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

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

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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

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

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

no place

Where you come from is gone, 
where you thought you were going to was never there, 
and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. 

Where is there a place for you to be? 
No place. 
Nothing outside you can give you any place. 
In yourself right now is all the place you've got.

You needn't look at the sky because 
it's not going to open up and show no place behind it. 

You needn't search for any hole in the ground 
to look through into somewhere else. 

You can't go neither forwards nor backwards 
into your daddy's time nor your children's if you have them. 

In yourself right now is all the place you've got. 
If there was any Fall, look there, 
if there was any Redemption, look there, 
and if you expect any Judgment, look there, 

because they all three will have to be in your time 
and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?

~ Flannery O'Connor
from Wise Blood
art by georgia okeeffe
with thanks to whiskeyriver

the first elegy

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels'
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart:  I would be consumed 
in that overwhelming existence.  For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us.  Every angel is terrifying.

And so I hold myself back and swallow the call-note
of my dark sobbing.  Ah, whom can we ever turn to
in our need?  Not angels, not humans,
and already the knowing animals are aware
that we are not really at home in
our interpreted world.  Perhaps there remains for us
some tree on a hillside, which every day we can take 
into our vision;  there remains for us yesterday's street
and the loyalty of a habit so much at ease
when it stayed with us that it moved in and never left.

Oh and night:  there is night, when a wind full of infinite space 
gnaws at our faces.  Whom would it not remain for - that longed-after,
mildly disillusioning presence, which the solitary heart
so painfully meets.  Is it any less difficult for lovers?
But they keep on using each other to hide their own fate.

Don't you know yet?   Fling the emptiness out of your arms 
into the spaces we breathe;  perhaps the birds
will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

Yes - the springtimes needed you.  Often a star
was waiting for you to notice it.  A wave rolled toward you
out of the distant past, or as you walked
under an open window, a violin
yielded itself to your hearing.  All this was mission.
But could you accomplish it?  Weren't you always
distracted by expectation, as if every event
announced a beloved?  (Where can you find a place
to keep her, with all the huge strange thoughts inside you
going and coming and often staying all night.)

But when you feel longing, sing of women in love;
for their famous passion is still not immortal.  Sing
of women abandoned and desolate (you envy them, almost)
who could love so much more purely than those who were gratified.
Begin again and again the never-attainable praising;
remember:  the hero lives on; even his downfall was
merely a pretext for achieving his final birth.
But Nature, spent and exhausted, takes lovers back
into herself, as if there were not enough strength
to create them a second time.  Have you imagined
Gaspara Stampa intensely enough so that any girl
deserted by her beloved might be inspired
by that fierce example of soaring, objectless love
and might say to herself, "Perhaps I can be like her"?
Shouldn't this most ancient of sufferings finally grow
more fruitful for us?  Isn't it time that we lovingly
freed ourselves from the beloved and, quivering, endured:
as the arrow endures the bowstring's tension, so that 
gathered in the snap of release it can be more than
itself.  For there is no place where we can remain.

Voices.  Voices.  Listen, my heart, as only
saints have listened:  until the gigantic call lifted them
off the ground; yet they kept on, impossibly,
kneeling and didn't notice at all:
so complete was their listening.  Not that you could endure
God's voice - far from it.  But listen to the voice of the wind
and the ceaseless message that forms itself out of silence.
It is murmuring toward you now from those who died young.
Didn't their fate, whenever you stepped into a church
in Naples or Rome, quietly come to address you?
Or high up, some eulogy entrusted you with a mission,
as, last year, on the plaque in Santa Maria Formosa.
What they want of me is that I gently remove the appearance
of injustice about their death - which at times
slightly hinders their souls from proceeding onward.

Of course, it is strange to inhabit the earth no longer,
to give up customs one barely had time to learn,
not to see roses and other promising Things
in terms of a human future; no longer to be 
what one was in infinitely anxious hands; to leave 
even one's own first name behind, forgetting it
as easily as a child abandons a broken toy.
Strange to no longer desire one's desires.  Strange
to see meanings that clung together once, floating away
in every direction.  And being dead is hard work
and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel
a trace of eternity. - Though the living are wrong to believe
in the too-sharp distinctions which they themselves have created.
Angels (they say) don't know whether it is the living 
they are moving among, or the dead.  The eternal torrent
whirls all ages along in it, through both realms
forever, and their voices are drowned out in its thunderous roar.

In the end, those who were carried off early no longer need us:
they are weaned from earth's sorrows and joys, as gently as children 
outgrow the soft breasts of their mothers.  But we, who do need
such great mysteries, we for whom grief is so often
the source of our spirit's growth -: could we exist without them?
Is the legend meaningless that tells how, in the lament for Linus,
the daring first notes of song pierced through the barren numbness;
and then in the startled space which a youth as lovely as a god
had suddenly left forever, the Void felt for the first time
that harmony which now enraptures and comforts and helps us.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from the  Duino Elegies
translation by Stephen Mitchell

Friday, January 11, 2013

I am in love...I'm ready...

~ Terry Gross and Maurice Sendak
with thanks to erin w

in my beginning is my end

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older 
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated 
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment 
Isolated, with no before and after, 
But a lifetime burning in every moment 
And not the lifetime of one man only 
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered. 
There is a time for the evening under starlight, 
A time for the evening under lamplight 
(The evening with the photograph album). 
Love is most nearly itself 
When here and now cease to matter. 
Old men ought to be explorers 
Here or there does not matter 
We must be still and still moving 
Into another intensity 
For a further union, a deeper communion 
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation, 
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters 
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

~  Thomas Sterns Eliot
from Four Quartets, East Coker

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I have daughters and I have sons

Who is out there at six a.m.?  The man
Throwing newspapers onto the porch,
And the roaming souls suddenly
Drawn down into their sleeping bodies.

Wild words of Jacob Bohme
Go on praising the human body,
But heavy words of the ascetics 
Sway in the fall gales.

Do I have a right to my poems?
To my jokes? To my loves?
Oh foolish man, knowing nothing -
Less than nothing - about desire.

I have daughters and I have sons.
When one of them lays a hand 
On my shoulder, shining fish
Turn suddenly in the deep sea.

At this age, I especially love dawn
On the sea, stars above the trees,
Pages in The Threefold Life,
And the pale faces of baby mice.

Perhaps our life is made of struts
And paper, like those early
Wright Brothers planes.  Neighbors
Run along holding the wingtips.

I do love Yeats's fierceness
As he jumped into a poem,
And that lovely calm in my father's
Hands, as he buttoned his coat.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

Monday, January 7, 2013

circus animals

Bears are stomping in perfect time.
A lion jumps through flaming hoops.
A whip cracks and the music grinds.
A monkey rides a bike in a yellow suit.
A whip cracks and the animals turn their glance.
Dogs dance in carefully measured movements.
An elephant walks with a pitcher in perfect balance.

Myself, I'm quite embarrassed, I, a human.

People didn't enjoy themselves that day.
You wouldn't know it from the clapping hands
though one hand elongated by a whip
cast a striking shadow on the sand.

~Wislawa Szymborska
from miracle fair
translation by Joanna Trzeciak

Sunday, January 6, 2013

the end and the beginning

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired 
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs, 
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone has to drag a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone has to glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years,
All the cameras have left
for another war.

We'll need the bridges back,
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
and nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
starting to mill about 
who will find it dull.

From out of the bushes
 sometimes someone still unearths
rusted-out arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here 
must make way for 
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass that has overgrown
causes and effects,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

~ Wislawa Szymborska
from miracle fair
translation by Joanna Trzeciak

the frogs after dark

I am so much in love with mournful music
That I don't bother to look for violinists.
The aging peepers satisfy me for hours.

The ant moves on his tiny Sephardic feet.
The flute is always glad to repeat the same note.
The ocean rejoices in its dusky mansion.

Bears are often piled up close to each other.
In caves of bears, it's just one hump
After another, and there is no one to sort it out.

You and I have spent so many hours working.
We have paid dearly for the life we have.
It's all right if we do nothing tonight.

We've heard the fiddlers tuning their old fiddles,
And the singer urging the low notes to come.
We've heard her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.

There is some slowness in life that is right for us.
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the ear of a Donkey

Saturday, January 5, 2013


~ Daphne Koller
co-creator of Coursera