Friday, October 28, 2011

not mine

All my life to pretend this world of theirs is mine
And to know such pretending is disgraceful.
But what can I do? Suppose I suddenly screamed
And started to prophesy. No one would hear me. 
Their screens and microphones are not for that. 
Others like me wander the streets
And talk to themselves. Sleep on benches in parks,
Or on pavements in alleys. For there aren't enough prisons
To lock up all the poor. I smile and keep quiet. 
They won't get me now. 
To feast with the chosen—that I do well.

~ Czeslaw Milosz 
translated by Robert Hass 
photo by Christine de Grancy



When I die, I will see the lining of the world. 
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset. 
The true meaning, ready to be decoded. 
What never added up will add Up, 
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended. 
- And if there is no lining to the world? 
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign, 
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day 
Make no sense following each other? 
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth? 
- Even if that is so, there will remain 
A word wakened by lips that perish, 
A tireless messenger who runs and runs 
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies, 
And calls out, protests, screams.

~ Czeslaw Milosz



All my life perplexed by truth and falsity, right and wrong;
Now amusing myself in the moonlight,
Laughing at the wind,
Listening to the songs of birds --
So many years spent idly contemplating
The immense white layer on the mountains;
This winter, all of a sudden,
I see it for the first time as a snow-mountain.

~ Dogen
english version by Steven Heine
from The Zen Poetry of Dogen
with thanks to poetry chaikhana
art by Chen Jun


A man tips back his chair, all evening.

Years later, the ladder of small indentations
still marks the floor. Walking across it, then stopping.

Rarely are what is spoken and what is meant the same.

Mostly the mouth says one thing, the thighs and knees
say another, the floor hears a third.

Yet within us,
objects and longings are not different.
They twist on the stem of the heart, like ripening grapes.

~ Jane Hirshfield 
from Given Sugar, Given Salt
with thanks to nexus

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

children of a full life


with special thanks to it's all dhamma

why do 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.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Che Fece... Il Gran Refiuto


For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life.

~ Constantine P. Cavafy
from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
translated by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard

the falling


You turn towards meteor showers in August,
wishing yourself like that:
bright and burning wholly out.
When feeling finally comes it is
that falling, matter breaking away
from air, the sound
of crickets moving through the grass like fire—
and the strangely twisted metal
in the field that a child finds:
residue, crown.
Then there’s the story of the Chinese sage,
in anger and despair, who cut his body away in pieces,
flung them into the lake.
Each one, becoming finned and whole, swims off.

~ Jane Hirshfield

a lie

self-portrait - 1901

Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth

Everyone wants to understand painting. 
Why don’t they try to understand the song of the birds?
 Why do they love a night, a flower, 
everything which surrounds man, 
without attempting to understand them? 
Whereas where painting is concerned, they want to understand. 
Let them understand above all that the artist works from necessity; 
that he, too, is a minute element of the world
 to whom one should ascribe no more importance 
than so many things in nature which charm us 
but which we do not explain to ourselves.
 Those who attempt to explain a picture 
are on the wrong track most of the time.

~ Pablo Picasso
Boisgeloup, winter 1934

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a choice

"Give us a king."

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king, 
He said,
"This is what the king who will reign over you will do:

He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses,
and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties,
 and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest and still others to make weapons
 of war and equipment for his chariots. 

He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves 
and give them to his attendants.

He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it
 to his officials and attendants.
Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys
 he will take for his own use.

He will take a tenth of your flocks,
 and you yourselves will become his slaves.

When that day comes, you will cry out for relief 
from the king you have chosen,
and the Lord will not answer you in that day.


"No," they said, "We want a king over us.
Then we will be like all the other nations,
with a king to lead us and to go out before us
 and fight our battles."

~ 1 Samuel 8, 11-19
from the Holy Bible
new international version


I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively and calm.

The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn't pay the emperor tax.

I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.

I hoist the Haydnflag - it signifies:
"We don't give in. But want peace.'

The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.

And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.

~ Tomas Transtromer
from New Collected Poems
translated by Robin Fulton

Friday, October 21, 2011

no bell

When I heard the sound of the bell ringing,
there was no bell,
and there was no I -
there was only the ringing. 

Once you stop clinging and let things be,
you’ll be free, even of birth and death. 

You’ll transform everything…
And you’ll be at peace wherever you are. 

Even as fire finds peace
in its resting place without fuel,
when thoughts become silence
the soul finds peace in its own source. 

When the mind is silent,
then it can enter into a world
which is far beyond the mind:
the highest End. 

The mind should be kept in the heart
as long as it has not reached the highest End.
This is wisdom, and this is liberation. 

~ Upanishads 

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.

My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.

The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew – making more room for me –
stretching huge as hospitals.

I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.

Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.

And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.

~ Tomas Transtromer

Tranströmer is the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. His other honors and awards include the Aftonbladets Literary Prize, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Oevralids Prize, the Petrach Prize in Germany, and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum.

He has read at many American universities, often with poet and friend Robert Bly. Tranströmer is a respected psychologist, and has worked at a juvenile prison, and with the disabled, convicts, and drug addicts. He lives with his wife Monica in Vasteras, west of Stockholm.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

two things

Two things of opposite natures seem to depend
On one another, as Logos depends
On Eros, day on night, the imagined

On the real. This is the origin of change.
Winter and spring, cold copulars, embrace
And forth the particulars of rapture come.

Music falls on the silence like a sense
A passion that we feel, not understand.
Morning and afternoon are clasped together

And North and South are an intrinsic couple
And sun and rain a plural, like two lovers
That walk away together as one in the greenest body.

~ Wallace Stevens

the place of rest

Unto the deep the deep heart goes,
It lays its sadness nigh the breast:
Only the Mighty Mother knows
The wounds that quiver unconfessed.

It seeks a deeper silence still;
It folds itself around with peace,
Where thoughts alike of good or ill
In quietness unfostered cease.

It feels in the unwounding vast
For comfort for its hopes and fears:
The Mighty Mother bows at last;
She listens to her children's tears.

Where the last anguish deepens -- there
The fire of beauty smites through pain:
A glory moves amid despair,
The Mother takes her child again. 

~ A. E. (George William Russell)
with thanks to poetry chaikhana

Monday, October 17, 2011


It is a strange and magical fact to be here, 
walking around in a body, 
to have a whole world within you and a world at your fingertips outside you. 

It is an immense privilege, 
and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here … 

It is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us 
so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. 
We are here. 
We are wildly and dangerously free.

~ John O'Donohue
from Anam Cara

Saturday, October 15, 2011


a radiance once seen only in time and space
 shares his blessing without boundary

today a named one 
brings a particular beauty to the nameless 

today the pain and strength of  longing
stretches beyond limits

today that sparkling love can't be seen with eyes,
we seek it everywhere

 ~  nead rellek
for Doug

Friday, October 14, 2011

be open

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Happy Birthday
Edward Estlin Cummings (October 14, 1894 – September 3, 1962)

In 1926, Cummings' father was killed in a car accident. Though severely injured, Cummings' mother survived. Cummings detailed the accident in the following passage from his i: six nonlectures series given at Harvard (as part of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures) in 1952–1953:

... a locomotive cut the car in half, killing my father instantly. When two brakemen jumped from the halted train, they saw a woman standing – dazed but erect – beside a mangled machine; with blood spouting (as the older said to me) out of her head. One of her hands (the younger added) kept feeling her dress, as if trying to discover why it was wet. These men took my sixty-six year old mother by the arms and tried to lead her toward a nearby farmhouse; but she threw them off, strode straight to my father's body, and directed a group of scared spectators to cover him. When this had been done (and only then) she let them lead her away.

His father's death had a profound impact on Cummings, who entered a new period in his artistic life. Cummings began to focus on more important aspects of life in his poetry. He began this new period by paying homage to his father's memory in the poem "my father moved through dooms of love"

Born into a Unitarian family, Cummings exhibited transcendental leanings his entire life. As he grew in maturity and age, Cummings moved more toward an "I, Thou" relationship with God. His journals are replete with references to “le bon Dieu” as well as prayers for inspiration in his poetry and artwork (such as “Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen.”). Cummings "also prayed for strength to be his essential self ('may I be I is the only prayer--not may I be great or good or beautiful or wise or strong'), and for relief of spirit in times of depression ('almighty God! I thank thee for my soul; & may I never die spiritually into a mere mind through disease of loneliness')."

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

~ from Wikipedia

Thursday, October 13, 2011

words' leaves

Truly now I've grown old
in the winter rains.
Even the words' leaves
of love
change in their falling

~ Ono no Komachi



Once upon a time, when Dongshan was ill, a monk asked him, 
"You are ill, teacher, but is there anyone who doesn't get ill?" 

Dongshan said, "There is." 

The monk said, "Does the one who doesn't get ill look after you?" 

Dongshan said, "No, I look after him." 

The monk said, "How is it when you look after him?" 

Dongshan said, "I see that there is no illness." 

~ Dongshan
from the Book of Serenity
Zen dialogue (Case 94)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Now, what is poetry?
If you say it is simply a matter of words, I will say a good poet gets rid of words.
If you say it is simply a matter of meaning, I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning.
"But," you ask, "without words and without meaning, where is the poetry?"
To this I reply, "Get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and still there is poetry."

~ Yang Wan-li
translation by Jonathan Chaves

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

rain in May


The blackened iron
of the stove
is ticking into coolness
when the first drops 
start against the roof.
It is late: the night
has darkened into this
like a fruit--
a sudden pear-aroma fills the room.
Just before dawn 
it comes up harder again,
a white, steady drum of day-rain
caught in the moon's deep pail.
A battered tin-light
overspills ocean and sky,
hill opens to facing hill,
and I wake to a simple longing,
all I want of this ordinary hour,
this ordinary earth
that was long ago married to time:
to hear as a sand-crab hears the waves,
loud as a second heart;
to see as a green thing sees the sun,
with the undividing attention of blind love.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Monday, October 10, 2011

the ending earth-


stand with your lover on the ending earth-
and while a (huge by which huger than
huge) whoing sea leaps to greenly hurl snow, suppose we could not love, dear; imagine
ourselves like living neither nor dead these
(or many thousands hearts which don't and dream
or many million minds which sleep and move)
blind sand, at pitiless the mercy of
time time time time time
how fortunate are you and I, whose home
is timelessness: we who have wandered down
from fragrant mountains of eternal now
to frolic in such mysteries as birth
and death a day (or maybe even less)

~ e.e.cummings



Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. 
Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked… 
and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God. 
But without contemplation we cannot see what we do… 
Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. 
Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial; 
we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, 
losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments… 
Without contemplation, without the intimate, 
silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, 
our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.

~ Thomas Merton
art by leonardo da vinci