Thursday, June 28, 2012

what is there beyond knowing

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can't
turn in any direction
but it's there. I don't mean
the leaves' grip and shine or even the thrush's
silk song, but the far-off
fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven's slowly turning
theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;
or time that's always rushing forward,
or standing still
in the same -- what shall I say --
What I know
I could put into a pack
as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,
important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained
and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly
to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.
But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing
in and out. Life so far doesn't have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.
If there's a temple, I haven't found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

~ Mary Oliver
from Swan - Poems and Prose Poems
with thanks to love is a place

Thursday, May 31, 2012


by Paul Stamets
with thanks to Chemin faisant

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The uniformity of the earth's life, more astonishing than its diversity, 
is accountable by the high probability that we derived, 
originally, from a single cell, fertilized in a bolt of lightning as the earth cooled. 
 It is from the progeny of this parent cell that we take our looks; 
 we still share genes around, and 
the resemblance of the enzymes of grasses to those of whales is a family resemblance.

~ Lewis Thomas
from The Lives of a Cell

Saturday, May 12, 2012

as if it never existed

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises,
And as wax melts from the heat of fire,
So the soul drawn to that light is resplendent,
Feels self melt away,
Its will and actions no longer its own.
So clear is the imprint of God
That the soul, conquered, is conqueror;
Annihilated, it lives in triumph.

What happens to the drop of wine
That you pour into the sea?
Does it remain itself, unchanged?
It is as if it never existed.
So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.
It has eyes only for this beauty;
It no longer seeks to possess, as was its wont -
It lacks the strength to possess such sweetness.
The base of this highest of peaks
Is founded on nichil,
Shaped into nothingness, made one with the Lord.

~ Jacopone da Todi
an excerpt from Let Annihilation and Charity Lead

Jacopone Benedetti, was born into a wealthy family in the central Italian town of Todi.  As a young man, he married and started a career as a notario, combining the skills of an accountant and a lawyer.  Legend has it that when a balcony collapsed at a wedding feast, killing his wife, he abandoned his career, gave away all his possessions, and become a wandering penitent.  He eventually joined the Franciscan Order, and discovered a gift for poetry.  He was imprisoned for five years for his opposition to the election of Pope Boniface VIII, and continued to write deeply personal and mystical poetry on prison.  He was released on the death of Boniface, and retired to a hermitage near Orvieto, where he died in 1306.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

happy birthday Ella

Thursday, April 19, 2012

the lost trapper

Each time the soprano and the tenor
Kneel and sing to each other,
Somewhere else on stage the baritone
Is about to die.

The Alaskan trapper finds
Blood on his arm, his radio
Dead, and new snow
Falling on the branches.

I don't know why the grasshopper
Doesn't try to wiggle
Out from the bird's claw,
But he doesn't move.

Just forget the idea that
Someone will come and save
You whenever cedars begin
Making that low sound.

~ Robert Bly 
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

I was sorry to hear, via David Sanders‘ “Poetry News” in Prairie Schooner that the poet has Alzheimer’s. His daughter, Mary Bly, told Minnesota Public Radio:

You know he’s very happy. So… not very happy but he’s happy. So I’m very grateful that he’s not experienced the personality changes that sometimes accompany that sort of loss. But it’s sad, it’s very very hard for someone whose life is made up of looking at a tree and turning it into a poem – so your whole life flows by you in words – to not be able to manipulate words is a terrible thing.

At Minnesota's "Poetry Out Loud" in 2009 (Photo: Creative Commons)

For a good part of my childhood my dad was working on short prose poetry. And he used to make us – the children had to do it along with him! Our dinners were often made up of impromptu poetry readings. So in a way this was my tribute year to him, too, because that’s the kind of writing he did when I was growing up. He worked very hard on very small sets of words.

…My stepmother was talking about watching a video of him – and he sparked with ideas all the time – and he hasn't lost his sense of humor so he said “I like that guy!” And then he said “I wish I knew him.” So it was very hard for my stepmother in that moment. But he’s both recognizing what’s happening – his sense of humor is not gone at all – and acknowledging that life has different phases.

I met up with Bly again decades later at Stanford in 2008, but by then I was different and older, and he seemed curiously (perhaps deceptively) the same, although his hair was pure silver, and he seemed more a grandfatherly figure to the students. He turned to the young poet wannabes and cackled conspiratorially, “You can’t tell this to your parents.” Of course, he was a parent by then, and so was I, so the comment seemed oddly nostalgic.

I spoke to him privately, during a break in the class, and told him of our meeting decades ago. For a moment our eyes met, and he seemed curiously vulnerable, aware of the mask he was wearing that had somehow grown to him, the name and fame he carried like a heavy backpack, and could no longer put down.

~ from book haven

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the old man mad about drawing

hokusai - an animated sketchbook

~ tony white
with thanks to sharanam

the starfish

It is low tide. Fog. I have climbed down the cliffs
from Pierce Ranch to the tide pools. Now the ecstasy
of the low tide, kneeling down, alone. In six inches of
clear water I notice a purple starfish—with nineteen
arms! It is a delicate purple, the color of old carbon
paper, or an attic dress . . . at the webs between the
arms sometimes a more intense sunset red glows
through. The fingers are relaxed . . . some curled up at
the tips . . . with delicate rods . . . apparently globes
on top of each, as at World's Fairs, waving about. The
starfish slowly moves up the groin of the
rock . . . then back down . . . many of its arms rolled
up now, lazily, like a puppy on its back. One arm is
especially active and curved up over its own body as
if a dinosaur were looking behind him.
How slowly and evenly it moves! The starfish is a
glacier, going sixty miles a year! It moves over the pink
rock, by means I cannot see . . . and into marvelously
floating delicate brown weeds. It is about the size of
the bottom of a pail. When I reach into it, it tightens
and then slowly relaxes. . . . I take an arm and quickly
lift. The underside is a pale tan. . . . Gradually, as I
watch, thousands of tiny tubes begin rising from all
over the underside . . . hundreds in the mouth, hun-
dreds along the nineteen underarms . . . all looking. . .
feeling . . . like a man looking for a woman . . . tiny
heads blindly feeling for a rock and finding only air.
A purple rim runs along the underside of every arm,
with paler tubes. Probably its moving-feet.
I put him back in. He unfolds—I had forgotten
how purple he was—and slides down into his rock
groin, the snail-like feelers waving as if nothing had
happened, and nothing has.

~ Robert Bly
 from Selected Poems
photo by nick hobgood
with thanks to writers almanac

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

bring it back gently

If the heart wanders or is distracted, 
bring it back to the point quite gently and 
replace it tenderly in its Master’s presence. 

And even if you did nothing during the whole of your hour 
but bring your heart back and place it again in Our Lord’s presence, 
though it went away every time you brought it back, 
your hour would be very well employed. 

~ Saint Francis de Sales
with thanks to blue mountain meditation

o lacrimosa

(trilogy for future music of Ernst Krenek)


Oh tear-filled figure who, like a sky held back,
grows heavy above the landscape of her sorrow.
And when she weeps, the gentle raindrops fall,
slanting upon the sand-bed of her heart.

O heavy with weeping. Scale to weigh all tears.
Who felt herself not sky, since she was shining
and sky exists only for clouds to form in.

How clear it is, how close, your land of sorrow,
beneath the stearn sky's oneness. Like a face
that lies there, slowly waking up and thinking
horizontally, into endless depths.


It is nothing but a breath, the void.
And that green fulfillment
of blossoming trees: a breath.
We, who are still the breathed-upon,
today still the breathed-upon, count
this slow breathing of earth,
whose hurry we are.


Ah, but the winters! The earth's mysterious
turning-within. Where around the dead
in the pure receding of sap,
boldness is gathered,
the boldness of future springtimes.
Where imagination occurs
beneath what is rigid; where all the green
worn thin by the vast summers
again turns into a new
insight and the mirror of intuition;
where the flowers' color
wholly forgets that lingering of our eyes.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Stephen Mitchell
art by francoise pothier

rescue the dead

Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,
is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,
is to respect fire,
is to study man’s eyes and his gestures
as he talks,
is to set bread upon the table
and a knife discreetly by,
is to pass through crowds
like a crowd of oneself.
Not to love is to live.

To love is to be led away
into a forest where the secret grave
is dug, singing, praising darkness
under the trees.

To live is to sign your name,
is to ignore the dead,
is to carry a wallet
and shake hands.

To love is to be a fish.
My boat wallows in the sea.
You who are free,
rescue the dead.

~ David Ignatow

the signal

How can I regret my life
when I find the blue-green traffic light
on the corner delightful against the red brick
of my house. It is when the signal turns red
that I lose interest. At night
I am content to watch the blue-green
come on against the dark
and I do not torture myself
with my shortcomings.

~ David Ignatow

Monday, April 16, 2012

leap before you look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

~ W. H. Auden
with thanks to knopf poetry


I should be content
to look at a mountain
for what it is
and not a comment on my life.

~ David Ignatow
art from the song dynasty