Monday, June 27, 2011


It is possible 
that even the best counsel
cannot be processed
by the body.
All supplements to
our personal chemistry
are screened by tiny fanatical secret organs
that refuse much more than
they accept.  It is hard
to add even minerals.
Iron tablets, for example,
are not correct
and pass through us like
windowless alien crafts.
What the body wants is so exact.

~ Kay Ryan
from The Best of It

song of a man who has come through


Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine, wind that takes its course through the chaos of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides.

Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

~ D.H. Lawrence
from The Complete Poems of  D.H. Lawrence
many thanks to poetry chaikhana

Sunday, June 26, 2011

a cedary fragrance


Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water –

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.

~ Jane Hirshfield
 from Given Sugar, Given Salt
art by Cecile Chalouni


As some people age 
they kinden.
The apertures
of their eyes widen.
I do not think they weaken;
I think something weak strengthens
until they are more and more it,
like letting in heaven.
But other people are 
mussels or clams, frightened.
Steam or knife blades mean open.
They hear heaven, they think boiled or broken.

~ Kay Ryan
from The Best of It

Friday, June 24, 2011

avoiding discord leads to war

The goddess of discord, Eris, was naturally not popular in Olympus, and when the gods gave a banquet they were apt to leave her out.  Resenting this deeply, she determined to make trouble... into an important marriage celebration to which she was not invited she threw a golden a golden apple marked "For the Fairest."  Of course all the goddesses wanted it.  Zeus was asked to judge between Aphrodite, Hera, and Pallus Athena, but wisely refused.  He told them that prince Paris was an excellent judge of beauty, and that they should go to him.  He was not asked, however, to gaze at the radiant divinities and choose which seemed to him the fairest, but only to consider the bribes each offered and choose which seemed to him best worth taking.  What men cared about most was set before him.  Hera promised to make him Lord of Europe and Asia, Athena, that he would lead the Trojans to victory against the Greeks and lay Greece in ruins; Aphrodite, that the fairest woman in all the world should be his.  He gave Aphrodite the apple and in doing so, set the stage for the Trojan War.

~ Edith Hamilton
from Mythology - Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes

story originally from The Judgement of Paris which 
is part of the play Trojan Woman by Euripides

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

human being



Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or in the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

~ Rumi
 translated by Coleman Barks
from The Essential Rumi

Saturday, June 18, 2011

a woman who was beautiful


A woman who was beautiful
one day
removed her face
her head became smooth
blind and deaf
safe from the snares of mirrors
and from looks of love

amid the reeds of the sun
her head hatched by a sparrowhawk
could not be found

secrets much more beautiful
for not having been said
words not written
steps erased
nameless ashes flown away
without marble plaque
desecrating memory

so many wings to break
before nightfall.

~ Alice (Rahon) Paalen
painting of Alice by her husband Wolfgang Paalen
with thanks to leda-swanson

Friday, June 17, 2011

lovers of all your elements?



And the priestess spoke again and said: 
Speak to us of Reason and Passion.
And he answered, saying:
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason 
and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, 
that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, 
nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, 
or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion,
 unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, 
that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, 
that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, 
and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite 
even as you would two loved guests in your house.
Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; 
for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.

Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, 
sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows -- 
then let your heart say in silence, "God rests in reason."
And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, 
and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, -- 
then let your heart say in awe, "God moves in passion."
And since you are a breath in God's sphere, 
and a leaf in God's forest, 
you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

~ Kahlil Gibran
from The Prophet
with thanks to poetry chaikhana

Thursday, June 16, 2011

the tombs of the resurrected


This was the time which began with his feeling as general and anonymous as a slowly recovering convalescent.  He didn't love anything, unless it could be said that he loved existing.  The humble love that his sheep felt for him was no burden;  like sunlight falling through clouds, it dispersed around him and softly shimmered upon the meadows.  On the innocent trail of their hunger, he walked silently over pastures of the world.  Strangers saw him on the Acropolis, and perhaps for many years he was one of the shepherds in Les Baux, and saw petrified time outlast that noble family which, in spite of all their conquests under the holy numbers seven and three, could not overcome the fatal sixteen-rayed star on their own coat-of-arms.  Or should I imagine him at Orange, resting against the rustic triumphal arch?  Should I see him in the soul-inhabited shade of Alyscamps, where, among the tombs that lie open as the tombs of the resurrected, his glance chases a dragonfly?

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
translated by Stephen Mitchell

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

a desire to set himself adrift

A river tugs at whatever is within reach, trying to set it afloat and carry it downstream.  Living trees are undermined and washed away.  No piece of driftwood is safe, though stranded high up the bank; the river will rise to it, and away it will go.

The river extends this power of drawing all things with it even to the imagination of those who live on its banks.  Who can long watch the ceaseless lapsing of a river's current without conceiving a desire to set himself adrift, and, like the driftwood which glides past, float with the stream clear to the final ocean.

~ Harlan Hubbard
from Shantyboat - A River Way of Life

reminiscent of Van Gogh's Starry Night,
massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton 
swirl in dark water around Sweden’s Gotland island 
in a satellite picture by the U.S. Geological Survey

Monday, June 13, 2011

to a child dancing in the wind


Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?


Has no one said those daring
Kind eyes should be more learn’d?
Or warned you how despairing
The moths are when they are burned,
I could have warned you, but you are young,
So we speak a different tongue.

O you will take whatever’s offered
And dream that all the world’s a friend,
Suffer as your mother suffered,
Be as broken in the end.
But I am old and you are young,
And I speak a barbarous tongue.

~ William Butler Yeats
(13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939)
from Responsibilities and Other Poems, 1916
thanks to woods lot

courting forgetfulness

It's hard to know what sort of rough music
Could send our forgetfulness back into the ground,
From which the gravediggers pulled it years ago.

The first moment of the day we court forgetfulness.
Even when we are fully awake, a century can
Go by in the space of a single heartbeat.

The life we lose through forgetfulness resembles
The earth that sticks to the sides of plowshares
And the eggs the hen has abandoned in the woods.

A thousand gifts were given to us in the womb.
We lost hundreds during the forgetfulness of birth,
And we lost the old heaven on the first day of school.

Forgetfulness resembles the snow that weighs down
The fir boughs; behind our house you'll find
A forest going on for hundreds of miles.

It's to our credit that we can remember
So many lines of Rilke, but the purpose of forgetfulness
Is to remember the last time we left this world.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

Sunday, June 12, 2011

for Japan


to the present visitors

Now we come to the famous classroom 
where every year a fortunate few
in the days of their youth study
autumn forgetting the numbers beforehand
as they have been doing since the words 
were all in Latin no cameras
allowed in here notice the slight breeze 
from the windows here among the trees
and the fragrance at the end of spring
notice the leaves outside the window frames
the new grass in the light of morning
notice the charts of colors on the walls
set in order and the moons in the calendars
the constellations the dark dials
the portraits of flowers still as the tables
here they study what is too far away
ever to grasp and too near to recognize
notice the leaves changing as we watch
then it will be summer and these studies
will be over and then it will be autumn
and most of them will be forgotten
notice the bell in place outside the door
and the dog lying near the foot of the stairs
waiting for a time that she remembers

~ W.S. Merwin
from Present Company
art by van gogh

stranger (excerpt)

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws become prodigals
Limits are torn down
For envy has no property
And passion is none.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!

~ Thomas Merton
from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
art by picasso

Saturday, June 11, 2011

get your living by loving

The great art of life is how to turn the surplus life of the soul into life for the body - 
so that life be not a failure... 

If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, 
as most appear to do, 
I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for.  

I trust that I shall never thus sell my birthright for a mess of pottage.  
I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well.  
There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.  

All great enterprises are self-supporting.  
The poet, for instance, must sustain his body by his poetry, 
as a steam planing mill feeds its boiler with the shavings it makes.  
You must get your living by loving.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal, March 13, 1853
art by roderick maclver

the active life -


Friday, June 10, 2011

to the present tense

By the time you are
by the time you come to be
by the time you read this
by the time you are written
by the time you forget
by the time you are water through fingers
by the time you are taken for granted
by the time it hurts 
by the time it goes on hurting
by the time there are no words for you
by the time you remember
but without names
by the time you are in the papers
and on the telephone
passing unnoticed there too

who is it
to whom you come 
before whose very eyes
you are disappearing
without making yourself known

~ W.S. Merwin
from Present Company

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Day after quiet day passes.
I speak to no one besides the dog.
To her,
I murmur much I would not otherwise say.

We make plans
then break them on a moment's whim.
She agrees;
though sometimes bringing
to my attention a small blue ball.

Passing the fig tree
I see it is
 suddenly huge with green fruit,
which may ripen or not.

Near the gate,
I stop to watch
the sugar ants climb the top bar
and cross at the latch,
as they have now in summer for years.

In this way I study my life.
It is,
I think today,
like a dusty glass vase.

A little water, 
a few flowers would be good,
I think;
but do nothing. Love is far away.
Incomprehensible sunlight falls on my hand.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from The Lives of the Heart