Saturday, July 28, 2012


And now to the Abyss I pass
Of that unfathomable grass...

Dear relatives and friends, when my last breath
Grows large and free in air, don't call it death --
A word to enrich the undertaker and inspire
His surly art of imitating life; conspire
Against him. Say that my body cannot now
Be improved upon; it has no fault to show
To the sly cosmetician. Say that my flesh
Has a perfect compliance with the grass
Truer than any it could have striven for.
You will recognize the earth in me, as before
I wished to know it in myself: my earth
That has been my care and faithful charge from birth,
And toward which all my sorrows were surely bound,
And all my hopes. Say that I have found
A good solution, and am on my way
To the roots.  And say I have left my native clay
At last, to be a traveler, that too will be so.
Traveler to where?  Say you don't know.

But do not let your ignorance
Of my spirit's whereabouts dismay
You, or overwhelm your thoughts.
Be careful not to say

Any thing too final.  Whatever
Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger
Than flesh.  Beyond reach of thought
Let imagination figure

Your hope. That will be generous
To me and to yourselves.  Why settle
For some know-it-all's despair
When the dead may dance to the fiddle

Hereafter, for all anybody knows?
And remember that the Heavenly soil
Need not be too rich to please
One who was happy in Port Royal.

I may be already heading back,
A new and better man, toward
That town. The thought's unreasonable,
But so is life, thank the Lord!

So treat me, even dead,
As a man who has a place
To go, and something to do.
Don't muck up my face

With wax and powder and rouge
As one would prettify
An unalterable fact
To give bitterness the lie.

Admit the native earth
My body is and will be,
Admit its freedom and
Its changeability.

Dress me in the clothes
I wore in the day's round
Lay me in a wooden box.
Put the box in the ground.

Beneath this stone a Berry is planted
In his home land, as he wanted.

He has come to the gathering of his kin,
Among whom some were worth men,

Farmers mostly, who lived by hand,
But one was a cobbler from Ireland,

Another played the eternal fool
By riding on a circus mule

To be remembered in grateful laughter
Longer than the rest. After

Doing that they had to do
They are at ease here.  Let all of you

Who yet for pain find force and voice
Look on their peace, and rejoice.

~ Wendell Berry

the resemblance between your life and a dog

I never intended to have this life, believe me --
It just happened.  You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.

It's good if you can accept your life - you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it.  Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can't believe how much you've changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges.  Teachers praise you,

But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog.  He's been hungry for miles,
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

~ Robert Bly
from Eating the Honey of Words

Friday, July 27, 2012


The parched know -

real thirst 
draws rainwater
from an empty sky.

~ Ivan Granger
from Real Thirst

Saturday, July 21, 2012

no superstition in the breath

Sometimes when I meditate
there is nothing left of me
but the breath
all the rest of me inseparable
from all the rest of you.

There is no superstition in the breath
only in the mind and body surrounding.

The mind and body are suspicious,
full of fables and myths;
but there is no superstition in the breath.
With each exhalation
wordless sensation migrates
from the nostrils to the belly and back again
brings water to the fields,
brings breath down the cord from mother to child,
brings blood to the sacrifice of love and war,
brings bright offerings to the temple;
sings into the dark,
assuring the aspirant bent in the shadow
the breath that never ends,
whether dropped to our knees below the cross,
or easy in the slippers of the Beloved,
and certainly behind the diamond brow,
sighs the sigh heard 'round the world.

That famous ten percent we are supposed 
to have use of our brain seems true
of the rest of the body and mind as well.
We occupy very little of ourselves
A few percent perhaps...

We barely inhabit the breath
living in the shallows of our life.
Our ordinary breath hollowed by fear and anger,
lost behind the nostrils somewhere near the heart,
lost somewhere between the back of the cave 
and to top of Jacob's ladder...our cells
are starving for breath.

The breath does not lie.
It has nothing to say
It simply is
overflowing with sensation
met crossing the bright field
inviting the body and the rest of the mind
to enter subtle as the breath
subtler levels of being...

The fable of each inhalation, like the first
firing of the imagination (full of the superstition of "I")
and animating the body; that first inhalation
still being drawn...
And last exhalation suspended in myth
begun to be expelled soon after birth.

Taking each breath as if it were the last,
before we enter the enormity at the center
of each breath.

Though superstition surrounds the first breath
and is rarely discarded even with the last,
these two breaths - separated by joyful swoons
and plaintive cries - come together in the great silence,
the bitter tears before and after
the great peace between breaths
when mind slows to wisdom and the body
knows itself, as T. S. Eliot nearly says,
for the very first time.

The wise man, the flying woman, dwells
in the space between breaths as faint echoes
drop over the edge and fade into
the vast chasm of silence.

Letting go at the end of each out-breath
stills the enormity.

Occasionally in the meditation hall my breath
nearly stopped.  I needed nothing more 
as thought stilled, and the wind-blown mind
settled.  As the drum stopped.
Breath and fear surrendered.
"If the breath never returns
the universe will breath for me."

Overcoming the distrust, not holding
to the last breath or grasping at the next.
Letting go completely of control of the breath.
Trusting a breath unshaped by pretense
or superstition, a breath that breaths itself
from the oceanic tides between planets ...
a breath like the one before
the one that created the universe,
that began thought, and forgot
its original face.

~Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought
photo by Diane Varner

Monday, July 16, 2012

dispatches from the front

When told that grace is our original face
and the Beloved our true body
the "ripe buffoon" breaks through
and dances with those who reject their foolishness.
He is trying to help.  But only the wandering minstrel
and the dervishing chimney-sweep can be trusted.
Only mercy.  Only the god-drunken who are ruined
for life and can't help but love.
Only Dionysius and the lotus.

In the dark room he called out uncertainly,
"Bark twice if you are God!"

~ Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought

Sunday, July 15, 2012

half life

We walk through half of our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are 
we watch the ghost of us drift 
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking the true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

~ Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought

Saturday, July 14, 2012

millennium blessing

There is a grace approaching
that we shun as much as death,
it is the completion of our birth.

It does not come in time,
but in timelessness
when the mind sinks into the heart
and we remember.

It is an insistent grace that draws us
to the edge and beckons us surrender
safe territory and enter our enormity.

We know we must pass
beyond knowing
and fear the shedding.

But we are pulled upward
through forgotten ghosts
and unexpected angels,

And there is nothing left to say
but we are That.

And that is what we sing about.

~ Stephen Levine
from Breaking the Drought, Visions of Grace

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ways you've never thought before

Think in ways you've never thought before
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

~ Robert Bly

the cloudy vase

Past time, I threw the flowers out,
washed out the cloudy vase.
How easily the old clearness
leapt, like a practiced tiger, back inside it.

~ Jane Hirshfield