudden sense of being called out of myself to something else, like the wild geese, flapping their rusty hinges. This, she says, makes her think about her life, the places / of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief / has strung me out to dry. We all have these places and unexpected moments that bring them to mind.

The way the geese take turns as the leader tires gives her a sense of hope borne on wings. And the trees, how they turn gold in the autumn then lose it all in November, then stand through the bitter cold of winter until spring when they put out shy green leaves. She finds hope in these noisy creatures, representing that optimistic expectation that the world will continue, even when things don’t go exactly as planned. Seasons change and the geese glide over the cornfields, returning each year as they do.

You do not have to be wise, she reminds us, just pay attention. Be aware, the way even a goose knows how to find / shelter, to find late winter corn for nourishment. All we do is pass through here, much the way the geese pass overhead, briefly here then gone. They stitch up the sky, such a magical image, until it is whole again. When we are startled out of ourselves, we can remember that we are just passing through, the best way we can, a simple wisdom.

Poem Bathing by Gail Onion

Poem bathing.

An hour spent reading

favorite poetry.

Sometimes there is ecstasy,

a respite from care,

sometimes reassurance

that the world has meaning

there is wonder and awe

and how to find peace in the mystery.

Sometimes there is rejoicing 

Sometimes there is lamenting

Sometimes, the words are a beautiful music

or a necessary silence

as the poem ends in a soft hush, ineffable beauty

as in the forest.

Sometimes the poem is like a letter

that begins, my dearest, I am so sorry

or I love you.

Even on days when I do not have an hour

for a full poetry bath

a sponge bath made of Haiku

or one precious line or two,

murmured over and over,

restores the deep breath that calms,

recalls what is of value,

melts the knots of doubt,

the mute voice in me is liberated,

the poem has left me its wings and wisdom,

the windows of perception are cleansed,

I sing myself awake again.

Poem Bathing

This poem delights me, starting with the title, Poem Bathing, which made me think of forest bathing, a Japanese exercise called shinrin-yoku meant to encourage people to spend more time in nature for its benefits to mind and body. As someone who loves to bathe in poetry, I was intrigued. Time spent reading poems can offer ecstasy, respite, sometimes reassurance / that the world has meaning, so many possibilities for wonder and awe.

She gives us many options, for music, for silence, for a poem ending in a soft hush, ineffable beauty / as in the forest. She tells us a poem can be like a letter written just for you, the reader – poem-letters of love and sorrow and every human experience. As a fan of Haiku, I love the idea of a Haiku sponge bath on days when you don’t have enough time for a more full, luxurious bath. She highlights the value of one precious line or two, your own personal mantra that restores the deep breath that calms. This I have experienced many times, reminding me what is of value when I forget or doubt.

A final striking metaphor is in the line, the poem has left me its wings and wisdom. Have you ever experienced that sense of lightness and insight that can be found in a poem that seems written just for you, how the windows of perception are cleansed? And the opportunity to sing myself awake again, perhaps even to find peace in the mystery.

Why Are Your Poems So Dark? by Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished

without the dark stain
of alphabets?

When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.

Instead he invented
ebony and crows

and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”

Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

Why Are Your Poems So Dark?

This poem called to me, with its question I could well imagine asking or being asked by others. Dark, of course, in our culture is considered the end of the spectrum we wish to avoid despite its reality in our lives. And as Pastan says, the moon is dark much of the time as it waxes and wanes, though as I write this, the moon has reached its fullness, a blood moon, full of light.

She asks if the white page we read would seem unfinished without the dark stain / of alphabets, all that lovely white space around poems. She points out that it is said that God created light, separate from the darkness, day and night, but he didn’t banish darkness. At this time of year, many people resist the darkness, but I believe it is part of the season’s gift. She gives examples of ebony and crows, that small mole / on your left cheekbone, so many objects of dark beauty if you think about it.

And then she rephrases the question, Why are you sad so often? This opens a new possibility, that her poems are not so much dark as simply sad. And then her simple response: Ask the moon, the moon which looks down on us from the night sky at every phase. Ask what it has witnessed. And as I reflect on the daily news, the answer is so clear – there is definitely sadness, darkness in between the moments of joy and light. Is this not how we notice the difference between the two?

Poetry as Medicine by Janice Falls

I’m choosing to step outside my regular posting of a poem this week, as well as my own comfort zone, to share with you this personal essay which recently appeared in Braided Way, a journal featuring writing in support of differing spiritual practices and perspectives.

I have learned how poetry can be medicine for the events in our lives – a balm to soothe, a challenge to pay attention, whatever is needed in the moment, from my teacher Kim Rosen whose rich book Saved by a Poem I would recommend to everyone with even the faintest interest in poetry. For the past decade, poetry has been a central focus in my life, and so, I thought I would share this with you.

A deep bow of thanks to all the readers of this site and for your inspiring comments. May these poems continue to serve.