In the next century
or the one beyond that
are valleys, pastures.
We can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
learn the flowers
in the next century
In the next century
Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm In Pine Island, Minnesota
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back as the evening darkens, and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
There was a time
There was a time I would reject those
who were not my faith.
But now, my heart has grown capable
of taking on all forms.
It is a pasture for gazelles,
An abbey for monks.
A table for the Torah.
Kaaba for the pilgrim.
My religion is love.
Whichever the route love’s caravan shall take,
That shall be the path of my faith.
Before Spring There Are Days Like These
Before spring there are days like these;
Under the dense snow the meadow rests,
The trees merrily, drily rustle,
And the warm wind is tender and supple.
And the body marvels at its lightness,
And you don’t recognize your own house,
And that song you were tired of before,
You sing like a new one, with deep emotion.
For the New Year, 1981
I have a small grain of hope—
one small crystal that gleams
clear colors out of transparency.
I need more.
I break off a fragment
to send you.
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.
Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow.
Only so, by division,
will hope increase,
like a clump of irises, which will cease to flower
unless you distribute
the clustered roots, unlikely source—
clumsy and earth-covered—
The Way It Is
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
--William Stafford (1914-1993)
As if he were listening; stillness, distance.
We hold our breath and cease to hear it.
He is like a star surrounded
by other stars we cannot see.
He is all things. Do we really expect him
to notice us? What need could he have?
If we prostrated ourselves at his feet,
he would remain deep and calm like a cat.
For what threw us down before him
has circled in him for millions of years.
He, who has gone beyond all we can know
and knows what we never will.
--Rainer Maria Rilke
A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy. Here’s a poem that I copied and plan to reread often.
For the 500th Dead Palestinian: Ibtisam Bozieh
LITTLE SISTER, Ibtisam,
our sleep flounders, our sleep tugs
the cord of your name.
Dead at 13, for staring through
the window into a gun barrel
which did not know you wanted to be
--from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a person aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some women become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen to you.
~ Sheenagh Pugh ~
I Ask My Mother to Sing
She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.
I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.
But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.
Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.
Canticle on Matthew 6 in Wartime
Canticle on Matthew 6 in Wartime
Consider the missing lilies, the trees stripped of leaves and burnt, the grass trampled to dust.
Consider the crows of the air, what they reap, how they savor what others disdain.
Consider the splendor of kings, how they neither toil nor sow, and yet their coffers spill over.
Consider the empty barns and silos, the unplowed fields, the gravelly gnawing of hunger.
Consider tomorrow tomorrow: sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.
-- Jennifer Atkins
The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.
The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all,
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.
But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life,
knee deep in the summer
he just smiled and said
they have places to go
-- Joseph Bruchac
A Nice Day for Lynching
The bloodhounds look like sad old judges
In a strange court. They point their noses
At the Negro jerking in the tight noose;
His feet spread crow-like above these
Honorable men who laugh as he chokes.
I don’t know this black man.
I don’t know these white men.
But I know that one of my hands
Is black, and one white. I know that
One part of me is being strangled,
While another part horribly laughs.
Until it changes,
I shall be forever killing; and be killed.
The Sixth of January
The cat sits on the back of the sofa looking
out the window through the softly falling snow
at the last bit of gray light.
I can’t say the sun is going down
We haven’t seen the sun for two months.
I am sitting in the blue chair listening to this stillness.
The only sound: the occasional gurgle of tea
coming out of the pot and into the cup.
How can this be?
Such calm, such peace, such solitude
in this world of woe.
Christmas Eve, Almost Midnight
Driving through the mist after delivering
packages, I come upon a family of deer
walking down the middle of the street.
I cut my lights and engine and coast
behind them awhile. They are cruising
the neighborhood, nibbling the frosty lawns,
looking for nasturtiums. I glide behind them
around a corner and down another street,
the only sound the crunching of newly formed ice
beneath my tires, until they disappear onto the dark,
soggy soccer fields of the middle school.
I tell you I can count on one hand
the number of times I’ve been happier.
A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead? Hark.
God, give us a long winter
and quiet music, and patient mouths,
and a little pride—before
our age ends.
Give us astonishment
and a flame, high, bright.
I am going to start living like a mystic
I Am Going To Start Living Like A Mystic
Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.
The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage -- silent, pondering.
Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.
I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.
I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.
I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.
I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.
~ Edward Hirsch ~
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life -
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
~ William Stafford ~
To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin
Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,
for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he give a light, divine
though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.
You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be
the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
~ Wendell Berry ~
Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there's left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn't cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it's all we have, and it's never enough.
~ Barbara Crooker ~
When I walk in my house I see pictures,
bought long ago, framed and hanging
—de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore—
that I've cherished and stared at for years,
yet my eyes keep returning to the masters
of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round,
tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell,
a broken great-grandmother's rocker,
a dead dog's toy—valueless, unforgettable
detritus that my children will throw away
as I did my mother's souvenirs of trips
with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens,
and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.
the burning bush
it would have been