All day I try to say nothing but thank you, breathe the syllables in and out with every step I take through the rooms of my house and outside into a profusion of shaggy-headed dandelions in the garden where the tulips’ black stamens shake in their crimson cups. I am saying thank you, yes, to this burgeoning spring and to the cold wind of its changes. Gratitude comes easy after a hot shower, when my loosened muscles work, when eyes and mind begin to clear and even unruly hair combs into place. Dialogue with the invisible can go on every minute, and with surprising gaiety I am saying thank you as I remember who I am, a woman learning to praise something as small as dandelion petals floating on the steaming surface of this bowl of vegetable soup, my happy, savoring tongue. To Say Nothing But Thank You One can never hear those words too often. Lohmann is breathing thank you in and out with every step, a worthy practice whether inside your home or outside. She sounds equally grateful for the lowly shaggy-headed dandelions and for the tulips whose black stamens shake in their crimson cups. She is saying thank you to this burgeoning spring, this slow-to-arrive season with the cold wind of its changes. There is easy gratitude for the hot shower, when eyes and mind begin to clear, when we can more plainly see all that surrounds us. Though of course, there are times when it is easy to forget to say thank you too. I like what she calls dialogue with the invisible, which is also my experience of paying attention with gratitude, thanks for what is, just as it is. She is a woman learning to praise even, or especially, the smallest details - yellow petals of dandelions floating on the surface of her hot vegetable soup, the visual effect, her happy,savoring tongue. Be it dandelions, hot water, a good soup, the last parking spot, there are always opportunities to say thank you, even if we say nothing else, even if we just breathe the thought.
Yes, our wedding was an eruption of joy,
never to be repeated. But I’m talking
the daily visitations, like a flock
of finches that appears as I emerge,
that circles above the house and me
three times, exactly three, before
heading east and promptly vanishing
against the peaks. The joys
so small they barely register—
the sight of clouds lenticular
advancing over mountains,
a perk of our geography. Coyote choirs.
A cottonwood bedecked with blackbirds,
all with Puerto Rico on their minds.
A spontaneous hug from the one
I’ve been cooped up with every day.
These many joys rain down as grace,
connecting mine to all lives,
mycelia groping through the wet
and giving ground.
All Joys Are Small
Having just experienced my daughter’s wedding as truly an eruption of joy, I delight in the poet’s choice of words, an outpouring of joy, never to be repeated in just that way. But then this poet wants to talk about the small joys, the daily visitations – a flock of finches circling her three times, exactly three, before disappearing.
She tells us these joys are so small they barely register – lens-shaped clouds that can form over mountains, a chorus of coyotes, migrating blackbirds with Puerto Rico on their minds – everyday
natural miracles we may overlook, including a spontaneous hug from someone we see every day but don’t expect which makes it even sweeter.
These many joys rain down as grace, a simple elegance that surrounds us, connecting mine to all lives. That phrase touches me, that these small joys are the link to all beings, our interrelatedness we often overlook. They are like a fungal network branching through the wet and giving ground. Just as mycelia are vital to our ecosystems, so joy is essential to the human spirit.
It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?
I had not considered how the ordinary things around me might denote patience, might in their stillness, teach me to slow down by their calmness, their equanimity. This poet offers us a rich statement/question to begin: It is a kind of love, is it not? Does that not invite you to read further, to find out more about this kind of love?
She speaks of the very ordinary – the cup holding your tea, the chair on which you may be sitting at this very moment, the floor on which we stand, the soles of our feet which know Where they’re supposed to be. All this is love, found in the simple things we take for granted. And then she speaks of patience: clothes hanging in closets – respectfully no less, towels drying our bodies and my favourite, the soap which dries quietly in the dish – in truth, it makes no sound.
She leads us then to the lovely repetition of stairs, patiently replicating themselves to take us up or down without demands. Then that last question: And what is more generous than a window? I marvel at that description as I look out my kitchen window at the generosity of green leaves, climbing roses in my neighbours’ yard, redwing blackbirds streaking by. Generous, patient, ordinary – it really is a kind of love.
Small Basket of Happiness
BY Naomi Shihab Nye
It would never call your name.
But it would be waiting somewhere close,
perhaps under a crushed leaf
turned from pale green to gold
with no fanfare.
You hadn’t noticed
the gathered hush
of a season’s tipping.
Shadows flowing past
before any light came up,
people whom only a few
so much accompaniment
inside a single breeze.
All whom we loved.
In the quiet air lived
the happiness they had given.
And would still give, if only.
You would slow down a minute.
You would bend.
Just in the title, Naomi Shihab Nye, creates a visual image, a small basket of happiness – can you picture it? what would it contain? She assures us It would never call your name; it does not come looking for us; we must open our eyes to see how it may be waiting somewhere close.
She wants us to notice the gathered hush / of a season’s tipping, how easily we can miss that as the earth changes its position with the sun. There is so much accompaniment / inside a single breeze, so much just within that phrase – shadows, people you might remember.
It is these people, All whom we loved she invites us to recall, and the happiness they had given. Not only that they gave us happiness, but would still give, if only. If only, and I can feel the poem slowing down here, You would slow down a minute. If only you would bend toward the happiness that is waiting for you.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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?