Thursday, January 31, 2013

heaven kicks away the blankets and sheets

that because of the wine's pureness
and the crystal clarity of the glass
the color of glass and wine were confused.
All is glass - or, no, all is wine.
All is wine - or, no, all is glass.
When the sky is tainted
with the colors of the sun
heaven kicks away the blankets and sheets,
the shadows of nothingness.  Day and Night
make peace with each other:
thus have the world's affairs been ordered.

~ Fakhruddin 'Iraqi
from Divine Flashes
art by Lynda Lehmann

the empty boat

He who rules men lives in confusion;
He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.
Yao therefore desired
Neither to influence others
Nor be influenced by them.
The way to get clear of confusion
And free of sorrow
Is to live with Tao
In the land of the great Void.

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty,
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat 
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.

The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
If you wish to improve your wisdom
And shame the ignorant,
To cultivate your character
And outshine others;
A light will shine around you
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:
You will not avoid calamity.

A wise man has said:
"He who is content with himself
Has done a worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure.
Fame is the beginning of disgrace."

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace.  He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton
from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
art by Nancy Poucher

To deliver oneself up,
to hand oneself over,
entrust oneself completely to the silence
of a wide landscape of woods and hills,
or sea and desert; to sit still while
the sun comes up over the land
and fills its silences with light.

...few are willing to belong completely
to such silence, to let it soak into their bones,
to breathe nothing but silence, to feed
on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life
into a living and vigilant silence.

~ Thomas Merton
from Thoughts in Solitude

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Our love is
a sister of the light;
deftly, she unwinds
our shadowed nets.

Where they become
keening shawls
to shelter loss,
she pours oil of ease.

From underneath
she rips the knots,
the mass of algae dream
unties and drops.

And the reeds 
woven to cover
fear of the deep,
drift and slip.

Lines of empty eyes
that caught and held
everything blindly,
surge and see.

urges us
to fluency.

~ John O'Donohue
from Echoes of Memory
photo from cog arts culture

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

after the wedding

After the white balloons were swept away
on the wind that had swallowed
most of our vows, after the embraces
and tears, the flung rose petals,
after new friends and old friends and aunts
from all over, after you tossed
the bouquet, and the cries of the children
raised coyote cries on the rim,
after chicken grilled on juniper coals,
cold beer from the cattle trough
and hours of hot dancing to Beatles and Stones,
the last of us swaying arms on shoulders,
singing ourselves hoarse,
how good it is
to find you now beyond all
the loud joy, driving north in rain
and the lovely ease of our silence.

~ John Daniel
with thanks to writers almanac

three stanzas


The knight and his lady
turned to stone but happy
on a flying coffin lid
outside time.


Jesus held up a coin
with Tiberius in profile
a profile without love
power in circulation.


A streaming sword
wipes out the memories.
Trumpet and sword belts
rust in the ground.

Tomas Tranströmer
from The Sorrow Gondola
translation by Michael McGriff and Mikaela Grassl
photos of the tomb of Sir John and Lady Isobel de Sully
Sir John died in 1387 at the age of 106

Monday, January 28, 2013


The dark inside us is sistered outside
in night which dislikes the light of the face
and the colours the eye longs to embrace.

Night adores the mountain, wrapped to itself,
a giant heart beating beneath rock and grass
and a mind stilled inside one, sure thought.

Something has broken inside this Spring night,
unconsolably its rain teems unseen
onto Gleninagh Mountain's listening depth.

Next morning the light is cleansed to behold
the glad milk of thirty streams pulse and spurt
out of unknown pores in the mountain's hold.

~ John O'Donohue
from Echoes of Memory

Friday, January 25, 2013

you can smell it and that is all

To acquire the habit of reading 
is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

His father was in Paris as a lawyer for the British Embassy. At eight years old, his mother died from tuberculosis. His father died of cancer two years later. He was sent back to England into the care of a cold and distant uncle, a vicar.  Miserable at his school. He said later: "I wasn't even likable as a boy. I was withdrawn and unhappy, and rejected most overtures of sympathy over my stuttering and shyness." He became a doctor and practiced in the London slums. He was particularly moved by the women he encountered in the hospital, where he delivered babies; and he was shocked by his fellow doctors' callous approach to the poor. He wrote: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief; I saw the dark lines that despair drew on a face; I saw courage and steadfastness. I saw faith shine in the eyes of those who trusted in what I could only think was an illusion and I saw the gallantry that made a man greet the prognosis of death with an ironic joke because he was too proud to let those about him see the terror of his soul."

Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. 
There is really nothing to be said about it.
It is like the perfume of a rose: 
you can smell it and that is all.

~ Somerset Maugham


November's hunger strips the fields, its thin light
rifles the web and warmth of every nest,
allows the cold day to invade each secret,
absolves the ghosts of leaf that outlast autumn.

Now I can depend less and less on the grace
of spontaneity, talk quickly tires,
words become contrived as the eyes of others
notice my mind unravel in this sallow light.

Intense with silence my room waits for me,
the paintings and open books grown distant,
its window one huge eye on the tree outside;
in the mirror the glimpse of my face draws tears.

~ John O'Donohue
from Echoes of Memory
photo by Christine de Grancy

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

taking the hands

Taking the hands of someone you love,
You see they are delicate cages . . .
Tiny birds are singing
In the secluded prairies
And in the deep valleys of the hand.

~ Robert Bly

deepest prayer

A person should always offer a prayer of graciousness 
for the love that has awakened in them. 
When you feel love for your beloved and his or her love for you, 
now and again you should offer the warmth of your love 
as a blessing for those who are damaged and unloved. 

Send that love out into the world to people who are desperate; 
to those who are starving; to those who are trapped in prison; 
in hospitals and all the brutal terrains of bleak and tormented lives. 

When you send that love out from the bountifulness of your own love, 
it reaches other people. 
This love is the deepest power of prayer.

~ John O'Donohue
from Anam Cara

why I write

I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being. Any new metaphor is a telescope, a canoe in rapids, an MRI machine. And like that MRI machine, sometimes its looking is accompanied by an awful banging. To write can be frightening as well as magnetic. You don't know what will happen when you throw open your windows and doors.

To write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery.
Why write? You might as well ask a fish, why swim, ask an apple tree, why make apples? The eye wants to look, the ear wants to hear, the heart wants to feel more than it thought it could bear...

The writer, when she or he cannot write, is a person outside the gates of her own being. Not long ago, I stood like that for months, disbarred from myself. Then, one sentence arrived; another. And I? I was a woman in love. For that also is what writing is. Every sentence that comes for a writer when actually writing—however imperfect, however inadequate—every sentence is a love poem to this world and to our good luck at being here, alive, in it.

~ Jane Hirshfield
with thanks to national writing project

their lonely betters

As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds

A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.

~ W. H. Auden
from Collected Poems
with thanks to writers almanac

Monday, January 21, 2013

when I am not present to myself

When I am not present to myself, 
then I am only aware of that half of me, 
that mode of my being which turns outward to created things. 
 And then it is possible for me to lose myself among them. 
 Then I no longer feel the deep secret pull 
of the gravitation of love which draws my inward self toward God. 
 My will and my intelligence lose their command of the other faculties. 
 My senses, my imagination, my emotions, 
scatter to pursue their various quarries all over the face of the earth. 
 Recollection brings them home. 
 It brings the outward self into line with the inward spirit, 
and makes my whole being answer the deep pull of love 
that reaches down into the mystery of God.

~ Thomas Merton
from No Man is an Island

in the realm of the passing away

This is the realm of the passing away.  All that 
exists does not for long.
Whatever comes into this world never stops sliding
toward the edge of eternity.
Form arises from formlessness and passes back,
arising and dissolving in a few dance steps between
creation and destruction.

We are born passing away.
Seedlings and deadfall all face forward.
Earthworms eat what remains.
We sing not for that which dies but for that which 
never does.

~ Stephen Livine
from Breaking the Drought: 
Visions of Grace

Saturday, January 19, 2013

indeterminacy in the arts

Indeterminacy means, literally: not fixed, not settled, uncertain, indefinite. It means that you don't know where you are. How can it be otherwise, say the Buddhist teachings, since you have no fixed or inherent identity and are ceaselessly in process? Life is filled with uncertainty Chance events happen to all of us. Each of us must take responsibility and make decisions. None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.

There's another way to live. Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories within a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don't know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your feet. That's when the path appears.

~ John Cage
from Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, 
Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists
by Kay Larson


Succulus by Robert Pepperell

Pepperell’s paintings and drawings are the result of intensive experimentation in materials and methods designed to evoke a very specific, though elusive, state of mind. The works induce a disrupted perceptual condition in which what we see cannot be matched with what we know. Instead of a recognizable depiction the viewer is presented with … a complex multiplicity of possible images, none of which ever finally resolves.
....his painting Succulus is very evocative for me of the figures, draped clothing, and sky on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, yet I can’t actually recognize any of that in the picture.


Aldous Huxley, in The Doors of Perception, describes the appearance of the world as modified by mescaline: “Visual perceptions are greatly intensified and the eye recovers some of the perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept.”

a living flame

Loves's valley is the next, and here desire
Will plunge the pilgrim into seas of fire,
Until his very being is en-flamed
And those whom fire rejects turn back ashamed.
The lover is a man who flares and burns,
Whose face is fevered, who in frenzy yearns,
Who knows no prudence, who will gladly send
A hundred worlds toward their blazing end,
Who knows of neither faith nor blasphemy,
Who has no time for doubt or certainty,
To whom both good and evil are the same,
And who is neither, but a living flame.
But you! Lukewarm in all you say or do,
Backsliding, weak - oh no, this is not you!
True lovers give up everything they own
To steal one moment with the Friend alone -
They make no vague, procrastinating vow,
But risk their livelihood and risk it now.
Until their hearts are burned, how can they flee
From their desire's incessant misery?
They are the falcon when it flies distressed
In circles, searching for its absent nest -
They are the fish cast up upon the land
That seeks the sea and shudders on the sand.
Love here is fire; its thick smoke clouds the head -
When love has come the intellect has fled;
It cannot tutor love, and all its care
Supplies no remedy for love's despair.
If you could seek the unseen you would find
Love's home, which is not reason or the mind,
And love's intoxication tumbles down
The world's designs for glory and renown -
If you could penetrate their passing show
And see the world's wild atoms, you would know
That reason's eyes will never glimpse one spark
Of shining love to mitigate the dark.
Love leads whoever starts along our Way;
The noblest bow to love and must obey -
But you, unwilling both to love and tread
The pilgrim's path, you might as well be dead!
The lover chafes, impatient to depart,
And longs to sacrifice his life and heart.

~ Farid Attar
translated by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis
from The Conference of Birds

to swallow back his love

Paul Cézanne in his studio Les Lauves, 1904. Photo by Émile Bernard

The love (in Cezanne's art) is so thoroughly used
up in the action of making that there is no residue.
It may be that this using up of love in anonymous
work, which produces such pure things, was 
never achieved as completely as in the work of this
old man; his inner nature, having grown 
mistrustful and sullen, helped him to do it. He 
would certainly not have shown this love to 
another human being, had he been forced
to conceive such a love; but with this disposition, 
which, thanks to his reclusive eccentricity, was
fully ripened now, he turned to nature and knew 
how to swallow back his love for every apple
and put it to rest in the painted apple forever.
Can you imagine what that is like, and what
it's like to experience this through him?

~ Rilke on Cezanne

art by Paul Cezanne

Friday, January 18, 2013


Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn't always understand.

~ Czeslaw Milosz
translation by Robert Hass
from The Collected Poems
art by Picasso

this bleeding separation

In the school of mind you
learn a lot, and become
a true scholar for many to look up to.
In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.


A pious one with a hundred beads on your rosary,
or a drunkard in a tavern,
any gift you bring the Beloved will be accepted
as long as you come in longing.
It is this most secret pain,
this bleeding separation,
which will guide you to your Heart of Hearts.


If you do not give up the crowds
you won't find your way to Oneness.
If you do not drop your self
you won't find your true worth.
If you do not offer all you
have to the Beloved,
you will live this life free of that
pain which makes it worth living.

~ Abu-Said Abil-Kheir
English version by Vraje Abramian
from Nobody, Son of Nobody: 
Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir
with thanks again to poetry chaikhana

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

soul of the world

version and reading by Coleman Barks 


And it was at that age... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

~ Pablo Neruda
version by Anthony Kerrigan
from Selected Poems
with thanks to poetry chaikhana

how to continue

Oh there once was a woman
and she kept a shop
selling trinkets to tourists
not far from a dock
who came to see what life could be
far back on the island.

And it was always a party there
always different but very nice
New friends to give you advice
or fall in love with you which is nice
and each grew so perfectly from the other
it was a marvel of poetry
and irony

And in this unsafe quarter
much was scary and dirty
but no one seemed to mind
very much
the parties went on from house to house
There were friends and lovers galore
all around the store
There was moonshine in winter
and starshine in summer
and everybody was happy to have discovered
what they discovered

And then one day the ship sailed away
There were no more dreamers just sleepers
in heavy attitudes on the dock
moving as if they knew how
among the trinkets and the souvenirs
the random shops of modern furniture
and a gale came and said
it is time to take all of you away
from the tops of the trees to the little houses
on little paths so startled

And when it became time to go
they none of them would leave without the other
for they said we are all one here
and if one of us goes the other will not go
and the wind whispered it to the stars
the people all got up to go
and looked back on love

~ John Ashbery
from Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems
with thank again to Lisa at the mark on the wall

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

the eighth elegy

With all its eyes the natural world looks out
into the Open.  Only our eyes are turned
backward, and surround plant, animal, child
like traps, as they emerge into their freedom.
We know what is really out there only from 
the animal's gaze;  for we take the very young
child and force it around, so that it sees
objects - not the Open, which is so
deep in animals' faces.  Free from death.
We, only, can see death; the free animal
has its decline in back of it, forever,
and God in front, and when it moves, it moves
already in eternity, like a fountain.

Never, not for a single day, do we have
before us that pure space into which flowers
endlessly open.  Always there is World
and never Nowhere without the No: that pure
unseparated element which one breathes
without desire and endlessly knows.  A child
may wander there for hours, through the timeless
stillness, may get lost in it and be 
shaken back.  Or someone dies and is it.
For, nearing death, one doesn't see death; but stares
beyond, perhaps with an animal's vast gaze.
Lovers, if the beloved were not there
blocking the view, are close to it, and marvel...
As if by some mistake, it opens for them
behind each other... But neither can move past
the other, and it changes back to World.
Forever turned toward objects, we see in them
the mere reflection of the realm of freedom,
which we have dimmed.  Or when some animal
mutely, serenely, looks us through and through.
That is what fate means: to be opposite,
to be opposite and nothing else, forever.

If the animal moving toward us so securely
in a different direction had our kind of 
consciousness -, it would wrench us around and drag us
along its path.  But it feels its life as boundless,
unfathomable, and without regard
to its own condition: pure, like its outward gaze.
And where we see the future, it sees all time
and itself within all time, forever healed.

Yet in the alert, warm animal there lies
the pain and burden of an enormous sadness.
For it too feels the presence of what often 
overwhelms us: a memory, as if 
the element we keep pressing toward was once
more intimate, more true, and our communion
infinitely tender.  Here all is distance;
there it was breath.  After that first home,
the second seems ambiguous and drafty.

Oh bliss of the tiny creature which remains
forever inside the womb that was its shelter;
joy of the gnat which, still within, leaps up
even at its marriage: for everything is womb.
And look at the half-assurance of the bird,
which knows both inner and outer, from its source,
as if it were the soul of an Etruscan,
flown out of a dead man received inside a space,
but with his reclining image as the lid.
And how bewildered is any womb-born creature
that has to fly.  As if terrified and fleeing
from itself, it zigzags through the air, the way 
a crack runs through a teacup.  So the bat
quivers across the porcelain of evening.

And we: spectators, always, everywhere,
turned toward the world of objects, never outward.
It fills us.  We arrange it.  It breaks down.
We rearrange it, then break down ourselves.
Who has twisted us around like this , so that 
no matter what we do, we are in the posture
of someone going away?  Just as, upon
the farthest hill, which shows him his whole valley
one last time, he turns, stops, lingers -,
so we live here, forever taking leave.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Duino Elegies
photo by shreve stockton