Monasteries of the Heart

Poetry Lectio

Every Day

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.
~ Ikkyu

December 12, 2014

The Dead

They're very close to us, the dead;

us in our taxis, them in their hearses,

waiting for the lights to change.

We give them precedence.

So close to us, unknown on television;

dead from hunger, earthquake, war,

suicide bomber, tsunami.

We count the numbers.

The famous dead — a double glamour —

we buy their music, movies, memoirs.

O! Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

in glorious technicolor.

In Venice, we glimpse the dead

drift to the island cemetery across the lagoon.

We float our gondolas along the green canals

and do not die.
--Carol Ann Duffy

November 7, 2014

Who the Meek Are Not

Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent

under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep

 in the rice paddy muck,

nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles

 make the wheat fall in waves

they don't get to eat. My friend the Franciscan

 nun says we misread

that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.

 To understand the meek

(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop

 in a meadow, who—

at his master's voice—seizes up to a stunned

 but instant halt.

So with the strain of holding that great power

 in check, the muscles

along the arched neck keep eddying,

and only the velvet ears

prick forward, awaiting the next order.
Mary Karr

October 31, 2014


Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann

The modern biographers worry

"how far it went," their tender friendship.

They wonder just what it means

when he writes he thinks of her constantly,

his guardian angel, beloved friend.

The modern biographers ask

the rude, irrelevant question

of our age, as if the event

of two bodies meshing together

establishes the degree of love,

forgetting how softly Eros walked

in the nineteenth century, how a hand

held overlong or a gaze anchored

in someone's eyes could unseat a heart,

and nuances of address, not known

in our egalitarian language

could make the redolent air

tremble and shimmer with the heat

of possibility. Each time I hear

the Intermezzi, sad

and lavish in their tenderness,

I imagine the two of them

sitting in a garden

among late-blooming roses

and dark cascades of leaves,

letting the landscape speak for them,

leaving nothing to overhear.
--Lisel Mueller

October 3, 2014
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September Meditation

I do not know if the seasons remember their history or if the days and
nights by which we count time remember their own passing.
I do not know if the oak tree remembers its planting or if the pine
remembers its slow climb toward sun and stars.
I do not know if the squirrel remembers last fall's gathering or if the
bluejay remembers the meaning of snow.
I do not know if the air remembers September or if the night remembers
the moon.
I do not know if the earth remembers the flowers from last spring or if
the evergreen remembers that it shall stay so.
Perhaps that is the reason for our births -- to be the memory for
Perhaps salvation is something very different than anyone ever expected.
Perhaps this will be the only question we will have to answer:
"What can you tell me about September?"

~ Burton D. Carley ~

September 26, 2014


Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you're sure it's there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

~ Czeslaw Milosz ~

September 5, 2014

from How Beautiful the Morning

Grief will come to you.
Grip and cling all you want,
It makes no difference.

Catastrophe? It's just waiting to happen.
Loss? You can be certain of it.

Flow and swirl of the world.
Carried along as if by a dark current.

All you can do is keep swimming;
All you can do is keep singing.

~ Gregory Orr ~

August 27, 2014

One Heart

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, friend, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

~ Li-Young Lee ~

July 25, 2014


Woke up this morning with

a terrific urge to lie in bed all day

and read. Fought against it for a minute.

Then looked out the window at the rain.

And gave over. Put myself entirely 

in the keep of this rainy morning.

Would I live my life over again?

Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?

Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
--Raymond Carver

July 6, 2014

To Ninety

A city sparrow

touches down

on a bare branch

in the fork of a tree

through whose arms

the snow is sifting —

swipes his beak

against wood, this side

then that,

and flies away:

what sight

could be more common?

Yet I think

for such sights alone

I would live to ninety.

June 20, 2014

Monopoly 1955

We start by fanning out the money, colored 

like Necco wafers: pink, yellow, mint, gold.

From the first roll of the dice, differences widen:

the royal blues of Boardwalk and Park Place

look down their noses at the grapey immigrants

from Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues.

My grandparents coming from Italy in steerage

measured their gold in olive oil, not bank notes

and deeds. The man in the top hat and tuxedo

always holds the good cards. The rest of us

hope we can pay the Electric Company.

We know there is no such thing as Free Parking, 

and Bank Errors are never in our favor.

In the background, Johnny Mathis croons

Chances Are from the cracked vinyl radio.

We played for hours, in those years

before television, on the Formica table,

while my mother coaxed a chicken,

cooking all day on the back burner, to multiply

itself into many meals. The fat rose to the surface, 

a roiling ocean of molten gold.
--Barbara Crooker

June 6, 2014

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
--Rest in Peace,
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928—May 28, 2014)

May 30, 2014


They used to say we're living on borrowed

time but even when young I wondered

who loaned it to us? In 1948 one grandpa

died stretched tight in a misty oxygen tent,

his four sons gathered, his papery hand

grasping mine. Only a week before, we were fishing.

Now the four sons have all run out of borrowed time

while I'm alive wondering whom I owe

for this indisputable gift of existence.

Of course time is running out. It always

has been a creek heading east, the freight

of water with its surprising heaviness

following the slant of the land, its destiny.

What is lovelier than a creek or riverine thicket?

Say it is an unknown benefactor who gave us

birds and Mozart, the mystery of trees and water

and all living things borrowing time.

Would I still love the creek if I lasted forever?
--Jim Harrison

May 16, 2014

Prayer in My Boot

For the wind no one expected

For the boy who does not know the answer

For the graceful handle I found in a field

attached to nothing

pray it is universally applicable

For our tracks which disappear
the moment we leave them

For the face peering through the cafe window

as we sip our soup

For cheerful American classrooms sparkling

with crisp colored alphabets

happy cat posters

the cage of the guinea pig

the dog with division flying out of his tail

and the classrooms of our cousins

on the other side of the earth

how solemn they are

how gray or green or plain

how there is nothing dangling

nothing striped or polka-dotted or cheery

no self-portraits or visions of cupids

and in these rooms the students raise their hands

and learn the stories of the world

For library books in alphabetical order

and family businesses that failed

and the house with the boarded windows

and the gap in the middle of a sentence

and the envelope we keep mailing ourselves

For every hopeful morning given and given

and every future rough edge

and every afternoon

turning over in its sleep
--Naomi Shihab Nye

May 10, 2014

sugar is smoking

it's amazing how death
is always around the corner,
or not even so far away
as that, hiding in the little pleasures
that some of us would go
so far as to say
are the only things
keeping us alive.
- Jason Schneiderman

May 2, 2014


Dear Lord
Show me
The way--
My heart
And throw
It away

Lord, take
My heart
And throw
It out

Lord, throw
My heart
Way out
--Robert Gluck

April 25, 2014

A Violin at Dusk

Stumble to silence, all you uneasy things,
That pack the day with bluster and with fret.
For here is music at each window set;
Here is a cup which drips with all the springs
That ever bud a cowslip flower; a roof
To shelter till the argent weathers break;
A candle with enough of light to make
My courage bright against each dark reproof.
A hand's width of clear gold, unraveled out
The rosy sky, the little moon appears;
As they were splashed upon the paling red,
Vast, blurred, the village poplars lift about.
I think of young, lost things: of lilacs; tears;
I think of an old neighbor, long since dead.
--by Lizette Woodworth Reese

April 4, 2014


From "Cold Hills"

I have lived so long
On the cold hills alone ...
I loved the rock
And the lean pine trees,
Hated the life in the turfy meadow,
Hated the heavy, sensuous bees.
I have lived so long
Under the high monotony of starry skies,
I am so cased about
With the clean wind and the cold nights,
People will not let me in
To their warm gardens
Full of bees.
--Janet Loxley Lewis

March 28, 2014


for Adrienne Rich

You came in a dream, yesterday
--The first day we met
you showed me your dark workroom
off the kitchen, your books, your notebooks.

Reading our last, knowing-last letters
--the years of our friendship
reading our poems to each other,
I would start breathing again.

Yesterday, in the afternoon,
more than a year since you died,
some words came into the air.
I looked away a second,
and they were gone,
six lines, just passing through.
--Jean Valentine

March 21, 2014

To a Young Girl at a Window

The Poor Old Soul plods down the street,
Contented, and forgetting
How Youth was wild, and Spring was wild
And how her life is setting;

And you lean out to watch her there,
And pity, nor remember,
That Youth is hard, and Life is hard,
And quiet is December.
--Margaret Widdemer

March 14, 2014

The Call This

A young mother on a motor scooter stopped at a traffic
light, her little son perched on the ledge between her
legs; she in a gleaming helmet, he in a replica of it,
smaller, but the same color and just as shiny. His visor
is swung shut, hers is open.
As I pull up beside them on my bike, the mother
is leaning over to embrace the child, whispering
something in his ear, and I'm shaken, truly shaken, by
the wish, the need, to have those slim strong arms
contain me in their sanctuary of affection.
Though they call this regression, though that
implies a going back to some other state and this has
never left me, this fundamental pang of being too soon
torn from a bliss that promises more bliss, no matter
that the scooter's fenders are dented, nor that as it
idles it pops, clears its throat, growls.
--by C. K. Williams

March 7, 2014


It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That's why we wake
and look out -- no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

~ William Stafford ~

February 21, 2014

A Cedary Fragrance

Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water—

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.

--Jane Hirshfield

February 7, 2014


A journey continues until it stops
A journey that stops is no longer a journey
A journey loses thing on its way
A journey passes through things, thing pass through it
When a journey is over, it loses itself to a place
When a journey remembers, it begins a journal
Which is a new journey about an old journey
A journey over time is different from a journey into time
An actual journey is into the future
A reflective journey is into the past

A journey always begins in a place called Here
Pack your bags and imagine your journey
Unpack your bags and imagine your journey is done

If you're afraid of a journey, don't buy shoes

~ Mark Strand ~

February 2, 2014