Showing posts from 2009

The Buddha's Last Instruction

by Mary Oliver

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

If you want to read more of Mary…


by Mary Oliver

What did you notice? The dew snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod. What did you hear? The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence. What did you admire? The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the
pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid
beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost. What astonished you? The swallows making their dip and turn over the water. What would you like to see again? My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongu…

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work, 1985

If you want to read more of Mary Oliver’s poems, here are some that I like.

Hiku for Mary

Even grandma
goes out drinking--
moonlit night

At Lake Scugog

by Troy Jollimore

1. Where what I see comes to rest, at the edge of the lake, against what I think I see and, up on the bank, who I am maintains an uneasy truce with who I fear I am, while in the cabin’s shade the gap between the words I said and those I remember saying is just wide enough to contain the remains that remain of what I assumed I knew.
2. Out in the canoe, the person I thought you were gingerly trades spots with the person you are and what I believe I believe sits uncomfortably next to what I believe. When I promised I will always give you what I want you to want, you heard, or desired to hear, something else. As, over and in the lake, the cormorant and its image traced paths through the sky.
From: The NewYorker July 27, 2009

by James Broughton

Simplify. Clarify. Vivify.
Surprise your eyes. Break your heart open.
Dose all your ills with laughter.
Look out! Here comes the Imperishable Light!
Accept no substitutes.
We are all participants in the marvelous.

~ James Broughton

The Place

by R S Thomas

Summer is here.
Once more the house has its
Spray of martins, Prousts fountain
Of small birds, whose light shadows
Come and go in the sunshine
Of the lawn as thoughts do
In the mind. Watching them fly
Is my business, not as a man vowed
To science, who counts their returns
To the rafters, or sifts their droppings
For facts, recording the wave-length
Of their screaming; my method is so
To have them about myself
Through the hours of this brief
Season and to fill with their
Movement, that it is I that they build
In and bring up their young
To return to after the bitter
Migrations, knowing the site
Inviolate through its outward changes.

The Crows Start Demanding Royalties

By Lucia Perillo

Of all the birds, they are the ones
who mind their being armless most:
witness how, when they walk, their heads jerk
back and forth like rifle bolts.
How they heave their shoulders into each stride
as if they hoped that by some chance
new bones there would come popping out
with a boxing glove on the end of each.
Little Elvises, the hairdo slicked
with too much grease, they convene on my lawn
to strategize for their class-action suit.
Flight they would trade in a New York minute
for a black muscle car and a fist on the shift
at any stale green light. But here in my yard
by the Jack-in-the-Box Dumpster
they can only fossick* in the grass for remnants
of the world’s stale buns. And this
despite all the crow poems that have been written
because men like to see themselves as crows
(the head-jerk performed in the rearview mirror,
the dark brow commanding the rainy weather).
So I think I know how they must feel:
ripped off, shook down, taken to the cleaners.
What they’d lik…

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Discover the Moment

[From our retreat: here are a few lines from Rumi translated by Coleman Barks.]

Who gets up early to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob, blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his son and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down
and brings up a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there's a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow one drop.
Now there's a pearl.

A vagrant wanders empty ruins
Suddenly he's wealthy.

But don't be satisfied with stories,
how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth,
without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage…

St. Sarah Sarai Carrying the Infant Christ Child

By Sarah Sarai

Creeping, is what a saffron sun is doing,
creeping out from a past it will soon revisit.

I hike my blood-red tunic to my thighs
with one hand while the other, well,
in my arms, well, always a child,
always delivered to us in indrawn-
infant stillness, as if creation
holds its breath because, really,
all this is over so much too soon.

Isn’t making art remembering
what we knew? Why not, then, salvation?

The water over rocks cold on granite—
quartz and orthoclase—and slick moss.
I’m the last person who should be entrusted
to carry Him, me of the angry sinner school.

And I would forswear sainthood and irony,
I would, for this one, held against my heart.

In response to: Saint Christopher and the Infant Christ, Follower of Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish, ca. 1480)
Mississippi Review

For The Anniversary Of My Death

by W.S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

The war is over --

by Bob O’Hearn

As long as we imagine there is something to defend, we will find enemies.
The war is always with ourselves in that respect.
Mind divides itself into self and other,
and so the wild rumpus continues.

"Except for deserted wilderness what is there to protect?"


The war is over --
nobody survived.

No time to mourn the dead,
sunrise over the settling dust
was too captivating for any lament.

Crimson trails of mind's lingering exhaust
scar-streaked dawn's early sky, as if
the dream of night itself exploded,
as if from now on there would be
flooding daylight only, though
even that wild wonder will
fall in time from the eyes,
till what remains is
not of time, not of mind,
yet even in its flash of vanishing --
true balm for wounded hearts.

We wake and rise and fall breathless
into this luminosity, this sky meadow
vibrant with vernal signs, hues,
and vivid budding wonders --
the ordinary evidence of everything
changing, even as we ourselves are

Pilgrim's Progress

by Ken Ireland

Will my heart ever warm to these foreign gods? No matter that we shaved our heads for awhile. No matter that we wore socks that felt more like gloves than the fingerless mittens that mother stuffed our hands into when the pond froze over. There is still some mystery the heart cannot speak.

Sometimes I feel as if I've been snowed into that one room school my grandpa talked of, huddled around the stove, a gang of kids jostling for attention like best grades, playing with tongue tangled words in a Sanskrit yeshiva, parsing phrases as cold as Tibetan snow. I aim for the precision of the shovel I used to dig out the family car after the blizzard, cutting square white blocks to toss before the plow. I train my body to own the rhythm of swinging forward, bending down from the hips, throwing my arms towards the ground. It feels like falling.

When the conversation overheats, almost as loud as at auntie's Sunday table before we were hushed, I hear my own voice inflected at the end of sentences,

Praise Song for the Day

The following is a transcript of the inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” written and recited by Elizabeth Alexander, as provided by Graywolf Press. I have to admit to liking the poem much better when I see it in print than I did when Ms. Alexander recited it at President Obama’s Inauguration.

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to con…

Whistler’s Mother

by Philip Whalen

Mother and Ed are out in the car Wait til I put on some clothes Ed’s in a hurry. He hasn’t eaten since this morning Wait till I put on some clothes. Mother and Ed are out in the car. Do you have any clothes on yet? Let me come it. Wait till I get some clothes on Ed is impatient. He and mother are waiting. Can I come in? Wait till I put on some clothes. Mother and Ed are out in the car Wait till I get into some clothes Can’t I come in? Aren’t you dressed yet? Wait till I put on some clothes Mother and Ed are out in the car Can I come in? Wait till I get on some clothes.

This Land Is Your Land

byWoody Guthrie

This land is your land. This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me. As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me. I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me. When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me. As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me. In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking