Some October by Barbara Crooker

Some October, when the leaves turn gold, ask
me if I’ve done enough to deserve this life
I’ve been given. A pile of sorrows, yes, but joy
enough to unbalance the equation.

When the sky turns blue as the robes of heaven,
ask me if I’ve made a difference.
The road winds through the copper-colored woods;
no one sees around the bend.

Today, the wind poured out of Canada,
a river in flood, bringing down the brilliant leaves,
broken sticks and twigs, deserted nests.
Go where the current takes you.

Some twilight, when the clouds stream in from the west
like the breath of God, ask me again.

Some October

Well, it’s October and the leaves are turning gloriously gold. And how would you answer if you were asked if I’ve done enough to deserve this life / I’ve been given. Have I done enough? Will I ever have done enough? And is it enough to deserve this life just because it has been given; not because of what I do but who I am?

Sorrows and joy, wonder and grief, Mark Nepo and, still the scales balance, Jane Hirshfield. Joy enough to unbalance the equation. This has been my experience though it took me half my lifetime to realize it.

Ask me if I’ve made a difference. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately – days when I fear I have not; days when I know I have, as we all have  whether for better or not, but a real difference simply by our presence here on this earth. And as the poet says, no one sees around the bend. Who knows how your life has touched another in ways you may never come to understand?

The wind blows, stripping leaves, twigs, nests – unstoppable, beyond our control. Go where the current takes you she advises. Life will take us places we cannot determine despite our insistence on trying to steer the ship. Yet we can go with the current, not passively but by choice, with clear intent.

The final ask me again makes me realize that I am as deserving of this life I have been given as you are, as we each are. You have only to look at the clouds, the blue sky, the copper-colored woods to understand this, to know this is the life you have been given.

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Language by Hannah Stephenson

If you stand at the edge of the forest
and stare into it
every tree at the edge will blow a little extra
oxygen toward you

It has been proven
Leaves have admitted it

The pines I have known
have been especially candid

One said
that all breath in this world
is roped together

that breathing is
the most ancient language

Ancient Language

I’ve chosen this poem from the anthology Poetry of Presence for two reasons. First is its simple elegance of imagery to convey what the poet imagines breath to be. I loved the notion that trees at the edge of the forest will will blow a little extra / oxygen toward you. Have you noticed that about trees? The poet even says Leaves have admitted it, thereby proving this is true.

What strikes me especially is the idea that all breath in this world / is roped together, an image of that interconnection of our being which we know about but forget. And finally, that breathing is / the most ancient language, the first sound before words. That just feels so true to me.

The second reason is that the editors of this anthology later invited people to write a poem inspired by one we had read. This is my response and it is included in the online anthology, Beginning Again.

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.

Janice Falls

 

 

Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”

Small Kindnesses

I often think about small kindnesses, the simplicity and ease of them. How they are not as rare as they may seem when you stop to notice. But to put them together in a poem, now that’s a kindness in itself. My thanks to my lovely friend Margaret who first alerted me to this treasure.

The poet gives us such ordinary examples that I think we can all relate to: people pulling in their legs to let you by, saying ‘bless you’, picking up spilled lemons (or anything that rolls across the floor when dropped!). Mostly we don’t want to harm each other. It’s true, despite apparent evidence to the contrary in the news, we do not wish harm.

To say thank you for the cup of hot coffee, smile and be smiled at. To be called honey at the diner, for the driver to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far / from tribe and fire. The news, what we mainly hear, is divisive, separating us from one another, our tribe, our humanity. These gestures draw us together around the fire, small daily communities of connection.

Only these brief moments of exchange – these small kindnesses are available to us in every moment when we pay attention to our words and actions, to those of others around us. She tells us we make these fleeting temples together when we act and speak with kindness and it is their everydayness, their simplicity that draw us together, tiny prayers for living life well.

Go ahead – you first.

Blessing for the Brokenhearted – Jan Richardson

There is no remedy for love but to love more.
—Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

http://paintedprayerbook.com/2014/02/10/a-blessing-for-the-brokenhearted/

Grief, as I have so often said, is a natural part of our lives, an expression of the love we have for those who have died and of what we feel for the loss of everything that changes, that ends.

Poetry is what can give us language and voice for the grief that life offers us and which we must accept whether we want to or no.

To read, or better yet, hear spoken, a poem that captures some essence of your own experience is to feel the relief of being known, if only for a moment, a moment that can be returned to time and again.

This poet has written many blessing poems (The Cure for Sorrow); this remains one of my favourites. Written after the sudden death of her young husband, it is eloquent in its expression of brokenheartedness without drowning in despair or sentimentality.

I so appreciate the opening lines of the first two stanzas, Let us agree, and Let us promise. She invites the reader into her world which may also be one’s own. She turns away from the conventional tropes of pain making us stronger or that time will heal. Have you ever been offered such inadequate, even offensive, advice?

Perhaps for now – just in this moment, we can marvel / at the mystery /  of how a heart /  so broken /  can go on beating. Is it not a mystery that this is so when it does not seem possible? More than that, she suggests that it is as if the heart knows the only cure for love  / is more of it. For truly, we do not stop loving someone just because they have died.

She offers the possibility that the heart’s sole remedy /  for breaking is to love  / still, that it is as if the heart trusts /  that its own /  persistent pulse /  is the rhythm /  of a blessing /  we cannot /  begin to fathom /  but will save us /  nonetheless. Note she is offering a remedy, a healing not a cure; this is the medicine of poetry.

If you are or have been brokenhearted, I invite you to speak this graceful poem aloud to yourself. Notice how your heart goes on beating, how you go on loving because you cannot do otherwise even in your grief.

 

 

From Which It All Began – Bernadette Miller

Tell me, what
would you do today
if you knew your life
to be a celebration
of this world?

Would you stop
to gather sunlight
dropping soundlessly
upon pines
beyond your window pane?

Would you court
dreams too wide
for the container
of consciousness?

Would you linger
in the terrible beauty
of uncertainty
as if the fullness of the world
depended upon your presence?

Would you cast your hopes
upon possibilities that abide
only in departure?

Would you become the motion
of your song,
losing itself in overtones
of delight
or despair
and returning, finally,
to the stillness
from which it all began?

From Which It All Began

Oh I do love the questions, most especially the ones that cannot really be answered but cause my mind to reflect and ponder. Tell me, what / would you do today / if you knew your life / to be a celebration / of this world? My life as a celebration of this world – what an extraordinary concept and yet, is this not true for each and every one of us? Knowing that, what will I do today? When I can hold this understanding in my heart, moving forward is eased, even when life feels difficult.

Would you stop / to gather sunlight / dropping soundlessly / upon pines / beyond your window pane? Gathering sunlight (I had never stopped to consider its soundlessness), especially these brief bursts today, is necessary and important whether literal or the sunlight of connection with those around us.

Would you court / dreams too wide / for the container / of consciousness? To court, to appeal to our dreams, to invite their expansiveness which our mere consciousness cannot hold – is this not an alluring invitation to accept? What might these dreams, nighttime or waking, reveal?

Would you linger / in the terrible beauty / of uncertainty / as if the fullness of the world / depended upon your presence? Ah yes, the terror and the beauty of uncertainty, the invitation to stay longer rather than draw back from this imperfect and unpredictable world. To linger, as if the fullness of the world / depended upon your presence! What if that were true, that your presence increases the fullness of this world? How could it not?

Would you cast your hopes / upon possibilities that abide / only in departure? How are we really living if we are always drawing back, fearing the unknown as well as the known, if we are moving away from, rather than toward, what life is offering?

Would you become the motion / of your song, / losing itself in overtones / of delight / or despair / and returning, finally, / to the stillness / from which it all began? What is the motion, the movement, of your song, the one containing both notes of delight and of despair? And finally we return to the stillness from which it all began, the still point within which we can find ourselves when our motion rests.

Tell me, what / would you do today / if you knew your life / to be a celebration / of this world?

 

 

Camas Lilies by Lynn Ungar

Consider the lilies of the field,
the blue banks of camas opening
into acres of sky along the road.
Would the longing to lie down
and be washed by that beauty
abate if you knew their usefulness,
how the natives ground their bulbs
for flour, how the settlers’ hogs
uprooted them, grunting in gleeful
oblivion as the flowers fell?
And you—what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: “Gone
to the fields to be lovely. Be back
when I’m through with blooming.”
Even now, unneeded and uneaten,
the camas lilies gaze out above the grass
from their tender blue eyes.
Even in sleep your life will shine.
Make no mistake. Of course
your work will always matter.
Yet Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
I was captured by this poem from the first time I read it. Despite the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, these lilies do not grow in our part of the world, I can envision them in all their glory. Besides, we have our own wildflowers that grow in such abundance – tiny blue starflowers, deep purple violets, even the extravagant orange day lilies.
After the opening line from the Bible (Matthew 6:28-29), inviting us to contemplate these flowers, Ungar creates such a strong visual image with the blue banks of camas opening / into acres of sky along the road. When she speaks to the longing to lie down / and be washed by that beauty, I recognize the longing I feel at times to submerge myself in nature’s aesthetic gifts. I know nothing of the usefulness of these flowers and no, it does nothing to diminish the desire to lose myself in their beauty.
And then her unexpected question: what of your rushed / and useful life? Well yes, what of it indeed? Are we not often rushing to be productive? Imagine setting it all down for a time, leaving this note: “Gone / to the fields to be lovely. Be back / when I’m through with blooming.” Such an invitation to immerse oneself in beauty, to become beauty – can you imagine??
These flowers, unneeded and uneaten, continue to exist even without our attention. Meanwhile, Even in sleep your life will shine. So we, too, continue to exist and our work matters, is useful. But what matters most, I believe, is that we take the time to stop and open ourselves to this wild, transient beauty around us.
She ends with the remainder of the quote from Matthew, a reminder that it is not the material things of our lives that matter most, that nothing can match the value of these wild and glorious blossoms.
So I invite you to leave a note one day this summer – literally – “Gone / to the fields to be lovely. Be back / when I’m through with blooming.” Then go and be lovely, let yourself bloom.
And don’t forget summer solstice, our longest day, tomorrow, Friday June 21. Let yourself be washed by the beauty.

Gratitude by Barbara Crooker

This week, the news of the world is bleak, another war
grinding on, and all these friends down with cancer,
or worse, a little something long term that they won’t die of
for twenty or thirty miserable years—
And here I live in a house of weathered brick, where a man
with silver hair still thinks I’m beautiful. How many times
have I forgotten to give thanks? The late day sun shines
through the pink wisteria with its green and white leaves
as if it were stained glass, there’s an old cherry tree
that one lucky Sunday bloomed with a rainbow:
cardinals, orioles, goldfinches, blue jays, indigo buntings,
and my garden has tiny lettuces just coming up,
so perfect they could make you cry: Green Towers,
Red Sails, Oak Leaf. For this is May, and the whole world
sings, gleams, as if it were basted in butter, and the air’s
sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock—
And at least today, all the parts of my body are working,
the sky’s clear as a china bowl, leaves murmur their leafy chatter,
finches percolate along. I’m doodling around this page,
know sorrow’s somewhere beyond the horizon, but still, I’m riffing
on the warm air, the wingbeats of my lungs that can take this all in,
flush the heart’s red peony, then send it back without effort or thought.
And the trees breathe in what we exhale, clap their green hands
in gratitude, bend to the sky.

Gratitude

Here we have another take on ‘living with the news’ which I am quite enjoying in this still chilly month of May. It’s a simple enough message – let’s be grateful for all we have, and yet expressed with a poet’s heart, it has so much more to it.

How many times have I forgotten to give thanks? despite the wars, the illnesses. Do we not all forget too often? And then she reminds us of things we might appreciate: a solid house, someone who loves you, the stained glass of wisteria, the cherry tree with its rainbow of birds, tiny, perfect garden lettuces (too early here but something I look forward to).

For this is May, and the whole world / sings, gleams, as if it were basted in butter, and the air’s / sweet enough to send a diabetic into shock— now there is an auditory, visual, gustatory image to awaken your body awareness! Can you relate to the idea that at least today, all the parts of my body are working?, working even with our aches and stiffness. With the clear sky, leaves murmuring , finches percolating, she knows, as we all do, that sorrow’s somewhere beyond the horizon. Yet she is riffing on the warm air, the effortlessness of breath, the wingbeats of lungs, the heart’s red peony – I mean, have you ever thought of your lungs as having wings, your heart as a gorgeous red peony??

Finally, the trees breathe in what we exhale, clap their green hands in gratitude, bend to the sky. By the time I get here, I’m swooning with appreciation for all this and more. I know there is always something to be thankful for, no matter how grim the news and this poem helps me to remember through these vivid, artful images.  This is one of the reasons why poetry is important to me – may it be so for you too. And may you, too, bow to the sky.

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.