Yes by William Stafford

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out – no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

Yes

It could happen any time, says Stafford. And it does happen, more and more it seems – the floods, wild storms, uncontrollable fires, that bring destruction to our world. It could happen, as we all know, and yet, as the poet quietly points out, so could sunshine, love, salvation.

It really could be that these necessary things also happen. That’s why we wake / and look out, because if we are paying attention, we can notice that there is light, not only darkness. No guarantees he tells us, but possibilities if we look for them.

The last stanza of this deceptively short poem assures us there are some bonuses which can happen at any time, especially like right now. Look around you, stay awake to ensure you notice the beauty, to recognize what saves us – birdsong, trees greening, small acts of kindness. All the ways we can say Yes to this world.

Free Breakfast by Terri Kirby Erickson

The Springhill Suites free breakfast area
was filling up fast when a man carrying his
disabled young son lowered him into his
chair, the same way an expert pilot’s airplane
kisses the runway when it lands. And all the
while, the man whispered into his boy’s ear,
perhaps telling him about the waffle maker
that was such a hit with the children gathered
around it, or sharing the family’s plans for the
day as they traveled to wherever they were
going. Whatever was said, the boy’s face was
alight with some anticipated happiness. And
the father, soon joined by the mother, seemed
intent on providing it. So beautiful they all
were, it was hard to concentrate on our eggs
and buttered toast, to look away when his
parents placed their hands on the little boy’s
shoulders and smiled at one another, as if
they were the luckiest people in the room.

Free Breakfast

I suspect you may have been to one of those free breakfast areas at a hotel where you go and help yourself to the food, find yourself a seat among the other guests, noticing them or not. Right from the beginning in this poem, one small group stands out. Erickson describes how a father carries his disabled young son, lowers him into his chair, the same way an expert pilot’s airplane / kisses the runway when it lands. I had to stop to catch my breath right there.

And all the while, she tells us, the father whispers to his son perhaps telling him about the waffle maker, or talking about where the family was going that day, what they might do together. Whatever the words, the boy’s face was / alight with some anticipated happiness, a happiness clearly shared by both his parents, reflected beams of light to all who witnessed.

So beautiful they all were, so engrossing was this tableau, the speaker could scarcely focus on the breakfast food. You can feel the sense of not wanting to stare yet being captivated by the sight of these parents touching their son’s shoulders and smiling at one another, as if / they were the luckiest people in the room. No room for pity for these parents or the child’s disability, only love radiating from each of them, indeed the luckiest people in the room, shared with all those present.

Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry by Laura Grace Weldon

He lowers himself
on a seat they call a cradle, rocking
in harnesses strung long-armed
from the roof.

Swiping windows clean
he spends his day
outside looking in.

Mirrors refract light into his eyes
telescopes point down
photographs face away,
layers of dust
unifying everything.

Tethered and counterbalanced
these sky janitors hang,
names stitched on blue shirts
for birds to read.
Squeegees in hand they
arc lightly back and forth across
the building’s eyes
descend a floor, dance again.

While the crew catches up
he pauses, takes a slim volume from his pocket
and balancing there,
36 stories above the street,
reads a poem or two
in which the reader is invariably placed
inside
looking out.

Why the Window Washer Reads Poetry

This poem, subtitled (for Michael, who carried poems in his work shirt pocket), caught my attention for its whimsical narrative as the poet explains the why through imagery. I’m sure you’ve seen such window washers; perhaps, like me, you shudder to think of hanging in mid air, or perhaps you can feel the freedom of it. She tells us that he spends his day / outside looking in.

Sky janitors she calls them, tethered and counterbalanced, as we all are on this earth, with their names stitched on blue shirts / for birds to read, (do birds read poems too?). They clean the building’s eyes as they dance from floor to floor. So far she is describing in simple but evocative terms the cleaning being done, then 36 stories up comes a pause to read a poem or two.

We do not learn the names of the poems, just that in them, the reader is invariably placed /inside /
looking out.
Inside looking out, outside looking in: makes me wonder if that is what we are all doing each day. By now, we realize she has not told us why he reads poetry, simply shown us that it is important enough for this man to pause in his precarious work to read another poem.

Whether you are dangling from a harness tethered to a roof, or feet on the ground, any time is good to take a moment to read a poem. Where are you as you read this one?

Kindness by Anya Silver

Last week, a nurse pulled a warm blanket
from a magical cave of heated cotton
and lay it on my lap, even wrapping
my feet. She admired my red sandals.
Once, a friend brought me a chicken
she’d roasted and packed with whole lemons.
I ate it with my fingers while it was still warm.
Kindnesses appear, then disappear so quickly
that I forget their brief streaks: they vanish,
while cruelty pearls its durable shell.
Goodness streams like hot water through my hair
and down my skin, and I’m able to live
again with the ache. Love wakens the world.
Kindness is my mother, sending me a yellow dress in the mail
for no reason other than to watch me twirl.

Kindness

There is more than one poem about kindness and this one is new to me, thanks to my dear friend Laura and her Poem Box. Like Laméris and Shihab Nye, these speak of the small kindnesses that one might overlook but which are essential to finding joy in daily life. If you’ve ever experienced a warmed blanket in a hospital, you’ll know what a visceral pleasure and comfort that is; if you haven’t, well, something to look forward to in difficult circumstances.

A roasted chicken packed with whole lemons brought by a friend, to eat warm with your fingers, no doubt when you are not able to cook for yourself, is truly a kindness. This is what people do in times of need. As the poet says, kindnesses come and go so quickly, we can too soon forget them, while cruelty pearls its durable shell. What an amazing image, the hardness and longevity of those unkind moments we remember too well.

Yet Goodness streams like hot water through my hair / and down my skin – can you not feel the gentle comfort of that? This essential goodness allows us to live with the ache of the harshness. For this poet, it is the kindness of her mother sending her a yellow dress in the mail, surprise, but it could be anyone in your life who has ever done a small kindness which will reassure you of the goodness of humankind. Surely there is no coincidence these two words go together!

Love wakens the world. Oh yes, indeed it does. May your world be awakened.

For the Bird Singing Before Dawn by Kim Stafford

Some people presume to be hopeful
when there is no evidence for hope,
to be happy when there is no cause.
Let me say now, I’m with them.

In deep darkness on a cold twig
in a dangerous world, one first
little fluff lets out a peep, a warble,
a song—and in a little while, behold:

the first glimmer comes, then a glow
filters through the misty trees,
then the bold sun rises, then
everyone starts bustling about.

And that first crazy optimist, can we
forgive her for thinking, dawn by dawn,
“Hey, I made that happen!
And oh, life is so fine.”

For the Bird Singing Before Dawn

I like to think I’m one of those people Stafford talks about, who presumes to be hopeful without evidence, to be happy when there is no cause. Still, there are days when my hope-energy wanes, and a poem like this can rejuvenate me, allowing me to rejoin the tribe, even for that moment.

In a place of deep darkness in a dangerous world, there is one first / little fluff breaking the silence with a peep, a warble, / a song and I breathe a sigh of recognition and relief. Then comes a glimmer, a glow before the bold sun rises. I’m not always up that early, but it is a unique time of day before we all start to bustle about, a time to reflect on the beauty all around us.

Someone has to be the first to announce the dawn before they all join in, and Stafford playfully imagines her thinking Hey, I made that happen! I brought up the sun! and oh, life is so fine. And isn’t it so, that just those first notes of birdsong can give us even a moment of joy, of hopefulness. Listen tomorrow morning and perhaps you’ll hear a fluff of happiness, even when there is no cause.

If You Knew by Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.

A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

If You Knew

Every now and then, something will happen that makes me think of this poem. It was, in fact, the one that inspired a poem about my father I had been trying to write for two years after his death. What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someone? Does that question not stop you in your tracks? I was the last person with my father when he died, so yes, I think about these things.

She reminds us how in the small irritations of occasional slowness, rudeness, or in moments of presence with other people we don’t really notice, we can forget, I don’t remember / they’re going to die. And then the poignant story of her friends’ aunt and the waiter who kissed / her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left. That last touch before she dropped dead on the sidewalk – yes, such things really happen.

Then she fiercely yet respectfully asks hard questions: how close to such moments do you have to get before you might wake up? And the final one: What would people look like / if we could see them as they are? Would we see how they are soaked in honey, sweet and reckless in their living, pinned against time – because we don’t know how much time there is.

This is the most elegant wake-up poem I can think of – hard to just read and forget. It asks only that we pay attention to life in the moment. What if you knew you’d be the last?

Riverbank Ceremony: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio by Laura Grace Weldon

Step out on mossy water’s-edge rock,
   let the river’s rush take you
   beyond yourself.
When you’re ready, kneel,
   and select a secret
   from the heavy chandelier
   inside your chest.
Whisper it to the water.
She will carry it in her molecules
   around the bend, out of sight.

Your secret will
steam from tea sipped in Vietnam,
slide down an antelope’s throat
trickle from a glacier in Greenland,
hurl from cumulonimbus clouds
   onto cobbled streets in Belgium,
trill through secret underground paths,
rise up a redwood’s trunk,

turn into a silver helix
   twisting from your bathroom faucet,
   translucent, transformed,
   washing over you.

Riverbank Ceremony

Perhaps you have the good fortune to live close by a river or even a stream, but if not, your imagination will take you there in Weldon’s poem. Have you ever stood by the edge of moving water and let the river’s rush take you / beyond yourself ? It’s the kind of moment that can both take you out of yourself and bring you into the moment to select a secret / from the heavy chandelier inside your chest. If we whisper this secret to the water, it will be carried around the bend, out of sight.

Then comes a marvelous travelogue of places your liquid secret might visit: steam from tea sipped in Vietnam, to a trickle from a glacier in Greenland, to rain onto cobbled streets in Belgium, from antelopes to water rising in redwoods’ trunks, until it becomes a silver helix / twisting from your bathroom faucet. I love this idea of my deepest secrets traveling through water around the world, becoming translucent, transformed.

What do you think? What secrets do you want to whisper to the nearest rushing water, even a small creek, that might allow this transformation? A small ritual to wash through you.

March 1912 by Natasha Trethewey

At last we are near

breaking the season, shedding

our coats, the gray husk

of winter.  Each tree

trembles with new leaves, tiny

blossoms, the flashy

dress of spring. I am

aware now of its coming

as I’ve never been—

the wet grass throbbing

with crickets, insistent, keen

as desire.  Now,

I feel what trees must—

budding, green sheaths splitting—skin

that no longer fits.

March 1912

Here, it is April and we are near / breaking the season, winter’s breath still chilling the days’ beginnings and endings. I have shed my winter parka though I oscillate erratically from heavier to lighter spring jackets. Each tree trembles with new leaves, though in truth, most of those leaves are still well tucked into their protective wraps, the flashy / dress of spring still in our imaginations.

I am / aware now of its coming / as I’ve never been. Though there are obvious outward signs, like birdsong and streetsweepers and bright flashes of crocus, it’s more a feeling, a sensation in the body that tells me we are moving into a new season, new possibilities, insistent, keen / as desire.

Finally, the poet invites us into the experience of being a tree, budding, green sheaths splitting – our bodies opening to the new growth of spring, sap rising, stepping out of our winter bodies, skin / that no longer fits. What tree would you like to be? What is yearning to break into leaf?

P.S. If you are wondering about the date in the title, it comes from a 2002 collection of Trethewey’s poems titled Bellocq’s Ophelia. This poem has been written in haiku stanzas of 5-7-5 which sadly I was not able to reproduce here, but thought you would be interested to know.

Thank You by Ross Gay

If you find yourself half naked
and barefoot in the frosty grass, hearing,
again, the earth’s great, sonorous moan that says
you are the air of the now and gone, that says
all you love will turn to dust,
and will meet you there, do not
raise your fist. Do not raise
your small voice against it. And do not
take cover. Instead, curl your toes
into the grass, watch the cloud
ascending from your lips. Walk
through the garden’s dormant splendor.
Say only, thank you.
Thank you.

Thank You

I can never be reminded too often to express my appreciation for all that is around me, even, especially, when it may seem that life is too hard to bear. In this concise poem, Ross Gay gives us this message with viseral imagery. How often do you find yourself half naked / and barefoot in the frosty grass, feeling beneath your feet the earth’s great sonorous moan, the resonant message of you are the air of the now and gone?

These are the rare moments of awareness of how brief and precious is life, that all you love will turn to dust. Pay attention he says, but do not respond in anger or in fear; he says it three times to be sure we hear the message. Instead, curl your toes / into the grass – feel that winter-chilled vegetation waking up your senses, see the puff of vapour from your lips in the cool, early air.

He invites us to walk through the garden’s dormant splendor, before the new growth becomes lush, just imagining it in all its magnificence. Then, he tells us, there are only two words needed: thank you, repeated for emphasis. Such a simple offering to the day, so many opportunities to give thanks. Say only, thank you.

Can You Hear It? by Paula Gordon Lepp

There are days when, 

although I try to open myself 

to wonder, wonder just 

won’t be found. Or perhaps,

it is more accurate to say 

on those days I am simply 

blind to what the world 

has to offer 

until I look down, and there, 

beside the sidewalk,

are blades of grass completely 

enrobed in ice, shimmering

in the glow of the setting sun,

and as they sway and move 

into each other, if I listen, 

really listen,

even they are singing 

faint little bell-notes of joy. 

Can You Hear It?

Do you ever have those days when wonder just / won’t be found? I certainly do, as I cast about in the grey sameness of late winter days, when I just can’t seem to find it. Then, as the poet says, it is more accurate to say / on those days I am simply / blind to what the world / has to offer. Could it be that wonder is in my appreciation more than what my eyes see?

Lepp shows us how it can be as simple as blades of grass completely / enrobed in ice, each one illuminated by the sun’s rays. Happened to me once; brought me to my knees. She invites us to listen closely as they sway in the breeze, to hear they are singing / faint little bell-notes of joy, to recognize how close wonder can be and we so blind to it.

Love the question in the title: Can You Hear It? Makes me lean in, listening for those faint little bell-notes of joy. How often do I miss them, those subtle calls to pay attention to what is around us, to appreciate the moments of wonder and joy. Can you hear it?