Cherries by Danusha Laméris

The woman standing in the Whole Foods aisle
over the pyramid of fruit, neatly arranged
under glossy lights, watched me drop
a handful into a paper bag, said how do you do it?
I always have to check each one.
I looked down at the dark red fruit, each cherry
good in its own, particular way
the way breasts are good or birds or stars.
Doesn’t everything that shines carry its own shadow?
A scar across the surface, a worm buried in the sweet flesh.
Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand.

Cherries

I have been listening to Danusha Laméris the past few weeks, as she co-hosts with James Crews a series called Poetry of Resilience, delighting in her delight with poetry and discovering new poems. There was a passing reference to this one last week, written some years ago, so I looked for it and now want to share my pleasure with you.

Be it Whole Foods or some other grocery store, have you not exchanged a brief comment with a stranger over some food you are both considering? I can imagine the woman’s how do you do it? curious to see someone take cherries by the handful when she herself feels the need to check each one. This then causes the poet to reflect on how each cherry, to her, is good in its own, particular way / the way breasts are good or birds or stars.

Such a generous perspective, that everything has its own light and shadow, that there may be a scar, a worm buried in the sweet flesh and it is all good. Therefore, Why not reach in, take whatever falls into your hand. Why not, she seems to be asking us, receive all of it, the shine, the blemish, no need to look only for perfection. Kind of like life, don’t you think?

Quote by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Even a wounded world is feeding us.

Even a wounded world holds us, giving us

moments of wonder and joy. I choose joy

over despair. Not because I have my head 

in the sand, but because joy 

is what the Earth gives me 

daily and I must return the gift.

from: https://voxpopulisphere.com/2019/10/14/robin-wall-kimmerer-i-close-my-eyes-and-listen-to-the-voices-of-the-rain/

Some of you will be familiar with Kimmerer’s outstanding book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. Her writing is wise and poetic, full of rich quotes such as this one, as she shares her botanical and indigenous knowledge of the natural world, her beliefs in our interconnectedness, in the possibility of change.

There is so much contained in these few words – how a wounded world (and who could argue with that description?) is feeding us, holding us, giving us / moments of wonder and joy. Her response to these moments is I choose joy / over despair. Then lest we think her choice unrealistic, she explains that joy / is what the Earth gives me / daily and I must return the gift.

Every day she finds joy in the living world of plants, earth, water; she receives this joy with gratitude. And so in her world view, it is incumbent on her, on us all, to return the gift, to share it so that we do not succumb to despair for this wounded world. I am inspired by the idea of returning the gift of joy even in the face of despair. May you also be inspired.

Wren’s Nest in a Shed Near Aurora by Kim Stafford

Three tiny eggs in thistledown
cupped in a swirl of grass
in the pocket of the tool belt
I hung on the wall of the shed
when it finally stood complete–
will be three songs
offering local dignity for
my country enthralled by war
in distant lands.
                          Stand back
cautiously, close the door
tenderly, let the future
ripen, grow wings,
and build songs.

Wren’s Nest in a Shed Near Aurora

Kim Stafford is the son of the well known poet William Stafford who wrote every morning before dawn from the 1950s until his death in 1993, a practice that produced many memorable poems. His son has adopted this daily practice, going from an occasional writer to a more active one. This is the first example of his work to come to my attention and now to share with you.

Such a tender picture: Three tiny eggs in thistledown – so delicate and vulnerable yet nestled in the pocket of the tool belt, a sturdy protection. Stafford then moves us forward in time to when these tiny eggs will have hatched into wrens with their birdsong offering local dignity for / my country enthralled by war / in distant lands. What an astonishing leap, from a simple shed to war in distant lands – it gave me pause.

Then the poet invites us to gently leave these eggs in the shelter of the shed and let the future / ripen, grow wings, / and build songs. The future will come of course and with his imagination, there will be bird wings to fly and songs to carry on the air. There is an optimism in this scene of birth and music and flight that counterbalances the grim vision of war. Both will continue to exist and we must never forget the former.

Of Prayer Now by Andrea Potos

After cocooning
myself in my comforter
before sleep comes,
I lay with eyes open
in the dark. One by one
I conjure them all,
finding again
their magnanimous, smiling faces—
my queue of beloveds,
returned. This
is the way of prayer now—
to remember Love in all
its past and present forms.

Of Prayer Now

This small poem caught my attention in its simple evocation of my queue of beloveds, those family and friends who have died in body but remain with me in spirit. Potos describes perfectly for me how the comforting dark is a place to conjure them all, remembering their magnanimous, smiling faces. I really do see each face, perhaps have a word or two (today is your birthday!) and draw them close for the moment.

Whether you want to call this prayer or not, this remembering is a way of calling on the people we have loved who continue to be in our hearts. Naming each dear soul, I invite them into my world to say I do not, cannot, forget you. Potos says this is how we remember Love in all / its past and present forms. Because love remains when the body does not, present and past, still a part of who we each are.

Love as prayer, prayer as love. Whose smiling faces are you remembering?

The Cure for It All by Julia Fehrenbacher

Go gently today, don’t hurry
or think about the next thing. Walk
with the quiet trees, can you believe
how brave they are—how kind? Model your life
after theirs. Blow kisses
at yourself in the mirror

especially when
you think you’ve messed up. Forgive
yourself for not meeting your unreasonable
expectations. You are human, not
God—don’t be so arrogant.

Praise fresh air
clean water, good dogs. Spin
something from joy. Open
a window, even if
it’s cold outside. Sit. Close
your eyes. Breathe. Allow

the river
of it all to pulse
through eyelashes
fingertips, bare toes. Breathe in
breathe out. Breathe until

you feel
your bigness, until the sun
rises in your veins. Breathe
until you stop needing
anything
to be different.

The Cure for It All

How could I resist the offer of a cure for it all, even without knowing exactly what that ‘all’ is? And it will be different for each of us as we come to this poem, and different depending upon the moment. Yet Fehrenbacher’s advice, if you will, is uncomplicated, invitational. She starts with an unhurried walking with trees, can you believe / how brave they are – how kind? We could do worse than to model ourselves after the sturdy, patient trees that give us so much breath and beauty.

She asks us to Forgive / yourself for not meeting your unreasonable / expectations. Do you ever expect more of yourself than is reasonable? (rhetorical question) There are so many things we can praise that we take for granted daily. Spin / something from joy, anything really. Breathe, allowing the river / of it all to pulse / through eyelashes / fingertips, bare toes. Be still, pay attention in that way we seldom allow ourselves as we think about the next thing to do.

Finally, she invites us to Breathe / until you feel / your bigness, your oneness with it all. Most of all, Breathe / until you stop needing / anything / to be different. Because when we stop wanting things to be other than what they are in the moment, we can rest and be just as we are. There is no greater cure.

The Occupation by Robert Bringhurst

I will tell you how it was the world

changed, she said — and darkness

wrapped us round.

I heard her clearly, though I barely

heard the words. It was nearly — yes —

as if she were singing.

Our job, she was saying, is not

to change the world — nor even

to keep it from changing.

No, she was saying (the story

was over already): our only

job is being changed.

The Occupation

This is one of those short, seemingly simple poems that says a lot. How the world has changed, and darkness / wrapped us round. These days are feeling rather dark, the sunshine notwithstanding – so many unknowns, so much confusion, fear and grief. So it is not unreasonable to say we are wrapped in darkness. And yet…

The poet says he heard her, though I barely / heard the words, heard her as if she were singing. The message comes through the music, saying we are not meant to change the world, nor even / to keep it from changing. I think especially we are not meant to keep the world from changing though one could certainly argue that there are aspects that demand our attention and action, most obviously being the desecration of our planet.

Nevertheless, the speaker/singer is telling us that our only / job is being changed; this is our deep work. I’m not sure what being changed means for me, certainly not for you. But there is something about that assertion that that I find oddly comforting, allowing myself to be changed, to grow with whatever is happening around me. This is how the world changes, one heart at a time.

What Happiness Looks Like by Marge Piercy

Some things are ordinary but perfect:
drinking coffee on summer mornings
with you as the cats laze about, fed,
on you or on me or curled together
in the bay window on a sunny pillow.
Outside the weeping beech stirs
in the wind, leaves hanging down
like just washed long tresses.
We talk softly of the pending day.
This is all I would need of heaven
that I don’t believe in, but this
I believe.

from On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light

I’m always interested in what happiness looks like, the authentic kind, so this brief poem caught my attention. I especially like the opening line: Some things are ordinary but perfect. Think about that; is it not so true? The ordinariness of drinking coffee on summer mornings, even if your choice is tea or something else, that first sip can be perfect. The image of cats curled together / in the bay window on a sunny pillow is such an iconic one, you don’t need your own cats, just your your imagination.

The imagery of the weeping birch, leaves hanging down / like just washed long tresses is also memorable, also ordinary and perfect. If you don’t have any weeping birch in view, surely there are other graceful leaves to soothe your sight. The poet and her unseen partner talk softly of the pending day, those ordinary, simple conversations that may occur at any time of the day, especially with ourselves.

The final line captures the essence of this morning, something any one of us might say: This is all I would need of heaven / that I don’t believe in and then she turns it into the coup-de-grâce, but this / I believe. Yes, this ordinary happiness I, too, can believe in, simple but perfect.

The News by Emilie Lygren

Each morning we listen for what is breaking—

the sound of a thousand tragedies fills the air,

shattering that never stops,

headlines, a fleet of anchors tangled at our feet.

We watch, worried

if we turn away even for an instant,

it will all crumble the rest of the way.

Forget with me for a moment.

Take an unguarded breath.

Do it now, the world needs your attention here, too,

on the rise and fall of your shoulders,

the rustle of leaves outside the window,

the warm space between your gaze and mine.

The News

I discovered Emilie Lygren through the poet James Crews who shared this beauty on one of his weekly posts. So now, I want to share this with you, perhaps more relevant these days than ever given the news of late.

Breaking news is an expression we are familiar with as the media brings us the latest from around the world – the sound of a thousand tragedies fills the air gives the verb breaking a more visceral meaning, a shattering that never stops. And it doesn’t, does it, so much tragedy we are helpless to stop. We watch and listen, fearing that if we turn away even for an instant, the shattering will be complete, our worry the only thing that keeps it from happening. So we stayed glued to the screen trying to comprehend.

Forget with me for a moment – what a startling invitation, to turn away and take an unguarded breath. What a challenge, to breath without defending ourselves from the awfulness around us. But this is necessary she tells us, the world needs your attention here, too. We must turn our attention to the warm space between your gaze and mine, the warm space that reminds us there is also kindness in this world, not just the horror.

This poem is reminding me to keep my heart open to the wonders of life even while I keep one eye on the news. I know which way I want to keep my focus, no matter how often I am distracted. Let us keep looking toward one another.

Smoke Signals by William Stafford

There are people on a parallel way. We do not
see them often, or even think of them often,
but it is precious to us that they are sharing
the world. Something about how they have accepted
their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them,
helps us to hold the strange, enigmatic days
in line for our own living. It is important
that these people know this recognition, but
it is also important that no purpose or obligation
related to this be intruded into their lives.

This book intends to be for anyone, but especially
for those on that parallel way: here is a smoke
signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive—we are
following what comes, going through the world,
knowing each other, building our little fires.

Smoke Signals

William Stafford wrote this poem as part of an introduction to his poetry collection A Glass Face in the Rain (thank you Faith), hence the reference to ‘this book’. This image is one that I align with, that we are sharing the world with people on a parallel way. People we may not see or think of often, even, I would suggest, may not know. Yet they are there, living their own lives as we do ours, invisibly connected.

He is suggesting that how others accept their lives, or how the sunlight happens to them, helps us with our own living, those strange, enigmatic days. He tells us it is important that we each know this about one another and yet, this recognition must not carry the weight of obligation or intrusion into their lives. This way of being is a smoke signal, unmistakable but unobtrusive, a way of speaking to one another, building our little fires.

I see these virtual smoke signals often in the people around me and appreciate them for how they anchor me in my own life. And I love the idea of us each with our own small fires of life, the smoke rising up and reaching out to one another. This is my smoke signal to you as we share this precious world.

The Word by Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing

that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,

but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

The Word

I suspect we all have a to-do list, even if only in our minds, so I love the idea that you find / that you have penciled “sunlight”, between “green thread” and “broccoli”, such a whimsical pairing. This beautiful word, sunlight, resting on the page, touching you as if you had a friend / and sunlight were a present, sent from a distant place, reminding you that not only duties, but pleasure / is a thing / that also needs accomplishing. I love how Hoagland uses sunlight to remind us that pleasure is as important as duty; how easily we can forget; how easily we can be reminded.

He asks us to remember that love / is no less practical / than a coffee grinder / or a safe spare tire. Right up there with broccoli and green thread. So today you get a telegram / from the heart in exile saying that the fairy tale king and queen are alive in their kingdom, with their children, that love exists if only we can find the time / to sit out in the sun and listen. Surely we can find the time, make the time, to pay attention to sunlight, to pleasure, to time and light and love.

What’s on your to-do list for today? I hope you will add the word sunlight, which can show you the way to pleasure with all its attendant elements of love. Even when the sun isn’t shining, it’s still there.