tumblr_p0fr90vfaC1ry5naio1_500

“Remembering”

And you wait. You wait for the one thing
that will change your life,
make it more than it is—
something wonderful, exceptional,
stones awakening, depths opening to you.

In the dusky bookstalls
old books glimmer gold and brown.
You think of lands you journeyed through,
of paintings and a dress once worn
by a woman you never found again.

And suddenly you know: that was enough.
You rise and there appears before you
in all its longings and hesitations
the shape of what you lived.

Rilke is one of the most widely celebrated poets of the 20th century. His life is fascinating and he kept up a wide correspondence with many women and men throughout his lifetime. His Letters to a Young Poet is classic wisdom text about living as an artist.

Last week, Molly asked me to french braid her hair before hockey practice.  It’s a little ritual we have; she shows up with her hair bands and a comb and sits between my legs and we chat about the day. But last week, instead of small talk, I handed her my copy of Rilke opened to this page and asked her to read it aloud. She did once, and then I asked her to read it again and tell me what she thought it was about.  I didn’t know if a fifteen-year-old would know, but she did.

It’s about wasting your life, waiting for your “real life,” your “better life” to begin. You think that what’s happening now is boring, or beneath you, so you’re “remembering.” You keep looking back at all the choices you didn’t make, and the ones that got away.  You’re afraid you might have missed your chance to be special, to have the life you want, but really, it’s like you just have to wake up to what’s going on right now in your life. Wherever you are, is exactly where you’re supposed to be.  You’re life can still be great; you just have to recognize it.

I won’t claim Molly said all those words, but that was the gist of it. Even at fifteen, she’s experienced the universal longing for things to be different than they are, for our lives to conform to the vision we set for them. I’m glad I tried the poetry experiment with her; maybe she heard Rilke’s message a little sooner than the rest of us. (As a bonus, she also asked to borrow my copy of A Year with Rilke. I don’t think she’ll stick with it, but I’m glad she’s curious!)

typography-postcard-yesterday-NOW-tomorrow-statement-5301_65

“Now is the Time”

Now is the time to know

That all you do is sacred.

 

Now, why not consider

A lasting truce with yourself and God.

 

Now is the time to understand

That all your ideas of right and wrong

Were just a child’s training wheels

To be laid aside

When you can finally live

With veracity

And love.

 

Hafiz is a divine envoy

Whom the Beloved

Has written a holy message upon.

 

My dear, please tell me,

Why do you still

Throw sticks at your heart

And God?

What is it in that sweet voice inside

That incites you to fear?

 

Now is the time for the world to know

That every thought and action is sacred.

 

This is the time

For you to deeply compute the impossibility

That there us anything

But grace.

Now is the season to know

That everything you do

Is sacred.

 

– Hafiz

Hafiz approaches his readers, as always, with tenderness and compassion and a deep desire for us to have compassion for ourselves. For those of us raised in one of the Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, or in cultures shaped by those religions, what Hafiz suggests might sound like heresy. We live and die by our ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral. How else will be know whether God loves us, or not? How else could we determine if we are on the plus-side of the Divine accounting system?  Would Hafiz really have us throw it out?

Actually, yes.

And he’s not alone.  Most of the mystics I’ve studied share one message. Most people with near death experience share one belief.

There is nothing “but grace” on the other side.

If we knew that, would it really make us run amok? If we stopped throwing sticks at our heart, would we really behave more badly than we do today? If we knew deep in our bones that we are sacred, our lives are sacred, this earth is sacred, wouldn’t we treat it as such? And wouldn’t that change everything?

 

 

floral-wreath-small

“La Reina/The Queen”

I have named you queen.

There are taller than you, taller.

There are purer than you, purer.

There are lovelier than you, lovelier.

But you are the queen.

 

When you go through the streets

No one recognizes you.

No one sees your crystal crown, no one looks

At the carpet of red gold

That you tread as you pass,

The nonexistent carpet.

 

And when you appear

All the rivers sound

In my body, bells

Shake the sky,

And a hymn fills the world.

 

Only you and I,

Only you and I, my love,

Listen to me.

 

I think I mentioned that Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Day 12 :”Keeping Quiet”) was known for his love poetry, so I wanted to offer you an example of it, especially in contrast to Byron’s poem from yesterday.

To a romantic in the 19th century, to be in love was to be blind, at least vocally. Love and devotion were most properly expressed through hyperbole and exaggeration. But when the Romantic Era ended, so too did the necessity to claim things that couldn’t possibly be true. While poets and writers still enhanced the qualities of their beloveds, there was usually an element of realism as well.

What I love about this poem is the romantic realism of the narrator. There are certainly taller, lovelier, purer women, but she is his queen. When she walks by, no one notices her royal presence, which is just fine with him. For when she appears, his whole realm, body and soul, celebrates her arrival – “a hymn fills the world.” (I can’t imagine a more generous compliment.)

I imagine the final stanza delivered in a whisper, as the poet softly urges his beloved to believe in her own majesty. When she looks around the ordinary world, in a mirror, or on the streets, she will find nothing to indicate that she’s anything special, but don’t believe it, he begs her. In his kingdom, she is the queen.

 

“La Reina”

Yo te he nombrado reina.
Hay más altas que tú, más altas.
Hay más puras que tú, más puras.
Hay más bellas que tú, hay más bellas.
Pero tú eres la reina.
II.
Cuando vas por las calles
nadie te reconoce.
Nadie ve tu corona de cristal, nadie mira
la alfombra de oro rojo
que pisas donde pasas,
la alfombra que no existe.
III.
Y cuando asomas
suenan todos los ríos
en mi cuerpo, sacuden
el cielo las campanas,
y un himno llena el mundo.
IV.
Sólo tú y yo,
sólo tú y yo, amor mío,
lo escuchamos.

Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 3.01.53 PM
Keara Moses

“She Walks in Beauty”

I.
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
II.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
III.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Lord Byron (1788- 1824) was one of the premiere poets of the Romantic era. If you’ve never heard of him, you probably studied his more staid contemporaries, like Wordsworth, “Lines Composed Above Tintern Abbey,”  or Coleridge, “Kubla Kahn.  However, Byron was wildly popular in his day, both as a man and a poet. He was wealthy, handsome, defiant, and in some ways the embodiment of what would become known as the “Byronic hero,” which still pops up in television, film and literature to this day.
This is a classic love poem from that period, which we rarely see the likes of any more. Rhyme schemes, especially simplistic ones like we see here (ababab), have gone out of style, so it might sound strange to our modern ears. Also in classic fashion, the author overstates the perfection of his beloved. In each stanza, he heaps on more praise that can’t possibly be true. A pure dwelling place? A mind at peace with all below?  It’s over the top, right, so why include it?
Call me sentimental, I guess.
I fell in love with Byron’s work when I was a teenager, fresh out of high school and newly immersed in great literature as an English major. I had a fantasy of finding my own Romantic hero someday and this poem was the epitome of tenderness and devotion I hoped one day would come to me. While I did find my hero shortly thereafter, he wasn’t one for poetry, but I knew he loved me better than a man like Lord Byron ever could, who would have taken this perfect creature and left her a disgraced and fallen woman. That was his more likely pattern.
But this poem has always stayed with me and when it came time for Keara’s senior high school yearbook page, I was able to use the first lines to honor her:
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

kneeling-francis-product

“God Would Kneel Down”

I think God might be a little prejudiced.
For once He asked me to join Him on a walk
Through this world,
 
And we gazed into every heart on this earth,
And I noticed he lingered a little bit longer
Before any face that was
weeping,
 
and before any eyes that were
laughing,
 
and sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship
God too would kneel
down.
 
I have come to learn: God
Adores His
Creation.
 
St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Daniel Ladinsky in Love Poems from God. St. Francis did not write formal poetry, but in Ladinsky’s collection, he translates spiritual masters and mystics across centuries, cultures and faiths, and reframes their prose as poetry.
St. Francis came from a very wealthy family, and early on, enjoyed that wealth, but when he was a young man, he had a radical vision from God and it completely reoriented the trajectory of his life. He famously and sincerely became a disciple of Jesus, aligning himself with the poor and those marginalized by society. Rather than becoming a hermit, or an outcast himself, hundreds of young people were inspired to follow him and his ways. To this day, Franciscans are a charismatic and powerful order that works hard for the “least of these.”

wave-photography-ray-collins-30__880
Photo by Ray Collins

“Belly Song”

1.

And I and I / must admit

that the sea in you

   has sung / to the sea / in me

and I and I / must admit

that the sea in me

  has fallen / in love

  with the sea in you

because you have made something

out of the sea  

that nearly swallowed you

And this poem

This poem

This poem / I give / to you.

This poem is a song / I sing / I sing / to you

from the bottom

   of the sea

     in my belly

This poem / is a song / about FEELINGS

about the Bone of feeling

about the Stone of feeling

  And the Feather of feeling


4.

And now—in my 40th year

  I have come here

to this House of Feelings

to this Singing Sea

and I and I / must admit

that the sea in me

  has fallen / in love

with the sea in you

because the sea

that now sings / in you  

is the same sea

that nearly swallowed you—

  and me too.

 

Etheridge Knight was an African-American poet, born in 1931. He fought in the Korean war and was badly wounded. When he came home, he began to use drugs and was sent to prison for armed robbery.  He wrote: “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound and narcotics resurrected me. I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.”

 

This morning, I woke with a little bit of dread, knowing the amount of work I wanted to get done. It involved a lot of cleaning, organizing, responding, reacting, writing, etc. It did not involve a lot of fun. I’m not going to lie; I was a little grouchy.

And then the sun was shining and the surf was pumping and Tim and Molly were packing up to go.  Come with us, they asked. I declined. Come on, Molly said, tugging on my hand. We’re “fish people,” remember? they said, so I went. It’s totally thrown me off my game and I’ve been way less productive than I wanted to be, but there is always tomorrow…

This week, we watched Fish People, a beautiful documentary on Netflix about people who love the sea: divers, swimmers, surfers and artists. Though old and young, male and female from around the world, they all shared a deep connection with the ocean. In the water, they found beauty, peace, wisdom, space, sustenance. In short, in the sea, they found themselves and they found themselves at home.

The Kirkpatricks relate. In times of stress, sadness, grief, worry, romance, celebration, joy, or boredom,  the five of us head to the shore, together, individually, or with friends. Sometimes, just seeing the water is enough, but other times, a full-immersion experience is necessary to heal our minds and rejuvenate our souls. The sand, the salt, the smell, the sensations, the silence, the swell, the soul of the sea.

And so this is a love poem for my family, and all the other “fish people” out there.

The sea in me will always love the sea in you.

 

P.S. In all honesty, this is not actually a love poem in the sense that I’ve used it. My interpretation is a classic case of cultural appropriation, or “fake news.” Knight wrote the poem to the Daytop Family program that helped him recover from drug addiction in 1970. I excerpted the first and last stanzas, but want to honor the integrity of the whole poem by offering you a link here. 

 

a885f0125020ee133b9250aeb1bddd0e

“Your Mother and My Mother”

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.

I would like to see you living

In better conditions,

 

For your mother and my mother

Were friends.

 

I know the Innkeeper

In this part of the universe.

Get some rest tonight,

Come to my verse again tomorrow,

We’ll go speak to the Friend together.

 

I should not make any promises right now,

But I know if you

Pray

Somewhere in this world –

Something good will happen.

 

God wants to see

More love and playfulness in your eyes

For that is your greatest witness to Him.

 

Your soul and my soul

Once sat in the Beloved’s womb

Playing footsie.

 

Your heart and my heart

Are very, very old

Friends.

 

It’s hard to believe that I made it thirteen days before I introduced a poem by Hafiz, the masterful, 14th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. I knew once I started I would never want to stop. Thirty days of Hafiz would be a pleasure for me.

Hafiz can make me laugh and cry, feel totally understood and totally bewildered, but never, never bored. The Gift, a collection of his poetry translated by Daniel Ladinsky, is my frequent companion. It sits on my bedside table and goes on just about every trip I do, dog-eared, penciled, highlighted, and full of mementoes from various locations. Hafiz’s mystical playfulness resonates deeply with me; I am always looking for a way to joy,  to fun and laughter, to companionship with the people around me and with God. I love how Hafiz refers to God as “Beloved” and “Friend, “and calls his readers by those names as well. We’re all in this together his poems seem to say.

In this poem, I love how Hafiz portrays himself as an ancient real estate broker, looking out for a special client who has fallen upon hard times. (Who among us hasn’t?) “Fear” has become their habitat and Hafiz can’t bear to see it and is confident God will feel likewise. We cannot “witness” when we are in fear, rather only when “love and playfulness” radiate from our eyes. Can we trust Hafiz to get us relocated? I think so; after all, our souls once played footsie in the “Beloved’s womb.” Having just seen pictures of a friend’s newborn baby, I can honestly say, I believe that’s exactly where she came from.

Something that might be missed in a quick reading of the poem is the line that Hafiz delivers, almost sotto voce, a little secret about prayer: “If you/ Pray/ Somewhere in this world –/ Something good will happen.” In these little lines, in the middle of this little poem, he upends everything we’ve been taught about prayer and at the same time, redeems it. From our very first moments, we are taught petitionary prayer, to ask for things, or for things to happen. Inevitably, we are disappointed when they don’t, but what if our prayers were answered, somewhere and for someone? What if the energy, intention, love, devotion and faithfulness we put into our prayers enter the Divine womb to heal and help in ways we never know about?

That’s what my friend, Hafiz, does so well: offer encouragement, wisdom, compassion and love, each and every time.

 

8551_1

“Keeping Quiet”

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

 

Pablo Neruda was a 20th century Chilean poet, diplomat and Nobel Prize winner. He is most famous for his love poetry, but was deeply involved in politics as well.

Instead of spreading out the two poems about war and peace, I wanted to join O’Tuama’s poem with Neruda’s. One counts the cost of violence; one offers a solution. It may be a fantastic one we are tempted to scoff at, but still, he creates an inviting picture of what the world might look like if we simply went silent together. A count of twelve? It’s a place to start. Would it accomplish anything? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s never been done. Who knows how it might affect our global consciousness to have all 7 billion of us make a choice to be at peace for a period of time, however brief?

But I will move away from the “woo woo” aspect of the poem and get to the nitty-gritty of it, because eventually Neruda does get to the root of the problem, the cause of the violence, war, and aggression that haunts our world. Perhaps” If we were not so single-minded/ about keeping our lives moving,/ and for once could do nothing,” it “might interrupt this sadness/ of never understanding ourselves.”

It’s a simple, but great wisdom to understand that “hurt people hurt people,” and that “if we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it,” usually to the most vulnerable people around us, our children and spouses, our employees and those on the margins who serve our needs. And don’t forget all the ways we daily declare war on ourselves for some minor “transgression” that any one else could easily forgive. This is the sadness we would face in our “count up to twelve,” but as badly as it might hurt, it wouldn’t hurt as nearly as badly as we’re hurting the world and everyone in it by refusing to face it. Neruda’s reference to the resurrection mystery embedded at the heart of the universe,”when everything seems dead/and later proves to be alive,” is the wisdom we must seek when seeking for peace.

While I can’t offer you a recording of Neruda reading this poem, I can suggest you listen to the one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Sylvia Boorstein, read it to a live audience. Her warm, husky voice is soothing and wise. She makes me believe that “Keeping Quiet” might just be a possibility.

P.S. As I was getting ready to hit publish, I saw that Parker Palmer, a Quaker activist, author and teacher, had just published this same poem in his blog on On Being. Apparently, something in the universe is calling many of us toward this radical idea.

 

 

Unknown

“Pedagogy of Conflict”

When I was a child,

I learnt to count:

one, two, three, four, five.

But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count

one life

one life

one life

one life

one life.

Because each time is the first time that that life has been taken.

Legitimate Target

has sixteen letters

and one

long

abominable

space

between

two

dehumanizing

words.

 

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and the leader of Corrymeela, a spiritual community in Northern Ireland, which was instrumental in the peace process that brought a ceasefire to their nation. Don’t let the big word in the title intimidate you. “Pedagogy” is an academic term, which simply means the method of instruction. Here, the poet is suggesting we might find peace if this was what we taught our children about the cost of conflict.

I grew up in a time of peace, in a country at peace. There might have been a few “conflicts,” or “scandals”, but by the time I got to high school even the Cold War was thawing and walls were falling down. I used to look around the world and feel sorry for all those “other places,” including Ireland, where violence was an everyday fact of life that took place in the streets and schools and shopping malls.

But then the Oklahoma City Bombing happened (1995) and Columbine (1999) took place and 9/11 (2001) brought foreign terrorism to my everyday consciousness and there were no more illusions that things like that happened to “other people” in “other places.” They happen here in places I frequent and frequently love like churches and schools and concerts and nightclubs and places of business. It happens to people who look like me and to people I might know and love: white, latinx, African-American, Asian, straight, gay, old, young, Christian, Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, immigrant, or American.

In the hours following the Parkland shooting this year, O’ Tuama’s poem haunted me:

One life

one life

one life

one life

one life

I was “counting lives” seventeen times that day for each of those fourteen children and the three adults who dedicated their lives to serving them. I wept in grief, but also in gratitude for  every single day my kids have come home from school alive. Each school shooting deepens my understanding that what I took as a right feels more like a privilege and deepens my sorrow that we as a nation seem unwilling to find solutions to prevent that from becoming more and more true. Perhaps if we started counting as O’ Tuama does, we’d change that.

This is one of those poems that must be read aloud to experience the full impact. Read it aloud while you hold the faces of victims of gun violence, of any kind, in your mind’s eye.  And finally, you can hear the poet read it himself  here.

 

 

 

 

large

“My First Love Story”

The minute I heard my first love story

I started looking for you,

not knowing how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.

They are in each other all along.

 

“Sometimes I Do”

In your light, I learn how to love.

In your beauty, how to make poems.

You dance inside my chest,

where no one sees you,

but sometimes I do,

and that light becomes this art.

 

“The Price of Kissing”

I would love to kiss you.

The price of kissing is your life. 

Now my loving is running to my life shouting,

What a bargain, let’s buy it. 

 

“The Most Alive Moment”

The most alive moment comes

when those who love each other

meet each other’s eyes

and in what flows between them.

(This first stanza captures the spark of recognition that comes between lovers, sometimes at the very first sight. Though I don’t consider ours a “love at first sight” story, I still remember the very first time I laid eyes on Tim. He was looking down, but when his eyes came up and met mine, I thought, “Oh.” It felt nothing like love, but certainly like I had just met someone significant in some way I didn’t yet understand.)

 

To see your face in a crowd of others,

or alone on a frightening street,

I weep for that.

(After a time together, the physical presence of the beloved can bring immediate relief. In the midst of crowds and chaos, the lover is safety, security, home.)

 

Our tears improve the earth.

The time you scolded me,

your gratitude, your laughing,

always your qualities increase the soul.

(In these lines, Rumi affirms the whole range of emotions and experiences he shares with his beloved. Love is not just happiness, but tears and difficulties. What is essential is that they “increase the soul” of the other and their ability to fully alive and fully human.)

 

Seeing you is a wine

that does not muddle, or numb.

(This love is delicious, intoxicating and necessary – wine was the essential liquid of his time –  but it is not an escape. It does not allow him to deny, or keep him from reality.)

 

We sit inside the cypress shadow

where amazement and clear thought

twine their slow growth into us.

(All lovers have private places they go to while away the hours in dreams and conversations. True lovers are edified by that time away and come back with greater clarity about themselves and the world around them.)

 

Is anyone else thinking, “Finally, a love poem!” or is it just me? Honestly, I’ve held out for a full ten days, which I thought was pretty impressive. But perhaps you haven’t even noticed,  since so many of my poems have been about Love: love of God, neighbor, self, or the world. I’m not going to count “Funeral Blues,” since it was about love after loss, not love that could be enjoyed in the here and now.

But romantic love is what most of us associate with poetry. Just about every goofy, poetic stereotype has to do with a love-sick soul who pours his, or her heart out in bad verse. It has been a classic sign of infatuation and the undying devotion that accompanies it. We’ve probably all scribbled some of that sweet nonsense ourselves, either in a journal, or if we were really brave, in what we hope by now is a long-lost love letter. If we’re really lucky, we might have even received a stanza, or two that made our hearts race and our cheeks flush. The thrill of being seen in our best light is such a pleasurable one!

I don’t care if that kind of sentimental drivel gives poetry a bad rap. Let lovers write! Let Hallmark cards reign! Let roses be red and violets be blue! As long as we can have love poems like these from Rumi, the genre will not be completely disgraced and rest assured, a few more are coming this month from some other poets as well!