Tuesday, October 30, 2012

at last to the dark

We come at last to the dark
and enter in.  We are given bodies
newly made out of their absence
from one another in the light
of the ordinary day.  We come
to the space between ourselves,
the narrow doorway, and pass through
into the land of the wholly loved.

~ Wendell Berry
 from Sabbaths 2002,

Sunday, October 28, 2012

waiting for the barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What's the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
He's even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians

Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

~ Constantine Cavafy
translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Cavafy understood the word "barbarian" in its original Greek meaning, as applied to all those who are outside and have, instead of human speech, incoherent gibberish.  His intuition allowed him to capture a centuries-old opposition between the inside and the outside.

~ comment by Czeslaw Milosz

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I built on the sand
And it tumbled down.
I built on a rock
And it tumbled down.
Now when I build, I shall begin
With the smoke from the chimney.

~ Leopold Staff
translated by Czeslaw Milosz
from A Book of Luminous Things

Friday, October 26, 2012

the day we die

The day we die
the wind comes down
to take away
our footprints.

The wind makes dust
to cover up
the marks we left
while walking.

For otherwise 
the thing would seem
as if we were
still living.

Therefore the wind
is he who comes
to blow away
our footprints.

~ Southern Bushmen
from A Book of Luminous Things
edited by Czeslaw Milosz

what survives

Rexroth and son, 1955

A long lifetime
Peoples and places
And the crisis of mankind -
What survives is the crystal -
Infinitely small -
Infinitely large -

~ Kenneth Rexroth

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Sitting over words
very late I have heard a kind of whispered sighing
not far
like a night wind in pines or like the sea in the dark
the echo of everything that has ever
been spoken 
still spinning its one syllable
between the earth and silence

~ W. S. Merwin

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

we came to lose our leaves

As I've gotten older, I find I am able to be nourished more by sorrow 
and to distinguish it from depression. 

It is not our job to remain whole. We came to lose our leaves like the trees, 
and be born again, Drawing up from the great roots.

One day while studying a [William Butler] Yeats poem 
I decided to write poetry the rest of my life. 
I recognized that a single short poem has room for history, 
music, psychology, religious thought, mood, occult speculation, character, 
and events of one's own life.

There are a lot of men who are healthier at age fifty 
then they have ever been before, because a lot of their fear is gone.

We can exchange sparks of light with another's eyes 
when we meet our lover on the dance floor at someone else's wedding. 
Our brains then go about warmed and fiery, and with one note 
they can explode into cello concertos and can imagine the giant blinking 
at the top of the bean stalk... His barbarous fingers scratching his head.

There is a privacy I love in this snowy night. 
Driving around, I will waste more time.

~ Robert Bly

a colorful show

The world is but a show, glittering and empty. It is, and yet it is not.
 It is there as long as I want to see it and take part in it. 
When I cease caring, it dissolves. It has no cause and serves no purpose. 
It just happens when we are absent-minded. 
It appears exactly as it looks, but there is no depth in it, nor meaning. 
Only the onlooker is real, call him Self or Atma. 
To the Self, the world is but a colorful show, 
which he enjoys as long as it lasts and forgets when it is over. 
Whatever happens on the stage makes him shudder in terror or roll with laughter, 
yet all the time he is aware that it is but a show. 
Without desire or fear, he enjoys it, as it happens.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Monday, October 22, 2012

song of the rain

I am dotted silver threads dropped from heaven 
By the gods. Nature then takes me, to adorn 
Her fields and valleys. 

I am beautiful pearls, plucked from the 
Crown of Ishtar by the daughter of Dawn 
To embellish the gardens. 

When I cry the hills laugh; 
When I humble myself the flowers rejoice; 
When I bow, all things are elated. 

The field and the cloud are lovers 
And between them I am a messenger of mercy. 
I quench the thirst of one; 
I cure the ailment of the other. 

The voice of thunder declares my arrival; 
The rainbow announces my departure. 
I am like earthly life, which begins at 
The feet of the mad elements and ends 
Under the upraised wings of death. 

I emerge from the heard of the sea 
Soar with the breeze. When I see a field in 
Need, I descend and embrace the flowers and 
The trees in a million little ways. 

I touch gently at the windows with my 
Soft fingers, and my announcement is a 
Welcome song. All can hear, but only 
The sensitive can understand. 

The heat in the air gives birth to me, 
But in turn I kill it, 
As woman overcomes man with 
The strength she takes from him. 

I am the sigh of the sea; 
The laughter of the field; 
The tears of heaven. 

So with love - 
Sighs from the deep sea of affection; 
Laughter from the colorful field of the spirit; 
Tears from the endless heaven of memories.

~ Kahlil Gibran
from Tears and Laughter

Sunday, October 21, 2012


~ Robert Bly and friends

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Night, two o'clock: moonlight.  The train has stopped
in the middle of the plain.  Distant bright points of a town
twinkle cold on the horizon.

As when someone has gone into a dream so far
that he'll never remember he was there
when he comes back to his room.

And as when someone goes into a sickness so deep
that all his former days become twinkling points, a swarm,
cold and feeble on the horizon.

The train stands perfectly still,
Two o'clock: full moonlight, few stars.

~ Tomas Transtromer
translated by Robert Bly

another spring

White birds over the grey river.
Scarlet flowers on the green hills.
I watch the Spring go by and wonder
If I shall ever return home.

~ Tu Fu
(713 - 770)
translated by Kenneth Rexroth

view with a grain of sand

We call it a grain of sand
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect or apt.

Our glance, our touch mean nothing to it.
It doesn't feel itself seen and touched.
And that it fell on the windowsill
is only our experience, not its.
For it it's no different than falling on anything else
with no assurance that it's finished falling
or that it's falling still.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake
but the view doesn't view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake's floor exists floorlessly
and its shore exists shorelessly.
Its water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural,
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it,  its only reason being
that it blows.

A second passes
A second second.
A third.
But they're three seconds only for us.

Time has passed like a courier with urgent news.
But that's just our simile.
The character's invented, his haste is make-believe,
his news inhuman.

~ Wislawa Szymborska
translated by Stanislaw Baraniczak and Clara Cavanagh

in heaven it is always autumn

"In Heaven It Is Always Autumn"
John Donne

In heaven it is always autumn. The leaves are always near
to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking
heaven's paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them.
Safe in heaven's calm, they take each other's arm,
the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone.
But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept
as Eden would be with the walls knocked down,
the paths littered
with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes
for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling
the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome.
The last roses of the year nod their frail heads,
like listeners listening to all that's said, to ask,
What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light?
What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom?
What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare?
Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might,
if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves,
tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere.
It is the last of many last days. Is it enough?
To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun?
To watch the lineaments of a world passing?
To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal,
press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds
pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow?
And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun
shining brightly
as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure
leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth.
My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we're here, I think it must
be heaven.

~ Elizabeth Spires 
from Now the Green Blade Rises
with thanks to writers almanac
photo by eliot porter

Thursday, October 18, 2012


What we see is the paint.
Yet somehow the mind
knows the wall,
as the living know death.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

through the lyre's strings

A god can do it. But will you tell me how
a man can penetrate through the lyre's strings?
Our mind is split.  And at the shadowed crossing
of heart-roads, there is a temple for Apollo.

Song, as you have taught it, is not desire,
not wooing any grace that can be achieved;
song is reality.  Simple, for a god.
But when can we be real? When does he pour

the earth, the stars, into us? Young man,
it is not your loving, even if your mouth
was forced wide open by your own voice - learn

to forget that passionate music.  It will end.
True singing is a different breath, about
nothing.  A gust inside the god.  A wind.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Sonnets to Orpheus, I,3
translated by Stephen Mitchell

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails. 

~ Czeslaw Milosz 
with thanks to  the mark on the wall


Monday, October 15, 2012

room for all this

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all this to happen; room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. When we think something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.

~ Pema Chodron
art by van gogh
with thanks to chemin faisant

Sunday, October 14, 2012

sailing here and there out in the current

Songs are thoughts, sung out with the breath when people are moved by great forces and ordinary speech no longer suffices. Man is moved just like the ice floe sailing here and there out in the current. His thoughts are driven by a flowing force when he feels joy, when he feels fear, when he feels sorrow. Thoughts can wash over him like a flood, making his breath come in gasps and his heart throb. Something like an abatement in the weather will keep him thawed up. And then it will happen that we, who think we are small, will feel still smaller. And we will fear to use words. When the words we want to use shoot up of themselves - we get a new song.

~ Orpingalik
 Inuit poet and shaman

Saturday, October 13, 2012

accused of bad taste

A famous comedian once said, “Lenny Bruce’s legacy is freedom of speech and telling it as it is, getting your life and putting it out on the table, telling everyone about it.”

“I rode with him in a taxi once,only for a mile and a half. Seemed like it took a couple of months” 

~ Bob Dylan

I've been accused of bad taste, and I’ll go down to my grave accused of it and always by the same people, the ones who eat in restaurants that reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” “I’m sorry I haven’t been funny. I am not a comedian. I am Lenny Bruce.

The reason I’m in this business, I assume all performers are – it’s “Look at me, Ma!” It is acceptance, you know – “Look at me, Ma, look at me, Ma, look at me, Ma.” And if your mother watches, you’ll show off till you’re exhausted; but if your mother goes, Ptshew!

~ Lenny Bruce

Happy Birthday Lenny

with thanks to writers almanac

someone who speaks ‘broken music.’

“I believe that we are all connected on this very basic emotional level by music — by rhythm and harmony. But how can we begin to communicate if we don’t use a wider vocabulary? If we don’t speak in someone else’s language, then how can they hear you? So, I’m someone who speaks ‘broken music.’”

~ Paul Simon

Paul Simon, born in Newark, New Jersey (1941). His father was a musician and his mother was a music teacher. When he was in sixth grade, he got a part in the school play as the White Rabbit in Alice In Wonderland. A boy named Art Garfunkel played the Mad Hatter. The two became friends after walking home from rehearsal every day. They started a singing duo, playing sock hops and high school dances, and they made a hit record when they were only 16 years old.

Happy Birthday Paul

with thanks to writers almanac

Sunday, October 7, 2012

sabbaths 2001


He wakes in darkness. All around
are sounds of stones shifting, locks
unlocking. As if some one had lifted
away a great weight, light
falls on him. He has been asleep or simply
gone. He has known a long suffering
of himself, himself shaped by the pain
of his wound of separation he now
no longer minds, for the pain is only himself
now, grown small, become a little growing
longing joy. Something teaches him
to rise, to stand and move out through
the opening the light has made.
He stands on the green hilltop amid
the cedars, the skewed stones, the earth all
opened doors. Half blind with light, he
traces with a forefinger the moss-grown
furrows of his name, hearing among the others
one woman's cry. She is crying and laughing,
her voice a stream of silver he seems to see:
"Oh William, honey, is it you? Oh!"


Surely it will be for this: the redbud
pink, the wild plum white, yellow
trout lilies in the morning light,
the trees, the pastures turning green.
On the river, quiet at daybreak,
the reflections of the trees, as in
another world, lie across
from shore to shore. Yes, here
is where they will come, the dead,
when they rise from the grave.


dogwood flowers
in leafing woods
my mind.


Ask the world to reveal its quietude—
not the silence of machines when they are still,
but the true quiet by which birdsongs,
trees, bellows, snails, clouds, storms
become what they are, and are nothing else.


A mind that has confronted ruin for years
Is half or more a ruined mind. Nightmares
Inhabit it, and daily evidence
Of the clean country smeared for want of sense,
Of freedom slack and dull among the free,
Of faith subsumed in idiot luxury,
And beauty beggared in the marketplace
And clear-eyed wisdom bleary with dispraise.


Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind's
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks,
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer.


The wind of the fall is here.
It is everywhere. It moves
every leaf of every
tree. It is the only motion
of the river. Green leaves
grow weary of their color.
Now evening too is in the air.
The bright hawks of the day
subside. The owls waken.
Small creatures die because
larger creatures are hungry.
How superior to this
human confusion of greed
and creed, blood and fire.


The question before me, now that I
am old, is not how to be dead,
which I know from enough practice,
but how to be alive, as these worn
hills still tell, and some paintings
of Paul Cezanne, and this mere
singing wren, who thinks he's alive
forever, this instant, and may be.

~ Wendell Berry
from Given
with thanks to parabola
photo by Christopher Burkett