Showing posts from 2010

Annunciation to the Shepherds

by Lynn Ungar

It's hard not to laugh.
What a picture it makes—
the dumbfounded shepherds
and the stricken sheep,
the cacophony of bleating
and the barking of sheepdogs
dashing and nipping
in a vain attempt at order,
and over it all the angels
trying to make their
shimmery voices heard.
“A who? Wrapped in what?”
the shepherds holler back.
“Where are we supposed to go?”
Poor guys. They wanted directions,
a purpose, some sense of how
the story might end.
And all they got,
all any of us ever get,
was the sound of angels,
somewhere beyond the din,
singing “Glory, Hosanna”
across the improbable night.

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

by Jane Hirshfield
for J.S.

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Descended from Dreamers

by Li-Young Lee

And what did I learn, a child, on the Sabbath?
A father is bound to kill his favorite son,
and to his father's cherishing
the beloved answers Yes.

The rest of the week, I hid from my father,
grateful I was not prized. But how deserted
he looked, with no son who pleased him.

And what else did I learn?
That light is born of dark to usurp its ancient rank.
And when a pharaoh dreams of ears of wheat
or grazing cows, it means
he's seen the shapes of the oncoming years.

The rest of my life I wondered: Are there dreams
that help us to understand the past? Or

is any looking back a waste of time,
the whole of it a too finely woven
net of innumerable conditions,
causes, effects, countereffects, impossible
to read? Like rain on the surface of a pond.

Where's Joseph when you need him?
Did Jacob, his father, understand
the dream of the ladder? Or did his enduring
its mystery make him richer?


Why are you crying? my father asked
in my dream, in a which we faced each …

Faint Music

by Robert Hass

Maybe you need to write a poem about grace.
When everything broken is broken,
and everything dead is dead,
and the hero has looked into the mirror with complete contempt,
and the heroine has studied her face and its defects
remorselessly, and the pain they thought might,
as a token of their earnestness, release them from themselves
has lost its novelty and not released them,
and they have begun to think, kindly and distantly,
watching the others go about their days--
likes and dislikes, reasons, habits, fears--
that self-love is the one weedy stalk
of every human blossoming, and understood,
therefore, why they had been, all their lives,
in such a fury to defend it, and that no one--
except some almost inconceivable saint in his pool
of poverty and silence--can escape this violent, automatic
life's companion ever, maybe then, ordinary light,
faint music under things, a hovering like grace appears.

As in the story a friend once told about the time
he tried to kill hi…

How It Happens

by W.S. Merwin

The sky said I am watching
to see what you
can make out of nothing
I was looking up and I said
I thought you
were supposed to be doing that
the sky said Many
are clinging to that
I am giving you a chance
I was looking up and I said
I am the only chance I have
then the sky did not answer
and here we are
with our names for the days
the vast days that do not listen to us

To Hold

by Li-Young Lee

So we're dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it. billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into aignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I'm lucky,
she'll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we'll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we'll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn't for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I'll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.

Standard Checklist for Amateur Mystics

by Li-Young Lee

A lamp so you can read the words on the tablet.
A hand to copy the sentences you find.
A hand for you to rest your head.

Feet to dance the gist of what you find.
A bird to scour your heart.
A bird to help you pronounce the sentences.

Breath to fan the fire's nest.
A kiln to test the choice.
A crown to keep underfoot.

Two eyes to see the one in one.
Three to see the two in one.
Seven to see the all in one.
A hand to cross out your name.

A donkey to carry your shit.
A monkey to filch change and food.
A brother to point the way.
A sister to redeem the refused.
A sister to ransom straw.
A sister to wake you with kisses
when you've fallen asleep at your opus.


by Yves Bonnefoy

Notre vie, ces chemins
Qui nous appellent
Dans la fraîcheur des prés
Où de l’eau brille.

Nous en voyons errer
Au faîte des arbres
Comme cherche le rêve, dans nos sommeils,
Son aute terre.

Ils vont, leurs mains sont pleines
D’une poussière d’or,
Ils entrouvrent leurs mains
Et la nuit tombe.


Our life, these paths
That call us
In the coolness of meadows
Where water shines.

Some of them go roaming
On the crowns of trees,
Just as in our sleep, a dream
Will seek its other earth.

They wander, hands full
Of golden dust.
They spread their fingers,
And night falls.

from "The Curved Planks"

a quick hit of John Plant's vocal setting!


by Constantine P. Cavafy As you set out for Ithaka hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Laistrygonians, Cyclops, angry Poseidon-don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as your keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body. Laistrygonians, Cyclops, wild Poseidon-you won’t encounter them unless you bring them inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one. May there be many summer mornings when, with what happiness, what joy, you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind- as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to learn and go on leaning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you’re destined for. But don’t hur…

The Second Coming

by William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning on the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: Somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with a lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again, but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

by Mary Oliver

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?
So let us go on

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

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


by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

The Chinese Peaks

by Robert Bly For Donald Hall
I love the mountain peak but I know also its rolling foothills half-invisible in mist and fog. The Seafarer gets up long before dawn to read. His soul is a whale feeding on the Holy Word. The soul who loves the peak also inhales the deep breath rising from the mountain buried in mist.

The Past

by Max Reif

The past is an interest-bearing investment,
an estate enclosing more territory each day,
a delta always creating land.

Now, in my 60s,
I'm a great landowner,
a don unable to survey
all my holdings at once,
even from the highest hill.

To do so, I have to take
to the winding back roads.
Whole years I'd forgotten
come into view.
Everything is growing,
rooted in soil.
I didn't know the past blossomed
with such passionate, poignant flowers
or yielded such succulent fruit.

Blossoms have faces and speak.
Resurrected old homes straddle valleys.
Memories graze on hillsides.
I return from such excursions knowing
there are still more such loops. How
did the tiny sharecropper's yard
I knew as a young man
ever accrue to this? What Hand
has watered the once-arid precincts
and made them fertile?

I wonder, hearing people say,
“the past is dead”, when I find it so alive,
nearly as unknown, at times,
as what has not yet been dreamed,
and though I do not live…

On the Day the Last Drag Queen Leaves Town

by Eric Leigh

for Issan
The boys downstairs huff gasoline off strips of Mother’s emerald gown, making what joy they can out of fume and a knockoff Halston. No note, no explanation, only thing she left is a hole where reason should be. You grow a heart and feed it leftovers: stray earrings, scuffed-out pumps, the soft pink flame of her first feather boa. How it curled around her shoulders when she did the lucky snake dance, the one with the shimmy, where her hands dangled at her side and slapped her hips. And then she’d wave her hand across the air just as she did every morning when you’d wake her with an orange for breakfast, a bowl of milk for her facial, and she’d give you a word: banana, somehow transformed by the dissonance of painted lips and baritone. Truth is you’ll be just fine. Remember a girl in high heels can still win a race. You’re just missing the way she knew you— the way the tree stump loves the ax, because the blade still sees a use in an old piece of oak. Drive int…

Miracle Fair

by Wislawa Szymborska

Commonplace miracle:
that so many commonplace miracles happen.

An ordinary miracle:
in the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.

One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.

Several miracles in one:
an alder tree reflected in the water,
and that it’s backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.

An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.

First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.

Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.

A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.

A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.

A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.

A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.

An additional miracle, as eve…


by Wislawa Szymborska

I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the river.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowe…

Could Have

by Wislawa Szymborska

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.
You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck -- a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or
how your heart pounds inside me.

from View With a Grain of Sand, trans. Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
To read more of her poems that I admire!

The Three Oddest Words

by Wislawa Szymborska

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
To read more of her poems that I admire!


For my mother, Leona Mare Carroll Ireland

I found a poem by Seamus Heaney that would not let me go. Mother never forgot to mention that they had a cook in her family home on Elmwood Place. I think that her name was Lizzy, Irish no doubt.


When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

The Lesson Of The Falling Leaves

by Lucille Clifton

With gratitude for the fall sesshin, October 10th-17th, Saint Dorothy's Rest, Camp Meeker.

And thank you, Lucille Clifton, for the capping verse:

The Lesson Of The Falling Leaves

the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves

The Second Voyage

by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Odysseus rested on his oar and saw
The ruffled foreheads of the waves
Crocodiling and mincing past: he rammed
The oar between their jaws and looked down
In the simmering sea where scribbles of weed defined
Uncertain depth, and the slim fishes progressed
In fatal formation, and thought
                                            If there was a single
Streak of decency in these waves now, they'd be ridged
Pocked and dented with the battering they've had,
And we could name them as Adam named the beasts,
Saluting a new one with dismay, or a notorious one
With admiration; they'd notice us passing
And rejoice at our shipwreck, but these
Have less character than sheep and need more patience.

I know what I'll do he said;
I'll park my ship in the crook of a long pier
(And I'll take you with me he said to the oar)
I'll face the rising ground and walk away
From tidal waters, up riverbeds
Where herons parcel out the miles o…

Men at Work

by Julie Bruck

I said, “Do you speak-a my language?”
He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.
—“Down Under.”

We middle-aged sense them immediately:
four brittle pop stars sprawled across
the rigid fibreglass chairs at the airport gate.
It’s not just that they’re Australian, that gorgeous
thunk of English, the stacked electric-guitar cases
draped with black leather jackets, or their deep
tans on this Sunday night in midwinter Toronto
that holds everyone’s attention, drawn as we are,
pale filings to their pull. Even their rail-thin
lassitude attracts us, as it must Doug, the portly
Air Canada gate manager in his personalized jacket,
who arrives to greet the band, cranking hands
and cracking jokes. Doug, who must live in
Mississauga with the wife and a couple of kids,
and who insists the boys come back to play Toronto
next year, when we clutchers of boarding passes
will have abandoned our carry-ons for tickets
to a midsized arena and a resurrected band
whose lyrics never did mak…

I Want to Write Something So Simply

by Mary Oliver, from Evidence

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself
out of your own heart
had been saying.

for Brendan who shared tonight at a 12 step meeting. You inspired me to write more personally about my experience with Issan and the founding years at Maitri Hospice.

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


by Mary Oliver

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is —

so it enters us —
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

by Mary Oliver, from Dream Work
Atlantic Monthly Press

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


by Mary Oliver

All night
the dark buds of dreams

In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine

if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,

and not an easy one—
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—
birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense

of loss—a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—
only how it feels

when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.

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

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

by Mary Oliver

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

If you want to read more of …

As If to Demonstrate an Eclipse

by Billy Collins
for Ken and Trevor, oh you Canadians!

I pick an orange from a wicker basket
and place it on the table
to represent the sun.
Then down at the other end
a blue and white marble
becomes the earth
and nearby I lay the little moon of an aspirin.

I get a glass from a cabinet,
open a bottle of wine,
then I sit in a ladder-back chair,
a benevolent god presiding
over a miniature creation myth,

and I begin to sing
a homemade canticle of thanks
for this perfect little arrangement,
for not making the earth too hot or cold
not making it spin too fast or slow

so that the grove of orange trees
and the owl become possible,
not to mention the rolling wave,
the play of clouds, geese in flight,
and the Z of lightning on a dark lake.

Then I fill my glass again
and give thanks for the trout,
the oak, and the yellow feather,

singing the room full of shadows,
as sun and earth and moon
circle one another in their impeccable orbits
and I get more and more cockeyed with gratitude.

All the True Vows

by David Whyte

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don't turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
It will kill you to break,

that way you'll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my r…

The Beauty Of Hopelessness

Zen comments on the 12 Steps
The koan, "Hsiang-yen: Up a Tree," case 5 of the Mumonkan.

Today I find myself totally swept up in the hanging man's dilemma as I begin to re-work Step 1 of the 12 Steps. The Big Book puts the first step in simple, straightforward language: "I admit that I am powerless over … [alcohol, drugs, food, sex]—that my life has become unmanageable."

It's just the first step on a journey, and in my case, there is a story connected with my personal surrender.

Here is case 5 as my teacher, John Tarrant Roshi, presented it during a retreat.

"Hsiang-yen: Up Tree"
The priest Hsiang-yen said, "It is as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch with your teeth. Your hands and feet can't touch any branch. Someone appears beneath the tree and asks, `What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?' If you do not answer, you evade your responsibility. If you do answer, you lose your life. What do…

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn't know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they'd claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn't understand remorse.
Lions and lice don't waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they're right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they're light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

Translated by Stanislaw Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh
To read more of her poems that I admire!

Reckless Poem

by Mary Oliver

Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves – you may believe this or not –
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
      tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
      is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
      until I came to myself.

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
      red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red pa…

Sit Quietly

by Nanao Sakaki

If you have time to chatter,
Read books.
If you have time to read,
Walk into the mountain, desert, and ocean.
If you have time to walk,
Sing songs and dance.
If you have time to dance,
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot.

for Seraphina Tarrant on her graduation from UCLA!--although to the unperceptive eye there does not appear to be much "silent solitude" around you, some of us think we know better. I thought of you when I read this poem. You do all recommended activities in abundance and then some. I am including a picture of a place where we both walked into the ocean, Manly Beach NSW.

We Have A Beautiful Mother

by Alice Walker

We have a beautiful Mother Her hills Are buffaloes Her buffaloes Hills. We have a beautiful Mother Her oceans Are wombs Her wombs Oceans. We have a beautiful Mother Her teeth The white stones At the edge Of the water The summer Grasses Her plentiful Hair. We have a beautiful Mother Her green lap Immense Her brown embrace Eternal Her blue body Everything we know.

Harvest of Thorns

by Scott O'Brien
Whom are they arresting?
Today, for the bomb in Times Square,
the one that did not go off,
except in people’s hearts
and exploded faith - after calling us back
from the borders of daily care
to stand and watch in horror.
Whom did they arrest?
Not the insatiable hatred, not
this misplaced
passion, obsessed with righting
wrongs at the expense of all
that is
Not the shadow of revenge,
which knows no solace,
runs from loving
caresses, spits out the cloying taste
of reconciliation.
No, they never arrest the right one:
that shadow fleeing
over there, just now
disappearing down the subway,
rounding that corner, the one who
has never yet been caught
in all these millennia
of wars, murderous martyrs,
and lunacy.
Each springs boxes him in,
every butterfly is a bomber,
fixing him in her sights,
every child’s smile a vicious
attack; only a cemetery feels
like home to him.

Such a strange universe, calling for help,
holding so close to its heart
this harvest of thorns.


by Wislawa Szymborska

Look, how constantly capable
and how well maintained
in our century: hatred.
How lightly she regards high impediments.
How easily she leaps and overtakes.

She's not like other feelings.
She's both older and younger than they.
She herself gives birth to causes
which awaken her to life.
If she ever dozes, it's not an eternal sleep.
Insomnia does not sap her strength, but adds to it.

Religion or no religion,
as long as one kneels at the starting-block.
Fatherland or no fatherland,
as long as one tears off at the start.
She begins as fairness and equity.
Then she propels herself.
Hatred. Hatred.
She veils her face with a mien
of romantic ecstasy.

Oh, the other feelings --
decrepit and sluggish.
Since when could that brotherhood
count on crowds?
Did ever empathy
urge on toward the goal?
How many clients did doubt abduct?
Only she abducts who knows her own.
Talented, intelligent, very industrious. Do we need to say how many songs she has written.
How many …


by Robert Hass

If I said—remembering in summer, The cardinal’s sudden smudge of red In the bare gray winter woods—
If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat Of the girl with pooched-out lips Dangling a wiry lapdog In the painting by Renoir—
If I said fire, if I said blood welling from a cut—
Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano—
If I said, her one earring tugging at her silky lobe,
If she tells fortunes with a deck of fallen leaves Until it comes out right—
Rouged nipple, mouth—
(How could you not love a woman Who cheats at the Tarot?)
Red, I said. Sudden, red.


by Robert Hass

“Tender Little Buddha,” she said Of my least Buddha-like member. She was probably quoting Allen Ginsberg. Who was probably paraphrasing Walt Whitman. After the Civil War, after the death of Lincoln, That was a good time to own railroad stocks. But Whitman was in the Library of Congress, Researching alternative Americas, Reading up on the curiosities of Hindoo philosophy, Studying the etchings of stone carvings Of strange couplings in a book.
She was taking off a blouse, Almost transparent, the color of a silky tangerine. From Capitol Hill Walt Whitman must have been able to see Willows gathering the river haze In the cooling and still-humid twilight. He was in love with a trolley conductor In the summer of—what was it?—1867? 1868?
[from Time and Materials, Poems 1997-2005]

From: “Leaves of Grass,” Song of the Open Road

by Walt Whitman

From this hour, freedom! From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines, Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute, Listening to others, and considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space; The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me; I can repeat over to men and women, You have done such good to me, I would do the same to you.
I will recruit for myself and you as I go; I will scatter myself among men and women as I go; I will toss the new gladness and roughness among them; Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me; Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.
[for Frank, Leon, & Robert. The photograph of verse in Whitman's hand is…

Ecclesiastes II:I

by Richard Wilbur
We must cast our bread Upon the waters, as the Ancient preacher said,
Trusting that it may Amply be restored to us After many a day.
That old metaphor, Drawn from rice farming on the River's flooded shore,
Helps us believe That it's no great sin to give, Hoping to receive.
Therefore I shall throw Broken bread, this sullen day, Out across the snow,
Betting crust and crumb That birds will gather, and that One more spring will come.


by Robert Pinsky
[for my fellow Christians of the pagan persuasion]

Easter was the old North    Goddess of the dawn.    She rises daily in the East    And yearly in spring for the great   
Paschal candle of the sun.    Her name lingers like a spot    Of gravy in the figured vestment    Of the language of the Britains.   
Her totem the randy bunny.    Our very Thursdays and Wednesdays    Are stained by syllables of thunder    And Woden's frenzy.   
O my fellow-patriots loyal to this    Our modern world of high heels,    Vaccination, brain surgery—    May they pass over us, the old   
Jovial raptors, Apollonian flayers,    Embodiments. Egg-hunt,    Crucifixion. Supper of encrypted    Dishes: bitter, unrisen, a platter   
Compass of martyrdom,    Ground-up apples and walnuts    In sweet wine to embody mortar    Of affliction, babies for bricks.   
Legible traces of the species    That devises the angel of death    Sailing over our doorpost    Smeared with sacrifice.

This One Precious Human Life

by Ken Ireland

for Grant Dillon
“One theory says you won’t remember dying any more than being born.” – Franz Wright
At noon they sat the lama down in front of TV. Some real experience of life outside a meditation crib seemed like a simple request. Remote control in hand, he flipped to All My Children. Stop. “Stop! “Oh watch out!” he cried inside. “Amanda, you can’t hide your lies, silly bitch. “Jake knows David is the daddy. “You’ll never get away with it. “How can you be that stupid?” Where did that thought come from? These families, really? Westerners, really. Love your momma.
Flip more. One Life to Live. Now we’re getting somewhere. Better title— Too Many Lives to Live. "No—Oh no, David, don’t kiss Oliver! “Please don’t! “That Path leads in only one direction— “All the Teachings agree, male or female, “male and male, female and female, no difference,
"but... “Good luck. Looks like trouble ahead.” Real tears for imaginary men.
Can’t fast forward.
The lama begins to slum…

Outside My Window

by Ken Ireland

dedicated to Chris Wilson, head of practice at Spring sesshin, a generous, guiding spirit and friend

The constant light rain clears momentarily. 
A bird's three bare notes—
infinite variations flood over me.
Red Camilla blossoms fall upside down.

to read more of my poems