Living With the News by W.S.Merwin

Can I get used to it day after day
a little at a time while the tide keeps
coming in faster the waves get bigger
building on each other breaking records
this is not the world that I remember
then comes the day when I open the box
that I remember packing with such care
and there is the face that I had known well
in little pieces staring up at me
it is not mentioned on the front pages
but somewhere far back near the real estate
among the things that happen every day
to someone who now happens to be me
and what can I do and who can tell me
then there is what the doctor comes to say
endless patience will never be enough
the only hope is to be the daylight

Living With the News

W.S.Merwin has been on my mind since his death last month, reading his poems and the outpouring of tributes to this remarkable poet and environmentalist who planted numerous palm trees in his home in Maui. On the last day of the world / I would want to plant a tree, from Place.

This poem caught my attention as I struggle most days, as I believe many of us do, to live with the news. The imagery of the tide coming in faster and the waves getting bigger is one I can relate to as I ponder the question he asks Can I get used to it day after day / a little at a time? I’m not sure I can and yet I do, we do. It’s true I don’t remember the world being this way before because of course, it is always changing.

I am imagining the face that he finds in the box he has packed is his own, his obituary photo perhaps – it is not mentioned on the front pages /but somewhere far back near the real estate / among the things that happen every day / to someone who now happens to be me . The lives and deaths, the everyday happenings that are not the front page news but the real things that happen to each of us.

endless patience will never be enough though we have great need of that, yet he does not end there. He gives us this important instruction: the only hope is to be the daylight . And so, no matter what the news, how enormous the waves, how impossible to get used to it, we must learn to be the daylight not merely the darkness.

William Merwin was someone who knew how to be the daylight, how to share that light with the world, and that light will continue to shine through his poetry.

 

Growing Light by George Ella Lyon

I write this poem
out of darkness
to you
who are also in darkness
because our lives demand it.

This poem is a hand on your shoulder
a bone touch to go with you
through the hard birth of vision.
In other words, love
shapes this poem
is the fist that holds the chisel,
muscle that drags marble
and burns with the weight
of believing a face
lives in the stone
a breathing word in the body.

I tell you
though the darkness
has been ours
words will give us
give our eyes, opened in promise
a growing light.

Growing Light

 

Sometimes when it is dark, it seems to grow only darker and it is too easy to lose hope for the light. But that is when we most need the light that poetry can bring. Sadly, there will likely be other New Zealands, other Ethiopias. And there will be light.

As the poet says, she writes from darkness because our lives demand it. This is a simple, direct acknowledgement that life is difficult. She offers this poem as a hand on your shoulder / a bone touch to go with you / through the hard birth of vision. I believe it is that touch, in whatever form, that allows us to keep living, to believe there is more, to find the vision that sustains us.

She tells us love / shapes this poem. And this is what is needed, is it not? Not a soft and fluffy love (though that has its place), but the love that requires fist and chisel, muscle and marble, burning and weight, of believing a face / lives in the stone / a breathing word in the body.

In these few words, she reminds us words will give us /give our eyes, opened in promise / a growing light. There are words, actions, beliefs that bring light to this world – and here it is in this small poem.

I would also like to acknowledge the deaths in the past couple of weeks of two beloved poets who left exquisite marks on the paths for us to follow and who both shared a love of the wild. First, Patrick Lane, B.C. poet and teacher and Officer of the Order of Canada. The spirit leaves us slowly, forever. / It is the waiting I try to understand, the quietness of that.”

And W.S.Merwin, respected and prolific American poet whose words “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day / When the last fires will wave to me” have haunted me since I first read them. I thank both of these fine men for their contribution to the light of the world.

Of Love by Mary Oliver

I have been in love more times than one,
thank the Lord. Sometimes it was lasting
whether active or not. Sometimes
it was all but ephemeral, maybe only
an afternoon, but not less real for that.
They stay in my mind, these beautiful people,
or anyway beautiful people to me, of which
there are so many. You, and you, and you,
whom I had the fortune to meet, or maybe
missed.Love, love, love, it was the
core of my life, from which, of course, comes
the word for the heart. And, oh, have I mentioned
that some of them were men and some were women
and some—now carry my revelation with you—
were trees. Or places. Or music flying above
the names of their makers. Or clouds, or the sun
which was the first, and the best, the most
loyal for certain, who looked so faithfully into
my eyes, every morning. So I imagine
such love of the world—its fervency, its shining, its
innocence and hunger to give of itself—I imagine
this is how it began.

Of Love

So today is Valentine’s Day, the day of hearts and flowers and schmaltzy or sincere messages for some. But it is also an opportunity to consider love in the broader, deeper sense and this poem of Mary Oliver’s speaks eloquently and importantly to that, to ‘that condition that allowed humans to dream of God’ as Maya Angelou said.

Love, love, love, it was the / core of my life she says. We see this over and over in her poems, about people, beautiful to her, who she loved maybe only / an afternoon, but not less real for that. And trees, places, music, clouds, and the sun which was the first, and the best, the most / loyal for certain.

And finally, she imagines for us love of the world – its fervency, its shining, its / innocence and hunger to give of itself. I read those words over and over and cannot imagine a more poetic description of love and all it has to offer. And so, let us imagine this is how it began.  No need to wait until February 14 next year.

The Journey – Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey

I am saddened by today’s news of the death of the inestimable Mary Oliver and am moved to honour her in my own way.

The first poem I learned by heart and one of the first of hers I encountered twenty-some years ago was The Journey. It spoke so powerfully to me of the way we each find our own way in the world. It gave me courage and encouragement to do the only thing you could do. I spoke it often and her voice became my own.

Over the years, I immersed myself in her poetry, always finding new ones to delight and surprise and challenge me. She used direct, accessible language, a hallmark for me of poems I love, and hers were a subtle and often not-so-subtle influence in my own writing. Her observations on the natural world were a doorway, as an urbanite, to a place I often longed to go; her words took me there. As she herself said, she “made a world out of words”.

When her death made the national and international news, my husband remarked how astonishing that someone who was not a rock star, nor a sports celebrity, should be so noticed and celebrated. And I replied, that’s because she is a poet who spoke for and to us all and will continue to do so. She did not end up simply having visited this world.

I am ever grateful for the legacy this gentle soul has left any who choose to read her work. What she created mattered and will live on. I bow in gratitude and appreciation.

Questions Before Dark – Jeanne Lohmann

Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, consider
your altered state: has this day
changed you? Are the corners
sharper or rounded off? Did you
live with death? Make decisions
that quieted? Find one clear word
that fit? At the sun’s midpoint
did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites
the possible? What did you learn
from things you dropped and picked up
and dropped again? Did you set a straw
parallel to the river, let the flow
carry you downstream?
I do appreciate poems that ask questions, especially ones that cannot be answered simply  but remain in my mind to challenge me, to inform my days, and especially now at the beginning of a new year. I hope you may find a question or two here that is meaningful to you, learning, as Rilke says, ‘to love the questions‘.
Has this day changed you? She asks us to consider this at day’s end and of course how could we not be altered, though it may not always seem so.
I love this one: Are the corners sharper or rounded off? When I am at peace with myself, I can feel the roundedness; sharper when I am feeling anxious.
Did you live with death? I do try to remember every day that I’m going to die; that death is certain though the time of death uncertain.
Make decisions that quieted? Sometimes yes, again those rounded off corners in my mind, unremarkable decisions in the course of an ordinary day that settle me.
Find one clear word that fit? Well, words are important to me so I give them a lot of thought and although I may not always find ones that fit, it gives me pleasure to search for them.
A pitch of absence, bewilderment that invites the possible? Ah yes, the uncertainty I often struggle with even though it holds possibilities unforeseen.
What did you learn from things you dropped and picked up and dropped again? I’m thinking here of things I learn, then forget, then relearn, sometimes repeating this many times until it becomes a new knowledge.
Did you set a straw parallel to the river, let the flow carry you downstream? This is meaningful to me as I hold the intention at the start of this year to let my days unfurl rather than rushing through them. I’m reminded of John O’Donohue’s succinctly eloquent poem: I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding. Yup, like that.

Hold Out Your Hand by Julia Fehrenbacher

Let’s forget the world for a while
fall back and back
into the hush and holy
of now

are you listening? This breath
invites you
to write the first word
of your new story

your new story begins with this:
You matter

you are needed—empty
and naked
willing to say yes
and yes and yes

Do you see
the sun shines, day after day
whether you have faith
or not
the sparrows continue
to sing their song
even when you forget to sing
yours

stop asking: Am I good enough?
Ask only
Am I showing up
with love?

Life is not a straight line
it’s a downpour of gifts, please—
hold out your hand

Hold Out Your Hand

The invitation of this poem is one I could not resist – may it be so for you.

To begin is the invitation to forget the world for awhile, to listen to the hush and holy of now. In your next breath, to begin your new story, a story we all need to write: You matter / you are needed. Take a moment to breathe that in if you will.

The poet reminds us we do not need faith for the sun to continue to shine, for the sparrows to continue to sing their song even when you forget to sing yours. Does it happen sometimes that you forget your song? stop asking: Am I good enough? This is the wrong question; ask instead she tells us, Am I showing up with love?

The final invitation is please – hold out your hand for the downpour of gifts that life offers us. Life as it meanders up and down, into pain as well as joy, never a straight line. So please, yes, hold out your hand and receive it all, be willing to say yes / and yes and yes.

And here is one of mine for the season:

In the Darkness

Darkness is a poem

and tastes like chocolate,

rich, dark, a slight bitterness

that satisfies yet invites more.

In the darkness, there is room

for everything that is hidden

to be safe, to come forward

and be received as it must.

When we learn to see the darkness

as clearly as we see the light,

we will taste more deeply

the bittersweetness of this life.

 

Praise Song by Barbara Crooker

Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.
I am drawn to praise poems and this one seems particularly appropriate at this time of year, albeit early in November, the sunlight thinning, the crows though they are clothed in night, they do not / despair, still harshly calling to us in the chill air.
The poet invites us to admire the simple remnants of summer – the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls, / shells, the architecture of trees. To notice the dried weeds, the blue sky, the setting sun, the quilt of leaves / that covers the grass. Have you ever seen the fallen leaves as a quilt before? I hadn’t.
And finally to acclaim our crazy / fallen world, fallen as we have in these times, crazy for sure as darkness of all kinds gathers around us.
Yet it’s all we have, this broken, fallen world and it’s never enough though I hear those words not as despair but as a reminder to praise what we do have; there can never be too much praise, too much admiration for this world.
When we pause to admire the simple beauty of this dying season, we can find reason to praise what is there, to express our respect and gratitude for all of it.

 

Equinox – Richard Wehrman

The Garden releases its last
radiance, not as something failed,
but as its full reason for being: to give
continually, to its last bit of energetic being.
Its giving is its beauty. It is a smile,
it is the heart of love.

So the birdsong that surrounds me
is given, not away, but into the world.
It is given as rain, as sunlight, as snowfall
and autumn leaves. It falls on our ears
as what it is, with no deception,
the complete truth of being.

Even the smell of decay, drifting from
the deer, dead by the side of the road, says:
“This is what I am and no other. I do not
pretend to be. Even in death I speak
without deceit, even unto my flesh,
my very bones.”

Be tolerant of these songs,
my musings on the way these things are
For I cannot give up this Summer except by
giving myself as well, fully and completely,
into the praise of our mutual beauty,
our total loving of the World.

Equinox

It is past equinox of course but I responded viscerally to this poem when I read it.

I had recently read a piece by Parker Palmer (thank you Margaret) on the paradox of how the dying of the year in autumn on which we tend to focus also contains the “hope of a certain beauty”. That darkness is part of the wholeness of life, the natural cycles of seasons, the sowing of seeds of new life.

I appreciate the poet’s reminder that autumn is not a failure but a giving, Its giving is its beauty. It is a smile, / it is the heart of love. The birdsong, the rain, the sunlight and snowfall, all this comes to us as what it is, with no deception, / the complete truth of being. Even in death, This is what I am and no other. I do not / pretend to be.

And finally, I cannot give up this Summer except by / giving myself as well, fully and completely, / into the praise of our mutual beauty, / our total loving of the World. Can you feel the call to give yourself fully to this beautiful world, to praise the beauty that is part of the wholeness of life for all of us?

Let this poem be a reminder to give yourself away, to increase the beauty of this world. As the poet Wendell Berry says Every day you have less reason / not to give yourself away.

And now may I give you one of my own.

BreathTaking

The sacred language of the breath

has no words:

a speechless entry

into the body, a tidal connection

with all that is,

the language we were born into,

the last silent word at our death.

 

It is the poetry of call and response:

inhaling news of the world,

exhaling delight and despair,

inhaling stories of life and death,

exhaling our own narratives

in sound no more than a whisper.

 

With each breath we take

life is poured into every cell,

announcing our presence

without ever saying a word.

 

 

 

Little Summer Poem Touching the Subject of Faith by Mary Oliver

Every summer
I listen and look
under the sun’s brass and even
into the moonlight, but I can’t hear

anything, I can’t see anything —
not the pale roots digging down, nor the green
stalks muscling up,
nor the leaves
deepening their damp pleats,

nor the tassels making,
nor the shucks, nor the cobs.
And still,
every day,

the leafy fields
grow taller and thicker —
green gowns lofting up in the night,
showered with silk.

And so, every summer,
I fail as a witness, seeing nothing —
I am deaf too
to the tick of the leaves,

the tapping of downwardness from the banyan feet —
all of it
happening
beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum.

And, therefore, let the immeasurable come.
Let the unknowable touch the buckle of my spine.
Let the wind turn in the trees,
and the mystery hidden in the dirt

swing through the air.
How could I look at anything in this world
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart?
What should I fear?

One morning
in the leafy green ocean
the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body
is sure to be there.

Little Summer Poem

One last summer poem in these last precious days of our shortest season, one that speaks of the unseeable, unhearable evidence of faith. And so, every summer, / I fail as a witness says Mary Oliver, to all that is happening all around, all of it / happening / beyond any seeable proof, or hearable hum. Though in truth, she is one of the finest witnesses of the natural world to write of it.

Despite not seeing, not hearing the persistent growth, she tells us that still, / every day, / the leafy fields / grow taller and thicker. And isn’t it so? Look around at the leafy green ocean that summer has produced, the honeycomb of the corn’s beautiful body.

She invites the immeasurable, the unknowable, the mystery hidden in the dirt, for us to contemplate. In her inimitable style, she asks How could I look at anything in this world /
and tremble, and grip my hands over my heart? /What should I fear? She speaks of faith in what we cannot see or hear without naming it while showing us in her words what faith can look like.

May this little summer poem touch your heart and show you what faith you need in this moment.

 

From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Already last month I was thinking of this poem, as I do every year as the peaches begin to ripen. I remember this brown paper bag of peaches purchased last summer at a local farmers’ market, even though they are not quite local but come from Niagara.
The poet takes us from the picking of this fruit to devouring, dusty skin and all …dust of summer, dust we eat. Can’t you just feel the soft warm fuzz of a peach in your hand? It really is a sweet dust, a taste of summer, of August.
Then it becomes like a prayer or a hymn, O, to take what we love inside, eating the shade, the sugar, the days, a communion with summer. This is no ordinary food as we taste the round jubilance of peach. I cannot eat a peach anymore without thinking of that phrase, the joyfulness of the experience in a taste. I have tasted peaches like that.
He reminds us that we live as if life will go on forever, as if death were nowhere / in the background. We will not always be here to swoon over peaches but we can live in the moment, from joy to wing to blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.