Tuesday, January 21, 2020

love? ... find out

So to go into the question of what love is we must first free it from the encrustation of centuries, put away all ideals and ideologies of what it should or should not be. To divide anything into what should be and what is is the most deceptive way of dealing with life.

Now how am I going to find out what this flame is which we call love—not how to express it to another but what it means in itself? I will first reject what the church, what society, what my parents and friends, what every person and every book, has said about it because I want to find out for myself what it is.

Here is an enormous problem that involves the whole of mankind. There have been a thousand ways of defining it and I myself am caught in some pattern or another according to what I like or enjoy at the moment—so shouldn’t I, in order to understand it, free myself from my own inclinations and prejudices? I am confused, torn by my own desires, so I say to myself, “First clear up your own confusion. Perhaps you may be able to discover what love is through what it is not.”

. . .

The government says go and kill for the love of your country. Is that love? Religion says give up sex for the love of God. Is that love? Is love desire? Don’t say no. For most of us it is desire with pleasure, the pleasure that is derived through the senses, through sexual attachment and fulfillment.

I am not against sex, but see what is involved in it. What sex gives you momentarily is the total abandonment of yourself, then you are back again with your turmoil, so you want a repetition over and over again of that state in which there is no worry, no problem, no self.

You say you love your wife. In that love is involved sexual pleasure, the pleasure of having someone in the house to look after your children, to cook. You depend on her; she has given you her body, her emotions, her encouragement, a certain feeling of security and well-being. Then she turns away from you; she gets bored or goes off with someone else, and your whole emotional balance is destroyed, and this disturbance, which you don’t like, is called jealousy. There is pain in it, anxiety, hate and violence. 

So what you are really saying is, “As long as you belong to me I love you but the moment you don’t I begin to hate you. As long as I can rely on you to satisfy my demands, sexual and otherwise, I love you, but the moment you cease to supply what I want I don’t like you.” So there is antagonism between you, there is separation, and when you feel separate from another there is no love.

But if you live with your wife without thought creating all these contradictory states, these endless quarrels in yourself, then perhaps—perhaps—you will know what love is. Then you are completely free and so is she, whereas is you depend on her for all your pleasure you are a slave to her. So when one loves there must be freedom, not only from the other but from oneself.

This belonging to another, being psychologically nourished by another, depending on another—in all this there must always be anxiety, fear, jealousy, guilt; and so long as there is fear there is no love; a mind ridden with sorrow will never know what love is; sentimentality and emotionalism have nothing whatsoever to do with love. And so love is not to do with pleasure and desire.

Love is not the product of thought, which is the past. Thought cannot possibly cultivate love. Love is not hedged about and caught in jealousy, for jealousy is of the past. Love is always active, present. It is not “I will love” or “I have loved.” If you know love you will not follow anybody. Love does not obey. When you love there is neither respect not disrespect.

Do you know what it really means to love somebody, to love without hate, without jealousy, without anger, without wanting to interfere with what he is doing or thinking, without condemning, without comparing—don’t you know what it means? Where there is love is there comparison? When you love someone with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your body, with your entire being, is there comparison? When you totally abandon yourself to that love there is not the other.

~ J. Krishnamurti
excerpt from Freedom from the Known
art by nancy poucher

become love

~ Coleman Barks
on Rumi

ways to live

1. India

In India in their lives they happen
again and again, being people or
animals. And if you live well
your next time could be even better.

That's why they often look into your eyes
and you know some far-off story
with them and you in it, and some
animal waiting over at the side.

Who would want to happen just once?
It's too abrupt that way, and
when you're wrong, it's too late
to go back - you've done it forever.

And you can't have that soft look when you
pass, the way they do it in India.

2. Having It Be Tomorrow

Day, holding its lantern before it,
moves over the whole earth slowly
to brighten that edge and push it westward.
Shepherds on upland pastures begin fires
for breakfast, beads of light that extend
miles of horizon. Then it's noon and
coasting toward a new tomorrow.

If you're in on that secret, a new land
will come every time the sun goes
climbing over it, and the welcome of children
will remain every day new in your heart.
Those around you don't have it new,
and they shake their heads turning grey every
morning when the sun comes up. And you laugh.

3. Being Nice And Old

After their jobs are done old people
cackle together. They look back and shiver,
all of that was so dizzying when it happened;
and now if there is any light at all it
knows how to rest on the faces of friends.
And any people you don't like, you just turn
the page a little more and wait while they
find out what time is and begin to bend
lower; or you can turn away
and let them drop off the edge of the world.

4. Good Ways To Live

At night outside it all moves or
almost moves - trees, grass,
touches of wind. The room you have
in the world is ready to change.
Clouds parade by, and stars in their
configurations. Birds from far
touch the fabric around them - you can
feel their wings move. Somewhere under
the earth it waits, that emanation
of all things. It breathes. It pulls you
slowly out through doors or windows
and you spread in the thin halo of night mist.
 ~ William Stafford
from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems
 art: Parliament of the Birds. Mantiq Ut'tair, Farahaddin Attar
"Ways to Live" was written from July 19 through 21 of 1993,
 just over a month before William Stafford's death in August of that year.

The Envoy

One day in that room, a small rat.
Two days later, a snake.
Who, seeing me enter,
whipped the long stripe of his
body under the bed,
then curled like a docile house-pet.

I don't know how either came or left.
Later, the flashlight found nothing.

For a year I watched
as something -- terror? happiness? grief? --
entered and then left my body.

Not knowing how it came in.
Not knowing how it went out.

It hung where words could not reach it.
It slept where light could not go.
Its scent was neither snake nor rat,
neither sensualist nor ascetic.

There are openings in our lives
of which we know nothing.

Through them
the belled herds travel at will,
long-legged and thirsty, covered with foreign dust.

~  Jane Hirshfield
from Given Sugar, Given Salt

Monday, January 20, 2020

the great blending

For intervals, then, throughout our lives
we savor a concurrence, the great blending
of our chance selves with what sustains
all chance. We ride the wave and are
the wave. And with renewed belief
inner and outer we find our talk
turned to prayer, our prayer into truth:
for an interval, early, we become at home in the world.

~ William Stafford
with thanks to Love is a Place

the way it is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford
from The Way it Is, 1998

William Stafford’s journey with words began most mornings before sunrise. This simple poem was written 26 days before he passed.
One of his students, the poet Naomi Shihab Nye, wrote, “In our time there has been no poet who revived human hearts and spirits more convincingly than William Stafford. There has been no one who gave more courage to a journey with words, and silence, and an awakened life.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

the house I live in

~ Paul Robeson

the spectrum of love

We know that from time to time there arise among human beings people who seem to exude love as naturally as the sun gives out heat. These people, usually of enormous creative power, are the envy of us all, and, by and large, man’s religions are attempts to cultivate that same power in ordinary people. Unfortunately, they often go about this task as one would attempt to make the tail wag the dog. I remember that when I was a small boy in school, I was enormously interested in being able to do my schoolwork properly. Everyone told me that I did not work hard enough, that I ought to work harder, but when I asked, “How do you work?” everybody shut up.

I was extremely puzzled. There were teachers who apparently knew how to work and who had attained considerable heights of scholarship. I thought that maybe I could learn “the secret” by copying their mannerisms. I would affect the same speech and gestures and, insofar as I could get around the school uniform, even clothing. (This was a private school in England, not a public school in America.)

None of this revealed the secret. I was, as it were, copying the outward symptoms and knew nothing of the inner fountain of being able to work. Exactly the same thing is true in the case of people who love. When we study the behavior of people who have the power of love within them, we can catalogue how they behave in various situations, and out of this catalogue formulate certain rules.

One of the peculiar things we notice about people who have this astonishing universal love is that they are often apt to play it rather cool on sexual love. The reason is that for them an erotic relationship with the external world operates between that world and every single nerve ending. Their whole organism---physical, psychological, and spiritual---is an erogenous zone. Their flow of love is not channeled as exclusively in the genital system as is most other people’s. This is especially true in a culture such as ours, where for so many centuries that particular expression of love has been so marvelously repressed as to make it seem the most desirable. We have, as a result of two thousand years of repression, “sex on the brain.” It’s not always the right place for it.

People who exude love are in every way like rivers---they stream. And when they collect possessions and things that they like, they are apt to give them to other people. (Did you ever notice that when you give things away, you keep getting more? That, as you create a vacuum, more flows in?)

Having noticed this, the codifiers of loving behavior write that you should give tax deductible institutions and to the poor, and should be nice to people, that you should act towards your relatives and friends and indeed even enemies as if you loved them (even if you don’t). For Christians and Jews and believers in God, there is a peculiarly difficult task enjoined upon us; namely, that “thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” not only going through the motions externally, but with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And that is, of course, very demanding indeed.

It is as if, for example, we admired the music of a certain composer and, having studied his style very thoroughly, we drew up rules of musical composition based upon the behavior of this composer. We then send our children to music school where they learn these rules in the hope that if they apply them, they will turn into first-class musicians, which they usually fail to do. Because what might be called the technique of music---as the technique of morals, as well as the technique of speech, of language---is very valuable because it gives you something to express. If you don’t have anything to say, not even the greatest mastery of English will long stand you in good stead.

So the question and the puzzle remain: You cannot imitate this thing . . . there is no way of “getting” it, and yet it is absolutely essential that we have it. Obviously, the human race is not going to flourish harmoniously unless we are able to love each other. The question becomes: How do you get it? Is it something that you simply have to contract, like measles? Or, as theologians say, is it “a gift of divine grace” which somehow is dished out to some but not to others? And if there is no way of getting divine grace by anything you do, as the Calvinists aver, then hadn’t we better just sit around and wait until something happens?

Surely, we can’t be left in that sort of hopeless situation. There must be some way of getting “grace” or “divine charity” or “divine love”---some sort of way in which we can, as it were, open ourselves so as to become conduit pipes for the flow. And so the more subtle preachers try to see if we can open ourselves and teach methods of meditation and spiritual discipline in hope that we can contact this power. The less subtle preachers say 'you don't have enough faith, you don't have enough guts, you don't have enough willpower..." If you only put your shoulder to the wheel and shoved you would be of course an exemplar and a saint. Actually, you will only be an extremely clever hypocrite.

The whole history of religion is the history of the failure of preaching. Preaching is moral violence. When you deal with the so-called practical world, and people don’t behave the way you wish they would, you get out the army or police force or “the big stick.” And if those strike you as somewhat crude, you resort to giving lectures---“lectures” in the sense of solemn adjuration and exhortation to “behave better next time.”

Many a parent says to the child, “Nice children love their mothers. And I’m sure you’re a nice child. You ought to love your mother, not because I, your mother, say so, but because you really want to do so.“ One of the difficulties here is that none of us, in our heart of hearts, respects love which is not freely given. For example, you have an ailing parent, and you are a son or daughter who feels dutifully that he should look after his parents because they’ve done so much for him. But somehow, your living with your father or mother prevents you from having a home and a life of your own, and naturally you resent it. Your parents are well aware that you resent this, even if they pretend to ignore it. They therefore feel guilty that they have imposed upon your loyalty. You in turn can’t really admit the fact that you resent them for getting sick, even though they couldn’t help it. And therefore no one enjoys the relationship. It becomes a painful duty to be carried out.

The same thing would naturally happen if, a number of years after having (at the altar) made a solemn and terrible promise that you would love your wife or husband come what may forever and ever “until death do you part,” suddenly you find that you really haven’t the heart to do it any more. Then you feel guilty, that you ought to love your wife and family.

The difficulty is this: You cannot, by any means, teach a selfish person to be unselfish. Whatever a selfish person does, whether it be giving his body to be burned, or giving all that he possesses to the poor, he will still do it in a selfish way of feeling, and with extreme cunning, marvelous self-deception, and deception of others. But the consequences of fake love are almost invariably destructive, because they build up resentment on the part of the person who does the fake loving, as well as on the part of those who are its recipients. (This may be why our foreign-aid program has been such a dismal failure.)

Now, of course, you may say that I am being impractical and might ask, “Well, do we just have to sit around and wait until we become inwardly converted to learn, through the grace of God or some other magic, how to love? In the meantime, do we do nothing about it, and conduct ourselves as selfishly as we feel?”

The first problem raised here is honesty. The Lord God says, at the beginning of things, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” What appears to be a commandment is actually a challenge, or what in Zen Buddhism is called a koan, a spiritual problem. If you exercise yourself resolutely, and try to love God or your neighbor, you will find that you get more tangled up. You will realize increasingly that the reason you are attempting to obey this as a commandment is that you want to be the right kind of person.

But love is not a sort of rare commodity---everybody has it. Existence is love. Everybody has the force running. Perhaps the way in which you find the force of love operating in you is as a passionate like for booze or ice cream or automobiles or good-looking members of the opposite sex, or even of the same sex. But love is operating there. People, of course, tend to distinguish between various kinds of love. There are “good” kinds, such as divine charity, and there are allegedly “bad” kinds, such as “animal lust.” But they are all forms of the same thing. They relate in much the same way as the colors of the spectrum produced by the passing light through a prism. We might say that the red end of the spectrum of love is Dr. Freud’s libido, and the violet end of the spectrum of love is agape, the divine love or divine charity. In the middle, the various yellows, blues, and greens are as friendship, human endearment, and consideration.

Now it’s said that selfish people “love themselves.” I would say that that belies a misunderstanding of the whole thing: “yourself” is really something that is impossible to love. One obvious reason for this is that one’s self, when you try to focus on it to love it or to know it, it is oddly elusive.

Let me illustrate why. Once there was a fish who lived in the great ocean, and because the water was transparent, and always conveniently got out of the way of his nose when he moved along, he didn’t know he was in the ocean. Well, one day the fish did a very dangerous thing, he began to think: “Surely I am a most remarkable being, since I can move around like this in the middle of empty space.” Then the fish became confused because of thinking about moving and swimming, and he suddenly had an anxiety paroxysm and thought he had forgotten how. At that moment he looked down and saw the yawning chasm of the ocean depths, and he was terrified that he would drop. Then he thought: “If I could catch hold of my tail in my mouth, I could hold myself up.” And so he curled himself up and snapped at his tail. Unfortunately, his spine wasn’t quite supple enough, so he missed. As he went on trying to catch hold of his tail, the yawning black abyss below became ever more terrible, and he was brought to the edge of total nervous breakdown.

The fish was about to give up, when the ocean, who had been watching with mixed feelings of pity and amusement, said, “What are you doing?” “Oh,” said the fish, “I’m terrified of falling into the deep dark abyss, and I’m trying to catch hold of my tail in my mouth to hold myself up.” So the ocean said, “Well, you’ve been trying that for a long time now, and still you haven’t fallen down. How come?” “Oh, of course, I haven’t fallen down yet,” said the fish, “because, because--I’m swimming!” “Well,” came the reply, “I am the Great Ocean, in which you live and move and are able to be a fish, and I have given all of myself to you in which to swim, and I support you all the time you swim. Instead of exploring the length, breadth, depth, and height of my expanse, you are wasting your time pursuing your own end.” From then on, the fish put his own end behind him (where it belonged) and set out to explore the ocean.

Well, that shows one of the reasons it’s difficult to love yourself: Your “spine isn’t quite supple enough.”

Another reason is that “oneself,” in the ordinary sense of one’s ego, doesn’t exist. It seems to exist, in a way, in the sense that the equator exists as an abstraction. The ego is not a psychological or physical organ; it’s a social convention, like the equator, like the clock or the calendar, or like the dollar bill. These social conventions are abstractions which we agree to treat as if they did exist. We live in relation to the external world in just exactly the same way that one end of the stick exists in relation to the other end. The ends are indeed different, but they’re of the same stick.

Likewise, there is a polar relationship between what you call your “self” and what you call “other.” You couldn’t experience “other” unless you also had the experience of “self.” We might say that we feel that one’s “self” and the “other” are poles apart. Oddly, we use that phrase, “poles apart,” to express extreme difference. But things that are “poles apart” are poles of something, as of a magnet, or a globe, and so are actually inseparable. What happens if you saw the south pole off a magnet with a hacksaw? The new end, opposite the original north pole, becomes the south pole, and the piece that was chopped off develops its own north pole. The poles are inseparable and generate each other.

So it is in the relationship between the “self” and the “other.” Now if you explore what you mean when you say you “love yourself,” you will make the startling discovery that everything that you love is something that you thought was other than yourself, even if it be very ordinary things such as ice cream or booze. In the conventional sense, booze is not you. Nor is ice cream. It becomes “you,” in a manner of speaking, when you consume it, but then you don’t “have it” anymore, so you look around for more in order to love it once again. But so long as you love it, it’s never you. When you love people, however selfishly you love them (because of the pleasant sensations they give you), still, it is somebody else that you love. And as you inquire into this and follow honestly your own selfishness, many interesting transformations begin to occur in you.

One of the most interesting of these transformations is being directly and honestly “selfish.” You stop deceiving people. A great deal of damage is done in practical human relations by saying that you love people, when what you mean is that you ought to (and don’t). You give the impression, and people begin to expect things of you which you are never going to come though with.

You know of people to whom you say, “I like so-and-so, because with him or her, you always know where you are.” It’s impossible to impose on people like that. On the other hand, if you say, “Can I come and stay over night with you?” and they don’t want you, they’ll reply, “I’m, sorry, but I’m tired this weekend, and I’d rather not have you.” Or “Some other time.” Well, that’s very refreshing. If I feel the person hasn’t been quite honest with me, and I accept their hospitality, I’m always wondering if they would really prefer that I wasn’t there.

But one doesn’t always listen to one’s inner voice: we often pretend that it’s not there. That’s unfortunate, because if you don’t listen to your inner voice, you are not listening to your own wisdom and to your own love. You are becoming insensitive to it just as your hosts are trying to suppress the fact that, for the time being, they don’t want your presence. Likewise, let’s suppose that you are married and have an unwanted baby. It is profoundly disturbing to a child to have false love pretended to it. To begin with, the milk tastes wrong. The smell isn’t’ right. The outward gesture is “Darling, I love you,” but the smell is “You’re a little bastard and a nuisance.”

Very few of us can accept the idea that we don’t love our children, because it seems to be unnatural. We say that mother-love is the most beautiful an natural thing in the world. But it isn’t. It’s relatively rare, and if you don’t love your child, you confuse him or her. The child will respect you much more if you say, “Darling, you’re a perfect nuisance, but I will look after you because I have to.” Well, at least then everything is quite clear!

I found in personal relations of this kind a very wonderful rule: that you never, never show false emotions. You don’t have to tell people exactly what you think “in no uncertain terms,” as they say. But to fake emotions is destructive, especially in family matters and between husbands and wives or between lovers.

It always comes to a bad end. This, on the occasions when, for personal friends, I perform marriage ceremonies, instead of saying, “I require and charge you both that you shall answer in the dreadful Day of Judgment, etc., “I say, “I require and charge you both that you shall never pretend to love one another when you don’t.” This is a gamble. It is likewise a gamble to trust yourself to come though with love.

But there is really no alternative.

Now to trust oneself to be capable of love or to bring up love---in other words, to function in a sociable way and in a creative way---is to take a risk, a gamble. You may not come though with it. In the same way, when you fall in love with somebody else, or form an association with someone else, and you trust them, they may as a matter of fact not fulfill your expectations. But that risk has to be taken. The alternative to taking that risk is much worse than trusting and being deceived.

When you say, “I will not trust other people, and I will not trust myself,” what course remains? You have to resort to force. You have to employ stacks of policemen to protect you, and have to hold a club over yourself all the time, and say, “No, no. My nature is wayward, animal, perverse, fallen, grounded in sin.” What then happens? When you refuse to take the gamble of trusting yourself to be capable of love, you become, if you will excuse this extremely graphic but nevertheless relevant simile, like a person who cannot trust himself to have bowel movements. Many children learn this from parents who do not trust them, and think they ought to have these movements in rhythm with the clock, which is a different kind of rhythm from that of the organism. People who cannot trust themselves to do even this take laxatives endlessly, as a result of which their whole system gets fouled up.

Exactly the same thing happens with people who can’t trust themselves to go to sleep. They have to take all kinds of pills. And so also with people who can’t trust themselves to love, and have to take all sorts of artificial and surgical measures to produce the effect of love for saving face. They become progressively more incapable of loving at all, and they create turmoil and misunderstanding and chaos in themselves and others and society.

In other words, to live, and to love, you have to take risks. There will be disappointments and failures and disasters as a result of taking these risks. But in the long run it will work out.

My point is that if you don’t take these risks the results will be much worse than any imaginable kind of anarchy.

In tying up love in knots or in becoming incapable of it, you can’t destroy this energy. When you won’t love, or won’t let it out, it emerges anyway in the form of self-destruction. The alternative to self-love, in other words, is self-destruction. Because you won’t take the risk of loving yourself properly, you will be compelled instead to destroy yourself.

So, which would you rather have? Would you rather have a human race which isn’t always very well controlled, and sometimes runs amok a little bit, but on the whole continues to exist, with a good deal of honesty and delight, when delight is available? Or would you rather have the whole human race blown to pieces and cleaned off the planet, reducing the whole thing to a nice, sterile rock with no dirty disease on it called life?

The essential point is to consider love as a spectrum. There is not, as it were just nice love and nasty love, spiritual love and material love, mature affection on the one hand and infatuation on the other. These are all forms of the same energy. And you have to take it and let it grow where you find it. When you find only one of these forms existing, if at least you will water it, the rest will blossom as well. But the effectual prerequisite from the beginning is to let it have its own way. 
~  Alan Watts
Transcript of an improvised talk given in the 1960s
 with thanks to Love is a Place

Friday, January 17, 2020

allowing grief

Grief is one of the heart’s natural responses to loss. When we grieve, we allow ourselves to feel the truth of our pain, the measure of betrayal or tragedy in our life. By our willingness to mourn, we slowly acknowledge, integrate, and accept the truth of our losses. Sometimes the best way to let go is to grieve.

It takes courage to grieve, to honor the pain we carry. We can grieve in tears or in meditative silence, in prayer or in song. In touching the pain of recent and long-held griefs, we come face to face with our genuine human vulnerability, with helplessness and hopelessness. These are the storm clouds of the heart.

Most traditional societies offer ritual and communal support to help people move through grief and loss. We need to respect our tears. Without a wise way to grieve, we can only soldier on, armored and unfeeling, but our hearts cannot learn and grow from the sorrows of the past.
To meditate on grief, let yourself sit, alone or with a comforting friend. Take the time to create an atmosphere of support. When you are ready, begin by sensing your breath. Feel your breathing in the area of your chest. This can help you become present to what is within you.
As you continue to breathe, bring to mind the loss or pain you are grieving. Let the story, the images, the feelings comes naturally. Hold them gently. Take your time. Let the feelings come layer by layer, a little at a time.

Keep breathing softly, compassionately. Let whatever feelings are there, pain and tears, anger and love, fear and sorrow, come as they will. Touch them gently. Let them unravel out of your body and mind. Make space for any images that arise. Allow the whole story. Breathe and hold it all with tenderness and compassion. Kindness for it all, for you and for others.

Releasing the grief we carry is a long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation, some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief and awaken a tender, open heart.

Keep in mind that grief doesn’t just dissolve. Instead it arises in waves and gradually, with growing compassion, there comes more space around it. The heart opens and in its own time, little by little, gaps of new life—breaks in the rain clouds appear. The body relaxes and freer breaths appear. This is a natural cycle you can trust—how life and the heart renews itself. Like the spring after winter, it always does.

~ Jack Kornfield
art by Van Gogh

Streets in Shanghai



The white butterfly in the park is being read by many.
I love that cabbage-moth as if it were a fluttering corner of truth itself!

At dawn the running crowds set our quiet planet in motion.
Then the park fills with people. To each one, eight faces polished like jade, for all
situations, to avoid making mistakes.
To each one, there's also the invisible face reflecting "something you don't talk about."
Something that appears in tired moments and is as rank as a gulp of viper schnapps with its long scaly aftertaste.

The carp in the pond move continuously, swimming while they sleep, setting an example for the faithful: always in motion.


It's midday. Laundry flutters in the gray sea-wind high over the cyclists
who arrive in dense schools. Notice the labrinths on each side!

I'm surrounded by written characters that I can't interpret, I'm illiterate through and through.
But I've paid what I owe and have receipts for everything.
I've accumulated so many illegible receipts.
I'm an old tree with withered leaves that hang on and can't fall to the ground.

And a gust from the sea gets all these receipts rustling.


At dawn the trampling hordes set our quiet planet in motion.
We're all aboard the street, and it's as crammed as the deck of a ferry.

Where are we headed? Are there enough teacups? We should consider ourselves lucky
to have made it aboard this street!
It's a thousand years before the birth of claustrophobia.

Hovering behind each of us who walks here is a cross that wants to catch up with us,
pass us, unite with us.
Something that wants to sneak up on us from behind, put its hands over our eyes and
whisper "Guess who!"

We look almost happy out in the sun, while we bleed to death from wounds we don't
know about.

~ Tomas Transtromer 
 from Bright Scythe, 
translated by Patty Crane
with thanks to whiskey river

Thursday, January 16, 2020

late ripeness

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered 
the clarity of early morning. 
One after another my former lives were departing, 
like ships, together with their sorrow.
And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas 
assigned to my brush came closer, 
ready now to be described better than they were before. 
I was not separated from people, 
grief and pity joined us. 
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King. 
For where we come from there is no division 
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be. 
We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part 
of the gift we received for our long journey. 
Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago - 
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror 
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel 
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us, 
waiting for a fulfillment. 
I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard, 
as are all men and women living at the same time, 
whether they are aware of it or not. 

~Czeslaw Milosz
from Collected Poems, 1931-1987
art by van gogh

Wednesday, January 15, 2020


Love flows from God to man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings -
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all the strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.

~ Mechtild of Magdeburg

unnameable heart

The cricket who
kept me company three days
has fallen silent
I don't know where.

There are so many
lives of which I know nothing.
Even my own.  It moves now
through my fingers toward yours
and I know nothing
I can say that will name its heart.

A boat drifts far out
on the river below the mountains,
and below it
the fish, the great fish
that the one in the boat has come for,
swims in the shadow.

Perhaps the cricket is there, inside the fish.
Stranger things have happened.
I have looked everywhere else
for my lost companion.

From here the shadow looks small,
but to the fish it is huge.
Range after range of mountains,
and still the old painters
found a place
where two could walk together, side by side.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Lives of the Heart

Sunday, January 12, 2020


How shall I hold on to my soul, so that
it does not touch yours? How shall I gently
lift it up over you on to other things?
I would so very much like to tuck it away
among long lost objects in the dark,
in some quiet, unknown place, somewhere
which remains motionless when your depths resound.

And yet everything which touches us, you and me,
takes us together like a single bow,
drawing out from two strings but one voice.
On which instrument are we strung?
And which violinist holds us in his hand?
O sweetest of songs.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from New Poems - 1907 
Rilke met Lou Andreas-Salomé in 1897. He was 22, she was 36.
 Their love story lasted until 1901 and turned into a friendship 
that only ended with Rilke’s death in 1926. 

Your being has been the door that allowed me to reach fresh air for the first time.

the great golden hive of the invisible

Nature, and the things we live with and use, 
precede us and come after us. But they are, 
so long as we are here, our possession and our friendship.
 They know us with our needs and our pleasures,
 as they did those of our ancestors, 
whose trusted companions they were.

So it follows that all that is here is not to be despised 
and put down, but, precisely because it did precede us, 
to be taken by us with the innermost understanding 
that these appearances and things must be seen and transformed.

Transformed? Yes. For our task is to take this earth so deeply 
and wholly into ourselves that it will resurrect within our being. 
We are bees of the invisible. Passionately we plunder the honey of the visible
 in order to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from a letter to Witold Hulewicz
November 13, 1925