Hope by Lisel Mueller

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,
it shakes sleep from its eyes
and drops from mushroom gills,
it explodes in the starry heads
of dandelions turned sages,
it sticks to the wings of green angels
that sail from the tops of maples.

It sprouts in each occluded eye
of the many-eyed potato,
it lives in each earthworm segment
surviving cruelty,
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs
of the child that has just been born.

It is the singular gift
we cannot destroy in ourselves,
the argument that refutes death,
the genius that invents the future,
all we know of God.

It is the serum which makes us swear
not to betray one another;
it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Hope

So much talk of discouragement these days as we weary of all that goes on that is difficult to endure in this beleaguered world. This is why I turn to poetry, where I can always find images of beauty, of joy, of hope, as in this poem by Lisel Mueller.

She describes the many hidden places hope may be found – dark corners, mushroom gills (I must admit I’ve never looked there), in the starry heads / of dandelions turned sages, on the green wings that sail from the tops of maples. Hope can also be found in the many-eyed potato, in earthworm segments that regenerate, in the happy wag of a dog’s tail, in the first breath of a newborn.

It is the singular gift / we cannot destroy in ourselves no matter how hopeless we may feel, how tiny the flame of hope though when it is gone, so may be life. It is the argument that refutes death, reminding us that there is more that we cannot yet know. Hope is the longing for what we desire, as essential as blood to our bodies, the serum which makes us swear / not to betray one another.

There are so many metaphors for where we can find hope, this most necessary element of life. In other words, it is in this poem, trying to speak.

Before Sleep I Go Outside by Jeanne Lohmann

What is more beautiful than Orion and the stars
seen through the bare limbs of an oak?

What too is more beautiful than winter clouds in a rush
over the face of the moon, when the mind gives way

and the supple body slows, the heart grown ready
to make the experiment: to be lifted and stretched

by measureless new dimensions? All that I have said
and heard recedes, pulled into space where there are no

words, my head quiet and at rest, leaning back
against a corner of the garage, under this night sky

and the far stars where my thirsty eyes drink as from
a pitcher that pours and pours and does not empty.

Before Sleep I Go Outside

Perhaps a little cold for going outside these nights, but I have done it in winter just to see the stars which never fail to awe me. I appreciate Jeanne Lohmann’s quiet way of asking what is more beautiful than Orion and the stars seen through the bare limbs of an oak? And the repeated question in what too is more beautiful than winter clouds? What, indeed?

With the moon and clouds and stars, the mind gives way / and the supple body slows, letting the heart be lifted and stretched / by measureless new dimensions. Surely you have felt that heart opening, body softening that comes with gazing up at the vast night sky, that immeasurable world so far away yet appearing so close.

In this place, all else recedes, pulled into space where there are no / words. Here our minds can grow silent, reflective as we drink these stars as from / a pitcher that pours and pours and does not empty. Such a gorgeous image! Here is the bottomless source of wonder and beauty, filling us with peacefulness before sleep. If the curtain of clouds is pulled back tonight, look up, even through your frosted window for the magic of the winter night sky.

Holding the Light by Stuart Kestenbaum

Gather up whatever is 
glittering in the gutter,
whatever has tumbled 
in the waves or fallen 
in flames out of the sky,

for it’s not only our
hearts that are broken, 
but the heart
of the world as well.
Stitch it back together. 

Make a place where
the day speaks to the night
and the earth speaks to the sky.
Whether we created God
or God created us

it all comes down to this:
In our imperfect world
we are meant to repair
and stitch together 
what beauty there is, stitch it 

with compassion and wire. 
See how everything 
we have made gathers 
the light inside itself
and overflows? A blessing.

Holding the Light

Kestenbaum’s poem chose itself to be the first offering for this new year, a poem that is in itself a blessing. He urges us to gather up all that which is found in the gutter, the waves, the sky, to do this because it’s not only our / hearts that are broken / but the heart / of the world as well. Our broken hearts, the heart of the world, both need mending. We must take these broken pieces and stitch it back together.

This we do because day to night, earth to sky, God or no god, what matters is this: we are meant to repair / and stitch together / what beauty there is. And there is so much beauty to be found in both the world and in our hearts. We are called to do this with compassion for the suffering in this imperfect world, to use the wire of suppleness and strength and deep love.

Then he asks us to see the light gathered within each thing and how it overflows, the way morning sunlight pours over everything in its path. That light, when we hold it, grows, expands and blesses us all. This is how we repair the brokenness of our collective hearts, stitch together our beautifully flawed world. May we each carry light going forward into this new year, a year as Rilke said, “full of things that have never been”.

Self Love by James Crews

Treat yourself as an honored guest
in your own home. Sweep the floors,
whisking loose hairs and crumbs
into the dustpan, clearing cobwebs
as if you were about to arrive here
for the first time. Stoke the fire
in the wood stove, stacking logs
of birch and maple, whose bark
curls into flames that will warm
the whole house as you step inside
your body, learning to love its shape
like never before. Offer yourself
the wedge of brie you’ve been keeping
at the back of the fridge, pop open
whatever bottle you’ve been saving
for the moment you finally become
your own dream date, your own
special occasion. Now sit at the table
set for one, and feast on a simple
meal of bread and cheese, relishing
each taste of this new life, which has
always been waiting inside you.

Self Love

As we come to the close of this demanding year, words about self love seem appropriate and James Crews has the perfect poem. Treat yourself as an honored guest / in your own home. How often do we do that, cleaning as if you were about to arrive here / for the first time? Do you remember your first time? Whether you have a wood stove or a prosaic furnace, warming the whole house as you step inside / your body, can you learn to love its shape / like never before? What might that feel like?

He suggests becoming your own dream date – offering yourself a tasty wedge of cheese you’ve been saving, opening a bottle of whatever celebratory drink you might toast yourself with. Then he invites us to sit at the table / set for one, again treating yourself as an honored guest. And as you feast on this simple meal, you can relish each taste of this new life, which has / always been waiting inside you.

Given the current conditions, perhaps you will be your own company as the year ends. At the very least you will not likely be celebrating with a great many people, so can you take a moment to be present in your body? Each day offers a taste of a new life, new to you, waiting for you to notice and delight in.

May the new year bring a fresh appreciation for yourself, a chance to discover what awaits you.

Blessing for the Longest Night by Jan Richardson

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

Blessing for the Longest Night

I don’t think there is much needed to say about this poem by the artist and minister Jan Richardson whose work I have enjoyed for many years. Tonight is the longest night, today the shortest day, what we call winter solstice. After which the light, almost imperceptibly, begins to increase, the faithful return of the light.

For many of us, the darkness of winter is challenging, a time when difficult things can feel even more difficult. For some, it is a time to hibernate, cocoon, reflect, a time to turn inward away from the busyness of the warmth and bright light of summer months. Whichever it is for you, I hope you will receive this blessing: This is the night / when you can trust / that any direction / you go, / you will be walking / toward the dawn.

Happy Solstice to you.


.

Morning, Just by Alberto Rios

A house finch and a cup of coffee,
Me sitting at the table and looking through the window:

They are something I see and something I taste
At exactly the same moment. Perhaps

Right then, the coffee and the bird are the same.
I drink the small finch

And see the coffee floating out
Into the horizon. It is morning, after all,

And things are so easily confused,
Being still so close to dream.

It’s not the first time. Coffee and house finch –
Either way, the day has begun in song.

Morning, Just

I love the deceptive simplicity, the imagination and optimism of this small poem. It was not difficult for me, nor, I hope for you, to put myself in his shoes, to sit by the window with a cup of coffee and look out to see a house finch. They are something I see and something I taste / At exactly the same moment. Pause with that for a moment – to see and taste at the same time.

Perhaps, the poet suggests, the coffee and the bird are the same. What an inspired notion – to drink the finch, And see the coffee floating out / Into the horizon. What a fanciful, creative idea! After all, he tells us, things are so easily confused, / Being still so close to dream. So true, those early morning musings that can take us anywhere.

A house finch and a cup of coffee, Coffee and house finchEither way, the day has begun in song. There is a rare music in this unconventional way of greeting the day. Check out the scene from your window the next morning you are sipping your coffee and see what your dreams may show you. Either way, what better way to begin your day.

Coniferous Fathers by Michael Kleber-Diggs

Let’s fashion gentle fathers, expressive—holding us

how we wanted to be held before we could ask.

Singing off-key lullabies, written for us—songs

every evening, like possibilities. Fathers who say,

this is how you hold a baby, but never mention

a football. Say nothing in that moment, just bring

us to their chests naturally, without shyness.

Let’s grow fathers from pine, not oak, coniferous

fathers raising us in their shade, fathers soft enough

to bend—fathers who love us like their fathers

couldn’t. Fathers who can talk about menstruation

while playing a game of pepper in the front yard.

No, take baseball out. Let’s discover a new sort—

fathers as varied and vast as the Superior Forest.

Let’s kill off sternness and play down wisdom;

give us fathers of laughter and fathers who cry,

fathers who say Check this out, or I’m scared, or I’m sorry,

or I don’t know. Give us fathers strong enough

to admit they want to be near us; they’ve always

wanted to be near us. Give us fathers desperate

for something different, not Johnny Appleseed,

not even Atticus Finch. No more rolling stones.

No more La-Z-Boy dads reading newspapers in

some other room. Let’s create folklore side-by-side

in a garden singing psalms about abiding—just that,

abiding: being steadfast, present, evergreen, and

ethereal—let’s make the old needles soft enough

for us to rest on, dream on, next to them.

Coniferous Fathers

I heard Michael Klebber-Diggs read this poem (online of course) and was smitten. You may or may not have had a father such as he describes but I’ll bet you know someone in your life to whom you could give this poem, a gentle, expressive father, or soon-to-be father. I know I do.

There are so many ways he describes how such a father could be: holding us / how we wanted to be held before we could ask – my eyes fill as I imagine this. So many ways: holding us to their chests naturally, without shyness; fathers who love us like their fathers / couldn’t – my heart stops. He wants fathers grown from pine, not oak, coniferous fathers – what a concept! Fathers with enough softness to bend, fathers of laughter and fathers who cry; fathers strong enough / to admit they want to be near us. What he wants for us is No more Lazy-Boy dads reading newspapers in / some other room, that iconic image from an older time.

What I hear in this poem, besides the longing for soft, coniferous fathers, is the longing of the fathers themselves who want to be this way in a world that discourages such tenderness as un-masculine. What if fathers were, for themselves and for their children, steadfast, present, evergreen, and ethereal? Oh yes, let’s make the old needles soft enough / for us to rest on, dream on, next to them. May you have the gift of knowing a coniferous father.

What the Day Gives by Jeanne Lohmann

Suddenly, sun. Over my shoulder
in the middle of gray November
what I hoped to do comes back,
asking.
 
Across the street the fiery trees
hold onto their leaves,
red and gold in the final months
of this unfinished year,
they offer blazing riddles.

In the frozen fields of my life
there are no shortcuts to spring,
but stories of great birds in migration
carrying small ones on their backs,
predators flying next to warblers
they would, in a different season, eat.

Stunned by the astonishing mix in this uneasy world
that plunges in a single day from despair
to hope and back again, I commend my life
to Ruskin’s most difficult duty of delight,
and to that most beautiful form of courage,
to be happy.

What the Day Gives

This poem just caught my attention and felt so perfect even though November is now over. You may remember this poet from an earlier post about three years ago: https://janicefalls.wordpress.com/2019/01/17/questions-before-dark-jeanne-lohmann/. Just the opening two words: Suddenly, sun, on these grey November days, there it is over your shoulder. Not so many fiery trees left now in this part of the world but we certainly had the blazing riddles of their autumn colours in the past couple of months of this unfinished year.

What to make of the next stanza – the frozen fields of my life, will of course be different for each of us as we make our way to spring through life’s difficulties, no shortcuts. Lohmann paints a vivid picture of migrating birds carrying small ones on their backs, how we protect the smaller, more vulnerable of our own flock. And how, in a different season, predator and prey may travel together.

Can you relate to how in this uneasy world, we can swing from despair / to hope and back again ? So she offers us an antidote, a salve for this seesaw of emotions, Ruskin’s most difficult duty of delight. In case you were wondering, as I did, about this reference, I explored and found that the 19th century poet John Ruskin wrote of delight as a responsibility.

Perhaps the best line for me is the last: that most beautiful form of courage, / to be happy. Lohmann recommends to the reader to delight in all of life and through courage, to find happiness, a proposal as relevant in the 21st century as the 19th. This is what the day gives us, every day.

More Love, More Love by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Sorrow is how we learn to love.

—Rita Mae Brown, Riding Shotgun

If sorrow is how we learn to love,

then let us learn.

Already enough sorrow’s been sown

for whole continents to erupt

into astonishing tenderness.

Let us learn. Let compassion grow rampant,

like sunflowers along the highway.

Let each act of kindness replant itself

into acres and acres of widespread devotion.

Let us choose love as if our lives depend on it.

The sorrow is great. Let us learn to love greater—

riotous love, expansive love,

love so rooted, so common

we almost forget

the world could look any other way.

More Love, More Love

This amazing woman who writes a poem every day, has been writing deeply moving poems of grief for the past two months after the death of her son, and of the boundless love that she continues to give and receive. This poem was written in 2020, well before this excruciating loss and yet clearly, she has not lost this certainty, as was written by a wise soul in the twelfth century, that “There is no problem for which the instruction to love more is not the solution”.

If sorrow is how we learn to love / then let us learn. We could stop right there and reflect on the wisdom of that invitation, but there is more. Enough sorrow for whole continents to erupt / into astonishing tenderness – a tenderness we may not expect from sorrow. She invites us to let compassion grow rampant, and each act of kindness replant itself, like sunflowers, acres and acres of widespread devotion. Have you seen such acres of flowers – sunflowers, tulips, lavender?

She calls us to learn to love greater than the immensity of our sorrows – riotous, expansive, rooted love so common / we almost forget / the world could look any other way. Common, ordinary love – how would the world look then? She persuades us to choose love as if our lives depend on it. Clearly, this woman understands that her life depends on sharing more love. Would that we could all remember this in our times of sorrow.

Fall Song by Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Fall Song

Mary Oliver, as many of you will know was masterful in describing the natural world and its changing seasons. Sometimes I think I must have read all of her poems but here is one new to me, such a delight. This year not quite gone but leaving its rich, spiced residues – leaves we would expect but uneaten fruits crumbling damply – now there is an image. I especially love the unmattering (!) of summer – who but Mary would have created a new word for that inevitable decay – this NOW, that now is nowhere / except underfoot. She leads us into that black subterranean castle of unobservable mysteries, how roots and seeds are there below the visible surface, how water makes its way through the earth.

All this richness she portrays to remind us when time’s measure / painfully chafes because the season is ending. Then autumn / flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing / to stay. I know that I want to hold on to these final days of my favourite time of year, wanting it to stay longer. Yet I take heart that everything lives, dormant though it will be, in these momentary pastures. If you read this aloud, I think you will hear that this is a song, a fall song of praise for the shifting / from one bright vision to another.