Category Archives: Poetry

What Some Call Coincidence

First, I read this article about Stephen Colbert and was awed by how deep the conversation was and how much I needed to hear it.

Then, I opened David Whyte’s River Flow collection and read this:

Yorkshire

I love the dead
and their quiet living
underground
and I love the rain on my face.

And in childhood,
I loved the wind
on the moors
that carried the rain
and that carried the ashes
of the dead
like a spring sowing
of memory,
stored through all
the winters past.

In the dark November
onset of the winter
in which I was born,
I was set down in the
folds of the land
as if I belonged there,
and in that first night
under the evening shadow
of the moors and most likely
with the wind in the west,
as it would be for most
of my growing life,

I was breathing in the tang
and troubles of that immense
and shadowing sky
as I was breathing the shadows
of my mother’s body,
learning who and what was close
and how I could belong.

What great and
abstract power
lent me to those
particularities
I cannot know
but body
and soul were made
for that belonging.

Yorkshire is as hard
as a spade-edge
but the underpinnings
of the people and the land
in which we lived,
flowed and turned like the
river I knew in my valley.
The blunt solidarity of my elders
floated like mountains
on the slow but fluid lava
of their history.

But on this solid yet floating
land I must have been
as Irish as my mother
and amid the straight certainties
of my father’s Yorkshire,
I felt beneath the damp moor’s
horizon the curved invisible
lines that drew everything
together, the underground stream
of experience that could not
be quarried or brought to the surface,
but only dowsed, felt, followed
or intuited from above.

Poetry then became the key, my way
underground into what was hidden
by the inept but daily coverings
of grown-up surface speech.
Something sacred in the land
was left unsaid in people’s moths
but was written into our inheritance
and that small volume of Thom Gunn’s
youthful poetry from
the library’s high tiptoe shelf
was the angel’s gift to me.
Opened and read in my
young boy’s hands,
it revealed the first code
I sought and needed to begin
speaking what I felt
had been forgotten.

Full stretch I reached again
along the spines and touched
another, other life, pulling
down into my hands
The Hawk in the Rain
Ted Hughes’ dark book full of northern omens
hovering above my
own child’s shadow on the ground,
my heart and mind
caught in those written claws
and whisked into the sky.
The first rush of poetry’s
extended arms a complete
abduction of my person.

That was the beginning,
The first line on the open page
of my new life, the rest
would be more difficult
but that was the soil in which
I would grow, and that was the
life into which I would grow,
blessed and badgered by the northern
sweeps of light and dark
and the old entanglements
to which I was born. Always
on the wuthering moors
the gifts and stories and poetry
of the unknown and unvisited dead
who brought their history
to the world in which I grew.

Orphaned by poetry
from my first home,
to find a greater home
out in the world,
I wandered from that land
and began to write
youthfully and insubstantially,
slowly making myself
real and seeable by writing
myself into an original world
which had borne and
grown me so generously.

Belonging to one old land
so much by birth,
I learn each day now
what it means to
be born into a new land
and new people. The open
moor of the American
mind, gusted and shaken
by imagined new worlds
and imagined new clouds
and the fears and griefs of
the peopled and unknowable distances
of a vast land, and still amidst
everything, an innocence
which survives hear untouched
amidst a difficult inheritance.

Let my history then
be a gate unfastened
to a new life
and not a barrier
to my becoming.
Let me find the ghosts
and histories and barely
imagined future
of this world,
and let me now have
the innocence to grow
just as well in shadow or light
by what is gifted
in this land
as the one to which I was born.

Psychopomp

for Amanda

at ease
dear Heart
at ease after
inviting anyone, everyone
to come in so that alone
would not mean
broken

at ease
dear Dreamer
at ease after
trying so very hard
to bind the wounds of
that broken-winged
bird

at ease
dear Child
at ease after
saying “yes” too loudly
so they would not hear
your quiet screaming
no

at ease
dear Mind
at ease after
clawing through thorns
and tangles for words
that finally tell the whole
truth

at ease
dear Soul
at ease after
pleasing and appeasing
so many false
and foreign
gods

rest at ease
rest at ease
rest at ease

now sleep

Being a Person, by William Stafford

(thanks to Bill Neely, who posted this on Facebook.)

Be a person here. Stand by the river, invoke
the owls. Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its own
call. After that sound goes away, wait.

A slow bubble rises through the earth
and begins to include sky, stars, all space,
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again.

Suddenly this dream you are having matches
everyone’s dream, and the result is the world.
If a different call came there wouldn’t be any
world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.

How you stand here is important. How you
listen for the next things to happen. How you breathe.

This time, a poem about love.

This one is mine. And it holds a secret. I wonder if anyone will find it?

One Poem

Love is too much for one poem, it
bears repetition, needs it, to get to
all its crazy complexities, the
things that make you wonder if anyone
believes or begins to fathom it at
all. How could they?

Things are never what they seem, never what one
hopes when love is involved.
All the possibilities are only that, only
things that could be, and nothing really
endures, because love changes us
all—every one of us.

Things are never what they seem,
three plus three is suddenly seven and
things that were are no longer and yet we
endure because we long for love and keep
faith with it beyond all boundaries, all
hope, all reason.

Love is too much for one poem,
but still we try, we cannot help ourselves:
the subject demands it of us; demands our
greatest effort; the work
of an entire life; though we know
these words will never be enough and our effort
is destined for failure. Still we capture what we can and
love.

Another great poem…

It is, after all, National Poetry Month. This one I love because it takes something I have a hard time thinking of as poetic (statistics) and weaves a lovely, meaningful poem from and with it. Also, this poem is written by a man I was privileged to study with at Iowa State University, Dr. Neal Bowers. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t publish much anymore and that’s our loss because he is one of those poets who makes you think differently about everyday things. He was also a great teacher.

Results of the Questionnaire
by Neal Bowers
Published in Poetry, March 1996

Because most respondents spent most of their time
repeating whatever mantra helps them cope,
most said YES they were satisfied,
though the instrument itself did not allow
elaboration to distinguish between, say,
a soaking gladness or an intermittent
spritz that tantalizes more than it pleases,
nor can we say how much or little
of anything it takes to lift or crash the heart
of any individual, the wind
and every other variable being unpredictable
and somewhat relative, permitting
only a snapshot measurement–
the population posed momentarily and smiling
before dispersing to separate fates.

Off on the edges are others,
statistically predictable in their gloom,
a few of whom bore down so hard
when marking NO they tore the paper,
and we had to hand-score those,
though it was easy enough to read
the braille of their blinded lives,
to hear from the hole they made an emptiness;
and one or two percent
marked NO OPINION, as though remote
from their own minds, but we know
they are timid who choose
the nearest thing to not responding
but still respond because they think they should,
which is why we always provide this category,
like putting out a certain seed to lure
the shyest bird for counting.

The fraction who did not respond at all
cannot be said to have no opinion,
though we can never say with certainty
what their silence means, if anything.
Logic dictates they must fit somewhere,
but their self-removal perhaps implies
we haven’t offered enough options
and are therefore indirectly measuring
our own failing, which we score
as their inconsequential absence.

And Now, I am in love with This Poem:

You Can’t Have It All
by Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

I am in love with this poem right now…

Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.