Friday, December 31, 2021

between the hammers our heart endures


 Happy are those who know
behind all words, the Unsayable stands,
and from that source, the Infinite
crosses over to gladness, and us.

Free of those bridges we raise
with constructed distinctions;
so that always, in each separate joy,
we gaze at the single, wholly mutual core.


But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.
Here is the time for the say-able, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness. More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.
 ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
art by Keith Hennig

unending love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours –
And the songs of every poet past and forever.
Rabindranath Tagore
from Selected Poems

Sunday, December 26, 2021

the first peace

The first peace, which is the most important, 
is that which comes within the souls of people 
when they realize their relationship, their oneness,
 with the universe and all its powers, 
and when they realize that at the center of the universe 
dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit), and that this center
 is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
 This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this.

The second peace is that which is made between two individuals,
 and the third is that which is made between two nations.
 But above all you should understand that there can never be peace
 between nations until there is known that true peace, 
which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.

~  Black Elk

Thursday, December 23, 2021

take me to the alley

~  Gregory Porter

we are many

Of the many men who I am, who we are,
I can't find a single one;
they disappear among my clothes,
they've left for another city.

When everything seems to be set
to show me off as intelligent,
the fool I always keep hidden
takes over all that I say.

At other times, I'm asleep
among distinguished people,
and when I look for my brave self,
a coward unknown to me
rushes to cover my skeleton
with a thousand fine excuses.

When a decent house catches fire,
instead of the fireman I summon,
an arsonist bursts on the scene,
and that's me. What can I do?
What can I do to distinguish myself?
How can I pull myself together?

All the books I read
are full of dazzling heroes,
always sure of themselves.
I die with envy of them;
and in films full of wind and bullets,
I goggle at the cowboys,
I even admire the horses.

But when I call for a hero,
out comes my lazy old self;
so I never know who I am,
nor how many I am or will be.
I'd love to be able to touch a bell
and summon the real me,
because if I really need myself,
I mustn't disappear.

While I am writing, I'm far away;
and when I come back, I've gone.
I would like to know if others
go through the same things that I do,
have as many selves as I have,
and see themselves similarly;
and when I've exhausted this problem,
I'm going to study so hard
that when I explain myself,
I'll be talking geography.

~  Pablo Neruda 
translated by Alastair Reid
art by picasso

undress them


This means that we have barely 
disembarked into life, 
that we've only just now been born, 
let's not fill our mouths 
with so many uncertain names, 
with so many sad labels, 
with so many pompous letters, 
with so much yours and mine, 
with so much signing of papers. 

I intend to confuse things, 
to unite them, make them new-born 
intermingle them, undress them, 
until the light of the world 
has the unity of the ocean, 
a generous wholeness, 
a fragrance alive and crackling. 

~ Pablo Neruda

keeping quiet


Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,

if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.
Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

~ Pablo Neruda 
from Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

St. Vith, December 21, 1944

TANKS OF THE 7TH ARMORED DIVISION in a temporary position near St. Vith

Cut off in front of the line
that now ran through St. Vith,
the five American tanks sat
in a field covered with snow
in the dark. And now they must
retreat to safety, which they
could do only through gunfire
and flame in the burning town.
They went, firing, through the fire,
GIs and German prisoners
clinging to the hulls, and out
again into the still night beyond.
In the broad dark, someone
began to sing, and one by one
the others sang also, the German
prisoners singing in German,
the Americans in English,
the one song. "Silent night,"
they sang as the great treads
passed on across the dark
countryside muffled in white
snow, "Holy night."

~ Wendell Berry

nothing else


 There is nothing else than now. 
There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. 
How old must you be before you know that? 
There is only now, and if now is only two days, 
then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. 
This is how you live a life in two days. 
And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get,
 you will have a good life.
~ Ernest Hemingway 
from For Whom the Bell Tolls
photo by Robin Zygelman
with thanks to whiskey river

Monday, December 20, 2021

each time


The soul said, "Give me something to look at."
So I gave her a farm.  She said,
"It's too large."  So I gave her a field.
The two of us sat down.
Sometimes I would fall in love with a lake
Or a pine cone.  But I liked her
Most.  She knew it.
"Keep writing," she said.
So I did.  Each time the new snow fell,
We would be married again.
The holy dead sat down by our bed.
This went on for years.
"This field is getting too small," she said.
"Don't you know anyone else
To fall in love with?"
What would you have said to Her?
~ Robert Bly


where no one has a home


The wind blows where it likes: that is what 
Everyone is like who is born from the wind.
Oh now it's getting serious.  We want to be those
Born from the wind that blows along the plains
And over the sea where no one has a home.
And that Upsetting Rabbi, didn't he say:
"Take nothing with you, no blanket, no bread.
When evening comes, sleep wherever you are.
And if the owners say no, shake out the dust
From your sandals; leave the dust on their doorstep."
Don't hope for what will never come.  Give up hope,
Dear friends, the joists of life are laid on the winds.

~ Robert Bly
excerpt from A Poem for Giambattista Vico 


Sunday, December 19, 2021

the hope of results

Do not depend on the hope of results. 
… you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless 
and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. 

As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results
 but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. 

~ Thomas Merton
in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966, 
reproduced in The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton
art by Winslow Homer

the beginning of love


The beginning of love 
is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, 
and not to twist them to fit our own image. 

Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

~ Thomas Merton
sketch by the author

the secret beauty


Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, 
the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire
 nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality,
 the person that each one is in God's eyes.
 If only they could see themselves as they really are. 
If only we could see each other that way all the time,
 there would be no more war, no more hatred, 
no more cruelty, no more greed... 
I suppose the big problem would be 
that we would fall down and worship each other.
~ Thomas Merton 
photo by konrad gos


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

gratitude to old teachers

When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers? 

Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then-holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.

~ Robert Bly 
from Eating the Honey of Words

what caused us each to live hidden?

What caused us each to live hidden?
A wound, the wind, a word, a parent.
Sometimes we wait in a helpless way,
awkwardly, not whole and not healed.

When we hid the wound, we fell back
from a human to a shelled life.

~ Robert Bly
from Stealing Sugar from the Castle